How to be led by the Holy Spirit

Being led by the Holy Spirit is one of the most important keys to God’s blessing and success in ministry. As we obey the small promptings of the Holy Spirit, and are led by the Holy Spirit, we will have profound experiences with God. Jesus is our greatest example said in John 5:19, “The Son can do nothing of Himself but by what He sees the Father doing.” He was continually led by the Holy Spirit and that is why He was so successful and anointed in His ministry and calling.

They interviewed a number of the great healing evangelists of the previous century and asked them what was the key to their anointing and success.  Many of them said, “We learnt to be quiet before God and listen to the Holy Spirit.” They knew what it was to be led by the Holy Spirit. I once heard a story about a very successful and wealthy businessman, who was a multi-millionaire. He was asked why he was so successful. He said that he has a special room in his house and whenever he has to make an important business decision, he would go into this room, become quiet before God and listen to the Holy Spirit. He said that because of this practice, he has not made a wrong business decision for the past thirty years.

Not only is it important for our ministry and calling, but also for our protection. I have read about those whom God has greatly used in China. Many testified of God’s protection from the authorities because they were continually led by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would warn them in advance if they were in danger. We are living in the last days, where persecution will increase against the church. The safest place for us to be is in the center of God’s will, and in order to live there, we must be led by the Holy Spirit.   

The Bible says a lot about being led by the Holy Spirit. We read in Romans 8:14 we read, “… as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” We notice that, the sons of God and not the children are led by the Holy Spirit. Sonship speaks of maturity and one of the marks of spiritual maturity is that we have the ability to be led by the Spirit. On the other hand, we are led by the Spirit because we are the sons of God. The Holy Spirit leads us because He lives in us. In Galatians 5:18 we read, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” As Christians, living under the New Covenant, we do not live by rules and regulations, but we are led by the Holy Spirit.

There are conditions to being led by the Holy Spirit:

Firstly:  Our relationship with God is important:  A well-known verse in Proverbs 3:6 says, “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”  The word, acknowledge is the same Hebrew word that is used in Genesis 4:11, when it says that “Adam knew Eve.”  Therefore, as we develop our intimacy and relationship with God in all our decisions, He will direct our paths. He will lead us by the Holy Spirit. The more we spend time in prayer, reading the Bible and worship, the more sensitive we will become to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

We also read in the book of Acts 13:2, “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” (Acts 13:2) It was in the atmosphere of worship and fasting that they heard the voice of the Holy Spirit. Fasting is also one of the ways to help us to become more sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, because it removes the distractions off the flesh.

Another example is found in the story of Mary in Luke 10:39, “And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.” It was at Jesus’ feet that she heard His word. Martha, on the other hand was too busy preparing food, so that she was not able to hear the word of the Lord. In the same way, if we are too busy or distracted, it will be difficult to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we must sit still if we want to be led by the Holy Spirit.

Secondly: We must be filled with the Holy Spirit: It says of Jesus in Luke 4:1, “And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,” Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit, because He was filled with the Holy Spirit. The same is true for us today. There are many ways in which we can be filled with the Holy Spirit, such as prayer, worship, spending time in God’s presence, speaking in tongues, the laying on of hands, etc.

Thirdly, we must renew our minds by the word of God: To be led by the Holy Spirit, we must also fill our minds with the thoughts that please the Holy Spirit. In Romans 8:5 we read, “… and those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit, think about things that please the Holy Spirit. (NLT) In the well known verse in Romans 12:2 we read, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” We need a renewed mind to pick up the thoughts of the Holy Spirit! The word of God contains the thoughts of God. The more we read and meditate on the word, the more we will have the experience of being led by the Holy Spirit.

Fourthly : We must be committed to the local church: In Acts 13:2 we read, “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” It was inthe context of unity and relationships with other Christians, that the Holy Spirit led them. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit often leads us through other people. We see this over and over again in the Bible. For example, we read about how Agabus gave Paul the word of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. Jesus said, in John 10:3, “The sheep hear His voice.” Sheep are usually together in a flock. Therefore, those that stray away from the flock, who are not in fellowship with other believers, are seldom led by the Holy Spirit.

