To Be Open To Discern God’s Will And Ways
8 Ways to Know God’s Will
And 3 things to do about it
There is a you-shaped hole in God’s global mission. God has prepared good things specifically for you to do. Yet even if you already agree with those statements, determining the will of God concerning cross-cultural service can be frightening. How do we hear God’s voice? Will he make me do something I absolutely detest? How do I know?
There is no set formula for discovering God’s will. Instead, consider this discovery viewing a constellation. When we look into the night sky, we need to see clusters of stars to view a constellation. Only by looking at the overall group of stars will we see Orion or the Big Dipper. Focusing on one star does not give us the big picture.
In the same way, discerning God’s will involves looking at the big picture. When all of the “stars” come into view, we begin to understand the big picture we call the personal will of God for us. Here are eight “stars” that contribute to this big picture:
1. Biblical guidance
God will never ask us to do something contrary to his Word, but he demands obedience in the clearly revealed things, and obedience to the commission to make disciples may thrust us out.
2. The opinion and counsel of others
Especially older, wiser leaders who know us well. If many people around us commend us on our cross-cultural sensitivity and encourage us to pursue international service, maybe God is speaking through them.
3. Gifts and abilities
God has entrusted us with certain unique personal resources; how will we use them?
4. Opportunities and situations
If our job asks us to take an overseas position or our church leaders invite us on a short-term mission trip, God might be speaking to us.
A veteran missionary once told me that my desire to travel might be God’s way of directing me toward service.
Taking steps of faith in one direction can help us affirm God’s will as he either redirects us or confirms the direction we take. The Student Volunteer Movement taught that we all should take steps toward cross-cultural service until God called us to stay home: “planning to go, but willing to stay.”
While it is not the only star in the picture, it certainly shines brightly. God may use our knowledge of people without Jesus to compel us out.
This certainly motivated Paul (Romans 15:20; 1 Corinthians 9:16-17) and many of the great leaders of missions history.
When Cam Townsend met people who did not have the Bible in their mother tongue, God called him to learn their language and translate the Bible. He later founded what is now the Wycliffe Bible Translators.
8. Miraculous means
In her book on God’s guidance, A Slow and Certain Light, Elisabeth Elliot includes angels, dreams, audible and visible signs, and prophecies as ways that God guided in the Scriptures and how he might guide us today.1
As the big picture starts to get clearer, whatever the picture, we are all called to obey. But how do we get started? Three action steps may help us find out where God might be calling us globally:
1. Start Small
Malcolm Muggeridge writes, “Christianity is not a statistical view of life. That there should be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over all the hosts of the just is an anti-statistical proposition.”2 In other words, our little efforts do matter!
Todd and his friends decided that they could not respond to the more than 20 million people in Mexico City, but they went down to serve through Galo Vasquez, who ministers there, by offering collateral for a no-interest loan program designed to help break the cycle of poverty.
Their efforts at the beginning affected two or three families at the most, but they got started. As their ministry grew, a micro-finance ministry—which is now self-sustaining (i.e., without assistance from outside Mexico)—developed. The English translation of the ministry name? The Good Seed.
A small “seed” now affects hundreds of families.Our small efforts do matter. We belong to the God of the “mustard seed,” who takes the smallest of actions and makes them significant in his economy (see Mark 4:30-32). Tom Sine writes in The Mustard Seed Conspiracy, “God has chosen to change the world through the lowly, the unassuming, and the imperceptible.”3
Start small to investigate how we might be used to serve someone else in our world.
2. Start Here
Involvement with internationals, serving other cultures in our cities, or developing a second language skill can all take place without going overseas. Yet God can use these efforts to prepare us for something international.
Mr. and Mrs. Anderson decided to start building their world vision right at home. Each night they watch the network news together, but their growing world vision caused them to add a new response.
They listen to the news, taking special note of the international reports. During the commercial breaks, they turn down the volume, and they pray together for the country or the issue that was cited.
