R. Dirk Jellema was a professor in the English Department at Hope College for many years. He was also a contributing editor of The Reformed Journal, which was a periodical in print from 1951 to 1990 that published thoughtful Christian engagement with culture. Some of the articles will be republished later this year in The Best of “The Reformed Journal.” Below is an article by Jellema on the way in which God leads his children.
“He Leadeth Me”
I guess I’m a Christian of little faith. Students come to me from time to time, flinty of eye, claiming that God has led them to this or that. One told me God had led him to believe that his Word was sufficient and it was up to me to convince him that the text in my literature course was worth reading. I chose the coward’s way (not wishing to be pitted against God) and asked the youth why he needed his Physical Chemistry text.
Youth, of course, will be swerved. But lately I’ve heard from mature people whom I respect an easy access to God’s leading that causes me to wonder. How do we know that it’s God, not Satan, whose map we follow?
The first was one who had taken a job in a better area, closer to home, at higher pay, and among friends. “God led us here,” he said, including his family. The second had wondered about leaving a job, decided that he’d leave it to the Lord: if he got a promotion, it would be God’s way of telling him to stay; if not, he would leave. He got the promotion and stayed.
I like to ask God to lead me, too. I’d be happy if his wisdom would get around to recognizing the raise and promotion I could use. But the more serious I get about being led, the seamier the conditions into which he leads me. Unlike Gideon I’ve never thrown out a sheepskin, but an old 40% cashmere sweater did once follow the dewpoint exactly — and besides, the cats got at it. Signs ain’t what they used to be in my neighborhood.
In his essay “Commencement Address,” Milton Mayer warns his audience that while God works in mysterious ways, the devil is no fool: he comes at us in all the disguises of virtue. Mayer was, by my limited lights, accurate.
From what I can tell — and there’s even a good deal of biblical evidence — the Lord seldom leads his children from a path of lesser advantage to one of greater, from a post of great sacrifice to one of great comfort. It’s usually the other way around.
He doesn’t ask us to be stupid, I think. Fools, clowns maybe, in his service; but not stupid. Those who are led to power and riches tend almost always to be absorbed in the system that perpetuates power and riches.
There should be something in the Beatitudes about those who get led up the ladder of success — that they should inherit the pollen, maybe. Or the whitewash concession.
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