When I was in college, I convinced myself that I was supposed to marry a certain girl. I even talked myself into believing that God was leading me to do it. In retrospect, I can see many reasons that I was wrong, but I did not see those at the time. Fortunately, there was one key that prevented me from making a mistake. My mother simply would not agree. I made a commitment as a young man that I would never marry someone unless I had the blessing of my parents. I believe this commitment was built on a biblical principle that helps us learn to discern God's will for our lives.
In the past few blog posts, we have been exploring important principles for understanding God’s will for our lives. These are separated into five foundations for discerning God’s will and four avenues for discerning God’s will.
- We can discern God's will by surrendering our lives to him.
- We can discern God’s will by studying Scripture (Psalm 19:7–11; 1 Thessalonians 4:1–6; 2 Timothy 3:16–17).
- We can discern God’s will by seeking him in prayer (Philippians 4:6–7; Jeremiah 29:11–13; James 4:2b).
- We can discern God’s will by waiting for him to lead us (Psalm 25:4–5; 106:13).
- We can discern God’s will by listening to the testimony of the Holy Spirit.
- We can discern God’s will by observing our personal desires, convictions, and abilities (1 Cor. 7:8–9, 36–38; Exod. 25:2; 2 Thess. 3:5; 1 Cor. 12:4–7, 11).
- We can discern God’s will by observing God’s work in our circumstances (James 4:13–17; 1 Kings 12:15; 1 Cor. 16:8–9; 1 Pet. 3:17; 4:19).
Now we can cover the last two avenues.
3. We can discern God’s will by listening to the counsel of the church (Matt. 18:15–17; Heb. 13:17; 1 Cor. 12:4–20, 14:29–33; Prov. 15:22).
Learning to live in community and to submit to the authority that God has placed in our lives is critical to discerning Gods' will. When you are seeking God’s will on a particular matter, go to those who have authority in your life and ask for their counsel. It is also helpful to get feedback from others in the body of Christ. Take the time and effort to find godly people you trust, and ask them for counsel as well. This might not be easy, because it takes humility to ask for and listen to advice from others. But we can be sure this is a part of how God intends to give us his wisdom.
Once again, we cannot discern God’s will only by listening to the advice of others. Sometimes we may receive conflicting feedback—and sometimes even godly people are wrong. But getting counsel from others is a critical piece that must be taken seriously to see how it fits into God’s overall movement in our lives.
4. We can discern God’s will by reasoning and testing (Prov. 14:15; Rom. 12:2; 1 Cor. 1:20–21, 2:4, 4:6, 10:15; Acts 17:2, 11, 17; 1 John 4:1–6; James 3:17).
Seeking truth is more than, but not less than, using our minds (Phil. 4:7; Rom. 12:2). We tend to try to think our way out of troubles or calculate the wisest decision. This is simply not enough.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
At the same time, it is right to use our intellect as we seek God. Although God’s ways transcend our understanding, his life-transforming work is generally discerned through the mind of the believer. Furthermore, while God’s ways may transcend logic, they are not illogical, chaotic, or confusing. If we build our thinking on the presuppositions of the love and power of God and the revelation of his Word, then his leading is going to make sense. So as we seek God’s will, we are supposed to be reflecting, thinking, remembering, paying attention, and making wise choices. As you make decisions, try to think clearly and objectively about the situation and what you know about God and his ways.
When you are seeking God’s will on a particular issue, you can use the following questions to help process these foundations and avenues for discernment.
- Am I willing to follow God’s will in this matter, even if it is not what I want to do?
- What scriptural principles are relevant to this question? Do I need to study more on this subject?
- Have I spent significant time in prayer seeking God about this question?
- Have I worked through any feelings of pressure or impatience? Will I wait until I am clear about God’s leading?
- Has the Spirit convicted me of any sin related to this question? Can I sense his peace in moving in a particular direction?
- What desires and abilities has God given me that are relevant to this question?
- How has God worked in my circumstances to lead me concerning this issue?
- Have I sought the counsel of godly leaders and others in my church? What do they have to say about it?
- What are the pros and cons surrounding this question? What makes most sense from a biblical perspective?
This is the the sixth post in a series. The first five are: