"I'm totally confused. How in the world do I find the will of God for my life?" I cannot number how many times through the years I have heard that question.
I could probably list at least ten ways that God leads His children today, but I will limit myself to the four that I think are the most significant methods of God's leading.
As the psalmist said:
Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)
Whenever you see the phrase "This is the will of God" in Scripture, you can count on it: that's God's will. You also know that to disobey is to reject His Word. Other clear indications of His leading are the precepts and principles in Scripture.
Precepts are clearly marked statements, such as "Abstain from sexual immorality." That's like saying, "Speed Limit 35." What is speeding? Anything over 35 miles an hour. That's a precept.
Then there are principles in Scripture, and these are general guidelines that require discernment and maturity if we are to grasp them. Paul writes of "the peace of God" guarding and guiding our hearts and our minds (Philippians 4:7). That's like the sign that says, "Drive Carefully." This may mean 40 miles an hour on a clear, uncongested road, or it may mean less than 10 miles an hour on an ice-covered curve. But it always means that we must be alert and aware of conditions . . . we have to be discerning. There is no sign large enough to list all the options you have when you're behind the wheel. So you must know the rules of the road, follow the signs that are there, and use all your best judgment combined with discernment.
You will never, ever go wrong in consulting Scripture. Just be sure you pay close attention to the context. Don't use the "open-window method," letting the wind blow across the pages of your Bible and then closing your eyes and pointing to a verse and saying, "This is God's leading on that." If you do that, you could end up with "Judas went away and hanged himself" as your verse for the day! Don't go there.
Read the following statement carefully:
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13)
The inner prompting of the Holy Spirit gives us a sense of God's leading, although that leading is not always what we might call a "feel-good" experience. In my own life, my decision to accept the presidency of Dallas Theological Seminary was not an easy one. Ultimately, it was an "at-peace" decision, but it was not what I would have wanted or chosen. I found all kinds of ways to resist when the position was first offered to me. I wrote the president and the chairman a two-page letter, well thought through, carefully stated, and full of Scripture. It should have convinced anybody that I was the wrong person for the job. Except that God was busy convincing them—and, later, me—that I was the right person. Although it went against my own wishes at the time, I could not resist the compelling, all-powerful prompting of the Holy Spirit.
So I can testify from personal experience that you can believe you really know God's will, and you may be dead wrong. But if you are, the prompting of the Holy Spirit will be nudging you within.
The mind of man plans his way,
But the LORD directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
It's easier to steer a moving car—just get the car rolling and you can push it into the filling station to get the gas. But it's hard to get it moving from a dead stop. So you're on your way, you're making your plans, you're thinking it through. In the process, stay open. By doing so, you may well sense inner promptings from the Holy Spirit steering you.
That inner prompting is crucial, because much of the time we just can't figure it out.
Man's steps are ordained by the LORD,
How then can man understand his way? (Proverbs 20:24)
(I love that!) When all is said and done, you'll say, "Honestly, I didn't figure this thing out. It must have been God." Talk about mysterious! The longer I live the Christian life, the less I know about why He leads as He does. But I am absolutely confident that He leads.
This does not mean some guru in Tibet or a serious-looking stranger at the bus stop. This refers to an individual who has proven himself or herself wise and trustworthy and, therefore, qualified to counsel on a given matter. Usually, such individuals are older and more mature than we are. Furthermore, they have nothing to gain or lose. This also means that they are often not in our immediate family. (Immediate family members usually don't want us to do something that will take us away from them or cause us or them discomfort or worry.)
At critical moments in my own life, I have sought the counsel of seasoned individuals—and they've seldom been wrong. That's been my experience. However, you must choose your counselors very carefully. And just as the best counselors are usually not your family, often they are not your best friends either. Wise and trustworthy counselors are persons who want for you only what God wants. Such persons will stay objective, listen carefully, and answer slowly. Often they won't give you an answer at the time you ask for it. They want to sleep on it; they want to think and pray about it.
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts," Paul wrote to the Colossians, "to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful" (Colossians 3:15). God's inner assurance of peace will act as an umpire in your heart.
Although peace is an emotion, I have found it wonderfully reassuring as I've wrestled with the Lord's will. This deep-seated, God-given peace comes in spite of the obstacles or the odds, regardless the risk or danger. It's almost like God's way of saying, "I'm in this decision . . . press on . . . trust Me through it."
The will of God for our lives is not some high-sounding theory; it is reality. We have looked at some of the ways God leads us into His will. Now comes the bottom line: we have to live out His will in the real world.
Doing God's will demands a decision. And that decision requires faith and action. You can't see the end, so you have to trust Him in faith and then step out. You have to act. Faith and obedience are like twins; they go together.
Hebrews 11:6 tells us that "without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him."
Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, The Mystery of God's Will (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1999), 44-50. Used by permission. All rights are reserved worldwide.