Apprentice Guidance


I’ve been blogging about divine guidance. I suggested that there are three basic views Christians have: blueprint guidance, breadcrumb guidance, and apprentice guidance. Blueprint guidance sees God’s will for us as an exact plan to be followed. Breadcrumb guidance understands the will of God as a goal, instead of a plan, and the way to that goal doesn’t necessarily follow a predetermined path. In both of these views, however, it is thought that God has a specific and particular outcome in mind for our lives. Apprentice guidance differs from these in that it teaches us that God’s will for us is less about particulars, like who we marry and where we live, and more about what kind of person we become.

Apprentice guidance uses the metaphor of a master and apprentice to understand divine guidance. An apprentice learns under a master the ways and skills of a vocation. The master aims at training the apprentice in such a way that he will be able to participate in the vocation as a fully capable workman. Likewise, a teacher trains her student not to simply parrot her lessons or mindlessly carry out her instructions, but to integrate the learning into his life. In both cases, the goal is the formation of the learner. Divine guidance is God’s formative instruction enabling us to live as He does, that is, in love (Eph 5:1-2).

Becoming Capable of Communion

From the Garden of Eden to the creation of the church, God’s intention has been to create family. It’s the communion of the Trinity that God has been trying to enlarge. Humanity is God’s beloved creation, made in His image to be able to reason, choose, and enjoy relationships. Our destiny is to become partners with God and one another in loving friendship. “God’s will is for community in which power and love are shared, where love and not compulsion reigns,” says Clark Pinnock. From this we understand that one purpose of divine guidance is  to enable us to become capable of communion.

Learning the Dance

God, as master teacher, uses a variety of methods to instruct us in the way of love. The hope is that we develop virtue and wisdom so that we can participate in relationships of love, which is the key to human flourishing. This guidance comes primarily through the Spirit of God, the Word of God, and the People of God. Through these avenues God speaks to us, cultivating habits of heart and mind that shape us to be fully human, able to share life with others in reverence and happiness. His will isn’t for us to act out some script in a play, but to learn the steps in a dance of love with Him and one another.

Repelling Death

Additionally, our apprenticeship under God will explicitly teach us to not look to circumstances and life’s events to discern His will. The Bible shows us that since the Fall things are not as they should be. Creation and history are open and remain unfinished. Our job is to partner with God to resist the effects of the Fall and not passively accept situations and events as His will. The beauty of being made in God’s image is that we have the ability of initiative. We can bring something new to the world and by it, in the words of Udo Middleman, “repel death in any of its ugly manners.”

Divine Guidance has been often misunderstood by Christians. Ideas have consequences. Passivity, egotism, and even cruelty can result from a faulty understanding of God’s will. The apprentice model offers a concept of divine guidance that does justice to our created nature and gives us practical understanding of how to live our lives. It treats us as creative, responsible partners with God, working in the world to push back evil and create community.

Breadcrumb Guidance


How divine guidance is understood shapes both the devoted and nominal Christian’s life. Choosing a mate, a career, a home, or even a parking space are often determined by how one understands God’s leading and purposes. One way to understand divine guidance is to use the metaphor of a blueprint, which I elaborated on in a previous post. Blueprint guidance is an inadequate model for divine guidance primarily because it sells short the image of God in humans and conceives of us more as puppets than partners.

Another useful metaphor comes from the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. Journeying into the woods to be abandoned by their family, the children leave a trail of breadcrumbs along their path in order to find their way home. This method of “breadcrumb guidance” ultimately fails them. Breadcrumb guidance is a somewhat better way to understand God’s leading in our lives, yet it distorts God’s purpose for us, leaving us passive or even worse, self-indulgent.

A Goal, Not a Plan

This model of guidance portrays God’s will for us as a goal, rather than an exact plan.  He has a unique objective in mind for each of us, perhaps differing according to each stage in our life, but nonetheless a particular outcome is desired by Him. Our task is to seek Him, day by day, turn by turn, in order to reach that outcome. He allows for the vicissitudes of life, our human weaknesses, and even our sin, so a wrong turn here or there isn’t a show stopper. He will provide new breadcrumbs to lead us to the right path. As long as we’re looking for the breadcrumbs of His leading, then everything will turn out well in the end. This idea is supposed to be an exciting adventure in the daily discovery of God’s will.

