Have you ever asked, “What is the will of God for my life?” No doubt, what immediately comes to mind is guidance related to your vocation, whom shall I marry, what college should I attend, what church should I choose, what house should I purchase, etc. These are all important areas in which we need God’s direction. Back in the day (I won’t say how long ago) and in the circles in which I grew up, God’s will was viewed as a target and your choices as the arrows you shot. If you didn’t hit the center of the target, you were forever banned to God’s “second best” for your life. In particular, it put enormous pressure on young people as they attempted to determine the course of their life. Maybe that was your experience or still is, even later in life. As a believer, being held hostage to this view of God’s plan for your life will heighten anxiety levels and cause inertia in making and moving on decisions in your life.
In the 1980s, books and articles began coming out with a more Biblical, reasonable, and freeing approach to God’s guidance. They stressed that God does guide, but guarded against the thinking that one may miss it through some fault of their own. Now that may be the case when the pressure is on to become a missionary to a Muslim majority country, or to be called to a ministry in the “hood” of a major city in America. It reminds me of a song by Scott Wesley Brown, “Please Don’t Send Me to Africa”.
“Oh Lord I am your willing servant
You know that I have been for years
I’m here in this pew every Sunday and Wednesday
I’ve stained it with many a tear
I’ve given You years of my service
I’ve always given my best
And I’ve never asked you for anything much
So, Lord I deserve this request”
Then the chorus begins:
“Please don’t send me to Africa…”
God does make clear His will for certain people to embark on a course of life that holds a certain amount of courage in the face of perceived danger. The Bible is also replete with examples of God’s unmistakable direction, many with dreams, visions, and direct verbal messages in the case of the prophets. But, as J. I. Packer says, these “must be judged exceptional and not normal, even for the apostles and their contemporaries. These events do as least show that God has no difficulty in making His will known to His servants.”
The Bible however has numerus promises regarding God’s guidance for you and me. Here are only a few.
Psalm 31: 3 – “For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me…”
Psalm 32: 8 – “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”
Psalm 23: 3 – “He leads me in paths of righteousness (or right paths) for his name’s sake.”
Proverbs 3: 5-6 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 – “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;…”
The letter to the Ephesians is an interesting study regarding God’s will. The first three chapters are essentially theological in nature, recounting all the blessings that are ours in Christ (our calling) when we become part of God’s family. The last three chapters are more practical in nature. Chapter four begins with the word “therefore”, connecting the first half of the letter with the second half.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord (the apostle Paul), urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”
The apostle Paul then goes on to list all the character qualities that should be growing in each person that calls themselves a disciple (shall I list them all?) – humility, gentleness, patience, forgiving, unity, love, right doctrine, purity, truthfulness, not given to anger or slander, resourcefulness (hard worker), right relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, employee and employer. He then sums it all up with the truth that we cannot accomplish these in our own strength; but with the help of the Holy Spirit, we need to put on the complete armor of God. Becoming more like Christ, then, IS God’s will for each one of us!
But, you say, that still begs the question about all those major decisions that come my way. I refer back to those books and articles from the 1980s. The “way of Biblical wisdom” is the path to discerning God’s will for me, not the “bulls-eye method”. Here are some key questions to ask yourself when needing direction.
- Is my deepest desire to bring God glory in whatever I choose?
- Am I reading and studying the Bible to understand God’s over-arching will for the world and how I might contribute to it?
- Am I praying about this decision? Is there a sense of peace (despite challenges) that is growing?
- Am I developing in my Christian life to be more like Christ?
- Do I understand how God has wired me? Have I taken a Spiritual Gifts inventory? Are there experiences or skills in which I felt fulfilled or even challenged that would factor into a decision?
- Have I consulted trusted, wise, and godly friends about the options or opportunities?
- Have I listed on a page of paper the pros and cons of a decision?
- Do I believe that God can even use failures, wrong decisions, or selfish inclinations to eventually steer me in the right direction?
- Am I ready to step out in faith and make a decision?
Finally, Pastor Chuck Swindoll is helpful: “Your call will become clear as your mind is transformed by the reading of Scripture and the internal work of God’s Spirit. The Lord never hides His will from us. In time, as you obey the call first to follow, your destiny will unfold before you. The difficulty will lie in keeping other concerns from diverting your attention.”