How can we know, and trust, that God is guiding us in our lives?

Last month I had the privilege of speaking at a pancake breakfast for the men of Mercy Presbyterian Church in Forest, Virginia. It was at the invitation of my best friend, Dick Bitzer, so they had to trust him for what they were getting. Being Presbyterians, they were anticipating a fifteen to twenty-minute little talk. Being more a reformed Baptist, it ended up being closer to forty minutes. Oh, well.

What follows is the written version of what I shared with them that morning.

As I look around this room this morning, I see a bunch of men of various ages who are in a lot of different stages of life. I am sure that all of you have things going on in your lives where you are trying to figure out exactly what God wants you to do, or you are trying to figure out exactly what God is doing in your life.

Right now I am anticipating retirement in the next couple of years, and my wife and I are trying to figure out what that’s going to look like. Where are we going to live? What are we going to be doing? What does God have in store for us in this next portion of our life?

My wife’s spoken response to all of this is that God will work it out. And I believe that… but do I really believe it? Do I really trust God with control in my life? Do I really believe that He loves me and wants the best for me and wants to use me for the furtherance of his Kingdom?

Of course we all know what the original sin was. It was Adam and Eve rejecting God’s authority and trying to supplant Him on the throne. And that is a constant battle that we all, as believers, continue to face in our lives. We want to be in control, even when we know we don’t do such a hot job of it.

Now, I don’t know what decisions you are presently facing, or what questions you are dealing with, but I want to share with you, from scripture, from a story, and from my experience, the assurance that God is actively directing your steps, whether you are aware of it or not.

First, let’s look at a passage from scripture.

Philippians 1: 1- 14 (All Biblical Quotes are from the New International Version.)

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”[I]

Wow. Here is Paul in prison: if at any time or situation one might be prone to question whether or not God is really in control, it would certainly be when you have been thrown into prison on false charges, and have lost your freedom. But Paul looks at this and proclaims that he is thankful for his chains because they have proved to advance the gospel. He is even more sure that God is in control, as He was when he spoke to him on the Damascus Road (Acts 9), or when he called him to come to Macedonia (Acts 16), or when he saved him and all his shipmates from certain death (Acts 27). And it’s from that assuredness that he tells the Phillipians: being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

I want you to hear this plainly this morning. You can be confident of this: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”


One of my favorite authors is C.S. Lewis. I happen to be a fan of fantasy adventure and science fiction. I think sometimes, taking ourselves out of our own reality and our own world can really help us understand some spiritual truths that the everyday grind of our lives can blind us to.

I hope all of you have read The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s much better reading them, in my opinion, than watching the movies. One of the lesser known books of the Chronicles is Book 5: The Horse and His Boy.

This book tells the story of a young boy named Shasta, who has been adopted by a fisherman in the land of Calormen (which is not in Narnia). His stepfather treats him harshly and the young lad is not happy with his life. One night he overhears his father talking to a Taarkanian Warrior about selling him the boy as a slave. Upset, the boy goes out to the stable where the Warriors horse is. Wondering what type of man his new master might be, he says to horse: I wish you could talk old man. And startling enough, the horse replies. “but I can.”

You see: this was a Narnian Horse, captured as a foal a long time ago, but always longing to get home to Narnia. Together the Horse, named Bree, and his Boy make plans to run away, going to Narnia, and that they did.

It’s quite an adventure. After a few days of travel, they hear the sounds of another horse and rider off to one side of them. The other horse and rider ran when they did, and stopped when they did. Fearing being captured, they waited for the moon to go behind the clouds and then took off. But lo and behold, the story gets worse. Suddenly they were being chased by a lion, or lions. The lions end up forcing both the horses toward the same path and eventually swimming for their lives across an inlet where the lions left them. As it turned out, the other horse was a Narnian horse too, with a young girl on her back.

As the adventure continued, Shasta, gets separated from his new friends going through a big city; spends a night alone among the tombs with only the company of a small cat; gets threatened by jackals who could kill him, until a lion scares them away; gets reunited with his friends and when they are closing in on Archenland (the next Kingdom to Narnia), and the horses are just about worn out, they get chased again by a large lion and barely make it into the gates of a compound alive, but not without some injury inflicted by the lion.

