Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Friday, September 16, 2011

Finding God's Will For My Life:

One of the most difficult matters to understand in regard to basic Christian living is, "How do I discern God's will?"
Intuitively, we know that decisions related to schooling, vocation, marriage, and finance have great impact on the course of our lives, so making right choices in these areas, and others, is incredibly important.  God desires that my life be lived in a way that is pleasing to Him, so He must care how I make these choices.  How do I know what He wants me to do?

Being sensitive to the Lord and desirous of living life in a way that is pleasing to Him is highly virtuous.  The Bible is clear that everything I do ought to demonstrate a life of surrender to God.  I am to be a "living sacrifice."  (Romans 12:1-2)  All that I do is to be done to His glory. (1 Corinthians 10:31) The reality of life is that even the smallest of decisions can have major impact on my life and others.  (See "Other Stuff #3, Three Little Things with Large Impact" )

The Bible gives solid guidance on a great many matters, but it doesn't speak to what school I should attend, job I should take, or woman I should marry, much less what car I should purchase--or even if I should purchase one, or whether I should take the expressway, or the back roads to work.  

I was raised on what Gary Friesen and J. Robin Maxson call the "Traditional Approach."  I was encouraged to seek the" perfect will of God."  My goal was to be "in the center of God's will."  As I considered the decisions above, I really did want to do God's will.   The problem, or one of the problems, was I was using a very imprecise means to attempt to arrive at a perfectly precise goal.  The counsel of other Godly people was supposed to help, but they often didn't agree, and observation indicated that they were frequently wrong.  Circumstances were offered as indicators.  Was the door opened or closed?  Yet my observation of the door-ajar-or-closed-fast system of guidance was not very encouraging.  Two well-motivated, seemingly Godly people would approach the same open door.  One would conclude it was opened by God and was a divine directive to proceed, while the other would conclude it was a temptation from Satan to distract from the real objective.  Likewise there was no unanimity on how hard one ought to push on a closed door before concluding God was directing one elsewhere.  The same uncertainty existed in regard to other "indicators of God's will,"  the desires of my heart, my abilities and inclinations, the need, the call, etc. etc.

The book Decision Making and the Will of God . . . , linked above, as well as a message by Cary Perdue, pretty well sealed the deal in my thinking that the approach I had been raised with didn't work.  You can read Friesen and Maxson's book, as well as find abundant material about it, so I won't comment on it.  Perdue, a pastor, educator, and first rate student of the Word, arrested the attention of those who heard him speak at a Bible college alumni event when he said something like this:  "You can be absolutely sure of the will of God for your life."   (speaking of the kind of decisions I have described)  Here Dr. Perdue inserted a pregnant pause.  "After the fact."  
I don't want to do an injustice to my colleague, but if I remember correctly what he went on to explain in the rest of the message is that we should be living  a life of practical faith.  I saved a copy of the handout that Dr. Perdue gave out that day.  On the last page of his notes he said:
Act in confidence.Check the discussion in James 1:5-8 about wisdom, faith and lack of double-mindedness.  Having followed the six previous steps [Be willing to do God's will.  Obey what God has already told you.  Pray about it. Study the Bible.  Get counsel.  Think.] make a decision being confident of God's guidance.  It will be a step of faith . . .  [Emphasis mine]
If Cary gives me permission, I'll scan and post his article.  It is no less relevant today than it was nineteen years ago.

My interest about the ongoing issue of the will of God was piqued anew by an article by Steve Cornell.  His thoughts are mainly expressed in a series of brief quotations from sound Biblical thinkers like Friesen, Maxson, J. I. Packer, D. A. Carson, and John MacArthur.

I forwarded the article to several colleagues.  
My son told me it was very timely.  He had just taught a group of potential missionaries on this subject.  He used the article as a follow-up.  

An associate told me, tongue in cheek, I think, that it was a good article.  "God told him so."
Another, David Owen, who works with college-aged folk--the group for whom these questions are most important--commented after expressing agreement with the gist of the article:
Most times the “voice in the head” is our own.  I am a little nervous however with going too far the other direction by completely dismissing the voice of the Spirit which we see operating in the Bible from beginning to end. The Spirit spoke and acted occasionally in scripture in some strange ways and there is nothing definitive in scripture that says that this has stopped. I would see it as being rare in Bible times and it would probably still be rare today. Of course the Spirit of God will always lead within the framework and boundaries of scripture. In 30+ years of ministry I would say that I have heard what I know is the voice of God leading me three times – and it was always within the boundaries of scripture.
Before Al Gore invented the internet, Cary expressed agreement via a mimeograph with Dave. 
 Does God ever reveal specific parts of His plan for our lives?  Yes, probably not very often, but occasionally.  Can we expect Him to.  Probably not if we expect Him to give us some special, direct revelation.  Should we ever seek such direction?  Yes, but we cannot demand it [and] we should not become indecisive it we have no clear direction from God.

For what they are worth I shared the following in response to Dave's thoughts.

I think you expressed the matter well.
The way I try to deal with it is to admit the subjectivity of this kind of "leadership" or "direction." Call it what it is.  "I have an inner impression that this is what I should do.  I think this is where the Lord is leading."--even more-so when it is what "we should do." That leaves the matter open for discussion and counsel.  When I begin with some variation of  "God told me" about the only rejoinder is, "No He didn't."  Not the stuff from which profitable conversations are built.  To paraphrase our former president from your home state, "Heed, but verify." Yes, God does lead through inner impressions.  I think generally in ways that I don't even recognize.  I end up where I am because included in God's sovereign oversight is His access to my mind.  When I consciously enter the conversation on that level I am liable to mess it up. I know you agree that it must be stated that any disagreement between the clear teaching of scripture and God's word, must be decided in favor of God's word.Inner voices, when they are valid, are not the only guidance mechanism God has given.  Already stated is the Bible.  The Body of Christ, and the gifted individuals in the church cannot be ignorred either.  I am wise to run inner impressions that I think are Divine by such resources.  In the day in which we live, I would consider those resources to include print and internet options--what I am doing right now.  (two guys on different sides of the world sharpening one another.)Any action I take whether guided by inner impression or not ought to be taken with faith in God's sovereignty.  It is too cold to call it a contract (at least it seems so to me) but there is nearly a contract in passages like Prov. 3:5-6, Psalm 37:4, & Rom. 12:1-2.  If we do ____, God will be out front preparing the way, give us the desires of our heart (context) & allow us to live in such a way that we will prove like an assayer the worth of His good and perfct will.  Or as Phillips put it, "so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good"God is so great that He is even soveriegn over my mind.  Talk about order out of chaos.  Keep in mind, however, that I still live in the "not yet."  I still need a lot of mental cosmetics."

Then today I read a follow-up post from Cornell, "Ten Principles for Godly Decisions."

Hopefully all of this will provide some profitable grist leading to confident, Godly living.

I welcome your comments.

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