After praying about famine needs in North Africa, God led them there on an exploratory trip with World Vision.
Dick and Karen—aged fifty-seven—decided they should start right at home to explore the potential of serving overseas in their retirement years. They spent a year getting trained in personal evangelism and another year getting training in cross-cultural adaptation. They have no firm direction yet, but they are making themselves available to God anywhere by starting here at home.
3. Start Now
“These are good ideas. I’ll have to try them out some day when I have the time.”
We will never find out where else God might have us if we procrastinate and never ask. If we are to grow in our vision of God, his world, and our part in it, we need to make it a priority. We need to start today.
The first action we can take is to submit ourselves daily to the Lordship of Christ. If we realize that we belong to him—“bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20)—we will desire to grow in our ability to see the world as he sees it. Our desire to understand and care for our world will arise our relationship with Christ.
Lou and Donna are starting now to ask if God wants them to serve in another culture.In spite of the pressures of being young parents, they tell others, “If we say, ‘Our lives are too hectic to evaluate where God might be calling us internationally’, we’ll develop a pattern of running from that question for the rest of our lives. Life will always be hectic, so we need to be opening ourselves to God’s worldwide plans for us now—even if we think we’re in no position to respond.”
Dr. Ralph Winter, the brilliant mission leader and founder of the U.S. Center for World Mission, stated, “Nothing that does not occur daily will ever dominate your life.” If we do not start now to open ourselves to God as his living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), we may never hear him call us into an exciting opportunity to serve him worldwide.
This article is adapted from How to be a World Class Christian by Paul Borthwick, (InterVarsity Press, 2009). Used by permission of the author.
1Elisabeth Elliot, A Slow and Certain Light (Waco, Texas: Word, Inc., 1973).
2Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1971), 81.
3Tom Sine, The Mustard Seed Conspiracy (Waco, Texas: Word, Inc., 1978), 23.
7 Steps to Discerning God’s Will in Difficult Situations
- Meadow Rue Merrill
- 2017Apr 24
What happens when life’s reality differs from our expectations—and prayers? Did God ignore our heart-felt petitions? Or was His answer just different from our expectations? How can we discern what is truly God’s will for our lives compared to the curve balls that sometimes take us by surprise?
From the time I was little, I’d planned my life in measured detail. I’d go to college, get married, become a writer, and have two boys and a girl—in that order. Then my husband and I would adopt. “God is going to give you the desires of your heart,” three separate ministers had told me on three separate occasions, and I believed them.
Two weeks after graduating from college, I married my high school sweetheart, Dana. The day we returned from our honeymoon I landed a job as a reporter for a small Maine newspaper. Three years later, our son, Judah, was born. We welcomed our son, Gabriel, and daughter, Lydia, soon after. God had indeed given me the desires of my heart, with one exception.
Over the years we’d been married, Dana and I had often talked of adoption. But he wasn’t sure we were ready. So, together we prayed, “Lord, if you have another child for us, you will have to bring that child to us.” We wouldn’t pursue it.
Sometime later, I walked into a friend’s church for the last night of Vacation Bible School. Our boys had been coming all week. Judah, six, and Gabriel, four, darted through the packed sanctuary to join their classmates. Towing sixteen month Lydia through the crowd, Dana and I slid into a pew beside my friend Theresa.
“Do you want to meet Ruth?” she asked.
It took me a moment to remember the baby that Theresa and her family were hosting from an orphanage in Uganda. Ruth, who had cerebral palsy, was here for six months of physical therapy. Then she was scheduled to return to her orphanage, Welcome Home Africa, unless someone wanted to adopt her. Theresa had told me about her several weeks before.
Since leaving our decision to adopt with God, Dana and I hadn’t talked about it. Not once. But in a quiet moment alone, I’d offered up this feeble prayer: “Lord, if you want us to adopt, you will have to put it in Dana’s heart too.”That night at church, people squeezed against the pews as Allen made his way up the crowded aisle. Then I saw the baby dangling from his arms.
