Dr. Richard L. Strauss
November 17, 1974
How do we find God's will for our lives? In the great decisions of life--such as employment, choice of a life partner, part of the country we're going to live in--and the little decisions as well, we found out in our message this morning (How to Know the Will of God, Part 1) that the first principle in finding God's will is to be filled with God's Spirit--to have no sin hindering our open communion with God, and to have our wills absolutely and totally surrendered to God's will--to be in a potter/clay relationship.
We also learned that the Bible is the only invariable, known factor for determining the unknown will of God. So we turn to the Word and we learn of several ways of finding God's will. First, there are clear declarations of God's will in the Bible. We saw four or five of them that say "this is God's will" for your life. Second, there are clear commands in the Bible. Positive and negative commands: do this, don't do that. And there are principles in the Bible. They are statements of fact that reveal how God wants us to act. Finally--and it is least but still important to mention because I do believe God uses it. That is: impressions laid upon our hearts as we read the Bible.
So let's continue from where we left off and talk about this way of finding God's will through impressions we get from reading the Bible. It is the fourth way in which we can find the will of God by being familiar with the Bible.
d. Impressions Gained from the Bible
God can lead us this way, but we must make sure that our understanding of this leading is never in contradiction to any clear command or principle in the Bible. I will be the first one to say that this is risky because sometimes when we're reading the Bible looking for an impression, we're really reading it looking for what we want rather than what God wants to lay upon our hearts. Or we read it looking for something to corroborate what we already want to do; that's dangerous. But if we've got principle number one really settled and we want God's will above all else, I think God can lead us by laying impressions upon our hearts and minds.
Now don't be spooky about it. I don't mean you should close your eyes, and open the Bible and put your finger down somewhere on a page, then open your eyes to see what you came up with. I don't think that's the way God leads. You may have heard this story that illustrates the fallacy of this direction. There was a lady who closed her eyes and opened the Bible and read, "And Judas went out and hanged himself." That certainly didn't meet her need and wasn't what she wanted to hear, so she closed her eyes and did it again, and when she opened her eyes to see the verse her finger was on she read, "Go thou and do likewise." Now that was certainly not the will of God for her life! I don't think God leads us in this way.
The Bible is not a magic 8-ball that is to be used in a spooky way like that. It is the Word of God. God wants us to fill our minds with it. The more we saturate our minds and souls with the Word of God, the more we will be able to find God's direction because we'll learn to think God's thoughts after Him. Sometimes even as we're reading, God will lead us to certain passages that seem to lay impressions upon our minds. God can lead from the impressions laid upon us from His Word.
But I repeat: It's risky. And if you're looking through the Bible for direction relating to the decision you're facing, then principle number 3 becomes very, very important.
I think the principle of being faithful in prayer may be even more important than the first two principles. If you want to know God's will for any specific decision of your life, you must talk to Him about it. Jesus said in Matthew 7:7, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you."
Are you looking for some open door of direction and guidance? Then do some knocking on the door of heaven. Seek direction from God. Learn to ask God to guide your path before you come to the conclusions you want to come to in your own mind.
The central Bible verse about asking God for direction is in James. The context is trials, and the wisdom that is needed to handle the trials of our lives. But wisdom is wisdom, and certainly the passage would have application far beyond simply wisdom in trials.
"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5).
This is an action specified in a continuing tense: Let him keep on asking of God. Don't ask God once and then drop it. If you're looking for God's will on an issue, stay before the throne of grace. Keep on praying about it. And believe that God is going to answer you. God said that He had a plan for your life. He said that plan involved every detail of your life. He said He'd reveal that plan to you if you wanted to know it and were willing to do it. Now keep on asking Him.
And don't waiver for a moment. Don't doubt that you want to do God's will. Don't doubt that God will reveal His will. Just keep on asking in faith.
"But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord" (James 1:6-7).
Don't waiver. Don't be on again off again. "I want Your will; no, I don't want Your will. I believe You'll show me; no, I don't believe You'll show me." Just believe Him and keep on asking.
Let's go back to the most famous Bible verses about finding the will of God and let's look at them in a little different light--Proverbs 3:5-6.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Three conditions are laid down for finding God's will.
First, trust in the Lord with all your heart. I don't think I'd be stretching it too far to say that this is analogous to the Spirit-filled life. Learn to rely upon Him and depend on Him for victory over sin. Commit your entire being to Him, to do with as He pleases. Trust the Lord with all your heart.
Second, lean not on your own understanding. And again I don't think I'd be stretching the point to say that this is analogous to finding direction in the Word. Don't rely on your own human reasoning; instead, turn to the Bible for direction. Oh, I know it's necessary to use your mind. God gave you a mind, so use it. If you're trying to find God's will for your life, think. But your mind needs to be controlled by the Holy Spirit and filled with the Word.
Third, in all your ways, acknowledge the Lord. Now here could be principle number 3: Be faithful in prayer and keep the Lord always before you. Acknowledge His presence. Talk to Him--about everything. No matter what decision you face, talk to God about it. I've had people tell me they don't think God is interested in their everyday little problems. Their car is broken down and they don't know how they're going to get to work. They think they'll just find a solution on their own because God doesn't care about little problems like that. But God does care!
We have a little problem around our house quite frequently: lost contact lenses. There are four of us in the house who wear contact lenses. We've learned to pray about contact lenses. We believe that God is interested in contact lenses. God is interested in our money and in how we spend it. Perhaps we need to spend it on new contact lenses. But most of the time, we find the lens.
God is interested in everything. Philippians 4:6-7 taught us to be anxious for nothing. But in everything, with thanksgiving, we are to pray about everything. Everything. God cares about everything. So talk to Him about everything, even the little decisions of life. You know, the little things like what you're going to do today, tonight, tomorrow morning. How you're going to do it. What God wants you to say in a conversation with an unbeliever. Do you pray about things like that? When you're in the presence of an unbeliever, do you ever pray, "God, here I am. I'm available to You if you want me to talk to this person. You help me to find the opening and say the proper thing." That's talking to God about everything--all the little details of life.
When a problem arises in your life, talk to God about it. Develop the habit of talking to God about it first, before you devise your own solution. Acknowledge Him in all our ways and He shall direct our paths.
In Psalm 16:8a, the Psalmist said, "I have set the Lord always before me." That's the kind of thing we're talking about here. It's about living in the presence of God and coming into His presence about everything.
You know, I have found in my life that God often clarifies the decisions in a spirit and attitude of prayer. Sometimes while I'm praying, God begins to lay impressions upon my mind. I think they're from God, though I can't prove that. I know a lot of times we think things are from God when they aren't but I really believe that God has laid impressions upon my heart when I've been praying. Convictions are formed. Issues are crystallized. The fog begins to lift. And God's will begins to unfold oftentimes during the quiet meditative moments of prayer. Peace floods the soul. That's what Philippians 4:7 is all about: "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." A knowledge of God's will brings peace.
Let's talk about circumstances. How can we talk about the will of God without talking about circumstances? Be flexible. They may mean one thing or they may mean another. Circumstances are the last and least important principle in finding the will of God.
Yet when we talk about finding God's will, some of us immediately think about putting out a fleece (cf. Judges 6:36-40). But it's the last and least important step in finding the will of God. Let me share why I believe that and what circumstances really mean.
Well first of all, let's define circumstances. They could be a number of different things:
Needs. That's a circumstance. The needs of other people may dictate God's will for my life. Maybe someone whom God has led to the mission field says, "God, show me the greatest area of human need." They believe that God is going to lead them on the basis of need. Sometimes God does. He doesn't always. We obviously can't meet needs everywhere. God is going to lead us to one place to meet the needs of one group; we can't meet them all. Who is to determine which need is more important or which is greater? Some people think some needs are greater, and some people think other needs are greater. Needs in themselves do not constitute the will of God.
Sometimes we make decisions on what we think our needs are, or the needs of our family. The house we buy. The job we take. These kinds of things are often decided on the basis of what we think we need. Sometimes that need may be determinative. Other times, God may want us to sacrifice in that instance. Maybe we don't need what we thought we needed in the first place.
I tell you one circumstance that would always be helpful and you can always take it into consideration: Ask God, "How can I best fulfill the great commission? Where can I most effectively be used of God to share my faith in Jesus Christ and make the greatest impact for His glory?" That's a need that is always relevant to our decisions.
Abilities, training, and preferences. Those are other circumstances. We're all born with certain abilities. We all have a certain background and training and we all have certain desires. Often times they are important in leading us to the will of God. God often uses our preferences and leads us to do the thing we love to do. God wants us to be happy; He often leads us to the place we want to be. Then again, sometimes He doesn't. He may want us to acquire new skills. He may want to give us new desires and new preferences. God can do that, you know.
The last two days we had a missionary in our home. Her name is Lois Gould. She's a single missionary. She wasn't always single, though. We knew Lois Gould when we were seminary students at Dallas [Theological Seminary]. She and her husband Jim lived in the same apartment complex we lived in. After we graduated and moved to Ft. Worth, we got the shocking news one day that their little year-and-a-half old son Stuart had been walking through the parking lot of the seminary, and the shop foreman didn't see the little fellow and backed the shop truck up. He ran over his head and killed him instantly. So we got to know Jim and Lois real well, and shared in that tragedy in their life.
Jim and Lois were a couple who really loved the Lord. They had dedicated their lives to missionary service. The said to God, "God, we'll go anywhere in the world. We want Your will. But we want to tell you that we really don't like Africa. Send us anyplace but Africa." So they gave themselves in service to the Conservative Baptist Missionary Society for service wherever the Society would appoint them. The leaders met and then told them they wanted them to go to Africa. Jim and Lois prayed about it and decided that these were their superiors and they had committed themselves to their decision and so they went to Africa. And they loved it. And God blessed their ministry there.
Then Lois experienced another tragedy through an accident that defies explanation; her husband went off the road one day after taking some Africans back home. It was Christmas day. The car flipped over and he went through the windshield and was instantly killed. Now she's a widow with two children, still serving the Lord in Africa.
Was it God's will for her to go there? She believes it was. Is she happy? She certainly seems to be. She believes that she is in the center of God's will in the place of God's appointment. God has given her a love for the African people and a desire to serve them in a new capacity giving secretarial help to the missionaries in Africa. She's happy in the center of God's will.
God may want to give us new abilities and new loves and desires.
Pros and cons of a situation. These could also be circumstances. Making a list of pros and a list of cons may be an important step in determining the will of God. I've done that on some occasions when looking for the will of God and I don't think it was wrong. But I'll tell you something I found out: God doesn't always lead you according to the longest list. I found that out through experience. God has led me to a decision in which the list only had two or three pros on it that I could think of, and eight or nine cons. So circumstances are not necessarily determinative. They may help you clarify things, or they may not.
Comparison with other similar situations. When I was in a similar situation last year, I did this and that and God worked it out so that must be the what God is going to do this time. No, not necessarily so. My oldest son was seeking God's will about attending Bryan College right after we moved to Escondido, and he had heard me tell of how God lead me to come here and he was trying to have an experience just like mine. So he read the Bible looking for direction, looking for verses to show him what to do one way or the other, but God never showed His will to him that way. God showed Steve His will in an altogether different way. Just because one person had an experience, don't try to duplicate it. God may not always duplicate the circumstances; they may or may not be significant.
The advice of Godly people. That could be another circumstance. I think it's a good idea to talk to folks who love the Lord when you're trying to make a decision. As a matter of fact, they may help bring the problem into focus.
"Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14).
It's not a bad idea to talk to some people who know the Lord and love Him. Maybe they can shed some light on the situation.
"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise" (Proverbs 12:15).
It's not a bad idea to seek counsel. But no counselor can tell you God's will for your life. No counselor knows God's will for your life unless there is a direct passage of Scripture related to your decision. There have been at least two times in my life, maybe more, where I had an important decision to make and I sought counsel from my father [Pastor Lehman Strauss]. Now I love my father and I respect his opinion, but in both cases that I'm thinking of right now, his counsel turned out to be wrong. He didn't know what God's will was for my life. And in both cases I'm convinced that what I did was the right thing. I had real peace about the decision. But you see, we pastors don't know God's will for your life and other counselors don't either. They may know some Scripture that will help clarify things but they do not know God's will for your life.
Events. Events are another circumstance that ought to be considered, but it's not the final criterion. Events must always be considered in the light of the Word and in prayer.
I've shared this story with some of you but I'll share it again because I think it so graphically illustrates the point. A number of years ago a ship harbored in the New York City Harbor, ready to leave for a foreign country. There were a number of missionaries on that ship. There were two whom I know personally. One of them was a man, and the other was a single woman. While the ship was anchored in the harbor, it caught fire. All of their equipment was on board ready to leave for the mission field; it was all destroyed in the fire. Now here is a circumstance. What does it mean?
Well, the man began to pray about it and he came to the conclusion that God was closing the door. He thought that God had another avenue of service for him, which he had already had the opportunity to engage in but he had believed God was calling him to the mission field. But then he said, "Lord, I believe this other things is Your direction for my life." So he stayed home from the mission field and God used him in an amazing way to train young lives at a leading Bible college in our nation. There are countless young people on the mission field trained by that man. And it was that circumstance that led him to stay home.
