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Knowing God's Will

By Richard Gunther


"What does God want me to do?"

This is perhaps one of the most common questions asked by sincere and committed Christians. Unfortunately, the answer is not always very simple, in fact, in some cases it may drive a Christian to long hours of prayer, and much convoluted thought, before even the start of an answer comes through. Why? Because God is not an answering machine with an "on" button ready to use whenever we have a question? He is not there for our convenience, neither is He Santa Claus, with nothing better to do than stuff presents down our chimneys. Though we are His children, we must never forget that He is Almighty God, infinite in wisdom and power, and we are being foolish if we think that every question we have will automatically receive an instant answer.

Do wise and caring parents answer every question in full asked by their little children? No, never. Wise and caring parents temper their replies with their understanding of the child, and take into account the ability of the child to cope with the answer.

So before we ask God anything we first must put ourselves in the right perspective, and see God in His correct place and with his true character.

"What does God want?"

God has made it abundantly clear what He wants. He wants all men to worship and obey Him. He wants every person on earth to turn their energy and will towards pleasing Him. He wants to be the most important factor in every part of every person's life.

We know this because He says so in His written Word. As the proverb goes "The Word of God is the Will of God". The Bible is a body of work, given to us by God, which any Christian may read. Clear, precise instructions are given in its pages, on every topic relevant to us. Principles and guidelines are revealed, with many real-life examples added.

To illustrate this, suppose someone says "How does the Government want me to drive this car?" The answer is be simple : read the manual. Or, "How does the Board of Governors want me to behave in this school?" and the answer is found written in a handbook, which outlines such things as punctuality, dress, and behaviour.

The following are some imaginary conversations between a Christian and God. Notice how God speaks through His Word without any need for a vision, or a visit from an angel, or any weird or miraculous event, the answers are easy to find :

"Am I allowed to drink alcohol?"

"Take a little wine for your stomach's sake" 1Tim.5:23

"But Lord, what if I'm with people who drink too much?"

"It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby your brother stumbles, or is offended, or is made weak". Romans 14:21

"I used to drink a lot. Can I still do this privately - after all, its fun to get drunk?"

"Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit" Ephesians 5:18

"OK Lord, I'll stay away from the bottle . . . is there anything else you'd like me to avoid?"

"(Be) not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous" 1 Timothy 3:3

"What about the odd wild party? I won't drink, but I can still go to the parties right?

"For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banqueting, and abominable idolatries: Wherein they think it strange that you run not with them to the same excess of riot" 1 Peter 4:3

Well I know some Christians who go to the pub regularly, and sometimes they get themselves sloshed - and it doesn't seem to bother you God! We're all saved by grace anyway, so it doesn't matter what we do, isn't that right?

"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God". 1 Corinthians 6:9,10

"I'm earning a good wage Lord, but am I expected to look after my family who are struggling to make ends meet?"

"But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel". 1 Timothy 5:8

"I'm tired of working. What might happen to me if I just rest up for a few months?"

"He becomes poor that deals with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent makes rich". Proverbs 10:4

"I have dreams of doing great things Lord - do you think you could make my dreams come true without me having to do anything?"

"The soul of the sluggard desires, and has nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat". Proverbs 13:4

"My boss is a real pain! I want to quit my job! Why should I have to work for this man/woman anyway?!"

"With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men" Ephesians 6:7

"You mean I should pretend my boss is Jesus?"

"And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men" Colossians 3:23

"I've spent years learning and practising astrology and other similar things, but now I'm a Christian; what should I do?"

"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God". Galatians 5:19-21

"I'm not too keen on astrology being lumped in with all those other nasty things! Isn't there something good about star charts and predictions?"

"Stand now with your enchantments, and with the multitude of your sorceries, wherein you have laboured from your youth; if so be you shall be able to profit, if so be you may prevail.

You are wearied in the multitude of your counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save you from these things that shall come upon you.

Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame" Isaiah 47:12

"So what do you suggest that I do with my occultic materials? I mean, I've spent a fortune on all this stuff!"

"Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. Acts 19:19

"But what about my losses?

"And Amaziah said to the man of God, But what shall we do for the hundred talents which I have given to the army of Israel? And the man of God answered, The LORD is able to give you much more than this". 2 Chronicles 25:9

(See also Ex.22:18. Deut.18:9-12. Lev.19:26, 31, 20:6, 27. 1 Chron.10:13,14. Is.8:19. Jer.27:9,10. Zech. 10:2. Mal. 3:5. Acts 8:9 - 13, Acts 16:16 - 18, 19:19. Gal. 5:16 - 21. Rev. 21:8, 22:14,15.)

"So what should I do, now that I've lost a large chunk of my income from astrology?"

"Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needs. Ephesians 4:28

(This third example is a brief summary of a much larger study)

"I am a Christian woman, and I'm keen to be more involved in Christian work, but some of the men in my fellowship are against that. What do you say Lord?"

"But I do not suffer (allow) a woman to teach nor to exercise authority over (a) man, but to be in quietness" 1 Timothy 2:12

"I can accept that I am not allowed to take a place of supremacy over a church, but what if the men give me permission to teach?"

"And he (Apollos) began to speak boldly in the synagogue. And Aquila and Priscilla, having heard him, took him to them and unfolded to him the way of God more exactly". Acts 18:26

"So Aquila helped teach and preach the gospel to Apollos. Are there are other examples of women doing this sort of work?"

"And going out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they (Mary and Mary) ran to bring his disciples word". Matthew 28:8

"So women were in fact the first evangelists. Does this mean that women can have a fair and equal share in all fellowships?"

"Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue (something to say in a different language), has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done to edification". 1 Corinthians 14:26

"But what about that bit where it says women have to wear a head-covering?"

"But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered puts her own head to shame . . ."1 Corinthians 11:5

"This shows that women can pray and prophesy, or teach, or preach, in a fellowship. Are there any other examples?"

"And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the tambour in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambours and with dances". Exodus 15:20

"And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, judged Israel at that time". Judges 4:4

"And Hilkijah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah, went to Huldah the prophetess . . . and they spoke with her". 2 Kings 22:14 (Also 2Chron. 34:22)

"And I came near to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son" Isaiah 8:3

"And there was a prophetess, Anna, daughter of Phanuel" Luke 2:36

" . . . and entering into the house of Philip the evangelist, who was of the seven, we abode with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied. Acts 21:9

"Is there any age limit Lord, I mean, what about young girls - can they have a share in the fellowship?"

"And it shall be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your elders shall dream with dreams" Acts 2:17

(The passage in 1 Cor.11 specifies that women wear something on their heads, and that men not wear something, and the reasons for this are given. Rather than steer into a contentious issue, I think one clear point we can make - besides the head-covering one - is that if women are obedient, they may pray or prophesy in a fellowship. "Prophecy" means to speak forth, i.e. teach and preach. Many Christian women today have pushed the head-covering instructions out on the grounds that it refers to some ancient tradition. The issue, I think, is now one of individual conscience.)

In all the above situations, the Bible answers our questions clearly, so God does not need to do anything special, like speak in an audible voice, or send an angel, or work a miracle. Granted, it would be very nice if every time we had a problem, an angel turned up and gave us the answer, but why should this happen when we have almost every answer we will ever need, already written down for us.

Let us extend this question a little. Suppose you bought a car, and found the Manual in the glove box. You go for a drive and forget to push the choke in. The car runs badly and then stalls. Your most likely remedy is to look up 'Choke' in the Manual, but a thoughtless driver would go to the nearest phone and ring the manufacturer - a very busy man, on the other side of the world, who really hasn't got time to go into the problem.

Another example would be the pupil who attends a school for the first time, turns up at 11, eats in class, and tries to go for a swim during the lunch hour despite the fact that the pool is closed for repairs. An angry teacher might present the school rules and chew the pupil's ear for being so negligent! "I'm sorry sir, I didn't know!"


