God is a wise and loving God and He has a purpose in everything
In seeking to find God’s will, it is important for us to differentiate between four distinctive means of guidance.
1. Special Guidance
By an Angel, dream, vision, voice or supernatural intervention like the donkey speaking. From Scripture we observe that:
(A) Special Guidance was not the normative experience of every believer for the more ordinary decisions of life like whom to marry and what job to take up
(B) Special Guidance occurred to people who had a special place in the out working of Gods programme. E.g.: Moses, Gideon, Joseph, Mary, Paul, etc.
(C) It came to them while they went about doing their normal routine responsibilities. Moses was shepherding when he saw the burning bush; Gideon was threshing wheat when an angel appeared to him; Joseph was asleep when he had a dream; Paul was on his way to Damascus when he heard a voice. None of them were waiting for Special Guidance. We ought to conclude from these observations that we are to go about fulfilling our God given responsibilities and if we are special in the out working of God’s programme we shall receive special guidance, but we need not wait or seek for special guidance. The ordinary believer is not exhorted nor found to be waiting for special guidance from God.
2. Sovereign Guidance
Take the case of a believer’s child who became seriously ill. Many prayed. The best treatment was given. But the child died. We tell the believer: ‘Even though this is an agonizing experience, accept it as God’s will. We may not understand why He has allowed this to happen, God is a wise and loving God and He has a purpose in everything’. Here, we are referring to God’s sovereign will. It can be defined as God’s predetermined plan for everything that happens in the universe (Daniel 4:35; Proverbs 21:1). It is hidden and the believer cannot know it in advance. It can be discovered only after it happens. Believers cannot miss it because it always comes to pass (Romans 9:19). God guides through His full control over all events. In all decisions believers should humbly submit in advance (James 4:14,15) to the out working of God’s sovereign will as it touches each decision.
3. The Moral Will of God
This refers to the revealed commandments in the Bible that teach how we ought to believe and live. E.g.: Romans 2:18; 1 Thess. 5:18; 4:3. If a believer asks, ‘Is it Gods will for me to marry a non-believer?’ the moral will of God is clearly revealed in 2 Cor. 6: 14. All one has to do is to obey it.
Once all applicable Biblical principles are brought to bear on the decision to narrow down the possibilities, if options yet remain, one is free to choose on the basis of expedience and preference. E.g.: 1 Cor.7:39. When the God of abundance wants us to enjoy the freedom that He has granted, the insistence upon only one correct choice generates anxiety over missing God’s will rather than the release and gratitude for more than one fine opportunity to choose. We must apply acquired wisdom and careful research to make the best possible choice from among the options available and own the responsibility for the decisions taken. Apostolic use of making such wise decisions is evident in the following passages: 1 Thess. 3:1,2; Philippians 2:25,26; 1Corinthians 16:3,4; Acts 6 2; Acts 15:6,25,26.
Having outlined the Biblical method of finding God’s will it is now necessary to mention some traditional methods used to ‘discover God’s will’ and their drawbacks.
1. Flip and Point Verses
A believer was in love and wanted to marry a non-believer girl whose name happened to be Nanma Karunakaran. He diligently prayed for guidance and searched the Scriptures. He found ‘clear guidance’ in his Malayalam Bible in Psalms 23:6 where the words ‘Nanma’ and ‘Karuna’ are found as ‘Goodness’ and ‘Mercy’.
Circumstances only define the context of the decision. Often Biblical convictions will lead us against the course of circumstances. E.g.: Acts 20:22-24.
3. Open/Closed Doors
Paul once walked away from an open door (2 Cor. 2: 12,13) and at another time tried again and again to open a closed door (Rom.1:10-13).
4. Peace of God
Colossians 3:15 is sometimes considered to be God’s stamp of approval and its absence, God’s red flag of warning. Exegetically, Colossians 3:15 refers to peace with one another and this passage has nothing to do with finding God’s will. Experientially, all major decisions in life entail responsibilities and result in consequences. Hence a lack of peace is normal when one faces a major turning point in life. Jesus Christ’s agony and prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is an example for this.
5. Promptings of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit did not take hundreds of years to produce the Bible only to by-pass it. The two references to being ‘led by the Spirit’ (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18) have nothing to do with guidance and decision-making. The context of both references (Romans 8:13; Galatians 5:17) is sanctification – the process of walking in righteousness. Most often these promptings turn out to be nothing more than following one’s own subjective wishes/feelings and desires (which so often are untrustworthy).
In moral and wisdom guidance, we are responsible to discover and obey God’s will; where as in Special guidance and Sovereign guidance, God is responsible. In order to free ourselves from the agony of prayerfully using our heads in a Biblical manner to make a responsible choice/decision, we resort to easy methods such as letting circumstances dictate decisions, using open/closed doors or flip and point verses, depending on our subjective feelings, spreading the fleece, etc. These are methods of ‘discovering God’s will’ because they all have one thing in common – we don’t have to think and we can hold God responsible for our choices. The Biblical methods require work – Bible study coupled with thinking and owning responsibility for one’s own choices.
In the final analysis, all wrong methods of discovering God’s will turn out to be nothing more than following one’s own subjective wishes/feeling/desires or a matter of being led by the will of another human being, while the believer goes about justifying his/her unwise decision on the pretext that ‘God led him/her.’