But the single woman didn't look at it like that at all. She had gone to all the trouble to raise her support, to buy her equipment, and to secure her passage. She believed God wanted her on the mission field. She saw that same circumstance as an obstacle that Satan put in her way. So she went out, raised more money to buy more equipment, and she sailed to the mission field--and God gave her a fruitful career as a missionary.
I repeat: Circumstances are not determinative. That man and that woman faced the same circumstance and it meant two different things to them.
Maybe we ought to say a word about Gideon's fleece here. Turn back to Judges chapter 6. Every preacher has a pet peeve; every one. You're going to find out one of mine right now: It's people putting out a fleece, asking God for a supernatural sign.
"So Gideon said to God, 'If You will save Israel by my hand as You have said--look, I shall put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said'" (Judges 6:36-37). I emphasize those words.
"And it was so. When he rose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece together, he wrung the dew out of the fleece, a bowlful of water. Then Gideon said to God, 'Do not be angry with me, but let me speak just once more: Let me test, I pray, just once more with the fleece; let it now be dry only on the fleece, but on all the ground let there be dew.' And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, but there was dew on all the ground" (Judges 6:38-40).
Now let me tell you, Gideon was standing on very thin ice. The Lord Jesus said that people who ask for signs from God were part of a wicked and adulterous generation (cf. Matthew 16:4). We are exhorted in the book of Hebrews not to test the Lord our God (cf. Hebrews 3:7-11). God does not always cater to our unbelief. This is a miraculous circumstance that Gideon asked for--not to find God's will, but to verify what God had already said. It was a rank, crass, brazen act of unbelief.
Look at it in verse 14.
"Then the Lord turned to him and said, 'Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?'" (Judges 6:14).
"And the Lord said to him, 'Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man'" (Judges 6:16).
God said, "Gideon, go. You're going to win this battle."
And Gideon said, "God, am I really going to win this battle? If I'm really going to win it, I'm going to put this fleece out and You let it be wet on the fleece and dry upon all the surrounding earth." And God did it. God catered to his unbelief. Don't count on God doing it all the time. He doesn't do it all the time, believe me.
And then to make it all the worse, Gideon did a second and asked for it to be just the opposite. It's an amazing example of unbelief. When I hear Christians putting out the fleece it makes me cringe.
Now I don't mean that circumstances can't help us learn the will of God. But God does not always respond to a prayer for supernatural occurrence to verify what we already know He wants us to do. God doesn't always do that. Thank God He did it for Gideon and delivered Israel. God knew that the poor unbelieving fellow wouldn't go any other way. He wanted to save Israel and this is the way He chose to do it.
Sometimes you may feel really burdened of God to share some substantial portion of your income for some special project in the Lord's work and you really want to be sure about it and so you pray, "God, if You really want me to do this, help me to win the Reader's Digest Sweepstakes this week." I doubt very much that God is ever going to answer that prayer. Putting out the fleece is an act of unbelief.
I think it's more proper to talk about opened and closed doors; that's a Biblical concept.
For example, Paul said, "For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries" (1 Corinthians 16:9).
An open door. God does lead through circumstances. Let's call them opened and closed doors.
Here's a case where God closed a door for Paul:
"After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them" (Acts 16:7).
I don't know how the Spirit of God stopped Paul from going to Bithynia. I don't know whether the weather was bad or whether there were bandits in the hills or whatever--but God made it very clear that Paul was not to go into Bithynia. God does that sometimes. He uses circumstances.
But I repeat: Circumstances are the last and the least important because they can be interpreted in different ways. If God always answered our prayer for direction by supernatural means, then we would be walking by sight rather than by faith, wouldn't we? But 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, "We walk by faith, not by sight."
5. Miscellaneous Suggestions
I'd now like to take a few minutes to share with you a few miscellaneous suggestions about the will of God. These are things some people have taught be over the years and I think many of them are Biblical.
a. Listen for God's Calling
First of all, I want to say something about a "call" and the will of God. Some people think that full-time Christian service demands some sort of dramatic call from God. You know, like He's going to knock them down with a bolt of lightning and declare, "I want you on the mission field" or "I want you in the pastorate." I don't think the Bible bears that out at all. A call to the ministry is nothing more than knowing with assurance that it is God's will for me to enter into that profession. That's all it is. God has a calling for many spheres of life. That calling is simply God's will for the Christian.