Then Shasta has to leave the compound alone, to warn the King of Archenland about an impending attack and then after doing so, gets left behind in the woods riding a “dumb” horse (meaning not a Narnian horse) and is lost, and as far as he knows, alone in the night.

This is where we pick up the story: and let me tell you, I have trouble getting through this passage without getting choked up.

“I do think,” said Shasta, “that I must be the most unfortunate boy that ever lived in the whole world. Everything goes right for everyone except me. Those Narnian lords  and ladies got safe away from Tashbaan: I was left behind. Aravis and Bree and Hwin are all as snug as anything with that old Hermit: of course I was the one who was sent on. King Lune and his people must have got safely into the castle and shut the gates long before Rabadash arrived, but I get left out”

And being very tired and having nothing inside him, he felt so sorry for himself     that the tears rolled down his cheeks.

What put a stop to all of this was a sudden fright. Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark and he could see nothing. And the Thing (or Person) was going on so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls.What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very         large scale, and Shasta go the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.

It darted into his mind that he had heard long ago that there were giants in these   Northern countries. He bit his lip in terror. But now that he really had something to cry  about, he stopped crying.

The thing (unless it was a Person) went on beside him so very quietly that Shasta   began to hope he had only imagined it. But just as he was becoming quite sure of it, there suddenly came a deep, rich sigh out of the darkness beside him. That couldn’t be imagination! Anyway, he had felt the hot breath of that sigh on his chilly left hand.

If the horse had been any good –or if he had known how to get any good out of   the horse– he would have risked everything on a break away and a wild gallop. But he    knew he couldn’t make that horse gallop. So he went on at a walking pace and the unseen companion walked and breathed beside him. At last he could bear it no longer.

“Who are you?” he asked, scarcely above a whisper.

“One who has waited long for you to speak,” said the Thing. Its voice was not  loud, but very large and deep.

“Are you–are you a giant?” asked Shasta.

“You might call me a giant,” said the Large Voice. “But I am not like the creatures you call giants.”

“I can’t see you at all,” said Shasta, after staring very hard. Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, “You’re not–not       something dead, are you? Oh please–please do go away. What harm have I ever done you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world.”

Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. “There,” it said “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”

Shasta was a little reassured by the breath; so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives, and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the Tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.

“I do not call you unfortunate.” said the Large Voice.

“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.

“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.

“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night and —-“

“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”

“How do you know?”

“I was the lion,” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you could reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”

“It was I.”

“But what for?”

“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no-one any story but his own.”

“Who are you?” asked Shasta.

“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook; and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it. [ii]


I. I became a Christian at a Young Life camp fifty years ago this past summer. But God had his hand on my life long before that. I have pictures of me at three years old wearing a T-shirt that says Young Life Frontier Ranch. You see, I had an uncle, who was a minister, who also owned and operated the busses that took kids from the East Coast out to the YL camps in Colorado.

When I was sixteen, he asked me if I wanted to go to Colorado. If I had been smarter, I guess I should have figured out that it was a religious group, but I was clueless. But that week changed my life forever.

There was another bus going to Colorado that summer that was taking kids called the Work Crew to work at the camps for a month. I found out years later from a friend who was on that bus, that my uncle had the whole bus praying for me.

I didn’t stand a chance.

Throughout my life, as I look back, I can see God’s hand directing me through open doors and closed doors.

For example, I had no idea where I was going to college. I was pretty sure I was going, but how to decide?

I was getting recruited to play lacrosse. I knew I didn’t want to stay in my home state of Maryland because it was just too close to home. I ended up applying to six schools, but the choice came down to two, the University of Pennsylvania and Bucknell (I cut Cornell because I thought Ithaca was too cold.) I also knew I wanted to stay involved with Young Life and I knew that they had Young Life in Philadelphia. I knew nothing of the sort about Lewisburg. But my uncle (Yes, that one.) told me that Young Life was always interested in getting started in new areas. So, for some reason, the morning I had to sign my acceptance form and mail the deposit check, I sent it off to Bucknell.