The problem with using breadcrumbs, as we learn from the Hansel and Gretel tale, is that they are not stable markers. Mental impressions, signs, gut feelings, and “words” obtained through scripture roulette are easily devoured by the jaws of hard reality, just as the breadcrumbs were gobbled up by the birds. A living and dynamic communication with God is of course desirable, but looking for a stream of divine nods to choose our steps can become a highly subjective, introspective, and even arbitrary way of managing our life. It can border on the crazy or become a justification to do whatever we want.

Led by Principle Rather than Impulse

Besides this, breadcrumb guidance fundamentally violates the purpose that God has for us, namely, to be ruled by principle rather than impulse. In the scriptures, maturity means to gain discernment and wisdom. We’re to learn the ways of God, in order to be like Him, rather than aspire to be good detectives with large magnifying glasses. David exhorts us to not be like the horse and mule who need a bit and bridle to hold them in check, but to gain understanding (Psalm 32:9). Indeed, God wants to speak to us, but not think for us. Ephesians 4 outlines God’s discipleship goals for His people which is to know and practice the truth, the essence of love.

When God created Adam and Eve His hope was to invite them into the communion of the Trinity. As reasoning, creative beings themselves, humankind would be able to relate to God in a way that actually mattered. The image of God imprinted on their souls qualified them to be true companions, although not equals. Yet, as real persons, the joys and sorrows would be genuine for them and God, which would be impossible for mere puppets. Both Geppetto and Pinocchio knew a woodcarving with strings couldn’t compete with a real boy.

In my final post on this subject, I’ll describe a model for divine guidance that I believe more closely follows the biblical message. I call it apprentice guidance. The master trains his apprentice to become more than a servant who simply executes commands and blends into the background. One day he hopes to call the apprentice a co-laborer and friend. I seem to remember Jesus saying something just like that.

Blueprint Guidance


In a previous post I summarized three models for divine guidance. The first of these I called, “Blueprint guidance.” As the name implies, blueprint guidance is about God having an exact blueprint, or plan, for your life. He knows the perfect path for you to take and wants you to fulfill His divine will by following that path. Any deviation from His plan will mean you have chosen second best. He still loves you and you can still be used by Him, but you will have missed His perfect will.

Blueprint guidance seeks to show us that God is a meticulous ruler and leaves nothing to chance. His particular will is the best possible option for us. He only wants what is perfect for His children. We can take comfort in the fact that if we follow in His footsteps, whatever happens to us is all part of His perfect plan. We can rest secure that Someone is watching out for us and that there is a purpose behind all the ups and downs and twists and turns of life.

Partners, Not Puppets

While painting a lofty picture of God, blueprint guidance defaces man. Special among creation, humans have been made in the image of God. Unlike rocks, plants, insects, and animals, humans are endowed by their creator with freedom of choice, that mysterious ability to be little creators themselves. While puppets might be fun to play with, God created us to be partners, not puppets.

Only free, reasoning beings can have a relationship of intimacy and meaning with God. Writing a play and watching it acted out I’m sure is enormously enjoyable. But no one, including God, would want to live out their life in such a way. The real action is in voluntary relationships of love. What blesses me is not seeing my wife follow some meticulous plan I came up with, that’s what tyrants like. What warms my heart is her uncompelled, spontaneous love. It would give me no pleasure if I knew that she was only acting out a script I wrote.

Apprentice Guidance

In contrast, apprentice guidance, which describes divine guidance in terms of a master teaching a student, is more faithful to how humans have been created. Normally, God instructs, not directs. He demonstrates, not orchestrates. I’m not saying that He doesn’t work behind the scenes to bring about good in our lives, but He longs for us to be partners, not puppets. His purpose for us is to be fully human: initiating, learning, and perfecting. His guidance is an impartation of wisdom that He hopes we will cherish as much as He does.

In my next post I’ll talk about breadcrumb guidance, another view that is somewhat better than blueprint guidance, but nonetheless, doesn’t do justice to how God has created us.

Divine Guidance


Understanding how God guides us has important implications for our lives. How we see Him interacting with us to shape our future will determine what kind of choices we make in the present. And the quality of our life is highly dependent upon our choices. So, a right understanding of divine guidance is essential for a happy life, but also for an effective one. For it is difficult to see our intentions for good come to pass when we misinterpret the will and desires of Him from whom is the source of all goodness.

Christians have tried to tackle this topic of divine guidance since the early church. While it is impossible to exhaustively cover in a blog post all the ways of understanding divine guidance, I will summarize the three most basic ideas.

