Is it possible for a Christian to know God’s will and not have to agonize over it? Should a believer make a decision without first spending hours in prayer, asking God to reveal His will? Must a Christian avoid making a decision until he or she has a “peace about it”? What about waiting for a “sign” from God? Is it okay for a Christian to consult a psychic or a Ouija board to seek God’s guidance?
A married couple, John and Tina, is faced with a dilemma. They would like to move to Colorado to be closer to John’s family. They’ve been praying about it, asking God to show them His will. Their decision must be made before the end of the week, yet they’re still not sure what God wants them to do — should they stay or should they go?
Naturally John and Tina are confused and frustrated. John is leaning toward moving because he knows it will be good for the kids to live close to their grandparents. He’s even getting excited about it. Not Tina! She wants to wait for a “confirmation,” from God before they pull up stakes and move half way across the country.
John and Tina are in the proverbial pickle.
Many Christians talk about finding God’s will as though it were some deep dark secret, hidden away in the pages of Scripture. Maybe God doesn’t want us to find it.
Where does the Bible teach that God tries to hide His will from us?
Tina and John believe their heavenly Father loves them, yet they’ve decided that He’s hiding His will from them. Maybe God likes playing hide and seek.
Most good parents want what’s best for their children, right? So does it make sense that God would want to hide His will from those He loves? If Tina and John really believe He’s a loving Father, why are they clinging to the ridiculous notion that He wants to keep them in the dark?
If you search the New Testament you’ll find no explicit command to “Find God’s will.” Read through the book of Acts and you’ll see what I mean. The Apostles were given no clear instructions on how they were to discern God’s will. No prayer ritual. No magic formulas. Nothing!
Christians shouldn’t waste their time searching for a magic formula that will cause the Almighty to reveal His will. Since God forbids pagan divination, dabbling in the magic arts is risky business. Yet professed Christians are using eastern meditative techniques hoping to gain secret information that God has not chosen to reveal. Followers of Jesus Christ should never seek supernatural powers. God has determined the means by which we come to Him in prayer — and He set certain boundaries! Try to imagine, if you will, Christians determining the boundaries for themselves. There would be no limits whatsoever!
Some Christians push the limits to the brink. Mystics like Brennan Manning and Richard Foster believe God can be found within through achieving an altered state of consciousness. Individuals involved in contemplative prayer commune with God through meditation and yoga. By using these techniques they’re able to reach stillness, thus opening themselves to new experiences within, and receiving illumination. Gary Gilley offers this insight into what Christian mystics believe:
[T]he mystic has no confidence in human knowledge accessible through normal means such as the propositional revelation of God (Scripture). If we are to know God, it must come from a mystical union with Him that transcends the rational thought process or even normal sensory experience. This takes place through following the three stages of purgation, illumination and union; implementing the spiritual disciplines and most importantly, practicing contemplative prayer. (Source)
Contemplatives admit that the means they use to commune with God can be dangerous as it invites demon oppression. And for those who are not Christians, it invites demon possession! In Acts 8 we learn that Simon (the sorcerer) Magus was severely rebuked by Peter for seeking supernatural powers. Christ himself criticized the “perverse generation” that always asks for a sign from God.
Looking for signs through coincidences, or flipping through the Bible and placing a finger on a verse, or relying on the first thought to enter your mind after a prayer, are forms of Christian divination.
In order for Christians to mature in their faith they must read and study Scripture, meditate on it (this does not mean eastern meditation), then put its principles into practice. We must put our Bibles before all the other books we’re reading. It’s the only book that has God’s direct message to His people.
I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word — Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law — Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors — I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws…Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight (Psalm 119:16-35 KJV).
An important aspect of reading the Bible is knowing how to interpret Scripture correctly. Paul said to Timothy, “[T]he things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. … 15Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2 & 15). We must seek accurate interpretations — and correctly handle the word of truth! That way we will not only know what the words say, but the intended meaning of the words. Christian apologist Greg Koukl makes this point:
Private interpretations do not yield accurate meaning — there is a particular truth — a determinate meaning — God intends to convey. Individual, personalized interpretations that distort this meaning only bring danger.
Stay out of the danger zone! Applying esoteric meanings to Scripture is irresponsible. Anyone who distorts God’s Word does so “to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).
I haven’t forgotten about John and Tina. Why haven’t they received an answer from God on the Colorado question? A simple yes or no will do. They’re not expecting God to appear to them in a burning bush or through thunder and lightning as He did with Saul. Why the silence?
We may think God intends to reveal His plan — but what if He chooses not to reveal it? What if He has no intention of sharing His plan with us? Part of God’s plan for Job’s life was to allow ghastly things to happen to him. What if Job had known in advance about the losses he would suffer, the pain he would have to endure? The man would never have left his tent! God’s plan for Job was that he should suffer more than any man. God never told Job about His plan. And he never found out why he was made to suffer.
God still speaks to us today — but not through a burning bush! He speaks to us through the pages of Scripture. If we read and study the Bible what we’ll discover is that His will for us is not hidden. In fact, it’s crystal clear. So why do so many believers agonize over it? I’ll answer this burning question (pun intended) in a moment. But first, is it possible for believers to know God’s will and not have to agonize over it? Should believers (a) make a decision without first spending hours in prayer, asking God to reveal His will? (b) avoid making a decision until he or she has a “peace about it”? (c) wait for a “sign” from God? (d) consult a psychic or a Ouija board to seek God’s guidance?
Pastor and Bible expositor John MacArthur reminds us that:
The will of God is not meant to be a secret we must uncover. God wants us to understand His will far more than we want to understand it. He always makes His will clear to those who seek it with an obedient heart. Most of the real problem areas in the question of God’s will are settled for us in Scripture.
What does Scripture tell us about seeking God’s will for our lives? According to noted Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke:
There are no examples of explicitly seeking or finding God’s will after Acts 1:24-26, in which the disciples drew lots to select Matthias as a replacement for Judas. There are dreams, visions, and revelations after this, but never in the context of explicitly seeking God’s will. From this point onward it is not divination (seeking to probe the divine mind) but revelation given by God to His people. After Pentecost there is no instance of the church seeking God’s will through any of the forms of divination? The problem of using divination today is that the techniques Christians use, like promise boxes and seeking signs are not examples offered to those living under the New Covenant. So when a believer is told to “not take a job until you have God’s mind,” I think he may be led astray. His faulty logic and faulty exegesis cause him to believe in divination, but there is no such biblical example to follow for Christians. (Source: Knowing the Will of God By Bruce Waltke, with Jerry MacGregor Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene OR.)
Nowhere in the New Testament does God tell His followers to “seek his will.” Christians are commanded to seek His kingdom and do His will.
The means God used to reveal His will before Pentecost is not normative for the church today. According to Waltke, “God does not administer His church in the same way He administered old Israel. He administered old Israel by the Mosaic Law, but we are no longer administered by that law. He administers us by the Spirit, not the Law, and this changed at Pentecost.”
God operates differently today because we are under grace, not under the Law. (Romans 6:14). Born again Christians are controlled by the Spirit of God. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we know how to tell right from wrong. Hebrews 8:10 says, “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.”
God speaks to us through the pages of Scripture. “For all our talk about sola Scriptura,” says Greg Koukl, “many also hold that God speaks to them on a regular basis giving true information about Himself and specific directions for their lives. Their claim is, essentially, ‘I believe the Bible is a bona fide source of information and the Spirit also gives private information directly to me.’ The second step frequently follows the first: The personal, subjective sense of what a person thinks God is telling him trumps the objective Scripture.”
Koukl makes an important point. Should what we hear in our mind take precedence over what Scripture says? Christians will often toss out the phrase, “God told me” that they should do this or that. Or “I felt led,” or “I sensed that God wanted me to___” You fill in the blank. Televangelists, who pretend to have a direct pipeline to God, prance around in front of the TV camera, claiming to hear a “word from the Lord.” At the risk of sounding divisive, most televangelists teach outright heresy (I can prove it), so why would God speak to them at all? Frauds should not expect to hear from God; they should expect to be rebuked by God. But I digress.
