THE CLOUD AND THE FIRE
"The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night." Exodus, chapter 13, verse 21.
As we know no other people have ever experienced such a remarkable directive as the text indicates. We may wish sometimes that we could so see our way by such external means and that then we should be at rest. The carnal heart, however as the Hebrews demonstrated, soon finds fresh issues between itself and God. One thing, however is clear, God is not only a Redeemer but He proclaims Himself as a Guide. Guidance is as much His business as redemption, and every child of God redeemed in the blood of Christ is obliged to believe in Divine guidance and to seek it. Yet there are not a few who, firmly believing that Christ died for them, nevertheless find many practical difficulties concerning guidance. It is my desire to consider this matter of guidance from this standpoint that with the same conviction that the believer is assured, of personal redemption, he must be assured of Divine guidance in his life.
REDEMPTION AND GUIDANCE
The issue therefore, is not one of opinion ; it is essentially bound up in our redemption. If once the believer gets this truth really into the heart other great facts will emerge. It is to be observed that this cloud and fire appeared immediately the Hebrews stepped out. How many Christians realise that fact? Notice, too, that when the Egyptians essayed to follow them and indeed thought the Hebrews were within their power again, the cloud came between the Hebrews and the host of Pharaoh for their deliverance. Later as they followed the cloud they came to Sinai, the place of revelation, and also found that water supplies were available wherever the cloud brought them. Hence we must believe that in the redemption God offers His people, there is a guidance which will embrace confusion to all their enemies and provision, meeting their every need. Those facts were not clear to me when I accepted Christ as my Saviour. I wish they had been!
THE PASSING EVENT
Between the child of God and the worldling, therefore, there is a great gulf fixed in this matter of guidance. Life is a moving on. We may think at times it is rather static but in the overall picture it is a hurried pilgrimage. We are constantly confronted with issues that demand attention and decision, in things great and small, and no avoidance of them is possible. Some just look at life as a series of events lucky or unlucky. Some look at life as a perplexing problem without any definite issue, but the child of God must be able to say: "As for God His way is perfect." Ultimately every life has a fourfold judgment.
RECONCILIATION TO GOD
Guidance therefore, begins with our reconciliation to God. The experience of the Hebrews in Egypt manifests clearly that God has always been working on our behalf, Their deliverance from Egypt was no easy matter. The plagues came upon Pharaoh and the people, but only under dire pressure did Pharaoh yield, first to agree that they should worship their God but it must be inside the land, and that meant using the Egyptian temples. To this Moses would not consent. Forced to make another concession Pharaoh suggested they should leave Egypt but not go very far away, but even this was not enough. Then it was suggested the adults should go into the desert but should leave the children behind, but a compromise of that sort was not acceptable. Finally, Pharaoh agreed to let the children go if only they left their cattle in Egypt. To this Moses replied that everything must be allowed to go " there shall not a hoof be left behind." We begin to understand this amazing conflict between Moses and Pharaoh when we understand that this is the struggle that ensues over the redemption of one individual. Once however, they moved out of Egypt their guidance began! The point is very important; for the beginning of all guidance is reconciliation with God. The person who refuses that reconciliation cannot expect to turn to God at any moment convenient to themselves and secure Divine direction in any matter. That is why it is so foolish to embark on war and then ask God to bless our arms!
THE INDWELLING SPIRIT
The second step is to acknowledge the Indwelling Spirit as one Who enlightens the understanding, educates the conscience and gives to the redeemed spirit a peculiar susceptibility, a tuning in to Divine impressings. To that must be added the careful reading of the Word of God to know the will of God in general and this is obviously followed in a full obedience to all the known will of God. Divine guidance will at least be defectively received if in any clear and unmistakable will of God the believer is not obedient. To this will be added a genuine desire to commit to the Lord in prayer the simplest issues of life, for we cannot suppose that God will surely guide us in big issues if we neglect His guidance in small issues. After all, life is largely made up of little issues, and we may be sure that if we neglect God in little issues the enemy of our souls will be quick to confuse and confound us in little ones and we all know to our cost what very big things have sometimes emerged out of insignificant matters.
It therefore necessarily requires that in seeking Divine guidance we must trust God completely and implicitly, finally believing that His sure guidance will be related to our immediate condition, our friends and associates, our enemies, if we have any, and most of all, to the final purpose of God bound up in our lives. That is to say the cloud and fire came into being to meet the needs springing out of their redemption from Egypt so that their journey might be prospered and finally they might take up their habitation in Canaan.
OUR PAST FOLLIES
It may therefore be a starting point with many of us that we have not thought of guidance as implicit in our redemption. The consequence has been and indeed is bound to be that we have taken a number of decisions that would never have been taken had we listened and looked for the cloud and the fire. We have, therefore, to begin with a humble confession of sin that as the children of God we have never thought before that our lives were under the cloud and the fire. We have just stepped out from the baptismal pool with a happy-go-1ucky idea about a career and marriage. Money and a pretty face have been the only cloud and fire we have known.
God will have considerable difficulty in getting us to Canaan unless we do something about it, and with things that are wrong there has to be a very full and frank repentance before God for the sin of self direction of our lives and to ask Him to forgive us. There must be no superficiality about it. If there is any step we can take to remedy our folly we should take it. Abraham made a grievous mistake in going down into Egypt and there was no blessing for him or indeed inward peace, until he went back to the place where he was last in the will of God, which was Bethel. You cannot always go back like that. Steps that cannot be retraced must be clearly acknowledged to God with the earnest prayer that He will forgive the wilful selfseeking of a heart that should have been patiently waiting for His will.
And that as surely as God causes that where sin abound, grace should superabound so He would turn the evil to good. Hence if the believer finds that he or she has married the wrong person the answer is not necessarily divorce but a waiting upon God that He will give the heart all the love it ought to have. I think that any Christian who has never seriously thought of a guided life in all things will be very deeply disturbed over a multitude of decisions that have been taken in an easy way without submission to the will of God. In any event this is the first step that must be taken so that we present ourselves before the Lord as those reconciled to Him and His Son by the guiding of the Holy Spirit, who truly and sincerely repent of all the decisions made in life without relation to the cloud and fire and who from this moment a guided life in absolutely everything.
THE SCHOOL OF GUIDANCE
Guidance is an art. It is an accomplishment of the human spirit that requires development and practice. Just as the ear must be trained to sound, the eye to colour and the hands to touch so we have to be trained to a fine susceptibility for guidance. Therefore there must be indubitable faith that God is ready to lead, that He never fails to lead and that He cannot and will not make a mistake. It must be our sure conviction that He never turns a deaf to our cry. We must equally be sure that it is better to seek His will and misinterpret it than to go our own way and stumble upon what would have been His guidance. We must be sure that if we honestly and sincerely make a mistake in our understanding of His guidance He will surely overrule it. It is an important consideration that we should recognise that guidance is implicit in our redemption and that we sin against God if we presume to decide things without relationship to Him. All these things are important and will help us in the final experience of guidance.
THE OBSTACLES IN THE PATH
The first principle, therefore, is patience with our circumstantial difficulties. This is the simplest lesson but not the easiest to carry out. If so far as know we are living by the principle of a guided life and we pray and circumstances and obstacles are in the way then we must gladly accept them without a murmur. The engine driver may be late with his train, he may be eager to get his passengers to their destination punctually but the signal is against him. That fact determines everything. The danger signal must be decisive for us, too! That is where the man with money has to be careful. There may be a situation which can be solved by money but the monetary solution may not be God's will and therefore he must be careful. The man without money is happily spared that added dilemma. Or we may be able to pull a string, getting the help of somebody of influence. I would not say it cannot be Divine guidance but there again we must be careful. It may seem a quick solution at the time but we may come to regret it. Therefore, if so far as we know we have in all other things, followed the cloud and the fire and now find a stop, let us accept it by showing to the Lord an obedient heart, a submissive spirit that wants nothing more than His good and perfect will.
The more difficult guidance is, such positive steps as have to be taken. No decision should be made contrary to the Word of God as we know it. No decision can be right that leaves our inward peace with God disturbed. When these considerations are satisfied we come to pure judgment and discernment. We must ask the Lord to deal with any unknown bias in our hearts. We must assure Him of our desire to interpret His will and to do it, and then we must weigh the issue fairly as consciously in His presence, seeking His aid and direction. We may be sure He will certainly give it. We may definitely trust any secret hints and pressings of the mind and be sure the Lord will direct and guide.
If this is our principle with the Lord where we have time to meditate, pray and weigh the issue, then when the emergency arises we shall find ourselves with an immediate access to heaven and we may trust a swiftly formed judgment. God knows our predicament. It has not taken Him by surprise and if we are practised in the art of a guided life He will not fail. It may even arise that we may have moments, even split seconds, in which to make a decision. We need not fear or waver. Like Nehemiah we may lift up the heart in a second, God will not fail us. He wants to guide us. He has the capacity to direct us and to sustain us. He loves to be trusted and He will surely bring us through. We may never see a cloud and fire as did the Hebrews, but once we know that God desires to guide, expects to guide and requires our submission to His direction we shall see that He has a thousand ways in which He can make known the path we have to travel. The guidance that begins when we are delivered by the mighty Hand of God in redemption will never fail us until we find ourselves in the glory to which all His marvellous grace infallibly leads.
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