Following God’s Guidance
On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the LORD’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the LORD’s order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the LORD’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the LORD’s command they encamped, and at the LORD’s command they set out. They obeyed the LORD’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses. (Numbers 9:15-23)
If you are a follower of Christ, at some point in your life you have most likely asked the following question – “What is God’s will for me?” You may have wondered, “How can I know what God wants me to do in this situation?”. We all want to please God and we want to make sure we are following his direction, but sometimes it can be difficult to know what direction that might be. It would be nice to have a cloud to follow during the day and fire to follow at night, as that would leave little room for our own interpretation, but following God usually does not work that way for us. During times of frustration when we cannot seem to figure out which direction to go or how to proceed, we may even start to ask ourselves another question – “Does God still guide people?”
When I was preparing to write on this topic today, I found a passage that I want to share with you. In Psalm 48:14 it says, “For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.” Whether we know it or not; whether we believe it or not; whether we can understand it or not – God will be our guide. There are many places in the Bible when we can see this, but one of the best places that I continue to think about is the story of the cloud and the fire. We saw how God used the pillar of cloud and fire in Exodus to get the Israelites safely out of Egypt, and we see it again here in Numbers. As I thought about it and read this passage again today, I think there are four lessons we can learn from it about how God leads his people.
The first lesson is that God’s guidance is revealed one step at a time. When the cloud lifted, the Israelites would go. When it moved, they would follow. When it stopped, they would stop. Sometimes they would stay in one place overnight and move again and other times they would stay in one place for a long time, but they always had to follow God on a day to day basis. One of the biggest problems we might have with discovering God’s will for us is that we want to see the whole picture. We want to know right now where God is leading us and which direction He is going to take us to get us there. But most of the time, even though God is fully aware of the complete plan He has for our lives, He does not simply provide us with that blueprint up front. He provides us a step today, and another step tomorrow until eventually we get to where He wants us to go.
The second lesson is that we must follow God’s guidance even when we do not understand it. If we truly want to follow God’s will for us, we have to move when He says to move and stay when He says to stay. In Numbers 9, we see that the cloud would often move suddenly and stop suddenly with seemingly no explanation or reason. Again, sometimes they would be in one place for a long time, and other times they would stop and set up camp only to find that they were heading out again the next morning. There are times in our lives when we think we really want to move on to something new, but God may be telling us to stay where we are. Likewise, there are times when we are comfortable and want to stay right where we are, but God is telling us to move on. God demands our obedience. When He says move, we move. When He says stay, we stay. We do this and we follow Him where He is leading because we love Him, even when we do not understand.
The third lesson we learn is that God’s methods for guiding us may change over time. During the day, the Israelites saw a cloud. That is what they needed to see to follow God. At night, it would have been difficult for them to see a cloud so instead God led them with a pillar of fire. While God never changed his guidance, He did change the method that He used to provide that guidance. We often get wrapped up in thinking that God only leads people in one way. We hear a story from a friend or a pastor about how God led them in a dream and we expect God to lead us in a dream. But God does not necessarily work that way. Just because He uses one method to guide one person does not mean He will use that same method to guide you. Maybe He will guide us in a dream or a vision, but He might also guide us through the Bible, advice from other believers, or inner convictions. Sometimes He might speak to us with a loud voice that is easy to hear, and other times it might be a whisper. The point is that God will lead you in exactly the way you need to be led.
The last lesson we learn from Numbers 9 is that God guides us as we stay close to Him. The cloud that led the Israelites was not simply a symbol – the cloud was God’s presence. When the cloud moved, if the people did not follow along with it they would be separated from God. Knowing the will of God is not a question of where we should go or what we should do. Those are important questions, but they are not the primary question. The primary question is this: Are you willing to follow God wherever He leads you? When we ask God what we should do, His response to us is “stay close to me”. When we ask God where we should go, His response to us is “follow me”. At the end of the passage in Numbers 9 we see this sentence, “At the LORD’s command they encamped, and at the LORD’s command they set out.” If we resolve to do the same thing, God will guide us. If God says stop, we will stop. If God says move, we will move. The secret to knowing God’s will for your life is really the secret of knowing God. The better we know Him and the closer we get to Him, the clearer His guidance will be for us. When we seek to know Him, to follow Him, and to put Him first in everything we do, all of our guidance questions will be answered. God is willing to guide you if you are willing to follow Him.
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May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you today.