The Christmas story is amazing on many levels, but I find it particularly compelling on how it relates to divine guidance in human time. Consider the story again for a few moments, and ask yourself these questions:
What does this story show about how God reveals His presence and will in human time? How does God get through to us; how does God lead a life?
Consider these questions and hear the story in your spirit, as I share what it means to me, regarding guidance. And, after you read the article, please take a moment to add what it means to you, ok? Perhaps we can journal some helpful thoughts together…principles of God's guidance!
Revelation through words of the spirit
"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"
The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.
God gives Mary a word to her spirit, through angelic visitation.
I class this as a ‘word to the spirit’ simply because it is a spiritual word with angelic means. The angel speaks to the spirit of Mary, and Mary responds in kind: ‘I am the Lord’s handmaiden…may it be done to me even as you have said.’
Both word and reply were spiritual in nature, and confound our natural understanding.
I class it this way because many people say, “Well, I’ve never been visited by an angel!”
I would just reply: “How can you be so sure?”
Have you had any impossible dreams lately? Have you been touched by a calling and vision beyond yourself, which carries a hint of divine intent…a mystery which troubles and perplexes you, yet fills you with higher things?
The divine story is still going on. Yet we have inundated ourselves with so many things that even were an angel to come, we could not see it right away. Our eyes have been covered over in layers of worldly things, which Mary did not allow in her life.
So she saw the angel and received the words in clear form. And agreed with them, though they were impossible...
All that to say: The spirit words may be there, deep in your soul. Follow them for greater revelation!
Revelation through revealed word
“Where is He who is to be born King of the Jews…?”
Most people don’t realize it, but the Wise Men had high level access to many Hebrew Scriptures: When the magi show up in Judea asking, “Where is the King of the Jews?” they are not just pulling words out of the air.
Persian magi received parts of Jewish Scripture hundreds of years before Christ, during the Jewish captivity in Babylon [from 602 BCE and on]. During these years, Hebrew Scriptures were shared at the highest levels of world study. Several world edicts even reflected this Hebraic wisdom. For hundreds of years the Persian magi had the Torah and probably several of the prophets. These wise men definitely had the prophecy of Numbers 24:17:
I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel...
A Star will rise from Jacob’s house, a Scepter out of Israel…
Linking this knowledge of Scripture with their incredible knowledge of heavenly movements, the stars and natural sciences, they deduced the time of Messiah, or the promised regent King of Israel, ruler of the world.
A deep awareness of Scripture informed their natural knowledge.
And so they came to the courts of Herod, with this information: The King of Jews is born! Where is He? They naturally assumed that the present rulers would know about this holy birth, and support it. But surprise! Herod was furious…he was far more interested in his own rule than the plan of God.
So Herod called in the priests and sages and said, “Where is the prophesied King to be born?”
The Jewish priests had access to more Scripture than the magi, and they said, “Bethlehem!” They quoted Micah 5:2:
That is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’
When Herod heard that, he turned his mind to destruction: “Go find him, and bring me word again, that I may worship Him also…” he told the magi. But, as we know, he intended to kill the Christ all along.
Here we have two very different treatments of Scripture: The magi sought Scripture as a treasure, and used all the Scripture they had to find God. Herod used Scripture as a tool, to create his own way and destroy the will of God in the world.
There is a third way to treat the revealed word: ignore it.
But on this continuum, the world finds itself: Some treat it as a tool for their own ends, and twist it; some treat it as a treasure, and use it in relation to God; others ignore it as outdated and archaic.
Lesson: Scripture is supernatural revelation. We ignore it or twist it at our own peril. We are safely led by God as we humble ourselves to Scripture as a “pearl of great price.”
God guides us through the revealed word.
Revelation through natural signs
“Where is he who is born King of the Jews?” “We have seen his star when it first arose, and have followed it to worship Him!”
The magi were guided by a star that brought them so far, to the land of Judea…
Now, was this star coincidence or real guidance?
For millions of people living then, the star was coincidence. But for certain faithful persons who sought the will of God and saw the heavens with eyes of the spirit, the star was guidance.
Lesson: God is in the details of human life. God’s hand can be seen throughout the natural order, but we must have eyes to see. When God acts, do we see it? Are signs merely coincidence?
Or is there a divine hand, and sovereign guidance?
The reverent heart can see the revelation of God in signs of nature and natural life.
I once met a man on a golf course who told me that his life had been saved when an oak leaf stopped internal bleeding in him. Doctors were amazed: an oak leaf had somehow ingested into his system, and this leaf wrapped around the aneurysm. I mentioned divine thankfulness -- he, with a shrug, mentioned coincidence: “Just lucky.”
Question: Are my eyes open to the presence of God in natural elements?
When others see ‘just a star,’ am I led to the King?
Revelation through relationship
Here the Christmas story gets really personal.
Herod had Scripture and now the proof of the star and proof of the magi. Herod had the same revelation as the wise men, yet he wanted to destroy the Christ child!
Lesson: Scripture is not enough. We must enter a vital relationship with God: communication and communion: learning the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Jesus uses the metaphor of the shepherd to paint a picture of obedience. It is the picture of a shepherd calling to his sheep in the midst of massed herds, and having his sheep hear and follow!
There are many, many voices out there. We live in an era of information overload. The average teen spends almost 6 hours a day in electronic media: TV, movies, computer games and messaging, etc. The average adult approaches this level on weekends…after being crushed by voices on workdays.
To hear and know the voice of God is a matter of relationship. Herod had revelation handed him, but still ignored the voice of God.
The prophet Isaiah put it this way: “Woe to you who light your own fires, who create your own light!” “You will lie down in torment.” “But all you that follow righteousness, who look to the Lord…you will be comforted.”
Divine guidance comes through divine relation. The natural state of humans is to create their own way, to follow other voices, to “light their own fires.”
But as we seek God through Christ, and respond to grace, God heightens our relation to him.
C.S. Lewis talks about levels of relationship and learning to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit, through all the other voices that call. Growth in awareness of the Spirit voice of God is a sign of spiritual maturity.
Lewis gives an example of this kind of relation. One day he sensed the Spirit of God nudging him to visit his barber. But he argued against it: It wasn’t rational. It wasn’t time to visit the barber and he had other things to do. But the voice came again: “Visit your barber.” By now Lewis had walked with God long enough that he recognized the voice of the Spirit [vs. his own impressions]. So, he put on his coat and went to the barber. As soon as he walked in the door, the barber exclaimed: “Oh, I had been praying that you would come!” “I urgently needed to talk.” Lewis said that a day later and he would have been too late. But in divine relation, he was right on time!
Relation is built through prayer and obedience.
P. T. Forsyth says that progress in prayer is progress with God. “In every act of prayer we have already begun to do God's will.”
Pascal talks about doing what is right before God, and having God grant higher faith in the process.
The magi came to Judea through obedience to the divine voice, and gained the Christ.
Similarly, we gain high guidance in walking with God in Word and Spirit: Divine relation!
Revelation through dreams and visions
Both Joseph and the magi were led by dreams…dreams that played a vital part in protecting Jesus, the Christ child.
The magi were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, so they quietly departed to their own country another way [i.e. fled from Herod]. Joseph and Mary took Jesus and fled to Egypt, where they were safe from both Herod and Herod Achelaus, the sadistic son of Herod who took over his throne.
Such guidance hearkens to the prophecy of Joel, which the apostles later referenced:
And it shall come to pass…that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions...I will pour out My Spirit in those days. And I will show signs and wonders in the heavens and in the earth...
This role of dreams shows the importance of feeding our conscious minds on good things.
If the last thing we see before sleeping is the news, etc., and first thing we read upon waking is the newspaper, we will dream dreams of human occurrence [most are]. But if the last thing we see is heavenly news -- prayer and Scripture mediation -- and the first thing upon waking is divine praise and order, we can dream divine occurrence. This will inform our understanding of human news.
In this light, the magi are a great study in divine guidance.
They rigorously applied themselves to knowledge and Scripture, within a working relationship with the God, and a humble acceptance of God’s presence through other daily means of dreams, visions and encounters. So God guided them in human time.
And lest we think that was ‘just back then,’ I beg to differ.
I believe that ‘God is no respecter of persons,’ and will guide all those who open to His person and ways. I’ve experienced this guidance in ways of extreme grace. And, maybe here to share a story which will encourage you…
Some of you know about the day that my friend Tim drowned...
They say a drowning person only comes up three times, but that day Tim went under and came up at least seven times.
We were there at Girl’s Dam to cool off on a hot summer day -- Tim, my brother and I. Tim was there to save us. We could not swim, but Tim said he could swim. I tried to save him, but couldn’t reach him…nearly drowning myself while he struggled in deeper water.
Gerald and I prayed on the shore: “God, save Tim!”
But after what seemed forever, it was over. He floated near the top, underwater, face down, hands flung out. Drowned. Gerald and I wept aloud: “Tim is dead! Tim is dead!”
Little did we know, at that moment, back at our home in Josephine, a vision appeared before my father – a vision of a person drowning. He and my mother immediately went into intercessory prayer for us. Meanwhile, little did they know, but seven miles away at Girls Dam, Tim started to move under the water. Never breaking the surface, he moved to us as if on a rope, and we pulled him out, alive.
Neither of us knew CPR, but there was no need: There was no water in his lungs: He began breathing normally. In instant answer to prayer, God preserved him alive.
I’ll never know why God acted so quickly and clearly then, when at other times and other prayers He chose not to reveal himself so clearly.
But I do know that on that day, I saw first hand a God who controlled space and time, who has the power and intervene and guide human affairs.
I don’t know why God showed himself that day so strongly, but I know that He did. I still go back to that in referent, and let that inform my relation today…and sometimes, mysteriously, I find that the same God who guided then is still guiding now in just as strong a way, if not stronger…though unseen.
He is the one who chooses the moments of light, the moments of clarity, for His good purpose: As Pascal said, ‘Partial light, partial darkness…’ for our high sake and for His glory.
Most of us have not had that dramatic of an intervention, but we all can have a relationship that will bring divine guidance in moments of need.
Advent lessons of guidance: We can take the signs of natural order from a level of coincidence to guidance by honoring revealed word [Scripture] and higher relation with God. Our dreams and visions can reflect God instead of fallen society.
We can come to the Christ and be led by the Christ in human time!
P.S. What does this meditation bring to your mind regarding divine guidance? In considering the Christmas story, what would you add concerning God’s leadership? Please feel free to share, and make this article an interaction on His intervention! :-)