One of the most common questions I am asked as a minister is “How do I know God’s will for my life?” Sometimes it is asked in those very words, but often it is asked about a specific decision someone is facing: Should I sell my house? Is this who I should marry? Where is God leading me to work? Most Christians come to a time when they have to decide, not between a good and bad, but between goods. They want to be obedient and faithful and struggle with the question of what direction God wants them to take.
The Holy Scriptures are our ultimate guide in what we believe and how we live out our faith. The Bible is God’s revelation of not only who He is, but how He wants us to live. Therefore, where the Bible gives us explicit direction, God’s will is clear. God desires that believers gather regularly for worship (Heb. 10:25), that we should not lie (Ex. 20:16), that we forgive others (Matt. 6:14), and that we care for those in need (James 1:27). Knowing God’s will where the Scriptures are clear is not difficult even if obeying it is.
But the Bible does not give us detailed instructions for choosing a career, a spouse, or what congregation we should join. (Although I have heard some interpret Ezekiel 20:29 as a sign to study at Tuscaloosa.) How do we make decisions where God’s Word has no specific direction?
When we’re faced with questions like this it is good for us to make a distinction between questions of obedience and questions of wisdom. Following the commandments of scripture is an issue of obedience — and to disobey is sin. God’s will is that “you shall not steal”, to take what belongs to another is a sin. The other questions we face are often a matter of deciding what is the wisest course of action. In these cases we make wise or foolish choices — but we don’t sin if there is no Biblical command to obey or disobey. In other words, God has given us the freedom and responsibility to live and make choices within the bounds of what scripture commands. Sometimes people have the impression that God has a narrative laid out for our lives and as we come to forks in the road we are supposed to scrutinize God’s plan from signs or an “inner voice” and hope we follow the correct path. God does have a plan for us, but we cannot thwart God’s purposes because He is absolutely sovereign. God knows “the days that were formed for [us], when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139) But when we face difficult decisions where we have no command from Scripture we are responsible to make the wisest decision we can. We are not called to uncover some hidden map for our lives. Nor are we to make such decisions in fear that we sin if we choose wrong.
That said, God has given us gifts and ways of coming to good decisions. Our natural inclinations, desires, and talents often serve as a good guide. Someone who can’t stand math is not going to be called to accounting; someone who loves explaining things to others might need to pursue a teaching vocation. Validation from others is another gift that can guide us in making appropriate decisions. If you’re head over heels in love with someone none of your friends trust, it would be wise to consider their opinion before deciding on marriage. We are invited to pray for wisdom and discernment. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5) We should discuss things with friends whose opinions we value; Proverbs 22:17 tells us “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Our choices should be informed by an understanding of appropriate timing as the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us. While going back to school might be a good decisions, other things in your life might mean that it has to be postponed for a time. Above all we are guided by the Bible. Even though there aren’t specific directives for many of the decisions we make, it is a sure guide for wisdom.
(image: Prayer is the language by Lel4nd)