For many young believers, guidance and the will of God seem like a puzzle; complex, mysterious, and hard to figure out. The “big” questions of life seem overwhelming.
Should I attend university in Michigan or Manitoba?
Does God want me to be a consultant or a carpenter?
Am I to marry Mike or Mitchell? Amy or Annabelle?
Is God calling me to Africa or should I stay right here in Akron?
On and on the questions swirl and the knot of uncertainty grows tighter! How can we know with assurance that God is guiding us?
The journey of life involves more than “just getting through it.” Every serious traveler craves to live a life with real purpose and meaning but if the journey doesn’t include God and His will, then life becomes a self-directed, one-dimensional walk that ends at death. There is no master plan and no eternal purpose. However, believers in the Lord Jesus are convinced that there is a God Who has revealed Himself in wonderful grace and Who is vitally involved in both the “big picture” as well as in the small details of our lives.
The Bible gives plenty of evidence that God has guided people in the past and continues to reveal His will in the present. Interestingly, Abraham’s servant, in his difficult mission to find a wife for Isaac, experienced this firsthand. As he discerned the unmistakable guidance of God, he declared, “And I bowed down my head and worshiped the Lord … which had led me in the right way” (Gen 24:48).
Does God really have a plan for the world and for me?
There are many aspects to the will of God that surround our lives as believers. His sovereign will moves in omnipotence in the events of the world as well as in our individual lives. His revealed will has been clearly expressed in His unchanging Word and His specific will is operative in the lives of every earnest believer.
Despite all the attacks of the enemy and the opposition of unbelieving hearts, the sovereign will of God continues to be unfolded. The Creator said “Let there be light” and there was light. He revealed the glory of His power in creation. As part of His purposes, He established and maintained the nation of Israel, starting with one man, Abraham, through whose lineage the promised Messiah came. The magnitude of the statement, “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son,” is overwhelming, but this master plan of the ages, carried out with exact precision, was geared to one end: that Christ might have the preeminence (Col 1:18).
History is ultimately “His story” and there is nothing undetermined about God’s will and purpose for both time and eternity. Yet, in this purpose, He has linked Himself eternally with His creatures through the sacrificial work of the cross. Paul wrote, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God has before ordained (prepared) that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). The God Who has called us and saved us now desires to guide us. Saul, on the road to Damascus, recognized this immediately. One of his first questions upon conversion was, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” In a moment, he recognized lordship and sought to do His will for the rest of his life. It should be the same for us.
Will God actually guide me personally?
We have little trouble recognizing and appreciating His guidance in the Old Testament. Moses was confronted by the Lord’s presence at the burning bush. The Israelites were guided with a visible cloud and a pillar of fire. Samuel heard the voice of God calling him in the darkness. But does God do the same today? Many Christians are convinced that there is guidance available but are afraid that they will somehow miss the will of God. Sometimes, this fear almost paralyzes them and they wonder if they are actually doing God’s will. Such fears need to be set aside, for our God is both willing and able to communicate His will to us. David revelled in the Lord’s promise: “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way that thou shalt go; I will guide thee with Mine eye” or as another translation puts it, “I will counsel you with My eye upon you” (Psa 32:8 NRSV).
Proverbs 3:5 is another sterling promise of guidance: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding; in all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.” Indeed, God expects us to obey and to enjoy His will. Romans 12:2 exhorts us to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” The Lord will use a variety of methods to convey His will. There may be long gaps in the signposts of guidance along the way but we can rest assured that, when there is a “turning point,” He has promised to indicate in which direction to go.
How does God guide a believer today?
At the very foundation of guidance for a believer today is the Lord’s revealed will as found in His Word. The Bible is not a book of suggested options and routes but the manual that accurately and timelessly reveals the purposes and plan of heaven for the individual. While we may agonize over the seemingly big issues of life, the vast majority of God’s will for us has already been made clear. For example, we don’t have to seek further guidance about marrying an unbeliever for it is clearly stated that believers should not be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2Cor 6:14). What about premarital sex? 1 Thessalonians 4:3 gives us the truth we need: “This is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication.” The laws of the land? “Submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake” (1Peter 2:13-15). The holy and righteous character of God, and His desire that we too might be holy, is crystal clear; we need not wonder what He wants for us.
