The Spiritual Discipline of Guidance
The Spiritual Discipline of Guidance
In many ways the church today is experiencing a re-awakening. “Many are having a deep and profound experience of an Emmanuel of the Spirit—God with us; a knowledge that in the power of the Spirit, Jesus has come to guide his people himself” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 175). Yet as powerful and as important as this awakening is, it remains insufficient. It is not enough to experience or understand the Spiritual discipline of Divine Guidance in a personal sense, we must also come to understand it in a corporate sense. “I do not mean ‘corporate guidance’ in an organizational sense, but in an organic and functional sense. Church councils and denominational decrees are simply not of this reality” (ibid, 175).
Today, there is plenty of excellent information and resources available on how God guides His people through Scripture, through reason, through circumstances, and even through the promptings of His Spirit. But there is very little information in the area on how God leads us through His people, the body of Christ. God does guide the individual richly and profoundly, but he also guides groups of people and can instruct the individual through the group experience” (ibid, 176). To see evidence of this, one only needs to spend some time reading the book of Exodus. God led Israel out of Egypt and through the desert for forty years. He guided them personally. All an Israelite needed to do to become aware of God’s guiding presence was look up and see the pillar of fire by night or the cloud of smoke by day. However, it was not long into their exodus that the people of Israel found God’s “presence to awful, too glorious and begged, ‘Let not God speak to us, lest we die’” (Exodus 20:19 in Foster, 176). At this point, Moses became their mediator.
Thus began the great ministry of the prophets whose function was to hear God’s word and bring it to the people. Although this was a step away from the corporate leading of the Holy Spirit, there remained a sense of being a people together under the rule of God. But a day came when Israel rejected even the prophet in favor of a king. From that point on the prophet was the outsider. He was a lonely voice crying in the wilderness; sometimes obeyed, sometimes killed, but almost always on the outside. Patiently God prepared a people and in the fullness of time Jesus came. And with him dawned a new day. Once again a people were gathered who lived under the immediate, theocratic rule of the Spirit (ibid, 176). In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul describes how God leads His people by using the analogy of the church being parts of one body. The essence of what he teaches them is that: “No one person [possesses] everything. Even the most mature [needs] the help of others. The most insignificant [has] something to contribute cool” (ibid, 179). The point is that we are all necessary and that God uses all of us in guiding us in His ways.
During the Middle Ages, not even the greatest saints attempted “the depths of the inward journey without the help of a spiritual director” (Ibid, 185). Yet today, most Christians would not even consider searching out such a mentor.
A Spiritual Director is a person who leads someone to the inward teachings of the Holy Spirit; he is “God’s usher, and must lead souls in God’s way, and not his own” (Baker in Foster, 185). Such
a person leads through example, by his own personal holiness. He is one who has advanced farther in his spiritual life. However, his leadership is not to be thought of as superior to that of the disciple; he simply serves as an adviser to a friend. In other words, they are “both learning and growing in the realm of the Spirit” together (ibid, 185).
All this talk of “soul” and “spirit” might lead us to think that spiritual direction deals only with a small corner or compartment of our lives. That is, we would go to a spiritual director to care for our souls the way we might go to an ophthalmologist to care for our eyes. Such an approach is false. Spiritual direction is concerned with the whole person and the interrelationship of all of life. Spiritual direction, like our spiritual formation, applies to the sum total of our lives. If we do not seek it in all of our affairs, we might as well not seek it. For we are all on a journey, and every day we make choices that determine the destiny of our journey. The purpose of a spiritual director is to assist us in recognizing our blind-spots and weaknesses; to assist us in our growth and pursuit of the Living God.
So how does one find a spiritual mentor? As with all other things in this world, one should begin with prayer. We state our need before our Creator and wait patiently for Him to make the arrangements. Yet we must make a few arrangements on our own.
1. We must be willing to believe that we can learn from our brothers and sisters. “If you cannot listen to your brother, you cannot listen to the Holy Spirit” (Vogt in Foster, 187). 2. We must understand that others are more spiritually mature than we are. They have gone “further into the divine Center” than we have. 3. We must understand that there are many forms of spiritual direction: a. Preaching b. Small group ministry c. Study and memorization of the Word d. Accountability/Discipleship groups, etc. e. Meeting weekly for coffee and prayer There are a few dangers in corporate guidance that need to be mentioned. The most destructive danger is manipulation and control by leaders. “If corporate guidance is not handled within the larger contest of an all-pervasive grace, it degenerates into an effective way to straighten out deviant behavior” (Foster, 187).
Matthew 12:20 points out the gentle nature of Jesus in dealing with others, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory.” It was not his way to be manipulative or controlling. If we are to imitate Him, we too must show compassion and tenderness to others.
There is also danger in becoming “a hard-hearted and stiff-necked people to hinder Spiritinspired leaders” (ibid, 188). It is true that leaders need to be held accountable by those they lead, they still need the freedom to lead.
If God has called them to lead, they should not have to bring every detail of life to the community. We must never be seduced by Western democratic ideals into believing that every person must have an equal say about every triviality in the community’s life. We must always make sure that corporate guidance is married to Scripture. God’s Word must penetrate all of our thinking and decision making. God’s Spirit will NEVER go against or be in opposition to the written Word.
Yet we must remember that corporate guidance is:
. . .limited by out finitude. We are fallible human beings and there are times when, despite our best efforts, our own prejudices and fears keep us from a Spirit-led unity. Sometimes we simply see things differently. Paul and Barnabas, for example could not agree on whether to take John Mark with them on their second missionary journey. Luke says ‘a sharp contention’ developed between them (Acts 15:39). We should not be surprised if we have the same experiences in our ministry efforts (ibid, 188). Foster points out than when (not if) these times occur “that we be kind to each other” (ibid, 189). For we can know one thing for sure:
The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with Himself included in that community as its prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant (Willard in Foster, 189). We cannot become this community without God’s love and guidance, and we cannot maintain this community unless we love as Christ loved the church.