She was scrawny and limp and dressed in a shapeless pink onesie that sagged where a round tummy and chubby thighs should have stretched it tight. Dana was looking too.
I couldn’t see his face, couldn’t tell what he was thinking. But my heart was doing flips. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
“This is Ruth.” Theresa beamed.
“Want to hold her?” Allen dropped Ruth into Dana’s arms without waiting for a reply.
Ruth’s head flopped against his shoulder. Tiny fingers curled into her palms, but she was smiling—a lopsided, baby-toothed “Here I am” smile that creased her cheeks and made her dark eyes gleam. Ruth’s head was fringed with a thin scrub of curls.
Her skin was the color of gingerbread, and she was beautiful, stunning, with a high, rounded forehead and a fat little pucker of a nose. Dana wiggled a finger, holding it out for Ruth to grab. Instead, she wrinkled her nose and let out a deep “hee-hee-hee” that stiffened her entire body.
For being so weak, Ruth’s happiness was contagious, and we laughed too.
“Can she talk?” I asked.
Theresa shook her head.
“Will she? I mean, will she be able to?”
“It’s too early to tell.” Theresa shrugged. “Ruth only started therapy a couple of weeks ago.
“Want a turn?” Dana held Ruth toward me.
“Sure.” I nodded.
Dana slid Ruth into my arms. Her body was alternately stiff and then limp, as if someone had forgotten to tighten her muscles. Her right eye turned weakly toward her nose. Ruth’s head rolled forward and back, forward and back. A sudden urge to protect her overwhelmed me. Don’t say it, I thought, handing Ruth back to Dana. Don’t say a word.
Amazingly, Dana said it for me, “So, do you want to adopt her?”
“Are you joking?” He had to be crazy.
I had been praying and dreaming of this moment for decades, but not once had I imagined adopting a child with disabilities.
The thought of spending the rest of our lives taking care of someone who might never be able to take care of herself scared me. Yet here Ruth was, smiling from the cradle of my husband’s arms.Was this God’s answer to our prayers? If so, it looked radically different from what I expected.
Maybe you’ve faced a similar predicament. That long prayed for job or ministry opportunity lacks the outcome you imagined. Or that wonderful man you felt called to marry left you feeling lonely and disappointed. Or perhaps the path you felt God directing you to follow now seems barren and barred by obstacles.
In such situations, our choice is to trust God and draw closer to him or to trust ourselves and potentially miss the fullness of his plans and blessings. That was the decision Dana and I faced after meeting Ruth. Trust God? Or trust ourselves? And how do we really know whether we are in step with God’s plan when it appears so different from what we expected?
I was blessed to grow up with a God seeking, Bible-believing, Spirit filled mom who encouraged me to search out God’s plans for my life. Early on, I felt drawn to Africa and helping orphans.
I also felt called to write, but I had no idea how God would bring these paths together. That part of the puzzle was God’s.
Mine—and now Dana’s—was to rely on the Holy Spirit and walk in faith as we sought to discern that plan.
Rather than impulsively leaping forward or fearfully turning back, we took seven crucial steps—one at a time.
No matter what decision you are facing or what obstacles stand in your path, these seven steps will help you discern God’s will in difficult situations.
1. Recall what brought you here.
For Dana and I, the idea of adopting wasn’t the blue. God had planted a love for orphans in my heart from childhood. While Dana’s experience was different, as soon as he held Ruth, God awakened that love in him in a clear answer to my previous prayer. When facing a decision that doesn’t look the way you expect, take time to reflect on whether this fits your passion and prayers.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that we should walk in them,” Ephesians 2:10 says. Before you were even born, God created you with a passion and a purpose, and he will prepare you.
2. Set aside time to pray and seek God’s will rather than your own.
Instead of giving in to fear and doubt, Dana and I set aside two months to pray while waiting to see whether another family would step forward to adopt Ruth.
