Finding the Elusive Will of God
Wouldn't it be nice if God's leading was this clear?
Finding the will of God for our lives can often be elusive, confusing and difficult. It may be something as simple as, "Should I buy this car?" or it could be as life altering as, "Should I take this job?" or "Should I go into the ministry?" God has a personal interest in our lives. He is concerned about our well being and our future. More important, He has a wonderful plan for our lives.
Although God is sovereign, he has given us a free will to accept or reject Him. This not only applies to salvation, it also applies to His plan for our lives. God has a "perfect will" or plan for us. However, because of sin and disobedience, most of us don’t even come close to reaching that potential. The more we live in disobedience, the farther we move from God’s perfect will. Besides His perfect will, God also has a "practical will" for us. This is the plan God has for us which takes into account all those things we gave up by not following His perfect will.
How does one find the will of God? It seems to be such a complicated and elusive question. For whatever reason, God usually keeps most of His will a mystery. I can see some reasons why it would be advantageous not to know my whole future. However, it would be nice if He would show me more than a couple steps at a time. Nevertheless, God’s ways are truly superior. Therefore, we should not dwell on His methods but learn to walk in accordance with what He has shown us.
Before we go into the process of learning God’s will, it is important to understand we must do God’s work one step at a time. If we do not take the first step, God usually will not show us the second step. Too often we are seeking God’s direction for a major decision but are failing to take the small steps He has already shown us. We must be obedient in the small things before we can expect God to direct us in the big ones.
Finding the will of God is a multifaceted subject that can barely be covered in a book, let alone a couple chapters. However, there are some basic principles that can be very helpful. In the following chapter, I have outlined six steps in finding God’s will for your life. In summary, it is a process of aligning your heart with God’s.
To truly know God’s heart, you have to hear Him speak. There are four basic ways God speaks to us. They are:
1) The written Word of God (Bible)
2) His soft quiet voice in our heart (Holy Spirit)
3) Circumstances in our lives
4) Experiences of other believers
It is important to point out while God often uses circumstances and the experiences of others to communicate His intentions to us, the Bible is the final authority. Experiences or feelings that contradict the Bible are not the will of God.
Since knowing the Word of God is the single most important factor in finding God’s will, I decided to bathe myself with the Bible. I purchased the dramatized NIV Bible on tape. I listened to the tapes in the car, on breaks at work, in my workshop at home, etc. I look forward to listening to the tapes and I feel disappointed when I am unable. The dramatized New Testament has been produced on compact disk (14 CDs), and since my player holds 6 CDs I can listen to 7 hours of the Bible without touching the stereo. Listening to the Bible on tape is not a substitute for in-depth Bible studies, but it does provide an efficient way to continually expose myself to God’s principles. It also provides me with excellent examples of how God has led other believers.
The Bible on tape comes in several formats. For example, you can buy either the King James Version or New International Version on tape or CD. Dramatized versions are available for both the KJV and NIV. The dramatized versions are still the Bible verbatim, but whenever there are conversations, you hear multiple speakers. When appropriate, you hear background sounds such as water, birds, etc. You can even feel the emotion in the voices of the speakers. In the book of Job you can hear the bitterness and lament in Job’s voice, and the mockery and condemnation in the voices of his friends.
In the past couple years I have gone through the whole Bible 13 times and the New Testament over 85 times. I don’t bring this up to brag, but rather to show you how bathing yourself with the Word of God is a realistic possibility. You can buy the whole Bible on tape (48 tapes) at a discount price from Clifton Book Company (1-800-228-0939). At the time of this printing, the costs were:
Another great source for examples of God’s leading is Moody Bible Institute’s audio series called Stories of Great Christians. As the title indicates, these tapes (about 4-10 hours per person) provide dramatized stories of people who have been greatly used by God. Moody currently has 46 series. I’ve included a chapter entitled Stories of Great Christians to provide more information on these exciting stories.
A basic rule of thumb in finding God’s will is be obedient to what God has already revealed to you and grow where you are currently planted. Many Christians make the common mistake of expecting God to provide them more leading and guidance even though they have not been obedient in what God has already shown them. These are often the small things such as being truthful with others, treating your mate with love and respect, obeying the laws of the land (such as traffic laws), maintaining a pure thought life, etc.
There are two reasons why God wants you to be obedient to what He has already shown you. First, you must take things one step at a time. When you are walking down a path in the woods, you cannot take your fifth step until you take the first four steps. Likewise, when you are walking down life’s path, you cannot take step five until you take the first four steps. A long walk is accomplished one step at a time. Since you cannot perform future steps until you do the current one, God doesn’t usually show you too many steps at a time. In Luke 16:10, God points out if you are not faithful in small things, He will not entrust you with large things.
The second reason you should be obedient to what God has shown you is the obedience factor. Obedience is something God desires more than most other things. It brings Him pleasure. In fact, it is one of the few things we own that He finds valuable. The poor widow who gave all she had in Mark 12:42 illustrates the idea that giving God possession and control of all we have is valuable and precious to Him. It isn’t the actual objects we give Him, but our desire to give Him our all. This it the reason a half-hearted gift to God is not pleasing to Him, no matter what the size.
As we can see, the key is attitude, not objects. This is the reason God places so much emphasis on obedience. When people are obedient to God’s leading, God pours out His power. Israel’s marching around the city of Jericho didn’t bring down the walls. It was their obedience to God.
To contrast the results of obedience and disobedience, God included in the Bible what happened next at Jericho. God specifically told the Israelites in Joshua 6:18,19 not to take any of the spoils of war from Jericho or it would bring trouble and destruction to the camp. Yet, Achan disobeyed this instruction and 36 Israelites died in the next battle at Ai (Joshua 7).
