Personal Guidance: knowing God’s Will

There is such a huge desire in this age for personal guidance. From life coaches, self-assessments, and counselors all the way up to wanting to know the will of God, people want to be told who they are, what they are good at and thus what they should do with their life (so as to be successful). This is typically a big picture idea, and larger than life goal setting. Day-to-day decisions about what to eat, wear and watch on TV are not usually in view, unless they are the mundane things in life that make a person unhappy or are holding him back from their true potential.

According to Jay Adams, Christian author/minister/psychologist, there are two categories of people that would say the Bible is insufficient to provide such guidance. The first are those who would say, “Scripture has nothing to say about everyday decision making.” To these the Bible is outdated and just does not speak to our modern way of life. This group finds it is easier to make decisions based on logical or pragmatic reasoning, where what is perceived to be in “my best interest” or expedient right now is what leads them into the decisions they make, daily and in life. The second group (more popular in Christian circles) is more mystical than skeptical, as these would say, “Scripture does speak about the everyday, but it’s easier to rely on, or supplement scripture with dreams, my feelings, or interpreting circumstances.” People in this second camp are big on “putting out the fleece”, or making statements like, “I felt led to …” or “God put it on my heart to …” I believe the Bible is sufficient for all everyday decisions, and our life decisions, within the limits of what the Bible permits, and then allows for our personal differences.

The Bible (and therefore God) speaks to and counsels us both directly and indirectly. Scripture is not a catalog of every do and don’t do that a person will face in life. The Bible does have both specific and general principles, in the context of people and situations, which serve as examples of things applicable to anyone and any time-period.

Getting down to the nuts and bolts of things, it is not easy to find Scriptural guidance about what car to buy, job to take or who to marry, so there is confusion.

Those who rely on “the Lord led me to …” approach are usually speaking of some means exterior to the Bible (I personally refer to this as the “Magic 8 Ball” method). Years ago, these exterior means would be called divination or superstition by which someone has gained access to the secret counsel of God. Worse, people would claim that God spoke to them directly. These persons would either be seen as mad/crazy or be executed for such practices, although today these things have passed into everyday acceptable practices. In short, what is wrong with this approach is that guidance should never be apart from the Bible. The Bible is “sufficient” (recommend doing a study on the sufficiency of Scripture, as it is a fading doctrine in some Christian circles). The Bible covers all the principles and practices of life. It really does! It may take us getting off our lazy butts to read, research, make comparisons, evaluate the context and stuff we trust our pastor to do, but it is every Christian’s job, too. There are plenty of direct imperatives (commands) of God about things known to avoid (at what times and why) and there are just as many if not more indirect implications of what we are to do in a variety of circumstances. Some may ask, “But what about those “Led by the Spirit” passages (Rom 8:14, Gal 5:8). In context, both passages are not discussing decision-making, but are speaking of the motivation of the Spirit to live the Christian life in our sanctification. Even if either was speaking of Spirit leading, other passages give the fuller context that the Spirit works via the Word (Heb 10:15).

Let’s get back to a practical example: Marriage. Everyone wants to know infallibly who to marry and are so paranoid about getting it wrong that they will go to great ends to ensure God confirms it. First the Bible’s counsel is that celibacy is a fine and acceptable way of life (Gen 2:18, Matthew 19, 1 Cor. 7). Did you know the Bible was the first to ordain the status of singleness to such a stature? In cultures of the time, it was offensive or an embarrassment to one’s family if a guy or gal did not marry. Everyone is born single and so is, in a sense, gifted with singleness up to the point that they are married. We have a direct command that we are only to marry in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39). Believers are to heed this command as intended by God to be the spiritual protection of both parties in the covenant relationship. Then we have much more indirect counsel from Scripture when our marriage choice should be spiritual maturity, attending church regularly, holding to sound doctrine, be clean, not be lazy, and several other general qualities of a godly mate. Once narrowed down to any acceptable choices that remain (say for a guy three gals fit the above equally) it is flat wrong to ask then, which is “God’s will?” It is God’s will to marry according to the exclusion of all wrong choices. We can correctly speak of God’s will after the marriage has occurred, that God willed you to marry who you did simply because it occurred, as God has ordained whatever comes to pass.