When none did, we took this as God’s leading to spend more time with Ruth and see what caring for her was . To discern God’s will, designate a specific period of time to pray.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men liberally without criticism, and it will be given to him,” says James 1:5.
3. Search for confirmation in God’s Word.
While my emotions were all over the place—one moment excited, another moment scared at the possibility of adopting Ruth—God’s Word is unchanging.
As Dana and I sought God’s will, he led us to Scriptures encouraging us to share with those in need, feed the hungry, and care for orphans. Clearly, adoption is in keeping with God’s desire. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” Psalm 119:105.
Use God’s word as a guide when seeking God’s purpose. Do your plans line up with his? Then proceed to the next step.
4. Pursue wise council.
Since neither Dana nor I knew much about cerebral palsy, we talked to our pediatrician. We also got to know several families with children who had cerebral palsy, asking them their experiences and learning about local programs for children with disabilities. And we talked to adoption agencies and lawyers to find out what steps adopting Ruth would require.
“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety,” says Proverbs 11:14. While we don’t rely on man’s wisdom alone, God often uses people to increase our wisdom. These might be prayer warriors, ministry leaders, or others with experience in the area about which you are seeking to make a decision.
5. Seek unity.
If God was calling us to adopt Ruth, we knew he’d call our children as well. As we spent time with Ruth, we carefully observed our children’s reactions. Surprisingly, our children were Ruth’s biggest advocates, always encouraging her and cheering her on.
“I ask you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all speak in agreement and that there be no divisions among you. But be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement,” I Corinthians 1:10 says.
While we knew that adopting a child with disabilities would not be easy, we knew that God was guiding us together.
6. Rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal what your natural understanding cannot.
God faithfully directs his children. He does not leave us wandering about in doubt and confusion. “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth,” John 16:13 says, “… He will tell you things that are to come.”
Two years before we met Ruth, God gave my mother a dream in which Dana and I had twin girls. “Two girls were diving off a dock into the water,” she’d told me.
“They sprang up—way, way up—into the air Olympic divers. Then they crossed their arms over their chests before spinning down and disappearing into the water with a splash.
They were strong and athletic and very graceful. I knew they were yours.”
Unknown to my mom, I was pregnant with our third child. An ultrasound later revealed only one baby. The following March, we joyously welcomed our daughter, little imagining what God had in store.More than a year later, as Dana held Ruth in church, I asked Theresa how old she was.
“Fifteen…sixteen months?” Theresa ticked off the numbers on her fingers, looking to Allen. “You remember, honey?”
Everything else faded—parents filling the pews, Lydia leaning against my knee, our children lining the front of the church.
“When’s her birthday?” I asked.
“April,” she said. “April 17.”
Two weeks after Lydia’s. It struck Dana the same way it struck me. “Twins?” he mouthed silently.
With the astonishing revelation of Ruth’s age, Dana and I felt emboldened to pursue God’s plan. Yes, we still walked through all the other steps of discernment, but we did so with greater confidence.
7.Walk in faith.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” Proverbs 3:5-6 says. “In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
All the other steps are pointless if we don’t follow up with action. To adopt Ruth, our family faced numerous hurdles. There was money to raise. Lawyers to hire. A whirlwind trip to plan to East Africa. Tests that would reveal further disabilities. But through it all, we kept walking faith, confident that adopting Ruth was indeed God’s plan.
Along the way, God blessed us with a love for Ruth as deep as for our other children. Watching her learn and grow was a greater delight than we ever anticipated. Submitting to God’s will challenged us in ways we never expected and opened our hearts to other children with disabilities. And we almost missed it, all because Ruth wasn’t quite what we expected.
So when God’s plans differ from what you expect, don’t despair. As you begin walking in faith, the path will become clearer—as will your blessings and the ability to see with greater clarity His hand and guidance through our difficult situations.
