Walking in the Spirit
Lesson 24: The Battle Surrounding Obedience
All scripture citations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.
It would hardly be fair or right, having given so much attention to the enemy's ways of distracting us, mis-leading us, and hindering us with strongholds, to finish this series without giving time to the Lord and His ways of leading us in new life. After all, the point is not to pull the emotional strongholds down (either of the past or of the present) just so that we can be free of them—as good as that is. Rather, our quest is to become free so that we can follow Jesus in everything!
The truly healed and restored life is one that is continually given over to the Lord, seeking to walk with Him as He leads the way. For that we will need to learn what it means to be 'walking in the Spirit' that He supplies.[i]
Let us begin by acknowledging that as great as His Word is - He even set it above His Name - God speaks to us in many more ways than scripture alone.[ii] We are guided by His example (Jesus' life is a visible word - a word shown to us), His voice (a word spoken to us, however we may receive it), and His Spirit (a word living in us, however He may inspire us).
It is easy to see from this that there is a progression of increasing intimacy from following the written Word of scripture to imitating Jesus' example to listening for His voice to yielding the whole flow of our daily life to His Spirit. Jesus gave us - His Bride on earth—more than a book when He pledged Himself to us as our Husband. He gave Himself to us! [iii]
Our new life in Christ comes through the forgiveness of our sins and through the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. [iv] Just as Jesus died our death for us, so now He desires to live His life in us and through us. This happens beautifully whenever we yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit and walk in the steps He shows us. Whenever we are released to trust and obey, Jesus 'comes to life' in us!
I have been crucified with Christ [in Him I have shared His crucifixion]; it is no longer I who live, but Christ (the Messiah) lives in me; and the life I now live in the body I live by faith in (by adherence to and reliance on and complete trust in) the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20 AMP
Walking in the Spirit has two distinct dimensions: conscious and unconscious. Though this may be a strange way of phrasing it, the truth is that we have been 'sleep walking' with the Lord all of our lives. That is, He has been guiding us in countless ways all along, but we may not have been consciously aware of the many specific ways by which He has done so.
Our first task, therefore, is to identify and understand these hidden ways of un-self-conscious guidance. The Holy Spirit is like the perfect waiter who doesn't intrude upon our privacy by making His ways of serving us obvious. It is up to us to learn how to acknowledge Him so that He can more intimately and overtly direct our paths.
Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 AMP
Dimension One: Unselfconscious Guidance
Walking in the Spirit is like breathing which is hardly surprising since He is called the 'breath of the Almighty' and He is the 'breath' of life imparted to us both in creation and in the new birth.[v] This Spirit-empowered walk, therefore, is easy and natural—literally child's play!
In fact it was the Spirit, the great Teacher and Giver of life, who 'secretly' taught us how to suckle, to eat, to speak, to walk, even to play. Every good thing about us including childhood is His gift to us, or will we have some 'work' of our own apart from God to boast about? Not according to scripture, which says that we are saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, not of our works, 'lest anyone should boast.'[vi]
Let us acknowledge then that this Spirit-empowered walk has been going on since birth as His gift to us. God said that even the 'infancy' of Israel, the forty years of their wilderness journey, was a time when He 'carried Israel' as a child: He led them through it all and then explained it to them later, so that they could understand and acknowledge what He had done.[vii]
And in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place. Deuteronomy 1:31
To this day the greatest exemplars of what walking in the Spirit is like are little children. They do it wholly by 'unself-conscious guidance.' [viii] Their sparkling qualities are His gift of grace to them and through them to us! Children are simply more open and trusting than we are, which makes them such splendid receivers of grace that they are masters at living in the Kingdom, showing us the way to go.[ix]
But Jesus called them to him, saying, 'Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.' Luke 18:16-17
The Holy Spirit has been with us all along. He is always teaching us and leading us into life. He is the Giver and Sustainer of life.[x] Jesus told His disciples before the events of Easter and Pentecost that they already 'knew' the Holy Spirit He would be sending because the Spirit had been dwelling 'with' them and would soon be 'in' them.[xi]
This same Divine Personage has been unceasingly with you in your journey, helping you, guiding you, teaching you and comforting you, even before you became a Christian, even from before birth![xii]
Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.' Jeremiah 1:4-5
St. Augustine put it this way: 'Love God and do as you please.' [xiii] He means of course that once we 'love God' by surrendering to Him everything about our lives and loved ones and are willing to do His will above our own, then He begins to draw us by desires that please Him as well as ourselves.
Only fully yielded Christians can live the way Augustine recommends. However, even before we knew Him, God was already drawing us into doing many things that pleased us as well as Him. Examples of this are eating, sleeping, befriending, parenting, working, loving and laughing.[xiv] No one needs conscious guidance from the Lord to do good things which come to us with such natural grace attached.
[Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight. Philippians 2:13 AMP
Trusting is, therefore, essential to these everyday ways of Spirit-empowered guidance, since any interference by negative emotions disturbs the childlike manner of our walk. Proverbs calls us to acknowledge Him and trust Him, that He may 'direct our paths.'[xv] Guidance happens naturally for trusting hearts as Hannah Whitall Smith explains in The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life. [xvi]
Above everything else trust Him... God cannot guide those souls who never trust Him enough to believe that He is doing it.
Dimension Two: Christ-Conscious Guidance
The Spirit-empowered walk described above is childlike and free. Not even being aware that it is happening is almost one of its requirements! On the other hand, the Spirit-led walk actually does require conscious and conscientious diligence and care in seeking it. It is harder work at first, but it is the way of the wise.[xvii]
The first principle of seeking this kind of 'awake and aware' guidance is: 'Don't ask, if you don't really want to know.' The Lord is not out to satisfy our intellectual curiosity about His will! He is interested in leading us through our obedience to His will.
The likelihood exists that He may not tell you what you want to hear, so be prepared to yield to His will and avoid the pitfall of poor King Ahab who didn't want his plans disturbed by a contrary word from the Lord.[xviii] As Hannah Whitall Smith advises, 'An immediate obedience is the safest and easiest course.'[xix]
There are five 'voices' that should harmonize: scripture, conscience, inward impressions, wise counsel and providential circumstances.[xx] Tread softly in this arena—guidance is an art, not a science.
First Voice: Scripture
In His Word, God provides boundaries and guidelines so that we can know right and wrong with clarity on many issues and see the general outline of a right path for our lives.[xxi] We, therefore, need to take the scriptures to heart so that the Holy Spirit may use them to direct us and keep us from error, just as we would study a map to navigate our way through dangerous and unfamiliar terrain.[xxii]
This guidance takes precedence over all else. Hence there is a real need to search the scriptures and keep things in balance. Some general guidelines to follow are 'whatever is plainly taught must be obeyed'; 'adhere to principles, not isolated texts'; and 'keep the main thing, the main thing.' The 'main thing' is keeping love for Jesus and submission to Him as our first and foremost consideration! [xxiii]
At times the Lord will even 'quicken' His written Word, making it come alive with guidance about specific steps to take. Remember, though, that in Biblical times they didn't have airport searchlights! The lamp that lit their path on a dark night barely showed more than a few steps ahead at a time. He says His Word is like that kind of lamp.[xxiv]
Rule of Thumb: Don't expect to 'hear' a word spoken if it has already been written.
Negative Guidance: The Lord will never lead us contrary to His written Word.
Positive Guidance: General principles of scripture point the way and show the boundaries—but not all is made plain.
Consider this progression: Good is the wide range of what He permits by His Word; better is trying to find the path of His specific will for you; best is actually walking in the center of it!
Second Voice: Conscience
Though not infallible, 'Do the next right thing' is a handy way of expressing that aspect of the Spirit-led walk which is a steady succession of 'right' ideas to follow supplied by the Spirit to our minds. We are meant to cultivate wisdom and right understanding as one means of being guided by the Lord.[xxv]
We have been given the ability to make right judgments and are expected to use it: 'Common sense' is a gift of God; its counterfeit is the natural mind. We have a duty to educate our consciences, renewing our minds by His Word.[xxvi] At the same time we are told not to lean on our understanding at those times when we should be trusting.[xxvii] How do you know it is time to trust? Whenever something happens that you don't understand!
Curiously, it is not as hard to 'get' wisdom as one might suppose. It's free for the asking, but the catch is you have to have a) the humility to realize you don't have wisdom and b) some basic confidence in His ability to send it your way.[xxviii]
There are three 'divine guides' that common sense and a reasonably renewed understanding can judge fairly easily:
Right Desire: Heart and feelings can safely be allowed to lead us if no moral law contradicts the direction they would take.
Obvious Necessity: Intellect and observation leave no room for doubt about the quick action that is needed in the moment.
Genuine Duty: The moral call is clear, even if it is undesired, and there is a sense that it would be dishonorable not to do it.
Third Voice: Inward Impressions
Movements of the Holy Spirit upon us, especially when we are 'at rest' in the Lord, show us how to move in step with the Spirit.[xxix] Only the Lord can teach you this way of 'continual guidance.' [xxx] Because leadings are often so faint, it really is a process of trial and error. But take heart, He loves it that we are seeking to be led and, after all, He is the best Teacher on earth!
