Is there a way to know what to do? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
I love my church small group. It’s a great community that my wife and I have found acceptance in. It is a place where we can freely be ourselves, and the group certainly gets a lot of fun out of the fact that we are ourselves. Our leader has said he would love to hear the car ride that goes on between us on the way home.
When we meet, we discuss the sermon from earlier that day. Last night, we were discussing a sermon on temptation. Somehow, we got into a little conversation on how to know the right thing to do when it doesn’t seem clear. What can we do in order to know what the will of God is in a situation?
Now my way is quite contrary to most people I think in regards to this. I figured that this medium would be a good way to present it further as well as recommend resources on it. For most people, there is this idea that there is a communication link going on between the Father and us and if we are walking in the truth, we will understand what it is that we ought to be doing.
I understand this desire and I understand how people arrive at this conclusion. We read the Bible through the lens of our own culture. At the start, it’s kind of unavoidable. Unless you know otherwise, most of us will think most people are just like us. We think on an individual basis. Obviously then, so did most people in history.
Except they didn’t.
In fact, they still don’t.
For those of you who are Christians in Indonesia, or places like that, the idea of thinking individualistically will make no sense. For my readers who like me live in America, it seems bizarre to think that people do not think this way, but we Western readers must get past our Western prejudices. We want to treat God often like any other friend, just much more holy and powerful. The problem is God is altogether different.
We in our day and age value intimacy and relationship. Now there’s nothing wrong with those.As a married man, I certainly will not say intimacy is a bad thing. Relationship is also not a bad thing. It is good to have good relationships with people. Our idea today in evangelism is to talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is what the Bible is all about.
Except, the Bible never talks about it.
The Bible talks about being in right relation to God, but it never describes it for us here as the intimate personal relationship we are used to hearing about. Consider that even Abraham, the friend of God, had thirteen years of silence from the Heavens. Paul, who was an inspired writer of Scripture, when receiving word from God would often have it come in dreams and visions instead of personal communication.
Some of you at this point will think you’re being cheated. It is as if I am stealing something from you. No. I am just wanting to convince of what I think Scripture really teaches. If you have a belief that is false, do you not want to know it? Now if you think my view is false, I certainly do want to know it, and like you, I will need a persuasive case.
Now there are times the Bible does talk about the will of God. In a number of places, it refers to His sovereign will. This includes events like the return of Christ, the resurrection, or pretty much any event prophesied. We can know this will by studying the Scriptures insofar as it has been revealed. When we talk about knowing the will of God, we don’t mean that normally.
Sometimes, we do want to know the moral will. There are ethical dilemmas and we want to know what the right thing to do is. Some are not dilemmas. None of us wrestle over “Should I murder my neighbor or not?” Instead, we might ask about questions like “What can a couple do in the bedroom?” or “What can I watch at the movie theater?” or “Is it okay to drink alcohol?” There are places we can think Scripture does not give a cut and dry answer.
This is especially so in a modern age where now we have questions about stem-cell research, human cloning, downloadable material on the internet that we can wonder if it’s legal or not, etc. Different Christians can use different verses of Scripture and different arguments to make their point and a number of Christians can get confused.
For now, let’s put this will on hold. There is another will we insist is there and that is to know God’s personal will for our lives. We look at passages like Jeremiah 29:11. Yeah! God has a plan for our lives! We ignore entirely that this was about the nation of Israel going into exile and God assuring them that they were not done. Instead, we personalize it. Now we have to know what God’s personal will is! What does He want us to do in each situation?
Now if we were consistent with this kind of thinking, we’d follow it entirely, but no one does. When you get out of a shower and you’re putting on your socks, I don’t know of anyone who prays “Lord. Would you have me to start with my right foot or my left foot?” If we go to the grocery store we don’t ask “Lord. Should I buy three apples or four apples?” With mundane decisions, we usually make those on our own.
Yet when it comes to the big ones, people often think there is something specific they must do. If they do not do this, then they are out of alignment with the will of God. Therefore, when it comes time to choose a college, they must find out which college God wants them to go to. When it comes to marriage, they must find which person God wants them to marry. When it comes to a job, they must find out which job God wants them to choose.
I want to dispel a false notion about my view at the start. I am not saying it is wrong to pray about those decisions. In fact, I think it is quite commendable to pray. I prayed every night before I proposed to Allie. (In addition to practicing my proposal) I still prayed every night after and today, well I am still praying not for God’s wisdom on the decision, but God’s blessings on my spouse. If you are choosing a college or a job, I encourage you to pray to God for Wisdom. There is only one thing I say you should not ask God to do.
You should not ask God to choose for you.
Many of you will be watching the Super Bowl which I understand is this Sunday night (And if that is correct, I did not even know that until I saw a commercial while watching either The Big Bang Theory or Elementary on Thursday night. Yes. That is how little I care about it). Which quarterback do you think the coach desires to have out there on the field?
Is it the one who has to ask the coach before every decision what he should do?
