Sense and Nonsense about God’s Guidance
Exodus 13:21-22; Psalm 48:14
September 12, 1993
In 1988 something new happened in the American political process. That year, for the first time in a long time, an avowedly evangelical candidate ran for the presidency of the United States.
We all remember that George Bush won the election. But if you roll the tape of your mind backwards—back before the Republican Convention, back to the early primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina, you may recall that Pat Robertson was also a candidate for president.
You may remember that when Pat Robertson entered the race, there was great furor among the mainstream media in America. How could a preacher, an ordained minister, a “televangelist” at that, dare to run for president?
For a few months it seemed as if Pat Robertson might actually have a chance to win. He won the Iowa caucuses, came in third in New Hampshire, and second in South Carolina. Nearly two million people voted for him. By the time of the Republican Convention, Pat Robertson, the man the media loved to hate, came in third place behind George Bush and Bob Dole. That would seem to be a good showing for somebody who was brand new on the national political scene.
After the general election was over and after George Bush had become President, Pat Robertson set out to write the story of his political campaign from the standpoint of his Christian faith. The book that resulted is actually a book about the will of God called The Plan.
Everything in the book is colored by the fact of his defeat in the 1988 election. As I read the book, I was struck by his comment about the strange feeling among his delegates to the Republican Convention in New Orleans. On the one hand, they ought to be happy because their man had done so well. At last, their views were being heard. But the victory was tempered by the undeniable reality that Pat Robertson had come in third. He paints the picture and poses the question this way:
In the quest for the highest secular prize our nation has to offer, a third place finish is respectable. But my supporters were devastated. It was as if they mourned for the dead. Because they felt—as I did—that God had called me to win, not run third.
So in New Orleans they were asking and I was asking one simple question—did God call me to run for president or not? And if He did call me to run, why did I lose? (The Plan, p. 12)
That’s really what Pat Robertson’s book is all about. How do you explain coming in third when you expected and truly believed that it was God’s will for you to win?
“What Happened, Lord?”
It’s a common question, isn’t it? You set out to get a new job, you work hard for it, you go through the interview process, you do your very best, and in your heart you believe this is the job God wants you to have. Then somebody else gets the job. And you say, “Lord, I thought I was doing your will.”
Or perhaps you get the job, and you say, “Thank you, Lord.” Six months later you’re fired. And you say, “What happened, Lord?”
Or you think, “If only we could move to Florida, we would be happy.” So you move to Orlando believing it to be the will of God. When you get there, you still are not happy. And you say, “Lord, did we make a mistake?”
You are a college student and your dream is to be a doctor. You pray that God will help you get into medical school. You go through the grueling years of pre-medical courses, staying up late at night, taking chemistry, science and math courses. To your delight, you are accepted by the first school you apply to. Two years later you are washed out, unable to handle the pressure. And you say, “God, I thought you wanted me to be a doctor. Where did I go wrong?”
Deep in our hearts we know God has a plan for us. We don’t debate that; it’s not a theological issue with us. We know that we weren’t put on the earth without a purpose, to simply grope blindly through the darkness. But that’s the way life feels sometimes, especially when you come in third.
A Place to Begin
So where do we begin in our search to discover God’s will?
We begin where a man named Saul began when he was struck down on the road to Damascus. After he learned that it was Jesus talking to him, he only asked one question: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” (Acts 22:10) Simple. Straightforward. No conditions or qualifications. It was the question that changed Saul into Paul and a tormentor into a flaming evangelist.
“Lord, what do you want me to do?”
We all have to start right here. Same question. You’ll never discover God’s will if you start anywhere else. This is the Big One. Skip this and you might as well skip the rest of this book.
It’s a primary question for those high school students who wonder if they should go to college, and if so, which one, and should it be a Christian college or a public university? It is a central concern for all the college students who wonder what they should do for the next 50 years. It’s the crucial issue for every college graduate. What do you do now? Which job do you take? Should you get married? Where should you live?
