Knowing the Will of God

Many people have wondered how they can know the will of God.

I’ve wondered about this myself. I’ve thought a lot about it. In considering writing on this topic, I hesitated because I am not an expert in this area. But who is?

I have a small book entitled The Practice of the Presence of God. It is an account of the devotion of Brother Lawrence, who became a Lay brother of the Carmelites in 1666. We read, “His conversion, at eighteen, was the result of the mere sight on a midwinter day of a dry and leafless tree standing gaunt against the snow; it stirred deep thoughts within him of the change spring would bring” (Lawrence, 1973 p 9). After that time he sought to  “practice the presence of God” daily in every activity. He lived with joy doing the most mundane tasks, like washing pots and pans in the monastery kitchen. The book was originally published in French in 1958 and contains a collection of fifteen inspirational letters written by Brother Lawrence.

I believe knowing the will of God begins with an orientation such as that of Brother Lawrence. If this is our attitude, to live daily in God’s presence and to delight in serving him, then we will probably never stray far from the will of God.

The basic will of God is a matter of keeping the commandments. It appears that Christ tried to simplify even this by stating that all of the commandments can be summed up into two, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

But in our daily lives we have choices to make and we want to be guided in the right direction. How can we know which path to take?

Like Brother Lawrence showed us, it all seems to hinge on our willingness to have God be the centre of our lives. Many times it is simply a matter of doing the thing that is set before us. We look after the mundane chores of life, like washing dishes and cooking meals. Or going to our job and working every day.

Gidean put out a fleece to determine God’s will. Old Testament leaders sometimes used the Urim and Thummim in questions of yes and no for decision making. We have all probably used something similar, like drawing straws or pulling a ticket out of a hat. The question is then whether we are willing to act in obedience with the “guidance” we have received. Even Gideon required two proofs. In my case a decision in one direction sometimes reveals my heart, or confirms that I do not have peace about that particular choice.

There are times when we step ahead without complete assurance. We see in hindsight that we made the right choice. There are also times when it is as though we receive a sign from heaven–a prophetic word, perhaps, and we cannot be more sure. I’ve often desired prophetic guidance as I struggled to determine the will of God. There have been times when I truly believe I received supernatural direction, but these times tend to be infrequent. On the other hand, I look back some days and wonder if I was not very specifically guided in many areas.

There has been a question in my mind about whether a new believer receives more remarkable guidance than someone who has walked with God for a long time. It has at times appeared to be the case. On the other hand, some seasoned Christians do not “run after” revelations and seem to do quite well just abiding quietly in an assurance that all is for the glory of God. I tend to think that we become more in tune and learn to hear better after years of listening and following in obedience.

We live in a natural realm where we are aware of things we see and hear. There is also a spiritual realm where we discern things that are not subject to our physical senses. Clairvoyants make their money with their claim to be able to access the supernatural. As Christians I think there can be a danger of stepping into “supernatural” manifestations that do not originate with God. God was not pleased when Saul asked a medium to allow him to speak to Samuel who was already dead. The outcome was not good. There clearly is a supernatural realm, but we must be careful to discern whether evil spirits may in fact be disguised as angels of light.

Some years ago I read a book, the title of which I’ve forgotten, that helped me see there was a difference between faith and presumption. Faith has a biblical basis. Regular Bible reading is helpful to align one with God’s will and help us determine if we are acting out of faith or presumption. There is a certainty and a soundness about the revealed will of God.

God is not the god of situational ethics. He does not have one standard for one situation or person and another for another. His righteous will is consistent throughout. If he says a thing is sin, it remains sin. However, he may have a different calling or purpose for each person and a different mode of operation.

God’s wisdom greatly exceeds ours and I, personally, would like to tap into that wisdom. He encourages us to ask for wisdom and says he will not withhold it from us. We are to ask, seek, and knock, with persistence. We are taught to pray, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I went through an unusual year trying to determine the will of God as I was working on developing a writing career at home. Repeatedly I was given attractive job offers. I would move in a particular direction and then, almost to my embarrassment, I was compelled to refuse the offer. I had no peace about continuing and accepting the appointment. In the back of my mind I remembered that I had received an impression that I thought was from God, telling me I should no longer “work for man.” I am grateful that God was patient with me as I continued to veer off the course.

I have had very specific instructions “from God” at times. A minister under whom I was employed assured me that there is no revelation outside of the scriptures. After the Bible was written, God stopped speaking to people. The message was complete. I disagree. I believe God still speaks prophetically. I have plenty of confirming evidence in my own life and in the lives of others I know.

We need to be responsible and test “prophesies.” Even the Bible instructs us to do so, and to study the scriptures to determine if what we are hearing is consistent with God’s revelation. A wise person once pointed out that if we receive a prophetic word it needs to bear witness with our spirit as truth. We do not need to follow it blindly. Often it is only a confirmation of what we already know.

If you were faced with a question right now, for instance, such as should I marry this person, how would you know the answer? Perhaps the best way to know is to ask yourself 1) Does God forbid it for any reason? 2) Does it seem to be a good thing? 3) Are people I trust in favor of this choice? 4) Are other people involved agreeable to this decision–will she have me? 5) Can I see a positive outcome from making this decision? 6) Can I point to anything God has spoken to my spirit in favor or against this choice?

I was once expected to play the organ in a church when I had very limited experience. I felt extremely inadequate. But there was no one else to do it. Of the people there, I was the most qualified one. I wanted to say no, but I decided to step up to the challenge and I was able to do it, even though I didn’t think I was capable. There are times when it is only our fear and feelings of inadequacy that are preventing us from stepping out in a direction. It is important to discern if this is the case.

I delight in “practicing the presence of God.” There is no higher goal for me, and no more fulfilling lifestyle.