When John Wesley was thirty-two years old, he was a bachelor missionary in the colony of Georgia. While he was serving a church in Savannah, he met a young woman named Sophia Christian Hopkey. She was pretty and intelligent, and Wesley fell head over heels in love with her. But Wesley belonged to a group called the Holy club, and one of their ideals was that members should remain single. So Wesley was caught in a dilemma. Was it the will of God for him to marry Sophie or not? To find out, he and a friend named Charles Delamotte decided to draw lots. On three pieces of paper they wrote: “Marry”; “Think not of it this year”; and “Think of it no more.” Then they put the pieces in a container. Delamotte closed his eyes and drew out the third one, “Think of it no more.” Wesley was heartbroken, but he took the result to be the will of God. He ended the courtship, and, not long after, he sailed back to England. In his journal, he wrote over the record of his romance, “Snatched as a brand out of the fire.”
Shortly after this return to England, Wesley came to saving faith in the Lord Jesus, and he began the evangelistic ministry which God used so greatly. During his travels, he fell in love with another woman, a widow and a Bible class teacher named Grace Murray. This time he tried a different approach to finding the will of God about marriage. He listed seven factors he desired in a wife—her roles as “Housekeeper, Nurse, Companion, Friend, and a Fellow Labourer in the Gospel of Christ…., Her Gifts, and the Fruits of her Labours.” He set out the pros and cons, and then he stated his conclusion: “Therefore all my seven arguments against marriage are totally set aside. Nay, some of them seem to prove that I ought to marry and that G. M. is the person.”
Unfortuately, John’s brother Charles did not agree. He believed that marriage would hamper John’s evangelistic work. When he heard the news, he galloped over to Grace’s home, jumped off his horse, ran in, and said to her, “Grace Murray, you have broken my heart.” Then he fainted at her feet. That shook Grace so badly that she hastily married another man. Strike two for Wesley!
Finally, a year and a half later, at the age of forty-seven, John did marry, a wealthy widow named Mary Vazeille. I do not know how Wesley chose her or what Charles had to say, but John made a mistake. He had a very unhappy marriage, and, twenty years later, she left him. When she did, Wesley wrote in his journal, “I have not left her; I would not send her away; I will not recall her” (Gary Inrig, Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay, pages 109-110).
Is knowing the will of God that difficult? Is there not a more Biblical way for discerning God’s will for my life?
There are three preliminary statements about the will of God that we should consider.
1. God wants you to know His will for your life or particular circumstance.
God is not playing a game of “Hide and Go Seek.” Listen to Ephesians 5:17, “Wherefore be not unwise but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” In Colossians 1:19, Paul prayed for the Colossians, “Be filled (controlled) with the knowledge of His will.” God will not command us to do something that is impossible or frustrating.
2. God’s will is not a bitter dose of medicine.
The Psalmist was able to say, “I will delight to do your will” (Psalm 40:8).
Sometimes believers think if I surrender to God’s will He will send me Afghanistan, or I will have to be single all my life. Whatever God’s will, if we love God, it will be a delight.
3. God’s will is not specifically spelled out in the Bible.
God doesn’t name the person we are to marry. He doesn’t tell us whether we should to college or not or which college we should attend. God doesn’t email us: “I want you to be a preacher or missionary, or mechanic or nurse or housewife.” Sometimes life is complex with these decisions. In Psalm 32:8, God does promise, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go. I will guide you with mine eye.” Today God’s instructs and teaches us His will through His Word.
In Proverbs 3:5-6, are two of the most compacted verses on God’s will. There three steps to knowing God’s will in these verses. The book of Proverbs contains God’s wisdom for godly living as 1:1-7, the introduction makes clear. In Proverbs chapters 1-9, Solomon is giving his “My Son” talks. It is as if Solomon has his arm around his son, giving him godly, fatherly advice.
In Proverbs 2 and 3, Solomon is giving a series of “If…then” verses or conditions and consequences. “If” we meet certain conditions, “then” certain consequences will follow. In Proverbs 2, Solomon states in verse 1 “If” and verse 3 “If” and verse 4 “If” you meet the conditions in these four verses, “then” in verses 5-8 and “then” in verses 9-22 these consequences will follow. This series continues into chapter three. In Proverbs 3:5-6, if you meet three conditions then God will consequently “direct your path” into His will.
Therefore, you must meet God’s conditions in order to know His will for your life!
The First Condition, You Must “Trust in the Lord.”
For the unsaved, it is God’s will that you get saved. God has a decreed will and a permissive will. God has decreed some things that will happen. The death of Christ for our sins was decreed by God before the foundation of the world. In Acts 2:22-23, wicked men carried out the predetermined plan of God when they crucified Christ. Even the decreed will of God does not eliminate human responsibility for which these wicked men are accountable to God.
God also has His permissive will or what He desires but does not decree. God desires the salvation of all people. 2 Peter 3:9 says clearly the “Lord…is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” This is what God desires not what God has decreed. Had He decreed that all be saved that would be universalism. This is God’s wish list.
This is absolutely the first step to knowing God’s will. You must trust Christ as your Savior. You cannot attempt to know God’s will in other areas until this issue is settled.
The Second Condition, You Must “Trust in the Lord, with all your heart.”
First, we must be saved and next we must be surrendered to know His will. Paul says a similar thing in Romans 12:1-2. The question is, “Is it possible to be saved and not surrendered?”
Paul calls for our surrender in Romans 12 not Romans 1.
In Romans 1-3, Paul convinces all that they are sinners.
In Romans 3-5, Paul says the convinced sinner can be justified by faith.
In Romans 6-8, Paul informs the justified believe how to live the holy life.
In Romans 9-11, Paul comforts us with God’s sovereign control of our lives.
In Romans 12, Paul finally challenges us to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God….that you might prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Have you come to this point in your Christian life where you can honestly say, “Not my will but thy will be done.” Why would God reveal His will to someone who is unwilling to do it? When I was first called to preach, I told the Lord, “I will preach, but I will not be a missionary.” Three years later as a junior at Piedmont Baptist College, I finally surrender to God’s will whatever that entailed. I started planning to go to the mission field in Brazil with Jimmy Rose for the summer. At the same time God opened the door for me to pastor my first church. It was not God’s will for me to go to the mission field but God wanted me to be willing before He would lead me into His perfect will.
The Third Condition, You must “Trust in the Lord, with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him.”
In addition to being saved and surrendered, we must be saturated with God’s Word to know God’s will. The better we know God’s Word, the better we will know God’s will. The word “Acknowledge” comes from the Hebrew word (yada) which means “Know.” In Genesis 4:25 “Adam knew (yada) his wife, and she bare a son.” If we know God intimately and experientially through His Word we can better know His will.
Chuck Swindoll wrote of “a man who was driving through Washington, D. C., when his car stalled in front of the Philippine Embassy. He took that to mean that he should be a missionary to the Philippines. Then there was the woman who wasn’t sure she ought to go on a trip to Israel. One night she was reading through the travel brochures and tour information and noticed that the flight was to be on a 747. She woke up the next morning, 7:47 was on her digital clock, and took that as a sign she should go to Israel. This sort of nonsense is what I call ‘voodoo theology.’ It is nothing more than superstition….God has spelled out many of His directives very clearly in Scripture” (Charles Swindoll. The Mystery of God’s Will, page 39).
In God’s Word you will find Precepts or Specific Commands.
These verses are like the traffic sign, “Speed Limit 35.” These are the specific commands in regard to God’s will. For example, Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 wrote, “This is the will of God, that you should abstain from fornication.”
In God’s Word you will find also Principles or General Guidelines. These verses are like the traffic sign, “Drive Carefully.” The meaning of this sign will vary according to road conditions. When I was praying about getting married, there was no verse that commanded, “Tim White, thou shalt marry Becky Bender.” But there is a general principle in 1 Corinthians 7:40 that I am to marry “only in the Lord.” With this general guideline and others, I knew it was God’s will to marry Becky Bender.