Blueprint Guidance

In this model, God’s will is like a master blueprint. He has a plan for our lives and has mapped out precisely what each person should do. This is His perfect will. Our job is to discover that plan and follow it diligently. If we don’t do exactly what He has ordained for us, then we will have to settle for second best. We aren’t rejected by Him as long as we are within His permitted will, those choices and actions that aren’t sin, but we’ve missed the ultimate best for our lives.

Breadcrumb Guidance

This idea rejects the concept of a blueprint and favors instead the idea of a goal. Like a team playing on a ball field, God has a goal for us to reach, but allows for fumbles and setbacks. Life is dynamic and our best laid plans are often upended. That’s fine, but we need to discover the next best choice that will lead us to His goal. God’s guidance is like breadcrumbs that point us in the right direction. Our job is to daily discover those breadcrumbs and follow His lead.

Apprentice Guidance

An apprentice is one who is learning from a master to be able to do the kind of work the master does. He is learning to imitate the skill and character of his teacher so that he can effectively participate in the vocation. The focus is on learning the values, wisdom, and behaviors of the master. When the master gives guidance to the apprentice it is directed toward developing his character and capacities, not determining his every step. In this model of divine guidance, our job is to understand what God says about humanity, the world, and what is truly important. We are to follow Christ in living and working for the good wherever we can. As beloved children, we are to be imitators of God and walk in love (Eph. 5:1-2).

Of the three ways of understanding divine guidance, I believe the apprentice model best represents biblical teaching. In a future post I’ll critique the other models and show why the apprentice model is superior.

Guidance Quotes

Here are a couple of quotes related to the subject of guidance which I discussed in my last post.

One from Dallas Willard:

The will (spirit) is mysterious from the point of view of the physical and social world, for there it is causes, not choices, that dominate. But one can never get a grip on his or her own life–or that of others–from the causal point of view. It is choice that matters. Imagine a person wondering day after day if he or she is going to learn Arabic or if he or she is going to get married to a certain person just waiting, to see whether it would “happen.”

That would be laughable. But many people actually seem to live in this way with respect to major issues involving them, and with a deplorable outcome. That explains a lot of why lives go as they do. But to learn a language, and for the many even more important concerns of life, we must intend the vision if it is to be realized. That is, we must initiate, bring into being those factors that would bring the vision to reality. Renovation of the Heart

And two from Udo Middelmann:

The Bible gives images of warfare going on since Lucifer fell and became Satan. Our part in that warfare is to hunger after righteousness, seek justice, work in concert with what we are told in God’s Word about life in the real world, and pray. We are to put the hand to the plow, to resist the effects of the fall of Adam, to live and repel death in any of its ugly manners. The Innocence of God

We do not go through all of life’s ups and downs, absurdities, unfairness, and suffering to fulfill the purposes of God through all events. If that were so it would remove all needs to judge events, people, or situations. They are then all part of a major purpose. Yet the Bible clearly maintains a distance between what happens in history and God’s purposes for history. The Innocence of God

Running with Plan A


Recently, a few of us have been discussing an article about guidance written by Jill Carattini entitled, Running With Plan B. This has stimulated a lot of discussion and has prompted us to think more deeply about guidance. The following are some thoughts I’ve had about the article:

I like the emphasis that there isn’t a divine blueprint for one’s life and that it’s false to think if you make a ‘misstep’ you’ve screwed up God’s plan. That is very healthy and biblical. I also appreciate how she says that God works with us and that life is dynamic. I especially like that she points to Pascal’s message that our ultimate ‘destination’ and good is God Himself. I wish she elaborated further on that, because I think that is actually the most important point in the whole article.

Where I have difficulty is the inference that God has a specific, particular plan for each of us, rather than a general purpose with the particulars being worked out as we seek to apply gospel truths to our lives and labor to bring His love to others. The GPS example kind of gives the idea of a determined endpoint. I think she says something like this: God has a goal and plan for your life and He is able to re-route you to that goal even if you get side-tracked along the way. This metaphor implicitly implies that there is a destination or concrete outcome that God has for us. It leans too much toward the concept of fate and diminishes the creative responsibility of humans.

This can lead people to be uncritical about their life choices and assume that the direction they’ve taken and the circumstances they’re facing are somehow going to play into God’s ultimate plan for them. In effect, it leaves us passive in relation to our life’s direction and ultimately tempts us to put a good spin on just about any choice we make. It focusses the attention too narrowly on our own life.

Through the life of Christ, God has shown us a vision of humanity and life that we should emulate. What Jesus says about things is what is truly good. He, indeed, is the way, the truth, and the life. God’s ‘plan’ for us is to be fully human in happy communion with Him and others. This includes joining Him in the mission of bringing His truth and love to others, living a life of self-giving love.

