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How to Know the Will of God
October 17, 2011
I find one of the trickiest areas of very practical theology to be knowing the will of God. This is an area that applies to every Christian and it is one for which there is a great deal of disagreement. Some Christians teach that we ought to expect God to provide us with guidance in every area of life, from the most important to the most mundane. Others teach a very different view, that God gives us very general guidance. Some take a middle position.
It’s a valid and pertinent question: What does the Bible tell us about discovering God’s will for our lives? When we talk about knowing God’s will I think the heart of what we’re asking is something like this: How will God guide me today in such a way that I can consciously participate in doing his will? How can I make decisions that allow me to consciously participate in what God wants for me? What would it look like at this time and in this place for me to do God’s will?
Over the next couple of days I want to answer these questions and seek to show what the Bible teaches us about knowing and doing the will of God. Here is how I want to go about this: First I want to show that God is absolutely sovereign; then I want to show that God is speaking today; then I want to show that God is speaking to you today; and finally, I want to show that God is speaking clearly to you today.
God Is Sovereign
We need to begin with the sovereignty of God. If the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that God is sovereign, by which we mean that God is King, that he is Lord, that nothing happens outside of his knowledge or outside of his will. God is able to do whatever his will is; God will and must do whatever his will is. This means that God is always at work behind the scenes in our world and in our lives. God’s providence directs every event in the universe and every event in my life. God is involved not just in the big picture of this world, but in the nitty-gritty. Nothing is too big or too small or too difficult. In his sovereignty he quietly directs everything that happens in the entire universe. Not a hair falls from my head without him knowing it and in some way willing it. Literally. There is not an atom in all the universe that is outside of God’s direct control.
Theologians call this God’s secret will or his hidden will, and that’s a good term for it. These are the things that God has decreed will happen and they will happen without our input or assent. If you step outside your front door today and are hit with a meteorite, that will be part of God’s will for you—probably the last part of God’s will for you—and you will have had no say in it. This is God’s secret will to bring about his purposes from behind the scenes, from beyond what we can see and control. You are not meant to know this until after it happens and you do not consciously participate in it. Moses knew of this will when he wrote, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). The secret things belong to God and he has hidden them from us. We see them only as they unfold. Somehow they all work together to fulfill God’s purposes in the world.
There are a couple of well-known Proverbs that speak to this: 16:9 says “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” This is the consistent message of the Bible. God directs all that happens in the universe. He directs all the events in the world and all the events in my life in his own good and secret and inscrutable way.
That is the place we need to begin, with the utter, sheer, absolute sovereignty of God. But it doesn’t quite get at what we really want to know, not all the way. The heart of our question is How will God guide me today in such a way that I can consciously participate in doing his will?
Well, consistent with God’s sovereignty is human responsibility. Even though God is sovereign, even though he rules all things and even though all things work together to bring about his purposes, we are not robots; we are not automatons. We are given the ability and given the freedom to make decisions, to obey or disobey. How these 2 things work together—Divine sovereignty and human responsibility—is a question that has perplexed theologians for all time. I am certainly not going to dive deep into that question. We have to leave it as something that is for God to know and for us to accept and believe.
I will continue this little series tomorrow by showing that God is speaking.