Image Credit: ©Thinkstock/mavoimages
Meadow Rue Merrill is an award-winning journalist and the author of the memoir, “Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores,” which releases with Hendrickson Publishers in May 2017. She and Dana are the parents of six children and live in a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine.You can contact Meadow at email@example.com or sign up for her weekly blog, Faith Notes at www.meadowrue.com.
God’s Plan or My Plan?
Ephesians 1:1-20; Colossians 2:2-10:
A. The Plan: We can do many things without God (acquire wealth…start a business…get an education…etc.), but only in God’s will can we find true joy, fulfillment, faithfulness…and expect someday to hear from Him… “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
That wonderful plan God has already designed for your life and mine contains the very best of Purpose, Adventure, Fulfillment, Joy, and new lessons.
B. The Trust:.Whom do you trust? Is there a person in your life with whom you would trust your very life, if necessary? A spouse…a parent…a sibling…a very good friend? Think about that person. And then realize that God loves you infinitely more than that person with whom you would trust your life!
We can trust someone who loves us perfectly…perfect love drives out all fear” 1 John 4:18.
“Then trust the Lord completely, don’t even trust yourself. In everything you do, put God first and He will direct you and crown your efforts with success.” Proverbs 3:5 (LB)
- Eyes focused on things. A failure to yield our possessions. …if there is something you own which you can’t give away, you don’t own it, it owns you!Matthew 25:21…If God doesn’t get your attention on the ‘one-talent’ propositions in life, you’ll never get a chance at the ten talent ones! Our sinful nature…”All we, sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6) The ‘self-made man’ usually worships his creator…self!
- Lack of knowledge about how to find God’s will (from scripture).
There are many tests and formulas. Some valid…some misleading…and some dangerous.
- The ‘closed door/open door’ policy (dashing to and fro looking for ‘open doors’ but finding only what seems to be ‘closed doors.’This is Invalid because:
- Looks for God’s will through a process of elimination rather than seeking God’s best first.
- Fails to employ our God-given Holy Spirit anointed sound mind.
- Allows elements of chance to influence a decision.
- Not all closed doors are really closed…not all barriers are erected by God…some are mirages authored by the enemy to discourage and misdirect..When Paul prayed for an open door in Colossians 4:3, it was not for guidance, but for opportunity. In 2 Corinthians 2:12 he actually chose to walk away from an ‘open door’ in order to find Titus. He chose to do so on the basis of the wise decision that finding Titus was of more value to the cause of Christ!
- Agrees with the Word of God.
- The end involved gives Glory to the Lord Jesus.
- It is reasonable (there are other voices our there).
The ‘God helps him who helps himself theory’
There is no such verse in scripture…God cannot help us when we are blocking His direction by ‘doing it ourselves’ apart from his guidance and power.
- Looking for some big ‘Forty Year Plan.’ Invalid because God’s will is that wonderful settled peace (assurance) that ‘I am doing what God has directed, where He has directed…at this time. God rarely gives more light than needed for the next step.
- Looking for God’s will in ‘Happenings.’ Invalid because although happiness may depend upon ‘happenings’…Joy depends only upon God!
- Looking for God’s will in some location or vocation. Invalid because God’s will is a Relationship (with Christ)…not a geographical or vocational search.
- What about a ‘fleece’ (Judges 6:36-40)? Gideon’s fleece was not for guidance because God had already given specific guidance. Gideon was not asking for circumstantial evidence, but for confirmation
- The ‘closed door/open door’ policy (dashing to and fro looking for ‘open doors’ but finding only what seems to be ‘closed doors.’This is Invalid because:
His will for our lives is not designed as a complicated mystery or puzzle which we have to decipher. He is a God of love.
Psalm 25:14…”The Lord Confides In Those Who Reverence Him. He Makes His Covenant Known To Them.”
John 7:17 “Anyone Who Chooses To Do God’s Will, Shall Know It.”
- Are you willing to do God’s will BEFORE you know what it is?
