Discerning the will of God is no doubt a subject of universal interest among Christians. What believer hasn’t sought the will of God in making the big decisions in life: “Where should I live?” “Whom should I marry?” “Which job should I take?”
Then, wishing to please God in all things, we also seek to know His will in everyday areas of life: “Should I buy a Chrysler or a Ford?” “What doctor should I see?” “Which plumber should I hire?”
Then, besides seeking to discern the will of God, we also seek to understand the will of God in areas as sensitive as: “Why was I stricken with cancer?” “Why did the tornado hit my house, and not my neighbor’s?” “Why did my child have to die?”
These latter questions can shake a child of God to the very foundation, and we dare not take them lightly. In this series of articles, we shall submit answers to these questions for your consideration, and hopefully provide comfort in understanding the will of God, and direction in seeking it.
Perhaps it is best to begin by ruling out some methods of discerning God’s will that are common to God’s people, but which we deem to be fallacious and even dangerous. One such method, perhaps found among immature believers, is illustrated in Ezekiel 21:
“The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying,
“Also, thou son of man, appoint thee two ways, that the sword of the king of Babylon may come: both twain shall come forth out of one land: and choose thou a place, choose it at the head of the way to the city.
“Appoint a way, that the sword may come to Rabbath of the Ammonites, and to Judah in Jerusalem the defensed” (vv. 18-20).
Ezekiel is being told to construct a visual aid, a model to illustrate God’s message to Israel. Every Sunday school teacher knows the value of visual aids in teaching children, and God treated the people of Israel as children. That’s why the phrase “the children of Israel” appears well over 600 times in Scripture, and explains why God often asked His prophets to act out their prophecies (Isa. 20:2-4; Acts 21:10,11).
Here in Ezekiel 21, the people of Jerusalem were wondering why King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon chose to attack Israel over more attractive cities, such as the Ammonite city of Rabbath. To answer this question, God instructed the prophet to construct a geographic model depicting the road leading out of Babylon. This model would show how the road came to a fork, at which point Nebuchadnezzar had to decide which way to go, and which city to attack.
This was an important decision for the king. The success of those who wish to conquer the world often hinges on the selection of whom they attack, and when. Many military tacticians agree that Hitler’s decision to invade Russia prematurely cost him the war. Thus here, Nebuchadnezzar knew it was time to consult with his gods.
“For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination: he made his arrows bright, he consulted with images, he looked in the liver” (v. 21).
The word “divination” here refers to the mysterious means the king employed to discern the will of his gods, much as a “divining rod” mysteriously indicates the presence of underground water. We can’t be sure, but we believe he took two of “his arrows,” marked one of them “Jerusalem,” and the other “Rabbath,” and placed them in his quiver. He then trusted that the one he blindly withdrew from the quiver over his shoulder would reveal the decision of his gods. He then consulted with his “images,” idols that kings brought along on military campaigns for this very purpose.
For final confirmation, “he looked in the liver.” We believe this means he sacrificed an animal, cut it open, and somehow the color or shape of the organ revealed the will of his gods. The thinking appears to have been that the gods would be so pleased with the sacrifice that they would happily show their devotee the path in which he should go.
Of course, in this particular case, the king’s pagan customs revealed to him the will of Israel’s God (v. 22). God honored these heathen divinations to ensure that Israel received the chastening she deserved on account of her rebellion against God.
Perhaps the reader is thinking, Surely no intelligent person today would seek guidance by such superstitious practices! But while perhaps no one in our “enlightened age” looks to arrows or livers, many will flip a coin or read the color or shape of tea leaves. Also, we are told that certain voodoo religionists will cast chicken bones on the ground to discern the will of their god.
But surely no Christian would seek direction in life in manners such as this! While true, this writer can attest that when he was first saved, he continued to read his daily horoscope until learning from his pastor that this was an unwise practice. During that same early period in our Christian experience, a friend gave us a gift of a set of tarot cards. Though raised in a grace church, this young teen had also not yet learned the danger of these kinds of things.
And so we trust the reader will not consider our introduction to this subject unnecessary. Even grace believers are all at different levels of Christian maturity, and some may not yet be aware of the need to avoid psychics, Ouija boards, and astrologers (Isa. 47:13). While it is true God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to know His will using heathen customs, as we rightly divide the Word we know that these are not legitimate ways to discern God’s will today in the dispensation of grace.