Rather than run about wondering what God wants us to do, at least on the primary level of day to day living, let us read the Bible and become thoroughly aquainted with the rules. It is doubtful whether God will do anything for the saint who can't even keep within the basic rules, so perhaps one good reason why God doesn't answer our prayers, or bless us in the way we would like, is because we are ignorant, or disobedient.

Would wise, caring parents feel inclined to bless their children if their children were always trashing the house and refusing to obey instructions? I doubt it. How much more dubious is the Christian's expectation that God will bless His children while they continually neglect His instructions?

"Why doesn't God answer my prayers?"

This question is connected directly to the first one - "What do you want me to do?" because in both questions is the same problem - communication. We ask, and nothing happens. We plead and God leaves us in silence. We look for signs and hope for omens, but no special guidance happens, so we wonder if God has actually heard us. We really want to walk with God, but He seems to far away, and is so difficult to reach.

If this sounds like you, you're in good company. There are tens of thousands of Christians who walk alone, and only hear from God now and then.

It is a bit like a child on a bike, being pushed by his father. The bike rolls along merrily, and the child pedals, then suddenly the father lets go and the child rolls away, wobbling and gripping the handlebars fearfully. "Hey Dad! I can't do this by myself! Help!"

Before we deal with this problem, we would like to look at an important side issue.

There are many Christians who look for God's guidance in circumstances. They count numbers and find sevens, or they see the weather clearing and say it is a "door" opening, or they have some good fortune and 'read into it' some special guidance - forgetting that the work, or money, or whatever, was quite predictable, following on from either a spell of hard effort, or an appeal, or even a lottery ticket.

I was in a book shop one day, when a book suddenly fell from a shelf. A young man, a Christian, was there, and he picked the book up and said "God must have wanted me to buy this!"

A tree falls and narrowly misses a church wall. The congregation attributes the near miss to God's providence.

A man goes right through many dangers, such as a war, and comes out alive. He says God preserved him.

Case after case could be presented, and in every case a different interpretation could be presented : the book fell because it was full of error and God wanted it 'pushed out' of the shop, the tree fell as an indication that the church was rotten and about to be judged, the man was preserved, but what about his many Christian comrades, who were all killed (dying slow, painful deaths).

Another, rather precarious way in which Christians look for guidance is in the interpretation of Scriptures pulled at random from their context. Quite often the interpretations are nothing more than a personal opinion blown out into a "Thus saith the Lord . . ." This habit of plunging into God's Word like this is very close to the occultic practise of Bibliomancy, which the Greeks (to name but one) used to do with the oracles in the Temples.

The Bible says "At the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established" - this is such an important principle that God mentions it FOUR times - Deut.17:16, 2Cor.13:1, 1Tim.5:19, and Heb.10:28.

The Bible says that there are several laws working in and around us all the time. One is the law of consequences. If we are obedient, all things (circumstances, events, occurrences in life) work together for our blessing :

"But we do know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to purpose". Romans 8:28

Another law is the all-encompassing power of God :

"For of him, and through him, and for him are all things: to him be glory for ever". Romans 11:36



Another law is our inheritance :

"He who . . . has not spared his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him grant us all things?" Romans 8:32

Every good scientist knows that if you drop an object on earth it will fall. All the laws of Nature operate in predictable ways. We live in a world governed by cause and effect, and we know that, unless God works a miracle, all the laws worked consistently with each other.

Spiritual laws are exactly the same. Sowing and reaping is one of the great laws in the Bible. Jesus gave his life - sowing - to redeem the whole world - reaping.

There are plenty of people for whom life is a grind. They seem to be always broke, or having to move, or unwell, and their family is falling apart, and they are never happy no matter what they buy, or do . . .yet they fail to see that the remedy is right under their nose - in the written Word of God.

