Editor's Note: Read Part I here.
Principle 5: Examine Your Motives
Earlier we said that the more we mature in Christ, the more we will be able to follow the desires of our heart. But we also need to critically examine our motives, because the blinding effects of sin often keep us from seeing how selfish we can be. The prophet Jeremiah put it this way:
"The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?" (17:9 nasb).
It is good to ask yourself some tough questions. Why am I doing this? Am I being selfish here? Will others benefit from my doing this? Sometimes we can become so preoccupied with finding God's will that it becomes unhealthy. We either are presented with several options and freeze up (paralysis by overanalysis) or we walk around thinking and talking about ourselves all the time! Listen to the counsel of Dallas Willard: "My extreme preoccupation with knowing God's will for me may only indicate, contrary to what is often thought, that I am overconcerned with myself, not a Christlike interest in the well being of others or in the glory of God."6
Ask God to reveal to you the motives of your heart. One way of doing this would be to pray as David prayed in Psalm 139:23-24: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
Principle 6: Use Your Head
A mind is a terrible thing to waste. God gave us minds to think and reason with. Now we are not infallible beings or anything, but we possess the ability to think critically about life situations. It is good to wait on God's direction and leading. However, this doesn't mean that weighing various options or scenarios is unspiritual—far from it! It is wise to envision how a decision would not only effect next week, but also the next ten years.
Take choosing a job for example. Ask yourself, what makes good sense in this situation? Does this position fit your training, education, or passions? You will be surprised how much this line of questioning will help!
Principle 7: Believe That God Is at Work in the Circumstances of Life
God is always at work in the circumstances of life. Sometimes His providence is imperceptible to us; but other times He will reveal His thoughts and ways . . . if we are paying attention. Consider the apostle Paul. He observed an open door God had provided for ministering in Ephesus, and he chose to stay in Ephesus for a while—in spite of opposition (1 Cor.16:7-9). However, an open door doesn't always mean we should walk through it. On another occasion, Paul recognized an open door in Troas, but he decided to move on because he didn't have peace of mind about the circumstances (2 Cor. 2:12-13).
While circumstances can be a guide to the way the Lord is leading, our interpretation of them should be checked by the other principles we have discussed (the book Experiencing God has a helpful chapter on circumstances).7
Principle 8: Be Sensitive to the Leading of the Holy Spirit
This one makes some people nervous. Who hasn't heard the words "God told me to . . ." and then cringed at what was said next? There have certainly been abuses to the "I just have a peace about it" approach . . . too many to count actually. But does the existence of the abuse of this statement make all cases of God's leading in this way illegitimate? Of course not. We must be reminded that we should be wise as we try to discern whether the Holy Spirit8 is prompting us or not. Many people, myself included, have experienced the strong leading of the Holy Spirit in a situation. We must not ignore Him in our decision-making. Even though this is a subjective process, God could be trying to get your attention; the question is are you listening and open to what He may say?9
Now this principle is best understood in light of the others we have discussed, and we should always test our "impressions" with God's Word and with wise counsel. The Spirit's leading is not a trump card to be used selfishly—remember to check your motives.
Before we wrap up our discussion, here is one more bit of advice—pay attention to your moods. If at all possible, don't make decisions late at night or after a deeply emotional experience. Of course sometimes decisions have to be made on the spot with little or no time to reflect, but most often decisions afford a little time before they must be made. The bigger the decision, the less you will want to make it in the heat of the moment. Rather than deciding the course of your life at 3:00 am, sleep on it—things may look a lot different in the morning!
Reflection on Discovering the Will of God in the Most Affluent Nation on Earth
As an American Christian, one of the things that I have wrestled with is how to know that I'm not following the path of least resistance and calling it God's will. In America it's easy—too easy—to buy into the lie that God's will is always that you be healthy and wealthy. (Our brothers and sisters around the world have a much different experience.) Now there is nothing wrong with being healthy or wealthy, and these can be seen as God's blessing. But remember that with health and wealth come responsibility and stewardship.
On the other hand, sometimes we can feel guilty for being born in America—the land of opportunity. But we need to remember that God providentially arranged where we would be born (Acts 17:26-27). So if you find yourself in an affluent, comfortable, or influential situation, then consider how you can advance God's kingdom program in ways that others without your privileges or status could not (e.g., we can create an awareness of how God is working globally and how Christians can get involved). However, just because we encounter suffering, adversity, or persecution, don't immediately interpret these as reasons to change course. Sometimes, we must courageously trim our sails and head directly into the wind. The Christians in 1 Peter and Hebrews 11 are a testimony to this reality and serve as our courageous examples.
So as you seek the will of God for your life, employ the principles in this chapter. Be open to whatever God has for you and always live life for His glory, not your own (1 Cor. 10:31). If you have this attitude, you can't go wrong.
The Big Ideas
• Since there are no formulas for discovering the will of God, we ought to utilize biblical principles. The ones we explored in this chapter were (1) consult the Word of God; (2) cultivate a heart for God; (3) pray for God's wisdom and leading; (4) seek good advice and wise counsel; (5) examine your motives; (6) use your head; (7) believe that God is at work in the circumstances of life; and (8) be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
• Following the will of God in America comes with its own opportunities and challenges that we need to be aware of.
Originall posted May 1, 2008.
Excerpted from Welcome to College: A Christ-follower's Guide to the Journey by Jonathan Morrow (Kregel Publications). Copyright 2008 by Jonathan Morrow. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
Jonathan Morrow spent his college years at a large state school. In between classes and hanging out with friends, he ministered to fraternities and sororities and served in Campus Crusade for Christ. Jonathan recently completed graduate work at Biola University in Los Angeles. His considerable experience interacting with students prepared him to equip students for what they will encounter in their formative undergraduate year. Jonathan lives with his wife and son in Tennessee.
For Further Discovery
Blackaby, Henry T., and Claude V. King. Experiencing God: How to Live the Full Adventure of Knowing and Doing the Will of God. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994.
Issler, Klaus. "Communication: Hearing the God Who Speaks." Chap. 6 in Wasting Time with God: A Christian Spirituality of Friendship with God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.
Robinson, Haddon W. Decision-Making by the Book. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1991.
Smith, M. Blaine. Knowing God's Will: Finding Guidance for Personal Decisions. 2nd ed. Downer s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1991.
Swindoll, Charles R. The Mystery of God's Will: What Does He Want for Me? Nashville: Word, 1999.
Willard, Dallas. Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.
6. Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 28.
7. Henry T. Blackaby and Claude V. King, Experiencing God: How to Live the Full Adventure of Knowing and Doing the Will of God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 117-27.
8. Since God's Spirit is our Helper and Counselor, I don't find it unreasonable that He would lead us by internal means at times in life (cf. John 14-17).
9. Does God still speak today? Absolutely! Is God speaking new Scripture? No! Nothing more is needed; the Bible is complete and sufficient. So any word from the Lord or vision or dream (God clearly still uses these mediums here in America and around the world) needs to be tested against Scripture. And if God leads you to tell someone something, then do so tentatively in a spirit of obedience. God may lead you individually in a certain way, but this is not binding for the community of Christians and does not carry the same authority as Scripture. Now admittedly, this is sometimes messy. But the experiences of Christians throughout history testify to God's leading.