When Naaman was told to dip into the river Jordan seven times to cure himself of leprosy, he was angry. He felt there were other rivers that were far superior to the Jordan (2 Kings 5:11-14). However, after he completely obeyed, he was cured.
Partial obedience is not pleasing to God. King Saul was told to destroy all the Amalekites and everything they owned. Instead of obeying God, he spared the king and the best sheep. He said he kept the sheep so he could make sacrifices to God. God rebuked him and told him obedience is better than sacrifices (1 Samuel 15:22-23). To do what God asks of us is far more important than doing religious things. Another example of Saul’s disobedience is in 1 Samuel 13:7-14. Saul lost his kingdom because he failed to be obedient.
Another common mistake made by Christians is they often view "success" from a human perspective instead of from an eternal one. Success, in human terms, is often measured by the size of a ministry, number of converts, and other tangible quantities. Success, from God’s perspective, is a life that has followed God’s plan. The body principle in 1 Cor. 12:12-31 clearly points out if God plans for you to be a seemingly insignificant toe, you are incredibly successful if you are a toe. A toe is not glorifying God if it tries to be a highly visible eye or mouth.
Two more examples of this principle are the parable of the talents (Mat.25:15-30) and the parable of the workers in the field (Mat. 20:1-16). The parable of the talents highlights the issue of being productive with what you are given. God is not going to measure you against the output of others, but against what He has given you. In other words, physical hardships, financial restraints and geographical limitations will not make a person more or less successful in God’s eyes. The parable of the workers in the field is about workers who were hired at different times of the day. When it came time to be paid, those who worked one hour were paid the same as those who worked all day. This parable indicates God views time as any other resource that you may have. If you have a lot of time, He expects you to use it wisely. If you are given only a little time here on Earth, your rewards will be based on how you used it. A person who lives only a short time could have just as many eternal rewards as someone who lived a long and fruitful life.
Keeping all of this in mind, who will receive the most eternal rewards: a high profile evangelist or the grandmother who was led by God to pray day and night for the evangelist ever since he was a child? When we get to Heaven I think we will be surprised by who actually glorified God more with their lives. For this reason, a person paralyzed in an accident should not feel like his life has ended. In the eyes of God, his life can be just as "successful" and useful as the person who is not handicapped. The eternal rewards can be just as great. This is also the reason an old person whose body is crippled and racked with pain still has value to God.
When I was in Bible school we were told to write a paper on, "Why did God create mankind?" I thought the answer was obvious. God created us because He wanted someone to love and to be loved. He wanted a creature that would choose to love Him out of his own free will. After researching the Bible, I found, although that was true, it was not the primary reason. He created us to bring glory to Himself (Isaiah 43:7). Do a study on the word "glory" and see the importance God places on being glorified by our actions.
Simply put, God’s will for us is to glorify Him. Thus, to glorify God should be our primary goal. This should be higher than everything else, even the important things like witnessing. If we make glorifying God our primary goal, then good works, such as witnessing, will be the natural fruit. We should never make our ministry our primary goal. This is not glorifying to God.
How, then, do we glorify God? When Jesus was asked what was the first and foremost commandment (Mat. 22:37-40), He answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." He followed that by saying, "And the second is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’" If we treat others as ourselves, we would naturally reach out to the needs of others. We would be concerned about their spiritual welfare.
We bring glory to God when our actions, words, and thoughts are consistent with what is in the Bible. While some applications of this are obvious, others are not. We know God is not glorified if we commit adultery or murder. We even know He is not glorified if our thought life is impure. What many Christians fail to realize is the way we conduct our Christian ministries also determines if God is glorified. If our motives or methods are not Christ-centered, God is not honored. The end does not justify the means. God is not glorified if a person is so overly involved in his ministry that he neglects the needs of his family or does not have time to pray and read the Bible. Even the way a Christian ministry treats its staff and handles its money are factors which determine if God is glorified.
If our motives and methods are Christ-centered, then everything we do can bring glory to Him. This means even secular activities such as driving to work, buying groceries, etc., are glorifying to God if done with the correct spirit. To put all this in perspective, once you correctly arrange your priorities according to what God has shown you, you are in God’s will and your life has great eternal value. If you are walking in the way God has already shown you, He will show you the next step for your life when the time is right. If God chooses not to reveal His next step to you, there is no reason for you to be discouraged or frustrated. If you are already in God’s will, you cannot be any more successful in God’s eyes than you already are.
The lives of Joseph, Moses and Job are good examples of this. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. After his life temporarily got better, he was falsely accused and imprisoned for two years. It was 17 years from the time Joseph was betrayed by his brothers to when God revealed His plan to Joseph. Yet, if Joseph’s heart and priorities were right (which it appears they were) his life was just as "successful" in the eyes of God during those lonely years in prison.
When Moses became concerned about the Hebrews, he killed an Egyptian and was exiled. It was forty years before God revealed to Moses His plan of freeing the Hebrews. I’m sure during those forty years there were times when Moses felt like a failure. As he lived in exile, he probably felt like he had blown the opportunity that God had given him. He had a high position in Pharaoh’s court, and because of a moment of rage, it was over. He could no longer be of help to his people. For whatever reasons, God chose to wait forty years to reveal His plan to Moses. If Moses had his heart and priorities right, his forty years in exile were successful in the eyes of God.
Job lost his children, wealth, and health. His wife was of no comfort and his friends were highly critical of him. Although his life appeared to be falling apart, his life was successful because he was where God wanted him.
In summary, grow in your current location and be obedient to the things He has already shown you. If you are actively seeking God’s wisdom, He will reveal His plan for you in His time.
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