Discovering God's Will
October 17, 2008
How do I discern the will of God for my life? - What role does Scripture have in finding God's will?
Discerning God's Will
God understands our need to make intelligent decisions about very practical concerns. He wants us to keep the big picture in mind and concentrate on our relationship with Him, but He is a God of the details as well. He told Abraham where to move. He will help you know if you should be in Trinidad or Barbados or London. He gave Moses a new job description. He will guide you as you make a mid-life career change. I seriously doubt God will use visions, dreams, or some sort of supernatural phenomenon to communicate His plan. That was His method long ago, but we have a better way today of knowing what the mind of Christ is for the decisions we must make.
The Bible is the cornerstone for knowing God's guidance. Any quest for guidance apart from the light of God's Word is perilous.
The Scripture is God's revelation to men. It is the progressive unfolding of His wisdom and ways. For instance, how would we know the plan of salvation apart from the Bible? The psalmist wrote: "Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path." (Psalm 119:105) He realised that as he meditated on the Scriptures he would "have more insight than all [his] teachers." (Psalm 119:99)
The Scriptures tell what God's moral will is. They tell us what to do and what not to. It is God's will that we maintain a grateful heart
(1 Thessalonians 5:18) and live in a holy manner. (1 Thessalonians 4:3) Conversely, it is not God's will that we grumble and complain or engage in immoral thoughts or actions.
These things are plain, but often we overlook the very basics of Scripture in seeking to know God's will. It is pointless to ask God if we should be involved in church on Sunday or spend fifty-two weekends a year partying. (Hebrews 10:24) The principles of God are also rooted in the Bible. They provide spiritual parameters which at some point we will intersect in our decision-making. We may be in a serious quandary over whether or not to purchase an car, DVD or washing machine. The Bible does not have any information on Mercedes or Fords, but it has a lot say that is pertinent. God's principles on debt, savings, and contentment all factor into the answer. The Scriptures are also where God's promises are revealed. Some are conditional, dependent on our obedience; others simply tell us what God will do if we trust Him. Philippians 4:19 assures me that God will meet my needs. I do not always know how or when, but I can count on the resources of God for the demands of modern living. That is an incredible promise that settles and sustains me.
One of the best suggestions I can make is to spend time daily meditating on God's Word. Your mind will be renewed in this exercise and the principles and promises will become part of your new way of thinking. When you need to know God's will in a matter, you have a tremendous advantage for you can recall much of what God has said in His Word. This also prevents what someone has called the "lucky dip method" of opening the Scripture and looking for a verse to guide you. That is terribly unorthodox and incompatible with spiritual maturity. It may work sometimes, but do not count on it.
Sometimes fog seems to cloud my knowledge of God's will. What hinders God from revealing His plan to me?
When the Fog Remains
Since seeking God's will, is not a science that operates within predictable parameters, it can be difficult to discern whether or not we are progressing in the right direction. God asks us to wait for His answer, and well we should. But He can also use the fog of uncertainty in a corrective manner to rechart our course, rethink our request, or examine our relationship with Him. I have found several common factors that can mystify the unfolding of His plan.
The eighty-first Psalm is a sad commentary on "what might have been" for the nation of Israel. God desired to supply their many needs in a bountiful way (vs. 16) but the people cut off His supply through their rebellious, disobedient spirit. (vs. 11-13) If there is an area of willful, stubborn disobedience in your life that you refuse to address, then knowing God's will probably will remain mystifying. Remember, His plan always revolves around the quality of your relationship with Him.
The Christian life is a journey of faith. It is impossible to please God apart from confident trust in His ability. (Hebrews 11:6) If you ask for guidance, do not doubt for a moment that God will give it. He bestows it "without reproach" (James 1:5), without condemnation for past failures or mistakes. If you are unsure that God will direct you, then why ask Him? (We all have passing moments of doubt. James speaks here of persistent unbelief in God's ability.)
God cannot and will not be manipulated. In 1 Samuel 13, Saul failed to wait on Samuel as the prophet had instructed and instead took matters into his own hands by offering a sacrifice. His manipulative actions forfeited his kingship over Israel, and God selected David as his successor. When seeking Christ's direction, refuse the temptation to "help God" resolve the issue. Take only those measures that are within proper ethical and biblical guidelines. You never lose by waiting on God to supply your need.