You can read about God's calling in 1 Corinthians 7. It affects such basic things as circumcision and uncircumcision (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:18). It involved such things as being a servant or a free man in the ancient world. Whatever God's will is for your life, that's God's call. If you are in some secular profession and you believe that it is God's will for you to be there, then that's God's call for you. So maybe we need to ask ourselves, "Am I called by God to do what I'm doing?"
It doesn't matter what you are. Doctor? Plumber? Lawyer? Painter? Ditch digger? Garbage collector? God wants you to be called to it. If you don't feel called to what you are doing, then you better ask God to show you what He's calling you to and do it. Because that's simply God's will for your life.
God does call people to the ministry. I'm not degrading that. God has called me to the ministry. I know He has. But that call was the realization that God was leading me to serve Him in this capacity. I'm not belittling a dramatic calling. Many people have had a dramatic experience with God. But many people have not. I never had a dramatic experience. It was just a growing awareness that this was where God wanted me. But I'm called; no doubt about it. Now, are you called to what you're doing? That's the question.
b. Be Happy Knowing One Step at a Time
The next suggestion: When seeking God's will, be satisfied with knowing just the next step and not necessarily knowing the whole blueprint for your life. I have never found that God is going to show me the whole blueprint for my life at one time. It seems like God just doesn't do that. Remember that verse in Psalm 32:8 when God said, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye."
Like He's just going to motion with His eye and we're going to do it. That could only be one more step. That's about all you could get out of an eye movement. God leads us one step at a time. It would be nice if we could see the whole plan and know what the end is going to be, but God doesn't work that way. Just trust Him for the next little step.
c. Wait until You're Sure
Third, if you're not sure about God's will, keep doing what you are doing until God makes it very clear that He wants you to do something else. Some people hearing what I said a moment ago are going to say, "I'm not sure I'm called to what I'm doing so maybe I ought to try something else." Oh, please don't do that. I beg of you: Don't do it. You'll bring reproach on the name of the Lord, you'll embarrass yourself, and you'll embarrass other Christians. Don't be jumping around all the time. It's just not a good testimony to the stability which God brings to a life through Jesus Christ. If you're not sure, keep doing what you are doing until God makes it very plain to you that you should be doing something else.
d. Don't Worry
And finally, don't let your desire to do God's will become a matter of anxiety to you. I hope that you have a deep desire as a result of this study to do the will of God. That's my prayer. But I don't want you to worry about it. Don't go home and start chewing your fingernails and worrying, "Oh, I wonder whether I'm in God's will."
Philippians 4:6, "Be anxious for nothing," not even finding God's will. God doesn't want you to worry about it. Sometimes when we face a great decision in our lives it becomes a moment of great anxiety to us. No, it isn't to be that at all. God doesn't want the Christian life to be the life of anxiety under any condition--not even anxiety over finding His will.
Let me share with you something my dad taught me--and this I did agree with! I can't find any verse in the Bible to prove it, but it's worked in my life and I believe it will work in yours. If you are willing to do God's will--whatever it is--and if you're filling your mind with God's Word, and you're spending time in prayer about the matter, that's all God wants you to do. I can't find anything else that you must do to find the will of God. Believe that God will show you His will.
As a matter of fact, carry it one step further. I don't believe God will let you out of the center of His will. If He did, then He wouldn't be a very faithful God. If you do what He's asked you to do, just rest in Him. If you really want God's will above all else--whatever it costs and wherever it is--and you're filling your mind with the Word and you're spending time in prayer, relax. God isn't going to let you out of His will as long as you continue to maintain that attitude. God is faithful. He says, "Don't be unwise. Be understanding about what My will is." Follow His commands concerning the finding of His will and then rest in Him. You will have the joyous delight of walking in the center of God's will, with all of the blessings and contentment and peace that goes along with it.
That's how you know that you're in God's will. God gives you peace.
"And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful" (Colossians 3:15).
Do you know what that word rule means? It means literally to act as an umpire. To call the decisions. Let the peace of God call the decisions in your life. The path isn't always smooth in the center of God's will, but for the Christian in fellowship with Him there is always peace of mind. If that peace is disturbed and circumstances keep coming in to upset your peace of mind, then go back and seek God's will again. Maybe you didn't find it. When we find it, there will be peace.
Continue to CA-08A: How to Get Answers to Prayer (Part 1)