Each month we ask two writers to reflect on a quote by Dr. Stanley. For September, John VandenOever and Tim Rhodes explore what it means to be led by the Spirit and why we can’t compartmentalize His guidance. Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Stanley’s book The Spirit-Filled Life:
Have you ever been in an unfamiliar building and stopped someone to ask for directions? Have you noticed how comforting it is when the person says, “Follow me, and I’ll show you where you need to go”? There is all the difference in the world between that and someone saying, “Okay, what you do is, take these stairs …”
That is the difference between being led and being directed. The Holy Spirit is a leader. He is our guide. He is always with us. He is constantly tuned in to both our emotional states and our surrounding circumstances. He is always sensitive to both. He leads at the perfect pace. He always takes our weaknesses and strengths into consideration.
Being led by someone assumes a continuing relationship. It implies fellowship. It brings to mind cooperation, sensitivity, and common goals. When someone is following another, there must be trust, even to the point of dependency. All these qualities describe the believer’s relationship with the Holy Spirit as the person allows Him to be the guide. To walk by the Spirit is to live with moment-by-moment dependency on and sensitivity to the … promptings of the Holy Spirit.
By John VandenOever
Paul’s letter to the Galatians suggests there are just two ways to operate: by the flesh or by the Spirit. The trouble is, we’ve convinced ourselves that there are a great deal of nonspiritual activities within each day. I’m prone to thinking that running errands, lunching with a friend, or finishing up a project requires no special spiritual preparation. But after all these years in the faith, how can I still operate this way? (Particularly when I know that letting down my guard is the opportune time for the world, the flesh, and the devil to have the greatest impact on me?)
Yet I don’t merely want to experience victory over sin. When I walk in the Spirit, seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33), I am awake to and aware of God’s larger purpose in my daily activities. As I encounter people both new and familiar, how can my words and actions be seasoned with grace unless I’m continually receiving Christ’s strength and insight?
That’s why we must wrestle against the idea that Spirit-connected living is reserved for worship or confronting a crisis. Living by the Spirit needs to be the constant, moment-by-moment experience Dr. Stanley described. If that’s not the case, we are underestimating the flesh and likely living by it. No matter how long we’ve believed the truth, it is not you or I—not our experiences, strengths, knowledge, or following—who accomplishes anything, but Christ in us.
So what does it look like to be led by the Spirit? It involves asking for help. It means assessing ourselves honestly and knowing we’ve contributed nothing toward Christ’s work in us. We cannot do anything out of spiritual competency, so we must stay attuned to our total need for Him. Being led by the Spirit is saying, “I believe; help my unbelief.” In this realm, we are weak, but refreshingly, God’s power—through His Spirit—is made perfect in our weakness.
By Tim Rhodes
One of my favorite routines is to make a list of priorities for the day. There’s something so gratifying about being able to cross out tasks that have been completed. Sometimes I will even write down a task that I’ve already finished, just to be able to check it off.
Too often my Christian walk would amount to 15 minutes at the beginning of the day and a task or two crossed off the list.
As a teenager, I made sure that Christian habits, such as daily devotions or morning prayers, were always first on the list. The ability to keep up with these routines on a consistent basis is another matter entirely, but I was determined to “keep God first” every single day. While my younger self would have probably considered my relationship with the Lord a top priority, too often my Christian walk would amount to 15 minutes at the beginning of the day and a task or two crossed off the list.
As I matured in my faith, I grew less and less enamored with the version of a Christian walk that I had fashioned for myself—one that felt like more of a transaction, or rules to follow, than a way of life. As I wrestled with my dissatisfaction, I gradually realized what it meant to be led by the Holy Spirit: The Christian walk is not merely the first priority on a list of goals to accomplish, but a transformed life that transcends checklists or how I arrange my day.
A constant awareness of the fallibility of our flesh is only part of the process; to be led by the Holy Spirit means being directed by the love and wisdom of Christ, letting Him guide us in every moment. It involves faith that, despite our tendency to sin, we are a new creation. The goal is not to do, but to be—to remain in communion with the Lord, allowing Him to direct our path.
Illustration by Adam Cruft