I am super excited about the topic for our upcoming Transform Conference! Dr. Stuart Scott is going to help us all develop a better understanding of what God’s will is, and how we are to seek to live it out faithfully. Here is my attempt to give you a foretaste of what is to come.
Do you often feel like God’s will is some kind of mystery, where He gives you clues and you have to put the pieces of the puzzle together?
I believe much of the confusion in the church regarding the will of God arises because people are frantically trying to determine the “secret, sovereign, decreed” will of God, when all He has revealed—or has even promised to reveal—to us is the “moral, directive” will of God. Within God’s moral will there is vast liberty to make free choices. This is not always the most common way to think about God’s will though.
“People are frantically trying to determine the ‘secret, sovereign, decreed’ will of God, when all He has revealed—or has even promised to reveal—to us is the ‘moral, directive’ will of God.”
Most books on the subject of finding God’s will lay out a somewhat familiar process to go through in order to discern His plan for your life. The typical process advocated by these authors suggest that God will lead us in a number of clear and particular ways.
Study the Bible and look for applicable principles
Use common sense
Seek mature and godly counselors
Pray for the leading of the Holy Spirit
Wait until you have an inner peace about one direction or another
You may be encouraged to lay out “fleeces” or wait for “special guidance”
Usually these factors will then be confirmed by the immediate circumstances
This approach is probably familiar to anyone who has been a Christian for very long.
What this approach does not consider is whether God has actually promised to “reveal” certain things to us in the first place. I am not saying that God never gives us clear direction. I am saying that there is no guarantee that God will always bless someone’s attempt to seek His will through the means listed above.
Don’t get me wrong. There are aspects of some of the actions above that are appropriate (especially “study the Bible” and “seek counsel”). However, with others there are definite inadequacies and even dangers involved. What dangers and inadequacies may be involved in attempting to discern God’s will in that way?
Although few are bold enough to say that we should not study God’s Word or seek counsel, on a practical level this is often what dangerously happens. Sadly, if someone is convinced that their experience of any of the other “signs” above are clear and direct leading from God Himself, it is generally very difficult to persuade them otherwise. In many of those cases “biblical principles” are forgotten, ignored, or even shoved aside.
We have the promise that Scripture is infallible. But there is no guarantee that any other standard or experience in the above list carries that guarantee. How is it that the other common “guidance principles” above might lead us astray? Let’s look at them one at a time.
Common sense – Although I don’t believe God typically violates what we would call “common sense,” some would consider it common sense to get married if the couple is pregnant out of wedlock. Common sense often is equated with “what do others commonly do?” That could very easily not be honoring to God.
Mature counsel – We have probably all been given poor counsel before. Although it is wise to seek counsel (Proverbs 11:14), there is no guarantee that the counsel we get will be correct, unless it is anchored in the sure truth of Scripture.
The leading of the Holy Spirit – We should always seek the leading of the Holy Spirit. The difficulty is that many people mistake strong feelings or strong desires alone as the Spirit’s leading. “How does the Spirit lead” is the more important question. Although the Spirit of God can definitely impact our feelings and impressions, the Bible does not teach that this is the means by which the Spirit certainly leads us. The Spirit leads primarily through the truth of God’s Word. Our feelings and inward impressions are subjective at best, and misleading at worst.
Personal desires – Desires are only desires. They may be good, evil or morally neutral. Because the heart can be led astray, our desires need to be questioned and evaluated according to the infallible rule of Scripture. In addition, there are some situations where we need to make a decision one way or another, where we do not have a desire to take any action at all. Life is not always as simple as we would like it.
Inner peace – Some people experience “inner peace” after a decision is made simply because the weight of having to make the decision is gone. As we mentioned above, in difficult or unpleasant circumstances there could never be an expectation of “peace” as most of us conceive of it.
“Fleeces” – Usually Gideon is used as an example of asking God to give a sign of His will (you can read his story in Judges, chapters six through eight). However, Gideon already knew the will of God in that instance and his asking for the dew on/off the fleece was an act of faithlessness—he is a bad example for how to determine God’s will.
“Special guidance” – There is again no promise of Scripture that God will lead us through special or miraculous means (dreams, visions, etc.). Biblical examples of this type of leading are isolated examples of God working in a particularly critical juncture of His redemptive plan for mankind. They are not intended to be a paradigm or model for how God directs us.
Circumstances – Satan can control circumstances (and often does). Incidentally, he can at times directly and indirectly control “feelings,” “counsel,” and “desires” too. The use of circumstances as a confirmation of God’s direction is subject to our understanding or interpretation of them. Many circumstances could be interpreted more than one way. As well, God often wants us to prove our faith by acting against all odds, not necessarily in a way that circumstances would cause us to lean.
Quite frankly, it is often difficult to discern the difference between making decisions using the means and methods above, and making decisions using a crystal ball. The bottom line is that God does not speak of His will as something that He will reveal to us. He speaks of it as something that He already has revealed to us, or as something that is known only in His own secret counsels. When we understand that the Bible speaks of the will of God only in these terms it should clarify our thinking. And approaching this subject with clear and biblically informed thinking is the only way to avoid living life in a quandary of uncertainty and subjectivity.
Brian is the Pastor of Discipleship and Counseling at Faith Bible Church. He is passionate about the local church, and equipping the saints to effectively serve one another. Before coming to Spokane, he spent 14 years serving God's people as a pastor in rural New England (Vermont & New Hampshire).