But it’s not just for the young people. It’s also the key question for the adults. It’s for the people who are in their thirties, their forties, the mid-life transition point. It’s for the people who are weighing one opportunity versus another opportunity, the job they have versus the job they want, the house they have versus another house they would like to have, a relationship they’re in versus another relationship they would like to be in.
“Is That All There Is?”
Perhaps you are at a mid-life transition. You’ve put in 10 or 15 or 20 years at your job and now you’re wondering, “Is that all there is?” One day you wake up and realize, “My dreams aren’t coming true.” Maybe you’re at the top or you’ve just realized that you aren’t going to make it to the top. What do you do now? There is something about being at that mid-life transition point that just seems to make the decisions harder, not easier. When you are 17, you think the whole world is spread out before you. After 25 years the window of opportunity is ever-so-slowly beginning to close. You can’t go back, you aren’t happy where you are, the future looks bleak, so you ask the question, “Lord, what is it that you want me to do?”
Let a few more years pass and now you are 55 or 60 or 65 or 70. If you are a Christian, you want your closing years to count for the Lord. Not long ago a dear lady wrote me a note. She said she was praying that “the Lord will have me to serve him greater as I near retirement years. I want to use these years to serve him as never before.” Her comments are echoed by hundreds of others in their early 60s. Almost every week I have a discussion with someone who is still young enough to be active but old enough to be retired. I will say something like, “Now, that you are retired, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?” Rarely do they have an answer. Most of them are praying about it, seeking to know God’s will.
Our Secret Fear
It is a question that every thoughtful Christian has asked at one time or another. “Lord, what do you want me to do?” Because in our better moments, we really want to do what the Lord wants us to do. We really do want to stand before the Lord and hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
I think all of us have a secret fear that someday the Lord will say to us, “You did a good job at what you chose to do, but, unfortunately, it’s not what I sent you to earth to do.” We worry that someday after leading a very successful life, Jesus Christ will say to us, “Nice going, but you missed the whole thing.”
A Word to the Wise
Ephesians 5:17 says, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” I draw two conclusions from that verse of scripture. First, the will of God can be known and understood. It’s not some mysterious secret revealed only to a select few who are super-spiritual. God has a will for your life and you can understand it.
Second, knowing the will of God for your life is the primary difference between being wise and being a fool. In God’s eyes, the number one thing that makes the difference between you as a wise person and you as a fool is that you know, understand and do God’s will for your life.
In the last chapter we discovered that God does indeed desire to guide his children. If we are willing to follow him, he will lead us exactly where he wants us to go. There is nothing controversial about that statement. All Christians would agree with it. The problem comes at the next level—the level of practical application. We know God guides his children, but how does that divine guidance work out in the nitty-gritty of life? At precisely this point we need to be very clear in our thinking. There is so much mis-information, so much bad teaching, so much faulty theology when we come to the “how-to” of God’s guidance. As a result many Christians are caught in the throes of endless indecision or trapped by stupid decision-making. God’s children continually make wrong turns, go down dead-end streets and end up in spiritual cul-de-sacs because they don’t understand what God has said about the way he guides his children.
In order to help us understand the truth, I’m going to share four wrong ideas about God’s guidance and a biblical answer for each one. Each of these myths is quite popular and each one is devastating in its impact.
Myth # 1 God wants you to know the future
This is number one because it is the biggest mistake that Christians make with regard to the will of God. This is the mistake of assuming the end from the beginning. Because God has led us one step in a particular direction, we assume that the end result must be guaranteed. We start down a road and because we are going a certain way, we think that the destination is secure.
