On Discerning the Will of God
Over the years, I have sought God’s guidance in different fork in the road moments. In a few cases this has led to huge life changes. I believe that on occasion God directed me to a specific decision through a particular text in the Bible. This may sound puzzling to you, because we all know that the particulars of my life are not found on the pages of the Bible. It may also sound risky to you. You may even think it constitutes a misuse of God’s Word.
Perhaps I can explain.
Most smaller decisions in life we make without conscious thought or prayer. These choices are not premeditated but a spillover of our hearts (Prov. 4:23). But when we approach life’s bigger intersections, we usually pay closer attention. Should I pursue that new job opportunity? Adopt a child? Go to the mission field? We slow down because we know there is much at stake.
We sincerely want to be in step with God’s will. We pray often, placing our desires on the altar, requesting guidance and submitting our wills (Col. 4:2). We ask counsel of godly friends. Their observations and questions can confirm or challenge our considerations (Prov. 11:14). We evaluate our circumstances. Is God on the move? Do we see him beginning to re-arrange our desires and priorities or circumstances (Prov. 16:9)? There are issues to think and talk through as we draw out the implications of the decision we’re contemplating. We don’t put our minds into neutral.
During this process we ought to place our trust in God. He does not play hide and seek. He has promised to instruct and teach us in the way we should go, but in his time (Ps. 32:8).
As we marinate ourselves with God's truth, our minds are renewed by his Spirit.
Scripture deserves a central role in seeking the mind of God. It is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). Read it, meditate on it and you’ll find treasures of wisdom; the sort of insight you desperately need (Ps. 119:98). As we marinate ourselves with God’s truth, our minds are renewed by his Spirit. This transformation will enable us to examine the issues, test our motives and discern what is the will of God (Rom. 12:2).
As we read the Bible, God can impress a specific verse or passage on our mind. A text can grab a hold of you in such a way that it simply refuses to let you go. You’ve not been looking for it, it has found you and the conviction to take steps in a certain direction, one that likely has been building for a while, just sank five inches deeper.
What I just described happened to me in May 2014. For quite some time my wife and I had struggled with an inexplicable restlessness about continuing our ministry in The Netherlands. I say inexplicable because the ministry was doing very well. We were happy and God’s blessing was evident. But faced with this new reality, one that neither one of us could shake, we began to pray.
We wondered about our intentions. Did I face a midlife crisis? Did we unknowingly fall victim to ministry fatigue? There were lots of things to sift through. We talked and prayed some more. We confided in a handful of godly friends. Their questions and counsel helped us along the way. Ministry continued, and so did our reading and study of God’s Word.
Things started to happen in our family life and in the ministry. God was beginning to move things around us and in is. Despite our requests to the Lord to take away the unease if this was not of him, the stirring in our souls continued. We kept on praying and we kept on waiting. Knowing that it is perilous for men to choose for themselves, we poured out our hearts to God.
Like an arrow released from its bow, this text lodged itself deep into my being.
Then on May 6th during my devotions, I read Deuteronomy 1:6, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey”. Like an arrow released from its bow, this text lodged itself deep into my being. In a split second all doubt evaporated. The urge was almost overwhelming. I knew that God wanted me to initiate our departure. As things turned out, it took another full year before we closed the door behind us, but I’ve never doubted the decision I made that morning.
I don’t believe being open to God leading us this way through his Word violates sound hermeneutical principles. This was God’s Word to his people, Israel. After 40 years of wandering in the dessert it was now time to enter the Promised Land. I wasn’t Moses or Israel and I didn’t just wrap up 40 years in the dessert. But God did use the principle of this call of Israel, to call us.
Opening the Bible at random hoping to find direction in a specific matter is more superstitition than faith.
Read God’s Word regularly, systematically. Don’t go looking for answers. Opening the Bible at random, placing your finger on a verse with your eyes closed hoping to find direction in a specific matter is more superstition than faith. But believing that God can wield the Word we read and meditate on to confirm his will in a choice we need to make is entirely possible.
The key question is if we’re willing to do his will, no matter what it is. Of course we can use the Bible the same way a ventriloquist uses his puppet. We can make it say whatever we want it to say. But if our heart is framed right, we will say with David, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Ps. 143:10).