By Ava Pennington
Olly olly oxen free! It’s the call that summons players in a game of hide-and-seek. Fun for children, but when it comes to God’s will for our lives, the last thing we want is to play a game. Yet searching for God’s will can feel like a reluctant game of hide-and-seek as we hunt for those elusive answers.
Should I take that job?
Is he the right man for me?
Which house should we buy?
We resort to flipping coins—heads or tails? We make decisions based on our feelings or impressions, and then hope it was the Lord’s leading and not the pepperoni pizza we had the night before. We run to a variety of people for advice, often seeking out those who will tell us what we want to hear. We may even follow Gideon’s example and put out a fleece to seek confirmation of God’s leading.
We can know God’s will with certainty—not a certainty that comes from random opinions, flipped coins, or wet fleeces, but directly from his Word. Still, there’s another question we should ask first.
Do We Really Want to Know?
Do we really want to know God’s will for our lives? Before we roll our eyes at the absurdity of the question, think about it. What if God’s will is for us to persevere with an insufferable boss? Or what if God wants us to remain in a loveless marriage? What if God wants us to sell everything we have and become missionaries to Bangladesh?
If we don’t want to know God’s will, he won’t force us to learn it. Psalm 25 reminds us that God guides the humble (v. 9) and instructs those who fear him (v. 12). Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, once said, “His leading is only for those who are already committed to do as he may choose.”
So the first step in discovering God’s will is to seek it wholeheartedly. To do that, we need to release our own agendas rather than try to confirm them. Seeking God’s will requires an attitude of submission—the willingness to line up our lives under God’s authority and direction, even if his will differs from our own plans.
God’s will is not always the mystery we may think it is. The Bible contains several clear statements about the will of God that are applicable to everyone.
God’s Will for Everyone
The first thing we can be sure of is that God’s will for us is to glorify him. In Isaiah 43:7 God tells us we are created to display his glory. Anything that does not bring glory to God cannot possibly be his will for our lives.
We also know that God wants “all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Jesus said, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life” (John 6:40). Before we do anything else, we obey God’s will by coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Once we have entered into a relationship with our heavenly Father through his Son, God’s will for every believer is to live in a way that reflects this new relationship. The apostle Paul reminds us, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified . . . . For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).
God’s will for our lives is also found in worshipping him as living sacrifices. Rather than being conformed to the pattern of this world, he calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we will know and prove his will (Romans 12:1, 2).
But what about those gray areas that are not clearly spelled out in the Bible and about which Christians may disagree?
Should you take that new job and relocate to another city? Should you propose to that Christian girl or marry that Christian man? Should you buy a new car, or keep your used one?
The answers may not always be apparent. However, once we’ve determined to seek God’s will, he will use a variety of methods to reveal it to us, including prayer, his Word, circumstances, counsel, and confirmation.
Regular time in prayer is a must for the child of God. Speaking through the psalmist God said, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (Psalm 32:8). James Montgomery Boice noted, “Clearly, if God is to guide us with his eye, he must first catch our eye. And this means that we must look to him regularly throughout the day.”
Prayer is not monologue. An effective prayer life is more than just telling God our plans and expecting him to rubber-stamp them. It is not asking God for direction and then walking away with the expectation that he will guide us as he did the Israelites in the desert with a pillar of fire.
Of course, God tells us to ask him for what we need. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
However, how many of us stay on our knees after we’ve made our requests to God? We speak, but do we listen? Too often we present God with our requests for direction, top it off with a firm “Amen,” and then go on our way, pleased with our spiritual discipline. We’re out the door and into our day, unmindful of the quiet prompting of the Holy Spirit. We can’t hear him because our iPods, car radios, or our own thoughts are drowning him out.
Perhaps the next time we pray, we should stay on our knees a little longer and listen as the Lord speaks to our hearts.
We want answers. The Bible has them. But they are not always spelled out the way we would like. For example, if you need a car, there is nothing in the Bible to tell you whether to purchase new, used, or to lease. The Bible does not tell us whether to buy a Maserati or a Ford. However, a variety of passages address stewardship principles regarding giving, saving, debt, providing for your family, and wise spending.
God’s Word is filled with principles that address spiritual, moral, emotional, financial, and relational issues. However else God might direct us, he will never contradict his written Word. How well do we know what the Bible has to say?
Some Christians watch for signs to indicate God’s leading. If the door opens, it must be God’s will, right? Maybe.
While God may indeed lead by creating opportunities, we should remember that he isn’t the only one who knows how to open a door. Our enemy, Satan, specializes in deception (John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 11:14). He also knows how to open doors and manipulate circumstances.
The next time we are tempted to act because a “door” opens or closes, we would do well to remember that our circumstances are only one piece of the puzzle.
Proverbs 15:22 tells us, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Still, we must choose our counselors carefully. We can run to those who will tell us what we want to hear, or we can seek out mature Christians whose lives reflect the principles God has laid out in his Word.
Wise advisors can help us discover the gifts God has given us. They might help us identify resources we have or need. Advisors can also help us detect nudges we might be receiving from the Holy Spirit.
Author J. I. Packer warns, “Don’t be a spiritual lone-ranger; when you think you see God’s will, have your perception checked. Draw on the wisdom of those who are wiser than you are: take advice.”
If we are seeking God’s will unreservedly, praying, listening, reading his Word for applicable principles, and seeking godly counsel, then God will confirm our steps. He does so by giving us peace through his indwelling Holy Spirit.
Still, we must not confuse God’s peace with the absence of trouble. The times when we are obedient to God’s leading are often the times of greatest attack by Satan.
God’s will is neither mysterious nor is it a speed bump in the road of life. As teacher and author Oswald Chambers noted, “When you have a right-standing relationship with God, you have a life of freedom, liberty, and delight; you are God’s will . . . . You are free to make decisions in the light of a perfect and delightful friendship with God, knowing that if your decisions are wrong he will lovingly produce that sense of restraint.”
The will of God is not a destination; it’s who we are in relationship to him.
Ava Pennington is a freelance writer in Stuart, Florida.
Seeking God’s Peace
Do you wonder how to identify God’s will in a situation you are facing? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
• Am I attaching importance to “open doors” as a sign, without seeking God’s will through prayer, his Word, and the counsel of others?
• Has God already spoken about this issue in his Word?
• If not, are there general biblical principles that might apply?
• Does this opportunity contradict what God’s Word says about this subject?
• Have I taken a Bible verse out of context to support what I want to do?
• Am I obeying what I already know is God’s will in other areas?
• When I pray about this, do I spend quiet time in God’s presence, just listening?
• Has an opportunity presented itself in this area?
• What does my family think about this?
• Have I discussed this with a trusted mentor or other mature Christian?