Fourthly: Obedience to the Holy Spirit is important: We read in John 10:4, “and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” There is a connection between hearing His voice and following Jesus. As we continue to obey the Holy Spirit, He will continue to lead us. If we are not hearing the Holy Spirit speak to us, we may need to ask God to show us if there is any disobedience in our lives. We read about King Saul in the Old Testament, who because of his continual disobedience to God’s commands lost the ability to hear God’s voice. We have the contrast of King David, who continually enquired of the Lord and was led by the Holy Spirit because of his obedience. We must also obey the obvious commands in the Bible in order to receive a specific instruction from the Holy Spirit. For example, forgive one another, giving and tithing, loving and honoring our marriage partners, going to church, sharing your faith, etc.

Fifthly: The importance of initiative: It is often in the context of movement that the Holy Spirit leads us.  Just as a stationery car cannot be directed, God will not lead us if we sit down and do nothing! For example, when Paul decided to go to Asia, to preach the gospel, that the Holy Spirit led him to Macedonia.  Jesus said in Mark 16:15Go into all the world and preach the gospel…” It is God’s will that we intentionally share our faith with others and lead people to Christ. Therefore, we must take the initiative to preach the gospel, pray for the sick etc. In  In 1 Samuel 10:7, Samuel said to Saul, “Do as the occasion demands for God is with you!” That is why Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 10:7-8, “And as ye go, preach, saying, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” Sometimes, we must just do as the occasion demands!

Various ways in which the Holy Spirit can lead us:

Firstly, through our intuition which is an inner witness or thought:  We just simply know deep down in our hearts what we should do. The Holy Spirit can also put a certain thought into our minds. In Acts 13:2 we have the example of the church leaders in Antioch. It says, “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said; separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” A thought came into their minds and they just knew what the Holy Spirit wanted to do. This is the most common way that the Holy Spirit leads us, which is through an inner witness or inner intuition.

Secondly, The Holy Spirit can speak to us in an audible voice: This happens seldom, but there are examples in the Bible. We read in Acts 10:19And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat…” This has also been the experience of a number of Christians.

Thirdly, The Holy Spirit can lead us through visions:  There are many examples in the Bible. We read about the experience of Ananias in the Acts 9:13, “And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.” There are many other examples in the Bible of those who were led by visions.

Fourthly: The Holy Spirit can speak to us through dreams:  God often led people in the Bible through dreams. We read about Paul in Acts 16, how a man from Macedonia appeared to him in a dream. We also have the example in Matthew chapter 2 of how God led Joseph, the husband of Mary through a number of dreams. Dreams are an important way that the Holy Spirit leads us.

There are some guidelines that will help us to know whether or not the dream is from the Holy Spirit or not. First of all, the dream must be clear and easy to recall. Secondly, if the dream is repetitive, it is usually the Holy Spirit speaking to us. Thirdly, we may not understand our dreams because they are often symbolic. It is a good practice to write down our dreams and ask the Holy Spirit to give us the interpretation 

When we sleep at night, our body and our soul rests, but our spirit man is wide awake and connected to the Holy Spirit. In Song of Solomon 5:2 we read, “I sleep, but my heart (or spirit man) is awake: it is the voice of my beloved that knocks…” We have another example in Job 33:14-16:   “For God speaks once, yea twice, yet man perceives it not.  In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, in slumberings upon the bed;  Then He opens the ears of men, and seals their instruction,”  God not only leads us through our dreams, but He can also heal us and minister to the deep needs during our dreams.

Fifthly: The Holy Spirit can speak to us through the Bible: The Holy Spirit can highlight a certain verse or convict us of something in the Bible when we read it. When the Holy Spirit leads us, He will often give us a scripture. We read in Jeremiah 15:16, “Your words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.” The more we read the Word of God, the more opportunity we give the Holy Spirit to lead us.

Sixthly: The Holy Spirit can lead us through the desires of the heart: The Bible says in Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” He not only wants to give us what we desire, but also place in our hearts, His desires. Therefore, if we need direction in some area of our lives, we can delight in the Lord through praise, worship and adoration. As we do so, godly desires will come into our hearts and we will know what the Holy Spirit wants us to do.

