Seeking God's Guidance

How do I know God’s will for me? This question,— in its many manifestations,— is one of the most common question, which I been asked in the few years I’ve been serving the Lord. Those who ask this question are often sincerely seeking to know how to order their lives in a way that is most pleasing God. However, it is an undeniable fact that most do not quite understand what they are asking. For many, the will of God is some nebulous criteria on which our actions are weighed. For others, the will of God has to do with how the future will turn out so that when they inquire about God’s will, they are in fact hoping to know what is in store for them in the future. Yet others hope that by knowing the will of God and acting accordingly, they would be assured a happy future. Is this really what knowing God’s will mean?

But what is the will of God? Calvin, the great Reformer, and most of His earlier successors taught that God has one will with two facets, namely His decretive will, and His preceptive will. The secret will of God refers to God’s foreordination of all things. It is hidden from man, and so it is also known as the secret will of God. The preceptive will of God declares to man what is pleasing to God by way of precepts or principle and commandments. These precepts are positively revealed to man, in Old Testament time frequently by audible voices and impulses on the mind; and today with Word of God completed, by the written word. Some later theologians speak about the dispositional will of God to indicate what God desires or delights in. But how do we know the dispositional will of God for us, but only through the Word of God and so for Calvin, the dispositional will of God is simply a facet of the preceptive will of God. With this understanding, we can easily answer the question "How do I know God’s will for me?" Since the decretive will is secret, to know God’s will is to know His preceptive will, which is given for us in the Word of God. How to know God’s will? Read the Word of God. Find the answer in the Word of God.

But this answer will not satisfy our inquirers, many of whom are caught in a dilemma of decision which they find no clear answer from the Word of God. Which course should I enrol in? Should I marry this man? Should I look for another job? Should I buy a car? What can I do to supplement my family’s income? Which school should I enrol my child in? Should I accept the nomination to serve as a deacon? Should I settle down in PCC? How do we know the will of God in such perplexing situations? My answer will probably surprise many of you: you cannotknow the will of God in most of these situations! But before any of us despair that we will have to grope in the dark with no assurance that God will be pleased with us, let me say that while we may not know the will of God in every situation, we may in fact seek God’s guidance. Rather than seeking to know God’s will, we ought to be seeking guidance from Him. We ought to pray as David did: "For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name's sake lead me, and guide me" (Ps 31:3). And we may have the same assurance that God will indeed guide us: "The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way" (Ps 25:9; cf. Ps 48:14; Ps 55:13; Ps 73:24). Also, God has promised: "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye" (Ps 32:8). But experience has taught us that God does not automatically or always guide us in the way we should go. This is why the question "How do I know God’s will" is asked so frequently. God’s guidance must be sought. But how?… Cont. p. 3

May I suggest the following seven steps as a guideline which may be applied whenever we are face with a difficult decision for which we desire guidance from the Lord:

1. Commit to God. 
Proverbs 3:5, which is so often used to encourage someone in times of indecision and uncertainty begins aptly: "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart." Just as genuine faith is manifested by works, so genuine trust in the Lord must be manifested by committing our anxieties to Him before we make any decisions. This is especially important since the thresholds of decision are often the starting points of our stepping into the wrong paths.

Committing the issues to the Lord involves humbly praying for the Lord’s guidance and direction, as well as requesting Him to grant remembrance to the Scriptures learnt, wisdom to think objectively, friends to counsel and meekness to submit to the providential outworking of His will.

2. Clear any undesirable preconceptions. 
Proverbs 3:5 continues, "and lean not unto thine own understanding." and "Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil." (Prov 3:7). Times may have changed since the time Solomon penned those words, but the human heart has not. How often we come before the Lord in prayer having already pre-conceived notions, wrong motives, attitudes and desires so that we are only willing to listen to the Lord if He gives a favourable reply. Are we not so often like Johanan who beseeched Jeremiah to seek the Lord’s counsel with unqualified assurance of obedience, but later accused him of lying when he brought the word of the Lord (see Jer 42:1-6; 9-10; 17; Jer 43: 1-2)? Is it not true that we have often decided before we pray, and our prayer serve only to ‘spiritualise our decisions’ or to seek God’s blessing on ourdecisions?

The existence of such preconceptions in our hearts must meticulously identified and eradicated if we are sincere about seeking God’s guidance. Indeed if we find it difficult to do so, being blinded by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:13), then we must all the more tarry in indecision and cry out to the Lord to search and reveal our hearts (Ps 139:23-24). Only then may we begin to listen to the Lord objectively.

