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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Making Godly Decisions

It is always important to seek to honor God in the decisions we make every day. It may not matter the choice of location for lunch today, but there are a lot of decisions that we must make and the outcome is one that will honor God or not. We all want to know God’s will, so how can we know? Here is a little guidance on guidance:

How Does God Reveal His Will? God reveals His will primarily through…

  1. The Spirit of God – When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:13)
  2. The Word of God – Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105)

What Decisions Are Pleasing to God? God blesses…

  1. Decisions that He initiates – I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. (Proverbs 4:11)
  2. Decisions that line up with His Word – Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. (Psalm 119:33)
  3. Decisions that accomplish His purpose – It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)
  4. Decisions that depend on His strength – I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)
  5. Decisions that result in giving Him glory – Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
  6. Decisions that promote justice, kindness, and humility – He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
  7. Decisions that reflect His character – Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
  8. Decisions that come from faith – Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
  9. Decisions that consider the interests of others – Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)
  10. Decisions that are bathed in prayer – Pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Other information on guidance has been posted here: Decision-Making by the Book

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Application in Seeking God’s Will

It is one thing to ask to know God’s will, it is another to seek it. Seeking requires work and effort. Many Christians would rather be told what to believe or what to do than labor in the discernment of God’s will. Sometimes we ask the wrong question. It is not, “what is God’s will for my life?” The more accurate question is, “What is God’s will?”

Discerning the Will of God:

  1. Here is a mental picture, a man lost in the woods.
    1. We do not decide whose fault it is that he is lost.
      1. Whether he is misdirected.
      2. Whether he is the victim of an accident.
    2. He asks, “Where do I go from here?”
      1. He feels there must be a path which is the path of God for him to follow in those circumstances.
      2. How do you know that you wont make a mistake?
      3. How do you know if it is God’s way or just my best guess?
    3. He will not know for certain until he gets to the end that he did not make a mistake.
      1. He will travel by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
      2. He must be willing and able to read the signposts and follow.
      3. Remember that God always deals with us where we are.
  2. The greatest help: deepen our relationship with Him, because those who know Him are the quickest at discerning His will.

The Dangers:

  1. The tyranny of “should.”
    1. The question is asked, Should I do this or that?
    2. It implies that if you should, and don’t, that you are not in God’s will.
    3. This lays a burden of finding THE right answer (the center of God’s will).
    4. It is better to say the wiser choice, rather than saying the right choice.
  2. Confusion concerning the work of the Spirit.
    1. Some people neglect the Spirit’s power, believing they know what’s best and then ask God to bless it.
    2. Others overuse it: Like claiming that the Spirit led them to do something which is not part of the Spirit’s work.
      1. How to dress, eat, and other simple decisions.
      2. Usually this claim is based upon the “right feeling” at the time.
      3. When you claim that the Spirit led you, use criteria other than your feelings (Jeremiah 17:9)
  3. A job description for the Spirit:
    1. The Spirit always relates to Jesus (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-15).
    2. The Spirit enables people to know Christ (1 Corinthians 2:1-13).
    3. The Spirit brings people into the body (1 Corinthians 12:13).
    4. The Spirit gives people the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) .
    5. The Spirit enables people to avoid sin and adopt a new way of life (1 Corinthians 6:11).
    6. The Spirit leads people to know that in Christ they call God “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4: 6) .
  4. The Spirit’s work points to Jesus.
    1. He does not make personal decisions for you.
    2. As you seek to be in union with Him, you will know what He wills and you make the wiser decision.

The Search for God’s Will:

  1. In the Bible, this is our only source for faith and practice, so let’s use it.
    1. Some people believe the Bible tells us what to do in all of life’s situations.
      1. Don’t randomly open the Bible to find an answer, it’s not a Ouija board.
      2. What if you make a serious blunder, like pointing to 1 Samuel 31:4?
    2. The Bible leads us to know Christ.
      1. The Bible provides us with basic principles for living (John 15:12-13, Romans 15: 1-2) .
      2. These principles influence our decisions as we struggle with life’s questions.
      3. Direct answers from the Bible…
        1. Are a way of avoiding the hard decision-making process. Jesus told me right in this verse what to do. Sometimes we are not willing to wrestle with seeking His answer.
        2. Do you want a surgeon to quote Scripture to decide whether or not to operate? NO, use his medical knowledge, judgment, experiences and principles regarding the sanctity of life.
  2. In the clouds.
    1. Many people look for signs above, like in the clouds.
    2. The problem with signs is interpreting what they really mean.
      1. Gideon’s advantage (Judges 6:36-40) he placed a sign and the interpretation with God in advance.
      2. We can interpret a sign to mean exactly what we desired anyway.
      3. On the farm, the clouds formed a “P.C.”
        1. The son said: Preach Christ, and go to seminary.
        2. The father said: plant corn.
    3. We have the ability to think, seek counsel, collect information, to make the best decision we can, and trust He will bless your efforts.
    4. Getting lost in trivia.
      1. If you worry too much about finding God’s will for your life, you will likely lose sight of God’s love.
      2. The key is to find God more than finding His will.
      3. Too many people love trivia (like the Pharisees) and get lost in it.
        1. Details were put on following God’s will to the letter.
        2. They lost sight on true worship and relationship.

