On Finding God’s Will, Part Two
The principles that I mentioned in Part One of this article were rather general. They may not always fully help us with a particular issue, whether it be if I should take this job, buy that house, marry this woman, etc. But they offer much help in the overall process. We will still need to pray a lot, think a lot, and wrestle with God a lot about some specific decisions we are trying to make.
So here I want to offer some more biblical principles about finding God’s will for your life. These ten principles offer more detail in this process of Christian decision making. Here then are some other biblical principles which we need to be aware of.
One. The Bible is not a book of magic. We should not take a ouija board approach to divine guidance. Some Christians think they should just close their eyes, open the Bible, put their finger down and hope for the best. But that is the wrong way to go.
Here is a humorous example of how unhelpful this can be. A person tried this method and came up with Matt. 27:5: “Judas went out and hanged himself”. A bit troubled, he tried again, and got this: Luke 10:37: “go and do likewise”. Now he was really rattled, so he did it one more time, only to get this: John 13:27: “and what thou doest, do quickly”!
Two. Much of divine guidance is really all about knowing God. As already mentioned, we can more easily know God’s will as we come to better know God and understand his ways. In that way his desires start to become our desires. As we read in Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” We should not see this passage as being about our desire for a new Mercedes or a new house, but as being about having our desires mesh with his desires.
Three. God’s will for our lives is more of a life-long goal than a specific blueprint. In many respects, God is far more concerned with who we are than what we do. Consider these passages:
-Rom 8:29: For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
-Gal 4:19: My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.
-Eph 4:13: until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
The lesson is this: if concentrate on allowing God to extend the depth of our character, he can concentrate on extending the breadth of our ministry, and what we do for him.
Four. Related to this, finding out God’s specific will in a particular situation is really not all that difficult. What is difficult is getting us to bend the knee. God is quite able to guide us, but he can only do that properly when we have humbled ourselves, died to self, said no to our own selfish desires, and said yes to him big time. God is looking for those kinds of people, and it is those kinds of people that God can and does guide, and use for his purposes.
Five. Following on from the above, having a humble spirit and a clean heart are indispensible for clearly discerning God’s will for your life. Plenty of passages speak to this. Consider just a few:
-Prov 11:3: The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.
-Psalm 25:9: He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.
-Psalm 37:23: If the LORD delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm.
Six. We need to remember that not every activity or incident recorded in the Bible is condoned or approved of. Scripture records plenty of activities which are not to be emulated, such as lying, theft, murder, adultery, and so on. Thus many passages are to be regarded as descriptive rather than prescriptive.
In fact, there are godly Biblical characters who have sinned in various ways, but we are not to follow their example, such as Solomon’s polygamy, David’s adultery, or Noah’s drunkenness. Of course those incidents which Scripture does approve of we may follow and apply to ourselves, such as the faith of Abraham, the love of the Apostle John, the obedience of Moses, the loyalty of Elijah, etc.
Seven. We must realise that specific and express commands given to individuals in Scripture may not be for anyone else. Again, the Bible may be providing description here, not prescription. An obvious example of a one-off and limited command would be when God ordered Abraham to go and sacrifice his son. That is not meant to be obeyed by everyone else, although we may draw spiritual lessons from it (eg., we should be willing to let go of what we most cherish).
Eight. We always have to be quite careful about subjectivity. We must make sure our leading lines up with God’s word. We may have had a dream or a vision, for example, but we cannot automatically assume that it is from God. It is just as likely that it is due to last night’s spicy pepperoni pizza. So careful and biblical discernment is always necessary here.
Nine. Do not always expect the sensational, the extraordinary, or razzamatazz when we seek his leading. We should not rely on pyrotechnics, or some dramatic sign, such as walking along and finding 87 dead worms on the footpath spelling out: “go to Pango Pango”. God usually guides through the ordinary, not the extraordinary.
Ten. Don’t always expect individual guidance. The truth is, God has put us in a body of believers, and God often guides in a corporate fashion. He usually helps us to discern his will in the context of relationships with others. Thus we must seek out the counsel of fellow Christians. As Proverbs 11:14 tells us, “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure”. Or as the KJV renders this passage, “In the multitude of counselors there is safety.”
There would be plenty of other principles which could be mentioned here. But what has been provided in this two-part article should be of real help to all of us as we seek to find God’s will. And it should go without saying that we are not just to seek to find God’s will, but be willing to do it once we discover it.
Indeed, unless the prior willingness to obey is there, we may well find it difficult to find out what God is seeking to say to us individually. He will likely withhold divine guidance if he sees that self, instead of Christ, is still on the throne of our lives.
For further reading:
Blackaby, Henry and Richard Blackaby, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, rev. ed. B&H, 1994, 2008.
DeYoung, Kevin, Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. Moody, 2009.
Elliot, Elisabeth, A Slow and Certain Light. Word, 1973.
Friesen, Garry, Decision Making and the Will of God, rev. ed. Multnomah. 1980, 2004.
