friend of mine, while in college, attended a revival meeting.
It was held in a picturesque oceanside setting, in view of a
lighthouse some distance out in the water.
my friend wasn’t a Christian at the time, he was warming to
the possibility. Yet he felt the need for proof of Christ’s
reality. When the speaker urged those present to give their
lives to Christ, my friend bowed his head and prayed, “Lord,
if you are real and what I’m hearing about you is true,
please pick that lighthouse up and move it ten yards to the
right.” For some time he waited, believing his request might
actually be granted.
. . . the lighthouse never budged (sorry to disappoint you).
And, thankfully, my friend finally concluded his request was
presumptuous. He decided to commit himself to Christ on the
basis of faith alone, without the need for supernatural proof.
his example brings to mind how instinctive it is to want God
to communicate with us supernaturally. Because God himself is
pure supernatural, it’s only natural to think he would bend
the rules of nature in making contact with us. Most people,
Christian or not, long to see supernatural demonstrations of
the existence of God. Like my friend, they may imagine that a
single convincing preternatural act would be enough to push
them over the threshold of faith.
long for extraordinary evidence not only to persuade us of
God’s existence, but also to convince us of what he wants us
to do. It’s in relation to guidance that serious Christians
most want a supernatural manifestation. We long for God to
break through the void and address us in an unmistakable
way--through an audible voice, a visible sign, a dream, a
vision--removing all doubt about his will for us.
I once heard a speaker aptly put it, we wish we could wake up
one morning, look out the second-story window and see
twenty-foot letters carved in our backyard grass saying,
“Move to China and become a missionary.”
“Apply to med school and become a doctor.”
“Sell all you have and move to the inner city.”
desire for supernatural guidance is only too easy to
understand. We are painfully aware that we have only one life
to live, that our time is terribly limited, and we dreadfully
fear missing the mark in any major life choice. Supernatural
guidance, we imagine, would give us the clarity we need and
quench our fears about missing God’s will.
desire to avoid responsibility, too, can make us susceptible
to wanting supernatural guidance. While it’s wonderfully
freeing to know that God wants us to take responsibility for
our decisions, this means making effort and taking risk. How
much easier if God would just intervene and guide us in a
manner so stunningly clear that it removed our need for
initiative, and absolved us of all need to think!
It Happen Today?
there are reasons to think that perhaps we should
receive supernatural guidance. For one thing, we find numerous
instances of it in Scripture. Some Christians conclude that
these examples are meant to show the norm for us as believers
today. If people of faith in the Bible were guided
supernaturally, and we are now saints on equal footing with
them through the work of Christ, shouldn’t we also expect
such leading from God?
likely, too, that we know Christians who claim to have
received supernatural guidance. They may be our friends or
others in the body of Christ whom we esteem. In reality, many
who make this claim are referring only to a one-time or very
occasional instance. Yet we may infer more than this from what
they say. We assume they’re talking about their normal
experience of guidance, or implying what ours personally
Christians do have significant and genuine experiences of
supernatural guidance. Sometimes the most rational Christian
will admit to having had an experience of guidance that defied
the rational. A pastor I know, who is far from mystical in his
leanings, speaks openly about a cherished experience of
God’s presence and enlightenment that took place
unexpectedly while he was driving. Or one thinks of John
Calvin’s decision to return to govern Geneva a second time.
Though this great proponent of rational faith wanted to
decline the offer, he claimed he suddenly felt the hand of
Christ on his shoulder prodding him forward. This startling
incident left him with little choice about what to do.
of us, though, have never had such experiences, even though we
may be many years into our Christian walk. We may wonder if
we’re less mature spiritually than those who have, or if our
approach to knowing God’s will is flawed. For each of us,
the critical need is to have a clear perspective on
supernatural guidance. We need to understand when--if
ever--it might be reasonable to expect it, and why--if
never--we’re not privileged to experience it.
pastors and teachers insist that we should be open to
supernatural guidance as a regular experience. Most, though,
caution against expecting it frequently. The stock reason they
give for not counting on it is that, unlike the saints of the
Bible, we now possess the full canon of Scripture and are
indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
this rationale is really beside the point. The early
Christians in Acts had received the Holy Spirit yet still
experienced supernatural guidance at times. And the guidance
they received wasn’t a revelation of moral or doctrinal
truths--such as comprise Scripture--but direction for
personal decisions that they couldn’t have found in
Scripture anyway. Thus, even though they were filled with the
Spirit, they still needed occasional direct guidance from God,
and would have even if they had possessed the entire New
while the stock answer misses the point, there are substantial
reasons why we shouldn’t normally expect supernatural
guidance today. One is the scarcity of it in the early church.