- Are you, right now, clean? …cleansed according to 1 John 1:9 (Spiritual Breathing). We cannot expect to know God’s will if we are knowingly harboring unconfessed sin.
- Are you surrendered …focused on Christ? (Filled with the Holy Spirit…according to Ephesians 5:18)?
GOOD NEWS: If Christ is on the throne of your life right now…you are in the exact center of God’s will for your life…because God’s will is not a location or vocation…it is a relationship. When we stay in that relationship, the vocation/location issues work themselves out in many natural and supernatural ways!
Why are We Here?
Our first and foremost ‘calling’ is a simple one. We are called to Jesus. That is, we are called to know Jesus more and more…better and better. We are called to an intimate relationship with the Lord of Lords.
Secondly: There is a unique calling common to ALL Christians? We are appointed as Ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20. The Great Commission to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) should be a continuous measurement of the use of our time, talent and treasure. Never lose sight of your primary calling.
II Timothy 4:5…But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist “discharge all the duties of your of your ministry.” This is not an instruction to be a ‘Billy Graham’…but simply to do the ‘work’ of evangelism as a valid portion of your daily lifestyle.
God is looking for full-time Christian architects, engineers, plumbers, postmen, butchers, policemen, carpenters, scientists, nurses, etc.
From time to time God will bring us to an ‘intersection’ in our life when an imminent change is obvious…He is about to open a new ‘chapter’ in our adventure and the Calling of following Jesus.
As we seek to discern His will in regard to an approaching ‘change, it is often helpful to remember the following:
- Do Our Homework (gathering the facts). God specializes in the impossible (doing for us what we cannot do). But He will not do for us what we can clearly do with our own Holy Spirit-empowered mind…i.e. investigate fully all ‘options’ He has opened before us (there is always more than one and usually at least three potential ‘good’ options).
Evaluation. Each option should be evaluated and measured by the following criteria:
- Prayer. Ask God to guide and thank Him for wisdom.
- Make a ‘pro and con’ list evaluating the opportunities each option offers for spiritual ministry (point V-b above).
- A comparison to ‘heart’s desire.’ If you have been walking with the Lord (Christ on the throne), then the ‘desires of the heart’ are a valid confirmation. Psalm 37:4…”Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” ‘Delighting yourself in the Lord is another way of describing ‘Christ on the throne’ lifestyle…a focus and close relationship with God which gives Him access to our heart (decision-making center) and…to implant a desire for that very thing in our heart…the ‘next chapter’ which he is about to open to us.Since only God, our Creator, knows what will enable us to be fruitful, fulfilled and foster maturity, only He can design a future tailored to our unique needs, talents and gifts. John 10:10 says Jesus came to give us abundant life. Thus…when the Lord reveals the next ‘chapter’ prepared for us and we say, ‘Thank you, Lord, that is just what I want’…is that not a manifestation of the abundant life?…doing what we were created to do and doing it with all our heart!
- Take the counsel of men and women-of-God whose testimony and walk-with-the-Lord you respect.
- The inner voice of the Holy Spirit.
- Convergence and timing of circumstances.
Step of Faith. When there is a certain synchronization of the above evaluations on one of the options, then is the time for a ‘Step of Faith.’ Not a ‘leap’ or ‘jump’…but merely a step…in the direction of that option.
Psalm 37:23, 24…“If the Lord delights in a man’s way he makes his steps firm; although he stumble he will not fall for the Lord upholds him with His hand.” The step may be a very small one…such as filling an application…or going for an interview.
But a ‘step of faith’ is very important. Some Christians commit the error of doing their homework and evaluation but then sitting and waiting on God to give a sign or otherwise overtly confirm. But if that were the way God leads, faith would not be needed.
“Without faith it is impossible to please God.”…Hebrews 11:6
Confirmation. The ‘step of faith’ allows God to confirm the direction of the ‘step’ by delivering His Perfect Peace (the Peace that transcends all comprehension…Philippians 4:7)…or…a perfect lack-of-peace.
