How does God's guidance work? There have been some discussions on a forum at College about this question so here are some thoughts. For me, the Scriptures set the agenda for the manner in which God guides.
Here are some thoughts
1. God guides: we are in a relationship with a living Being with a plan for the universe and a plan for every individual in his creation. Where we bow the knee to the King as he is, we become completely subservient willingly and joyfully to this God. He is a communicating God and so I believe he does and will guide.
2. His guidance is related to his plan: I do not think this means that every little decision we make involves us waiting for divine directive. He has given us brains which are infused with his Spirit and we are to use them. He has given us freedom in our decision making. His main concern is to intervene to ensure his purposes are involved. As such, we will recieve guidance when and if God needs to intervene. Otherwise, we use our brains and transformed minds and get on with things.
3. Intermittent Communication: As such I don't expect God to drop in a message each and every day but when he needs to he will make his will known. This is certainly my experience. At a few points in my life God has spoken quite dynamically. Each of these moments were critical to my future ministry and service of his will. The rest of the time I have responded as best I can to God as led in each moment to the best of my knowledge.
4. Grace, Grace, Grace: Our picture of God has a huge bearing on this issue. If we see him as a hard taskmaster say like a military commander we kind of expect him to issue continue directives and act in accord. If our view of him is one of a softee who never gives any directive we think we can do anything with total freedom and it matters not. I think we should see God as he is best known, the ideal father, who guides, nurtures and directs. Like a shepherd he moves us as he feels best. When he needs to be firm he is. His forgiveness and grace surround us whether we get it right or not.
5. Some ways God does guide:
i. General guidance from the word of God cf. James 1:22-23: We are to read his word and allow us to be saturated in his ways and the big picture and live seeking first his Kingdom using the wisdom gained from deep reflection on his ways, purpose and Word. This involves using heart and mind together to make good decisions to please God. I believe this is the dominant means of living as a Christian.
ii. Internal Spirit Guidance cf. Acts 8:29: rarely God will step in an speak dynamically and internally in a way that shakes us up and cannot be denied as Philip experienced concerning the Ethiopian Eunuch. Recently a friend was woken at night a physical and emotional mess; God was calling him into ministry. He knows its real and the evidence of his life is that it is real with him a changed man. I believe this is rare.
iii. Prophetic Guidance: Also rare but real is the guidance of a prophet or prophecy spoken into our lives from someone who has had a message from God through the Spirit, a dream, a vision or through a deep quickening of a bible passage. I remember a few years back having a dream concerning a work mate. I went to her with the details and she was utterly shocked that someone could know such things which were intensely private. She became a Christian as a result.
iv. Preaching Guidance cf. Eph 1:13: Another point of general guidance is hearing the word proclaimed by others teaching and making God's will known through the Scriptures. I find this a common experience; hearing God whisper into my life through mind and heart some insight or directive.
v. Wisdom Guidance cf. Paul’s strategy: This is highly connected to i and iv above whereby as we mature in Christ and deepen in our understanding of his purposes and will and become more obedient we make wise God-led decisions. This would be a highly common experience.
vi. Corporate Guidance cf. Acts 13:1-2: Undervalued in our individualistic society is the notion of making decisions concerning guidance with others who too are full of God's Spirit. This is seen in Acts 13 where the church recognised that Paul and Barnabas should be set apart for their ministry. Similarly in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council. We should be prepared to submit our big guidance decisions to other Spirit-filled Christians.
vii. Specific Word Guidance: Sometimes God will speak directly from his Word giving us directive. This can be subjective. Personally, I have had three good experiences of this; one directing me dynamically to a previously unknown text concerning a moral issue; the other a directive to give up rugby, to become a Presbyterian minister and take up a role at BCNZ. Now these are highly subjective and some may critique these. However, I cannot deny what I experienced and for me they are real. However each was a rare unexpected occurence and is certainly not the norm of my life. I believe that God speaks when he needs to.
viii. Circumstance/Timing Guidance/confirmation: As Christians we live in the will of God. He is working in the flow of our life and the world around us. Hence, the flow of life is under his power. We should expect that things like circumstances, coincidences, timing and confirmations to come through normal life. I see it like being in a river, God sweeps us along in his providential work.
ix. Dream Guidance (cf. Acts 16:9): the Bible speaks of God intervening dynamically to guide the likes of Jacob, Joseph, Paul and others. I have had a couple of such experiences. These are unexpected and not the norm.
x. Angel Guidance (cf. Acts 12:7): I have no experience of this but the Scriptures speak of God sending angelic messengers when he needs to. They happen at critical junctures rather than the norm of everyday life in my experience and that of others.
xi. Vision Guidance (cf. Acts 10:3; 2 Cor 12:2): I see this in the same way as dreams. I have not experienced a vision that I can recall. However, others I trust have testified to this. That being the case, I believe them to be true. However, I do not think they are common.
xii. Direct Revelation (cf. Gal 1:12): Jesus heard God's voice directly at his baptism and transfiguration. I imagine that some may have this experience too. I have not. I would imagine this is a very uncommon experience.
I do not think we should get uptight about guidance. God is sweeping us along in his great providential river.
Most of our decisions can be made on the basis of Godly wisdom gained through the Scriptures, hearing the Word, living in community and simply knowing that we are in the grace and freedom of God.
I think we need to be careful not to try and make the sensational rare guidance experiences our norm. God seems to speak in many ways, when he needs to, and not always with great volume (cf. the whisper that Elijah heard).
We should not be prescriptive to God; allowing him to lead us in his own way but always on the look out for his voice in one way or another i.e. we need to walk in relationship.
Seeming silence from God does not mean we are doing something wrong! If we name him as Lord and Saviour he is with us. He will speak when and in the manner he needs to when he wants to get through to us. Sometimes God gives us the choice, letting us decide. He will close our options down when he needs to; we can trust him to do so. In the meantime, we can go for it.
At the end of the day (or the beginning of the night) I believe most of our decisions we make will be wisdom and heart decisions. We should not live in fear as if God will punish us if we 'get something wrong'. Jesus came to set us free from such captivity!
The extraordinary guidance beyond what seems intuitive and wisdom is to me the exception not the rule. We tend to read the Bible normalising the sensational forgetting that the reason these things are recorded is that they are exceptional. Remember Acts covers a 30 year period for whole communities of God's people! As such, it does not necessarily represent the norm. Neither do we have to be in a church service with a prophet to hear God; he is all around us at all times and he can and will speak as he has to.
The key is walking in relationship with God, speaking to him and trusting him to lead. For me the key prayer is, 'your will be done on earth as it is in heaven'. As I pray this I believe God will answer by ordering the world according to his plan. I can then live in trust even if it all looks rather strange!
So I am now going to cook tea... not because God is telling me to... but because I am hungry and the kids and Emma will arrive home soon desperately hungry... seems a good decision! Or should I wait and pray for guidance?