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Led by the Spirit

Posted by on Jun 2, 2010 in discipleship, spirit/holy spirit | 11 comments

Led by the Spirit

What does it mean to be “led by the Spirit”? Often, when someone says something like, “I think the Spirit may be leading me to do something,” what they really mean is, “I think this is what I should do, but I want to sound spiritual.” But, of course, they also don’t want to blame God for any bad moves they make, so they give God an out by saying things like “I think” or “maybe” or “I’m trying to discern” etc.

I was thinking about that when I read this passage in Acts:

And they (Paul and his team) went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.  And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:6-10 ESV)

Notice a few things… first, Paul and his team attempted to make at least two moves that were not in God’s plan. They tried to “speak the word in Asia” and they attempted to “go into Bithynia.” Luke does not say that they thought God was leading them to do this.

But, second, they knew that God stopped them from doing it. Twice Luke says that the Spirit stopped them. This was a definite act of God, but whether they knew it before hand or afterwards, Luke doesn’t tell us.

Finally, Paul has a vision of going to Macedonia. It’s only after a direct communication from God that they were willing to say that God was telling them to do something. Even then, there appears to be some consideration of the vision, since they had to “conclude” that God had called them to Macedonia.

While there are plenty of other passages in Scripture that helps us understand how God leads his people by his Spirit, we can see a few things in this passage.

Paul and his team did not feel the need to credit (or blame) God for every decision that they made. Just in these few verses we see that Paul and his team made decisions and began following plans that were later changed by God. Reading through Acts, you could probably say that this was their default way of making decisions. Certainly they prayed and considered all their options and started along the path that seemed best to them.

But, they were also always cognizant of the fact that they might make decisions that were contrary to God’s plans, and thus, they were also willing to change their plans. If God clearly revealed to them to stop what they were doing (as he did concerning Asia or Bithynia), or if God clearly revealed something that he wanted them to do (as he did concerning Macedonia), then Paul and his team would change their plans.

God is our Father, and he loves as. We can make decisions based on the information that we have and the wisdom that he’s given us. We don’t have to say something like, “I think God is leading me to…” But, at the same time, we should always be ready to change our plans if he reveals something else to us.

You see, being “led by the Spirit” is not a feeling that you get. It is a definite direction that God reveals to us.


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  1. 6-2-2010

    What a great observation. I am going to browse through the scriptures and see if I find other examples that fit what you are saying.

  2. 6-2-2010

    I’m with you here, Alan. Romans 8:14 also speaks of being led by the Spirit. There, it appears to mean something like being led to kill sin (cf. vv.12-13). It is strange that most Christians have abandoned speaking of the Spirit’s leading in this very biblical way in favor of a way that I haven’t been able to find in Scripture.

  3. 6-2-2010


    If you find any correlating or contrasting examples, please let me know.


    Do you think “led by the Spirit” in Romans 8:14 only refers to being led “kill sin”?


  4. 6-2-2010


    Good question. It might also mean more (cf. vv.15-16), but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean less.

  5. 6-3-2010

    In I Cor 16, there is something much more tentative than what we typically think of in discerning the Lord’s will in the way Paul speaks about wanting to go and do certain things, or having other do them, but allowing for God to redirect. It is not the way most of us think about Paul discerning the Lord’s will:

    I Cor 16:4 if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me.

    I Cor 16:5-6 I will come unto you, when I shall pass through Macedonia… And it may be that I will abide, yea, and winter with you, that ye may bring me on my journey whithersoever I go.

    I Cor 16:7 I will not see you now by the way; but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit.

    I Cor 16:10-11 if Timotheus come … conduct him forth in peace, that he may come unto me: for I look for him with the brethren.

    I Cor 16:12 As touching our brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come unto you with the brethren: but his will was not at all to come at this time; but he will come when he shall have convenient time.

  6. 6-4-2010

    Good points, and good question. In reading the verses Art supplied, I would give the following generalization, that would correlate with how I have operated in my life in regards to this question (not to say that I am absolutely correct in the way I have operated, mind you). It seems to me that Paul is speaking about future plans in such a way as to leave an opening that what he thinks he wants to do may not be what the Lord actually directs.

    Growing up in a charismatic church, “the Lord said” was thrown about all the time, and usually it was something we thought he might want, or even worse, what we ourselves wanted. I still find in myself a tendency to misinterpret my own strong desires as being the will of the Lord. As I have walked further with Him, I find myself learning to distinguish the “voice” of the spirit. I like Romans 8:14, which states that those that are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. I used to scoff at those who seemed to seek direction from the Lord for every little thing, but I find myself tending more towards that, as I believe he has an intimate interest in our doings. I can recognize that, in my long-term planning of my life, I have my idea of how I see things playing out, and this is based partly on what I have seen Him do up until now, and partly on what I myself desire. As I approach individual decisions, however, I try to seek his will, and having come to what I believe is the right decision, I carry it out “in faith”. ‘In faith’ meaning that I believe that was his direction, but I trust that if I made a mistake His grace will cover me and lead me back to the correct path. Learning to be led by the Spirit seems to be a process for me, and I assume for others as well.

