Tuesday, May 05, 2009

How Does the Lord Direct Today?

The following began in answer to several questions by Jeff Haney in another venue. How do you know the Will of the Lord in unsaid things? How do you hear His voice in day to day life? How can a person KNOW that what they have "heard, been impressed, guided, directed or instructed" has been from the Lord, and know it without any shadow of doubt?

This is an interesting and important question, but also a difficult and complex one. I have always found knowing God's will in this regard very difficult for me.

I believe that there is a will of God (e.g. Eph. 1:11 - Who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will). Further, I believe that includes His will for us. And that within that will for us there are things not expressly or specifically revealed in the Bible -- whom one should marry, whether to accept a certain job, go to a certain church, move to a certain town, etc.

How do we know the Will of God in these kinds of "unsaid" things? The writer of Proverbs says "He shall direct thy paths." But how does He do that? I will offer the following timorous thoughts for the perusal and criticism of the brethren.

Bible study/principles
Though we are talking about things left "unsaid", we must begin with Bible study. It is there that we find what is said, and therefore also learn what is unsaid. From study of the word of God we learn principles that guide us in our decision-making. For example, one cannot turn to the Bible and find the name of the wife he should marry. But he can find principles that approve or rule out certain ones. That is at least a start toward the direction of knowing the will of God in the matter.

Providence of God
This is one I have relied heavily upon, whether rightly or wrongly, perhaps thinking it was more obvious to me than others.

Acts 16:6-9 Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. This may be a strange verse regarding providence, since there are some other things operating in it. I have felt providence was involved here as well as revelation. Notice that in whatever way God chose to let Paul know he was not to go into Asia, it was not specific in where he should go. So Paul & company attempted to go into another place -- Bithynia -- where the Lord ultimately did not allow them to go. You may not get a vision of someone calling you over to help, you might get a call on the phone -- "We have no preacher; you are not preaching anywhere. Can you come help us?" This might be a simple thing in God's providence to get one's attention. He opens doors and shuts them. Col. 4:3 - Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: Rev. 3:8 - I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.

Inner witness/feeling/conscience
I didn't put this first because I didn't want to scare any Baptists!!
John 16:13 - Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

1 Cor. 2:12-16 - Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

Jesus has promised that His Spirit will guide us into truth, though that guidance might fit into several different categories. One is a sort of inner witness or feeling, an answer from God's Spirit to our spirit. Romans 8:14-16 - For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: When we are converted, we cannot find our names in the Bible, and we cannot look into the Book of Life. But there is a witness of the Spirit to us whereby we know we are the children of God. Do we suppose the inner witness ceases shortly thereafter? I think not.

The conscience is not the same as the inner witness. It is something all men have. But having one, in a child of God the conscience can bear witness in accord with the Holy Spirit. If so, shouldn't we listen? John 8:9 - And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience... Acts 24:16 - And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men. Rom. 9:1 - I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,

Feeling can be very subjective (and some of the other is as well). But sometimes we have a feeling that something is wrong -- a fear, an unsettled heart -- that causes a timidity to move forward (in natural things as well as spiritual). Perhaps that fear may cause us to look around the corner to see if there really is something there to fear before going on. Besides fear, there is a feeling of peace, which we are called to and which can rule in our hearts. Col. 3:15 - And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. A sanctified common sense may tie in here as well. 1 Cor. 11:14 - Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? Whatever Paul meant, something he and others could see in the natural order of things agreed with the principle he was teaching.

The counsel of friends/others
Before his conversion, the eunuch of Ethiopia needed some man to guide him (Acts 8:31). This is somewhat different from the initial question. But some of us, after we become Christians, think we don't need any advice anymore -- don't need anyone to guide us. Untrue. In his book Commenting and Commentaries, Charles Spurgeon wrote, "It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others." Proverbs 11:14 - Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.

Some things we don't know at first, but learn by experience. As we acknowledge God in what we know, through our experiences we learn to follow Him more confidently. Prov. 3:6 - In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. As we renew our mind in living and doing the things of God, the will of God generally becomes clearer to us. Romans 12:2 - And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Perhaps once we learn His will in one instance, we know more of it in another?

Faith/Not knowing
There is a simple fact that we may operate on what we do know, and trust God for what we do not. We do not at this time know all the will of God, and probably His will cannot be completely known in this life by finite, fallible humans. But we move forward knowing He IS at work. He is working in us His good pleasure. Phil. 2:13 - For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. At one point, Abraham had a general knowledge of where he was going, but not a specific one. Hebrews 11:8 - By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. Obey what we do know. Take the rest on faith, not knowing the details, but knowing the God of the details.

I don't think a person can KNOW that what he has "heard, been impressed, guided, directed or instructed" is from the Lord beyond any shadow of doubt if it is a thing not mentioned in the Bible. I am willing to believe that some do know with certainty sometimes, but that is not something they/we can consistently have all the time.

I want to close with two warnings: (1) the above things should work together, though all might not be present on all occasions; and (2) some of what I wrote above can be quite dangerous if divorced from the Word of God.


Bro. Matt said...

I have struggled with this issue (questions and answers!) for quite some time. Some things I found stated in black and white (or red) in the Bible. However, most things, I had to look for certain principles, pray, and talk to others. There have been times I followed what I "felt" the Lord wanted me to do. Basically, everything you wrote, I have followed at one point or another. There have been times of certainty, but most of the time, there is some questions/doubt. However, you do have to make a choice eventually!

Now this may cause criticism, but I believe that if a person is truly seeking the will of God and truly trying to be an obedient servant that even when a wrong decision is made (we are finite after all!) - and this is not referring to moral issues, but which job to take, etc. - that God will still direct that person and not chastise him/her when that decision was made with much humility, prayer, and thought. God may direct them to the correct job, etc., but however He works in that case, I believe it will be with compassion as toward an innocent child (in a sense) versus that of an openly rebellious child. Now, I hope what I said made sense. If not, let me know, and I'll try to explain it better!

R. L. Vaughn said...

I wonder if whether we might even think incorrectly about the will of God and making a wrong decision in something like which job to take -- "should I take the job and McDonald's or Burger King?" We know that it is God's revealed will that we have a job and eat bread of an honest day's labor. But could we really be sinning picking McDonald's over Burger King, for example?