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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 1045am Svc, 2011-09-04

Text: Proverbs 3:5,6

In every situation we face, our greatest desire should be to do God’s will because we love Him, and because we know that no matter how difficult it may be for us to do His will, doing it always works out for the best. However, in order to do God’s will, we first need to know what it is. What is it that God wants us to do? How can we know exactly what God’s will for us is in every situation? How does God reveal His will to us? These are important questions that every child of God will ask.

In this message, we will not be considering God’s will regarding things that are already revealed very clearly by His written Word. For instance, if someone has wronged you there is no need for you to ask, “Lord, is it your will for me to forgive him?” God has already revealed what you must do in such a situation – e.g. in Ephesians 4:32, we have been told to be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us.

Here is another example: As you think about whom you should marry, someone comes along who has everything that you hoped for in a life partner, except for one ‘little’ thing – she is not a Christian. Should you pray, “Lord, is it your will for me to marry her?” The answer is clearly no, because God has already told us very plainly in 2 Corinthians 6:14 not to be unequally yoked with an unbeliever.

We don’t need to ask God what His will is about such things. We should simply obey what God has revealed in His Word. The same thing applies to any moral decision – God’s will for these things has already been made known to us. Anything that involves sin, or that would cause us to break any commandment of God, isoutside of God’s will. There is no difficulty in discerning the will of God for such matters, since all that we need to know is what the Bible teaches on them.

Our difficulty is how to discern God’s will in matters that are not revealed in the Bible at all. The Bible is not an almanac where you can find every specific detail about your life. So, if you are a young person seeking to know what God’s will is for your career, you won’t find it in the Bible. What you will find are some useful guiding principles that help to narrow down your options. Whatever career you choose should be one that will honour the Lord and make you useful to society. But there are no indications in the Bible on whether you should be a lawyer, doctor, engineer or businessman. Concerning marriage, obeying God’s Word will limit your options only to Christians. But it gives no indication on which particular Christian you should marry.

Similarly, if you want to know whether God wants you to change your job or to migrate to another place, you won’t find it in the Bible. If you are a parent who is anxious to know which school you should put your child in, you won’t find it in the Bible. If you are reaching the age of retirement, you cannot expect to find specific details on where God wants you to live for your retirement, and what He wants you to do with your time.

So what should you do when you have to make such decisions? How can you know what God wants you to do? How can you avoid having this nagging fear that you may be making a wrong choice – a choice which is not God’s will for you? The anwer to this problem is to learn how to discern God’s will for your life. That is what we hope to do through this message.

Learning to discern God’s will for your life will also help you in another way. You will have better time management. Many of us have perhaps become too busy for our own good. We take on too many commitments and as a result of this, we find ourselves terriblyoverwhelmed. We are unable to accomplish all that we are responsible to do. Then our spiritual life suffers, and our family life suffers. Twenty-four hours a day is not enough. We wish that we could have a lot more time.

Do you know what the real cause of all this is? It is not due to a shortage of time at all. It is due to our failure to discern which commitments God wants us to handle. There will always be sufficient time for us to fulfill commitments that are God’s will for us to handle. God makes sure of that. He knows how capacity. Our time problems begin when we take on more commitments than what God has willed for us to handle. And so I hope you understand now that good time management comes from being able to discern God’s will for your life.

Our Lord Jesus is the best example of this. Within only 3½ years of ministry He was able to complete everything that He came to do on earth, because He was focused on doing nothing else but the will of His Father (John 4:34). That’s what we ought to do. How much better our time management would be, if we can only learn to discern God’s will for our life, and focus on doing it!

Before we actually learn how to discern God’s will for our life, there is a question that some have raised on this subject. Does God really have a custom-designed plan for each and every individual believer? Does He have a plan which includes which employer you will have, whom you will marry, which apartment you will buy, and so on? There are some who say no. They claim that God does not have a custom-made plan for each believer. This new view was popularized over the last 30 years by Gary Friesen in his book, Decision making and the Will of God.

