Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
In our last lesson we took a look at the meaning of the will of God and the importance of doing it. Yet for many Christians, the most difficult aspect is how to determine what God's will even is. Paul says in Ephesians 5:17, "be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is." This will be our subject then for this lesson - how the Normal Christian is to determine what the will of God is for their own life.
You may have never associated the subject of the will of God with the Apostle Paul, but he is a great testimony and example in this area. If you study the life of Paul you will surely notice that he was a man who knew God's will and did it. At his salvation he said "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6), he told the Ephesians that he would return to them if it was God's will (Acts 18:21), he told the Romans that he was planning on visiting them if it was God's will (Romans 1:10), and many times he mentions that he was an apostle by the will of God. Yet one of the greatest examples from his life and perhaps one of the best examples in the Bible is found in Acts 16:6-10. We shall use this passage as our text and try to discover some principles that will help us to understand how we can determine what God would have us to do.
Paul left Phrygia and Galatia, and eventually ended up in Macedonia; but there can be no doubt that this was where God wanted him. Verse 6 tells us that God did not want him to preach in Asia, so he kept going. He tried to go North to Bithynia, but God did not want him there either. At Troas he gathers that Macedonia is the place to be, so that's where he went. At no time do we ever get any indication that Paul was having a difficult time figuring out what God wanted him to do. He may not have known exactly where God was going to lead him, but each step seems to have been clear and easy to determine.
Notice that the Holy Spirit was involved in the determination of their next location to start their work. We must remember that we have the Spirit of God dwelling within us giving guidance and direction (John 16:13). It is true that we do not have the Urim and Thummim that they had in Israel, but it is also true that we no longer have to ask a priest to inquire about the will of God for us. As believer-priests we can go right to God ourself (1 Peter 2:5, Hebrews 4:16). In addition to all of this, we have the Word of God which clearly outlines much of the will of God for us.
So, in light of all of this evidence, why does it seem so difficult sometimes to determine the will of God? Let's consider some reasons:
Sometime we cannot determine God's will because we have sin in our life. The Bible says that towards the end of Saul's reign as King of Israel, a great host of Philistines had assembled themselves against Israel and Saul tried to find out from God what he should do. However, we find a very dreadful condition for Saul: "the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets" (1 Samuel 28:6). If you read further in the passage, you will find that God would not answer Saul because of sin in his life. As Psalm 66:18 says, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me."
Sometimes the will of God is plain enough, but we simply do not like the answer. Therefore, it is not really a struggle with determining the will of God but rather with accepting and doing it. A lost man came to Jesus once with the question, "what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17). When Jesus replied with the one thing he lacked, the many went away sad and would not do it. The will of God was clear, but the true desire to do it was not present.
Sometimes we struggle to determine the will of God because we lack faith.
Gideon is the supreme example of this. Many times the will of God was made plain to him, but he struggled with unbelief about it. Gideon's fleece is an example of this which many Christians have incorrectly applied. Gideon did not use the fleece to discover the will of God, he used it for assurance of what God had already told him. God told Gideon in Judges 6:14, "Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?" Yet Gideon asks God in Judges 6:36, "If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said" and then goes on to explain the fleece request (see also Judges 7:9-11). Gideon knew the will of God, but lacked assurance.
If Paul had wanted to know in Lystra where he would eventually go to start a new work, he probably would have thought it difficult to determine the Lord's will. God only told Paul a little at a time. Sometimes we struggle with determining the will of God because we want to know more than God is ready to tell us. We need to learn to be patient and live one day at a time.
Should we ask for the will of God for any and every decision we must make?
We are told in James 1:5, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God". If ever we have a decision to make and we need God's direction, we have this great promise. Yet, in our text, you never find Paul trying to determine whether he was supposed to be starting new Churches, preaching, or witnessing for Christ. It seems that he already knew that he was supposed to be doing those things. There are some things that we as Christians don't have to get direction about because God has already told us through His Word. You don't have to ask God whether you should come to Church, go soul winning, be holy, etc. - these are natural for the Normal Christian. Likewise, you don't have to ask God whether you should commit adultery, get drunk, or rob a bank. We know these things!
One of the most important verses pertaining to the will of God is in Romans 12:2, And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. The renewing of our mind is a daily exercise of the spirit or new nature within us which tends to reverse the conformity to the world. The more we read our Bibles, pray, meditate, worship, and serve God, the more we shall prove and understand the will of God. As we become more like Christ, that is transformed from the old nature, we will not have to ask God about certain decisions because we will naturally do as He would do.
We can know much of God's will from reading the Bible, but what about those decisions that have no explicit direction from Scripture? What about those decisions where we must choose between two right things? In the end, knowing the will of God really comes down to faith. Lets consider some observations based on the way Paul was directed to his eventual work in Macedonia in our text.
We are not told exactly how Paul knew that he was forbidden to preach in Asia or how the Spirit suffered them not to go to Bithynia. Perhaps there was a lack of peace, an audible voice, or an impression not to go (see also 2 Corinthians 2:12-13 and James 3:17). Whatever the case, we do know that somehow it was clear to Paul. Sometimes we just need to trust that God will make His will clear to us. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. " Are you seeking God's direction, just trust Him!
In the jail at Philippi, it would have been easy for Paul to have had second guesses as to whether it had really been God's will for him to go to Macedonia. Yet he did not do this even once. Paul didn't judge the wisdom of his decisions based on circumstances. If we are doing the will of God, we can expect persecution and difficulties. So how could we ever judge the will of God based on circumstances? No, we just need to trust God.
A missionary family on their way to Africa went through a shipwreck on the way and lost all of their belongings. The wife suggested that perhaps God did not want them to go to Africa after all. The husband responded by simply explaining that God did want them in Africa, but He just wanted them there without their personal belongings. Don't let circumstances determine the will of God.
Notice that Paul did not know for sure that God wanted him to go to Macedonia. The Bible says that he "assuredly gathered" that God wanted him there. Paul seemed to follow the open door when he was choosing what direction to go. He saw an opportunity in Macedonia and he followed it. Later at Ephesus he would stay for an extended period because there was an open door there (1 Corinthians 16:9). In Jerusalem, we don't find Paul praying about how to get out of being beaten by the Romans. He used his Roman citizenship as an opportunity (Acts 22:24-29). Likewise, when he found out about the plot to assassinate him, he did not just sit back and wait for God to deliver him. No, he acted upon the information and informed the Romans of the plot (Acts 23:12-24). Paul always took advantage of opportunities trusting that it was God who had opened the door. When you have an opportunity to do something that is right, follow the open door!
Paul uses the word "we" when describing his decision to go to Macedonia. When we have to make a tough decision or one on which we have no clear direction from Scripture, get some advice from other Godly people. Proverbs 11:14 says, "Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety."