“…He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Psalm 23:3 ESV
As different translations make clear, the paths of God are ‘right’ and ‘straight’ paths; they are paths of ‘righteousness’ and ‘justice’. On such paths, our Shepherd guides and leads us. For His name’s sake – His name is Jehovah Tsidkenu or God our righteousness. As some versions suggest, God’s ‘honour’ and ‘reputation’ are tied to the guidance He provides.
So we have the perfect Guide in our Shepherd. Does that translate to perfect guidance? As John White points out in his book, ‘The Fight’, there is an important distinction here. We are secure because our Shepherd has undertaken to guide us and He will bring us safely to our destination, the path that He has determined beforehand. He understands the road ahead perfectly, every turning point; every danger and pitfall. He will never forsake us under any circumstances. But, this does not mean we will always hear Him perfectly.
The Shepherd knows His sheep. The sheep know their Shepherd’s voice. As born-again believers we should never doubt the fact that we are meant to hear and recognise His voice. His Spirit speaks to our spirit. But because, we live in the world, the background is often noisome – the demands of the world, our fleshly desires and the temptations of the evil one, clamour for our attention. To quieten our spirits and listen to His voice in the midst of this tumult of noises requires commitment and maturity.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine” (Isaiah 55:8 NLT). As Christians, we need to learn to discern His voice separately from the other voices. Just as sheep do not understand the actual language of their human shepherd, so there are limitations in how we understand the language of the heavenly Shepherd. Initially a baby lamb only knows its mother’s voice; as it grows older it begins to discern the shepherd’s call. As the shepherd nudges and guides his flock, so our Shepherd through various means communicates to us the paths that we should take, and teaches us how to make righteous and just decisions.
What are the means God uses to communicate with us? There are mainly 4 methods:
1. God’s written word: The scripture teaches us wisdom and righteousness. We are taught about right attitudes of the heart, the right way to treat others and even the thoughts that we should accept or reject. It is wrong for us to choose any attitude or action that contradicts the scripture. To be guided through His word, we should regularly study scripture, absorb and internalise its teaching.
2. The inward promptings of the Holy Spirit: As we wait regularly upon God in our quiet times, we learn to recognise His nudges in our spirit. In difficult or confusing situations, and when unsure about which course of action to choose, His Spirit may bring to mind, an appropriate scripture verse which clearly shows us the way to take. He may bring a new thought or idea to our minds, or we may experience within our spirits, great peace, freedom and confidence regarding a choice or decision.
3. The counsel of the saints: It is necessary to seek advice and counsel from mature believers and leaders. Sometimes, a brother or sister may provide the solution to a problem, find a way out of some difficulty or point out the weaknesses in our intended course of action.
4. Providential circumstances: Often ‘a way opens’ for us to make it possible to step out along a contemplated course and another door might close. We might read something or meet someone, who can show us how to approach a situation. A friend or a colleague may casually say something which throws light on our problem. We ought to keep our minds open – and prayerfully decide whether these external guidances are pleasing to God or not.
He may use other methods as well – dreams and visions, a prophetic word or even an audible voice to communicate with us.
Perfect guidance? We have been promised a perfect Guide. Learning to discern His voice is part of our Christian training. As we consistently obey His voice and remain open to His corrections, we will grow – as Jesus did – in ‘wisdom and stature in favour with God and man.’ As we grow in maturity, we will learn to make wiser choices – being led more and more by the Shepherd of our souls, and less by our own fleshly desires or the standards of the world.
“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.” (Malachi 4:2 NLT)
The Bible makes it clear that we have no righteousness of our own. As green plants draw in the sunlight for their growth, by living in close proximity with Jesus, we must draw our supplies of righteousness from His immeasurable stores. Just as the sun provides light, because it is filled with light; so our Shepherd’s righteous guidance is the very extension of His indwelling righteousness. He is the very embodiment of righteousness; and as we obey His voice and walk in His paths, we will experience healing, freedom and joy.
God, we thank You for being our perfect Guide and Shepherd. Our lives are safe in Your keeping. You will go on before us, protect us and teach us to walk righteously. We yield our lives to You and ask for grace to walk closely with You all the days of our lives.