To seek out God’s directive will, take the time to dig through scripture and establish the parameters for decisions as He has laid them out. Once all parameters are set (not excluding the unpopular ones) see what options remain, and if there are multiple choices still, then there is freedom to pursue one, according to preference. It is wrong to consider one of three remaining “good” choices as wrong, or sinful. Think of all the many pieces of bread offered in communion, and yet one is predestined for you, yet the others are not sinful, we can only speak of which piece was eternally meant for you after you have eaten it. Until you ate the bread, all of the pieces were holy and good and available to choose.

Example 1: The color of a shirt to wear is not a morally right or wrong choice, unless there are other factors, such as occasion, modesty, offence, etc.

Example 2: A pastor receives a call to two churches, one in New York and one in India. Neither can be a wrong or sinful choice, and so there may be a preference.

Back to the marriage example: if left with more than one choice, we cannot say definitively which one God wills you to marry, but only that God does direct that you marry a girl “like” those that remain in the running (having passed through all the parameters that Scripture forbids about marriage). There may be a preference of one gal over the others, or simply some of them may not share your affection.

When the remaining choices are numerous we should trust God, in faith, that we may happily choose any of the remaining options. We must not add to God’s counsel, our own personal superstitions or attempts to divine beyond Scripture more parameters than we are given. The fleeces, casting of lots, and other tricks must go.

Bigger in the evangelical churches is the attempt to trust ourselves with being in direct contact with God such that He will guide us via our feelings or circumstances. We must not rely on trying to interpret circumstances because we do not know and cannot tip God’s hand in such ways. The fleece or closed/open door just does not work. You may think it works just because having used it before you did not suffer any ill effects or the issue went away. This is not a valid/scriptural way to be led by God and can be very dangerous. When this method is used, you are left with hundreds of interpretive difficulties, many of which are whitewashed away because it’s easiest to hone in on the choice you really want to hear. Say someone is seeking to be a missionary to India and yet his church’s mission board says no. They have had a warm fuzzy feeling about God leading them into missions for over a year. How should this person interpret this seemingly “closed door” when they were so certain God was leading them to do this? Here are just a few interpretations one could consider.
1. Maybe God is saying no?
2. Maybe God is saying not now?
3. Maybe more training is necessary first?
4. Maybe God is testing your sincerity and perseverance to try again?
5. Maybe God is just saying not India?
6. Maybe God wants me to go it alone without the approval of some missionary board?
7. Maybe God is showing me this is the wrong denomination to be asking?

The same problem of interpretation of circumstances exists with positive (open doors) things in life. Being presented with various opportunities that are financially profitable are not always the right choices. As Jay Adams states, “Some open doors lead to elevator shafts.” Warm fuzzy feeling of God via wherever the wind is blowing in my favor only leaves people delusional about what God really wants. Get married because it just felt right, as opposed to all the direction discussed above and when things fall apart we will question if we heard God correctly. Many take the opportunity to just not be happy as their out, and will say that although God led them into a marriage, He is now leading them out of the marriage and on to someone/ something else. God DOES open and close various doors and circumstances, but these are not to be our guides in life. We follow Him. The same can be said for feelings, urges, convictions, having peace, leadings, etc. Each have some unrecognized or self-reason behind them that may or may not be biblical, but are hardly thought out. We all want peace about life, and in the decisions we make, but ultimately our peace is with God, and as such, if He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death, we are not to say no, just because it’s not the peace we are looking for. Some biblical choices and counsel is hard to accept and may lead to difficulties in and with this life. But if this life is not our focus, then what guidance are we really looking for?

Jay Adams coins “The Holding Principle” which he bases on Romans 14:23. This principle is to – Never act until you are sure that what you are about to do is NOT sin. If you have done the hard work, and set all your parameters and something is still in question, sit and hold it and dwell on it a little longer. Anything that raises doubt or scruples in your mind is something to wait on, think and pray about prior to making that decision. We are to be “fully convinced in our own mind” that what we are doing is right and right before God (Rom 14:15b). We may miss out on eating some good meat, or a lucrative business opportunity, but if God is glorified in our decision, at least we can confirm that we are not condemned for having sinned carelessly, selfishly, or maliciously (Rom 14:23).

I see so many bad decisions being made, which are usually based on really bad insight and with little to no biblical direction in mind. I really hope and pray this helps you with how you view decision making within your Christian walk.

– See the book “A Theology of Christian Counseling” by Jay Adams for more insight and details.

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