Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be led by the Spirit. As I slowly read my way through Scripture, I’m alarmed at the similarities between how I often live my life — trying to figure out how to get through each day as best as I can – and the ancient Israelites who struggled and strived to please God but inevitably wandered into trouble.
They’re not the only ones who veered off course. But the Israelites are the historic people through whom God chose to reveal his righteousness, love and plan for redemption as well as his expectations for how we are to live. The whole point of the first 39 books of the Bible seems to be God’s faithfulness in the face of human waywardness. Or, more simply, our inability to do what is right without supernatural assistance.
When the children of God were slaves in Egypt, he sent Moses to set them free and lead them to the Promised Land. But God didn’t send them marching across the Sinai Peninsula with a map and a wish for good luck. Instead, God personally led them through the wilderness by taking the form of a cloud by day and of a pillar of fire by night.
Throughout Scripture, fire represents the presence of God. Just as Moses rescued God’s people from slavery to a foreign power, Christ came to rescue all people from slavery to the power of sin and death. On our journey through the wilderness of life, God doesn’t intend for us to follow a mere map either. Rather, on the day of Pentecost, he sent his Spirit – represented through visible flames of fire – to fill and guide his children.
Yet so often, I find myself trying to get through life by my own efforts and understanding rather than seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit. If the ancient Israelites are any indication, such a choice is a plan for disaster. After reaching the Promised Land, the Israelites were continually confronted by their inability to follow God’s commands. Instead of worshipping God alone, they took on the customs of the surrounding cultures, which led them to build altars to foreign gods on which they sacrificed their own children. Eventually, the nation was taken into captivity. When we try to figure out life on our own, we too wander away from God’s plan and disaster results.
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God,” the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:14 (NIV). To successfully scale the highest peaks, the world’s most elite mountain climbers follow a guide. So why should we do any less?
More than ever in today’s challenging culture – where bad news abounds and people are trying to get through each day as best as they can – we need a revival of people who are following God’s Spirit, rather than relying on their own efforts and understanding. The first step? Asking for the Holy Spirit’s help.
How have you felt the Holy Spirit leading you?
Meadow Rue Merrill, the author of Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine.