How Can I Discover God’s Will For My Life?
October 26, 2007
Have you ever wished you could have lunch with Jesus? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you got a phone call from heaven saying that the Lord Jesus Christ would like to meet you for lunch next Thursday? Suppose that happened. What would you talk to Jesus about? I imagine that your first impulse would be to fall on your face at his feet and worship him. But suppose the Lord of heaven said, “Rise, my child. Let’s share a meal together.” What would you say then? Most of us somewhere along the way would say something like this. “Lord Jesus, I love you and more than anything else, I want to please you. Lord, am I doing what you want me to do? Is there anything else you want to me to do becaus if there is, if you want to change my direction, please let me know.”
All of us have moments when we want to hear GodÃs voice or receive some definite sign regarding a relationship, a business decision, a career choice, or a major expenditure.
Our decisions really do matter. We make our decisions and our decisions turn around and make us. We face so many questions:
* Should I get married? If the answer is yes, should I marry Joe or Jake or Susan or Sally?
* Should I go to college? If the answer is yes, should I go to Alabama or Penn State or UCLA?
* I’ve been offered a new job. It’s a good job. But I’ve got a good job. Should I take the new job? Or should I hold onto what I have?
* We have two children. We’re thinking about having a third. Should we have another one? Or should we think about adopting?
* Is God calling me to the mission field? How can I be sure? Three mission boards are interested in me. How do I know which one to choose?
When I was a pastor, I would meet with high school seniors asking me to fill out recommendation forms for them. That by the way was one of the favorite parts of my job. I enjoyed talking with students about their career choices and I was always glad to help them take that all-important next step.
Once you’ve turned in your applications, it’s nail-biting time. Which colleges will accept me? Which ones will say no? What if three say yes, but my personal favorite says no? What if they say yes, but I can’t afford it? What do you do then? Is there any way to be 100% certain about God’s will when you are choosing a college?
I think it would be lot easier if you could simply open the door one evening and be greeted by a chorus of angels chanting, “Georgia Tech! Georgia Tech! Georgia Tech!” Or if you got a special delivery letter from heaven that said, “Dear Beth, go to Wheaton. Love, God.” That would make it easy. But it doesn’t often happen that way. Most of the time we research, study, narrow the options, talk it over with trusted friends, pray about it, wait on the Lord, turn in our applications, and then in the end, we make our choice and hope for the best.
It’s God’s Problem, Not Ours
That, I think, raises the central issue for most people regarding God’s will. We would like someone else to make the decision for us. If God would only tell us what he wanted in a given situation, we would do it. But most of the time we’re left with something less than 100% certainty.
I’m going to tell you right up front that I don’t believe there is any way for you to get 100% certainty before you sign on the dotted line. I think you can get 95% probability sometimes, but that’s about as good as most of us will ever do in the decisions of life.
That leads me to share an important principle with you. With all my heart I believe the following statement is true: God wants you to know his will more than you want to know it, therefore he takes personal responsibility to see that you discover it. Knowing God’s will is ultimately God’s problem, not yours. Let that last thought sink into your mind for a moment. You’ve probably never heard it put that way before.
Let me suggest what this really means:
He can put you exactly where he wants you to be.
He can arrange all the details years in advance.
He can open doors that seem shut tight.
He can remove any obstacle that stands in your way.
He can take your choices and fit them into his plan so that you end up at the right place at just the right time.
He can even take your mistakes and bring good out of them.
He can take tragedy and use it for your good and his glory.
All he needs-in fact the only thing he requires-is a willing heart. He just needs you to cooperate with him. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have to make decisions. But it does take the pressure off, because it means that you can trust God to take your decisions and use them to accomplish his will in your life.
Four Verses to Think About …
While reading through Proverbs, I was struck with the strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God over our personal decisions. Let’s take a quick look at four verses that help us see how God works in, with, through, and sometimes in spite of our decisions to accomplish his will in us.
Proverbs 16:9-“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” I’d like you to underline the word determines. It doesn’t say that God “directs” his steps (although that is true-see Proverbs 3:6), but rather that God determines his steps. It’s a very strong word that speaks of God’s control of every detail in the universe. Perhaps you’ve heard it said that “Man proposes, but God disposes.” You can make all your plans, in fact you can have your life mapped out step by step, but in the end, God determines every step you take.
Proverbs 16:33-“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” Most of us don’t understand the concept of “casting lots.” In the Old Testament, the Jews often used this method to determine God’s will. It sometimes involved using different colored balls or rocks, mixing them together, and then seeing which one fell out of the bag first. In that sense casting lots is like rolling dice. It appears to be a random act of chance. But God is behind those colored stones. He determines which one falls out of the bag first. This means that there are no “accidents” in life, no “random” events, and no such thing as “luck.” Even seemingly meaningless things fit into his plan. To paraphrase Forest Gump, ’Life is like a roll of the dice, but God is in charge of how the numbers come up.”