I heard the testimony of someone that wanted to know whether or not he should fly to another country for ministry. As he began to delight himself in the Lord, he lost the desire to go. He cancelled his booking and the following day the plane that he was supposed to be on, crashed and everyone on board died. If we have a godly desire, it is often something that the Holy Spirit wants us to do. Therefore, instead of trying so hard to get a word from the Holy Spirit, it is often better to build up our spirit man and in God’s perfect timing we will know what the Holy Spirit wants us to do.

Seventhly: The Holy Spirit can lead us through the release of peace and joy: In Isaiah 55:12, we read, For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace:”  In the Colossians 3:15 we read, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts…” The word ‘rule’ hear means to arbitrate, or be the umpire. It is like an umpire blowing his whistle when we do something wrong. In the same way, the Holy Spirit blows his whistle by removing our peace or joy. A lack of peace and joy is often a sign that something is wrong or we have grieved the Holy Spirit. If this is so, we must ask the Holy Spirit what we have done wrong and repent.

Romans 14:17 says, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” One of the ways that we know that we are in the Kingdom of God, and in the will of God, is the evidence of peace and joy. If we do not lose our peace and joy, or if they increase, it is often a sign that we have made the right decision. If we lose our peace and joy, then we have probably made the wrong decision.

For example there are a number of questions that we may ask such as: “Is it right or wrong to listen to secular music? Is it right or wrong to watch movies? Can I wear these clothes? May I drink wine? Can I dance?” There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Sometimes the Holy Spirit may say yes, and on other occasions He may say no. If we have peace about it and we do not lose our joy, the answer is yes. On the other hand, if we do these things and we feel a spiritual dryness coming over us, and we lose our peace and joy, the answer is no. 

Many years ago, when I was studied at university, I wanted to visit my parents during the holidays. It seemed a good thing to do, but I lost my joy and peace when I made the decision to do so. When I phoned my mother, she told me not to come because they had too many visitors. It seemed to be the right thing to do, but the Holy Spirit said, “no!”

Three things that can distract us from being led by the Holy Spirit:

Firstly, human need and the expectation of others: We have the example when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The people expected Jesus to go and heal Lazarus. Martha and Mary both said to Jesus, “If you had been here…” They expected Him to immediately come. But Jesus was led by the Spirit and went two days later. The needs may be genuine, but we also need to do things in God’s timing and be led by the Holy Spirit.

There are many needs around us that could influence our decisions. However, it is important that we are led by the Holy Spirit and not by these needs. We have another example when they told Jesus that His brothers and mother wanted to see Him. Again He ignored their request and was not moved by human expectation. It is wise that we pray about what people expect of us and be led by the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, negative emotions: There are a number of negative emotions that will prevent us from being led by the Holy Spirit, such us fear, anger, worry and depression. For example, Moses did the wrong thing when he was moved by anger and struck the rock. We need to deal with negative emotions in order to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. That is why Isaiah 55:12 says, “For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace:”

In 2 Corinthians 2:14 we read; “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ...” It will be easier to be led by the Holy Spirit when we have a victorious and joyful attitude! He does not lead us when we are depressed and defeated!

Thirdly, presumption and tradition: For example, Jesus sometimes laid hands on the sick and at another time He put mud in a blind man’s eyes. For example, the sermon that God used last week may not be the right sermon for this week. We must not assume that the Holy Spirit will do what He has done in the past. We see this in the life of David. He enquired of the Lord and the Lord said, “Attack the enemy.” He enquired again for the next battle, and the Holy Spirit gave him a totally different strategy.

Finally: The Holy Spirit does not only want to lead us in our big decisions, but also in the small decisions that we need to make all day long. He does not only want to show us the way we should go, but He also wants to direct our steps! (Proverbs 3:6) For example, how we should spend our time, what foods we should eat, which relationships are important, etc. I once heard a testimony of someone who wanted to lose weight. He tried many different diets, but to no avail. He then committed his eating habits to the Holy Spirit and in a short time he lost a lot of weight.

I trust that this study has been a blessing to you and will motivate you to make it a high priority to always be led by the Holy Spirit.  “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)  Amen