Discovering God’s Will: A Parenthetical Thought
[Author’s note: While writing the article on “Thy will be done,” I struggled to keep the focus on God’s will, rather than “God’s will for me.” Several of the books I am reading while writing this series seem to entwine the two thoughts. So, since that topic is clearly important to many believers, it seemed prudent to take a moment to address it.]
I would be hard pressed to count the books that have been written in an attempt to help Christians discover God’s will for their lives. It’s a subject that has paralyzed many a young believer who is afraid to move out of God’s “perfect” will for them. Let me first say that I understand. I’ve been there.
But God has given us a cure for that paralysis: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). God will not leave you floundering in indecision as long as you place yourself in His hands!
In our recently completed Discipleship Course, “‘Follow Me’: Experiencing the Joy of Walking with Jesus” (available free of charge through our website), Dr. John Ankerberg and our guests Sunder and Shyamala Krishnan detailed five guides God has given to help us discern His will.
1. God’s Word. First, they said, remember that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In other words, as Sunder said, “it trains our mind to think biblically.” The more you know the Bible, the better you will recognize things that are definitely not God’s will (e.g., the “Thou shalt nots”), and be ready to participate in whatever He has for you to do.
2. Spiritual gifts. Every believer has been given one or more spiritual gifts. These are given from God. It’s not something you develop on your own, although your gift(s) might very well be in line with your natural talents and abilities. The point of spiritual gifts is that they are given for the purpose of serving others (1 Peter 4:10). Your spiritual gift, whatever it is, should be a good starting point in making decisions about school, jobs, and ministry opportunities.
Be warned. Since every believer is given a different gift, don’t judge yourself against your parents, your siblings, your best friends, etc. What works and works well for them may not work at all for you. Your gift is different, your path is different, but your goal is the same: to use your gift for God’s glory.
3. Wise counsel. God has surrounded us with people to help us figure out how best to serve Him, what the author of Hebrews calls a “great cloud of witnesses.” These may be the older men and women in your church, friends, your pastor, or anyone else whose opinion you value. Sunder Krishnan describes it as “having two sets of eyes.” Someone else may see your situation a different way than you do, perhaps because of their own life experience, and they may be able to help you avoid mistakes.
4. Circumstances. Often God will close a door to prevent you from taking a wrong path. The apostle Paul spoke about this in Romans 15:22, “I have often been hindered from coming to you,” and in 1 Thessalonians 2:18, “For we wanted to come to you—indeed I, Paul, tried again and again—but Satan obstructed us.” Keep in mind that the opportunity behind the now closed door may not be a bad choice; it might not even be a dangerous situation; it’s just not right for you—or not right for you at this time. So the door closes, and you move on to a new opportunity. Positively, God also opens doors we may never have considered, although they may not be without opposition. “For a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:9)!
5. Prayer. It’s hard to overstate the importance of prayer as we seek God’s will for us. Sunder give three reasons. He says, “God is the source of wisdom, so we ask Him; number two, it clarifies our wrong motives sometimes about ruling out certain things or wanting certain things; and thirdly, above all it gets us to that frame of mind which says, ‘Lord, above all we want your will more than anything else.’ So prayer is important for those three reasons.”
Let me give you a personal example of how prayer and God’s Word worked together to help me discover God’s will in one situation. Some years ago I was searching for a job. I had several options on the table, one of which was a job at the hospital where my sister was working. As was (and is) my habit, before I began my daily Bible reading, I would look over my list of concerns, and ask God to speak to me through His Word. On that particular day, I was looking for direction in my job search.
Since I was reading in Ezekiel, I didn’t really expect to find an answer, but on this day the Holy Spirit put a bright spotlight on a verse which on any other day, in any other situation, I would probably have simply passed over: “You have followed in your sister’s footsteps, and so I will give you the same cup of punishment to drink” (Ezekiel 23:31, Good News Translation). And there it was. A big NO to the hospital job!
Be encouraged in your search for God’s will. He has promised you, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:6)