The first night I was on campus, in a situation where I knew not one other student except my roommate whom I had just met, God did some amazing work. The whole freshmen class was in the gym for mixers, all 700 or so of us.

Now I had just returned the week before from Young Life’s Star Ranch in Colorado where I had been on Work Crew for a month. One of the weeks that month there was a counselor named Bob McGinnis there from State College, Pennsylvania who was making and selling leather bracelets called “Trinity Bracelets.” They were pretty distinctive.

So, during these freshmen mixers they had us all sit down on the floor in groups of about ten. I noticed this big, blond-haired guy next to me wearing this rather distinctive leather bracelet. I looked at him and asked, “Where did you get your bracelet.” He got as far as “From a guy from State College,” when I yelled “Bob McGinnis,” and the rest was history.

Out of 700 students, God arranged for me to sit next to the one guy in that whole room who was a Young Life kid from down the road, and who actually knew that some upperclassmen had gotten Young Life started in Lewisburg that previous spring. I still choke up when I think about it. (That friend, Dick Herman, and I also ended up going to seminary together, were in each other’s weddings, and he has gone on to a successful life of ministry in the Presbyterian Church.)

Because of that, I was tied in right away to that small group of Young Life leaders and was blessed with a fellowship group who were certainly responsible for me not getting lost in college.

And there wasn’t a lot going on as far as the Christian faith at Bucknell that first year. Out of just under 3000 students or so, there were probably about a dozen or so who would really say that they belonged to Jesus. There were the handful of us in Young Life and a small group in InterVarsity. By the end of my sophomore year, because of a revival on campus that started the end of my freshman year and continued into the next fall, and an influx of Christians the next year, there were over a hundred and twenty students involved in the Bucknell Christian Fellowship. From that group, and from the years following as the fellowship continued to grow, have come ministers, teachers, missionaries, writers, church elders and laypeople who have gone throughout the world spreading the gospel. I was extremely blessed that God led me to that place to be part of it.

When I am thinking clearly, there is no doubt in my mind as I look back over my life, that God has been directing my path as Aslan directed Shasta’s.

II.   So, Jim… it sounds like things have gone pretty peachy keen for you. Well not quite.

Remember the boy in the story? “I must be the unluckiest person in the world.” I am sure that all of us in here have felt that way at one time or another. We have had unpleasant things happen to us. We live in a fallen world and things are often not going to go our way. In those situations, we have to remember that God is still in control. He won’t rid the world of all the evil…. yet. But as Romans 8:28 says. “But we know that in all things God works for the good of those that love him and who have been called according to His purpose.

Remember, it doesn’t say all things work together for good. But that God works in all things for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. It is causative use of the verb there. God is the one doing the work.

I want to give you two quick examples.In 1986, my wife was pregnant with our fourth child. Unfortunately, she started having complications and our daughter (after three sons) was born at 19 weeks. She lived for two hours while I held her in my arms, and I cried the entire time. Our daughter, Charissa, is buried at the foot of what would eventually become my mother’s burial plot. How does God bring good out of that? Because my daughter’s death, in and of itself, was certainly not a “good” thing.

A few years later I ran into a young woman who had been in one of my Young Life clubs, and in talking to her I found out that she had recently undergone a similar experience with her first child. She had been given all the platitudes. “You can have another baby.” Something must have been wrong for God to let her die…. but it’s better this way.” God just wanted her more” …. And you know what. If not for my experience, I probably would have been left with nothing but platitudes to offer too. But God had used my experience to soften my heart and give me the empathy I needed in that moment. So all I did was put my arms around Beth and cried with her. And that was what she needed. God brought good out of our loss. I was prepared and able to minister to her.

The second situation was even more painful. Shortly after the loss of our child, my wife left me. And there was nothing I could do about it. I prayed and cried out to God, but our marriage ended. Divorce is not a good thing. So how does God bring good out of that? Or am I forever doomed to God’s “second best plan?”

