Have you ever struggled to know the will of God for your life? It may be one of the most pressing and consistent questions on the hearts and minds of believers. Whether it’s how to spend your monthly grocery money or what career path to pursue, we’re daily faced with decisions that don’t seem to have black or white, yes or no answers.
How Not to Uncover God’s Will
Before we talk about how we can know God’s will (in a post coming later this week), here are some poor methods for uncovering it.
1. The Random Finger Method
Do you crack open your Bible when you don’t know what to do? Like, literally, just crack it open to a random page and let your eye land on a verse or two? If so, you’re not alone. Though this is a common practice, there are obvious problems with it. For starters, it often doesn’t make any sense. You might be looking for an answer to what college you should attend, flip open to Isaiah, plop your finger down, and read “I clothe the heavens with blackness and make sackcloth their covering” (Is 50:3).
Not only does it seem irrelevant, but it’s also downright discouraging. So you try it again (maybe venturing in the direction of the New Testament) and keep doing this until you land on something that seems to speak to your specific situation. Regrettably, though, this usually means paying little to no attention to the verse’s surrounding context. The random finger method leads us to treat Scripture more like a fortune cookie than our wholly sufficient means of knowing and trusting God.
2. The Miraculous Event Method
Maybe we think it best to wait for God to send us a miraculous sign – a burning bush, handwriting on the wall, a blinding light. He’s been known to do that, right? Maybe we can muster up enough spirituality for God to do something like that again. But it apparently seems that God doesn’t choose to communicate this way very often. As a result, this method often leaves people sitting on the slopes of Mt. Sinai, staring at a wall, and wandering up and down the Damascus road.
3. The Striking Coincidence Method
This one can seem pretty convincing. Say you’ve been wrestling with whether or not you should date a particular person. You’re desperate for wisdom, and you ask God over and over again what you should do. Then you get in the car and turn on the radio. Boom… there’s your answer. It seemed like the person in question had qualities you were looking for in a future spouse, but you now know it’s not meant to be. Thanks to Michael Jackson, you pick up the phone and tell them to “beat it.” Obviously, the striking coincidence method leaves a lot of room for seeing things that aren’t there, not to mention a lot of questions and doubts.
4. The Cast-the-Fleece Method
If we haven’t said this ourselves, chances are we’ve heard it said. And it seems legitimate because it comes from the story of Gideon in the book of Judges. But this story, as with others, is more descriptive than prescriptive. Not all stories are intended to be imitated. In this particular case, the whole point of Gideon casting a fleece was to show his lack of faith. Unlike Gideon, we are supposed to proactively obey God rather than hesitantly second guess him.
5. The Open Door Method
The usual justification for the open door method is 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 – God opening a door for Paul who, in turn, walks through it. But this method is far from infallible because in 2 Corinthians 2:12-13, Paul does not walk through a door that the Lord had opened to him. What do we do, then, when a door is open to us? We are left to wonder.
6. The Closed Door Method
It would seem that the closed door method might be a bit clearer than the open door method. But maybe there are times when you are actually supposed to go through what seem to be closed doors. In Acts 21:11-14, Paul is warned by Agabus not to go to Jerusalem but concludes that despite the imminent danger, he is still supposed to go there. While there are times when closed doors mean you don’t do certain things, and there are times when closed doors mean you change the particulars of the thing you’re doing, there are also times when closed doors test your obedience to God, even in the face of unlikely success, danger, and costly sacrifice.
7. The Still Small Voice Method
Think about 1 Kings 19. Elijah hears the “low whisper” of God in the quiet stillness rather than in the wind, earthquake, or fire. We can draw this out to conclude that we need only to sit still enough, for long enough, and to be quiet enough in order to hear God whisper his will to us. And if not a whisper, then a distinct feeling. The problem here is that God doesn’t usually choose to audibly whisper, and feelings, particularly when wrestling through a difficult question or issue, are often muddled and difficult to understand.
These seven faulty methods are from a sermon titled “The Disciple’s Will,” in which David Platt talks about how you can know God’s will for your life. We’ll talk about a biblical method for discovering the will of God later this week.