finding God's will
I received a question from a friend about finding God's will for her life. I decided to write down everything I know about that topic, and it only came to a couple of pages. I'm sure she won't mind if I share it here...
ON DIVINE GUIDANCE.
God has promised to be present with us and to lead us in paths of righteousness (Psalm 23:3). By the Holy Spirit whom Christ sent to indwell us (Rom 8:14; 2 Cor 3:18; Gal 5:16) he promises to guide us. We should not think, however, that this primarily relates to such things as where we should live or what job we take or whom to marry. These are important decisions, and we should seek God’s wisdom on them. But primarily, the leading of the Spirit -- for the church, as well as the individual Christian -- is his leading us into righteousness and holiness, which is Christlikeness (Isa 30:20-22; Rom 8:10-17, 29; Gal 5:16; Heb 5:14).
1) Be certain, above all, that God's will for you in Christ Jesus means living for his glory. He has called you to know him, trust him, and obey him. Your high calling is to be transformed into the image and character of Christ, and so, living for his glory in gratitude for his grace covers God's will for all of your life (1 Cor 10:31).
2) He has called you to be obedient to his moral will. I'm referring both to the OT principles (Matt 5:17-18) and the NT (John 14:21; 2 Pet 3:2). God's Spirit will guide you as to which principles are to be applied in which situations. He also gives you the power to say no to sin and yes to God, moment-by-moment. These two principles (#1 and #2) cover, in my opinion, the vast majority of moral and relational decisions we face each day.
3) The Lord has also gifted you with both natural talents and spiritual gifts that are to be used in service to him (#1 and #2). Prayer and the counsel of those who know you best (friends, family, church) will help you identify those gifts. These are the skills and talents we use to glorify God and to bring blessing to others.
4) We are to be like Jesus, doing good (Acts 10:38), and using our energy, gifts, and talents wherever God in his providence has placed us. Someone has compared our service to the Lord as a kind of brick-laying construction of God's kingdom. Wherever he places us, we are to lay bricks. We may build a walk, or a wall, or a part of the building, or we may only lay a few bricks before he places us somewhere else. He is the builder; we are the workers. We are to be about doing good for others.
5) Some decisions, often very important to us, don't fall neatly in the above four categories, although every decision will involve the four preceding principles in some way. Decisions like where to live, where to go to school, where to invest resources, whom to marry, and so on, are sometimes not so clear and evident. So, we pray, seek counsel from others, look for open doors (or bump into closed doors), look at pros and cons, and ask God for wisdom (James 1:5; 3:17). In these situations, I've been helped by the Apostle Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 16.
PAUL'S PLANNING (1 Cor 16)
In this chapter he is writing from Ephesus, during his third missionary journey (Acts 19). He encourages a weekly collection of offerings that will be taken to the impoverished believers in Judea (1 Cor 16:1-3). He writes of his future plans in verses 4 through 9. It's an excellent study of Paul's method of decision-making. We tend to think that Paul was always being guided directly and dramatically by God. This happened on occasion, of course, via a dream, vision, or God's direct voice. But here in chapter 16 we see that he is using what we might call a more natural process. Remember that God is sovereign Lord over both the natural and the supernatural.
Take time to read the chapter and note some of the phrases Paul uses about his future plans:
-- "Advisable" (v 4). Paul considers advice and counsel from others. If anyone might have a direct line to the Lord, you would think it would be the Apostle Paul, but he is considering also the counsel of the Corinthian church leaders.
-- "I will visit... I intend..." (v 5). Paul is making plans and acting upon them. He is active, not passive. (Making plans is not bad if we place them in the Lord's hands.)
-- "perhaps... wherever I will go" (v 6). Paul seems to allow for contingencies and change ups. He does not have the future fully dialed in.
-- "if the Lord permits" (v 7). Like James 4:15 says, Paul trusts the sovereign will of God, that the Lord will guide, open doors, close doors, etc.
-- "I will stay...until Pentecost" (v 8). Paul is setting a timeline with some dates. He does not say that the Lord told him to do this (though he may have).
-- "a wide door..." (v 9). Opportunity for ministry is a big thing for Paul. The presence of opponents to the gospel does not dissuade him, but he sees his work being effective at that time for the Lord.
-- "doing the work of the Lord..." (v 10). Paul is doing ministry and serving the Lord, as is Timothy. We know that is God's will. We may not know times and places, but we do know that he wants us to use our gifts (time, talents, treasures) to serve him. Someone has said that it is easier to guide a moving object than a stationary one.
-- "not his will... when he has opportunity" (v 12). In the case of Apollos, both his desire and opportunity were considerations. Notice, Paul does not brandish his apostolic authority and say, "God wants you here right now." He encouraged Apollos and allowed for his desire and decision in the matter.
Based upon this passage (and others) I have often prayed the following prayers:
• "Lord, grant me wisdom, and help me get the input I need to make a wise decision."
• "Lord, show me where I can be most effective and fruitful for you."
• "Lord, I need to make a decision by such-and-such date, please incline my heart so that on that day I can make a good decision."
• "Lord, I'm heading in this direction. Please close doors if this is not a decision which pleases you."
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS.
God is not playing hide-and-seek with you regarding his will. It's not some kind of game. And it's not a matter of learning a mystical technique. You are his beloved child, and he is the One who is doing the guiding. If he is silent on a matter, then we must be at peace with that. He will get you where you need to go.
Be confident that, if your heart is inclined to serve the Lord, he will direct your steps, whether you are aware of it or not. He is able to guide you, and if you are going in the wrong direction, he is able -- more than able -- to stop you. The Lord is the One who opens and closes doors (Rev 3:7-8).
I have found it true in my experience that often I see God's guiding hand only in retrospect. I prayed, got counsel, and made a decision. Afterwards -- sometimes years afterwards -- I could see that God was guiding me. This is an important point -- we do not need to feel God's leading in order to be led by God.
Don't look down on the normal and usual. We all long for the dramatic and unusual, but we shouldn't expect that God will often guide us in such ways. That's a big lesson I get from 1 Cor 16.
So, to sum up, what we absolutely need to know about God's will -- how to glorify him and live a godly life -- has already been revealed to us in Scripture. The Holy Spirit illumines and leads us to make good decisions day-by-day. Other decisions may not be so clear. So, we pray and trust God to guide as he wills.
Lastly, here are two books that have been a help to me:
-- The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, by Os Guinness. (This is really good on getting the big picture.)
-- Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will, by Kevin DeYoung. (Very good on the practical matters.)
I hope you find some help from this letter! Please be encouraged, God does indeed guide his children!
Image credit: photo above by Jordan Ladikos on Unsplash.
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