Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Knowing God's Will: Practical Steps to Discerning God's Will

Your Word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
Psalm 119:105 

For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10 

When I first began this series I told you that there was no easy mathematical equation to discerning God's will, but that there were some practical helps. In keeping with that, I offer the following as a summary of the best ways that I know to find God's will for your life.
  1. Go to the Bible.* God's Word is a "light unto your path," and as such it helps you stay on the path He has laid out for you. God is not a God of confusion. He lights the way for His children. Most of the time when you need guidance you will find that the Bible has some to offer. But even in those instances when Scripture does not contain all the specific guidance you need, it is still of primary importance because it forms the boundaries within which the rest of your discernment process can safely take place. At times discerning God's will for your life can be very subjective. Knowing what Scripture has to say about your situation tells you very clearly what is in and what is out of bounds. In other words, Scripture acts as an anchor. As you move through the steps below, it ensures that you do not end up in major theological error.
  2. Know God. Like Scripture, knowing God acts as a sort of boundary maker. The better you know God the better you have a general idea what would be consistent with His character. In any given situation you can have some idea of what God might ask you to do and what God would never ask you to do. If you begin to think God is calling you to do something that is completely out of line with His revealed character, then you know you are on the wrong track. You need to start over. Plus, you have to remember that our Lord is infinitely more interested in having an intimate relationship with you than He is in giving you quick and easy answers. Often times He will allow you to go through difficult and uncertain times so He can teach you about Himself. Actively seeking to know Him just may prompt Him to reveal His will sooner. 
  3. Pay attention. You should prayerfully consider any situations or circumstances the Lord might be using to reveal His will to you. Pay special attention to open and closed doors (opportunities) in your life. Seek the advice of wiser, older Christians and weigh that advice against both Scripture and what you feel the Lord leading you to do.
  4. Pray! Throughout this whole process you should be praying and asking God to show you His will. Pray with an expectant heart. Remember that James says any man who asks God for something with a doubting heart should "not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:7). Too many of us pray like James's double-minded man. Expect your Father in heaven to answer your pleas for guidance. Wait in silent anticipation after you pray in order to give the Holy Spirit inside of you a chance to reveal God's will to you. Very often He will do so.
You may be disappointed to find that, even after you have done all of this, there still may be some measure of uncertainty regarding what God is calling you to do. Remember that God works on His own timetable, not yours. And rarely does He give His children a detailed outline of the next 10 years of their lives. Normally, you can expect to receive enough light for the next step. This means that you must obey the will you know. Why would God show you new levels of His will until you obey what He has already revealed? As you step out on faith to obey the Lord continue to pray and check your heart for any impure or selfish motives. Pay attention to any closed doors you may run into. And note whether your step of faith is met with the peace that passes understanding that is promised to God's children or not. If you sense something is wrong in any of these areas, you may be on the wrong path.

If you look at the two Scriptures quoted above you'll notice that as a Christian you have every reason to feel a strong sense of destiny. God has a definite plan and path for your life. He has prepared good works in advance for you to do and He has placed them in the path that He laid out before you. The only questions are: Will you choose to walk in His path for your life? and Will you ask for His help in finding that path? I pray that you will.
For further reading...

*I am indebted to J.I. Packer's wonderful book Knowing God for some of my thoughts on discerning God's will. Specifically chapter twenty entitled "Thou Our Guide" helped to shape my thinking on going first to God's Word to seek His guidance.  

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