Let’s be clear on this one point. It is rarely God’s will that you should know your personal future. The biblical perspective is this: God is not interested in showing you your personal future. God wants to show you the next step. That’s how he reveals his will for your life—one step at a time. Psalm 119:105 paints a clear picture about how we discover the will of God: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” The picture here is not of a blazing light. It is not of a light that illuminates the entire room. It is a picture of a man in total darkness walking along a dangerous trail. There is no moon in the sky. Darkness clings to him. The only thing he has to illuminate his way is a lantern. As he holds the lantern in his hand, it illuminates the step right in front of him. When he takes that step, what happens to the light? It goes forward one more step. When he takes the next step, what happens to the light? It goes forward one more step. What happens when he takes the next step? The light goes forward one more step.
One Step at a Time
How does God guide his people? Not ten steps at a time, not five steps at a time, not three steps at a time, not two steps at a time. God is committed to showing you the next step.When you have taken that next step in your life, God is fully committed to showing you the next one after that and the next one after that. God is not committed to showing you what is going to happen six months from now. He is not committed to showing you what is going to happen a year from now. He wants you to know the next step, and nothing more.
So many Christians get disappointed because they think that God has shown them the future when what God has really done was to show them the next step they should take.
Let’s face the truth. We want to know the future. At least we think we do. We want to know what is going to happen next year so we can be ready in advance. But God won’t play that game with you.
He Knows—And He’s Not Telling
Does God know the future? Yes, he does. But the Bible says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God.” (Deuteronomy 29:29) Does he know what will happen tomorrow? Yes he does, but he’s not telling anyone else about it. Or to put it in familiar terms, does God have a blueprint for your life? Yes he does, but I don’t know any way you can get a copy.
There are at least three reasons why it is good that we don’t know the future. Number one, If you knew the future, you wouldn’t be able to understand it. If you knew the future, you wouldn’t be able to understand it because there are so many factors that play into what is going to happen six months from now. Most of us want simple answers, “Will the stock market go up or down?” “Should I take that new job?” “If I ask Jill to marry me, will she say yes?” God says, “I can’t really answer it that way. I have to show you the big picture.” But if he showed you the big picture, either you wouldn’t understand it or it would scare you to death.
Number two, If you knew the future, it would make you either lazy or arrogant. It might make you lazy because you wouldn’t have to work so hard because you would know what the future was going to be. Or it might tend to make you arrogant because you would know something other people wouldn’t know. Either way, whether lazy or arrogant, you wouldn’t be a very nice person to be around.
But the third and most important reason it’s good not to know the future is that knowing your personal future destroys your faith. If you knew the future, you wouldn’t be walking by faith. You would be walking by sight. But it is God’s desire to show you the next step so that when you take the next step all you know is that you have to trust him for the next one. You take the next one, and all you know is you have to trust him for the next one. When you take the next one, all you know is you have to trust him for the next one. You take the next one, and all you know is that you have to trust him for the next one.
Does God Have a Blueprint for Your Life?
That brings us back to the question of the blueprint, the detailed outline of your personal future. Does God have a blueprint for your life that includes everything from the moment of your birth to the moment of your death? Is there a heavenly blueprint that shows what you are going to do on October 14, 2003? The answer to that question is “Yes.” But—and this is an all-important point—I don’t know of any way you can get a copy. Yes, God does have a blueprint for your life, but I don’t know of any way this side of heaven that you can get a copy. He’s got the only copy, and it’s locked in a drawer up in heaven, and he’s got the only key.
Please don’t miss this point. God wants to teach us to trust him step by step by step by step by step. He reveals his will one step at a time so you will trust him moment by moment.
That brings us to the second popular myth about God’s will.
Myth # 2: God wants you to have 100 percent certainty before you make a decision
This is a tricky point because 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.
Some decisions are so important they can’t be left to chance. If you have any doubt, don’t, or so the saying goes. 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?
How Much Did They Know?
Did Noah know all about the flood? No, but he built the ark anyway.
Did Abraham have total certainty? No, but he left Ur of the Chaldees.
Did Jacob know where he was going? No, but he left home because he couldn’t safely stay there.
