We live in a culture starving for guidance. The life coaching and mentoring business rakes in millions and millions each year. People are desperate for help in this fast-paced, crazy world where they are having to make life-changing decisions at the speed of light. How does the spiritual discipline of guidance help?
Guidance as Corporate Discipline
America was built on an ethos of rugged individualism. We have elevated the rights of the individual above the good of the community. This is almost antithetical to the culture that Jesus lived in and is detrimental to the basic tenets of Christianity.
We are most familiar with the kind of private guidance that happens on a daily basis. You have a medical problem so you go to a medical expert for advice. You are having financial issues so you go to a financial adviser for help. This is not primarily the kind of guidance I am dealing with here.
Individual guidance is fine, but there comes a point when all individual guidance must yield to corporate guidance. This means that we must also honor the ability of the Holy Spirit to speak and direct us together … as a community of faith.
In other words, how does God lead us through his people, the body of Christ, the Church? It’s important to understand the spiritual discipline of guidance as a corporate or community discipline.
God does guide individuals — there’s no doubt about that — but, he also guides groups of people and can instruct the individual through the group experience.
Corporate Guidance in the Bible
God always leads his people, first and foremost. He cares about the individual — he will leave the ninety-nine in the field to go find the one — but, he wants all of us to follow him — he always brings the one sheep back to the fold so that all the sheep can celebrate together! (Luke 15:6).
God led his children out of slavery in Egypt. They were led by Moses but could see the cloud and the fiery pillar following them. In other words, there was a sense that it was not Moses who was leading them — It was God’s brooding presence that went in front and behind, always covering them.
Jesus told his disciples, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:19-20).
Jesus gave them both assurance and authority. He gave his disciples the assurance that when they came together in his name they would be able to discover his will for their lives, corporately. And he gave them the authority to move forward with His direction.
The Holy Spirit would use the “checks and balance” of the different fellow believers to ensure that they were truly following the Holy Spirit. As someone said, “Two heads are better than one.”
One of the first great crisis of the early Church came when the church at Antioch began to win Gentiles to the Lord. The question was whether or not these new Gentile Christians needed to follow the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law. In other words — Did they need to become good Jews before they could be good Christians?
The Church was sharply divided over this issue, so they came together at Jerusalem (headquarters). The appointed leaders and apostles met in the power of the Spirit. They debated the issue. They listened to all sides. Barnabas testified to the way God was working through the Gentiles in Antioch. Peter told about his experience with the genuineness of Gentile conversion.
When Peter finished speaking the people fell silent (Acts 15:12). Finally, they made a decision to reject cultural religion and to hold to the gospel message only. They concluded, “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28).
They had faced a tough issue together — sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit together — and moved forward together. This could very well be described as the high watermark in the history of the early Christian Church.
It was not only a victory over a particularly difficult and divisive issue, but it was also a victory over the way they would make decisions as a community.
They decided to live under the direct rulership of the Holy Spirit. Although their most respected leaders — James, Peter, Barnabas — played a role, they would never trump the leading of the Spirit.
As Foster writes: “They had rejected both human totalitarianism and anarchy. They had even rejected democracy, that is, majority rule. They had dared to live on the basis of Spirit-rule; no fifty-one percent vote, no compromises, but Spirit-directed unity. And it worked” (Celebration of Discipline, Foster, p. 178).
The Spiritual Director
The work of private guidance for your life is equally important to the role of corporate guidance. This is the work of the spiritual director.
The seventeenth-century Benedictine mystic, Dom Augustine Baker, describes the work of the spiritual director: “In a word, he is only God’s usher, and must lead souls in God’s way, and not his own.”
Foster also writes about the work of the spiritual director: “His direction is simply and clearly to lead us to our real Director. He is the means of God to open the path to the inward teaching of the Holy Spirit” (Celebration of Discipline, Foster, p. ).
Spiritual direction is a journey that covers all aspects of life on earth. It is born out of the natural human relationship. A hierarchical relationship has no place in spiritual direction. The relationship between the director and the one directed is that of loving mutual submission and servanthood.
When seeking a spiritual director look for the following:
- A person who has developed a comfortable acceptance of himself or herself.
- A person who is not judgmental or easily rattled.
- A person who is on the inward journey themselves and willing to share their own struggles and doubts.
- A person who is a little further along the journey than you are.
The Dangers of Guidance
There are some dangers in spiritual direction. Here are a few:
1. Possible manipulation and control by leaders.
This is a particularly damaging danger.
2. Hard-hearted and stiff-necked people can also hinder Spirit-inspired leaders.
Leaders need the counsel and discernment of the Christian community, but they also need the trust of the community and the freedom to lead. It’s a tricky balance.
3. Corporate guidance can become separated from biblical truth.
There is a tendency to follow corporate America, more than biblical norms. The Holy Spirit will never lead us in opposition to his Holy Word.
4. Corporate guidance is limited by our finite perspective.
We are all fallible and sometimes even our best effort fall short. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), is a good verse to keep in mind. Humility is essential for all Christian leaders.
These are some of the most important aspects of the spiritual discipline of guidance. God bless you as you seek to follow Jesus!