When we examine the many personal decisions noted in the New
Testament, we find that most were made simply through
practical reasoning, with no supernatural guidance involved.
Even Paul rarely experienced it. Acts records less than ten
incidences when he did, and the evidence is overwhelming that
supernatural guidance seldom played a role in his day-to-day
it’s by no means evident that the typical Christian in the
early church ever received such guidance, or even that
most of the apostles did after Pentecost. It was clearly was a
decidedly exceptional experience in the New Testament church.
more important, there is no statement in the Old or New
Testament instructing us either to seek or expect supernatural
guidance. If God had wished us to rely on it as our normal
approach to knowing his will, he surely would have given us a
command to that effect within his Word.
there are practical reasons why God wouldn’t normally choose
to guide us supernaturally. For one thing, the experience
could be terribly frightening to us. Martin Luther notes,
“Our nature cannot bear even a small glimmer of God’s
direct speaking. . . . The dreams and visions of the saints
are horrifying . . . at least after they are understood.”*
The late James H. Miers, former pastor of Fourth Presbyterian
Church in Bethesda, Maryland, prayed hard for a supernatural
revelation from God. When it finally came, he said, it scared
him half to death!
this obvious psychological hazard, supernatural guidance could
pose severe trials for our faith. We might be inclined to
think of ourselves as more spiritual than others who haven’t
had our experience. Supernatural guidance also could make the
decision process too easy for us, robbing us of the incentive
to take the sort of responsibility for our choices that truly
to the Rule
we shouldn’t normally expect supernatural guidance, though,
neither should we go to the other extreme of assuming it never
occurs in our present age. Certain occasions might arise where
God would decide to guide us supernaturally, and Scripture
leaves open these possibilities. The most probable: we are
young in the faith and not yet ready to take full
responsibility for a major decision. God, then, might provide
special guidance to get us over the hurdle. This isn’t to
say that God intervenes in this way with most new Christians.
But it does explain why some young believers have special
experiences of guidance that are not repeated as they grow
older in Christ.
might also communicate with us supernaturally if he wished to
lead us to do something we would never consider through reason
alone. This possibility, of course, could occur at any point
in our Christian experience. In most of the examples of
supernatural guidance noted in Acts, believers were led to
conclusions they wouldn’t have reached by logical thinking.
some cases the guidance was repugnant to reason. When Philip
was led by an angel to go to a desert road (Acts 8:26), it was
highly unlikely he would have chosen to do so on his own.
Reason would have dictated staying in Samaria, where an
intensive revival was underway and his services were needed.
Likewise, when Paul was struck down on the road to Damascus,
the guidance God gave him--to preach the gospel!--could not
have been further from his intentions. And Paul’s vision to
venture into Macedonia (Acts 16:9-10) came at a time when he
had hit several dead ends, and was undoubtedly perplexed about
the next step to take.
reason God might guide us supernaturally would be to provide
us with an unmistakable point of reference, to serve as
reassurance in the face of future challenges or trials. This
was most likely God’s strategy in commissioning Paul so
dramatically. Bob Mumford observes:
had the need for a strong point of reference he would never
forget! . . . Paul was beaten, jailed, stoned, and left as
dead for the sake of the gospel. But God had spoken to him in
proportion to the degree of challenge he would face. . . . And
he never forgot what happened to him on the road to
it must be added that God could guide us supernaturally for
reasons known only to him--perhaps to remind us that he is
free to communicate with us in any way he chooses, and isn’t
bound by our preconceptions!
on the basis of what Scripture shows as normative, we are
certainly justified in concluding that supernatural guidance
isn’t something we should normally seek or expect as
Christians. Those who do receive it probably won’t do so
often, and most of us will never experience it.
must be careful, too, not to think of ourselves as less
spiritual, or less privileged, than those who have received
supernatural guidance. Such guidance could, in fact, signify
spiritual immaturity on the part of the one receiving it as
much as anything. God might use it to jar someone into
realizing that he is headed in the wrong direction, whereas
ideally she should have reached this conclusion without
dramatic aid. It wasn’t flattering to Paul that God took
such extreme measures to get his attention on the Damascus
course, the fact that one has received supernatural guidance
doesn’t necessarily indicate that he or she is immature
spiritually, and we should refrain from judging anyone on this
basis. But neither should we judge ourselves for the lack of
such experience. We should simply trust that God will provide
us each the enlightenment we need to walk within his will, and
in a manner that best contributes to our own growth in faith.