Often I am perplexed by the mystery of the human person. The more I learn and see, the more I wonder: Do I really have what it takes to be a spiritual guide to the people I meet?
My experience is not unique. Many women came to Susan for a time of fellowship and conversation on spiritual matters. Her home was a safe place. When I visited her to ask about her work, she downplayed her role. It was not just humility; she felt inadequate. Many lives she touched were filled with turmoil. She wished she could do more. But often she did not know what to say or do. She felt the needs of those around her stretching her insight and heart into territories unknown. In elders’ meetings I stopped being surprised by the confessions of inadequacy. Even the wisest find their abilities overwhelmed and their confidence undermined.
Not surprisingly, those who begin the work of spiritual direction often wonder: Do I have what it takes?
Facing Our Limitations
Wondering about our qualifications for leading others in faith is understandable. Matters of the soul are not diagnosed with X-rays or treated with drugs. What we do not know about people and the work of God’s Spirit far outweighs what we do know. This is not because of lack of training or utter stupidity. We are simply facing the limitations of our knowledge and competence. We need to see this as a strength rather than as a disqualification.
A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Several weeks after a funeral, I visit with the family members.
Frequently, we discuss the insensitive comments some have made (e.g., “It is God’s will”). However well meant, the words are uncaring and unhelpful. They are usually offered by those who know a little theology and feel uncomfortable around death. They know too little about the perplexing issues of the will of God. They know too little about the turmoil inside the person they seek to comfort. They know too little about their own souls. When they repeat the phrases they have heard without considering their impact, they use the little they know inappropriately, causing deep hurt. Recognizing the limitations of our knowledge and the deep mysteries of our life is invaluable. Awe and humility make us better listeners, help us speak more carefully, and allow us to confess our mistakes more quickly.
Facing our limitations can lead us to a deeper dependence on the Spirit’s guidance. Our sense of inadequacy at the mystery of life and the perplexing difficulties of the task of guiding others is the necessary humble beginning for this holy calling. In an act of trust, we embrace the Spirit who will guide us in our ministry.
God Qualifies Us
To the extent that God has moved us to walk with him, to pursue him in our daily journey through life, and to serve him faithfully, we have something to share with those around us. We share our faith and what God has taught us. We share our gifts and our love. We share our experience of the Spirit of God. What God has worked in our lives is the foundation for the calling of being a spiritual guide.
Being a spiritual guide is not so much a matter of competence as it is a matter of dependence on the work of the Spirit. It is the Spirit who gives life and sanctifies believers—ourselves and others. The Spirit is competent.
Only as we are open to the work of God can we be useful in guiding others in their relationships with God.
With amazing grace, God chooses to use us and qualify us for ministry. Before I decided to go into the ministry, I reasoned that if God wanted me to study for the ministry I would have received the gift for language. This was clearly not the case—my French grades were proof of my foreign language inability, and my writing skills were dismal (thank God for editors!). But God was unfazed by my reasoning. Quietly, the Spirit kept nudging me toward the Lord’s ambition for my life. Experiences of service, encouraging words of friends, the motivation of my heart, and the interests of my mind kept leading in one direction. Clearly, God had chosen long before I chose. I experienced the leading of the Spirit.
As the Spirit leads, I have discovered the truth of the parable of the talents: when we use God-given gifts, God blesses and multiplies the gifts we have. When God calls us to serve, God provides all we need. As we use the Lord’s provisions for the journey, the Spirit develops our gifts and even adds to them. God qualifies us. We find our confidence in the assurance that the one who began the good work in us will continue to be with us as we embrace God’s call to walk with others in their faith journey.
A World of Opportunity
I am amazed by the opportunities God gives us to journey with people. Sometimes the moment is brief. Like Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch, our conversation may touch on the heart of the gospel and the soul of the person very quickly. Then we are gone. But in that moment we have a powerful opportunity to lead a person to a deeper life with the Lord.
At other times, it takes years to develop a relationship of trust and love with a person. For whatever reason, someone’s initial reaction to a conversation about God, grace, and the Spirit-filled life may be resistance. The subject of conversation may change. Silence may pervade the room. Yet God has placed this person on our path. In time, perhaps years, the resistance may diminish. God uses our love to pry open the door of the broken heart.
God also calls us into a situation in which our responsibilities give us opportunities to lead others to a deeper life with God. We become elders or Bible study leaders. We find ourselves leading a youth group. We chair a committee or become part of a visitation team. Responsibilities give us opportunities. Through them, Christ chooses to use us to deepen relationships with God.
Do I Have What it Takes?
Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.1 Timothy 3:1
Setting our hearts on this task of spiritual direction can seem very arrogant. How can anyone claim to have what it takes to nurture another soul? Yet God chooses to work through people—to make us responsible for nurturing others. Parents nurture children. Spiritual guides nurture human souls. God may have chosen you as a spiritual guide.
At the beginning of this chapter, we raised a personal question: Do I have what it takes? Our response focuses our hearts on God: the Spirit of God, who has what it takes, calls me and gives me gifts for ministry. We accept this call.
Here I am, Lord.
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.
—©1981, Daniel L. Schutte and New Dawn Music, 5536, NE
Hasslo, Porland, OR 97213.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Exercise: Name two people who were or are spiritual guides for you or others.
How would they feel about being named? Do they have a sense of competence, or do they feel overwhelmed by this calling?
Read Exodus 3 and Jeremiah
1. What are some limitations Moses and Jeremiah felt as they heard God’s call? What was God’s response?
Exercise: When do you feel out of your depth in conversation? When are you overwhelmed by the circumstances of a person’s life?
Give three steps of God’s Spirit leading you toward a ministry of helping others in their faith life.
Exercise: Read Timothy 4:12-16.
How did God qualify Timothy for ministry?
Give some examples of opportunities you have had to have spiritual conversations in your relationships with various people.
Exercise: Pray for the grace to accept God’s guidance and for encouragement to carry the people of God in our hearts.