The difference between these two is unmistakable. If the peace is there, keep stepping…in the direction toward that option…and God will continue to confirm. If the peace is lacking, re-evaluate and pray again about the options.
Then take another ‘step of faith.’
“How can I Recognize my Destiny?
First it’s a desire that won’t let you go. Paul cried, “woe to me, if I do not preach…(1 Corinthians 9:16). Being queen was Esther’s position, but saving god’s people was her destiny. That’s why she risked everything and said, “…If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). We’re not important–God’s purpose is!
Second, your destiny will be more than a job, it’ll be a joy. Yes there will be sacrifices but through it all you will say, David,“I delight to do thy will, O my God.” (Psalm 40:8) What a way to live!
Third your destiny will unlock your creativity. It will open doors and bring the right people to you. God’s purpose always carries with it God’s favor!
Finally, your destiny fulfilled is the only thing you will want to face God with. He won’t say ‘well done’ over the money you’ve made or the reputation you’ve built. He’ll only say it because you found and fulfilled His purpose.
This world delivers doubt and deathBut we are dying tooFor no bomb is so surely mortal
As death inside of you.
How do you discern God’s will? a 7-step process
God doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. This 7-step process for discerning God’s will is the most popular post on this blog. It’s not a prescription, but it’s what I use and I’m sharing it with you.
Almost two years ago, in the middle of a family dinner, my twenty-something son popped a question. “Mom, how do you know the difference between faith-based trust and stupidity?”
My son loves the shock-factor. He’s a master at getting your attention. This was his way of opening up a discussion about how to discern God’s will. He and his new wife had many different forks in their road. There was one they wanted to take, but they wanted assurance it wasn’t a “stupid” move.
At the time, my husband and I were trying to make major decisions and discerning God’s will for our path as well. We had been reading and listening to sermons until all the theologians had become one talking head in our heads. We still didn’t have a full answer for him, but we talked it through and applied Scripture to what we did know.
During the last two years, all six of us have maneuvered more forks than I can count and made multiple life-altering changes.
Having recently navigated another crossroad, I decided to write about my process in case it’s helpful to you.
It’s a seven-step outline for sorting through the options and priorities in front of me.
But first, a few “ground rules.”
1-Understand the 90/10 percentage principle
The majority of preachers my husband and I follow are insistent on getting this major point across when it comes to how to discern God’s will. In essence, they say:
If you are not following through onGod’s revealed will for your character,stop trying to figure out
his specific purpose for your choices.
One article put it this way:
“90 percent of God’s will for my life is the same as 90 percent of God’s will for your life. (Actual results may vary.)… We’re all supposed to do the Bible stuff. And there’s a lot of it.…once we start doing the 90 percent, it usually opens us up to seeing the 10 percent more clearly.”
So true. So foundational. So important
And yet, so NOT helpful if you have been seeking after him in the 90 percent.
For those who are trying to walk in the light, confessing and repenting of known sin, bathing life with worship and the Word, you ly desire input on how to discern that remaining “10 percent.”
But the teaching about lining up the other 90% of your walk is foundational and worth noting.
2-Understand the limitations of a blog post
Godly counsel is a key factor in navigating life’s twists and turns.
Just as my husband and I give it to our children, so we seek it from our own parents and spiritually mature friends we trust.
I love talking with friends about how God is working in their lives. I realize it’s not a prescription for how he will work in mine — but it gives me insight and hope.
This is one reason I write: to share stories of God’s faithfulness and remind you that you’re not alone.But blog posts and podcasts or whatever other medium are not a substitute for the Church, the Scriptures, and godly counsel. I hope you have people in your life who talk things through with you in light of Scripture and tell you the truth.
As I share my journey and my process, it’s important to note:It’s not a formula or a prescription.
It doesn’t even always work this for me.
With all that said, here it is.
Identify desires of the heart and take them before the Lord via journaling and prayer.