Or is it the one who has watched his coach for years and has made it a point to think like his coach and know the way that he should act, even in the most important game of the season if not his entire career?
The way I explained how this doesn’t work last night is with marriage. Let’s suppose that there was one person out there for you to marry. Now I do think there are times where a spouse is chosen for someone for a specific reason, but by and large, it’s not that way overall. We must remember in the case of the Bible, we are looking at exceptional cases. We are not looking at normative cases.
Let’s suppose you are meant to marry one person, but you end up marrying another. Well you’ve both messed up God’s plan for your lives. It doesn’t end with the two of you. Now the two people you were meant to marry can’t marry the people they were meant to, so they end up marrying others. Yet now that goes on so that four people have married who they’re not supposed to so four others must do the same.
By your one bad decision, you have ruined God’s plan for humanity!
Interestingly, for most of us, it is not the question of “Should I marry?” but “Who should I marry?” Keep in mind, some people will be perfectly happy single and if they are, we should welcome and celebrate that. Marriage is a great thing and a wonderful blessing, but some people will serve God better single.
Let’s suppose we use the way of wisdom to make this decision instead. Here are some criteria.
First off, this person must be of the opposite sex.
Next, they must be a Christian.
After that, there are some conditions you will want. You will want someone of a suitable age. You can’t marry a toddler and you won’t want someone the age of your grandmother most likely. You’ll then want someone who you can communicate with. (In the age of the internet, this is much more different. My wife and I lived about 250 miles away while we were dating and I have two more friends where one lives in the U.K. and one lives in Texas who are engaged and dating) You will want someone you like and whose company you enjoy and who you can build a life with. Also, it will be beneficial if you have the blessings of your parents, and for all those concerned, I asked my in-laws beforehand for their permission to marry Allie and I told my own Dad beforehand what I was doing and he said he’d get out the tranquilizer gun (Or in this case the tranquilizer uzi) to tell my mother. I also consulted several others and got their wisdom and today, we are consistently told “You two are just an incredible couple together!” and I have not met any who question the hand of God in our union.
So the question for you. Does this person you’re with meet that criteria?
If so, get married.
You can then apply a similar set of criteria to questions like college and jobs and matters like that. Just ask “Am I making a wise decision?” and if so, then make it.
Today, we will often use different criteria.
“Well, I just felt peaceful about it.”
How many of us know that there are so many areas that we will not use our feelings as guides? In fact, there are plenty of times we are making the right decision and we have no peace about it. I would hope you don’t have peace about having to tell someone bad news. If you have to spank your child, do you feel peace about it? How many people are perfectly calm and at perfect peace the night before and the day of their wedding. (I think I got an hour’s sleep and a picture in our album is of my wife chugging down a five-hour energy drink)
If our feelings were our guide and were trustworthy, we would all be better people. We would not be snippy with our parents. We would not be in debt with our finances. Men in the church would not struggle with internet pornography. Couples would not argue as often as they do.
Furthermore, if we are doing something for the first time that is scary, there will not be peace. I remember before my first flight, I was absolutely terrified. I did not have an ounce of peace in me. There was a time Allie had a stalker while we were dating who I had to deal with on the phone and before I talked to him, I did not have peace. When I was preparing to give a message at my grandmother’s funeral, I had never been more nervous to give a talk and I was certainly not at peace! (Now when I started speaking, I will say I was at peace.)
So how do I know what’s the right thing to do? Wisdom. It’s by looking at principles of living found in books like Proverbs.
Often in church services, we are told with our tithes that we need to give as we feel led. It is amazing that I do not hear messages from 2 Cor. 8-9 that expressly talk about how one is to give. Instead, we are to give based on our feelings. Not once do we see Paul or a writer telling people “Give as you feel led.”
Isn’t it a dangerous position to give our feelings divine authority?
This also leads to embarrassment from unbelievers. They look and say “Here’s a group of people claiming to have guidance from the Holy Spirit and they can’t agree!” There are a number of church votes where I do have to watch and think “If the Holy Spirit is really behind this, I wish He’d get his opinion clear to everyone.” More likely than not, most of us have our opinion already, rightly or wrongly, and just then punt it to God and say “It’s the Holy Spirit.”
Could it be the whole premise is fouled up?
Now this can bring us back to the moral will of God. If a decision has nothing sinful about it, it is fine for us to do. If we are wanting the moral will, what do we do? We have to do what Paul said. We have to study to show ourselves approved. God gave us a whole book about this. It’s called “Proverbs.”
Or do we more often think that God gave us a whole book about good decision making but when He got to the NT, He just decided He’d make all our decisions for us.
Friends. I simply encourage you to try the way of wisdom and the great freedom it gives. For further information on it, I wish to recommend the following resources:
This first one is an MP3 reference from Stand To Reason, the ministry of Greg Koukl. The teaching does come in other formats. It can be bought here.
The second is a book by Garry Friesen and Robin Maxson. That can be found here.