I’m sure there have been times when you have come across a situation where you must make a decision, and you’ve wondered which way God would have you choose. Sometimes these are major decisions: Should I take this job? Should I marry this person? It would be nice if God would give an audible answer every time you asked for His direction, but God does not work that way. Much of God’s will remains hidden even when you ask.
How can you know what God’s will is for you in various situations? The truth is, sometimes you can’t, and in those situations you have to trust to God’s ability to guide you without your knowledge (Proverbs 16:9). But many times you can.
While crossing a bridge in London, John Wesley stumbled and sprained his ankle. Some friends carried him to the house of Mrs. Mary Vazielle on Threadneedle Street. She was a widow with several children. She cared for Wesley and his response to her concern was to ask her to marry him. If we were writing fiction we might say that the sprained ankle was God’s providential way to bring those people together. But the marriage was a disaster, and Mary finally left John. Had Wesley consulted with his brother Charles, and asked for the prayers of the brethren, he might have avoided that unfortunate situation. Mary was accustomed to her quiet home, and it was difficult for her to travel with her husband and stay in uncomfortable inns. It is unfortunate that Mary was not content just to ignore John’s ministry; she actually opposed it. She gave certain personal letters to his enemies and even made additions to them that made them worse! Once she even pulled her husband around on the floor by his hair! “I felt as though I could have knocked the soul out of her!” one of Wesley’s friends said. Wesley concluded that his unhappy marriage encouraged him to work harder and not complain about missing the comforts of a home. Certainly it encouraged him to be away from home more!
– W. Wiersbe, Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers, Moody Press, 1984, p. 246.
About God’s Will
God is sovereign. What He wills happens. It is by His will that the universe runs. He guides the stars, planets, galaxies as well as living cells, molecules and atoms. Everything God does is good. But most of His sovereign will is hidden. We can’t know it because God does not reveal most of His will to us. He doesn’t need to. He doesn’t need us to run His universe.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.
– Isaiah 55:8-9
However, God did create man with some degree of free will, allowing us to make decisions. Some of these decisions are trivial (such as which pant leg to put on first in the morning), but others are important. In many of these areas, God has already revealed His will, and in other areas we need to seek His will.
Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
– Ephesians 5:17 (MKJV)
“Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth.’
– Acts 22:14
How has God already revealed His will? He has done so through the Bible where He has revealed His will for how you and I should live. Much of this is His moral will. By reading the Bible you know that God doesn’t want you to steal, commit murder or adultery, lie, dishonor your parents, covet what is not yours, etc.
Jessica Hawn, former church secretary who committed immoral acts with Jim Bakker (former host of the PTL Club), and later brought down the PTL empire, said today (9-28-87) that God gave her “real peace” about granting an interview to Playboy magazine and posing for topless pictures. On 9-29-87 the news reports that she still considers herself a Christian, but goes to God “one-on-one,” not through any church or organization. Also: she doesn’t consider herself a “bimbo.” But her mother does.
– Source Unknown.
Whenever God gives a command, it is an expression of His will. God’s will goes beyond living a morally good life. He doesn’t want anyone to perish but that everyone repent (Ezekiel 33:11, Acts 17:30-31, 1 Timothy 2:3-4, 2 Peter 3:9). He wants everyone to have a relationship with Him and to live in a way that pleases Him and gives Him glory. This is true of everyone, so it is called God’s general will.
Here are some examples of God’s general will for all believers:
To do righteousness and justice Is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
– Proverbs 21:3 (ESV)
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 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.
– Romans 12:1-2
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.
– Ephesians 5:8-10 (MKJV)
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.
– 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
Test all things; hold fast what is good.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:21
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.
– Hebrews 12:28
Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
– Hebrews 13:20-21 (MKJV)
you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
– 1 Peter 2:5
For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.
– 1 Peter 2:20
You can learn much of what God’s will is for you by studying the scriptures, however the Bible does not contain the answers to all of life’s decisions, especially when it comes to God’s specific will for you. The Bible serves as a guide to God’s general will, but what about individual guidance?
