When it comes to understanding the Lord’s will in a believer’s life, we will attempt to examine this important aspect of Christian living under two headings: “My Agenda” and “My Action.”
Sometimes, a believer is seeking to understand the Lord’s will and how it relates to past events – unexpected, saddening, or even devastating circumstances. The question is often “Why?” We will look at the excruciating, but invaluable experiences of Job. At other times, we are seeking understanding as to the future direction of our lives. To better grasp the “Where?” as to the Lord’s future direction, we will examine the journey of Abraham’s life. Finally, for those of us asking “What?” as to the Lord’s will for me presently, we will consider the mission and movements of Paul.
After the initial events of chapter 1 (targeting his possessions) and chapter 2 (targeting his person), Job opens his mouth in chapter three. Six times in quick succession he asks “Why?” Over the course of the entire book, he will repeat it more than 20 times. Amid the din of the folly of Job’s friends, Jehovah Himself is conspicuous by His silence until chapter 38. Out of the whirlwind, He asks Job more than 70 questions, each one designed to bring him to the conclusion, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted,” and the confession, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things … which I did not know” (Job 42:2-3, ESV). We don’t read of Job receiving a detailed, divine explanation for all that took place. More importantly, we learn that the purposes of a sovereign, omnipotent God will inevitably be accomplished, even through the dark trials of our past.
Abraham stands as an example of following the Lord’s will, regardless of what the future holds. In response to his call by God, “He went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb 11:8, ESV). Faith enabled him, and can similarly enable us today, to take the next step in the light of divine revelation, trusting God for the darkness of the unknown future. The tent dweller “looked for (without seeing) a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11:10, KJV). When God requested he give up Isaac, threatening the viability of Abraham’s future, “he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son … accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead” (Heb 11:17,19, KJV). God’s past promises and present power to raise the dead equipped Abraham, not to understand the “where” or “how” of the future, but to trust the “Whom.”
Paul, at his conversion, asked, “Who art thou, Lord?” The shocking answer “I am Jesus” caused his complete surrender as seen in his second question: “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10, KJV). This surrender was immediately tested by several instructions, “Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do … arise, and be baptized” (Act 9:6; 22:16, KJV). He “was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19, KJV), even after being advised this would involve future, unspecified suffering for the name of Christ. Years later, this attitude remained, as he declared “behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there” (Act 20:22, KJV). As with Paul, so it is with us. We are given instructions for immediate obedience trusting that more guidance is to come.
Someone has contrasted the Christian life with an auction. At an auction, it is important to establish your upper limit price ahead of time. Sadly, many approach God’s will in the same way. The Lord forbids such a limit when He says, “whosoever will save his life, shall lose it” (Luke 9:24, KJV). So, whether as Job, not knowing why, Abraham, not knowing where, or Paul, not knowing what, when it comes to surrender to God’s will, the compensation is guaranteed, but the price unknown. His will is not the easiest, but it is always the best!
Perhaps one of the most common questions young believers ask is, “How can I know God’s will for my life?” The desire to know God’s will is certainly not a wrong one, but the Bible seems to emphasize a more important one. The disciples were not taught to say “Thy will be known,” but “Thy will be done.” The Lord, anticipating the incalculable weight of the demands of His Father’s will, said “Not my will, but thine be done.” Not surprisingly, He felt a special kinship with those who shared the same conviction (Mark 3:35). Seven times in Scripture we find the phrase “Thy will,” and every time, the operative verb is “to do.”
The danger in emphasizing knowing versus doing the Lord’s will, is it leads to the tendency to leave obedience as merely an option. Are you willing to commit to doing the Lord’s will, even before you know what it entails? The people in Jeremiah’s day said, “According unto all that the Lord our God shall say, so declare unto us, and we will do it.” The prophet then followed with God’s rebuke, “I have this day declared it to you; but ye have not obeyed” (Jer 42:20-21, KJV). The Lord Himself spoke of the punishment warranted by “that servant who knew his master’s will but did not … act according to his will” (Luke12:47, ESV). Paul exhorted the Ephesian believers, not to know the will of God in the mind, but rather to do “the will of God from the heart” (Eph 6:6).
We do well to remind ourselves that the Lord’s will is never understood apart from the precepts and principles of His Word. This “light to my path” makes the Lord’s will crystal clear in a number of areas: salvation (2Peter 3:9), righteous living (1Peter 2:15), suffering (1Peter 4:19), uncertain outcomes (Acts 21:14), sexual purity (1Thes 4:3), attitudes (1Thes 5:18), separation (Rom 12:2), expressions of need (1John 5:14), future plans (James 4:15), and living life to the fullest (1Peter 4:2), just to name a few. The problem is generally not so much a deficiency of knowledge as a lack of obedience. Is it possible you spend more time worrying about what you don’t know than doing what you do know? May God “equip you with everything good that you may do his will” (Heb 13:21, ESV).