In this book Gary Friesen tried to prove from the Scriptures that in those areas where the Bible gives no command or principle, the believer does not need to discern carefully whether it is God’s will for him or not. He is free to choose his own course of action and any decision he makes is the right one and is acceptable to God as long as it is kept within God’s moral will. This means that God does not really care whom you choose to marry as long as she is a Christian. And God does not really care what job you choose, as long as it does not violate any of His commandments. This effectively reduces God’s will to nothing more than a set of general guidelines.

But a strong case can be made from the Scriptures for the traditional view that God does have a specific plan for every believer, and that He cares even for the smallest details of a believer’s life. We think, for example of Abraham’s servant asking God to guide him to the right woman to select as a bride for Isaac (Genesis 24). All that Abraham required his servant to do was to find a willing bride from among Abraham’s relatives in Haran, and not from among the Canaanites who were all idolatrous (vv.3,4). There would have been a number of women at Haran who would have satisfied this requirement. But Abraham’s servant prayed that God would direct him to find the particular woman He had appointed to become Isaac’s wife (v.14). God answered that prayer by bringing Rebecca to meet the servant. Hence, it must have been God’s will all along for Isaac to marry no one else but Rebecca.

Another example of God’s care for the smallest details of our life can be found in what our Lord Jesus did when He selected His twelve apostles (Luke 6:12-13). He did not choose them randomly but spent one whole night in prayer before He decided whom He should choose. The twelve were not the only disciples Jesus had. According to Luke 10, there was a pool of at least seventy disciples that He could choose from. But Jesus prayed in order to discern which ones among them should be His apostles. From this He knew that it was God’s will for no one else but those particular twelve men to be sent to bring the Gospel to the whole world.

One more example to show that God’s will for each of us is very specific is the apostle Paul. In five of the epistles he wrote, Paul introduced himself as “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” And when God called him on the road of Damascus, it was revealed that Paul was specially ordained to be God’s apostle to the Gentiles, and not to the Jews (Acts 9:15). God’s specific plan for Paul even included his bringing the gospel westwards to Macedonia instead of eastwards to Bithynia (Acts 16:7). If not for this detail, history would have been quite different: We Asians would probably have received the Gospel first before our western counterparts.

These three examples are sufficient to show that God has a specific plan for you, a plan that includes even the tiniest little details of your life. After all, no detail of your life is ever too insignificant to God. Jesus says that even the very hairs of your head are all numbered (Matthew 10:30). What you are right now is the cumulative result of many different influences. Your mindset, attitudes and convictions have been shaped by every person you happened to meet or live with, every place you have visited, and even by every book you happened to read. And these things are often the result of the choices you had made. So we have strong reasons to believe that God’s will isn’t just a set of general guidelines, but it extends to every specific detail of our life.

But this presents us with a problem: How then can you know the specific details of God’s will for your life, so that you will not make any mistakes when you make choices? Do you sometimes wonder whether some of the decisions you made in the past were not made according to God’s will? Do you wonder what your life would like be today if you had chosen a different course of study or career, or if you had married a different person, or if you had lived in a different neighbourhood, or if you had attended a different church? Should this make you feel very worried that you may have missed God’s will for your life? – That you now have to settle for ‘second best’?

The answer to this is found in understanding God’s sovereignty. Romans 8:28 assures us that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” All things have already been determined by God. God’s will for your life therefore includes all your personal responses and even all the errors you made in discerning His will. Everything has been taken into account. God does not have to modify His plan for your life if you happen to choose wrongly. Nothing can ever stop Him from accomplishing His purposes. Psalm 23 assures us that the Lord is our Shepherd who leads us all the way, and He ensures that we will not miss any blessing that He has planned for us to have. We can therefore say,“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” (v.6)

But you may then ask this question: If God has already known and ordained every choice you make, does this mean that you can choose or decide any way you like, without bothering to discern God’s will? No. You are still held responsible to make the best possible choice you can make, trusting that what you choose is indeed God’s will for your life. How do you do this? Here are six basic steps…

1. Surrender your own will. Begin with the right attitude – the attitude that Christ had when He prayed at Gethsemane: “Not my will, but Thine be done.” (Luke 22:42) This was also Paul’s attitude when he met Christ on the road to Damascus. He said – “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6) Surrendering your will means that you must willingly accept whatever God has in store for you, even if it is not to your liking, and even if it goes against your personal preference.