"Fools, because of their way of transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted" Psalms 107:17

"He that sows unrighteousness shall reap iniquity" Proverbs 22:8

"For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind" Hosea 8:7

"But this is true, he that sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that sows in the spirit of blessing shall reap also in blessing" 2 Corinthians 9:6

"Be not deceived: God is not mocked; for whatever a man shall sow, that also shall he reap.

For he that sows to his own flesh, shall reap corruption from the flesh; but he that sows to the Spirit, from the Spirit shall reap eternal life:

But let us not lose heart in doing good; for in due time, if we do not faint, we shall reap". Galatians 6:7-9

All this relates back to the way many Christians interpret day to day occurrences as guidance from God, whereas in fact, in most cases, what happens is simply the result of cause and effect, which the Christian then interprets to suit his already assumed world view. The book fell from the shelf because it was loose, the tree fell over because its roots were weak and the man who survived the war was just plain fortunate not to be hit.

This is not to say that God is so separate from creation that He does nothing in it. That would be too wild a swing in the other direction. As we know :

"Because by him were created all things, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones, or lordships, or principalities, or authorities: all things have been created by him and for him. And he is before all, and all things subsist together by him." Colossians 1:16,17

What we really ought to do is sort out what is the result of cause and effect, and what is a genuine piece of guidance from God.

Now we come back to the illustration of the child on the bike. Why should the father push the son? To help the child learn how to ride by itself. Why should the father want the child to ride by itself? because it is the plan of parenting to help children become independent of their parents.

In the same way, God wants his children to reach a level of maturity where they will not need to continually call on Him for every tiny piece of advice. He wants us to be able to ride by ourselves, and sure, if we want to squeal with delight, he loves to hear us . . . and if we find ourselves heading towards a crash, He will either catch the bike, or He will be there beside us as we experience the accident. (If you think all God wants to do is bless you and make you happy, think of the Church persecution over the last 2000 years, or read the life of Paul, or read Foxe's Book of Martyrs!)

So does God answer prayers. Yes, of course He does. But too many Christians labour under all sorts of misunderstandings when they pray, so when things don't go the way they want, or expect, they think it is God who is at fault. And then sometimes the penny drops, and they realise that it is their understanding of God which is at fault.

God seems to have only three kinds of answer : Yes, No and Wait. And there are combinations of these - Yes, but Wait, No - but Wait.

Another option is : Mind Your Own Business!

The disciples had this sort of answer when they asked Jesus about the future :

"Lord, is it at this time that you (will) restore the kingdom to Israel?

"And he said to them, It is not for you to know he times or seasons, which the Father has placed in his own authority". Acts 1:6,7

A third option is "Don't be so ignorant!"

This answer came back quite a few times too :

"And he said to them (his disciples), O senseless and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!" Luke 24:25

So once again, we are thrown back onto the Bible. Our prayers to God should be shaped according to our understanding of Him. The less perfectly we know God, the more useless our prayers will be, but the better we understand Him, the more accurate will our prayers be.

Now another situation can arise in which Christians constantly thank God for things they have done themselves. God is, of course, involved in every part of our lives, and it is a good thing to praise Him, but we ought to be careful that we don't attribute things to Him which He is not actually supporting.

Just two examples :

1. A rich churchgoer, who isn't even a Christian, decides to pay for the complete redecoration of his church. New carpets, new paint job, new furniture, everything beautifully restored, and the whole congregation gives thanks to God for the lovely job. But wait a minute. It was a rich man's money that did the job, and was it God's plan to have the building in the first place? There is no command anywhere in the New Testament for Christians to build church buildings, and there is no need for a hugely expensive one either - this money could have been used to help the poor people in the community. Was it God, or Man who refurbished the church?

2. A Christian decides to start up a new fellowship. He invites people, he spends a lot of time on the telephone, he provides drinks and food, he sends out invitations, he makes a booklet explaining the aims of the fellowship, and he rents a room. He even has an attractive sign made for the front door, and he advertises in the newspaper. The services are attended by growing numbers of people and the new fellowship is a success.

Was it God or Man who started the new fellowship?