Numerous signposts:

  1. Conscience.
    1. Men have done a lot of evil things believing that they were following their conscience.
    2. Slavery was uncondemned by the conscience of men.
    3. A psychopath has no moral compass.
  2. Common sense.
    1. I’ve heard it said, “I prayed, and nothing happened. So I used my common sense.”
    2. Who has given common sense? And why?
    3. Sometime the will of God is opposite to what common sense would dictate. It is sometimes called foolishness by the world (1 Corinthians 1:18; 3:18).
  3. Advice.
    1. “Where there is no guidance, the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Proverbs 11:14) .
    2. Without consultation plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22).
  4. History and biography.
    1. There are few problems that we face that have not been faced by those before us.
    2. Read the Bible, and even secular literature.
  5. The voice of the Church.
    1. Jesus recommended that people consult the church (Matthew 18:17).
    2. Remember that a democracy (majority rules) does not always make it right.
  6. Pray.
    1. Praise Him, give thanks, and then lay things at His feet.
    2. God cares (even about your confusion), and will help you work through your decisions.
  7. Use a sound decision-making process.
    1. Make a list of pros and cons.
    2. Brainstorm options.
    3. Gather information.
  8. Live boldly.
    1. Be confident that your decision will turn out well (forget “What if?),
    2. God will not keep scores of your decisions (He sees the end from the beginning, Isaiah 46:9-11.).
    3. Ask, “What would Jesus do?” then do it.
    4. God will bless you here or there (Job change).
      1. His will is for you to love and serve Him (Matthew 22:36-40).
      2. He does not have this secret plan for which we must hunt.
      3. His secret is this: Christ is in you (Col 1:27).

God’s Will, at the Point we Need Help, can be Discerned:

  1. It is a mistake to try to discern His will years down the road.
    1. John Piper writes about future grace.
    2. How you will deal with something in the future is not God’s plan, He will meet you at the point of your need.
    3. He will give you His sufficient grace at the time you need it, not in preparation for the future.
  2. His Word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105).
  3. You can not be certain that you have not made a mistake until you get to the end. Hind-sight is always 20/20.
  4. We will not miss our “providential way” even if we make mistakes (in good faith): the result will not be our being lost.

Final Challenging Questions:

  1. Do I want to discern God’s will, or do I want Him to bless my own?
  2. Have I got the courage to do God’s will once I discern it?

We need more than discernment: we need strength, courage, faith, determination and perseverance to will God’s will and then to do God’s will.

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Motivation for Doing God’s Will

The first step after knowing God’s will is to discover our motivation for doing God’s will. Much of this outline comes from Thomas Merton’s classic, No Man is an Island, and then I have elaborated on his thoughts. *


  1. I have an instinct that tells me that I am less free when I am living for myself. Living for self is really a basic natural function. In a way, living for my self is not freedom, because I am a slave to the old selfish nature.
  2. My freedom is only freedom when it is brought into the right relation with the freedom of others. This is the essence of community, all members exercising freedom of self-sacrifice on behalf of others. If one fails to be in relation to others, we are not able to exercise the freedom to choose to follow a cause higher than our own natural instincts.
  3. I don’t find in myself the power to be happy merely by doing what I like. There is joy in being in relationship with others and seeking to look out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).
  4. To give my freedom blindly to an equal or inferior is to degrade myself and throw away my freedom, I can only become perfectly free by serving the will of God. God calls us to a higher purpose, which adds meaning to our existence. Serving ourselves is not freedom because it is evidence that we are slaves to instinct.
  5. Obedience to man has no meaning unless it is primarily obedience to God. As believers, we do all as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:17, 1 Corinthians 10:31). As we understand the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) we are to first love God and then love others.
  6. Conscience is the soul of freedom.
    1. A rational being who does not know what to do with himself finds the tedium of life unbearable. He is literally bored to death. Life outside of a relationship with Christ brings no purpose of higher meaning. Life is hard, and if there is no call toward a higher life, there is hopelessness and despair.
    2. I cannot make good choices unless I develop a mature conscience that gives me an accurate account of my motives, my intentions and my moral acts. It is not enough to just do the right stuff or believe the right stuff; the motivation behind our actions is of great interest to God and our true selves.
    3. We must have right purposes: conscience is the light by which we interpret the will of God in our own lives.

