07 September 2008

Wise Decisions and God's Will

Should I have been more sensitive to the Holy Spirit in making an iPod decision? I admit I did not seek a sign or "throw a fleece". I just reasoned instead. Should I have better sought God's will?

You might say that the iPod is a small decision. Certainly we don't seek God's will when we decide what socks to wear each day because it just isn't that big a deal. But when making a career decision we often use such "God's will" language. So somewhere in between there is a line. We could debate a long time on where the line is, which decisions are "big enough" and which are insignificant, but I am not going to seek to find that line because I don't subscribe to this decision making method.

If what I'm presenting is foreign to you, I want you to know that I'm not making this up on my own. I had always been uneasy about "seeking God's will" but could not put my finger on why. Reading the book "Decision Making and the Will of God" by Garry Friesen helped me greatly on the whole issue. Perhaps I am uneasy about the common Christian decision making method because it isn't Biblical, which is what Friesen argues. Recently I came across a blog post by Tim Challies that was very encouraging regarding God's will. If you don't read the whole thing, he says:

Later in I began to examine Christianity outside of the Reformed fold... One of my greatest surprises, and one I found most disconcerting, was the constant discussion in mainstream Protestantism about knowing God’s will and receiving guidance from Him. Before leaving Reformed circles I had never heard anyone claim to hear from God nor had I really seen people wrestle with issues of God’s guidance. These were foreign concepts to me.

It took me some time to figure out why this was not a struggle for me. I did not wrestle with issues of God’s guidance because I had been taught firm principles from my years of catechetical instruction.

He goes on to quote Sinclair Ferguson (who will be speaking at this year's Desiring God conference) in his book Faithful God:

Christians in an earlier generation rarely thought of writing books on guidance. There is a reason for that (just as there is a reason why so many of us today are drawn to books that will tell us how to find God’s will). Our forefathers in the faith were catechised, and they taught catechisms to their children. Often as much as half of the catechism would be devoted to an exposition of the answers to questions like the following: Question: Where do we find God’s will? Answer: In the Scriptures. Question: Where in particular in the Scriptures? Answer: In the Commandments that God has given to us.

Why were these questions and answers so important? Because these Christians understood that God’s law provides basic guidelines that cover the whole of life. Indeed, in the vast majority of instances, the answer to the question ‘What does God want me to do?’ will be found by answering the question: ‘How does the law of God apply to this situation? What does the Lord require of me here in his word?’

I heartily agree. The method described by Challies and Ferguson for decision making in my words is the application of wisdom as received by the study of Scripture. Consider some passages. Colossians 1:10 says, "...so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God." That is what Christians should and do desire, to walk in a manner worthy of and fully pleasing the Lord. To do so we often say we need to "seek His will". Well, what does verse nine say?

Col 1:9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
Col 1:10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Notice words like knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Yes, it refers to his will. What I am suggesting is that the colloquial use of "God's will" is most times not what Scripture intends. Knowing God's will happens through study of Scripture, where God's will is entirely evident, not through mystical sign-seeking.

Or consider 1 Thessalonians 5:

1Th 5:16 Rejoice always,
1Th 5:17 pray without ceasing,
1Th 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

In making a life decision and seeking to know God's will for me, this passage doesn't exactly help. Imagine:

"Is it God's will that I become an engineer?"
"According to 1 Th. 5:18, it is God's will for you that you give thanks in all circumstances."
"Okay, great! So... is it God's will that I become an engineer?"

I believe the fact is the way we talk about God's will wrong. God's will is clear in Scripture: give thanks, pray continually, rejoice always, do justly, love mercy, humble yourself, love Him with all your being, love your neighbor as yourself, be pure, be holy, add to your faith virtue and knowledge and self-control, etc. Is God's will not abundantly clear? This is what I mean when I refer to God's will, and to be clearer I might say God's moral will.

Then our questions on how to make a certain decision still remain. The answer is to be wise. Wisdom is knowing God's (moral) will and knowing how to apply it to life situations.

Does it trouble you that this approach seems to involve God less? Is it abandoning a Holy Spirit sensitivity? It is certainly an abandonment of some kind of Christian mysticism. Really, "seeking God's will" decision making is the abandonment of the Spirit. It is the Spirit who guides us into truth. The Spirit opens our spiritual eyes as we read God's Word. The Spirit brings us wisdom. Instead of seeking God's will, I say we should ask for the Spirit of wisdom (Deu. 34:9, Isa. 11:2, Acts 6:3, 1 Cor. 12:8, Eph. 1:17, etc.).

I really hope you are not waiting for a sign before you put socks on.

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