"The Will of God." The phrase has a rather solemn ring to it, don't you think? Maybe it's because most disciples of Jesus Christ I know are striving to understand and earnestly seek the will of God. Authentic disciples are serious about finding it, surrendering to it, praying according to it, obeying it, and living in the center of it.
Yes, indeed. It's an important subject! I've been asked to write about it—the will of God, that is. Before I begin, I must confess something: I can't write about God's will without help from my friends, both living and dead, that great cloud of witnesses who have surrounded us (Hebrews 12:1)! The words of those who are running the race and those who have finished it can be like markers for those of us who have fixed our eyes on Jesus and desperately want to find the center of His will for our lives.
Let's invite to the table theologian and founder of Methodism, John Wesley, theologians and authors Richard Taylor, Henry Blackaby, and Leon Chambers, and my personal spiritual director, Kent Ira Goff. I'll throw out a question and let's see how they respond. We might learn something about God's will in the process! In addition, we may learn something about ourselves in relation to God's will.
Bud Reedy (BR): What do you think is meant by the term the "will of God?"
Leon Chambers (LC): I think the term is most often used to refer to God's guidance. God as guide is a huge idea in the Old Testament (Exodus 15:13) and is even bigger in the New Testament. The difference in the New Testament is that God's guidance is accomplished primarily by the indwelling Spirit (John 16:13). Guidance may be positive ("Do this!") or negative ("Don't do that!") But there must be a willingness to be led.
BR: So then, how does God guide or reveal His will?
John Wesley (JW): God guides us as we search the Scriptures. The Bible not only contains the message of God's grace but is our primary guide for discerning God's will (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It's how God teaches, rebukes, corrects, and trains us for the journey so we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. That's why I read the Bible systematically. In fact, would you be interested in some suggestions for reading the Scriptures?
JW: Here we go.
- If possible, set aside some time in the morning and evening, every day.
- Read a chapter from both the Old Testament and New Testament.
- Read with this purpose in mind: to know God's will.
- Look for connections between your life and the fundamental ideas of Christian faith.
- Pray the Scriptures, asking the indwelling Spirit to guide you.
- Resolve to put into practice what God teaches you.
I think you will find this to be a helpful method for finding God's will.
BR: Is searching the Scripture the only way to discover God's will?
Henry Blackaby (HB): I wrote a book a few years back I entitled Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God.
BR: I read that book!
HB: My point in the book was that we don't "find" God's will—it is revealed. God always takes the initiative. And God reveals Himself, His purposes, and His ways. He speaks through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church. Most often, when God does speak, it leads to a crisis of belief that requires an adjustment of some kind. If you obey and adjust, God can work through you to accomplish His work.
BR: So you are saying that if you exercise these disciplines God will reveal His will to you—that He will guide you into the center of His will. Mr. Wesley, do you agree?
JW: Yes, for the most part. My list is just a little different. Certainly my list contains prayer too. But I would include fasting, The Lord's Supper, and Christian conference.
BR: Christian conference? Could you explain that one?
JW: Christian conferences were conversations with other disciples. Some groups I called societies, some classes, some bands. Societies were composed of men and women who came together during a week to pray, sing, hear the Word proclaimed, and "love one another" (I John 4:7). Classes were smaller groups within the society—about 12 people or so—for the primary purpose of discipleship and service. Bands, smaller still, were an opportunity for the members to hold one another accountable.
BR: So are you saying Christians need conference to discover God's will for their lives?
JW: Yes. God's will for your life may be personal, but it is seldom private. Christians seldom come to know God's will in isolation, but in community. God also speaks through public worship and works of mercy.
BR: So, discovering God's will for our lives requires that we respond to God's initiative. God wants to reveal His will but we must want to receive it and adjust our lives in order to walk in it. I know Christian conference is important. But what happens when Spirit-filled Christian people disagree concerning God's will?
And what should I do if I'm getting mixed signals from people—not on the strategic aspects of God's will or His overall plan, but on the tactical expression of His will? How am I supposed to figure out what God's will is specifically?
Richard Taylor (RT): That's where discernment comes in. Discernment is the ability to distinguish reality from appearances and truth from falsehood. We need such insights in respect to people, doctrines, impressions and specific situations. Discernment is one of the special gifts of the Spirit (I Corinthians 12:10).
I believe the Spirit gives it to us as needed, such as when we need to make a tactical decision. I like to think of discernment as the prayerful exercise of common sense, through knowledge of the Bible, understanding of people, and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.
BR: When I'm trying to figure out God's will, should I go looking for someone who has the gift of discernment?
RT: I'd be careful about that. In fact, I'd be suspect of anyone who in the name of a "gift of discernment" tells other people what they should do, whom they should marry (or not marry), when they should move, or what job to take or reject. It's probably best to pray that the Lord will grace you with a discerning heart, and then prayerfully strive to acquire it.
BR: So discernment, unlike Christian conference, is a really personal thing?
Kent Ira Groff (KIG): Not always. Have you ever heard of a clearness committee? Quakers practice this. At the request of the person seeking clarity, a group of friends gather (five or six people). The meeting begins with centering prayer and silence. And then the focus person gives a fresh statement of the concern. This is followed by discerning questions, never fix-it advice. Then those present share some observation and alternatives.
All of this occurs in a prayerful atmosphere. In fact, the session may end with the laying on of hands in prayer. The group may be reconvened at any time. This is an example of group discernment.
BR: Well, thank you my theological mentors, professors, authors, and my spiritual director. You have been and continue to be pioneers who have blazed the way, veterans who have cheered many of us on! Let's pray for one another until we are wholly lost in the sweet will of God.
Bud Reedy is senior pastor of Stillmeadow Church of the Nazarene in York, Pennsylvania. Holiness Today July/August 2006