- Skillfulness in the use of God's Word
The individual who is able to discern God's will is skillful in the use of His Word. Obviously, God's general will---His plan, purpose, and standard for the believer's life and lifestyle---is found on the pages of His Word. In light of such verses as Psalms 119:105, 130 and Joshua 1:8, it seems logical to conclude that His specific will may be found there as well. For the believer, searching God's Word should be a daily discipline, opportunity, and responsibility. Through His Word God instructs, comforts, encourages, challenges, and directs, and so finding God's will need not be a frenzied, traumatic experience. Rather it should be the natural outworking of daily communication with Him. Thus, the individual who willingly takes time and knows how to allow God to speak through His Word will know His will.
Prerequisites to finding God's will are the personal preparations to be made by an individual. Indicators of God's will are the signposts by which God shows and confirms His will to the individual who has, by meeting the prerequisites, a prepared and qualified heart.
Indicators of God's Specific Will
- Personal desire
"Delight yourself also in the Lord; and He shall give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm37:4). In Philippians 2:13 we are told that God works in us both "to will and to do of His good pleasure." This presupposes that our desires and thoughts are under His control (2 Corinthians 10:5; Proverbs 23:7). In considering His specific will, personal desire can be a starting point. However, personal desires cannot always be trusted; thus, there must be something beyond this to confirm His specific will.
Circumstances can play a vital role in discerning God's will. God can control what happens to us, the people we meet, or the places we go, in order to show us His plan. The Bible abounds with illustrations of guidance by circumstance. Circumstances guided Joseph to Egypt (Genesis 37). Illness, no doubt, (Galatians 4:13) guided Paul to remain in the area of Galatia, though he wanted to go and preach in Asia (Acts 16:6,7)
Some of the world's outstanding missionaries have been guided by circumstances. David Livingstone set out for China, but the Opium War closed the door to that country and he went to Africa, and what proved to be his destiny. Adoniram Judson sailed for India, but, unable to land when he arrived, got off at the next port of call---Burma. There he served the Lord for years and won many to the Savior.
Circumstances, however, cannot be considered an infallible guide. Sometimes God leads contrary to circumstances. For example, D.L. Moody was an uneducated shoe salesman who had difficulty speaking. Yet God called him to become a preacher---a preacher who during his career led thousands to the Savior in both America and Europe. Philip, the evangelist, was called by God to leave a successful campaign to witness to one man in the desert (Acts 8:5, 26). Circumstances alone would have suggested he stay in Samaria and preach to the crowds. God had other plans.
As important as circumstances may be, however, there must be something more in order to confirm God's specific will.
- Common sense
In Titus 2:12 the believer is advised to use common sense. He is to "live sensibly, righteously, and Godly in the present age." To "live sensibly" is to live in a balanced, levelheaded manner; it is to utilize common sense. Indeed, the word contains the same idea as does our current term "common sense." Common sense, however, though helpful in determining God's will, cannot be a final guide. There has to be something else with which to confirm God's specific will.
- Counsel of friends
The Bible indicates that pastors, teachers, and church leaders are to be advisors and guides in our lives (Hebrews 13:7, 17). It stands to reason that seeking out the counsel and advice of experienced individuals is wise. This is not to say that another can make our decision for us; they cannot. The decision is our responsibility, but it can be profitable to consider the advice of mature people who have had experience in discerning God's will (Colossians 3:16).
People can be wrong although they have good intentions; therefore, there must be something more than the counsel of friends to determine God's will.
- The "peace" of God
Colossians 3:15 says, "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…" The word "rule" actually means to "act as an umpire"; that is, peace concerning a decision will be an indicator of a correct or proper course of action. One must be careful, however, to distinguish between the genuine peace that comes from doing God's will and a pseudo-peace that results from a psychological rationalization of the mind that convinces one of the correctness of a course of action because that is really what he wants or doesn't want more than anything else. Though peace will accompany the knowing and performing of God's will, because of the complexity of the human mind, it cannot of itself be a final guide. There must be something beyond this to confirm God's will.
- The Word of God
God ultimately and objectively reveals His specific will through His Word, the Bible. The Psalmist said, "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (119:105). God speaks by impressing the believer's mind with His thoughts as that believer reads the Bible. The Bible book of Jude records evidence of this phenomenon when in it we read that Jude intended to write a letter on the subject of salvation. While preparing to do so, he "felt the necessity" rather to deal with the subject of false teachers (Jude 3). This then became the subject of his little book; God had clearly spoken impressing Jude's mind with what He wanted considered in that particular writing.
As the believer turns to God's Word every day (Joshua 1:8), God instructs, comforts encourages challenges, and convicts according to His standard. God reveals His specific will for each believer's life through His Word.
Our minds are "triggered" and directed as we read, understand, and apply His Word to our own situations. If God can impress our minds with personal adjustments that need to be made, He can impress our minds with the proper decisions that need to be made. He can activate thoughts or impressions by what we read in His Word.
Because God speaks definitely to us in His Word, it is necessary to make very effort to understand It. To guard against bending the Scripture to our own fantasizing, to prevent making Scripture say something It does not actually say, and to prevent being erroneously impressed because of faulty understanding, it is to our advantage to understand It as much as possible.
The following suggestions are shared to help a person get the most out of God's Word.
- Understand what the passage really says.
- Understand the background of the verses; if possible, refer to a Bible commentary.
- Understand the literal meaning of the words (use a modern translation, a dictionary, concordance,
[For an expanded consideration of these suggestions see "God Encountered," Volume One of Steps To Maturity, a three volume in depth Bible study course by Dr. David Clemens.]
Although one may not be able to understand and interpret a passage as thoroughly as a theologian, God must be trusted to honor a diligent and honest effort before Him. This is giving God every opportunity to activate our thinking with His thoughts as to details concerning His specific will for us, as it relates to the problem and/or question with which we struggle.
In today's frenetically paced world, God has a specific plan for our lives. Finding that plan through the utilization of God's Word is not always easy nor is such a use of God's Word intended to be a shortcut gimmick. Its success or failure hinges upon a basic honesty before God, a daily, continual exposure of oneself to God through His Word.
Differentiate between God's general and specific will. Work through the prerequisites and the indicators.
Review the following indicators. What do they suggest?
- Am I totally available to God? Are all my rights His?
- Am I separate, different from the world and allowing God to transform my mind and life?
- Am I being controlled by God, obedient to His leading?
- Do I have an honest desire to know God's will? Am I living up to what I already know?
- Am I willing to wait for God's will to be revealed?
- Am I developing a skillful use of the Word of God?
Remember that God must be allowed time to work and to give confirming evidence to the person waiting before Him.
- Personal desire
- Common sense
- Counsel of friends
- Peace of God
- WORD OF GOD
This suggested method is simply a means of giving God opportunity to direct our lives and decisions through His Word. The Spirit of God can use the written Word of God to guide us into an understanding of His general and specific will as He impresses our mind with thoughts generated by what we read in the Scriptures. Why not give Him an opportunity to do so?
God knows, He loves, He cares
Nothing this truth can dim,
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice with Him
[The answer to the question, "How can I know God's will?" was adapted from "What Should I Do?", lesson 18 of "God Encountered", Volume one of Steps to Maturity, a three-volume in-depth Bible study course by Dr. David Clemens.]