But it’s precisely at this point that there are critical factors in view. If I am to know and enjoy the guidance of heaven, I must have a responsive attitude. David wrote that “the meek will He guide in judgment and the meek will He teach His way” (Psa 25:9). A desire to know God’s will involves a willingness to obey His Word, and God’s will is always in accordance with His Word. Sometimes, the demands can be costly. Note the sacrifice required of the Lord Jesus in saying the words, “Lo, I come … I delight to do Thy will, O My God; Yea, Thy law is within My heart” (Psa 40:8). Are we willing to pay the cost of simple obedience to what God has already revealed in His Word?
A second factor centers on a commitment to God’s guidance and the resignation of self (Acts 9:4-6). Often, we mull over the counsel of others and then choose what suits us best. However, the desire to know the will of God is more than just seeking advice as to what we should do. God’s will involves lordship and “turning over the keys of our life.” Saul’s second question on the Damascus road was, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” In a moment, he went from his own will to GOD’S will, with full commitment and dedication. We may not know the pathway ahead of us, but we do know that “His way is perfect” (Psa 18:30). Stubborn resistance to a course we do not want to take will make it unlikely that our pathway will be clear. We need to remember that closed doors of disappointment, instead of being an indication of God’s disapproval and denial, often prove to be the turning points of real blessing.
But, there is a third, all-important element, for the guidance of heaven involves a relationship with God (Rom 8:14). Walking with the Lord involves far more than just mechanically following directions. His purpose is that we might come to know Him and appreciate a relationship of love, grace, and truth. He desires that we might trust Him, regardless of the cost or the circumstances. As the Lord Jesus led His disciples during His years of ministry, they sometimes didn’t understand the way, (e.g., Why go through Samaria?), but the unexpected twists and turns taught them important lessons and brought them even greater blessing as they came to understand the ways of God more fully. Likewise today, the indwelling Spirit of God, guiding us “into all truth” and, showing us “things to come” (John 16:13), desires that we might know Christ personally. Eternal life is more than just getting to heaven! As the Lord Jesus Himself said, “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ Whom Thou has sent” (John 17:3). His delight is to lead, our responsibility is to follow. As we do, we will not just learn “the way,” but we will discover the “God of the Way.”
Why does guidance seem to be so difficult?
By now, you’re probably starting to wonder, when will we get the “1-2-3 instant answers” for guidance? I need to know NOW if I should accept that job offer. Needless to say, we’ve all been there. We struggle at times to know exactly what God wants us to do. We pray, and nothing happens. We look for verses to guide us, and are still left with uncertainty. We put out “fleeces,” and then try to figure out what they mean! Why does it have to be so complex? The following are some of the factors involved in guidance.
There will often be unanswered questions because our perspective is limited. Why did Joseph go through so many trials despite a desire to please God? Why was James beheaded but Peter released from prison? The thoughts and ways of God are infinitely higher than our ideas (Isa 55:8). Our view of things is often from the “underside” of His dealings. We do not always see what God, in His wisdom, is performing.
Often, we want guidance now and become frustrated when the way is obscure. God is not in a hurry, working out His purposes in His own time and when it brings the most glory to Him. Often He is dealing with us in the waiting periods, preparing us, molding us, and teaching us. Waiting upon God is vital, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we become paralyzed with inactivity. Most of the time, God directs us in the normal activities of life, so keep active in what you know is in accordance with God’s Word. Paul was moving eastward in his missionary exercise but, at a decisive moment, God directed him westward (Acts 16). A moving ship can be steered but a ship at anchor is going nowhere!
There will be times when God’s guidance, that has brought us out of darkness into light, will bring us out of light into darkness! The deliverance from Egypt soon left the children of Israel with their backs to the Red Sea. Paul’s vision of a man from Macedonia beckoning to him to “Come over … and help us” was unmistakable, but the missionaries soon found themselves in a Roman jail with bleeding backs! God’s guidance sometimes includes the unexpected (and the unwanted), but at such times, we learn a little more of the purposes of God and the value of “holding fast.”
These are all major factors in God’s guidance along life’s pathway. Additional tokens may accompany (but not replace) these important elements. For example, the counsel of godly Christians is invaluable in helping us discern the will of God for our lives (Prov 11:14). Often, the alignment of circumstances may provide additional confirmation (though not in and of themselves – remember Jonah found that ship all ready to sail). Experience in God’s past dealings with us and in the lives of others will also provide wisdom as to which route to take, and the acceptance of His will brings peace and contentment to the soul. Thus, with patience and obedience, we need to act on commands already given in the Word of God and fill our lives with actions that glorify the Lord. As we do, God will unfold His specific plan for us, often one step at a time. The ultimate result will be a life of satisfaction and fulfilment and the discovery of two great truths – “As for God, His way is perfect” and “He makes my way perfect” (Psa 18:30, 32).