3. Consider the Scriptures Again. 
We have already noted that the Word of God gives us His preceptive will, and so the most important means of knowing what is right and pleasing to God is found there. Thus, If we would have God direct our steps, then it would certainly be imperative that we follow His revealed instructions. It is no wonder then that Solomon writes about this in no uncertain terms: "Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed: but he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded" (Prov 13:13). Which this in mind, we must not rush into any decision without first considering carefully if any principle or precept may be applicable in our situation. Indeed, a surprising number of issues are taught specifically in Scriptures (2Tim 3:16-17) and can be applied immediately. The Scripture, for example, gives some clear instructions on relationships (2Cor 6:14); Christian leadership (1Tim 3:1-7); and accumulation of material wealth (Mt 6:19-34). It also has principles on dealing with issues that are not so clear-cut (e.g. Rom 14 and 1 Cor 6:12, 10:23-33). Failure to follow these instructions and principles would ultimately lead to sin and incur God’s displeasure.

An amazing number of decisions of weight and moment can be quite objectively if only we know the Scripture well. In fact, I would venture to say that if an answer cannot be sought through the Scripture, then there is a great possibility that that the which course of action you take does not really matter very much.

4. Confer with Godly brethren. 
Solomon in his God given wisdom saw the importance of seeking counsel when we need guidance. He proclaimed: "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise" (Prov 12:15). However, we must be very careful not to ask just anyone to advise us. Many a young persons have made godless and irresponsible decisions after they sought counsel from equally ignorant friends. No, when consulting with someone, we must bear in mind that we are not merely seeking the safety of numbers. The popular adage "two is a confirmation" is not only non-Christian but foolish, after all "two wrongs don’t make a right." Solomon says, "Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established" (Prov 15:22). Not everyone can give counsel. It is important that we should seek out brethren in Christ who loves the Lord and know His word that we may consult, especially when we are ill-informed about the Word of God.

5. Compare the Options. 
It is clear that some issues would have to pass through the third step and even the fourth step, being matters of indifference. In such situations, there is really no right or wrong decision either way. In such cases, it would be prudent and expedient to compare the options and weigh the pros and cons of the various options. God has given us sound minds to make decisions (2Tim 1:7) based on available data, and we should rightfully employ this faculty. We must be careful not to allow this step to become the only step in our decision making, but if employed properly, it is not wrong to weigh the relative advantages of various options. When choosing a job, it is not wrong to compare the monetary incentives and benefits, but let us also consider the spiritual aspects. Will the job require you to work on the Sabbath? Will it afford you greater opportunities to witness for Christ? etc.

6. Check your conscience. 
This step is the most subjective step, which must not be applied alone, but useful when used in conjunction with the previous five steps to test if the decision about to be made, or already made is the correct one. Proverbs suggests to us that the Holy Spirit sometimes speak to us through the conscience: "The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly" (Prov 20:27). In this way, our conscience functions like a subordinate judge of our decisions. It is likely to grant peace of heart if a decision pleases the Lord; and it will probably smite us if we make a wrong decision. So Paul says "whatsoever is not of faith is sin." (Rom 14:23); and sets us an example by exercising himself "to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men." (Acts 24:16). If you desire to leave your company at a point when it is struggling to stay afloat, do make sure you check your conscience. But bear in mind that our conscience may be seared (1Tim 4:2), so the conscience must never be taken as the most important judge, especially if it is excusing us.

7. Concede to God’s Overruling. 
Finally, after all the steps, we must realise that God might still overrule. "A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps" (Prov 16:9). If we commit our ways to the Lord, we have the assurance that He will not allow us to go out of the way. He promises us that "all things work together for good to them that love God" (Rom 8:28).This does not negate our responsibility to seek the Lord’s guidance and making the right decisions, but it assures us that God will honour our desire to please Him. Therefore let us learn to concede to God’s overruling when He closes our doors to a particular direction which we have decided on. Have you decided to spend your vacation camping in Alaska, but alas your son comes down with pneumonia. Will you not accede to God’s overruling?

Conclusion. Having seen the seven steps, it must be noted that they are but general guidelines. Nevertheless, they may be used with profit to seek God’s guidance when making decisions that are major enough to require some thought. It may do well for us to memorise the steps, rehearse them in our mind and apply them frequently. May the Lord help us in our endeavours to please Him.