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 when the enemies of God gathered in a vast army? No, but he put the male 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 Daniel know Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in advance? Did the three Hebrew children know how they would be delivered? For that matter, was Daniel totally sure the lions would welcome him dropping in on them? Did Peter know he could walk on water? Did Paul know the serpent wouldn’t hurt him?
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 didn’t know the future, didn’t have certainty, but they trusted God anyway, sometimes in the face of great personal suffering. And because of that, they won 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 percent certainty before you make an important decision.
What’s the biblical perspective? Knowing the will of God means acting in faith in spite of your doubts. Let’s just consider Abraham. What did God say to him? “Leave your land, leave everybody behind, leave your prosperity, and come follow me.” (Genesis 12:1-3) Did he know where he was going? No, he didn’t. Did he have any idea of the final destination? No, he didn’t. Did he know which way God was going to lead him? No, he didn’t. All he knew was that he was to follow God. Do you think he had his doubts? Sure. Do you think he was scared? Sure. Do you think there were moments when he wondered what he was doing? Sure. But following God and knowing his will means stepping out step by step by step, acting on faith in spite of your doubts.
Looking For “The Man”
We see the same principle at work in the New Testament. Acts 16 records Paul’s second missionary journey. He and his team had been preaching in various places in Phrygia and Galatia but when they attempted to go to the province of Asia, the Holy Spirit “prevented them.” (16:6) It’s a very strong word and no one knows exactly how the Holy Spirit stopped them. So then they decided to go to Bithynia but “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” (16:7) Another mystery. Then Paul had a vision in which a man from Macedonia appeared to Paul and cried out, “Come over and help us.” Macedonia was Greece, across the Aegean Sea. That was Europe. Going to Macedonia meant moving from Asia to Europe. Paul’s vision was a direct, supernatural message from God. So Paul and his companions crossed the sea, went to Macedonia, and began to preach the gospel.
Now, if you just took that story the way that most people take the will of God, there are probably three things that you would expect based on the vision of the man from Macedonia. Number one, that when you got to Macedonia, the first person you would meet would be “the man.” Right there welcoming you off the boat. “I’m the man you saw in your dream. Welcome to Macedonia. Come stay at my house. We are going to start a church.”
Number two, you would expect when you got to a crucial point in your ministry that God would give you another vision and show you the next thing that he wanted you to do.
Number three, you would expect that you would stay in Macedonia a long time, perhaps for the rest of your life, until some other supernatural occurrence took place. But what happened to the Apostle Paul when he got to Macedonia? The man from Macedonia was nowhere to be found. So far as we know from Acts 16, Paul never met the man who appeared to him in his vision. And wonder of wonders, who is the first person Paul runs into in Macedonia? Not a man but a woman, a group of women, and one woman in particular whose name was Lydia. It was a man who said, “Come over and help us.” But who does Paul meet? Not a man but a woman. Now, if we were following the 100 percent certainty idea, we might say to ourselves, “I can’t stay and preach the gospel to you because I’m looking for the man who appeared to me in the vision.” But that is not the way Paul operated. Paul assumed that since there was a group of women there, they were the ones he was to preach to. Acts 16 says he stayed there for many days, leading Lydia and the members of her household to faith in Jesus Christ.
But that’s not the end of the story. While he stayed with Lydia, a demon-possessed girl followed Paul around, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” The whole thing troubled Paul so much that he finally cast the demon out of the girl. But she had made money for the merchants as a fortune teller. So the merchants got mad at Paul and had him arrested. He was thrown into jail along with Silas where the two of them were savagely beaten. They ended up singing hymns at midnight when a mighty earthquake destroyed the jail, breaking all the chains. The jailer woke up, assumed everyone had escaped and prepared to kill himself. When he discovered that the prisoners were still there, he fell down before Paul and cried, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul led him to Christ, then led his whole family to Christ, then baptized them all right then and there—in the middle of the night!
