Additional Q&A on discerning God’s will with Kevin DeYoung

Communications Staff — October 14, 2009

We didn’t have room for all of Kevin DeYoung’s comments in our story on him, so here are his thoughts as it relates to discerning God’s will on: (1) circumstances and counsel from others, (2) if following impressions is a matter of obedience and (3) waiting on the Lord.

DeYoung just finished his fifth year as senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich. He is the author of “Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will” as well as the co-author of “Why We’re not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be” and “Whey we Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion.”

Q: What role should circumstances and guidance from others play in our decision-making? Does God speak through this means? Does He use them?

Kevin DeYoung: God is always guiding us by His providence. So sometimes we can look back and trace God’s hand: “O, I didn’t see it then, but I see why you sent me to that school so I could meet this person — I see how these things were fitting together.” I am a Calvinist: I believe in God’s sovereignty, I believe in His providence. So, in that sense, He is always guiding us. But it is invisible usually. It is imperceptible. It is behind the scenes. We trust that He is in control.

Now, when people talk about decision making in guidance, they are often asking for something that is visible: “God tell me.” So, while on the one hand, I would agree that God opens doors and closes doors to guide us and get us where He wants us to go. Yet, I think that is a dangerous way of reading what God is up to.

There may be an open door, but the open door, the easy door, is not always the way we should go. It may be that we are lazy and we need to knock on doors. It may be that someone doesn’t have a job because they aren’t really interviewing well, they are not working hard at it, they are not following up. I think that is excusing irresponsibility.

As we go through life, of course, the person that says, “Here I have a job that I think you would be great at. Why don’t you apply?” Ninty-five times out of 100 we are going to try that, we are going to do that. That is how God normally works. In general, I am not opposed to people walking through open doors or saying, you know what it looks like I am not going to get funding to go to that school, so I think I am going to look at that other school. That is how we make decisions all the time.

I just don’t want people to overspiritualize it and think, “Well God must be telling I have to do this, I can’t do this or I should do this.” We don’t know. And God probably doesn’t have one seminary or school or church you need to go to and all the rest are sinful choices. I think that is the problem. So, we look at is as a zero sum game: either I make the right decision or I make the wrong decision and I am out of God’s will.

Q: Do you think it is disobedience to not follow through on an impression you believe was from the Lord? Perhaps an impression to share the Gospel with someone on the street?

KD: I would be very hesitant to tell someone that that is disobedience. Now, it is a little trickier when you are dealing with a general principle you already know is true. It is one thing if you feel like you have an impression to go eat at Pizza Hut tonight. It is another thing to think, “I really should share the Gospel with this person” because we know sharing the Gospel with people is a good thing.

So, if something came up to me and I was their pastor, I don’t think I would say, “You have sinned against God,” but I would say, “Listen to your conscience and if your conscience — now, your conscience can go awry too — is telling you to do a good thing you should listen to it. So, why didn’t you share the Gospel with her?”

So, if there is a sin it might not be so much, “I felt an impression and I didn’t do it. It might be, “I was really afraid or I had the fear of man or I was selfish,” what are the biblical issues at stake that we can discern from Scripture that may be going on in the person’s heart.

Q: The Psalms are replete with references to wait for the Lord. How does your admonition to take responsibility, make a decision and just do something fit with waiting for the Lord?

KD: Often times in the Psalms, a passage like “Be still and know that I am God” or waiting for the Lord, has to do with specific instances, usually in battles, where the Lord has promised to come and defeat the enemies for us.

So, yes we wait for the Lord sometimes: we have to wait for justice, we have to wait ultimately for our final salvation. So, we do have to believe the promises of God and wait on the Lord. We have to wait sometimes when we pray, we don’t get what we prayed for. And there are people who are prone to being impestuous in their decision making and that is why I talk about, you do pray, but you are not praying so much, “God tell me what to do,” you are praying that the Lord would search your own heart, see if your motives are pure, see if you are motivated by pride, greed or lust.

So, you are waiting for the Lord in that sense, but you are waiting on Him to tell you the sort of things that He has revealed to us in the Scriptures. You are not waiting for special messages from God about what to do next.

So we do pray and we do seek counsel. That can be a part of waiting. If you have a really big decision, Proverbs says that there is wisdom in many counselors, so do you want to talk to others. So that is how I would understand waiting on the Lord. A lot of times in the Old Testament I think it has to be with individual situations where the Lord has promised to do something already and they need to trust that He is going to do that.

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