James tells us that if we ask God for an answer without the right motivation, then our petitions will fall flat. (James 4:3) You may seek God for the right private school for your child to attend. If your purpose is for your child's spiritual and educational well-being and it fits within your budget, then your motivation is probably pure. But if keeping up with the Joneses who also send their child to private school has seeped into your thinking, then you need to re-examine your motivation. Ask the right thing for the right reason. Filter everything through a quality, daily relationship with Christ.
In guidance there is always our part and God's part. Occasionally, we confuse the two (this is where manipulation comes in), but in most cases common sense is the rule. If we need a job and sit at home while we wait for the president of some corporation to find our unlisted number and call, we have failed to fulfill our responsibility for diligence and initiative. (Proverbs 19:15)
Rejecting the Channel or Means
You have a financial need. You have prayed about it and asked God to supply the funds. A former business associate calls you at home and informs you he is sending you a cheque for just the amount you need. Instead of celebrating, however, you decline the offer because it is the same individual who once maliciously damaged your reputation at the office. Pride prevents you from accepting the channel of God's supply. Remember the story of Naaman the leper? As army captain, Naaman came to Israel to visit the prophet Elisha. He had heard of Elisha's miracles through one of his slaves and came to him for a cure. When Elisha prescribed that Naaman dip himself seven times in the Jordan River for a remedy, the captain was outraged. Only on the wise advice of one of his servants did he obey Elisha and see his leprosy instantly removed. Pride had brought Naaman perilously close to rejecting God's plan. Keep an open mind as to how God will answer your requests since His resources are infinite.
Redirecting Our Life
At times, the way seems to be dark even when we have done all we can with the right motive, waiting patiently for God's response. If this is the case, consider that the Lord may be redirecting your life. The job you really wanted just never seems to materialise because God is orchestrating a career change for you that will place you around people who nurture your faith. The apostle Paul had tried to take his missionary team into parts of Asia Minor, but the Holy Spirit prevented him. (Acts 16:6-7) Why? God had plans for Paul in Greece and ultimately Rome. And it appears that Peter was used by the Lord to minister the gospel in Asia. (1 Peter 1:1)
Does trouble in my life mean I missed God's will? - What if I miss His will? What should I remember?
Remember These Things
Don't assume because you run into trouble that you have done the wrong thing. Paul wound up in prison or was beaten and harassed in most of the cities where he preached. Adversity did not mean he had made a wrong decision, only that God was molding his character through suffering and trials.
Don't become neurotic about missing the will of God. God's plan is not a tightrope upon which one misstep will hurl you into oblivion. He cares too much for you to put you into a perpetual state of fretting and anxiety. He will let you know what His plans are as you relax and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10); He is well able to communicate His will to you. When we miss the mark, there is the safety net of principle-centered rather than peace-centered.
Forgiveness and restoration. Mark abandoned Paul on his first missionary journey, yet he was one of the men Paul summoned as he waited for execution in a Roman prison.
(2 Timothy 4:11)
Don't major on minors. God really is not interested in the colour of your automobile, the type of soft drink you consume, whether you drive the scenic or interstate route to work, the brand of running shoes you wear, or other such minor matters. He leaves such things to personal preferences, equipping you with a sound, capable intellect to make reasonable decisions.
Don't expect God to reveal His life plan for you all at once. Knowing God's will is a step-by-step, day-by-day process in which we develop Christian character and maturity. The Christian life is one of faith, and that involves constant dependence on God.
Don't depend on feelings. Certainly God wants us to enjoy His serenity as we seek His guidance. But "feeling" God's peace is not the determining factor in knowing God's will. I am not sure how wonderful Abraham felt when God called him to a new country, but he obeyed. God may grant you His peace in the decision-making process, but be principle-centered rather than peace-centered.
I'm waiting on God to know His will. Is there anything I should do while waiting?
Do take the next logical step. Do not get caught in the "paralysis of analysis," but instead keep up the daily routine, your spiritual eyes and ears alert to God's small surprises. Waiting on God is not passive, but going about your tasks, knowing that God is orchestrating all for your good.
Do engage in thanksgiving. Praise keeps us expectant and hopeful and is a terrific antidote against discouragement. Worship rivets our attention on the capability of the Guide.
Do maintain a lifestyle of helping others. The scriptural injunction to do good to others (even putting their interests above our own) keeps our needs in perspective. And interaction with other members of Christ's body often is part of the equation of God's response to our petitions.
Do approach the process of knowing God's will as an adventure. Paul Tournier, the Swiss psychiatrist, said: "Life is an adventure directed by God." Fullness of joy is a distinct trait of the Christian, and discovering God's will should only increase that sanguinity.