You might think that the stage is set for a great revival but that’s not what happened. The next day Paul and Silas were released but Paul didn’t want to leave town like a common criminal. So Paul demanded—and got—an official escort out of town. The town leaders in essence say to him, “Paul, you know we practice freedom of religion, but you’ve caused a lot of trouble here. We would like you to leave town just as soon as you can.” And the Bible says that Paul thanked the people he was with, prayed with them, then he and his team went on to the next city. And that’s Acts 16.
Back to the original question. Where was the man from Macedonia? He never showed up. So far as we know Paul never got another supernatural vision telling him what to do next. And he didn’t stay there for years. He only stayed in Philippi for a few days and then went on to the next city.
Did Paul Flop at Philippi?
From the world’s point of view, does this look like success or failure? From the world’s point of view, what Paul did in Philippi looks like a failure. He was in trouble almost from the moment he got there. He ends up having the town fathers asking him to leave quietly. Is this success? Where’s the great church Paul came to establish? Acts 16 appears from a human standpoint to record a dismal failure. But from God’s point of view what the Apostle Paul did was a perfect success because he followed the leading that God gave him. He took a step, God gave more light, he took another step, and God gave more light. He took another step, and God changed his direction, threw him in jail. But because Paul knew that God had sent him to preach the gospel, it didn’t matter to Paul whether he was in jail or on the streets, he was going to preach the gospel wherever he was. He understood that God had led him to a place where he had not expected to be, but Paul continued to do the will of God as he understood it. And step by step by step, throughout Acts 16, even through twists and turns and unexpected means, the Apostle Paul did exactly what God wanted him to do although what he did in the end was not what he expected to do in the beginning.
That’s the way God leads his people. Step by step. Moment by moment. Day by day. You might have a supernatural vision along the way but it isn’t necessary. What is necessary is a willing heart and a willingness to move out in faith in obedience in the leading of the Lord in the circumstances of life. You won’t always know the future—in fact, you will rarely know the future, and things won’t always work out like you expect, but you will still be doing God’s will step by step by step.
Trouble in Paradise
After sharing these insights with my congregation, I received a letter from a close friend who lives down the street from us. After much planning and prayer, and after many frustrating delays, she and her husband recently moved into an older house, only to discover that it was in much worse shape than they had expected. They also had a long series of unpleasant encounters with a cantankerous neighbor. Looking back on all the difficulties, my friend penned these words:
Seeking God’s will has never caused me much difficulty in the past (partly because I didn’t always!) but when we were in the throes of trying to decide about buying this house, we both prayed long and hard that we would have a clear sense of direction and guidance from the Lord or at least a sense of peace about a decision if it were the right one.
We got a lot of silence. We prayed more—and got more silence. So we used our best financial and other judgment and went ahead. As I think we’ve shared with you, we then suffered untold agonies as the deal was made and unmade at least four times.
Through it all, we wept and prayed and earnestly sought God’s will. Through it all, the silence thundered. In the last 15 months this has continued to trouble me greatly. Because of the many troubles we’ve had while living here, I had pretty much convinced myself that we made the wrong decision and were paying for it in a big way. Resentment was also starting to taint my relationship with God. Why would He allow us to make such a terrible mistake (expensive one too!) when we spent so much time asking Him for His guidance?
It is only in the last few weeks, as things with our neighbors have become clearer in my mind, that I have begun to suspect that God does indeed want us here. Our difficulties in getting in here were not (it seems now) God slamming the door shut, but rather Him holding it open just wide enough for us to squeeze through. Our difficulties in buying the house now seem like good training for the battles while we’re in it. Your example from Acts reinforced in my mind this idea and the wrong thinking that was giving me the resentment; That the outcome does not retroactively affect whether it was God’s will!