Sometimes when a person comes to me for biblical advice to handle a situation, I discover that what he really wants is an endorsement of what he had already planned to do. And so when my advice turns out to be different from that, he argues with me and refuses to heed my advice. If you are really sincere about wanting to discern God’s will for your life, you must not do that. You must settle it right within your heart that what you want is to know God’s will and do it. This is the first step to discern the will of God. When you have done this, you can go on to the second step which is to:

2. Ask God to direct your path and trust that He will really do so. This is based on our Scripture text of Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”  

I want you to observe that the last part of v.6 does not say, “…He may direct thy paths” but ‘…He shalldirect thy paths.’ This shows that God is more willing to give you the guidance you need, than you are to seek after it. Listen to what He says in Psalm 32:8 – “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” But please, don’t expect God to reveal His entire plan for your life. He will lead you only one step at a time. There is a good purpose for this – so that you would build a closer relationship with God by having to rely on Him to lead you all the way to the end of your life.

What you do after this step is important. People often want a quick solution. They want to get the answer from God in the shortest possible time and with least amount of effort. So, when faced with a major decision they resort to using unscriptural methods to discern God’s will. They ask for a special sign from God (like Gideon did when he put out a sheep’s fleece overnight, Judges 6:37) or they draw lots. One method that some have used is bibliomancy. A person asks God to show His will for a decision, then he flips the Bible randomly to any page and points to any verse. Then he tries to see what message it has for him.

You may have heard the story of someone whose finger landed on Matthew 27:5 (“And he [Judas] cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.”) Not satisfied with the answer, he tried it again. This time his finger landed on Luke 10:37 (“Go, and do thou likewise.”) Imagine how shocked he was when the next verse he got was John 13:27 (“That thou doest, do quickly.”) This is the wrong way to seek God’s will for your life. The right way to seek God’s will requires time and patience to carry out the next few steps:

3. Pray for wisdom. James 1:5 says – “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. It is knowledge which is rightly applied. For instance you may know the Bible quite well. But it takes wisdom to know which passages in it are relevant to the situation you are facing, and how they are to be applied to make the right decision.

For instance, when choosing a life partner, your prayer for wisdom may lead you to Proverbs 31:30 (“Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.”) or it may lead you to 1 Samuel 16:7 (“Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.”) The principle behind these verses is the same: What God wants you to look for is not someone with good looks but one who has good character and godliness. The world puts too much value on externals – but we must not be conformed to the world’s way of evaluating people.

And be careful how you apply God’s Word to your situation. An English pastor one promised to serve in a church in north England, but after that he received an invitation to a more attractive post in south England. As he was wondering what he should do, he read a verse from Isaiah 43:6 – “I will say to the north, Give up…” And so he thought that God will cause the northern church to terminate his prior commitment so that he might be free to take up the more attractive offer from the southern church. But this didn’t happen. When the pastor looked at Isaiah 43:6 again he saw that the next part said, “…and to the south, Keep not back:” He also realized that the verse is all about the regathering of God’s people from exile back to the Promised Land. How foolish he was to have taken it out of context!

Wisdom requires us to use our minds well. There are no short cuts. We need to ask the right questions. We need to give careful thought and prayer to each portion of Scripture. All this requires time and effort. This is one reason why some are not able to discern God’s will for their lives – they do not want to put in the time and effort that is needed for it. They want God’s answer to come to them instantly like a bolt out of the blue, in the form of a sign, a dream or vision or a so-called word of prophecy.