Proverbs 19:21-“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Let me give you a paraphrase of this verse: “You can make all the plans you like, but God gets the last word.” His purpose always prevails. Some translations say that God’s purpose shall stand. Most of our plans don’t stand. They are like the leaves that blow away in the autumn wind. But when God determines to do something, it’s gonna happen. You can write it down and take it to the bank. You can make all the speeches you want and announce your long-range plans, your ten-year goals, and your personal objectives, but just remember this. When you are finished, God always gets the last word.
Proverbs 20:24-“A man’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand his own way?” There is something hidden in the Hebrew text that you wouldn’t know simply from reading the English translation. The word translated “man’s” in the first phrase comes from the Hebrew word gibor, which refers to a mighty warrior, a ruler, or a potentate. Solomon means to say that even the steps of a mighty man are ordained by God. The word “anyone” in the second phrase comes from the Hebrew word adam, which is the generic word for mankind. The meaning is, “If God directs the steps of the mighty, how then can an ordinary man understand his own way?” The answer is, he can’t! That’s the whole point of the verse. We’re like a man stumbling around in the darkness, bumping into things, tripping over ourselves, trying to find our way forward. We can’t say for sure where we’ve come from, where we are right now, or where we’re going to be tomorrow. Only God can see the big picture of life.
The First Rule of the Spiritual Life: He’s God and we’re not!
Those four verses lead me directly to the first rule of the spiritual life. Understand this and you’ll be OK, forget this and you will walk in continual confusion. This is where all spiritual understanding must begin.
When we forget that rule, we think that we’re in control of our own life and that everything depends on us. So we obsess, we hyperventilate, we try to control everything and everyone around us, we worry over all our decisions, and we spend hours fussing over the minutiae of life.
What a relief to realize that God is God and you’re not. Now you can rip that big “G” off your sweatshirt. You don’t have to play God anymore and you don’t have to try to control everything around you. You can sleep well when you realize that God is God and you are not. Corrie Ten Boom was having trouble going to sleep one night because she was so worried about the affairs of her life. She tried praying but it didn’t help. Finally, the Lord said to her, “Go to sleep, Corrie. I’m going to be up all night anyway.”
Let me wrap up this message by sharing four simple principles that can help you as you seek to do God’s will.
Principle #1: Use all your intelligence to make wise decisions.
Sometimes people talk as if you shouldn’t use your brain at all but should wait for some mystical sign from God. I know the Bible says, “lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5), but that doesn’t mean to throw your brain away either. It simply means that after doing all your research on a given decision, submit it to God and ask for his help. If you need to make a major decision, don’t wait for the angels to knock on your door. Use your head, study the situation, gather the facts, talk to your friends, seek godly counsel, and then submit it all to the Lord.
Principle #2: Since you can’t know the future, you’ll rarely have 100% certainty about most decisions.
I’ve already mentioned that this is perhaps our greatest stumbling block because we want 100% certainty, but in a fallen world that’s hard to come by. Many people believe they must be 100% certain of God’s will before they make a decision. I can understand their thinking. After all, if you are facing a life-changing decision–a potential marriage, a cross-country move, a new career, which college to attend, whether or not to begin chemotherapy–you’d like to know in advance beyond any doubt that you are doing what God wants you to do. All too often that leaves us paralyzed by an inability to make up our minds. Some decisions are so important they can’t be left to chance. As the popular saying goes, “When in doubt, don’t.” If you aren’t sure about the new job, don’t take it, don’t make the move, don’t say yes, don’t make any decision with less than total certainty.
But is that good advice? Is it realistic? Is that the way God normally works?
Did Noah know all about the flood? No, but he built the ark anyway.
Did Abraham have a road map? No, but he left Ur of the Chaldees anyway.
Did Moses understand what it meant to lead God’s people out of Egypt? No, but he said yes when the Lord called him.
Did Joshua know how the walls were going to come tumbling down? No, but he marched around Jericho anyway.
Did Gideon fully grasp God’s plan to defeat the Midianites? No, he doubted it from the beginning, but God delivered his people anyway.
Did young David have a clue of what was to come when Samuel said to Jesse, “This is the one”? No, but the Spirit of the Lord came upon him anyway.
Did Jehoshaphat know how God was going to defeat the Ammonites? No, but he put the singers at the front of the army and sent them out to battle anyway.
We could add a hundred other examples from the Bible! Did the three Hebrew children know how they would be delivered? Was Daniel totally sure the lions would welcome him dropping in on them? Did Peter know he could walk on water? Did Paul know what would happen when he finally got to Rome?