In a sense, the ball is in our court to collaborate with God to undo the effects of selfishness and destruction and promote human flourishing wherever and whenever we can. This is a wide open opportunity, truly dependent on our own creative choice, that even God is anxious to see unfold. The normal way of being human is to make plenty of missteps and mistakes. That’s how we learn. These aren’t diversions off of some planned route. They’re part of the normal learning process God intends for us. During this process of learning we’re constantly trying to understand and make sense of reality (through reflection on the life of Christ) and make application of the truths we learn to promote blessing in the lives of people. This is God’s plan A. There is no plan B.

Useful Friends

“Friends do not love one another because they find the love useful to their pleasures—that is a contradiction. They wish rather to be useful to one another because of their love.” Anthony Esolen

The Fire Hose

We’re starting a new regular posting that will share the links, books, and articles we’ve been reading and thinking about in the community. I call it the “Fire hose” because it’s the collective unedited and unrelated blast of ideas and thoughts flowing through our fellowship. We don’t necessarily agree with everything we read or watch, but we find these sources interesting and they contribute to our dinner conversations and general discussions. Hopefully, you’ll find them interesting, too.

Well, I hope you find the Fire Hose helpful. We’ll try to post the things we’re talking about on a semi-regular basis from now on.

How to Create a Nightmare


If you find the horror genre fascinating then this blog post is for you. I am about to reveal the secrets for creating your own ghoulish drama, all from the comfort of your own life. This fiendish formula works if you personally want to experience terrifying chills and thrills or if you wish to visit a nightmare on others. It’s simple, legal, widely accepted and doesn’t require the use of graveyards, blood, or fake vampire teeth. It can be used in almost any circumstance, with any type of person, and with little effort. The two ingredients for this dark potion is responsibility and authority, and to release the hideous effect just mix in unequal amounts.

Firstly, let’s acquaint ourselves with the ingredients. Responsibility is the obligation to act (or not act) to ensure the welfare of a person, place, or thing. Authority is the right and ability to bring about that welfare. Responsibility says you should do something and authority enables you to do something. When mixed in with equal portions the outcome is beneficial and promotes the health and happiness of all concerned. But when combined unequally, the resulting elixir is poisonous and gives life to an ugly monster.

To have the responsibility for something, but not the right or power to carry out that responsibility is a hellish nightmare. For example, a teacher who is responsible to educate her students, but cannot give homework assignments or discipline an unruly student, is doomed to a life of grief. She will be held accountable for the failing grades of her students, but she lacks the authority necessary to direct the students in a meaningful way that would lead to their academic success. In this case a large measure of responsibility has been mixed in with a small dose of authority. The result of this concoction? A nightmare for the teacher.

But imagine another scenario. Suppose a referee at a football game can call a foul regardless of whether the play actually violates the rules of the game. Additionally, he can’t be fired for any call he makes. In this case there is nothing stopping him from placing a bet on the game and shaping his penalty calls to favor the team he has put his money on. He can randomly make calls if he wishes, or make no calls at all. Perhaps, he is obligated to show up for the game, but he has no responsibility to ensure that the game is played fairly. Here we have a large amount of authority blended with a small dash of responsibility. This particular mixture will produce nightmares as well, but for others not the referee.

Magic Recipe
So, we have the magic recipe: if one wishes to experience a nightmare, make sure that you are in a circumstance where you have a greater amount of responsibility than you have authority. Alternatively, if you want to inflict nightmares on others, try to get into a situation where you have more authority than you have responsibility. It only takes adjusting the proportions one way or the other to direct the flow of terror.

On the other hand, if you hate nightmares and strongly desire to promote happiness and well-being in yourself and others, all you have to do is make sure that responsibility and authority are kept in balance. When accepting an assignment, be sure to clarify the expectations of the assignment and the resources available to you. If these don’t agree, then kindly decline the assignment. When giving an assignment to another, be sure to make explicit the desired result of the assignment and what means and capabilities are available to them for producing that result. By keeping responsibility and authority in balance you will produce a mixture that has a salutary effect on them and will increase their chance of success.

By misunderstanding human nature many inadvertently become evil alchemists. They create nightmare situations by mixing unequal portions of responsibility and authority in the assignments they give. Others live a torturous nightmare because they are accountable for things they cannot change. We were created to be happy and fruitful in life’s endeavors, but if care is not taken to balance responsibility and authority the chances of that grow dim, and instead we sink into a frightful dream.