When we meet these conditions, God states the consequence: “He shall direct your path.”
The word “direct” comes from the Hebrew word yashar which means to make straight or smooth. It is used in Isaiah 40:3 to describe the future ministry of John the Baptist who would ‘make straight’ [Hebrew yashar] in the desert a highway for our God.” In Isaiah’s time, the way one country rolled out the red carpet for a visiting king was to send road workers to fill in potholes “every valley shall be exalted” and shave down the big bumps “every mountain and hill shall be made low” and also straighten the bends in the road “the crooked shall be made straight.” John prepared the people spiritually by preaching repentance and straightening them out as much as possible in preparation for King Jesus.
If you know and do the will of God, it will make your life smoother in contrast to rebelling against God’s will. Proverbs 13:15 states the opposite of 3:6: “The way (or road or life) of transgressors is hard.” I have some friends right now, who would give anything to go back and undo major sins and get back into God’s perfect will.
God directs your path by at least three methods.
The first is through our God given desires. Psalm 37:4 says “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and he shall give you the desires of your heart.” If we are delighting in the Lord, then most likely what we desire is God’s will. One of the reasons I knew God’s will for my life was preaching is because I had a desire which fits with 1 Timothy 3:1: “If any man desire the office of a bishop he desires a good work.” “Desire” is mentioned twice in that one verse.
Men who were concerned about God’s will and preaching would come to Charles Spurgeon and he would advise them: “If you can do anything else and be happy then do it.” But if you are called to preach that desire will never go completely away.
God also directs into His will by open doors. On Paul’s second missionary journey, in Acts 16:6 God closed the door to go south to Ephesus because God knew Paul would go to Ephesus on his third missionary journey and accomplish his greatest work. In Acts 16:7, God closed the door to go north to Bithynia, because Peter would minister there (1 Peter 1:1). God opened the door for Paul to go west into Europe for which we are grateful because that is why the gospel came to us in the west. What doors or opportunities is God opening for you? This may indicate God’s will.
God can direct your path into His will through Godly counsel. Twice in Proverbs it is advised, “In the multitude of counselors there is safety” (11:14; 24:6). Someone has called this the “Fourth and One” principle. In football, when it is fourth down with one yard to go for a first down, the quarterback will call a time out and go to the sidelines and get advice from the coach.
Sometimes people who are not directly involved in our situation can give objective wisdom. For example, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, clearly saw that Moses needed to delegate his work load to others. Moses was so caught up in his ministry that he lost sight of his unwise work load (Exodus 18:19-27).
There are times when we need to go to godly counselors for wisdom. When I am counseling a couple about marriage, I always ask if their parents are in favor of the marriage, especially if the couple has godly parents.
When I was planning on going to Brazil for the summer with Jimmy Rose and the church asked me to be their pastor, I did not know which to do. So I started asking godly people I respected. One would tell me, “Go to the mission field.” The next would say, “Take the church.” Finally, Dr. Harold Sightler was preaching at Gospel Baptist and after the sermon I asked him, and he said, “Take the church.” It was like God spoke. I knew that was God’s will.
An old Model T Ford was pulled off to the side of the road with its hood up, and a young man was trying desperately to get it running. He had been working at it for a long time without any success when a beautiful, chauffeur-driven limousine stopped behind him, and a well-dressed man got out. He watched the fellow working for awhile and finally suggested that he make a minor adjustment in one part. The young man was skeptical, but nothing else had worked, so he did what he was told. “Now,” said the man, “your car will run. Crank it up.” So the young man cranked it once, and, sure enough, the engine started running as if it were brand-new. The young man was amazed that this kind of man knew so much about cars; so he asked him, “How did you know exactly what to do?” “Well,” the other man said, “I’m Henry Ford. I made the car, so I know all about how it work” (Gary Inrig, Hearts of Fire, Feet of Clay, page 111). No one knows us better than our Creator and Savior and no one can better fix us to do His will. He has given us the manual to know and do His will.