The answer is always no. The life of faith means living with uncertainty even in the midst of doing God’s will. That’s the whole point of Hebrews 11. Those great men and women didnÃt know the future, but they trusted God anyway, sometimes in the face of great personal suffering. And because they kept on believing when circumstances turned against them, they received a great reward.
Too many people want what God has never promised–100% certainty before they will act. So they wait and wait and they dilly and they dally and they stop and they hesitate and they ruminate. They refuse to go forward because they are waiting for 100% certainty. That leads me to this important observation: It is rarely God’s will to give you 100% certainty before you make an important decision.
Principle #3: God wants guidable people who will trust him with the details of life.
Guidable people look to God and not to themselves. That is, they understand that after they have done all they can, it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. Like young Samuel, they say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant heareth.” Like Isaiah they cry out, “Here am I, Lord, send me.” Like the Lord Jesus they pray, “Not my will but thine be done.”
Let me share a secret with you. Guidable people always receive guidance from God. Always. Why? Because God always speaks loud enough for a willing ear to hear.
Are you a guidable Christian? Or do you still feel like you have to be in the driver’s seat of life. If you are struggling with this, let me suggest these two simple prayers:
1) “Lord, let your will be done even if it means that my will is not done.”
2) “Lord, right now I’m not sure I want to do your will. But I am willing to be made willing. Do whatever is necessary to change my heart. Amen.”
Principle #4: When the time comes, make the best decision you can and leave the results with God.
This follows from everything else I’ve shared in this message. When the time to decide comes, when you’ve thought about it, prayed about it, talked it over, sought godly counsel, researched your options, looked at the circumstances, searched the Scriptures, and waited on the Lord, when you’ve done everything you know how to do and the moment of truth comes, take a deep breath, close your eyes if you need to, and then just go ahead and make the best decision you can make.
When you’ve done that, there’s one other thing to do-leave the results with God. Remember he’s God and you’re not. His purposes will stand.
I’ve already said that he wants you to know his will more than you want to know it. Knowing God’s will is his problem, not yours. If you truly want to do God’s will, you will do it.
My friend Robert Burdett gave me this quote from Jerry Sittser, “God has enough trouble getting us to do his will, without making it hard to find.” If you are willing to be guided by God, you will discover that he will lead you step by step by step. In the end you will be what he wants you to be, you will go where he wants you to go, and you will do what he wants you to do. This is God’s promise to guidable Christians who are willing to do his will.
What Dallas Willard Told My Friend
I know a pastor who attended a conference where noted author Dallas Willard was speaking. This pastor met Dallas Willard and they chatted for a while. After the conference was over, his decided to write and thank him for his messages. To his surprise, he got back a nice letter of thanks. And that led to an occasional correspondence between the two of them. Not a lot of letters—just now and then staying in touch.
There came a time when the pastor was going through great difficulty in his ministry. People were unhappy about this or that, they were talking and sniping at each other, and everything the pastor tried to do seemed to be stymied by the criticism of people inside the church. At length he decided to go away for a personal retreat. While he was on the retreat, he resolved to write Dallas Willard and ask for his advice. So he started to write the letter. Evidently he really got into it because he wrote page after page, just pouring out his heart, sharing the details about all the problems of the church. He explained it thoroughly so that Dallas Willard could understand it in depth. As the pastor told the story to me, he said, “I knew I was writing too much, but I just couldn’t stop.” He wrote and wrote and wrote. Finally his epistle was finished.
The moment he dropped his letter into the mailbox, he had doubts. And in fact he thought about trying to get his letter back but he knew he couldn’t. He hoped he hadn’t offended the great man whom he held in such high esteem by writing at such great length.
Days passed. Then a week. Then another week. And the pastor beat himself up mentally. “Stupid! I was stupid to write such a long letter. I’ll never hear from Dallas Willard again.” More time passed. A month came and went. Finally the pastor forgot all about it.
Then one day he got a letter in the mail from Dallas Willard. It came in a very thin envelope. When he opened it, there was only one page inside. And the letter itself contained only two sentences. It read like this:
Thank you for writing. I think you should get up every day and do whatever you believe God wants you to do and not worry so much about what other people think.
The pastor smiled when he told me the story because that short answer told him everything he needed to know. It is a great advance spiritually to come to the place where you can do what you believe God wants you to do without worrying about what other people think.
Sometimes we just need to take the next step and let God take care of everything else.
Life is a mysterious journey, full of unexpected twists and turns. The path ahead is a mystery to us all. No one can say for sure what is around the next bend. It may be a smooth road through a lovely valley or we may discover that the bridge is washed out and we have to find a way to cross a deep river. Often the road will seem to disappear or it may suddenly seem to go in three different directions and we won’t know which way to go. But there is One who knows the way because the past, present, and future are all the same to Him and the darkness is as the light of day. He knows the way we should go. He promised to direct your path and He will do it. You can count on it.