How does God “lead?”

The words of Psalm 23 easily roll off my tongue. The Lord “leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3). I’ll join in with the prayer of Psalm 5:8, “Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness…make your way straight before me.

But what does that mean exactly? What does that look like? How does God lead me?

It was easy in the wilderness. “The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire” (13:21). Pretty basic. When the cloud moves, you go. When it stops, you set up camp for a few nights.

But that was a long time ago. You’ve probably noticed that when there’s a big decision to be made there aren’t any arrow-shaped clouds directing you. And when you are lying awake at night wondering what to do, someone must have forgotten to light the burner on that column of flame.

The primary way God will always lead me is with his Word. The “path of your commandments” (Psalm 119:135) will always lead me in “what is right” (Psalm 25:9). The light and truth of his Word will always direct me (Psalm 43:3). Rather than simply wondering what God wants me to do, I can spend a little more time meditating on his Word, letting it either narrow down my choices or reveal what I ought to be doing.

God’s kindness also leads me – to repentance (Romans 2:4). Another day of sunshine or rain is a reminder that I’ve been blessed not according to my behavior but because of his steadfast love. I often need to be led back to him. Not down a path or towards an opportunity. But to my God. I’m grateful he does that like a Shepherd guiding me to food and water rather than a Cowboy driving cattle into the barn!

And then of course, “Christ always leads us in triumphal procession” (2 Cor. 2:14). When you are in the parade celebrating God’s grace, you never have to wonder. With eyes fixed on Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, I’m always on the right path. It’s amazing how clear the path is when he reminds me of who I am at the water of baptism. I’m reassured of my way when he reminds me of who he is at the altar, where I enjoy pasture of grace.

If you are afraid of making the wrong decision or stepping outside of God’s will, remember that if you stray he always comes looking for you. He always runs to embrace you when you realize you’ve made a bad choice. He still loves you and you always get another chance.

In fact, if we are declared righteous by faith, doesn’t that mean he’s already made all the right decision for us? That is a very freeing reality.

I believe it says a lot about God that he hasn’t made all our decisions for us. Instead he lets us discover what it’s like to taste something new that we might or might not like. He lets me decide to sleep in or get up early. I can choose any pet I want, change the station to listen to different music, and eat an extra cookie. I can choose to retire, go say hello to a stranger, add chocolate chips to my pancakes, sit silent in worship or sing my heart out. I can give a few bucks to a beggar or few hundred to my kids.

You know, when I think about it, it’s people who always seem to have more to say about my decisions than God does. Other are quick to question and condemn, not God. He’s slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. That must be why the writer of Ecclesiastes states, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil” (Ecc. 2:24). It’s all a gift from God!