That final sentence is crucial. “The outcome does not retroactively affect whether it was God’s will.” That’s exactly right. Doing God’s will means taking the next step—whatever it is—without a definite promise about the end result. My friend’s experience will often be our experience as we face the major decisions of life. Many times we won’t have 100% certainty but when the moment comes to decide, we must make the best decision we can, trusting God for the results. Sometimes we’ll know more, sometimes less, but living by faith means taking the next step anyway.
And that leads us directly to the third myth.
Myth # 3: God wants me to be happy
Millions of people buy into this false idea. They believe that it is God’s will that they should be happy. Or fulfilled. Or successful. It sounds good, doesn’t it? “God wants me to be happy.” “God wants me to be fulfilled.” “God wants me to be successful.” That thinking has been used to justify all manner of bizarre and even evil behavior. That philosophy lurks behind the words of a song popular in the late 70s: “How can it be wrong when it feels so right?”
People have used this myth to justify every kind of sinful behavior. Some Christian men have said, “It is God’s will that I should divorce my wife and marry another woman because we are in love, and God wants us to be happy.” The correct theological term for that is “Balderdash and Poppycock.”
It is not necessarily God’s will for you to be happy. It is not necessarily God’s will for you to be fulfilled. It is not necessarily God’s will for you to be successful as the world counts success.
Not Happy, But Holy
If it is not God’s will for you to be happy, what is God’s will? It is God’s will for you to be holy. It is God’s will for you to be like Jesus Christ. It is God’s will for you to be in a place of maximum usefulness for the kingdom of God.
Romans 8:29 says, “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” That is the will of God for your life. He wants you to become like Jesus Christ. Whatever makes you like Jesus is good. Whatever doesn’t make you like Jesus is bad. And God is fully committed to shaping your life day by day into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Tramp For the Lord
Do you recognize the name Corrie Ten Boom? During World War II she was taken from her home in Holland to a prison camp and later to the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany. There she and her sister, Betsie, were held, and Betsie eventually died. Corrie Ten Boom was released—by a Nazi clerical mistake—just before the end of the war. In her book Tramp for the Lord—written near the end of her life—she reflects on God’s leading:
Looking back across the years of my life, I can see the working of a divine pattern which is the way of God with His children. When I was in a prison camp in Holland during the war, I often prayed, “Lord, never let the enemy put me in a German concentration camp.” God answered no to that prayer. Yet in the German camp, with all its horror, I found many prisoners who had never heard of Jesus Christ. If God had not used my sister Betsie and me to bring them to Him, they would never have heard of Him. Many died, or were killed, but many died with the name of Jesus on their lips. They were well worth all our suffering. Faith is like the radar which sees through the fog—the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see. (Tramp For the Lord, pp. 11-12)
How can going to a prison camp be the will of God? It can’t be if God’s will is that you should always be happy and comfortable. Yet going to a prison camp can be the will of God for you if it makes you more like Jesus Christ and gives you opportunities to share the love of Christ to people that would never hear it otherwise. That’s the biblical perspective.
Was Jesus a Failure?
If God’s will is to make us happy and successful, then Jesus was a failure. He was rejected, beaten, hated, despised, mocked, abused and finally crucified—the world’s ultimate sign of rejection. And to this day there are millions of people who mock the name of Jesus Christ, laugh at him, care nothing for him, and think he was a failure. Was he? Was Jesus Christ a failure? After 2,000 years has Jesus finally been vindicated? In the hearts of those who believe—yes. But to the people of the world—no.
Will God’s plan for you and me always bring immediate worldly wealth and success? No, but God’s plan will always bring peace and joy and fulfillment. Our duty is to find his perfect plan for our lives and to follow it with the ability that he gives us. It is his responsibility to bring about the results. Let me say that again. It’s our responsibility to find his plan and follow it. It’s his responsibility to bring about the results.
With that, we come to the final myth.
Myth # 4: God makes his will hard to find
Many people struggle unnecessarily in this area. Perhaps they are seeking 100 percent certainty or they are seeking some kind of message from God—a postcard that reads, “Dear Jack, Buy the red Pontiac. Signed, God.”
We have at least three fears we need to face squarely: Number one, we’re afraid that God won’t make himself clear to us. Number two, we are afraid that somehow we will miss the signs that God gives us. This hits many of us because we’re afraid that God will send a sign while we’re watching Monday Night Football. We think, “God will show me his will, but I’m going to be watching TV and it will just go by me, and I’ll miss God’s message to me.” Number three, we are afraid that something in our past is going to mess us up so we won’t be able to discover God’s will in the present.
To all these fears God says, “Trust me.” God wants you to know his will more than you want to know it. God is more committed to showing you his will than you are to discovering it. And he has taken full responsibility for getting you from here to there step by step. He said, “I will never leave you.” (Hebrews 13:5) And he won’t. He said, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.” (Psalm 32:8) And he will. He said, “Lo, I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20) And he is.
We think that God’s will is hard to find. The biblical perspective is quite different. God will reveal his will to anyone who is willing to do it. That’s a revolutionary thought. God isn’t playing Hide ’N Seek with us. He’s not playing games with us. Here is the liberating truth: The God of the universe is willing to reveal his will to anyone who is willing to do it.
First Choose and Then You Will Know
That leads me to one final thought. God ordinarily will not show you his will in order for you to consider it. He won’t show you his will so you can say, “Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t. How about Plan B, Lord? Let’s go to something else.” He normally won’t do that. He will show you his will when he knows you are willing to do it.
John 7:17 makes this truth very plain. Jesus said to the Jews, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” Concentrate on that first phrase—”If anyone chooses to do God’s will.” You have to choose before you know. If you want to know God’s will, you have to choose to do God’s will before you know God’s will. You don’t say, “Lord, you show me, and then I’ll decide what I am going to do.” The Lord says, “No, you decide what you are going to do, and then I will show you.”
Let me boil it down to one rather shocking statement: If you are willing to do God’s will, you will do it. If you are willing to do God’s will, you will do it because he will see that you will do it. The only thing that is required is a total willingness on your part to do God’s will, and you will do it. Step by step. Moment by moment. Day by day. If you are willing to do God’s will, you will do it because he will see to it.
Is that easy? Yes and no. It’s not easy because everything in this world pulls you away from God. But yes it’s easy in the sense that you can truly do God’s will if you want to.
Two Crucial Qualifiers
Having said that, I must point out two important qualifiers:
1. You have to be willing to do what you know to be the will of God right now.
2. You have to be willing in advance to do whatever God tells you to do before he tells you to do it.
Think of your life as a blank check and say, “Lord, I have given you my life. It is a blank check. You fill in the amount.” When you come to the Lord with that attitude, you will discover God’s will for your life. You won’t see it all in advance, but step by step God will lead you exactly where he wants to you go.
Lessons Learned the Hard Way
Sometimes that means victory. Sometimes that means coming in third.
At the end of his book, Pat Robertson looks back at his campaign and draws three interesting conclusions. (I am paraphrasing his words) First, “I now understand it was God’s will for me to run. It was not God’s will for me to win.” Number two, “I didn’t understand that until the end looking back.” Number three, “I see that out of the pain and humiliation of that defeat, God brought great blessing to the world.” He goes on to talk about how thousands of Christians got involved in the political process for the first time and how the Lord used the defeat to prune CBN back so it was poised for even greater growth in the future. He concludes that what seemed to be a tragedy ultimately brought great blessing. That’s what often happens when we do God’s will.
That leaves us with two penetrating questions: First, do you want to know God’s will? If the answer is no or if you are not sure, then let me ask the second question: Are you willing to be made willing? Maybe that’s where we need to end this chapter. Are you willing to be made willing? If you will say, “Lord, I am not sure I am willing, but I am willing to be made willing,” he will lead you step by step. If you are willing to do his will, you will do it.