Moving in Sync with the Divine Rhythm

Moving in Sync with the Divine Rhythm

the need for the spiritual discipline of corporate guidance


Jesus' ministry on this earth demonstrated how to live in response to the voice of the Heavenly Father. He teaches us that we can hear the Father most clearly when we are in agreement (Matthew 18:19). Christians struggle in every age, but especially in our current generation, with coming to agreement in ways that give witness to God's voice. This requires the Spirit's guidance. The terms "guiding" and "guidance" have personal and corporate meanings and applications, but I believe that they both have similar goals.
The Pastoral Care Function of Guiding
“Guiding is that function of the ministry of the cure [care] of souls which arrives at some wisdom concerning what one ought to do when he is faced with a difficult problem of choosing between various courses of thought or action.” (1) We seldom hear of this important pastoral function in church life today, which saddens me.
Guiding seeks “useful wisdom” that helps a person to grow in awareness of life’s meaning and their own personal direction in it. Typically, this guidance occurs with the context of a crisis or a weighty decision that must be made. There are any number of sources for this wisdom: “from within the person who is faced with a dilemma" (i.e., the use of God-given inner resources for decision-making), from the experience of a pastor or counselor, from shared common values ruling in their mutually shared culture, and “from a body of truth or knowledge independent of both the counselor and counselee” (e.g., the Scriptures). (2)
The Corporate Spiritual Discipline of Guidance
There is also the corporate spiritual discipline of “guidance.” The church seeks the unifying “useful wisdom” that comes from the Spirit and the Word of God. My reasoned belief is that the contemporary corporate body of Christ desperately needs this spiritual discipline. There are helpful biblical examples of it.

The “superintending Spirit” makes use of the checks and balances of different believers to ensure that unity is preserved and that the church is in “rhythm with the heartbeat of the Father.” Instances of corporate guidance occur in Acts 13, where Paul and Barnabas are separated by the deliberating church to the missionary ministry (13:1-3), and where the church faced and resolved the corporate challenge from a small group that insisted upon circumcision for all new Christians (Acts 15:1-35). (3) 
I find it most helpful to follow Paul’s example of corporate unity-building throughout the New Testament. Thankfully, I am not the only one who sees that Paul equips the fledgling churches to rely upon the Spirit’s unifying direction, which is determined corporately through mutual reliance upon the Scriptures. Richard Hays writes, “According to Paul, God is at work through the Spirit to create communities that prefigure and embody the reconciliation and healing of the world. The fruit of God’s love is the formation of communities that confess, worship, and pray together in a way that glorifies God” (italics mine; see, e.g., Rom. 15:7–13). (4) Christ is Lord over this “new community” (New Israel), and His church is the fundamental theological vehicle for carrying the gospel to the world.
An Example of Guidance in Community
Some of the most morally enlightening and spiritually edifying moments in my life occur at the table during a Mary’s Table® ministry event. The women arrive at the Center from various places and life circumstances, and enter the building understandably clothed with a measure of reserve. Their first meaningful introduction to us and one another occurs at the table. It is not long, however, before they throw off their cloaks of hesitation and delight in the warmth of God’s community-shaping love.

I have long heard that food is the universal language of community, and I do believe that a shared meal contributes to fellowship. However, I am more convinced than ever that it is the Spirit of God, operating through the Word of God, who binds our hearts together into one whole. We have also discovered that the mutual involvement and input of the women into how the recipes are prepared contributes to the community bond we feel when we depart. Unity is born in that setting through the Spirit's guidance. There are ways to seek the Spirit's corporate guidance.
A Way Forward
First, we should recognize our common need for Spirit-led guidance. Richard Foster writes, “Individual guidance must yield to corporate guidance. There must also come a knowledge of the direct, active, immediate leading of the Spirit together. I do not mean ‘corporate guidance’ in an organizational sense, but in an organic and functional sense.” (5)
Foster states that even the most mature Christian benefits from the aid of others. I recently celebrated the fifty-ninth anniversary of my decision to receive God’s salvation! Spiritual maturity has been a lifelong quest; however, I have a wise circle of men and women who provide counsel on all of the important decisions I make at the Center. I also have a close circle of Christian mentors who provide guidance in my personal Christian life.
Secondly, the Spirit will guide the church into the truth of Christ (John 16:13). Richard Foster writes about the church in Revelation, providing us a warning and a reminder of what happens when we stray from Spirit-led counsel, based upon the Word of God. “Sadly, we must note that by the time John received his great apocalyptic vision, the believing community was beginning to cool. By the time of Constantine, the church was ready to accept another human king.” He goes on to note, “The vision, however, did not die, and there have been groups throughout the centuries gathered together under the rulership of the Holy Spirit.” (6) I pray that a number of Spirit-led churches emerge and set the pace for guidance in our generation.
Thirdly, Spirit-led, corporately-guided churches work diligently to preserve their unity in Christ. We have already been baptized into “oneness in Christ.” Therefore, we are no longer to become divided by former distinctions of ethnicity, social status, or gender (Gal. 3:28; see also the divisive issues in the newsletter introduction above). We all belong together in a single family in which all are joint heirs. (7) This bond holds moral implications.
Recall Paul’s “passionate opposition” to Peter at Antioch (Gal. 2:11–21). This challenge emerged from within a strong conviction that Jews and Gentiles must be one in Christ! I understand the threat of works-righteousness in Galatians, but we certainly must not overlook the danger of “fractured unity” in the Galatian church. John Barclay states: “The problem here is not legalism (in the sense of earning merit before God) but cultural imperialism—regarding Jewish identity and Jewish customs as the essential tokens of membership in the people of God.” (8)


I often want people to conclude their preaching or lessons with a clear way to embody the truths that have been presented. Therefore, I believe the Spirit guides the entire body of Christ to embody “mutual, loving service.” Unity is not some sanctified end-all. The church deliberates until it becomes unified in the will to serve one another (cf. again Acts 15).

The works of the flesh in Galatians 5:16-19 have gone viral in our local church communities (“enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy”). They are evident in my many divisions and should not be the case. God gives clear directives against conflict in the church that enable us to sustain "the Divine Rhythm" (5:13–15; 5:25–6:5). Spirit-driven corporate guidance provides us with a way to move in unity to God's purpose.

Larry C. Ashlock
1. Clebsch. Pastoral Care in Historical Perspective (pp. 49-50). Jason Aronson, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

2. Ibid.

3. Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: The Path To Spiritual Growth (p. 177-178). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

4. Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament (p. 32). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

5. Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: The Path To Spiritual Growth (p. 175). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

6. Ibid, 179. 

7. Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament (p. 32). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

8. As cited in The Moral Vision of the New Testament (pp. 32-33).