How Can I Discover God’s Will For My Life?
December 7, 1997
Have you ever wished you could sit down with God and have a good talk with him about your own life? Have you ever wished you could just look him in the eye say, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” 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?
I know from personal experience that many of our high school seniors are wrestling with the big question-“What do I do when I graduate next June?” Over the past few weeks I’ve written recommendation forms for various Christian colleges and state universities. That by the way is one of the favorite parts of my job. I enjoy talking with our students about their career choices and I am always glad to help them take that all-important next step.
Most of our seniors have already turned in their applications. Now 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 …
Recently I’ve been struck with the strong emphasis in the book of Proverbs 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.
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.
“I’m going to be up all night anyway.” Top of page
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. Have you ever said, “Lord, let your will be done even if it means that my will is not done?”
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.
Dan Hoeksema’s Daily Prayer
Just before Thanksgiving Marlene and I had lunch with Dan and Linda Hoeksema. Dan and Linda attended Calvary for many years but moved to Memphis several years ago where Dan has established an electrical contracting company. As we sat down to eat, the thought passed through my mind that Dan looked more relaxed than I had seen him in a long time. Before long, I discovered the reason for his calm demeanor. He told me that in July he was listening to Dr. Charles Stanley preach on his television program. At one point Dr. Stanley suggested a simple prayer to be prayed at the beginning of each new day. He challenged all his listeners to pray this prayer for 21 days straight. Dan said that he had tried it and that the prayer had made a profound difference in his life. At that point Linda chimed in to say that she had noticed a drastic difference in him as well. Before he started praying the prayer, he often came home tense over things that had happened to him during the day. But now he comes home relaxed and in a good mood. As I listened, I wondered to myself what kind of magic prayer could make that kind of difference. Then Dan said that for him the key is to pray the prayer the moment he wakes up-even before he gets out of bed. He even said that he had awakened that morning at 4:30 so he prayed the prayer and then went back to sleep.
The prayer itself is the essence of simplicity. It goes like this: “Heavenly Father, you are in charge of everything that is going to happen to me today–whether it be good or bad, positive or negative. Please make me thankful for everything that happens to me today. Amen.”
That’s simple, isn’t it? When Dan told me the story, he emphasized that this prayer is so powerful because it doesn’t change anything outside of me, but it does change everything inside of me. My circumstances don’t change, but my attitude does. And that’s why he looked so relaxed when we ate lunch.
Today is December 7. I know many of us feel enormous stress during this time of year, and the load only increases as we move closer to Christmas. I’d like to issue a 21-Day Challenge to each of you today. Take that simple prayer and pray it first thing in the morning for the next 21 days and see if something good doesn’t happen in your own life.