Discerning God’s Will

Dear Friends:

This is the ninth message in a series of the problems of fretting and worry. It was first sent out some years ago and is a chapter in my second book. Judging from reader’s responses the first time that I sent this out, it is one of the most popular Word of Grace messages ever.

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The human mind may devise many plans,
but it is the purpose of the Lord
that will be established.
(Prov 19:21)

The future is the problem for fretters and worriers. We demand certainty, but how is that working out for us?

There was a rabbi who lived in a village on the steppes of Russia. Every morning for twenty years he crossed the village square to pray in the synagogue and every morning he was carefully watched by a policeman who hated Jews.

Finally one morning the policeman walked up to the rabbi and demanded to know where he was going.

“I don’t know,” said the rabbi.

“What do you mean you don’t know? For the past twenty years I have seen you go to that synagogue across the square and now you say you don’t know? I’ll teach you a lesson!”

With that he grabbed the old man by his beard and dragged him off to jail. As the policeman was turning the key on the prison cell, the rabbi looked at him with a twinkle in his eye and said, “See what I meant when I said I didn’t know” (told by Anthony de Mello in The Heart of the Enlightened [New York: Image Books, 1991], p. 175-176).

In a world in rebellion against God with its broken promises, officious intermeddlers, malicious envy, competitive greed, and reckless selfishness , we cannot know for a certainty the place our daily path will bring us.  We can know, however, the intentions of our Creator, Redeemer and Lord for our lives and be assured that he will walk the path with us to see that we eventually make it home to his side.

Being a loving God and a parent like none other, identified in Christ, as “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6), our heavenly Father does not leave his children without means to make right choices for their lives. Those means are identified in Scripture.

1. We have to stop what we are doing. This means a ruthless braking of our activity to worship God with no exception. “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed” (Mk 1:35). “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth” (Ps. 46:10). “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Is 30:15). “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret….” (Ps 37:7). It is said, and I can validate this from experience, that if you simply go into the woods alone, sit down, read a passage of scripture, and wait with an open mind and open heart, God will show something to give you insight.
I glimpsed the power of God in stillness during prayer this week. It is the power of the sun shining on a glacier converting it to a rock-crumbling, mountain-slashing torrent. It is the heat of the sun baking the desert into a laboratory of essential life. Night covers the land without a sound. Dawn illumines a new perspective in silence. The moon rises and sets, the tide turns, and we have nothing to do with it but to look at it and know that is what God is doing to our waiting, quiet souls. “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Cor 4:5).
2.  We have to listen. “…[W]hen I brought your ancestors out of Egypt,…my one command…was this. Listen to my voice, then I will be your God and you shall be my people…but they did not pay attention” (Jer 7:22-28).  “Listen, Israel…you must love your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Let the words stay in your heart” (Dt 6:4-13). “If only you would listen to him today! Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Heb 3:7-13). “Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘ This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’  When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent….” (Lk 9:35-36).
Mother Teresa was once asked, “When you pray, what do you say to God?”
Her answer startled the interviewer. She said, “I don’t say anything. I listen!”
Not knowing what to say next, her interviewer fumbled for words, and finally blurted out, “Okay! When you pray what does God say to you?”
Mother Teresa answered, “He doesn’t say anything. He listens. And if you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.”
3. We must filter what we hear through Scripture. “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). “Anyone who has ears to hear should listen…hear the word and accept it and bear fruit….(Mk 4:9, 20).  “…And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard….But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘ Lord, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:14, 16-17). “Garbage in, garbage out” is the saying of computer programmers. The same goes for those who seek God’s will without Scripture as their starting and reference point.
One does not need to know Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, or Latin to hear God speak through Scripture. It simply takes a good translation of the Bible, a concordance and a dictionary. Using the concordance, find verses dealing with the subject of your concern. Then read those verses slowly and reflect on them, each in turn. Reflect on each verse in silence, taking note of the word or phrase that speaks to your mind. Read the verse again. Reflect on it in silence. Take note of what emotion or thought is stirred in your heart. Read the verse again followed by silent reflection. Take note of what action or direction the Scripture is calling you to take. Follow this process with each verse, writing down your thoughts and feelings in a journal.
4. We must prayerfully submit our will to the Word of God and seek what glorifies him, not us. “Then Jesus answered them, ‘ My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him. (Jn. 7:16-18). Jesus said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say” (Jn.5:46-47).
In this regard, it is crucial to read and interpret verses in context and to look for two or more passages that agree with the principle under consideration. It is dishonest and manipulative to seize on a word or phrase out of context as the answer just because it agrees with our desire.  It is a violation of the commandment “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of God for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name” to simply accept the verses that agree with our preconceptions (Ex 20:7). The Prophet Samuel condemned King Saul’s selfishness in manipulating God’s Word to match his stubborn wishes in the strongest of terms. “For rebellion is no less a sin than divination (superstitious rituals and occult spells), and stubborness is like iniquity and idolatry” (1 Sam 15:23).
5.  We must obey what we learn from Scripture and prayer. “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed better than the fat of rams” (1 Sam 15:23). “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock” (Mt 7:24-25).
6. We must not take what someone else is telling us is the word of God for us unless our prayer and our reading of Scripture leads to the same conclusion with clarity. “He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘ This is the way; walk in it.’ Then you will defile your silver-covered idols and your gold-plated images. You will scatter them like filthy rags; you will say to them, ‘ Away with you!’ ” (Is 30:19-22). “…I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘ Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Heb 8:10-11).
I have witnessed great damage done to lives by self-appointed prophets who tell men and women, “I have a special word of God just for you.” It usually deals with some aspect of their love or business lives and seeks to compel action in line with the thinking of the person who claims the special knowledge of God’s wishes in the matter. As you can see, the plain teaching of Scripture is that we each have access to God and he will speak his word to our heart and mind. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord….” (Jer 29:11-14). “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 5:16).
7. Having received God’s guidance, we must remain faithful to it regardless of who tries to change our minds. “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever” (Ps 125:1). “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name you will accept him. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God” (Jn 5:43-44) “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being doubleminded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (Js 1:6-8).
I don’t think there are sadder words in Scripture than Luke’s observation on Pilate’s surrendering his conviction that Jesus’ was innocent because Pilate’s politician-soul couldn’t withstand public disapproval. “But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will” (Lk 23:23-25, NIV).

These are principles that I’ve learned over time and in experience. They aren’t the truth itself, because as I said last week, the will of God is the life of God expressed in and through a surrendered soul. Our journey of experience doesn’t lead us to the truth, it teaches us how to discern the truth. The will of God is something that happens in us and to us and through us in love. “Love never ends…For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end…For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:8-9, 12).

That God loves us and won’t stop is the most important thing we can ever know about God’s will. Set your plans and your anxieties aside, sit still and yield to God’s love. Allow the love of Jesus Christ to fill you with his presence. Whatever else that you may want, it doesn’t get any better than being loved forever by the One who made you.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8)

Under the mercy of Christ,


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