For instance He instructs us to 'walk humbly with our God.'[xxxi] Humility is not just the only appropriate posture, it actually positions us to receive the wisdom necessary for guidance.[xxxii] Don't be too eager to proclaim that you've heard from the Lord, even if you have. Let events unfold by themselves. His wisdom will become evident to all.[xxxiii]
He speaks ever quieter, so we have to learn to become still, if we don't want to miss anything. Quieting our own interior landscape may seem daunting, but it truly is something that we can do.[xxxiv] Picture a pond surrounded by trees with the wind blowing and rain pelting the surface. A pebble tossed into it wouldn't be heard or noticed. Then see the pond on a totally calm day: The splash can be heard and every ripple followed to the shore. Now you be that pond and listen for His 'pebbles'!
As with our own speech, both the Lord and the enemy have a message (thoughts or words) and an impression (tone of voice). Learn to recognize the ripple effect of their voice upon your soul. The enemy's voice often makes 'a splash' that disrupts your inward sense of peace and well-being. The Lord's ripple effect is peace-filled.
Listen in quietness for the 'still, small voice' and you will catch His gentle whispers.[xxxv] Wait patiently upon Him. It is better to wait for the light to come than to proceed in the dark, but the moment you are sure, yield a complete obedience.
Rule of Thumb: When in doubt, wait it out; if you feel led, go ahead. Negative impressions (checking, grieving, restraining) caution us to stop, look and listen. Positive impressions (prompting, leading, impelling, calling) lead us forth.
Warning: Inward impressions may come from wrong spirits or from un-renewed areas of our souls (unhealed wounds, wrong desires, unmet needs, etc.). Proceed with caution!
The heart of the old nature is very deceptive.[xxxvi] Hannah Whitall Smith cautions, 'It is not enough… for the leading to be very ‘remarkable,' or the coincidences to be very striking, to stamp it as being surely from God.'[xxxvii]
Fourth Voice: Consensus of Wise Counsel
The counsel of others is not meant to be a substitute for one's own judgment, since every choice we face is an opportunity for the Lord to grow us in the proper use of the free will He has given us. God will use others to confirm, but rarely to give direction. Agreement of counselors may be a sign of God's leading. It needs to be heeded, but not followed slavishly.[xxxviii]
Who are the wise ones whose walk with the Lord you admire and who God has placed in your life? Make sure you seek them out - not people who will molly-coddle you.[xxxix] Even so, keep in mind that His ultimate purpose is for us to be able to listen for ourselves. It is good to go to others for counsel, but we are not to lean on them - we are to learn to lean only on the Lord.[xl]
Fifth Voice: Providential Circumstances
Reading providential signs is for confirmation only. Even open and closed doors are not a sign in themselves: Closed doors need to be respected, but they are not always of the Lord; neither are open doors. As a rule don't force your way past a closed door or turn from it in despair. Learn to wait upon the Lord to open what needs to be opened.[xli] However, don't race through every open door you see—it could be a snare.
We are meant to let the Shepherd (not signs) go before us, leading us in the way. He is the way: Sticking close to Him is the secret of guidance.[xlii] We are also meant to mature to the point where we can hear and discern His voice. By Jesus' own description 'lambs' may not hear His voice, but His 'sheep'—those who have matured—certainly do.[xliii]
Slow Down Signs: Listen carefully at closed doors; pay attention to hindrances and disturbances 'in the flow' of peace.
Proceed with Caution Signs: Open doors and coincidences usually indicate a right path; best of all is the river of joy and peace.
Guidance is different than obedience. With obedience it is 'trust Him and do it' (the command is clear); with guidance it is 'trust Him and try it' (a 'hunch' is tentative). Trying to be guided is like trying to be good. If you try too hard, you will foul it up by not trusting. Just as His goodness is already there for you to abide in, so is His guidance. Being overly self-conscious is disastrous in anything especially when graceful execution is required. Trust, trust, trust and row your spiritual boat gently down the stream.
Willingness is the coin of the realm where guidance is concerned. Have you ever seen someone trying to get a resistant dog on a leash to walk obediently in the direction and at the pace they desire? Some dogs are rebellious and dig their paws in; some are easily distracted by cats or other dogs. Such dogs may not be taken out beyond necessity and then only under great restraint! Then there are other dogs who don't even need a leash, who go everywhere with their masters.
That is our goal—to become so captivated by Jesus in our hearts that we no longer need the sometimes unpleasant discipline of being constrained by Him through our circumstances![xliv]
If you would love to be readily and frequently guided, then the issue of living with a surrendered heart and a willing spirit is paramount. [xlv] When Isaiah saw the Lord, he fully surrendered and became willing for anything.[xlvi] So would we all!
So let's be alert to our innermost thoughts: Even a twinge of unwillingness to surrender is a step towards the Great Rebellion. If you see it in you, you have met the enemy. Carry that thought captive to Christ. Then keep checking to make sure your surrender and willingness stay intact. Let the acronym S.A.A.W. remind you to look to Him.