Had we stayed married, when I finished my doctorate at Duke, we probably would have found a job at a small college somewhere and moved. I have no idea what would have happened, but the plan was certainly not to stay in Durham.

I can tell you what would not have happened. I wouldn’t have ended up coaching high school lacrosse for almost 20 years and being able to touch the lives of a bunch of high school kids and their families. I wouldn’t have developed relationships with players and parents that I still have today in which I get blessed to officiate at a bunch of weddings, and even funerals, to be able to minister to them.

And I wouldn’t have been able to run a Young Life style lacrosse camp with my best friend, Dick Bitzer, for several years in which we again were blessed to share the gospel with a bunch of high school kids.

And of course there is now the beautiful woman whom I married after 18 years of singleness. God brought a lot of good out of something that was not good.

And I guarantee there are a lot of other things that I am not even remotely aware of.

III. But Jim, can’t we screw up and aren’t there consequences when we do??? Well, of course. Look at David and Bathsheba. But that still doesn’t separate you from God’s love. But what did David do? It wasn’t that he misinterpreted God’s guidance. He wasn’t searching for God’s will at that time. You don’t need to pray about whether or not to commit adultery, and then arrange for her husband to die. That’s not a mystery.

When you deliberately disobey the clear, revealed will of God, yes, there will be consequences. But again, that doesn’t mean that you are separated from the love of God.

IV. One of the real traps which keeps you from trusting that God is working in your life is when we start comparing what God is doing in your life and where He is leading you, with what He is doing in others’ lives and where He is leading them. One of my friends from college and seminary is a very well-known preacher and teacher. It is easy for me to look at him and get envious. But that’s when I am not trusting God’s wisdom and judgment. We start having regrets about the choices we have made and where we are in our lives and we become ungrateful. But we have to remember that God directs all us in our own paths for His glory and for our best. Remember the story of Shasta and Aslan.

“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”

“It was I.”

“But what for?”

“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story,     not hers. I tell no-one any story but his own.”[iii]

And in case you think that’s not Biblical…. Remember after the resurrection when Jesus was talking to Peter on the seashore. (John: 21: 15-23) Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, and Peter assures him that he does, and each time Jesus tells him “Feed my sheep,” Take Care of my Sheep”, and Feed my sheep. And finally said to him “Follow me.”

Then Peter saw John following them. And he asked Jesus: “Lord, what about him?” And Jesus answered him: If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

This is a trap I fall into all too frequently. What if I had chosen A, instead of B? What if I had taken over my dad’s business instead of going into ministry? What if I had taken this job instead of that one? Do you trust God?

How can I know that I am making the right choices? How do I know that God is guiding me?

Do you want God’s will for your life? Do you want him to guide you? Then He is and He will.

You know that State Farm insurance commercial with the two young ladies shopping. One of them finds a purse and sings the State farm jingle and poof… she’s got enough to buy a purse. The other one doesn’t have State Farm, and all she gets is an old fisherman with one dollar on a hook. She tries to get it and the guy pulls it away… “oh, you almost had it.”

Some of us think that finding God’s will is sort of like that? We think that God is up there somewhere, playing games with us, and as we try to figure out what His will is, he’s saying. “Oh…you almost had it” … and then he laughs. And then you’re stuck with God’s second best, or third best or the consolation prize.

Really??? Do you believe that God loves you or not? “

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread will give him a stone? And if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?” (Matt. 7: 9-10)

God is not playing video games with us in which we have to find hidden or secret passages in order to claim the prize.

God is directing us in ways that we don’t even comprehend, and in ways that, even in retrospect, we may not be aware of.

He is like Aslan in The Horse and His Boy. Trust him and know that he loves you and wants the best for you and the kingdom.

I want you to leave here this morning this thought: Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”


[i] New International Version

[ii]  Lewis, C.S. The Horse and His Boy.  Collier Books, New York, New York, 1972; pp. 155-159

[iii] Lewis, C.S. The Horse and His Boy.  Collier Books, New York, New York, 1972; p.159