It is a commonly held belief among Christians that one of the most perplexing problems we experience is knowing what the will of God is for our lives. The reason for this is not hard to find. For one thing, we are most sensitive to this question in times of stress, when the stakes are high and our emotions are perturbed. We want a clear path to appear in front of us – we want to know what our heavenly Father would have us do. In these situations we turn to God and pray for guidance. But frequently we discover that the help does not come to us when and how we think it should, and we begin to wonder if there is some secret key to the will of God which we need to discover.
- The Problem with Fleeces
Everyone is familiar with what Gideon did when he wanted absolute assurance that he was not deluded, but that the Lord truly had told him to take on the Midianites – he laid a fleece out, not once but twice (Judg. 6:36-40).
So we say to ourselves, well, if God honored Gideon’s prayer for guidance and God answered him, He may honor my request – after all, we say to ourselves, we just want to do the right thing in God’s sight. So we spread before God our fleeces, metaphorically speaking. For example, we pray,
“Father, if I am meant to go into business with this guy then let such and such happen.”
“Lord, if it is your will for me to meet the women who will be my wife then let her come and talk to me at church tonight (P.S. and let her friend who despises me be home sick or something).” We may even cite Gen. 24:12-14 to help our case!
But there are several things wrong about this procedure:
First, it tempts God in that we make stipulations that we then want God to meet. We forget that our Father is also the King.
Second, it contradicts the injunctions which tell us that we must walk by faith and not by sight (or sign).
And third, not infrequently, when our desired ‘sign’ occurs (or some semblance of it), we still feel as much in the dark about things as before.
Further, there are a few exegetical matters which need to be thought through:
First, Gideon already had been given a very clear sign from God and had been told what he must do (Judg. 6:15-23).
In the second place, Gideon had to go to war with a vastly inferior army (135,000 Midianites against his 35,000 Israelites who would be whittled down to 300 – Judg. 7:1-6). “Accordingly,” wrote Leon Wood, “Gideon felt in need of reassurance that God truly wanted him to proceed with this frightening venture.” – Leon J. Wood, The Distressing Days of the Judges, 211-212.
The extraordinary circumstances in which Gideon found himself called for a “double-check.” But they did not call for any new information. In short, Gideon had warrant for his prayer, we do not. So it is unwise to put out fleeces a la Gideon and expect to get any direction from the exercise. This is because a. Gideon had a vast army to go up against, and, b. because we are to walk by faith, not by sight. So let us pursue this question of the specific will of God further.
- How Then Can I Know What God Wants Me To Do?
In his often helpful book Decision Making and the Will of God, Garry Friesen puts forth what he calls “the Wisdom View” (p. 199). Friesen defines his view thus (I have clarified some of his wording and added some thoughts of my own):
First, the revealed commands and principles of God’s Word (i.e. God’s ethical code), are to be obeyed. Thus, where we know what God requires of us (e.g. the Beatitudes, the Armor of God, The Ten Commandments minus the Jewish Sabbath, etc.) we should be striving to please Him. This is the burden of passages like 1 Thess. 4:1f. or Rom. 6:11.
Second, in those areas where the Scriptures give no specific command or principle, and it is not a question or morality per se, the believer is free to responsibly choose his or her course of action – provided they do not violate God’s ethical requirements as set forth especially in the New Testament (e.g. Eph. 4:1-5:21). All decisions must be faith-decisions, since “whatever is not of faith is sin.” (Rom. 14:23).
Finally, the objective of the Christian always to make wise decisions, decisions both spiritual and practical. Thus, the Book of Proverbs comes to the fore here. See e.g. Prov. 3:5-6; 16:3.
Earlier in the book Friesen gives J. I. Packer’s definition of wisdom: “Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it.” Wisdom, (Chokma – which denotes practicality as well as problem-solving), is discovered by those who fear the Lord (Prov. 9:10). This fear forces God into every decision and compels pride and self-centeredness to leave (or at least to take a subordinate place). The culture of pragmatism and the obsession with image which permeates not just secular America but Christian America too (and to the same extent!), means that the thoughtful believer who truly wishes to know God’s guidance will be careful to keep the fear of God always as a mark before him.
To this definition I add these comments of John Stott:
The [general] will of God for the people of God has been revealed in the Word of God. But we shall not find His ‘particular’ will in Scripture. To be sure, we shall find general principles in Scripture to guide us, but detailed decisions have to be made after careful thought and prayer and the seeking of advice from mature and experienced believers.– John R. W. Stott, Authentic Christianity, 248.