Growing up in church as I did, I often heard the phrase, “the will of God”. It seemed that everywhere I turned, that phrase was being thrown around by pastors, youth ministers and anyone else who had input in the direction of my life. I was encouraged to pray for God’s will in who I married, my “full time Christian service” (isn’t that supposed to be a given, anyway?), my ministry and generally every aspect of life.
The “will of God” was at times presented in a way that made it seem to be a vague concept. It was as if we were to wander through a dense fog in our life until suddenly the Holy Spirit would give us an opening where we would suddenly discover the details of God’s plan for our life and everything would be great.
Now I am not mocking the idea that God has a perfect will for our lives. In fact, I believe very strongly that He does. I believe that every believer has the responsibility before God to discover God’s will and to do it. I believe there are blessings to be found in the center of God’s will.
The problem I have seen is that there are myriads of formulas people use for determining whether or not something is God’s will. I have seen people use a multitude of factors in deciding what they believe God wants them to do in a given situation. Here are some them:
1. Burden–Some feel that as long as they have a burden for a particular ministry, area of service or geographical location, then that is God’s way of telling them they should do something. Yet, when we look at Scripture, we see that isn’t always true. Jonah felt anything but a burden for the citizens of Nineveh, yet it is obvious that God wanted him to go there. By the same token, the Apostle Paul felt the most intensive of burdens for the nation of Israel, yet God had called him to minister to the Gentiles.
2. Desire–it is so easy to confuse our desires with “peace from God”. There have been a number of occasions in my life that I wanted something so desperately to be the will of God that I convinced myself that I had peace that it was God’s will. The fact is, our heart is compromised by our sinful nature and can fool us. Even if our intentions are sincerely to do the will of God, we are playing with fire if we use desire as the determining factor of direction.
3. Circumstances–Circumstances do not always determine the will of God. There are times when I believe God does use circumstances to move His people in certain directions. I believe that the life of Naomi is a good example of this. At other times, though, it may seem as if circumstances would force us one way, and God miraculously works through the circumstances to open the way for us.
4. Opportunity–some people feel that if a door is opened, they are obligated to walk through it. We should give great care to make sure that it is God who has opened the door. In my ministry, I have been presented with many opportunities to do good things. Opportunities for ministry, missions, fellowship, education and several other things have offered themselves from time to time. There is nothing wrong with any of these (in fact there is a lot that is right with them), but I cannot honestly say that all of these opportunities were from God. Some of them came through association. Some of them came through well-meaning, godly people. Some of them I discovered on my own.
Is it possible that opportunity coupled with either desire or burden, yet lacking wisdom and discernment has probably caused as many people to miss the will of God as has outright rebellion?
Here are some things I do know concerning the will of God:
God’s will can be known
God’s will always brings glory to God
God’s will does not contradict His Word
In my next post, I hope to examine what I believe is the primary scriptural criterion for knowing the will of God. In the meantime, I would love to know your thoughts on this topic.