Monday, February 10, 2014

Discerning God's Will for Practical Choices and Direction

Sorting through the ambiguity of popular wisdom 

I have faced some choices lately regarding a couple of opportunities that could take my life in vastly different directions, and I have struggled to be able to discern what was God's will so that I could know what to choose.

In the midst of praying, fasting, and weighing the pros and cons of various options, I never felt like I could come to a clear conclusion. I felt like I was caught in an endless swirling fog of not knowing, second-guessing, and doubting. Which was the right path? Which one was God's will for me? This circumstance seemed to indicate favorably on option A, but what if the timing wasn't right? What if something I couldn't see was coming down the road if I went that direction? Certain other circumstances seemed to indicate favorably on option B, but what if that was God's second-best? What if I was just being led by what I wanted? Then there was always the possibility that it might not be option A or option B, but some unknown option C that I might discover if I waited long enough. I honestly couldn't distinguish between "feeling led" and plain old desire. I would come to a sense of peace about deciding one way or the other, but then I would ask myself, "Is this just because I'm hearing what I want to hear?" And I was thrown right back into the mental turmoil, going around and around in circles and not getting anywhere.

I asked a trusted older Godly woman for counsel and wrote her an email describing the whole story of all the options, all the circumstances, and which way I was leaning in the midst of all of it. I'm pretty sure my confusion leaped from every line. She invited me over to her house and we talked.

Kindly, lovingly, and very pointedly, she asked me a couple of questions.
  • Have you studied out the will of God in Scripture? 
  • "What examples do we see in Scripture for how people knew what God wanted them to do?"
I replied that I had read some things on knowing the will of God, but that there were so many conflicting opinions it seemed impossible to really figure it out. And regarding Scriptural examples, I offered, "Um, they heard his voice?" 

My friend got more specific. 
  • "Where does it say in Scripture that we're supposed to 'feel led' to do something?"
  • "Where does the Bible teach that God uses 'a sense of peace' to show a person His will?" 
  • "Does the Bible say that circumstances that 'fall into place' are an indication of God's will?"

My mouth fell open. I was speechless.

The Bible doesn't say these things.

This is popular wisdom, but the Bible doesn't actually say it. If this didn't come from Scripture, where did I get it? Where did we all get it? This is common Christianese. I have heard it all my life. But if it isn't Biblical, is it right?

Suddenly, in one moment, all my criteria was reset for discerning the will of God.

So what does the Bible say?

  • The Bible clearly reveals God's will for our character
  • Regarding our choices, there is a lot that is left open.
    • Some people received divine leading that was obvious or miraculous 
      • Noah being told to build the ark
      • Moses at the burning bush
      • Paul and Barnabas being separated by the Holy Spirit for missionary work
    • In the vast majority of cases, people were left free to choose. 
      • Adam and Eve were allowed to choose to eat the fruit or not 
      • "Choose you this day whom you will serve" (Joshua 24:15)
      • "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life" (Deut. 30:19)
      • "Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways." (Prov. 3:31)

The question still remains, though, "How do I choose right?" It's all very well when it comes to choosing between good and evil. That's not hard to discern. The problem comes in when we have a practical, everyday decision that does not present a moral dilemma.

For example:

  • Buying a car, a house, or another large purchase (e.g. an instrument, or electronics) 
  • Selecting your college major
  • Taking a job or changing careers
  • Moving to a different place 
  • Choosing whom you marry (assuming it's a Christian)

This is the realm where all the subjective, ambiguous popular wisdom often comes into play. "Well, I was just feeling led to do this." "I was considering these two options, but this was the one I had peace about." "I couldn't believe the improbable circumstances that led up to this opportunity, so it must be God's will."

This is also where incorrect thinking can leave you bound, ineffective, and off-track. If you subscribe to unbiblical reasoning, you can end up making a worse decision than an unbeliever in your shoes would make.

What does the Bible say about making decisions in these practical areas?

  • God's word offers you the wisdom you need to make good choices (e.g. Proverbs)
  • God gives you the responsibility to decide
  • You are free to choose
  • You are even free to consult your own desire in choosing

My background in conservative Christianity taught me something so opposite to this that it feels almost shocking to even say it. But I believe that if you look at Scripture, it really does support this.

Buying things

"She considereth a field, and buyeth it." (Prov. 31:16)
"And I thought to advertise thee, saying, Buy it before the inhabitants, and before the elders of my people. If thou wilt redeem it, redeem it: but if thou wilt not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know: for there is none to redeem it beside thee; and I am after thee. And he said, I will redeem it. Then said Boaz, What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance...Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for thee." (Ruth 4:4-5, 8)
Wisdom would counsel you not to go into debt (Rom. 13:8), not to co-sign a loan (Prov. 6:1-5, 11:15, 17:18, 20:16, and 27:13), and not to oppress one another (Lev. 25:14).

Choosing your work

"Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:" (Exo. 20:9)
"Be ye strong therefore, and let not your hands be weak: for your work shall be rewarded." (2 Chr. 15:7, see also Jer. 31:16, Hag. 2:4)
"The people had a mind to work." (Neh. 4:6)
"And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it." (Psa. 90:17)
"Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening." (Psa. 104:23)
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might" (Ecc. 9:10)
"And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;" (1 Thess. 4:11, see also 2 Thess. 3:10-12)
Wisdom would tell you not to be lazy (Pro. 18:9), to prepare your work (Pro. 24:27), and to not start something you can't finish (Luke 14:28-30).


"And if a Levite come from any of thy gates out of all Israel, where he sojourned, and come with all the desire of his mind unto the place which the LORD shall choose;" (Deut. 18:6)
"He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him." (Deut. 23:16)


"This is the thing which the LORD doth command concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, Let them marry to whom they think best; only to the family of the tribe of their father shall they marry." (Num. 36:6)
"But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned;" (1 Cor 7:28)
"The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord." (1 Cor. 7:39)

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