  7. 6-4-2010

    Hey Mark,

    I see following Him as having two dual paths at work.

    One part is that He has given me free will, given me much teaching (scriptures and experiences) and He gives me considerable freedom to work that out in my life. He has given me brothers and sisters and He controls/uses all the circumstances in my life. Even if my son (30) or my daughter (38) were to come and ask me about what they should be doing at any moment, even on big decisions, I would tend to give general guidance, and not specific direction. I know, I don’t know everything (but even if I did, would I prevent them from making mistakes? would I micro-manage their life?). I want to see them mature and managing their affairs the way that flows through them. In most cases, there are 100 good and right paths, and it really is wide open. God can manage things even with us making many decisions.

    The other part is that like you, I ask Him about everything; I expect Him to barge in at any time and give me specifics now and then. I also expect that as I go through my day, He is at work leading me, presenting me with opportunities to make good choices that please Him, teaching me. I am not “on my own.”

    The other day I was thinking about Jn 12:26 “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.” I was asking myself, “where is Jesus today? Am I alongside Him today?” As it happened, my lunch was delayed almost two hours for a rush project, and when I finally left, I was fairly hungry. As I got to my car, the guy in the car next to mine cranked his car and nothing happened. I am happy to say I didn’t even think about it, I just asked if he needed help. 30 minutes and a new gas can later, he was on his way. That seemed to me Him saying yes, we’re working together today. For full disclosure, I should add that later that day, in my pajamas, I ignored His invitation to join Him helping a neighbor move in *sigh*.

    Scripturally, The story in Gen 24 of Abraham’s eldest servant epitomizes these two paths woven together. He was told to go, freed of the responsibility for results, and off he wandered. Imagine walking to Texas to find the right girl for your master’s son (my wife has suggested this for ours…) “She’s gotta be a Texan!” That would either take luck or a miracle. When he finds Rebekah, he exclaims, “I being in the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master’s brethren.” Abraham has told him, “The LORD, before whom I walk, will send his angel with thee, and prosper thy way.” We are “following Jesus,” not so much like stepping in His footprints across a mine field, but He has sent His Spirit to follow us, to “prosper” our way (with results, not Cadillac’s).

  8. 6-4-2010


    I appreciate your response. In reading your first paragraph, I think I find myself in the formative years, so to speak. Just like with our own children, the amount of freedom He gives us depends on our maturity level. It takes time go grow into the ability to hear from Him, and to develop enough of His nature internally that our decision is by default His decision, because the nature of Christ has, to that extent, become our nature. I have made decisions I regret, one decision in particular, because I failed to rightly divine his will. He warned me in the process of carrying through with that decision, but I failed to recognize that, and now, two years later, I still pay the price, to a certain extent (a lot of growth came out of that whole scenario, proof that “He worketh all things…”). I guess what I am saying is that I agree with what you said, and I feel that the longer I walk with Him the more natural it becomes, so to speak. Thanks for the dialogue!


  9. 6-6-2010

    I believe obedience is the key to having the Spirit lead. For example. Paul and his companions were actively working to make Jesus known. As they were going, they were getting course corrected by the Spirit.

    We listen to God when we read his Word. We listen to God
    more carefully and more personally and specifically when we obey his Word. It is only through obedience that we hear his Spirit speak to us.

    For example, in Luke 10, there is the command to heal the sick and announce the kingdom of God. That is general. When we were obedient to do that in a small town here, God
    pointed out an opportunity to pray for the healing of a specific person, which led us to an opportunity to announce the good news to her extended family.

    Without the initial obedience, we would not have heard from God in the specifics. By obeying what we hear from God, we increase our capacity to hear and recognize His voice and be led by the Spirit.

  10. 3-5-2013

    I think the following correlates to your topic “Led by the Spirit”:
    “As the human body has its senses, so the human spirit has its sensing too. We call this sensing of the spirit “intuition,” for it comes directly from the spirit. For instance, we may be contemplating doing a certain thing. It appears quite reasonable, we like it, and we decide to go ahead. Yet somehow within us is a heavy, oppressive, unspeakable sensing which seems to oppose what our mind has thought, our emotion has embraced, and our will has decided. It seems to tell us that this thing should not be done. This is the restraint of intuition.
    Or take another yet opposite example. A certain thing may be unreasonable, contrary to our delight, and very much against our will. But for some unknown reason there is within us a kind of constraint, urge or encouragement for us to do it. If we do, we will feel comfortable inside. This is the constraint of intuition.” (Watchman Nee)
    It seems to me that Paul and the apostles experienced the leaading of the Spirit often like this.

  11. 3-5-2013


    Thank you for sharing the quote from Nee.