Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1, 2; NIV)
This passage tells us that we can know God's good, pleasing, and perfect will; and that the starting point for knowing God's will is submitting our will to his will. As we offer ourselves to God we worship him and renew our minds in him. Our will is transformed into his will as we love God and seek to follow him. This is not a one time thing but, rather, a life-long process of walking with God, reading the Bible, and seeking to conform our will to his.
Bruce Waltke wrote a book entitled, Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion?1. In it he speaks of how people will cast lots, look for signs, open the Bible to a random verse for guidance, or "lay out a fleece." He suggests that many of these ways we seek to hear from God have more in common with paganism than a biblical Christian faith. Waltke reminds us that there is no substitute for the long steady process of a close walk with Jesus. We cannot short-circuit God's guidance in our lives.
Many of us have had the experience of hearing someone say, "God told me to . . ." We may sometimes find ourselves wanting to ask that person, "How did God reveal this to you?" We question whether it has more to do with what God wants or with what that person wants. Whose will are we dealing with here? When someone says, "God told me," it can be hard to argue with them. So, how can we know the will of God? How can we expect to be guided by God?
Much has been written on the topic and many will express a system for knowing God's will. The systems may vary slightly but they have much in common. The particular one I want to use today comes from Dave Schmelzer. He is an author and the creator of a series of videos entitled, Seek: Could Faith Work For You?. In this series he suggests a metaphor of five synchronized lights on a series of blocks within a city street system. When lights are synchronized, if a driver travels at the speed limit, the lights will all turn green for the driver as she approaches them. He suggests that it is like this in finding God's will. We follow five lights, watch our speed, and God will make clear his will for our lives. Here are Schmelzer's Five Timed Lights:
1. God's word - the Bible - would the Bible back this choice?
2. God's voice - ask God and see if He will speak through His Spirit (See John 14:15-21 in footnote).2
3. God's reasons - God usually guides us through common sense and logic. Psalm 32:9 says, "Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding. . . ."
4. God's people - we talk to others and confirm that we are hearing rightly from God. Proverbs 12:15 says, "The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice;" and Proverbs 15:22 says, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed."
5. God's signs - circumstances of life. Proverbs 16:9 says, "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps."
Number two in this list is likely the most difficult. God's word tells us that he has placed his Spirit inside of those who follow Jesus (see for example 2 Timothy 1:14) and that we are to keep in step with this Spirit that lives in us (Galatians 5:25; Romans 8:4; Romans 8:26). The thing we must work at is getting good at discerning the voice of the Spirit who lives inside of us and distinguishing that voice from all of the other voices we may hear in our heads. This takes years of practise, patience, and learning.
Number four reminds us that we have been given the people of God, the Body of Christ as one part of how God speaks to us. When we think that we are hearing from God we should speak with trusted friends inside the Body of Christ and ask them if they think that we are hearing accurately. If God can speak to us, he can certainly speak to others as well and help to confirm what we are hearing. This also means that we need to be in relationship with the people of God. We must constantly be cultivating our relationships with others in the Body of Christ.
Numbers three and five are similar but three emphasises that God has given us a good brain with which to think. He wants us to use it. Number five is about paying attention to circumstances of life. If I head in a certain direction, do doors open or close. Even then it may take logic and discernment to determine which doors are closed and which might need a bit stronger push.
These five principles are helpful; and, again, we must remind ourselves that all of this starts with us being in right relationship with God. If we submit ourselves to his will and trust him to lead us toward fulfilling his will in the world, we will be at the place where God can use us and direct us toward his specific will for our lives.
1 Waltke, Bruce K. Finding the Will of God: a pagan notion? Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002.
2. “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” John 14:15-21 (NIV)