But God has given all of us minds that are capable of evaluating several options and discerning the best one to choose. He expects us to reason things out carefully with the wisdom He gives us to make sound judgements. We better learn to use this God-given mind well, because one day we will have to judge the world when we reign with Christ (1 Corinthians 6:2). And if we worry that our judgements are not sound enough, there is another help that God has given us – other Christians. This brings us to the next step, which is to…

4. Consult spiritually mature believers for their advice. Proverbs 15:22 tells us – “Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established.” Don’t choose people who will say only what you want to hear, but choose those who are willing to give advice that you may not like to hear.

Young people should not leave out one important resource you have for wise counsel: Your parents. Why? Because they usually have a lot more valuable experience, and more importantly, they have your interests at heart. (Proverbs 1:8-9 – “My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.”) Other sources of Christian counsel include pastors, your BS leader or SS teacher, and good Christian books. But be careful to check that what they say is aligned with Scripture before you apply it. When you have taken this step, then you can go on to the next…

5. Carefully consider the circumstances you are in. God may reveal His will for you by opening doors of opportunity. As He said to the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3:8 – “behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it…” But be careful – Satan can open doors too and they are called temptations. Just because someone offers you a job which does not require any work but has an  attractive compensation, this does not mean that it is God’s will for you. It may involve sinful practices and compromise your Christian testimony. Make sure that you obtain as much information as you can about any offer before you make any assessment of it.

Sometimes, there may be several options open to you. How can you know which is the best one that God wants you to take? Trace the path that God has been leading you from the past to the present - Are there consistent indications which seem to favour one of your options above all the rest? Weigh the pros and cons of each option – write down all the possible outcomes of taking each of them. If all their outcomes are good, look for the best one among them. If the outcomes are all bad, then look for the option which has the least unfavourable outcome.

Going through the first 5 steps in discerning God’s will may lead you to consider one particular option as being the most likely choice that God wants you to make. This is the right time to apply the sixth step – the one which is most subjective:

6. Be sensitive to the inner conviction of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will give you a deep-seated peace when you are in line with God’s will. Thus, you should see if choosing that particular option in question will bring peace to your heart. If you have a sense of unease instead of peace then it may not be the choice you should make.

Paul described this in 2 Corinthians 2:12-13 – “Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia.” One way to tell whether the peace or unease that you feel is from the Holy Spirit is to see how long it persists. The Spirit’s conviction is not just a momentary feeling or passing impulse but a long-lasting impression that refuses to go away. It will keep coming back to you until you take notice of His conviction.

Thus we have seen the 6 basic steps for discerning God’s will for your life: 1. Surrender your own will; 2. Ask God to direct your path; 3. Pray for wisdom; 4. Consult spiritually mature believers; 5. Consider thecircumstances you are in; and 6. Be sensitive to the Spirit’s conviction. Now we come to the most important part.

Discerning the will of God is of no use until you actually do it. When God shows you His will, it is not for you to waste time deciding whether you should really carry it out or not. The language of submission is: “God has said it. That settles it. I will do it.” And do not ever think that you are wiser than God, and try to modify His will to suit your own situation, for your own convenience. And when you submit yourself to the will of God, please make the Lord Jesus your example for the manner in which you do it. 

To our Lord Jesus, doing the will of God was even more important than His own life. This is revealed in the prayer that He made in Gethsemane: “Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will but Thy will be done.” (Luke 22:42). His plea, “If Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me,” does not mean that Jesus was reluctant to die on the cross. Instead, it reveals the awful price He had to pay for our sins! Never before has anyone surrendered and suffered so much for the sake of doing the will of God, as our Lord Jesus Christ!

If Jesus has gone through so much to do God’s will to save you from sin and eternal death, is it too much for you to do God’s will instead of your own will? Perhaps there may be someone here who is still not saved. Well, God’s will for you right now is that you turn from your sins without delay and turn to Jesus alone for salvation. If you are already saved, will you commit yourself now to do the will of God for your life? May the Lord speak to our hearts as we ponder over this.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11