Myths about God and Guidance

I just stumbled upon J. Oswald Sander’s book Every Life is a Plan of God: Discovering His Will for Your Life. It’s a concise companion to Blaine Smith’s highly influential work Knowing God’ Will: Finding Guidance for Personal Decisions . It also contains a few really unique sections that Smith doesn’t touch upon in his book. I included the following excerpt Sander’s book entitled Myths about God and Guidance. Let me know what you think in the comments:

Myths about God and Guidance by J. Oswald Sanders

The foregoing conception of God, our heavenly Guide, is not the picture entertained by all who come to Him for guidance in life’s decisions. There are many myths and misconceptions of our God, held even by sincere, Bible-believing people, who have somehow absorbed Satan’s subtle aspersions on His love and goodness. During World War II, I was rather shocked when a mature Christian lady said to me, “I wonder if after all God is really as good as we have thought Him to be?” Here are some of the unfounded myths that should be laid to rest permanently:

1. That if we surrender our wills to God He will ask us to do some difficult thing we don’t want to do. It is true that God does sometimes ask people to do difficult things, but only if He sees that, in the long run, it will prove to have been in their highest interests—and He knows what these are better than we do.

2. That God will ask us to do something irrational by normal standards. On the contrary, the God who created rational thought will never ask us to act irrationally. Because His thoughts are infinitely higher than our thoughts, on rare occasions He may ask someone to do something that may be beyond reason (as we know it), but nothing that is contrary to reason.

3. That if there is something we want to do desperately, the likelihood is that God won’t want us to do it. But God has made it abundantly clear that He will gladly fulfill our right desires, on one condition: Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it. Psalm 37:4–5 (NASB, italics added) If we delight ourselves in Him and His interests, if like Paul “we make it our goal to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9), our desires will increasingly become one with His. The only desires the Lord wants to frustrate are those He sees will harm and not help us. Let us settle it in our minds once and for all that God is not an ascetic who delights in saying No!

4. That if we make a faulty decision and miss God’s will, we are doomed to a second-best life thereafter. I knew a great man of God who was greatly used into his nineties. During one period he was head of a Bible college, and during his tenure there, one thousand young men and women were trained and entered upon Christian work, many of whom are still serving around the world. However, he had made an unhappy and unfortunate marriage, as a result of which his purpose of going to the mission field was frustrated. In speaking to his students, he sometimes said that because of that, he was experiencing only God’s second best. But was he correct in saying that? We can never choose the second best from God. He gives no second bests. Paul assures us that the will of God is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). That means that it can’t be improved on “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change” (James 1:17). Guidance is a gift from God, it cannot be earned. It is, however, possible for us to refuse His gift of guidance, make a costly mistake, and yet later ask for and receive forgiveness (1 John 1:8) and return to Him for guidance. Does God give us only second best then? The parable of the potter and the clay gives the answer (Jer. 18:1–5). When the vessel the potter was shaping was “marred in his hands,” presumably because of some lack of malleability in the clay, did he throw it away on the scrapheap? To the prophet’s amazement, he took the very same lump of clay—doubtless after remedying the defect—and “formed it into another pot.” Did he make one that was second best? Indeed no!—“shaping it as seemed best to him” (italics added). The Lord said to recalcitrant Israel, “. . . can I not do with you as this potter does?” (18:6). God never does anything second best!

To the penitent soul, God’s present will for him or her is never second best, irrespective of past failure. Where by repentance, confession, and renewed surrender, past sin and failure are “washed in the blood,” it is never too late to make a new beginning. Once again it is possible to prove afresh “what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2).

5. That the normal and adequate mode of guidance is through impressions made on mind and heart by the Holy Spirit with appropriate accompanying feelings.

6. That our intuitions are the direct voice of God. There is no scriptural basis for this contention. In any case, our intuitions are no more reliable than the relevant information we have gleaned.

7. That every open door or favorable concurrence of circumstances constitutes a call from God and is a sufficient warrant to move forward. Of course it may be so, but remember that Jonah found favorable circumstances—an open door into the inside of the great fish! It would be wise to check by other criteria, too.

8. That a closed door is the end of the matter. Again, it may be so, but it may be that only the front door is closed. There may be an open back door or window. This has often proved to be the case. One mission servicing in the southern Sudan was expelled by the government, but its workers did not cease praying that the door might reopen. Ten years later they were invited back by the very same government that ousted them! So keep on knocking.

William Carey had an embarrassing experience with a closed door, which, none the less, ended happily. God had long been preparing him for work in India. In 1793, accompanied by his friend Wood, he tried to sail there, but the East India Company was so jealous of its rights in the country and so fearful of anything that might interfere with its trading that it would not allow any missionaries to land on its territory. Therefore, before Wood and Carey had even gotten out of the harbor, they were sent ashore again. They were naturally terribly disappointed. Had they mistaken God’s guidance? Were all their years of toil and travail in vain? It looked like it. They went into a restaurant to have a meal. A waiter handed them a slip of paper that gave the address of a Danish shipping company, to which they hurried. To their delight they found that there was a ship due to arrive soon that could take them to their destination. Divine providence was behind the disappointment. Previously, Mrs. Carey had been unwilling to accompany her husband to India, but during the time of delay, she was persuaded to go with him, taking their children as well.5 We must not interpret every delay or seemingly closed door as the end of the matter. The Lord says, “I am he that shuts and no man opens, and opens and no man shuts” (Revelation 3:7).

9. That we receive guidance from God by making our minds blank, and taking the thoughts that surface as God’s guidance. This practice was popularized many years ago by Frank Buchman, founder of the Oxford Group Movement (now Moral Rearmament). This runs exactly counter to the teaching of Scripture. Jesus made it painfully clear that more than the voice of God can be heard in the human heart. “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matt. 15:19). And, as J. I. Packer has said, “Those who assume that whatever ‘vision’ fills the blank is from God, have no defense against the invasion of obsessive, grandiose, self-serving imaginations spawned by their own conceit.”6 In counseling the Colossian Christians, Paul did not advise them to make their minds blank. Instead he told them he prayed that God would fill them “with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col. 1:9, italics added). This is only one of many passages that indicate that in guidance, and indeed in all Christian living, the intellect is not to be bypassed, but is to be used to the utmost under the control of the Holy Spirit.