By Marcia Hornok
Finding the will of God can be a conundrum. One wise saint said, “I didn’t know it was lost.” Indeed, it isn’t. Many Scriptures tell us God’s will. For example, that none of these little ones should perish; that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; our sanctification; that we should abstain from sexual immorality; that we rejoice, pray, and give thanks; that by doing good we silence the ignorance of sinful men; and our suffering. God’s will mostly involves our sanctification, not our vocation, vacation, or which vehicle to buy.
Wait a minute. That’s not what you mean? You want to know God’s personal will. What college to attend, whom to marry, how many children to have, where to park, which shoes to wear…I get it. You need Spiritual GPS: Guidance of Providential Sovereignty.
I’ve been in your shoes. Which Bible College should I attend? Should I date that student named Ken from Utah? Should we leave a church of 600 with godly elders and staff to move to Utah (while I was eight months pregnant) and pastor a church of 40 with no elders? I can honestly say that despite ongoing, agonizing prayers for God to show His will, in none of these instances did He give a definitive answer. So we stepped into the Jordan to see if it would part.
I chose Washington Bible College because my pastor’s daughter attended there. I dated Ken because he asked first. We moved to Utah because his dad insisted we had to take over the church he had started. Ken decided to give it five years, and for five years he regretted that decision. One day he started devouring Friesen and Maxson’s book, Decision Making and the Will of God, and became joyfully convinced we had not missed God’s “perfect will.”
For believers, God’s will is not a target we must hit, and if we miss it, we will be God’s secondstring players. Rather, as God’s image-bearers, we have intelligence, creativity, and imagination, critical thinking and analytical skills, and the ability to make decisions. God gives us freedom to choose whatever we want as long as it is not unbiblical, illegal, harmful, or fattening. (I added that last one.) But still we plead with God to guide us. So here is your GPS for making decisions.
G = Grid. Make a grid of your options. Gather information objectively, listing pros and cons, and welcome advice from people you trust.
P = Pray. Not to get an answer from God, but because God’s Word tells us to pray about everything (Phil 4:6). Prayer doesn’t convince God to move the way we want; it gives God our humble submission to accept whatever He wants. We pray because we trust in the Lord whole-heartedly and desire for Him to smooth out our paths (Ps 27:11; Prov 3:5-6). In prayer we also commit our works and plans to the Lord (Prov 16:3).
Praying often clarifies our thoughts and generates new insights, which some Christians attribute to the Holy Spirit, but I don’t know. That also happens to Mormons when they pray, and to atheists when they meditate, so you decide the source.
S = Select. Then make your decision for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). His Word gives us principles and guidelines for abundant living, and we may confidently ask for wisdom during trials (Jas 1:2-5). God’s people will also lend their wisdom, but ultimately we are free to select the option we want.
A godly widow named Audrey had a difficult life-changing decision to make. She prayed earnestly for God’s direction and asked others to pray about what she should do. By faith, expecting God to answer, she pleaded with Him for two weeks, but nothing happened. No circumstances or open doors pointed the way. No feelings of peace or unrest. Finally it came to her what God was saying: “I really don’t care what you do.” Profound. Could “God’s will” be whatever she preferred to do?
Both her options were wise and would not harm her spiritually. Both had ministry opportunities. She could pursue loving God and people through either of her decisions, and so she chose the one she wanted most. And believe it or not, that is Biblical. We “find God’s will” when we use what He has already given us—His Word, our analytical minds, counsel from friends, and our own free will.
A Biblical example of GPS in practice can be found in 1 Corinthians 16. Travel in Paul’s day involved a major commitment of time and resources. How did he determine what to do?
1. Do what you wish if God allows (16:5-7). Paul’s grid of pros included: “I will come…” “It may be…” and Cons: “I do not wish…” “I hope to…” with the overarching determinant: “If the Lord permits.”
2. Consider ministry potential, disregarding the obstacles (16:8-9). On the plus side was a “great and effective” open door. The negative of “many adversaries” was not even a consideration. Ministry has opposition, which does not indicate a closed door. Nor do coincidences mean open doors. You can usually find a boat going to Tarshish!
3. Respect the decisions others make for themselves (16:12). Notice that Apollos was “strongly urged” to go to Corinth by The Great Apostle Paul (as some preachers like to call him, as if that gives God’s Word more credibility!). But Apollos had freedom to make his own choice, and it seems that he based his selection on his willingness and on convenience.
4. Let all your decisions be backed by doctrine and based on loving God and people (16:13-14). The option we select must not compromise God’s truth or our walk with the Lord. Verse 22 again states the paramount necessity of loving the Lord Jesus Christ.
5. Stay accountable to your God-appointed authorities (16:10-11, 15-18). This included Timothy, the household of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus. The Corinthians were to submit to them and to “acknowledge such men.”
God Honors our Choices
Although Paul had the benefit of direct revelations from God, he counted on opportunities and desires to make his decisions. So should we all. “If the Lord permits,” we can do God’s work where and when and how we want to, because God honors our choices—even silly ones like Leah and her mandrakes or Jacob and his striped rods. However, Jas 4:13-17 contains a warning against making boastful plans without regard to God’s sovereign control. Zane C. Hodges wrote:
What [we] ought to say, if [we] are truly humble, is that [our] lives (“we shall live”) and [our] activities (“do this or that”) are subject to God’s will. The words “if the Lord wills” would [be] most suitable on [our] lips, not as a mere formula, but as a genuine expression of [our] dependence on God (Hodges, James, p. 101).
In conclusion, the Guidance of Providential Sovereignty is somewhat of a misnomer. God in His providence is sovereign, but we are not His remote-controlled cars. He allows us to guide ourselves, and He does the recalculating.
We don’t need to wait for our fleece to dry. To determine God’s so-called “individual will,” we can simply make a grid, stay dependent on God through prayer, and select what we deem best.
Marcia Hornok writes from Salt Lake City, where her husband Ken pastored Midvalley Bible Church for 39 years.