In the first case it was all the work of Man, but sadly, God got the credit. In the second case it was a Christian obeying God - sowing and reaping - working with the law of consequences and receiving the expected harvest.

When we are first born into God's kingdom, we generally find that God is extremely patient and long-suffering with us. Like a parent with a very young child, He will meet our needs however trivial, and gradually build up a relationship, but as we grow, God moves away from us, and teaches us how to be patient, how to trust Him through trials, and how to relate to Him correctly. He can't keep us as babies for ever, and it is doubtful whether many Christians would want to stay that way.

Freedom and maturity have their price. Independence means having to make your own decisions. A good parent does not follow a toddler around all day, always catching it whenever it falls over, and catering to its every whim, but when that toddler has grown up, it will be expected to decide for itself where it walks. Our Father wants us to reach the stage where we know His written Word so well we will know what to do in most circumstances without having to constantly ask for directions from Him.

Should I help that old lady across the road?

Should I ask for my lawnmower back?

Should I work till five or go home at 4.30 like all the others?

Should I pay tax on this earnings?

Should I keep the speed limit?

Should I try to witness to my friends?

Should I watch this sick movie?

Should I help with the children's Bible work?

Should I contribute to this outreach?

Should I associate with those people?

Should I wear those rather revealing clothes?

Should I have myself tattooed?

By an often unhappy coincidence, the teenage years - when the individual is trying to separate from parents - coincide with the spiritual 'teenage years, when God is trying to get Christians to make their own decisions.

But all this is only part of the whole.

Jesus himself urged us to pray, and volumes have been written about the subject of prayer, along with thousands of testimonies of answered prayers. I myself have listed (easily) over 60 examples of specific, detailed prayers being met by specific, detailed answers. There is no doubt in my mind that God is real, and that He is well able to supply everything I need.

Jesus taught this very principle when he talked about the principle of asking, seeking and knocking (Matt.7:7-11) and James and John qualified it - James 1:5,6, 4:2,3, 1John 3:22 and 1John 5:14) Be persistent. Really mean it - James 5:16.

Please not : most references to answered prayer hinge on obedience. An obedient Christian (doing what is written in the Bible) has a vastly increased chance of having his prayers answered than a disobedient one!

But the question "What does God want me to do?" is still the problem to be solved. The following are some of the ways we can find the answer :

First of all, God nowhere undertakes to act like a fortune-teller, spelling out our lives in detail like some personal prophecy. What God does say, however is, "Let each abide in that calling in which he has been called". 1 Corinthians 7:20. The context shows that we are not expected to cling to whatever we are doing when we became Christians - that would lead to absurdities. But what it does mean is that wherever we are at the time of our conversion, that is where God wants us for the time being.

So we find that Joseph was a good boy before he was sold to Egypt, and a good servant when he worked for Potiphar, and then a good prisoner, and later a good second-in-command of Egypt.

Secondly, (and we can see this from Joseph's life) if God wants to move us on, the most likely time will be when we have made a good job of whatever we are doing right now. There are, unfortunately, Christians who grumble about their lot. They have their eyes on the horizon, rather than that patch of ground they have been given to look after. At home, at work, at play, in politics, in hospital, in sport or the golf club, God wants Christians to treat every place as a mission field. And sometimes the only promotion they get, when it finally comes, is downwards, to less important jobs, because they have failed to look after the patch they were given!

Thirdly, what God wants us to do is our best. We can be the best at peeling spuds or designing cars, the best at laying out architectural plans or flying an aeroplane, the best at making a meal for the family or repairing the guttering on the neighbour's shed. The thing is, if we do these things well, God may just open a door and lead us into something new and better, and more wonderful.

So the best answer to the question is therefore "Whatever you are doing now" (Provided of course that it isn't sinful), and if your heart's desire is to do more for God, it is certain that God will meet that desire and open the way. You cannot cross a stream without using each stepping stone in the order they are placed - and you cannot jump ahead of God. Life must be taken one step at a time. Just make sure that you are making the most of the step you are on and leave the future to God.

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