Huffman, Douglas, ed., How Then Should We Choose? Three Views on God’s Will and Decision Making. Kregel, 2009.
Jensen, Phillip and Tony Payne, Guidance and the Voice of God. Matthias Media, 1997.
MacArthur, John, Found: God’s Will. David C. Cook, 1998.
Petty, James, Step by Step: Divine Guidance for Ordinary Christians. P&R, 1999.
Robinson, Haddon, Decision Making by the Book. Discovery House, 1998.
Smith, M.B., Knowing God’s Will. IVP, 1979.
Sproul, R.C., Can I Know God’s Will? Reformation Trust, 2009.
Swavely, David, Decisions, Decisions: How (And How Not) to Make Them. P&R, 2003.
Waltke, Bruce, Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? Eerdmans, 2002.
Part One is here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/05/20/on-finding-god%E2%80%99s-will-part-one/
12 Replies to “On Finding God’s Will, Part Two”
Very providential that you should post this set of articles on this topic!
I’ve just been reading Friesen’s volume of late (mentioned in the further reading section) as i’ve been seeking to get a better understanding of the issue – been driven to it because I need to make decisions surprise surprise!
I disagree with Friesen on points of theology at times (I think he has a half-baked view of the sovereignty of God) -but for all intents and purposes, his outline of responsible decision making on our part according to God’s revealed word aligns with my understanding and practice (just to let you know where i’m coming from).
Anyway – my studies have led me to believe that our view on the Holy Spirit and His work is also integral to this discussion. Charismatics and Reformed Christians for example have very different approaches on this basis.
My pentecostal brothers and sisters often speak of ‘seeking the will of God’ (in terms of individual decisions and circumstances – e.g. marriage partner), and being ‘sensitive to the leading of the Spirit’.
Now, i’m also studying quite closely the Holy Spirit because I have been confronted with this. I would love to hear your reflections on the role of the Holy Spirit in decision making.
For me, although i’m not a cessationalist as such, I am not a charismatic either. I’ve yet to find my feet on this issue really! As I said, I assume Friesen’s approach practically speaking.
The idea that the Holy Spirit might lead us in decision making by giving us ‘inward impressions’ or strong ‘senses’ of things strikes me as far too subjective, and thinking about things in that way leaves me (generally speaking) dis-empowered in my decision making and probably more anxious than I need to be. However, as I am in a pentecostal church (reformed in most doctrine pentecostal in terms of its position on the Holy Spirit), not one that ‘hangs off the chandeliers’ or anything (to risk offense by attempting to generalise) I am often pushed and perhaps affected by this position on the Holy Spirit by virtue of the fact that this is just where I am!”
But then, perhaps i’m just not ‘second-baptised’ so to speak, and so of course I don’t understand or experience leading in this way.
I’m open to the possibility of Baptism and leading of the Holy Spirit being a Biblical position, but have a bit to go before I either accept or reject it.
Isaac Overton, ACT
Hey, you must think I have nothing to do! Seriously though, you ask a lot of important questions which really deserve an article or two to properly answer. So maybe I will get to that. (Just now I am writing a follow up article on Gideon, fleeces, and decision making.)
Here are some very brief responses. Yes the Friesen book has quite a lot to commend it (the latest revised edition is now up to 528 pages! My original copy had 452 pages.)
Yes, one’s views on key questions will certainly impact on how one seeks to find God’s will and how one understands it. These questions include:
-what is the role of prophetic revelation today?
-how does God speak to us today, if he in fact does?
-does God speak to us in audible voices?
-what is the role of the Holy Spirit today?
-what about the use of the miraculous today?
-is there a place for sign gifts today?
-are we able to frustrate God’s will?
-does God have a single plan for our lives, or is there some room to move here?
-can we miss out on God’s best for our lives?
And so on and so on.
There are plenty of major issues here which are the subject of massive debate. Thus how we approach these issues will greatly influence our understanding of God’s will and how to find it. So I may need to write some more articles! So stay tuned!
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Sorry Bill! yes, I didn’t hold back on opening a can of worms on reflection (or even several cans of worms) – I just got excited because this is exactly what i’ve been wrestling with! As always, i’ll keep an eye on your articles!
PS. any comments or thoughts (or book recommendations) from anyone else on my post would be welcome!!!
If you have a copy of Calvin’s Institutes or commentaries, he has a lot of good stuff to say on the topic. I’m pretty sure you can access them online as well; especially regarding 2 Tim 3:15-17 and Hebrews 1:1-3.
Nevertheless, he makes some good points, particularly regarding the work of the Spirit which i like.
We need to remember that we worship a Triune God, and therefore the person of the Spirit will not act contrary to the Father or the Son. Therefore, if God has spoken in ‘these last days by His Son’, the work of the Spirit is not to give ‘new, fresh revelations’, but to point us to that which God has revealed. If Christ is the final and full revelation of God (which i believe He is), then it would be at odds to Scripture to believe the Spirit speaks independently of that revelation.