While most Christians have probably matured enough to avoid these kinds of things, some perhaps are still seeking the will of God using the method described in Genesis 24. Here, Abraham sent his servant to the land of his birth to seek a bride for his son Isaac (vv. 1-13). Arriving in his master’s homeland, the servant prayed,
“And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that Thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac…” (v. 14).
If we didn’t know better, we’d be tempted to think that this might be a good way to choose a wife today. And why wouldn’t we! It is, after all, a Biblical method, one that God honored in the very next verse:
“And it came to pass, before he had done speaking, that, behold, Rebekah came out…with her pitcher upon her shoulder” (v. 15).
But the words “before he had done speaking” remind us of Isaiah 65:24, where God promises to answer prayer with the same swiftness. While God sometimes answers prayer this way today, this promise of consistently answering prayer in this fashion won’t come to pass until the kingdom of heaven is established on earth, the kingdom that Isaiah describes in the very next verse. When we notice that this is also how God answered the prayer of Daniel (Dan. 9:20-23), we begin to understand that this means of seeking the will of God is associated with the people of Israel, and not with the Body of Christ.
And yet we wonder how many Christian girls may have prayed something like, “The boy that I ask to carry my books in school, and he says, ‘Let me carry your purse also’, let that be the boy for me!” These days, girls, he’s probably just after your purse! Thus while this method of determining God’s will is Biblical, we know that it is not a technique that we should apply in the dispensation of grace. It involved the people of Israel, and really there is no indication that God ever intended it to be a pattern even for Hebrew believers who were seeking His will.
As we move on in Scripture, we find Gideon in Judges 6 praying a prayer that was similar to that which Abraham’s servant prayed:
“And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as Thou hast said,
“Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that Thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as Thou hast said.
“And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water” (vv. 36-38).
This process has come to be called “putting out a fleece” by believers seeking the will of God today. A man might pray, “Lord, if you want me to take this job, let the interviewer be wearing a blue suit.” However, while such a prayer might be called “putting out a fleece,” it is actually more similar to the prayer of Abraham’s servant. After all, proposing a scenario of someone wearing a blue suit is just as possible as a maiden offering to water a camel. But what Gideon was asking for was a sign that literally defied the laws of nature, and few believers today ask for this sort of sign.
Now, there was nothing wrong with Gideon asking God for such a miraculous sign, “for the Jews require a sign” (I Cor. 1:22). Nor were the Jews wrong to require a sign, for God had taught them to look for such miraculous signs from their very beginning as a nation. In Exodus 4, God gave Moses the power to work two miraculous signs, in case Israel did not hearken to the voice of the first (vv. 1-8). This dependence on “two or three witnesses” was perhaps what prompted Gideon to boldly ask God for yet another miraculous sign:
“And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray Thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.
“And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground” (Judges 6:39,40).
Since God granted Gideon’s requests for miraculous signs, we know that it was perfectly appropriate for him to request them. But in the absence of nature-defying miracles in God’s program for today, it would be inappropriate for us to seek God’s will in this manner.
Besides, it should be pointed out that in reality, Gideon was not actually seeking the will of God. He already knew God’s will for him, as evidenced in his words,
“…If Thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as Thou hast said…then shall I know that Thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as Thou hast said” (vv. 36,37).
In setting out a fleece, Gideon was not seeking direction from the Lord, he was seeking confirmation of the direction he had already received by the Word of God. This would be similar to how a believer today might pray, “If You want me to be an ambassador for Christ, as Thou hast said, show me a miraculous sign!” While God delighted in giving Gideon such corroboration, He flatly refuses such requests today.
Still another common but erroneous way to determine the will of God is drawn from I Kings 19, where Elijah’s depression has driven him into a cave:
“And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?
“And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts… and they seek my life, to take it away.
“…And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
“And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice” (vv. 9-12).
When seeking the will of God, often we are told to “just listen for that still small voice!” By this it is meant that God will speak to us in some intangible way. However, in these troubled times, if you hear a still small voice on the street, it will likely say, “Hand over your wallet!”
Despite the popularity of this practice, this event in Elijah’s life has nothing to do with finding the will of God! The prophet did not go to the cave to seek God’s will, he was hiding from those who sought his life. And the Lord’s words here were not spoken to give him direction, but rather to address his depression.
Elijah had just called fire down from heaven in a spectacular display of the power of God against the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18), and the prophet thought that such a powerful demonstration would surely convince Israel’s king and queen to turn to the Lord. When they instead sought to kill him (19:1-3), Elijah fled from their presence.