Now for an example of divining God’s will. Loretta wanted to change jobs so she prayed for guidance. When God didn’t answer immediately she experienced doubts and anxiety. Maybe she should stay at her current job. After being in limbo for a week, someone mentioned a company that was hiring and thought Loretta would be the perfect candidate. A sign from God, perhaps? Loretta applied and landed an interview. The interview went well and she knew it would be a good fit. Loretta really wanted the job, yet she felt uncertain about accepting it, as she still hadn’t heard from God. Frustrated, Loretta decided to lay out a fleece. If the company offered her the job, with a raise in salary to boot, she’d know for certain it was God’s will. Eventually the company extended an offer, which included an increase in salary — and a private office! There was no doubt in her mind that God had spoken. The fact that she had gotten everything she prayed about — and more — was the confirmation she was waiting for. Loretta also felt a peace about it.
Loretta believed she had received a confirmation from God, and she felt a peace about it, yet in the end she turned down the job. The reason? The 30-minute commute didn’t appeal to her. Does Loretta’s decision mean she’s out of God’s will? Was Loretta ever in God’s will? It’s obvious that Loretta’s a very confused individual.
I used the job illustration to show the lack of maturity in the Church. Loretta’s behavior is not uncommon — it’s become the norm! How is it that God’s people will blithely cast Truth aside and pursue occult techniques to find the Father’s will — or to have a — “deeper experience” with Him? “The customs of the people are worthless,” warned the prophet Jeremiah. Worthless? Wow. With this in mind, why are professed Christians immersing themselves in cultural customs and cleverly crafted gimmicks and paying no heed to Scripture? Perhaps these “Christians” have a said faith, and not a real faith. Truth hurts.
Today important life decisions are made based on subjective experiences instead of God’s trustworthy precepts found in His Word. Greg Koukl asks, “Does Scripture give us the liberty to assign the authority of divine fiat to our subjective experiences?” He answers, “Nowhere does the Bible give us that liberty. It does not enjoin us to assess our feelings and then judge whether they are a manifestation of the voice of God or not.”
Can we even trust our feelings?
The question is not whether or not Jesus lives in our hearts in the person of the Holy Spirit. Having believed, we’ve been sealed with the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. We’ve been baptized in the Holy Spirit. He indwells us. He convicts us of sin. He teaches us. The Holy Spirit regenerates us, washing us in the blood of Christ. He comforts us in difficult times. He confirms in our hearts that we are children of God. The Holy Spirit is in and through every part of our lives, and He ought to be. All of this is specifically taught in the Bible.
The question is not whether there is a Holy Spirit, or whether that Holy Spirit indwells us, or whether that Holy Spirit does things for us or to us in an experiential, subjective way. All of those things are the case.
The question is actually two-fold: Is it enough for Christians to simply say, ‘You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart. I have the confirmation of a subjective experience. I feel Jesus?’ The answer is no, it is not enough to say that — [T]he New Ager feels Jesus — Lots of people feel Jesus. They have psychological certainty that they’re children of God and that they’re right with God. (Source)
Many Christians fall into the same trap as the cults and New Agers. Their trust is placed in subjective experiences rather than the objective Truth of Scripture. For cultural Christians, it’s not about knowing God; it’s about experiencing God. For many believers, feelings and experiences are what matters most. Forget about reading the Bible. Excuse my bluntness, but that’s just plain dumb! How will Christians be able to discern truth from fiction if they’re biblically illiterate? The answer comes from an article I wrote on spiritual discernment, Got Meat?:
A thorough study of the Bible will equip the believer with understanding and wisdom that leads to maturity. Christians who don’t take time to study are unable to differentiate between God’s purpose and desire for their lives from their own aspirations.
Which brings me to the burning question, “What does Scripture tell us about seeking God’s will for our lives?” John MacArthur tackled this in Plan of my Life: God’s Will. It is God’s will for all of us to be:
Sanctified — 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7
Saying thanks to God — 1 Thessalonians. 5:18
“If all those things are true in your life,” declares MacArthur, “you may do whatever you want. Psalm 37:4 says, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.’ That means that if you are conforming to God’s will in all the five ways listed above, He will place in your heart desires that reflect His will. So do what you want to do!”
There you have it. The six qualifications for knowing the will of God are first and foremost a person must be saved. What follows is the infilling of the Spirit, sanctification (being made holy) submission to Christ’s Lordship (emptying ourselves), suffering that glorifies God. When we do these things we are demonstrating that we genuinely love God. Thus, God will give us the desires of our hearts.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:1, 2).
© Marsha West – 10/18/12