Monday, 10 September 2012

Holy Instincts?


How does the Holy Spirit speak to us? How does he guide us? Those are the two questions I have asked for the whole of my Christian life - the past 31 years - and more so during my ministry of 25 years. Okay there are the usual answers about the Scriptures, reason and tradition - good stock Anglican answers - but what about particular circumstances like what changes need to be made with regards church services or architectural renovation or sermon topics?

This question came to the fore recently in my parish where I had to decide whether to continue a service that met in the church hall and had been running for several years or whether to move it, change it or stop it altogether. (For reasons of space there were other considerations which would take up too much space). Apart from praying for guidance how else should I proceed?

I remembered a piece of advice given me a long time ago by an older and more experienced clergyman whose wisdom and advice I have always cherished. He said that sometimes you just know something is right and you should run with it even though, when questioned, you can't give any rational or even biblical reasons why. In other words the Holy Spirit can work within us in some kind of inner stirring or prompting that some would call 'instinct'. The difference however is that any inner promptings for Christians can at least be weighed up against the teachings of scriptures, the common sense of reason and the historical guidance of the Holy Spirit through tradition so that any decision does not set us in contradiction to God's expressed will as evidenced in these tripartite counterbalances.

And that is how it transpired. The decision to respond came first and the rationale then became evident as the change was introduced. Not that that guarantees that the decision, in the long term, is the right one, only that it is not biblically, reasonably or 'traditionally' wholly wrong.

But I guess that that is in some ways the nature of faith as seen in the lives of the biblical saints. What prompted Abram to up sticks and leave for the promised land? We are told in the narrative that God spoke to him words of promise and he responded. But how were these words formed? Where they prompts or sounds? Was it some kind of Holy Spirit instinct that formed into words and directions or was it an inward nudge that directed and pointed Abram in the Godward direction? Either way he responded and as he went things began to reveal themselves to him in a way that affirmed he was right to leave home and strike out for Canaan.

I suspect that this 'holy instinct' is more common than expressed words and is fuelled at least by a sincere desire on the behalf of the recipient to want to find out and fulfil God's will in his/her life. That is why, I believe, that a life immersed in the Scriptures - like a tree planted by streams of water (Psalm 1) or a branch connected to a vine (John 15) - is more likely to get it 'right' than wrong and grasp more precisely what the Lord is trying to say.

There are several caveats however to this idea. It MAY be wrong and to live with that possibility is only right no matter how many cast-iron assurances we may crave. For it is the possibility that we may get it wrong that keeps us humble and dependent. It counteracts pride and helps keep the doors of communication with the Lord open so that we keep going back to Him and say "Is this right Lord? Help me keep to the right path? Show me what to do. I need you."

In addition we must place ourselves under authority in the form of a leader/clergyman as that too is only biblical (see the New Testament letters where authority is undermined and leads to disastrous consequences). Jesus knew the need for this and so appointed 12 Apostles who upheld core teaching as a means of ensuring the Church kept to the right path. There is no place in the Body of Christ for cavalier Christian lone-rangers who claim authority without being under authority. And its no good saying that God alone is their authority as the only one who can truly claim that is Jesus himself. All the rest of us have to sit at someone's feet as part of the Body of Christ.

So for all those out there who are struggling with guidance, read your Bible daily, don't look for 100% guarantees, stick with the Church and answer to authority AND then listen to your instincts. Beware pride as it always precedes a rather nasty fall. 

1 comment:

Ann Owen said...

ersequiaYou know that chap in next Sunday's (Sept 30th) Gospel who was casting out demons, affronting the disciples? Would he come under your description of a Cavalier Christian?

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