|“Lord, show me where you want me to go and I will follow you, but please be clear and unambiguous about it”—Henri Nouwen.
I’ve seen the tendency many times in my own life, and that’s probably why I have become so sensitive about it: I want a clear direction from God, a sign, some assurance that a particular plan is the right one.
Most Christians have had at least one experience when God’s calling was completely clear and the way ahead certain, but we often forget that such things are the exception and not the rule.
Many years ago, while I was wrestling with a particular decision in my life, a good friend suggested that I read through the book of Acts while praying about the matter. That proved to be excellent advice because it gave me a much clearer picture of how God worked in the lives of His people.
It is easy to think of the times described in Acts as the glory days of the church. Beginning in chapter two, God’s Holy Spirit was present and indwelling the saints, and at no time since has He more actively intervened in lives and guided the day-to-day actions of those He had called.
In the midst of this, I stumbled across five little words that changed my life. They are found in Acts 15:25: “… it seemed good to us …” That was it. No clear direction from God, no signs, no prophetic word, just a simple statement that a particular course of action seemed good. If you read the chapter, you’ll find that they were considering no small question but about how Gentiles might be brought into this new fellowship.
Sometimes, God leaves the most important decisions to us with no clearer direction than a collective “it seemed good to us.” There are a few simple principles, then, for God’s people to seek His will and move forward:
1. Important decisions are collective decisions. Rarely does God call us to find our way alone, so it is critical that we pray with others. Our independent streak might wish that it said “it seemed good to me,” but the us is an important piece of God’s plan.
2. God’s people have the indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ’s promise “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20) is pertinent here. We are not abandoned, even when God does not respond with clear direction. Sometimes, we need to take action and be both faithful and bold about it.
3. Expect God to adjust your course or your timing. In Acts 16:6, Paul and Timothy were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.” We do not know what that looked like, but it was clear to them that God had intervened. This shows two things: that their plan of going to Asia seemed good to them, and that the Holy Spirit changed their plans.
These principles have helped me in some very practical ways. I hold a high view of the sovereignty of God, and I recognize that He is in control. He has no intention of abandoning me, even when He chooses not to show me the whole road ahead. I’ve had to heed my own advice many times and found it necessary to make a move, even when I was not sure of the outcome.
Never forget that waiting on God and waiting for a sign are not the same thing. I’ve found that when I insist on waiting for a sign, it is often the result of my own stubbornness and lack of faith. It is when I move, prayerfully, that God steps in to keep me moving in the right direction.
Sam Helgerson, PhD, is the program director for the Master’s program in Organizational Leadership and the assistant dean of Business and Leadership Programs at Bethel University.