Dr. Helen Roseveare was a medical missionary to the Congo between 1953 and 1973. She passed away last December at the age of 91 and left behind a rich store of thoughtful writing about her experiences.
A single woman, far from her home in England, she frequently sought guidance from the Lord.
When war broke out in the Congo, should she stay or retreat across the border to safety? When funds ran out, should she continue in faith that God would provide by the time bills were due? When her will conflicted with that of other missionaries, should she stand her ground for what she thought best or humbly back down? These sorts of decisions kept her in her Bible and on her knees, searching for guidance.
Central to Roseveare’s trust in God’s guiding grace was Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” She wrote, “When we ask God to guide us, we are asking to be shown the job he has already ‘prepared in advance for us to do.’” Her confidence in God’s sovereignty spurred her desire to be led—even if submitting to his leading went against her inclination.
No Guidance Needed
Yet there are life situations for which Roseveare maintained that the believer has no need to seek guidance:
I do not have to seek guidance as to whether or not I should marry an unbeliever or date a married man, any more than whether or not I should falsify my income tax returns or lie to a customs officer. In each of these cases, I need to ask for a spirit of obedience to God’s commands, rather than for guidance as to my reactions. If indulged in, these would each be acts of disobedience.
In other words, we don’t need to seek guidance where guidance has already been revealed in Scripture.
How easy it is to convince ourselves we’re “confused” about what we should do when we’re reluctant to do what we know is right. It helps us feel better to label questions of morality “complicated” when they require us to pick up a cross or suffer rejection. The serpent’s ancient whisper—Did God really say?—trips off the tongue when God’s commands are costly.
I recently watched my brother instruct his toddler not to touch the buttons on a stereo. “These buttons?” he kept asking, brushing his fingers along the objects of his desire. So long as he could get away with it, he feigned confusion over exactly which buttons were off-limits. His father was not fooled, and neither is ours.
No Guidance Given
Roseveare goes a step further. When we knowingly engage in behavior contrary to God’s commands, we may cut ourselves off from his guidance altogether:
Not only do [the aforementioned temptations] not in themselves, therefore, pose a problem of guidance, but they may, if persisted in, even cause an absence of guidance. A realization of guidance is dependent on concurrent obedience to God’s revealed will.
I believe Roseveare is right about this point. When we seek wisdom from God, we must accept his whole counsel. We cannot pick and choose or accept his wisdom only when it conforms to our desires. Jesus expects his followers to have “ears to hear,” not to practice selective listening.
We have a God who wants to guide us, who gives wisdom generously (James 1:5). We have his Word, directing us on the path of righteousness. When God has spoken, we should follow Roseveare’s advice and pray for obedience rather than guidance. If we want to hear the voice of God, we must heed the voice of God.
Editors’ note: Register for our 2018 Women’s Conference, June 16 to 18 in Indianapolis, where Betsy Childs Howard will lead a workshop titled “Living Sacrifice: Learning from the Life of Helen Roseveare.” Browse the list of 56 speakers, 51 talks, and 14 “listening in” discussions. All quotations in this article are from Roseveare’s book Living Faith (Christian Focus, 2007).