How did people in the Bible determine God’s will?
The people in the Bible had to live life just like the rest of us. They had important decisions to make, and sometimes they needed to ask God for His guidance. How did they determine what the will of God was for them?
Sometimes God directly spoke to men, but when He didn’t, one method was to cast lots:
Then Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the LORD, and there Joshua divided the land to the children of Israel according to their divisions.
– Joshua 18:10
And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.
– Jonah 1:7
And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.” And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
– Acts 1:23-26
Casting lots was a way to keep decisions out of man’s hands so that God could make His will evident. No one could contest the results.
One form of lots were the Urim and Thummim by which the Jewish priests divined God’s will. The high priest wore them in a canvas bag on his chest. They were probably colored disks, white on one side and black on the other. When they were cast from the bag, two whites meant “yes”, two blacks “no”, and a white and black meant “wait”. (from “The New Manners And Customs Of Bible Times”)
“He shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire before the LORD for him by the judgment of the Urim. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, he and all the children of Israel with him – all the congregation.”
– Number 27:21
It’s interesting to note that the last scriptural reference to the casting of lots was just before the Holy Spirit was given (Acts 1:23-26). it’s as if once the Holy Spirit was given, the need to cast lots was done away with. Because of this, it is my opinion that you shouldn’t use “random” methods to determine what God’s will is when God is able to guide you through other means. For example, don’t pick a verse at random in your Bible to find out God’s will. Use the intelligence God gave you.
When the preacher’s car broke down on a country road, he walked to a nearby roadhouse to use the phone. After calling for a tow truck, he spotted his old friend, Frank, drunk and shabbily dressed at the bar. “What happened to you, Frank?” asked the good reverend. “You used to be rich.” Frank told a sad tale of bad investments that had led to his downfall. “Go home,” the preacher said. “Open your Bible at random, stick your finger on the page and there will be God’s answer. “Some time later, the preacher bumped into Frank, who was wearing a Gucci suit, sporting a Rolex watch and had just stepped our of a Mercedes. “Frank.” said the preacher, “I am glad to see things really turned around for you.” “Yes, preacher, and I owe it all to you,” said Frank. “I opened my Bible, put my finger down on the page and there was the answer–Chapter 11.”
– Reader’s Digest, March, 1993, p. 71.
One other aid to finding God’s will mentioned in the Bible is fasting. Ezra proclaimed just such a fast so that God would provide a “right way” for the Jews to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:21-23).
How can I find God’s will for me?
One of the advantages of having a personal relationship with Jesus is that you can become aware of His will and guidance in various situations. He can make His will known to you. All you have to do is seek His will and trust that He can and will reveal it to you.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
– Proverbs 3:5-6
Here are some guidelines to help you know God’s will:
SURRENDER your will to God, whatever it may be. Don’t surrender conditionally. In other words, don’t seek to know God’s will before deciding to obey. Follow Jesus’ example:
“I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.
– John 5:30
Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”
– Matthew 26:42
It is easy to deceive yourself in this area – to think that you have surrendered your will when you have not. Read Jeremiah 42:1-43:7 for an example of this. When God reveals His will, and it seems too difficult to follow, it is very easy to make excuses (i.e. “I don’t think that was God speaking to me.”) Please, don’t deceive yourself. Be committed to following God’s will!
BE OBEDIENT where God has already expressed His will (i.e. His moral law in the scriptures).
Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.
– Psalm 119:105 (AKJV)
Separate yourself from evil. Do good. When God directs you to do something, do it. If you refuse obey, why should He listen to you? You will find it easier to recognize God’s leading when you obey. God’s will is always the best – even if you may have to suffer for it. Be happy in God’s will. You’ll find that is where true peace is to be found.
Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future… (Acts 16:16-40 NIV)
Paul and Silas were in Philippi, and a girl with a demonic spirit (a spirit of ‘Python’) followed them around town saying that they were of God and were proclaiming a way to be saved. That they let her do this for days makes me wonder if they were weighing the advantages and disadvantages of this free advertising. The girl was proclaiming that Paul and Silas were teaching a way of salvation. Maybe someone who wouldn’t pay attention to a couple of Jews would listen to her. But Paul didn’t feel right about this. Even though she was saying this, she was still lost herself. Finally after many days he became so troubled that he cast the demon from her. For this, both he and Silas were beaten and thrown in jail.
If I were in Paul’s situation, I wonder what I would have done. Let the girl do her prophesying? it’s free advertising and everybody’s happy. Paul and Silas declared the gospel message unhindered as long as they left the girl as she was. Or maybe, cast the demon out, but before getting beaten, declare my Roman citizenship so I can save my hide. (Paul did elsewhere in Acts 22:25-29.)
There’s a lot of things that happened in this situation that could cause a lot of mental uncertainty, but I’m sure Paul and Silas were convinced they did the right thing – even when they allowed themselves to be beaten. Their worship in the prison shows no hint of doubt that this was part of God’s plan. In fact, when you compare the situation before and after, you see some unlikely contrasts.
Before Paul rescued the girl, things on the surface appeared to be going smoothly, but Paul’s spirit was troubled. Afterwards, it looked like Paul and Silas’s situation suddenly took a turn for the worse. They were stripped, beaten severely and thrown in prison with their feet in stocks. But Paul’s troubled spirit was gone. He was at peace and, with Silas, starting singing praises to God. How many of us would have thought this an ideal place for a pity party? How many of us would have questioned the wisdom of doing the right thing?
Because Paul and Silas did what was right when they had plenty of reasons not to, God gave them peace and used the situation for good. Eventually, even the jailer, his household, and quite possibly many or most of the prisoners came to believe in Jesus.
How many of us are distressed because we put off doing what is right? We settle for something that looks right in men’s eyes instead of what is right in God’s eyes. There is no peace in that. Do the right thing, regardless of what you think or know the outcome will be. We get God’s help when we do right. And God is glorified.
– “Uncertain Situations”, Andrew Bernhardt
PRAY. Ask for wisdom. Seek God’s guidance in everything and willingly follow His guidance when you obtain it. Guidance comes from the Bible, the Holy Spirit, circumstances (see Job), and other believers, and these need to be in agreement, especially the first two.
Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Your Spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness.
– Psalms 143:10 (HNV)
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.
– Psalms 19:14 (AKJV)
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
– James 1:5 (HNV)
Walter Knight told of an old Scottish woman who went from home to home across the countryside selling thread, buttons, and shoestrings. When she came to an unmarked crossroad, she would toss a stick into the air and go in the direction the stick pointed when it landed. One day, however, she was seen tossing the stick up several times. “Why do you toss the stick more than once?” someone asked. “Because,” replied the woman, “it keeps pointing to the left, and I want to take the road on the right.” She then dutifully kept throwing the stick into the air until it pointed the way she wanted to go!
– Today in the Word, May, 1989.
SEEK GOD’S GLORY, for this is the will of God. Anything that you do for God should be able to bring Him glory.
LEARN FROM THE EXAMPLES OF OTHERS. Seek advice. Look for the same impressions of God’s leading to someone else independently at the same time.
PREPARE YOURSELF to be used by God, with the expectation that God will use you. Hudson Taylor did this before he became a missionary to China. Get involved in ministry.
My beloved parents neither discouraged nor encouraged my desire to engage in missionary work. They advised me, with such convictions, to use all the means in my power to develop the resources of body, mind, heart, and soul, and to wait prayerfully upon God, quite willing, should He show me that I was mistaken, to follow His guidance, or to go forward if in due time He should open the way to missionary service. The importance of this advice I have often since had occasion to prove. I began to take more exercise in the open air to strengthen my physique. My featherbed I had taken away, and sought to dispense with as many other home comforts as I could, in order to prepare myself for rougher lines of life. I began also to do what Christian work was in my power, in the way of tract distribution, Sunday school teaching, and visiting the poor and sick, as opportunity afforded.