Pure Intention:

  1. Our happiness consists in doing the will of God. It makes sense that if we resists the will of God and we know it, we find ourselves feeling guilty that we knowingly disobeyed God’s will.
    1. The essence of this happiness does not lie in the agreement of wills, it consists in union with God.
    2. The union of wills which makes us happy in God must ultimately be something deeper than just an agreement. We must develop conviction.
  2. God’s will is more than a concept–it is a reality, a secret power which is given to us, from moment to moment to be the life of our life.
    1. It is not an abstraction.
    2. It is not a static center drawing our souls blindly to it
    3. We find ourselves in relationship with the Creator and His purpose and desire transcends our being.
  3. The will of God is the movement of His love and wisdom ordering and governing all free and necessary agents.
  4. Ponder this: Shall I be content to do God’s will for my own advantage? This is the essence of being obedient because of what I get out of it.
    1. Our intentions are pure when we identify our advantage with God’s glory. Receiving a blessing for obedience is different from doing something expecting a blessing.
    2. In order to make our intentions pure, we do not give up the idea of seeking our own good, we simply seek it where it can be found–in a good that is beyond ourselves.
  5. Question: what is an impure intention?
    1. One that yields to the will of God while retaining a preference for my own will. I still do this out of selfishness.
    2. This drives my will from His will, since I am not losing myself in the pure intention of following God alone because He deserves it and it is the right thing to do.
    3. It doubts in theory that God wills that which is generally best for me. Do we really believe that all God asks and wills is for my best interest? If we doubt it, we are not able to act on God’s will without reservation.
    4. To this man, the will of God becomes rich when it is pleasing to him, poorer when it offers less immediate satisfaction.
  6. Question: who is this man of impure intentions?
    1. Is hesitant and blind.
    2. Is always caught between two conflicting wills.
    3. Cannot make simple and clear-cut decisions.
    4. Has twice as much to think about: worrying about God’s will and his own at the same time.
    5. Is deceiving himself.
      1. Blinded by his own selfishness.
      2. Plunged into a confusion of doubtful choices, endless possibilities.
  7. Sanctity consists not in merely doing God’s will, but in willing God’s will. Obedience without pure intention is not attractive.
    1. It is not always necessary to find out what God’s will is in order to do it. Often times we know what His will is, the question is whether we embrace His will over our own.
    2. But if we are to will what He wills, we must begin to know something about what He wills. Study of God’s Word is helpful.
  8. How can I find out what is the will of God for my life?
    1. Before He wills me to do anything, He first wills me to be. This is a key concept in having a dynamic relationship with Christ. We are to be with him (Mark 3:14) before we are to do things for Him.
    2. What I do depends upon what I am (gifts of the Spirit).
    3. It is His will that we not only live as rational beings, but as new men regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
    4. Seek Him where He is to be found: His Church, His Word (john 14:26).
  9. When we speak of God’s will, usually we are speaking of some recognizable sign of His will.
    1. It is one thing to see a sign, it is another to interpret it correctly.
    2. The vision of the prophets: being alive to the divine light concealed in things and events, they saw glimpses of the light where other men saw nothing but ordinary happenings.
    3. Signs show us the road, but only a few paces, as a lamp lights only the steps in front of our feet.
    4. If I am to know God’s will, I must have the right attitude toward life, to know what my life is and to know the purpose for my existence. Many people are simply clueless about the purpose of life and the mission of God in the world.
    5. His will for me points to one thing: the realization, discovery and fulfillment of my true self in Christ (in order to save my life I must lose it, Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24).
  10. I cannot work out God’s will for my life unless I am consciously helping other men find God’s will in theirs. Here again is the idea of community.
    1. His will is our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), our transformation in Christ (Romans 12:2), our deeper integration with other men (Hebrews 10:25).
    2. The book is called, No Man is an Island: we need others that God has also regenerated.
  11. Remember: we must will the will of God, not simply do it. This is a lot of work, it is easier to just do something than it is to make such an effort to be something or to will something.
    1. So, we must know what it is that He wills.
    2. We must will His will because we love it.
    3. It is better to say “no” and then go, than to say “yes” and not obey (Matthew 21:28-31, which did the will of his father?).
  12. Right vs. simple intention.
    1. Right intention is pure: attention is placed upon the work to be done, then we rest in the accomplishment and hope in reward.
    2. Simple intention: we are less occupied with the thing to be done, we are more aware of the One who works in us.
    3. The man of simple intention works in the atmosphere of prayer.
  13. Simple intention is a rare gift from God.
    1. Rare because it is poor.
    2. It seeks nothing but the supreme poverty of having nothing but God.
      1. With right intention, you risk losing the fruit of your work.
      2. With simple intention, you renounce the fruit before you begin and you don’t expect it.