Do factor in your personal desires and tastes. The person who delights himself in relationship with the Saviour can find his personal desire frequently fulfilled. (Psalm 37:4) The man whose heart is bent toward God most often finds his desires are in harmony with God's. There is no dichotomy.
How does the Holy Spirit help me as I seek God's will? - How should I pray as I seek to know God's will?
The Holy Spirit and Prayer
The Holy Spirit has been placed by God within each believer as a divine teacher, to instruct us and guide us. (John 14:26; John 16:13) Paul told the church at Rome that the Holy Spirit was interceding on its behalf to help it do the right thing when the answer was not obvious. (Romans 8:26) He unveils the mind of Christ to us. (1 Corinthians 2:12, 16)
It is comforting to know that I am not left to my own clever devices to know the will of God. I am not left in the dark, destined to grope for answers until perhaps I accidentally hit the light switch. As a member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit has the designated responsibility to open my mind and heart to understand the will of God. We must never underestimate His role. I encourage you to affirm your reliance on the Holy Spirit as you seek the will of the Father. Do not expect goose bumps; just realise He will provide you with the truth you need. The realm of prayer is where the Holy Spirit operates most productively. After all, we are asking God to know His will and prayer is asking. It was the ministry of the Holy Spirit working in tandem with prayer that set the stage for Paul and Barnabas' first missionary journey. (Acts 13:1-3) I cannot think of a major decision in my life that has not been made without a season of deliberate, focused prayer. Petitions presented in a spirit of humility and trust are instantly acknowledged by God and in time answered. Make sure your prayers are specific. Get to the point. "Lord, I need You to show me if You want Harry to be my business partner." The plainer you are, the easier the answer will be to recognise. "God insists that we ask," wrote Catherine Marshall in The Adventure of Prayer, "not because He needs to know our situation, but because we need the spiritual discipline of asking . . . The reason many of us retreat into vague generalities when we pray is not because we think too highly of God, but because we think too little."
How do I discern the counsel of others in knowing God's will? - How do I know what role circumstances have in understanding God's will for me?
Counsel and Circumstances
Proverbs is the book of wisdom which means the practical application of knowledge. A collection of verses affirms the value of godly advice.
" A man's counsel is sweet to his friend." (Proverbs 27:9) "In abundance of counsellors there is victory." (Proverbs 24:6) "Prepare plans by consultation." (Proverbs 20:18)
Insights from a mature Christian friend often can help you sift through the pros and cons of decision-making. Individuals with whom you have developed a mutual accountability relationship can be especially helpful. I remember one specific incident when God used the wisdom of others as a catalyst for His healing. I had sensed for several months that God was dealing with my life and ministry. I prayed frequently, asking God to enlighten me, and studied His Word. Still, I had no real sense of His direction. I called four of my closest friends one afternoon and asked them to meet me the next morning. They cleared their schedule and we gathered to pray and talk. After many hours, one of the men whom I knew well asked me this question: "Len, how would you feel if your father picked you up in his arms and said, 'I love you'?" I instantly burst into tears. My father died in 1970 and I was very ill and unable to travel home to his funeral. At that moment, God showed me how much He really did care for me and that I needed to receive and experience His love each day. And I can honestly say my life and teaching have never been the same since that encounter. I am sure God could have revealed all of this in another manner, but He chose to use wise, godly friends as His means of opening my eyes to His truth. Likewise, God has put certain people in your life who can be of great value in helping you know His will.
I might add that the arrangement of circumstances can be indicators of God's guidance. Obviously, the Lord works through events and providentially orchestrates them for your good. If you are praying about buying a good used car with low mileage and you discover in a conversation with your neighbour that he would like to sell his car, which happens to match your desires, it is a good idea to check it out. You may find it is the ideal automobile that fits your taste and your budget. But you may discover in reviewing maintenance and repair records that it is not mechanically reliable. Neither circumstance nor counsel alone should ever determine God's guidance. They must work in conjunction with persevering prayer, dependence on the Holy Spirit, and immersion in God's Word.
George Sweeting writes in How to Discover the Will of God: "Often guidance in the will of God will come to us in the normal circumstances of life, through open and closed doors. But be careful not to give this area more consideration than it deserves. Satan can also open and shut doors of opportunity. Gather all the facts, and prayerfully seek the mind of God."
I pray that you have been truly blessed by this teaching - AMEN.