Should I trust my intuition or my instruments?

Should I trust my intuition or my instruments?

As a kid, a friend of mine and I would do something silly. We would take turns spinning around, twirling in the same place, and then try to walk straight.

Did you ever do this when you were little?

It’s probably not for everyone. Inevitably, what would happen? You would try to start walking normally (i.e., in a straight line) but would then find yourself inevitably, uncontrollably leaning in one direction, staggering in that direction, often even falling down.   (And my friend and I would take turns laughing at each other.)

Why this inevitable leaning?

Because of spatial disorientation: what feels right and what is right are two very different things.

A very similar–but far more dangerous–phenomenon is experienced by pilots. In fact, they call it “the leans.”  In flight certain aerial maneuvers can cause pilots to become disoriented without them knowing it.

And at that point, they have a decision to make: will they rely on what feels so right (their intuition or their internal navigation system, so to speak), or will they rely on their instruments (their external navigation system)? Will they fly by intuition or by instrumentation?

How they answer that question can mean the difference between life and death.

Scriptures’ wisdom literature speaks to this phenomenon; in fact, it’s repeatedly mentioned:

“The way of a fool seems right to him, but the wise person listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12.15)

“There is a way that seems right to a person, but in the end it leads to death.”  (14.12)

“There is a way that seems right to a person, but in the end it leads to death.”  (16.25)

(Yes, that proverb appears twice in the Proverbs.  Hmmm… I wonder why.  Also, in each of these the word “right” could also be translated “straight”; just like trying to walk straight after spinning around and around….)

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and turn from evil.”  (Prov. 3.5-7)

Jesus, whose wisdom was greater than Solomon’s, speaks of how deeply counterintuitive Christian discipleship is:

“Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever would lose his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”  (Mark 8.35)

Despite the fact that we live in an extremely disorienting world, the received wisdom of our culture calls us to lean on our own understanding, saying, “Only trust in one’s self”, while the revealed wisdom of the gospel, the counterintuitive, countercultural wisdom of the cross, says, “Only trust in the Selfless One.”

What makes us followers of Christ?  A twofold conviction that, when we live life according to our own wisdom, we will only make fools of ourselves, but that the One crucified for us by the “wise” rulers of this world has revealed a wisdom that leads to true flourishing, a flourishing that our Father so eagerly desires for us.

And that twofold conviction erupts into worship when we realize that we did not have the wisdom to find or “discover” Jesus.  He found us.  That leads Paul to write of God the Father:

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1.30).

Will I live my life by my intuition or by instrumentation?  Will I be skeptical of myself and of the voices of my culture?  Will I listen first to the Scriptures and invite (not merely allow) Christian leaders and friends to speak into my life words of correction, admonition, and exhortation into my life?

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.”  (Prov. 27.6)

2 thoughts on “Should I trust my intuition or my instruments?

  1. Great illustration, Bruce.

    I wonder, what would you say about discerning whether a call, nudge, urge or impulse is actually from the Holy Spirit, versus our own desires leading us where we want to go? I’ve often seen people do and say foolish things while claiming “guidance from the Holy Spirit,” when it reality they were likely just justifying their own desires and prejudices with religious jargon.

    1. Great question.

      I’ll answer by extending the illustration.

      In addition to relying upon their instrumentation, pilots of course rely upon air traffic control. That is, they rely on “real time” perspectives other than their own: no pilot truly flies solo. Pilots communicate both with other pilots and with air traffic control, who have been trained, certified, etc. (people can’t just build a tower, use a local highway as a runway and appoint themselves air traffic control). Thus, any “internal” prompting they may have to deviate from a flight plan can–indeed, almost always must–be “reviewed and approved” by others.

      Similarly, the Holy Spirit can and does prompt Christians to take action, but this prompting is never–I repeat never–in conflict with one’s instruments–i.e., with the Scriptures. Of course, one can wrongly interpret–doing so either consciously or unconsciously–and, therefore, like a pilot looking to other pilots (i.e., other Christians) or to air traffic control (i.e., local church leaders who know and love them and with whom they have built trust), they can ask, “Am I reading my instruments correctly?”

      Here disagreement can arise, but far less often than one might surmise. When one has consulted wise Christian friends and wise, well-trained, godly church leaders, there is almost always a strong majority voice–at least on issues that really matter. Further, in addition to these “real time” voices are the voices of 2,000 years of church history–viz., saints who have been down almost every road that one can go down.

      A final comment: while I would (again) say that the Holy Spirit can and does prompt Christians to take action, this is not a primary role of the Spirit. Rather, the Spirit’s role is primarily one of GIVING to the Christian the presence and power of God, in order to know and serve Him. He does this by offering ever great insight into the Scriptures. The classic text for this is 1 Cor. 2.6-16: Paul speaks of how the things that “we have received…the Spirit who is from God, so that we might understand what God has freely given us.” That is, upon conversion, the Christian is united to Christ by the power of the Spirit (indeed, he IS the Spirit of Christ), and by virtue of that union the Christian now FULLY enjoys ALL the blessings that Christ obtained for him/her (isn’t that awesome?!!). But then the Spirit begins to help them understand, enjoy, and employ all that they now possess through their union with Christ. When one joins the military, one is (we might imagine) issued all that they need to be a soldier (uniform, rifle, rations, etc., etc.), but they still need the training to appreciate and employ all that they have been issued). Further, the Spirit imparts specific gifts to specific Christians (see 1 Cor. 12), which each and every believer is called to use for the edification of the body.

      Hope that helps. Let me know if I’ve missed something…

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