* Thomas Merton was a contemplative monk, who on December 10th, 1941 entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists), the most ascetic Roman Catholic monastic order. While on a trip to a monastic East-West dialogue conference in Thailand, Merton died in Bangkok on December 10, 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution. The date marked the twenty-seventh anniversary of his entrance to Gethsemani. The monastery is located near Bardstown Kentucky, not far from Louisville, where I went to seminary.

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Different Parts of God’s Will

God’s will is much more complex once we begin to discern the meaning. I discovered a resource written by a liberal Christian theologian Leslie Weatherhead (1893-1976).* In his book, The Will of God, he explains the following.

God’s Intentional will:

  1. Take illness and death as an example. I must accept it, it is the will of God.
    1. Was the doctor all this time fighting against the will of God?
    2. Had she recovered, would we not say that was the will of God?
    3. Her death and her recovery cannot both be the will of God in the sense of it being His intention.
    4. Confusing thoughts: “I suppose I must accept it as the will of God, but if the doctor had come in time he might have been able to save her.”
    5. Suppose a missionary’s daughter dies of cholera.
      1. Many might say, “It’s the will of God, that’s all it is”
      2. But suppose someone crept into her room last night and deliberately put a cotton swab soaked with the cholera germ under your little girl’s mouth as she lay there?
      3. The reaction may be, “I would kill him, the snake, what do you mean by suggesting such a thing?”
      4. The argument is the same for God, “Isn’t that just exactly what you accused God of doing?”
      5. Call it mass ignorance, contaminated water, an accident, bad drains, but don’t call it the will of God.
      6. It is not the will of your Father in heaven that any of these little ones should perish (Matthew 18:14) .
  2. God’s will divided into three parts.
    1. The divisions.
      1. Intentional: God’s ideal plan for mankind.
      2. Circumstantial: God’s plan within certain circumstances.
      3. Ultimate: God’s final realization of His purposes.
      4. The trouble is that we use the phrase “The will of God” to cover all three.
    2. Biblical illustration.
      1. Jesus came with the intention that men would follow Him, not kill Him (Matthew 4:19).
      2. Then came the cross and the one whom the Father wanted men to follow was put to death; God’s intentional will was stopped.
      3. When the circumstances brought by evil put Christ into the dilemma of either running or dying, in those circumstances, the cross was the will of God.
      4. Problem: Jesus is the Lamb who was lain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8, John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19-20, 1 Corinthians 2:7).
    3. Practical illustration.
      1. In a nation that is at war, and a father says to his son, “I’m glad you are in the army.”
      2. This does not mean that the army was the father’s intention from the beginning: Perhaps his intention from the beginning was for his son to be a doctor.
      3. In those circumstances set up by evil, the army became the father’s will for his son.
  3. God’s ultimate goal in Christ: redemption of man.
    1. In spite of evil, the same goal would have been reached if God’s intentional will would have been carried through.
    2. God cannot be finally defeated: not everything that happens is His will, but nothing can ultimately defeat His will.
  4. Dissociate from the phrase, “The will of God” all that is evil, unpleasant or unhappy (this is covered in circumstancial will) .
    1. A father longs to give good gifts to his son (Luke 11:11).
    2. Can you picture a father sending mean things to his son, and the son with tearful, hurting eyes saying “Thy will be done?”
  5. Two difficulties:
    1. Do people really get comfort believing their tragedies are the will of God, their compassionate, loving Father?
      1. Tragedy is hard to bear if it all was just a ghastly mistake.
      2. But, there never is any real comfort in a lie.
    2. Some of the greatest qualities in people are brought by suffering, so is not suffering the will of God?
      1. So, warfare and persecution is the will of God?
      2. The war did not make courage, but revealed what was there all the time.
      3. Logically–Does God needs evil to produce good?
      4. NO, evil does not make good qualities, but reveals them and gives them exercise.
      5. God made everything good, evil can be defined as the absence of good. Evil take the good, and twists it.
  6. Catch these words of Jesus (Matthew 23: 37) “O Jerusalem, I longed to gather you… but you would not.”