– Hudson Taylor
WAIT until God reveals His will – don’t force God’s hand. Leave room for Him to work. Much of the time God’s will is hidden. Yes, this requires that you have faith in His guidance.
Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”
– James 4:15 (RKJNT)
Writing about God’s sure guidance, British pastor Frank W. Boreham recounted a time when a minister visited his home in New Zealand. Being young and inexperienced, Boreham sought the counsel of his guest. He said that one morning they were sitting on the veranda, looking out over the golden plains to the purple sunlit mountains. He asked the minister, “Can a man be sure that in the hour of perplexity he will be rightly led by God? Can he feel secure against making a false step?” “I am certain of it,” exclaimed the minister, “if he will but give God time! As long as you live, remember that. Give God time!”
– Tim LaHaye, How to Study the Bible for Yourself, Harvest House, pp. 95-96.
Don’t expect God to reveal His entire will at once. Many times He will reveal only enough for you to act on, which, when you do, He will reveal more. When God’s will is hidden, “do the duty that lies nearest” as Oswald Chambers would say. Look to His general will but go no further until He reveals His specific will.
SPEND A LOT OF TIME IN GOD’S WORD. Saturated your mind with the Bible. Renew your mind (Romans 12:2). Grow and mature. This way you will better know how God works and will learn to recognize His will. Remember, God’s specific will for you will never contradict His general will for everyone.
Bob Mumford compares discovering God’s will with a sea captain’s docking procedure: A certain harbor in Italy can be reached only by sailing up a narrow channel between dangerous rocks and shoals. Over the years, many ships have been wrecked, and navigation is hazardous. To guide the ships safely into port, three lights have been mounted on three huge poles in the harbor. When the three lights are perfectly lined up and seen as one, the ship can safely proceed up the narrow channel. If the pilot sees two or three lights, he knows he’s off course and in danger. God has also provided three beacons to guide us. The same rules of navigation apply–the three lights must be lined up before it is safe for us to proceed. The three harbor lights of guidance are:
1. The Word of God (objective standard)
2. The Holy Spirit (subjective witness)
3. Circumstances (divine providence)
Together they assure us that the directions we’ve received are from God and will lead us safely along his way.
– Bob Mumford, Take Another Look At Guidance.
Also, recognize when God opens and closes doors (Acts 16:6). Sometimes God closes a door because it’s His will that you don’t go that way. Other times God reveals His will that you are to go through a door, but the door seems shut. In these cases, be persistent and the door will open.
When God bolts the door, don’t try to get in through the window. The will of God never will lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.
– Source Unknown.
DETERMINE YOUR SPIRITUAL GIFT(S). Knowing these will help you know God’s overall will for your life. Knowing your spiritual gifts will help you know what kind of ministry God wants you to be in.
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If we want God to guide us, our attitude needs to be right. Here are some guidelines as to how we can play our part in arriving at right decisions.
First, we must be willing to think. It is false piety, super-supernaturalism of an unhealthy pernicious sort that demands inward impressions with no rational base, and declines to heed the constant biblical summons to consider. God made us thinking beings, and he guides our minds as we think things out in his presence.
Second, we must be willing to think ahead and weigh the long-term consequences of alternative courses of action. Often we can only see what is wise and right, and what is foolish and wrong, as we dwell on the long-term issues.
Third, we must be willing to take advice. It is a sign of conceit and immaturity to dispense with taking advice in major decisions. There are always people who know the Bible, human nature, and our own gifts and limitations better than we do, and even if we cannot finally accept their advice, nothing but good will come to us from carefully weighing what they say.
Fourth, we must be willing to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves. We must suspect ourselves: ask ourselves why we feel a particular course of action will be right and make ourselves give reasons.
Fifth, we must be willing to wait. “Wait on the Lord” is a constant refrain in the Psalms and it is a necessary word, for the Lord often keeps us waiting. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God.
– James Packer, Your Father Loves You, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986, Page 13.