8 essential components for discerning God’s will
I know that some people maintain that God doesn’t have a will for our lives beyond our sanctification, but He does. No, we cannot sit down and pray to know it until He reveals a fully developed life plan, but He has put us in the places we are, the times in which we live, the background we have, and given us the personality and preferences we have in order to guide us in right choices.
I believe that He has created good works beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph 2:10), and with Paul, I want to stretch forward to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Php 3:12 NIV) I agree with Spurgeon that “every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor” but I do not think that everyone is to sell the farm and travel to live on the other side of the world. All of us are goers or senders, or in sin! (Rom 10:13-15) It was clearly the role of Barnabas and Saul to be missionaries in the work the Holy Spirit had for them, and it was clearly the role of the church to set them apart and send them (Acts 13:2-3). When people ask me for counsel to help them discern their role in God’s plan for the world, they are sometimes passionate and eager to know. Telling them to read chapter 2 of my book, The Missionary Call, is the more complete answer I wish they would examine, but it is not the immediate answer they want. Let me share with you what I often tell them. These are the eight components you should keep in mind as you pray about God’s will and make the best decision for the next step in your life, whether that is to serve in missions, pursue a particular field of study, move to a new city, etc. These are not ‘8 easy steps to know God’s will for your life.’ They are simply biblical considerations to consider in those moments.
- Know God – Some people are more concerned about knowing God’s will than they are with knowing Him. I have been married and growing to know my bride for 37 years, and in most situations of life I can say with reasonable certainty what she would prefer. I know her. Spending time getting close to God is essential for being close enough to hear the still, small voice saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” But how can we know Him? What could we say definitively about Him if He had not revealed Himself to us? Precious little. So, study His revelation to know what He wants you to know.
- Know His Word – As you read the Bible you are reading the very Word of God. He speaks to you through the examples of former followers, through His revelation of His heartbeat, His desires, what brings Him joy, and what breaks His heart. As speaks to you, speak to Him in intimate conversation.
- Prayer – Speaking our heart to God, listening to hear His guidance, and resonating with it in obedience is exactly what Jesus did, sometimes spending long hours in the night in prayer. Godly examples in Christian history also made prayer the priority of their daily lives. M’Cheyne determined each day not to see the face of man until he had spent time before the face of God. Yet, sometimes we need guidance “with skin on.”
- Counsel – God has given you a precious gift in the “gray beards” of your life. They are those who have watched you grow in your Christian life, they have seen you make both and wise and foolish decisions, and they are those whom you have seen making wise and godly decisions in their own lives. There is wisdom, victory, and safety in seeking the counsel of godly men and women.
- Life Experiences – Why has God allowed you to have the experiences you have known? He is sovereign over every detail of His universe and sends or allows all that comes to us, knowing exactly what is necessary to conform us to the image of Christ. He may have allowed you to have experiences (mission trips, friends, jobs, travel) precisely for the reason of shaping you to be the person who you are in order to seize an opportunity that is before you. Are your life experiences indicative of such preparation in this choice?
- Circumstances – Some might say throwing out the fleece is the guidance they seek, or looking to identify the open doors. Be very careful in this. Remember that the devil is called the god of this age and the prince of the powers of the air; he can manipulate circumstances also. Certainly, your circumstances may be useful. For instance, if you struggling with whether to marry Jane or Jill, but are already married to Sarah, then your circumstances are pretty clear regarding God’s will in that situation! Consider circumstances but only in harmony with these other ways that God guides.
- Timing – This component seems sort of unspiritual or irrelevant to some, but it is a crucial one to consider. I know a man who had respected a missions agency that focused in the region of the world that most interested him all of his adult life. He would have gladly taken a job in the mailroom just to get to meet his heroes who served there. In developments that only God could have brought to pass, he was one day invited to serve as President of that agency. It was a miracle, a dream come true, and the opportunity of a lifetime. Yet, as he considered each member of his family at that moment in time, it was painfully obvious that the timing was wrong for them. It would have been wrong for him to accept and bring pain to his family, so he declined the opportunity. While it still hurts him, and while every other light was green, he knows that the timing of the offer was not right.
- Desire – What do you want to do? If the last component seemed unspiritual, this one makes it pale in comparison. What do my desires have to do with it? In fact, some erroneously think that if it is God’s will for my life, it won’t be something I would choose. Missionaries who are passionate about serving in the areas where God has called them have sometimes confessed a little guilt about having such joy in it, as if great happiness and desire to do it somehow means it is only my will. But God is able to give us desires that He wants to fulfill in our lives. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” He is pleased when we find our greatest joy in pleasing Him. Learn to pray, “Lord all I want is ALL You want.” He will give you desires that you may have never had, and then He will allow them to be realized, bringing joy to you both.
How can you know your place in God’s plan for the world?
Are you a sender or a goer?
Clear off the table of your heart and life, lay these eight components there, and ask Him. He has a place for every one of us, and there is great joy and peace in both finding and doing it.
To get involved as a sender or a goer with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s missions teams, reach out to the Bevin Center.
Watch a video released during Southern’s Great Commission Focus 2015.
Also, read more about faculty at Southern, like this blog’s author, Dr. Sills.