Discerning, Deciding and Doing God’s Will
By: Dr. Steven C. Riser
|By: Dr. Steven Riser; ©2004|
|For Christians, knowing and doing God’s will has always been a great concern. But it’s also been an area of some frustration. How can you KNOW God’s will for you? What if you miss it?|
What is one of the most frequently asked questions about God?
It is, “How can I know the will of God?” As a new teenage Christian, my greatest concern was to know and do the will of God. Forty years later, I have the same concern.
One of the most popular books in contemporary Christendom is, The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Its popularity points to the importance of discovering the purpose that God has for us. Pastor Warren says that we were: 1) planned for God’s pleasure, 2) formed for God’s family, 3) Created to become like Christ, 4) Shaped for serving God and 5) Made for a mission.
If it’s true that we naturally delight in pleasing the one we love; then, one who loves God, delights in pleasing Him. In short, he wants to do what God wants. Doing what God wants first requires knowing what He wants; it requires that we accurately discern the will of God.
What do we mean when we speak of God’s will?
There are several aspects or dimensions of God’s will revealed in Holy Scripture:
- God’s Sovereign Will: (Prov. 16:33; 21:1; Dan. 4:35; Rom. 11:33-36; Eph. 1:11) God’s Word teaches that He has a sovereign plan for the every thing that happens in the universe. This plan is secret in the sense that no one understands it completely but God himself and it is also certain in that no one can ultimately resist His sovereign will. (Romans 9:19)
- God’s Universal Will: God’s universal will is the same for everybody. It consists of clear and universal positive commands and prohibitions contained in Scripture that apply to all across the board. This is revealed, not secret, and we are expected to understand, accept and obey it. To sin means that, in some way, we miss the mark—the mark of God’s wise and loving will.
- God’s General Will: It applies to every one, but instead of specific commands it consists of general principles such as: peace, love, truth, justice, holiness. The way we apply these principles to our lives may differ, but it is God’s will we consistently incorporate them into our lifestyle.
- God’s Particular Will: The specific aspects of God’s will for the individual are not revealed in the Bible, but consist of God’s unique plan for each individual and are revealed to each believer. God leaves many decisions to us that have no moral import, but he has both a desirous and permissive will for each of us.
What is the most important prerequisite to knowing God’s will?
The most important prerequisite to knowing God’s will is to decide in advance to do it once we know it. This is necessary in order that we do not confuse our will with God’s will. Proverbs 14: 12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”
In order to know God’s will, we must also learn to think His thoughts after Him through the memorization and meditation of Scripture. God says in Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways… As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
How do we know if we have a yielded heart?
The Psalmist says in Psalm 138:8 that “The Lord will work out His plans in my life.” In order for God to do this, we must learn to keep our heart yielded to Him. Here are three important characteristics of a yielded heart:
Thankfulness—is the only appropriate response to God’s grace. If we do not have a positive attitude engendered by the Holy Spirit, then we have a serious defect in our faith. As Christians, we have much for which to be thankful. For example…
- We can thank God that he sent Jesus into the world to die on the cross for our sins.
- We can thank God that he has given the Spirit to empower us for daily living.
- We can thank God that he has given us His Word, the Bible—wonderful words of life.
- We can thank God that he has given us the church—a loving extended spiritual family.
- We can thank God for our job, our home, husband, wife, children, friends, etc.
- We can thank God for every detail of our lives—for he is involved in every aspect of our lives.
Humility—Needless to say, an arrogant/rebellious heart is not a yielded heart. Humble people to not make the mistake of presuming that they already know the will of God. They are open to increased insight into their understanding of Scripture. They display a teachable spirit-open to the work of the Spirit in their lives. The humble know that God ultimately deserves the credit for any good that is accomplished.
Trust—Psalm 23 reminds us that even in the midst of danger, He can be trusted. Having a yielded heart means that we trust God, even in the midst of trial and trouble. We may not know the blue print but we can always trust the architect. James 1:2-8 reminds us that if we want to know God’s wisdom, we must not doubt. Proverbs 3:5-6 says that when we trust God with all our hearts and when we don’t rely on our own insights, He will direct our paths. According to Hebrews 11:6, Faith is the one indispensable ingredient in pleasing God.
What are three important presuppositions to knowing God’s will?
Presupposition One: There is a personal God who is interested in us and able to give us personal direction. This God, who revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, is still with us through His Holy Spirit. If we reject this assumption, there’s no need to read the remainder of this article. Our time would be better spent probing the very epistemological presuppositions for the existence of a personal God who has the capacity to reveal Himself to us.
Presupposition Two: We are a person who regularly repent of sin and trust in Christ. We want God to guide us and are praying that He will reveal His will so that we can obey it. If we are not willing to accept this assumption then we need to specifically reflect on our own relationship with the Lord and about what it means to come to personal saving faith in Jesus Christ. We could better spend our time probing the implications of discipleship, whether or not we are prepared to be a follower of the Lord or whether we simply want cosmic goodies showered upon us from the sky or a genie to jump forth at our command.
Presupposition Three: The most important prerequisite to knowing God’s will is to be willing to do it. If we have no intention of obeying God and if we want to wait till we know His will before
we decide to obey it, why should God bother to reveal it to us? Furthermore, if our conscience is not functioning properly, this can seriously inhibit our ability in being able to accurately discern God’s will. If we are not doing God’s will now, why would we expect God would give us additional knowledge of His will?
What are some of the common mental obstacles in seeking to discern God’s will?
We may ask some of the following questions:
- What if God’s will is too difficult for me to do?
- What if God’s will is something that I’m afraid to do?
- What if God’s will is something that I don’t want to do?
- Does surrendering to God’s will mean I can no longer decide for myself?
- Is God’s will so detailed that it applies to every decision I make?
- Is God’s will going to conflict with what I want most in life?
- How can I know God’s will and how will I know when I’ve found it?
How can we prepare for doing God’s will?
Consider the following three characteristics:
Be ready to stretch—God’s plan for us is bigger than our plan. Someone once said, “God doesn’t give us challenges to match our strength; He gives us strength to match our challenges.” God wants the best for us and He is willing to help us get it.
Be ready to dream—When God reveals His will for us, He doesn’t give us a blueprint, He gives us a sketch and we fill in many of the details. Our dream or vision needs to be consistent with God’s plan and purpose for our lives. We need to learn to visualize ourselves doing God’s will. Most significant actions are conceived before they are achieved.
Be ready to roll with the punches—We need to be flexible. Many rigid people frequently miss God’s will because they miss valuable opportunities for ministry. The way in which we react to success and failure will have a significant impact in the kind of people we become. We react to failure by not letting it get us down and we react to success by not letting it go to our head. Regardless of the circumstance, we should react in a manner that would please or glorify God.
What is spiritual discernment?
Discernment of sound judgment is the ability to perceive reality as it really is. The opposite is deception and/or delusion. Spiritual blindness is inevitable for all unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:4) while believers have a discerning spirit given by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 2:12-14) In the Old Testament, Solomon asked for a discerning spirit to distinguish right from wrong. (1 Kings 3:9) The writer of Hebrews says that discernment results, in part, from consistently obeying God’s Word. (5:14)
What guiding lights has God given us in order to help us discern God’s will?
If we are on a river at night we must follow the guiding lights in order to stay in the main channel. Here are twelve guiding lights for knowing God’s will:
- The Bible: what principles apply to our specific situation? How do they apply?
- Prayer: be specific about your needs. (Distinguish needs from wants)
- Godly Counsel: people who love us and have a good grasp of God’s Word.
- Proper Motivation: Is our decision selfish or will it please God and encourage others?
- Providential Circumstances: God gives the resources for what He calls us to do.
- Inner Conviction: Involves a settled disposition by being persuaded by the facts.
- Peace of Mind: Am I uneasy or anxious about a particular course of action?
- Clear Conscience: Is our conscience clear toward God and others? (Acts 24:16)
- Personal Desires: Rejoice in the Lord and He will give you your heart’s desire.
- Common Sense: Wisdom involves common sense and sound judgment about how to live.
- Anticipated Results: What are the likely consequences of a particular course of action?
- Personal Experience: What lessons have we learned that might apply to this decision?
Our responsibility is to weigh the input we receive from these sources and arrive at a wise and godly decision. Our decision is only as good as our best option. Sometimes the best option may be to wait for more definitive information. Sometimes we may have to choose between the lesser of two evils.
What are some characteristics of spiritual discernment?
It is rooted in: the truth of God’s Word, objective reality (facts), as well as a sound evaluation of circumstances and experiences. The Spirit of God helps us understand to Word of God so we might know the will of God and become more like the Son of God. (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 3:18)
How can we grow in our ability to discern?
- By consistently practicing the classical spiritual disciplines.
- By asking God in prayer for and seeking increased discernment in His Word.
- By developing a healthy distrust for basing our decisions solely on our feelings
- By consistently putting into practice what we already know to be God’s will.
- By avoiding unreliable, untrustworthy and ungodly counsel.
- By seeking a mentoring relationship from a spiritual mature Christian.
- By being open to the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit in your life.
What practices should we seek to avoid in the process of discerning God’s will?
- Avoiding taking verses from the Bible out of their complete context.
- Avoid putting out fleeces—this is not a normative method of knowing God’s will.
- Avoid the drawing of lots or any other way of putting God in a box.
- Be careful in what you attribute to God. For example, some people say, “God told me this…” But did He really? Did you hear an audible voice? How do you know it was God?
What questions can I ask in order to make wise decisions?
- Is the decision in accordance with the clear teaching of God’s Word?
- Is the decision consistent with what I know about Christ’s character?
- Is the decision consistent with my understanding of the objective facts?
- Is the decision consistent with historical, orthodox, biblical Christianity?
- Is the decision confirmed by other godly Christians who also know me?
- Is the decision confirmed by a variety of means or sources?
- Is the decision consistent with my general understanding of God’s will?
- Is the decision made by prayer and confirmed by a settled peace of mind?
- Is the decision motivated by a sincere desire to please and glorify God?
- Is the decision likely to benefit others or is it just selfishly induced?
God always gives His very best to those who leave the choice with Him!