The way i see it is this: we need illumination of Scripture, not new revelations.
I like what Bill says about knowing God as being one of the prime ways of finding God’s will. Many (most?) of the decisions we make in this world can be found within the gambit of God’s personal/relational attributes.
What shows love? What builds relationships of trust and grace? What is compassionate and righteous? Or as Paul exhorts us in Philippians 4:8, think about (and pursue) whatever is true, lovely, excellent etc. If one has worked out what fits here – because one knows God – decisions are made easier.
Bill’s comments in these 2 articles are commendable and wise. Friesen’s book was a needed corrective when it came out, but I think he went too far in affirming the need to walk in freedom within the biblical standards, trusting in God’s sovereignty, denying that we have to worry about being in God’s precise will about our decisions. What I mean is this: all these points are true, but the Holy Spirit is able to lead us by impressions and promptings from within our spirit; I have experienced this so often and so profoundly and it is in complete agreement with Scripture. As a Pentecostal, I obviously take the leading of the Spirit very seriously because without that, spiritual gifts like prophecy cannot function. However, the counsel of Bill and Mr Friesen (and others, e.g. Bob Mumford’s “Take Another Look at Guidance”) is needed as some people get carried away with hearing voices and refuse to use their minds.
Sounds good to me Jon.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Greetings Bill. Always great food to chew on. I was wondering what your thoughts were from your time with YWAM and the way they taught the young people to find God’s will. Especially what came from the influence of Joy Dawson and her son from New Zealand. Having had a number of nieces and nephews in this organization and having visited several bases overseas myself it used to concern me quite a bit what they had been taught in this area, especially the passive nature of it.
Jon I always thought Bob Mumford’s book offered some great advice that still sticks with me today, and one little gem I read many times by Zac Poonen from India called “Where Do I go From Here God?”. There was another by F.B. Meyer too, “The Secret Of Guidance” that comes to mind.
YWAM in general and Dawson in particular make much of learning to hear the voice of God. It can be helpful if carefully utilised. Subjectivity of course can be a real problem, but that would be true of many things in the Christian life. But Scripture makes much of having a close relationship with God, and learning to listen to or discern his thoughts and ways – always informed by Scripture of course. But obviously much harm has been done at times when Christians recklessly say, “God told me to do this…” See for example this site and the bibliography at the end for more on all this: http://www.listening2god.com/lesson1a.html
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
I feel that if a Christian is truly loving God with all his heart soul, mind and strength, and loving his neighbor as himself, then any decision made within that context will be within His will. There is wonderful freedom found in such an approach. Of course we should pray for God’s guidance about things such as what schools to send our children to, and what job we should take etc, but God has also given us the gift of free will, and we can exercise that liberally within the context of the commandment above. I had a Christian friend once tell me that they were struggling to decide where God wanted them to be a missionary – whether to stay here, to go to Asia or go to South America. My advice was to use their gift of free will to choose, and to love God with their heart soul, mind and strength, and love their neighbor as themselves – wherever it was they chose to go.
I then told them the following little story to illustrate the point in a humorous way – apologies to those who have already heard it….
A woman ran to her pastor’s house excitedly with the news that she had finally made up her mind where she wanted to go as a missionary. She arrived breathless and told him that she had made up her mind.
“I prayed and prayed endlessly, asking God for a sign as to where I should go!” she told him. “And He has answered my prayer! He gave me a sign and I know now where I am bound.”
“Well, where are you going then?” the pastor asked her, “And what was the sign He gave you?”
“I’m going to Brazil!” she said excitedly, and reached into her pocket, to pull out a crumpled piece of paper. “I found this on the footpath in front of my house,” she said, handing the paper to the pastor. He flattened the paper out to reveal a chocolate bar wrapper, with “Brazil Nut Chocolate” written on it.
“Well, well,” the pastor smiled at her. “I’m so happy that you have reached a decision, but I am even happier that you didn’t find a Mars Bar wrapper.”
Good one Kerry.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Jon, you talk about the reality of ‘leadings’ and ‘impressions’ in our spirit from the Spirit. This is something I just can’t get to grips with. I’ve had plenty of strong impressions etc., but I don’t trust them. I just don’t see any reliable way of discerning a difference between promptings of the Spirit, or promptings of my own. It’s all in the realm of feelings to me, and when it comes to feelings, without the anchor of God’s word it seems that it’s all too subjective. Any thoughts on that?
Also – how can the inner impressions and leadings that you speak of be proven theologically? that is to say, can you prove that this approach to leading is Biblically taught? That’s the clincher for me, I can not and will not accept such a position unless it is warranted in the Scriptures.
Thanks for your thoughts!
Ps. Thanks Mark!! I do have the Institutes, i’ll look a little more closely. I don’t have Calvin’s commentaries yet, I decided to hold of making the purchase because my fiancee has them and we wouldn’t want to have doubles when we marry!!!