Father, according to Your love and wisdom,
S. Send: Send whatever You desire to send
(He is the Giver of blessings, never the curse)
A. Allow: Allow whatever You have to allow
(Of free will and its consequences)
A. Ask: Ask of me whatever You desire or require
(Of inward and outward obedience)
W. Withhold: Withhold me from and Withhold from me
(Whatever is necessary to fulfill Your plans)
Make me willing to be made willing to surrender everything to You.
The River of Peace
The River of Peace is worth all the battles. There is a vision in Ezekiel of water flowing from the Temple that begins as a shallow stream and eventually becomes a river which no one can cross.[xlvii] This gives us a picture of our life of faith flowing from the place of consecration and surrender, signified by the Temple and its Altar - the place where lives are offered in devotion to the Lord.
There is peace as we trust and obey, but at first it is all too easy to step out of the flow of His Spirit's gentle guidance. With practice we can learn to live in the peace Jesus supplies—a peace for our hearts (as we trust Him) and a peace for our 'feet' (as we follow Him). The Holy Spirit is a river of life to all who learn to live in Him and walk by Him.
For thus says the Lord: 'Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river. Isaiah 66:12
With practice, determined effort, childlike faith and tons of grace this flow of peace and divine purpose, which once was so hard to find (only ankle deep), will become a mighty river that lifts and carries you into great adventures in the Lord.
So what are you waiting for? Go ahead—jump in with both feet!
Father, forgive me wherever I have thought or said that I have not heard Your voice or experienced Your guidance. I utterly renounce that false belief. The truth is that I am someone who knows how to be guided by You and who has been given ears to hear and eyes to see what You are speaking to me or showing me. I am learning how to listen for Your voice of wisdom through Your Word, through my inner life, and through other people. I am learning to recognize Your Hand—prompting, checking and guiding me. Thank You that You have been speaking to me and guiding me all of my life. Help me to recognize and acknowledge You in all of these ways, so that my eyes can open wider to give You credit and to more readily perceive Your ways of leading me.
Father, according to Your love and wisdom, send whatever You desire to send of Your grace and blessings, allow whatever You have to allow of free will and its consequences, ask of me whatever You desire or require of inward and outward obedience, withhold me from and withhold from me whatever is necessary to fulfill Your plans. Help me to fully trust that You are working in and through all things for my good and Your glory. Make me willing to be made willing to surrender everything to You that I may spend the better part of my days flowing in Your river of peace! May it carry me often into Your Presence and always into Your purposes.
Take It to Heart!Don't just give these truths a 'head bob'! For further study and for help working these truths into your heart and life, see The Head to Heart Guide for Walking in the Spirit and 'work out' with exercises, discussion questions, review of main points, digging deeper, more scriptures, model prayers, renunciations/affirmations and practical steps of life application.
[i] Galatians 5:25
[ii] Psalm 138:2
[iv] 1 Corinthians 6:17; Ephesians 1:13
[v] Job 33:4; Genesis 2:7; John 20:22
[vi] Ephesians 2:8
[vii] Isaiah 46:3-4
[viii] Matthew 18:2-4
[x] Isaiah 42:5
[xi] John 14:16-18
[xii] John 1:4, 9
[xiii] Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430), Seventh Homily on 1st John
[xiv] Galatians 2:20
[xv] Proverbs 3:5-6
[xvi] Hannah Whitall Smith,The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1986), p. 81.
[xvii] Ephesians 5:17-18
[xviii] 1 Kings 22:7-8 especially verse 8.
[xix] Smith, op. cit., p. 79.
[xx] Ibid., p 72. The 'voices' of guidance are expanded from the chapter 'Difficulties Concerning Guidance.' The consensus of wise counsel has been added to the four 'voices' listed in The Christian's Secret op. cit.
[xxi] See Psalm 119 - all of it.
[xxii] John 17:17
[xxiii] Mark 12:30: the first commandment is our foremost assignment and abiding purpose.
[xxiv] Psalms 119:105
[xxv] Proverbs 4:5-7
[xxvi] Romans 12:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:13
[xxvii] Proverbs 3:5-6
[xxviii] James 1:5-6
[xxix] Hebrews 5:14
[xxx] Isaiah 58:11
[xxxi] Micah 6:8
[xxxii] James 4-6
[xxxiii] Matthew 11:19
[xxxiv] Psalm 131:1-3
[xxxv] 1 Kings 19:12
[xxxvi] Jeremiah 17:9[xxxvii] Smith, 76
[xxxviii] Proverbs 15:22
[xxxix] Proverbs 13:14
[xl] Jeremiah 31:34
[xli] Revelation 3:7-8
[xlii] John 14:6
[xliii] John 10:3-4, 27
[xliv] Psalm 32:8-9
[xlv] Psalm 51:10-12: Sustain with a 'right' spirit is also translated 'willing' spirit.
[xlvi] Isaiah 6:1-8
[xlvii] Ezekiel 47:1-5