How Do I Know the Will of God?

My Pastor/friend Bruce has a favorite topic to teach on, it is on knowing the will of God. In our day of subjective truth and relativism it is very difficult to find solid teaching on this topic. Over the next several posts I will be assimilating much of his rantings into these posts. It is a class that we teach at our counseling center to our students. I wish to credit him for his materials.

There is much confusion today within evangelical Christianity as to how God’s will might be known. Rightly so, most Christians want to be in God’s will, but because they are confused they are also internally conflicted when it comes to making decisions. The confusion stems from the fact that many churches do not teach theology within their preaching and teaching and so people are left to their own devices to answer this important question. And to make matters worse, when how to know God’s will is taught it’s frequently taught in an erroneous way thus making for even more confusion when those teachings come up against contradictory teachings.
Pastor Dave Swavely has written an excellent book titled “Decisions, Decisions-How and How Not to Make Them. In it he gives an excellent illustration of how four members of a mission team made a decision to go on a short term mission. I’ve modified it a bit to fit our situation.

The Pastor said: “I decided to go because I want more power in the church and this is one way to get it.
Woman #1 said: “I took a deck of cards and said if I pick anything out higher than a ten I’ll go.”
Woman #2 said: “An angel of the Lord appeared to me and said I should go.”
Woman #3 said: “I turned on the nightly news and they were talking about Japan and that was God giving me a sign.”

Now as obvious or silly as some of these things seem they do represent ways people make decisions regarding God’s will. We’ll explore them a little and then move to how to know God’s will, the differences between His permissive will and sovereign will and then some biblical criteria on how to make a decision.
The Pastor that said: "I decided to go (on the mission trip) because I want more power in the church and this is one way to get it" We need to check ourselves in this regard ad one of the warning signs is thinking along these lines, “what’s in it for me or what am I gaining?”
Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Conceit means “empty glory” meaning the pursuit of personal glory, the driving force behind selfishness. This is not to say having personal interests is always wrong especially in the sense of making a decision that does personally benefit you. The passage is talking about primary, controlling motives that are self-centered-a heart issue and if that’s your motive it’s a bad decision because it does not please God.
The woman who said: “I took a deck of cards and said if I pick anything out higher than a ten I’ll go.” This approach does not take decision making seriously. It’s like flipping a coin.
Sometimes Christian’s sanctify this method by the open your Bible randomly method and let your finger point to a verse with your eyes closed. Seriously, that’s goofy thinking about guidance. Along the same lines, is when we are doing our Bible reading like normal and in the background of our minds we have some decision to make. We come upon a verse that “speaks to me” and interpret that too mean God is speaking to us. What usually is the case the person is ripping the passage from context and giving it a personal application driven by desire and not the passage’s single meaning.
We are not free to derive application by ignoring context and the bigger picture as to what the passage means. I’ve seen people do this in regards to making job decisions or moving decisions just because they want A over B and then they use the misinterpretation of the passage as a type of “God told me this morning in my Bible reading what to do.” Scripture though does not teach crummy methods of application. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
In many ways this is probably the biggest problem due to the influence of the Charismatic-Pentecostal movement. It is not confined to those circles however. We need “additional” revelation. is available in the form of dreams, visions, feelings, circumstances, fleeces, etc. Special revelation has ceased.
This is not the posting to get into this in any great depth. Suffice to say, the charismatic movement, with its emphasis on signs and wonders, feeling and sensations has greatly influenced the church. All these things mentioned are subjective means to do this or that. When they are relied on they amount to a person claiming some sort of apostolic authority to do what they want.
I had a vision I need to go Africa….If Samatha wears a cross tomorrow and Agnes does not I’ll know who is more spiritual and who to marry. This thinking that can be down right funny but it’s dangerous too. I had a counselee paralyzed in fear because she had a dream of a big black pit before she took an honest job. She hated the job and she always thought it was God punishing her for taking the job and not going into ministry or something like that. The black hole was the warning. I thought it was a pepperoni pizza.
I am not saying of course that all Charismatic's and Pentecostals add to the Scripture when making decisions-what I am saying is that many do and many us do so as well when we put much importance on dreams, experiences, feelings and such that tend to trump what God’s Word clearly says and does not say.
What I want to clarify is that often times Christians believe they are using Scriptural principles to make decisions. The problem is they are applying Scripture based on a faulty interpretation of the Scripture in the first place. Our interpretation of Scripture is colored by the “spooky” sensing of what it means to be led by the Holy Spirit.
John MacArthur says this: “Believers are not led through subjective, mental impressions or promptings to provide direction in making life’s decisions—something Scripture nowhere teaches.”
So then, if it’s not a subjective leading, what is it?
We will look at that next time.