Trusting Our Instincts
by Kim Reisman
World Methodist Evangelism
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. ”Then he asked them, “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell with not conquer it. (Matthew 16:13-18, NLT)
Ever since he was a little boy, my nephew, Jacob, has been very in tune with his instincts. Frequently when playing with his friends, if things started to get out of hand in some way or move in a risky direction, you could hear him say cautiously, “I don’t know… I’ve got a bad feeling about this…” Throughout Scripture we see stories of persons who were able to trust their instincts as they followed God. They were aware of the ways and dangers of the world; and as they lived out their faith, they trusted their instincts not only as a source of protection but as a signal of how to follow God.
Much to the displeasure of his opponents, Nehemiah dedicated himself to rebuilding the wall. His enemies, Sanballat and Tobiah, made several attempts to get him to stop; but at each turn Nehemiah recognized that “they were just trying to intimidate us, imagining that they could break our resolved and stop the work. So I prayed for strength to continue the work.” (Nehemiah 6:9, NLT) Finally, under the guise of trying to keep Nehemiah safe, a friend urged him to stop working and go to the safety of the Temple; but Nehemiah’s instinct told him “that God had not spoken to him but that he had uttered this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.” (Nehemiah 6:12, NLT)
Jesus had an innate sense of who was trustworthy and who was not. When the Pharisees were questioning in their hearts Jesus’ pronouncements of forgiveness, believing them to be blasphemous, Jesus “perceived in his spirit” their thoughts and confronted them (Mark 2:8, NRSV). When Peter declared him to be the Messiah, Jesus pronounced him the rock on which he would build the church, a profound sign of his trust that Peter would come through for him in the end.
Our inner instincts are a significant source of guidance as our lives unfold. While there remains much to learn about how instinct operates, I believe it is the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit within us. William Law was an 18th-century English clergyman whose writings have been very influential. He described this prompting well when he wrote:
The book of all books is in your own heart, in which are written and engraven the deepest lessons of divine instruction; learn therefore to be deeply attentive to the presence of God in your hearts, who is always speaking, always instructing, always illuminating that heart that is attentive to him.*
Our instincts are the natural means in which God communicates with us about truths we have no other way of comprehending. Learning to trust those instincts, being deeply attentive to the presence of God in our hearts, enables us to make strong connections between our faith and our daily lives. It is a way we become more in tune with our instincts, more attentive to the inner voice of God communicating with us. Prayer, along with other spiritual disciplines is the way we learn to trust the inner promptings we receive as we negotiate the challenges of life.
I find it interesting that our intestines are lined with the same type of tissue that surrounds our brains. In a strange way for me that similarity seems to account for the way our “gut” communicates with us. We must be open to that communication. We must be attentive so that we can hear God speaking to us, instructing us, and illuminating us as we make the connections between our faith and the activity of our lives. In this way we will better hear when God guides us saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21, NRSV)
As you pray and fast this month, reflect on the ways you have trusted your instincts. Recall situations in which trusting your instincts led you in the right direction. As you do this, I pray you will deepen your awareness of what your instincts are telling you and that you will remember that God communicates with us through our “gut,” revealing truths we have no other way of knowing.
*Joy of the Saints, Templegate, 1988, p90.