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Parental guidance needed?

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I assume you’re familiar with this sort of prayer: ‘Lord — please guide us and make your will clear to us’.

It’s the kind of prayer many of us (rightly) pray at this New Year’s Resolution-making time of year.

I certainly hear it a lot. Often from my own mouth!

Which is no surprise, I guess. I go to enough ministry planning meetings where we ache to ensure our vision and goals line up with God’s plans. And I sit with enough people wrestling with big decisions—about career or relationships or church.

And there’s something undeniably good about the desire this sort of prayer wraps with words. It’s perfectly right to be committed to walking a path pleasing to God—even in the face of uncertainty. Who could argue with the longing it expresses to honour our Lord?

But I’ve started to try to pay attention to what’s going on in my heart as I utter these sorts of prayers. And I’m struck by the oddness of some of the expectations my words bundle up together with this appropriate longing and commitment.

You see, the picture this sort of prayer can paint is one in which we’re asking our Heavenly Father to give us exactly the ‘guidance’ we often resent receiving from our earthly parents!

I mean, do we really intend to ask God to lay out a detailed plan for our every step? To micromanage our every decision? To make every aspect of timing and process abundantly clear?

Much as I love them, I wouldn’t ask my parents for that. And I’m not sure they’d want me to either.

In a sense, it’s almost the overriding goal of healthy parenting to prepare one’s children to make their own good decisions—springing freely from their informed maturity and well-formed characters.

Without denying for a moment that God can of course — and indeed sometimes does — guide and lead us in a very specific way, I am not convinced that this is what Bible teaches us to expect as the norm. In fact, numerous passages in the New Testament suggest that God wants to steer his dearly-loved sons and daughters towards maturity, and even a kind of healthy independence’.

Whether it’s the way Paul in Galatians 5 describes the work of the indwelling Spirit in God’s children (now of an age to inherit the promise).

Here, we’re assured that God the Holy Spirit will cause “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control” to spring forth in our lives (vv 22-13).

Paul appears to imagine that this will happen spontaneously—as spontaneously as trees bear fruit (in contrast to the far less organic-sounding “works of the flesh” mentioned in verses 19-21). For he doesn’t seem to see any need to spell out step by step how this fruit ought to be manifest in our lives.
Or take the vision of the organically growing Christian community in Ephesians 4.

Here, the victorious and ascended Lord is portrayed as the one who personally gives specific people to play a role in building up the church towards Christian unity and maturity (vv 7-13).

And the goal of this is a kind of ‘independent dependence’—meaning not only our corporate interdependence upon each other but also our utter dependence on Jesus to bind us together and animate us as a body that independently “promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part” (verses 14-16).

But few passages do more to convince me that God longs for our full-grown freedom as his children than the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).

As we pray this model prayer, we willingly surrender our will to God’s: “Your name be honoured as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. At the same time, we stake our daily existence on our confidence that he will reliably and abundantly meet all our physical and spiritual needs: ‘Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts … And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’.

What this teaches us is that radical dependence on our Heavenly Father won’t crush or overwhelm us; rather, it will result in nothing less than our physical and spiritual flourishing — past, present and future.

So why do we persist in asking for something different? Something far less worthy of the mature dignity God longs for his children to walk in?

And what would it sound like to seek from God truly parental guidance? Guidance more in keeping with his holy and loving commitment to our burgeoning freedom, flourishing and ‘dependent independence’?

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