I’ve had a couple of conversations lately along the lines of guidance and making the right decisions, even following ‘the Lord’s leading’. I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic when people say things like this. I’m not convinced that the idea that God will tell us what he wants us to do by our feelings and emotions is biblical or true.
I’ve been doing my bible-in-a-year reading plan (catching up on about a week’s worth, actually) and came across the idea of “everyone whose heart stirred him” and “everyone whose spirit moved him”. This is one of the only times I can think of in the bible that talks about this kind of thing (Proverbs has some good stuff too). So I thought I’d investigate and try and work out how it applies to us today.
One thing to notice is that the Israelites’ response came from a direct command, for a particular purpose:
“This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution [to the tabernacle]…” Exodus 35:4,5
“All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the LORD had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the LORD.” Exodus 35:29
God had commanded them to bring resources for building the tabernacle, which he has already described in great detail, at least to Moses, before this. He has given them a list of all the resources they’ll need. He has even provided all these resources in their recent plundering of the Egyptians, from whom he has just rescued his people. He is building a ‘dwelling for himself’ that “I will be their God and they will be my people.”
Another thing to notice is that the language doesn’t suggest God’s leading at all, apart from the command. “Whoever is of a generous heart,” “everyone whose heart stirred him”, “all who were of a willing heart,” and “all the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill.” And they gave until there was too much, and Moses had to tell them to stop.
“The people bring much more than enough for the work that the LORD has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave the command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution of the sanctuary.” Ex 36:5,6.
It probably is God doing the stirring. But the place where it does talk of God working directly in someone is in regards to skill and knowledge…
“See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel… and has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship… to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary… in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded.” Ex 35:30-36:1.
So how does any of this relate to us? Obviously this is one Old Testament example of people ‘being led’ to do something in particular. I think what’s important to take away from this is the fact that they were led because God made clear what they were to do and why, through his word (through Moses).
So what has God clearly told us to do? In terms of specific tasks and purposes that God has made clear for us, a few come to mind…
“Go, make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” Matthew 28:19-,20.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3.
“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of Christ.” Colossians 3:17
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” Matthew 16:24-26
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matt 6:33
And in terms of gifts and skills…
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the greater good.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-7
“So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” 1 Cor 14:12
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God… Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Eph 4:11-13,15,16
When we wonder what God wants us to do with our lives, or how to make decisions, I think what helps is to change, or refine, the question we’re asking:
- Which uni course should I do? Or, how will I use the intelligence and gifts God has given me to build up the church and bring others to know him? Maybe working on those skills will enable you to serve better. How will I use my time to be equipped and trained and grow in godliness and knowledge of God through his word?
- Do I send my kids to private or public school? Or, which school will enable and teach them to love and serve others and grow in maturity in Christ?
- Where should I live? Or, where should I serve, and how can I serve the people in that community and the people at church?
- Which job should I do? Or, which job will enable me to live a life worthy of the calling of holy child of God? Which job will allow me to get to know others in order that I can share the gospel of Christ with them that they may be saved?
And finally, am I doing this for me? Or am I doing it for the glory of God and the good of his people. We need to test our motives, and our emotions. We may enjoy certain ministries, jobs, locations, more than others, and that’s ok. We are allowed to choose things that we enjoy. If our feelings cause us to serve God and others better, in ways that he has told us, then go for it. Because ultimately, God’s word should be our guide above feelings. God’s word is trustworthy, and sometimes our feelings can lead us astray. Because while we do enjoy the good things God has given us, they are ultimately not really for or about us, but about God and others. Sometimes we should choose the harder or less interesting thing because it is better.