As we continue our exploration of decision-making and the will of God, let’s begin with an illustration.
Imagine you’re learning to drive a car. You’ve taken your driver training course, watched the videos, learned the theory of driving, the rules of the road, and so on. Now it’s time to get in a car and drive it for real.
The driving instructor gets in the seat beside you. You carefully turn on to a straight flat stretch of road, and you’re on your way. At one point, for whatever reason, you choose to drive off the paved road and across a farmer’s field. The instructor quickly steps in and tells you to stop. Pointing out your problem, he directs you to reverse your direction and get back on the pavement.
Each day you continue to practice your driving skills. Sometimes the instructor points out a problem and corrects you. Eventually, with practice, you become skillful at driving: prepared for all kinds of weather, road conditions, and drivers.
What’s this got to do with decision-making and the will of God?
I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, let me share some research with you.
I was surprised by some biblical research I did recently.
I conducted computer searches of the Bible for some common statements, such as:
Are these statements you’ve used? I know I have.
I searched phrases such as “God* will* search*” where the asterisk (*) is a wild card, meaning that “search*” includes cognates such as “search, searches, searched, searching.” I substituted “find*” then “discover*” then “seek* in place of “search*.” “God*” includes “God” and “God’s” – and I also searched “Lord*.” When it came to “will*” I was also careful to exclude the future tense – such as, “I will find the person.”
How many occurrences of the common statements mentioned above do you think I found?
The Bible doesn’t seem to use words like find, search, discover, and seek together with the will of God, or the will of the Lord.
I appreciate that my tentative conclusion may have a few exceptions. One exception is Exodus 18:15 (NIV) in which Moses describes his position as a judge in these terms: “the people come to me to seek God's will.” Rare exceptional situations also exist which imply a search for God’s direction such as inquiring of the mysterious “Urim and Thummin” (Exodus 28:30; Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65); and casting lots (Proverbs 16:33; Acts 1:26).
So, if the Bible doesn’t use this kind of language, why do we?
Statements such as “I’m trying to find God’s will” are based on the false understanding that God is hiding His will from us. The opposite is more probable – that is, we may be hiding from God’s will.
Bruce Waltke supports this general conclusion writing, “We must substitute the concept of ‘finding God’s will’ with that of ‘following God’s program of guidance.’”
What is God’s program of guidance?
Learning the skills of driving a car illustrates (in a limited way) learning the skills for living life God’s way – according to God’s program of guidance.
Let’s consider a text written by Paul (2 Timothy 3:14-17 NIV):
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed [theopneustos] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [or woman] [anthropos] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Before making my main point, let me draw your attention to three matters in this text.
First, “Scripture” probably refers to the Old Testament in the context of Timothy’s upbringing. However, Peter refers to Paul’s letters in the same breath as “the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). On this basis, we should have no difficulty understanding the Scriptures as the sixty-six books of the Bible – Old and New Testaments.
Second, the phrase “God-breathed” translates the Greek word theopneustos – theos being the Greek word for “God.” I have often enjoyed associating this text with Genesis 2:7 – “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The two things into which God breathed – humans and Scripture – are both intended to express the life of God (Hebrews 4:12).
Third, I added “or woman” because the Greek word rendered here as “man” is anthropos which is not the word for a male (anēr), but the generic word for a human.
Now for my main point.
The main point of this post is introducing four dynamic qualities of holy Scripture: teaching – rebuking – correcting – training.
When it comes to God’s will, it is not hidden; it is right there for us in black and white. Here’s a text that states: “this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Could it be any clearer? Listen to 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18:
Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
Referring to these verses, Waltke concludes:
You want to know the will of God for your life? It is to rejoice, pray, give thanks, and seek after that which is good for all [people]. You can’t pass that off as ‘too simplistic’ or ‘not relevant’ either, since this is God’s word offering the answer. God wants you to be a mature man or woman of God—that is His will for your life! He wants to see your character develop. He wants you to draw close to Him and be changed.
This is the message of an earlier post: “God’s Will for You.”
As you listen to or read the biblical text, what is God teaching and revealing about his will for you?
Let’s briefly demonstrate what God is teaching and revealing about His will for you by considering the area of sexuality. Begin by listening to Jesus speaking in Matthew 5:27-30.
Remember the new driver steering the car into a farmer’s field? Sometimes we drive off God’s track. It’s at times like that we need to be confronted, exposed, and made to realize we are wrong!
You probably have read about David’s dalliance with another man’s wife – that’s a dubious way of speaking about David’s adultery – his sexual immorality (2 Samuel 11). He tried to cover it over – especially after he discovered the other man’s wife was pregnant. So, he arranged the death – that is, he set up the murder – of the husband, Uriah.
God used one of his prophets, Nathan, to confront and expose David’s sinful behavior (2 Samuel 12)—but God didn’t leave David there.
After David was confronted and his rebellion exposed, he was corrected – the direction of his life was reset.
Take a moment to read David’s penitential song (Psalm 51). Note that Psalm’s superscription which does nothing to gloss over the enormity of his sin:
For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
Listening carefully, you pick up David’s heart-rending remorse and repentance. He ends on a note of hope—a future in which he has learned what God desires from him.
David also wrote Psalm 32 in the aftermath of this horrendous drive into the ditch.
He had sinned; his wrong had been confronted and exposed; he had been redirected into God’s way of living; and now, he was moving forward. This in no way diminishes the pain he inflicted on others, but that is not our purpose in this post.
The focus of Psalm 32 is not on the past sin but on the present blessedness of forgiveness and the benefits of living in humble obedience to God.
So, where does that leave us?
The primary way in which we discern God's will for our lives is through the Bible, which is also called “the word of God.”
I propose that reading the Bible carefully, frequently, consistently, and prayerfully is a necessary component of discerning God’s will for your life. I have prepared a start for you with a biblical literacy series called the Historical Backbone of the Bible.
Second, meditate upon what you read in the Bible. The Psalms open with “blessed is the man …” We learn that such people
delight in the law of the LORD,
And on His law they meditate day and night
Meditate (Hebrew: hagah) carries the sense of utter, groan, speak, or muse, perhaps suggesting that “Scripture was read half out loud.” Meditation is a process by which you listen, encounter, consider, and embrace the text of Scripture deeply for all of life.
In this meditation—this constant musing—you are discerning what God is saying to you in your circumstances of life. There is more to this which we will introduce later.
Third, is the expectation that you will do—that you will obey—what God is saying. We will also speak more about this.
At this point, I encourage you to be reading holy Scripture intentionally. If you do not have an existing approach, begin with reading historically—the rest fits in as you go.
In the next post, we’ll take another step toward discerning God’s will for you.
Photo credit: Michał Koralewski - mobile photography on VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND
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