It was pretty simple, though no doubt trying and exhausting. The children of Israel were told how to recognize God’s leading during the desert crossing under Moses’ leadership:
The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people. (Exodus 13:21)
Talk about supernatural leading! It was very obvious which way God was leading them. They had simply to recognize the witness of God’s power and presence and follow it. However, in this example we do see that it requires more than knowing God’s will and direction for us to accomplish it! God has to deal with our hearts so that we actually desire to do what we know to be God’s will! The children of Israel were rebellious and kept turning back to their old ways.
Did you ever notice how John the Baptist was able to recognize Jesus as the Messiah? While John understood his ministry as one who would go before the Messiah and prepare the way, how would he know for sure when the time had come? Who exactly was the Messiah? How would he recognize God’s chosen One?
I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, “He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:33)
The Father had communicated to John the principle of following the cloud! Look for the activity of the Father in the presence and witness of the Spirit…and join Him in His work! This is what John did and he nailed it! The Spirit always bears witness to the Word.
Jesus also operated under divine guidance. He said, “I only do what I see My Father doing…” (John 5:19). The Son of God cultivated a sensitivity to recognizing the Father’s supernatural activity. And He joined in with the Father. When Jesus saw something happen that only the Father could do, He recognized it as the Father’s activity and joined Him in the work. Do you remember the story of Zaccheus climbing up in the tree to see Jesus in the crowd. Though there were hundreds and thousands of people in the crowd Jesus decided to spend the night with this little man. Why was this? Because he could literally see the earnestness and the hunger for God in this tax-collector. A true hunger for God is God-given! The Bible says that no one hungers for and seeks after God on their own (see Romans 3:10-12). Therefore, Zaccheus’ spiritual thirst was a clear indicator of the Father’s activity. Jesus simply recognized the Father’s work and aligned Himself with it: “Zaccheus, I’m staying at your place tonight.” The problem of lodging for the night was solved by recognizing the Father’s activity!
Another example would be Peter’s “confession”. Jesus had asked His disciples, “Who do the people say that I am?” The disciples replied by telling Him all the rumors and superstition and opinions being circulated among the masses. Then Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16) Jesus’ response to Peter’s confession gives us yet another clue to following the Father’s leading:
“Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hades will not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:17-18)
Jesus recognized the Father’s activity in Peter’s response. No one can recognize who Jesus truly is unless the Father is pleased to reveal Him. Thus, Jesus knew that the Father was moving in Peter’s life. So Jesus would in turn also give His blessing to Peter.
Here we find an important key to being led by the Spirit: Look for those things that only the Father can do and then join Him in it.
From Aaron’s budding rod and the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, to Jesus only doing what He saw the Father doing, we find a common thread: God’s people are a supernatural people, indwelt by a supernatural Spirit, fulfilling His supernatural purposes. Learn to recognize those things that only God can do and join with Him!
Let me give a warning at this point. What I am describing here is not a superstitious chasing after signs or “fleeces”. I am talking about developing and cultivating a real relationship with the Father that is characterized by loving Him and longing to keep in step with His will.
For a more detailed study of this principle, let me highly recommend the classic in knowing and doing God’s will: Experiencing God (By Henry Blackaby). If you’ve never gone through the Experiencing God study, it’s time you did! It has revolutionized the lives of thousands of Christians worldwide.