God’s Circumstantial Will:

  1. Remember, the father’s circumstancial will for his son during wartime was to be in the army. His intention was medical school.
  2. Man’s free will created the circumstance of evil that cut across God’s plans: Basically a will within a will.
  3. There are two parts of God’s circumstancial will:
    1. The natural.
      1. There are the laws of the universe, which are an expression of God’s will, which were not set aside even for Jesus.
      2. The rain falls on the just and the unjust.
      3. The forces of nature carry out their function and are not deflected when they are used by the forces of evil.
      4. Jesus did not call to God saying, “It’s not fair!”
    2. The spiritual.
      1. Even in evil circumstances, we can react positively and creatively to find good out of evil.
      2. The cross is not just a symbol of capital punishment, it is a symbol of the triumphant use of evil in the holy purposes of God (the cross becomes a throne, a crown of thorns becomes one of glory) .
  4. Illustration: a baby fallen out of a high rise window: Is it the will of God? Yes and No.
    1. YES, His circumstantial will.
      1. His law of gravity should operate.
      2. His baby is made of flesh and bones.
      3. The body will be broken if it hits the pavement, or else the baby would have been made of something else (like rubber).
    1. NO, His intentional will.
      1. The baby’ s death is not the will of God.
      2. It was not His intention that the baby be allowed to fallout the window at all.
  5. Disease: is it the will of God?
    1. NO, God’s intentional will is health.
    2. Yet there is a will of God within evil circumstances.
      1. The ultimate will of God will be reached if we make the right reaction to these circumstances.
      2. Disease is an invasion of germs, a reminder that we live in Satan’s domain.
    3. How does one react to disease?
      1. Joni Erikson Tada  and her neck injury as a teenager.
      2. So many healthy people are spiritually asleep and not co-operating with Him at all.
      3. I am sure that the battle against disease is the will of God. Disease is not His intention: Jesus regarded it as part of the kingdom of evil (Luke 13:16)., yet He can work through evil circumstances.
  6. One could say, it’s a bit casual of God to allow these things to happen if they are not His intention.
    1. God’s ways are not often clear to men (1 Corinthians 13:12).
    2. Think of a little child who has hurt his knees.
      1. Will he say “It’s rather casual of you to allow me to hurt myself like this.”
      2. We do not say, “Look at my knees!” but rather, “Look at my frustration, disappointment and pain.”
      3. There is much that we do not understand, but I know that my Father loves and cares for me.
    3. Jesus did not say, “I have explained the world.” but “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) .
      1. If we will only trust where we do not see.
      2. Walk in the light that we have (like holding a lantern rather than using a headlight).
      3. We will find peace in our hearts even before we see Him face to face.
      4. Suffering often brings us to our knees like nothing else will.

God’s Ultimate Will:

  1. I know you can do all things, and no purpose of yours can be restrained. (Job 42: 2).
  2. Picture a child damming up a stream:
    1. He never prevents the water from finally reaching the river.
    2. We may divert God’s plans for a while, but we will not finally defeat them.
  3. Omnipotence does not mean that God gets His way by an exhibition of His superior might;  then freedom is an illusion.
    1. It does not mean that nothing can happen unless it is His intention.
    2. It means that nothing can happen that finally defeats Him.
    3. He will reach His ultimate goal even if man diverts the stream.
  4. If God can use evil as well as good to reach His goals, then nothing we do really matters.
    1. No, Paul said to the Romans, Are we to continue to sin that grace may increase? (Romans 6:1).
    2. Here is a proper perspective:
      1. This evil has been done, how will I win good from it?
      2. NOT, I will deliberately do evil in order to win good from it.
      3. With evil intent, men crucified the Son of God. Within six weeks, other men were preaching about the cross as the instrument of salvation.

* Regarding Weatherhead being a liberal, I don’t throw the “liberal” handle around lightly, but it is documented that he dismissed the virgin birth, promoted Zachariah as the father of Jesus and Mary (a temple prostitute) and denied the atonement. Weatherhead’s theory that Jesus was the son of Zechariah later became part of the teachings of Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. Encountering this teaching in Weatherhead’s The Christian Agnostic, Young Oon Kim adopted it as the best explanation of the birth of Jesus in her work Unification Theology, a standard textbook of the movement. Ruth A. Tucker comments in her book Another Gospel: “Kim’s Christology is a prime example of liberal theology…. By diminishing the role of Jesus, Kim paves the way for the exaltation of Sun Myung Moon.”

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