How to Discern God’s Will

This is an additional part for the lesson on bearing one’s own cross, basically discerning God’s will over following my own self-interests. For more on this topic, consider looking over my seminar on God’s Will.

There is a Sovereign Will of God: his secret plan that determines what happens in the universe.

  • Daniel 4:34-35 – He does according to his will.
  • Psalm 115:3 – He does whatever he pleases.
  • Job 42:2 – No purpose of yours can be thwarted.
  • Proverbs 21:1 – He directs the king’s heart.
  • Revelation 4:11 – Creation exists because of his will.
  • Ephesians 1:11 – Having been predestined according to his purpose.
  • Proverbs 16:33 – Every decision is from the Lord.
  • Romans 9:19 – For who resists his will?
  • Acts 2:23 – By the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.
  • Acts 4:27-28 – To do whatever your hand and your purpose predestined to occur.
  • Romans 11:33-36 – How unsearchable are his judgments and unfathomable his ways.

There is a Moral Will of God: revealed through his commands in the Bible what men ought to believe and how men ought to live. Probably 95% of God’s will can be found in the Bible.

  • Romans 2:18 – know his will … being instructed in the Law.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – This is God’s will for you…
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3 – For this is the will of God.
  • Colossians 1:9 – May be filled with the knowledge of his will.
  • Colossians 4:12 – That you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.
  • Romans 12:2 – That you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
  • Ephesians 5:17 – Understand what the will of the Lord is.
  • Ephesians 6:6 – Doing the will of God from the heart.
  • Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust and acknowledge God, he will make your paths straight.
  • Psalm 32:8 – He will instruct and teach you in the way you should go.

There is an Individual Will of God: of his ideal, detailed life-plan designed for each person (traditional view).

Those who hold to this view seek to answer the question, “How may I be in the center of God’s will?” It is normally asked in the big decisions in life and the rest of life is navigated by circumstances and personal feelings. To find the center of God’s will require special revelation of God.

  1. A wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:3-5, 8, 10-26)
  2. A target audience for Paul (Acts 16:9-10)

A Completed Canon of Scripture: There are no more visions, dreams, and appearances (1 Corinthians 15:8, 1 Peter 1:20, no more “thus says the Lord…”) We have a more sure word of prophecy found in the canon of Scripture (2 Peter 1:19a, 21)

  • Revelation 22:18-19 – prohibits adding to God’s word (this revelation).
  • Jude 1:3 – The faith was once for all handed down to the saints.
  • 2 Peter 1:2-3 – God has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.
  • 2 Peter 2:1 – False prophets arose, and false teachers will be among you.
  • What about dreams and visions today? (Hearing God’s Voice, by Richard and Henry Blackaby)
    1. In many parts of the world, God seems to be using visions and dreams extensively. In areas where there is little or no gospel message available, and where people do not have Bibles, God is taking his message to people directly through dreams and visions. This is entirely consistent with the biblical example of visions being frequently used by God to reveal his truth to people in the early days of Christianity. If God desires to communicate his message to a person, he can use whatever means he finds necessary—a missionary, an angel, a vision, or a dream. Of course, God also has the ability to give visions in areas where the gospel message is already readily available. There is no limit to what God can do.
    2. At the same time, we must be careful when it comes to visions and the interpretation of visions. We must keep in mind that the Bible is finished, and it tells us everything we need to know. The key truth is that if God were to give a vision, it would agree completely with what He has already revealed in His Word. Visions should never be given equal or greater authority than the Word of God. God’s Word is our ultimate authority for Christian faith and practice.

How NOT to Determine God’s Will:

  1. Do NOT Put God to the Test (Matthew 4:7, Deuteronomy 8:3)
  2. Do NOT Seek After Signs (Matthew 12:38-40)
  3. Do NOT Communicate With the Dead (Isaiah 8:19-20, Deuteronomy 10-12)
  4. Do NOT Look at Horoscopes (Jeremiah 10:2, Revelation 21:8, Galatians 5:20)
  5. Do NOT be Led by the Spirit Contrary to God’s Word (James 4:17)
  6. Do NOT be Led by Your Sinful Nature:
    • Jeremiah 17:9 (“follow your heart,” which is wicked and can’t be trusted)
    • Ephesians 4:22-24 (“Be true to yourself,” which self? The old self or the new self?)

How to Determine God’s Will:

1. Examine yourself to make sure you are a Christian:

  • 2 Corinthians 13:5 – test yourself
  • James 1:18 – God gave us new birth
  • 1 Timothy 2:4 – who desires all men to be saved
  • 2 Peter 3:9 – God does not want anyone destroyed but to repent

2. Understand a biblical worldview on the decisions that you make and the direction that you take (Ephesians 5:15).

  • What does God expect of me?
  • What principles from the Bible could give me further wisdom on this decision?
  • After determining biblical boundaries, pray for God’s wisdom to make the best choice with the options that remain (1 Thessalonians 3:1 – we thought it best…).

3. Seek counsel from those in authority over you:

  • Parents (Proverbs 6:21-23, Ephesians 6:1-3)
  • Husband (Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18)
  • Small group leader or pastor (Hebrews 13:17)
  • Employer (Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 4:1)
  • Government officials (Romans 13:1-7)

4. Discern whether your decision will be consistent with God’s five purposes for your life:

  • Knowing (worship, exalt, magnify): connecting with God by getting to know, trust, and love him.
  • Relating (fellowship, encouragement, membership): connecting with others through learning real love and belonging in God’s family.
  • Serving (service, equipping, ministry): connecting with opportunities to give back and make a difference with your talents.
  • Growing (discipleship, edification, maturity): connecting with truths, tools, experiences, people, and habits that help you grow spiritually.
  • Sharing (outreach, evangelism, mission): connecting with opportunities to share your story and God’s story as you live out your life mission.

5. Discern whether your decision will be consistent with your God-given SHAPE (how you are wired). We are created for good works (Ephesians 2:10).

  • Spiritual gifts: how has God gifted me? (1 Peter 4:10, 1 Corinthians 12:11)
  • Heart: what do I love to do? (Philippians 2:13)
  • Abilities: what are my natural talents and skills? (Exodus 31:3)
  • Personality: where does my personality best suit me to serve? (Psalm 139:14)
  • Experience: what life experiences do I bring to this opportunity? (Philippians 2:12)

6. Consult your board of directors: a group of past teachers, mentors, and disciplers whom you can contact for advice.

  • Proverbs 1:5 – a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.
  • Proverbs 11:14 – where there is no guidance the people fall.
  • Proverbs 12:5 – thoughts of the righteous are just.
  • Proverbs 12:15 – a wise man listens to counsel.
  • Proverbs 13:10 – those who take advice are wise.
  • Proverbs 15:22 – without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.
  • Proverbs 19:20 – the wise listen to counsel and accept discipline.
  • Proverbs 24:6 – an abundance of counselors brings victory.
  • Proverbs 27:9 – a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.

7. Make your decision and allow God to “blue pencil” your plans (the key is “Lord willing” and Proverbs 16:9 – the mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps, like a drafting change). Avoid the sin of presumption (James 4:13-17).

  • Acts 18:21 – I will return, if God wills.
  • Romans 1:10 – perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.
  • Romans 15:32 – I may come to you in joy by the will of God.
  • 1 Corinthians 4:19 – if the Lord wills.
  • 1 Corinthians 16:7 – if the Lord permits.
  • Hebrews 6:3 – if God permits.
  • 1 Peter 3:17 – if God should will it so.

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]

Recommended resources:
Decision Making and the Will of God, by Garry Friesen
Decision Making by the Book, by Haddon Robinson

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