There is no question that one of the greatest blessings God gives us when we become Christians is the Holy Spirit to dwell in us with our bodies becoming the temple of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised the apostles he wouldn’t leave them as orphans but would send the Spirit to be with them and to guide them into all truth, to remind them of the things He had taught them. He even told them it was to their advantage that He go away so the Holy Spirit would come. When you read through the Book of Acts and the different letters of Paul, Peter, and John there are tons of references to the work of the Spirit in the lives of those who follow Christ. He strengthens us with His Spirit in the inner being, He leads us by the Spirit and helps us in our weaknesses. He even bears the fruit of the Spirit in our lives as we follow him. But how do you know when it is the Holy Spirit that is leading you in a given area and not some other spirit or just your own desires?
In Acts 16:6-10 Paul had just taken Timothy to become a companion and fellow preacher of the word of God and began their travels to strengthen people in the faith and the result was the numbers were growing daily. But look at what follows in these verses: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. during the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us. After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
Does it not strike you as odd that even though Jesus had commanded them to make disciples among all the nations or every ethnic group and to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth, that the Holy Spirit would keep them from going into some places to preach the gospel of Jesus? Did God not want the people of Asia to hear the message of good news? Was the Spirit somehow prejudice against the people in Bithynia? The truth is we don’t know for certain why the Spirit didn’t allow them to go into either of the places. it could have been that the people just weren’t ready or there may have been other disciples that the Spirit was leading to go to those places. But what is most intriguing to me is that during the night Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia saying to him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” The next day they seemed to have had a meeting with the group and Paul told them about the vision that he had and they concluded that God had called them to preach the gospel to the people of Macedonia. Did some of the group question the decision or if this was really what the Spirit was calling them to do? I don’t know. I don’t know even how the Spirit communicated with the group that they weren’t allowed to go to Asia or Bithynia. But somehow the Spirit was guiding them and both closing doors and opening a door for them in the preaching of his word.
So, how do we know when the Spirit is guiding us in a particular way or to a particular person or place? We certainly need to spend time praying for God to guide us in our decisions and choices. We can’t decide if the call from the Spirit is real for us or not based on how we are treated by people when we get there. If you look at Paul and his companions and how they were treated in Philippi it wouldn’t seem like it was such an open door. Their first conversion was a lady named Lydia who was a traveling salesperson. Then they had a young lady who was demon-possessed. with the ability to tell fortunes and she followed them around shouting these men are the servants of the Most High God until her actions irritated Paul to the degree he cast the demon out. I would guess it led to her conversion even though Luke doesn’t tell us for sure. But it did lead to Paul and Silas arrest and being beaten horribly, then thrown into jail where they were placed in the inner prison and their feet in stocks. They may have been questioning by this point if that vision really did mean that God was calling them to Macedonia. But at midnight they were singing praise to God and the people in prison were all listening as they sang and prayed. God sent an earthquake that opened the prison doors, and broke loose the stocks and brought the jailer running with a sword ready to take his own life because the prisoners had been freed. When Paul told him not to harm himself they were all there, he wanted to know what to do to be saved and they were able to teach him and his whole family about Jesus and baptized them sometime during the night.
Let’s face it if you looked at the converts you might have thought that this wasn’t a very successful work. But as years went by that church in Philippi became one of the favorite churches of Paul and one that supported his work wherever he went.
How do you know it is the Spirit leading? You certainly need to take time to make certain that what you believe the Spirit is leading you to do harmonizes with what the Spirit wrote in the Scriptures. Since the word of God is God-breathed or inspired by the Holy Spirit, and he hasn’t learned anything new since that time if what I believe the Spirit is leading me to do contradicts the Scriptures then I am mistaken. That spirit may be from the devil or it may just be my allowing my own thoughts and motivation to affect my thinking.
The third thing that one should always ask when trying to decide if the Spirit is the one leading us, is will whatever is being considered result in us and other people involved bearing the fruit of the Spirit? Will it lead us to be spiritual people that are working to restore those who have been overtaken in a fault? Will it lead to sowing to the Spirit rather than to the flesh?
When the Spirit opens doors it may well be with many adversaries (I Corinthians 16:9). When we listen to the thinking of a group of people who are telling us that a thing is true, we had better be checking closely to see if this is the Spirit’s guidance or just people and usually our estimate of how many people are involved will be highly exaggerated. Through the years when people have come to me to say that a lot of people are complaining about something, my immediate thought is that it is them and two other people whom they are seldom willing to name.
The Spirit leads! But not everything that people think is from the Spirit is really from the Spirit of God. It is always worth taking the time to pray, to search the Scriptures and to question if it is really God leading or some other spirit.