This simple advice about journaling and recording prayers and thoughts has been given to me and given by me numerous times.
It’s mission-critical in my process and I often hear back from those I’ve counseled about how powerful this one step was in bringing clarity to their jumbled thoughts.
Study relevant concepts in Scripture, asking the Spirit to intercede and direct.
This includes structured Bible studies with groups as well as personal devotion and study time.
The greatest source of godly instruction should be your church. If you’re not following God’s will by living in community with other believers, placing yourself under the authority of his leaders, and worshipping him regularly, how can you expect to discern his will on the issues far less important to him?
Record related godly instruction (from trusted sources) that speaks to the subject (sermons, Bible studies, podcasts, books, and articles).
I end up with notes on my phone, laptop, a spiral in my Bible, and even a mini-spiral in my purse when I’m in the deep middle of trying to make a decision with God’s guidance.
Alongside these notes, I reflect on how what I’m hearing and seeing from biblically-based sources correlates to my past experiences and lessons learned. I consider God’s unique equipping, passion, and priorities he’s revealed for my life thus far.
Watch to see how 1-3 correlate.
(This may take time, but I always begin to see threads and themes.)
I talk it out with my husband or someone else I trust to tell me the truth if it sounds I’m trying to knit threads that weren’t meant to be crocheted. ~wink.
Pray. Pray. Pray.
Organize thoughts by outlining ideas, options, and possible steps — rearranging, sorting, and refining as I pray.
(Some would call this a “brain dump.”)
I still have whiteboards left over from our homeschooling days. They’ve followed me from Texas to Virginia to Pennsylvania. I can’t do life without whiteboards.
Your “brain dumping” may not be on whiteboards, but the concept of sketching, moving, erasing, and positioning ideas and steps until they have aligned into something resembling an outline is the same.
The idea is to put it out there, but hold it all loosely until it begins to take shape in tandem with continuing steps 2 and 3. Continue to seek God’s timing and guidance through prayer and be open to godly counsel.
Create a specific plan with a timeframe for changing course if necessary.
(i.e., Don’t quit the plan and make a new one until a certain amount of time has passed.)
At some point, you have to decide on something worth sticking with. Many times the only reason I’ve continued on a path is because it was part of “the plan.”
Just because we act after seeking God’s direction doesn’t mean it will be easy. In fact, it might mean it’s harder than ever.
This is why when you finally do move forward, you need both an outline for the steps and a commitment to continue through to some threshold (either determined by time, milestones, highest sacrifice, etc.).
7-Pray it forward
Pray it forward as I act in confidence, implementing the outlined plan.
Here’s where I choose to trust that God is big enough to redirect if I’m moving in a direction he disapproves.
It’s a combination of doing and purposing, while continually seeking and praying. I’ve seen it work on each end of the time spectrum:
- Sometimes it’s the “long game,” as I wait patiently with deliberate intention for the Lord to answer and give me confidence and courage to act.
- However, it’s also the groundwork that sets me up to act quickly when I believe he is answering through an opportunity.
(See: Praying & acting in confidence)
As mentioned, moving forward (even with a clear direction from God) doesn’t ensure the path will be easy. In fact, if your calling has any kingdom potential, you can trust the enemy will throw temptations and trials your way. (This is discussed more in part two ~ see below.)
As I prepared to write this post, I surveyed my family again. There were four key takeaways from that discussion. It’s interesting to hear how your children have deciphered and implemented your counsel. These are discussed in part two. Click to read:
4 lessons learned about seeking God’s will
At the end of that post (as well as this one), there’s a link to an index page of other articles I’ve written on discerning God’s will and trusting his timing.
Friend, this is not easy and the enemy would to convince us we are on our own with this thing called life. But that’s a lie.
Our God is a faithful Father who cares, but he hasn’t promised us a spotlight into the future, only a lamp unto our feet.
Which means sometimeswe only get instructions
for one step at a time.
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