It was then the Lord gave him a visual aid, designed to teach him that God works best—not in astounding exhibitions of miraculous power— but in “a still small voice”—Elijah’s still small voice, and the voice of the smallest among men willing to speak the mighty Word of God.
Is it not so that many believers today urgently need to learn this lesson as well! Many are convinced that if they could just perform a flashy miracle, men would surely believe what they say about the Lord! This despite God’s testimony that the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). Many are also convinced that God only works through the big, flashy ministries they see on TV. While we wouldn’t venture to say that God is not in those ministries at all, we insist that God is in the small voices of believers everywhere who are faithfully proclaiming the Word of God.
We also insist that listening for an audible voice from God, or even an intangible impression or feeling, is no way to discern the will of God. That small voice that you hear in your head may be the voice of a conscience that is “seared” (I Tim. 4:2) so badly it is “past feeling” (Eph. 4:19), and hence cannot be relied upon to indicate God’s will.
Moving on, if we are to cover this subject thoroughly, we must glance at Proverbs 16:33:
“The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.”
Under Israel’s program, it was perfectly legitimate to discern the will of God by the casting of lots (I Sam. 14:38-42; Acts 1:26). But as we rightly divide the Word of truth, we understand that this is not a legitimate method to determine God’s will today. The casting of lots was a common Bible practice, but our apostle Paul never employed it, and so we shouldn’t either.
Finally, of all the faulty ways that believers use to discern the will of God, perhaps the most dangerous is a technique drawn from Paul’s epistles:
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Col. 3:15).
On the basis of this verse, a believer will say, “Well, I prayed about the matter, and God gave me such a feeling of peace that I know my decision must be His will.” But Paul is not saying that we should allow a feeling of “peace” to “rule” our lives and assure us that God is with us in the decisions that we make. We know from the example of Jonah that God has never endorsed this kind of thinking. Jonah was living in open rebellion against God, and yet when the Lord sent a storm so fierce that even seasoned mariners were calling on their gods in terror, “Jonah…lay, fast asleep” (Jonah 1:1-5). He had perfect peace about his decision to defy the revealed will of God!
In the context of forgiveness (Col. 3:13) and love (v. 14), Colossians 3:15 is actually saying that we should let the peace that God has with other believers rule our hearts as well. There is nothing a believer can do to God that can shatter the peace he enjoys with Him, and so there should be nothing that believers can do to us that can shatter the peace we enjoy with them.
We trust that the reader has found this introduction to our subject profitable. Recently after speaking to a grace believer about these things, he told us that he was previously unaware of the fallacy of putting out a fleece. And so for those who were already aware of the error of these methods, we thank you for your patience as we sought to ensure that we all begin a study of God’s will on the same page.
The first thing we need to remember in discerning the will of God is that God has already made His will perfectly clear in many areas. For instance, if you are wondering if it is God’s will for you to steal, commit fornication, or marry an unbeliever, you can stop wondering! God has made His will crystal clear in these and many other areas in the pages of His written Word.
But when it comes to discerning God’s will in areas not clearly addressed in Scripture, we must first recognize that God’s will for us as individuals is only a part of His overall will for us as Christians, a subject we will consider in this present article. We begin with the words that Paul used to respond to a sacrificial financial gift contributed by the Macedonians:
“And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us BY THE WILL OF GOD” (II Cor. 8:5).
If you are saved, I can say to you unequivocally that it is the will of God that you give yourself to the Lord. Someday you will have to stand before Him at His Judgment Seat, where He will ask if you gave yourself to Him. This will be a haunting question indeed, coming from the One who will still bear the wounds of Calvary, where He gave Himself for you.
Of course, it is only fair to warn you that giving yourself to the Lord may lead to radical changes in your life! Paul tells us that the Macedonians first gave their own selves to the Lord, and then were willing to give of their finances “beyond their power” to give. Likewise, giving yourself to the Lord may result in revolutionary changes in your life!
Another verse that addresses God’s overall will for our lives is found in Galatians 1:4 where, speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul says:
“Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF GOD and our Father.”
If you are saved, it is the will of God that you be delivered from “this present evil world.” Notice Paul isn’t talking about our deliverance from Hell. Praise God, we are delivered from Hell, but that evil world is not now “present” with us. Here Paul speaks of a life of deliverance from this “present” world. And so if you are living in sin, you are living out of the will of God. If you are wondering about God’s will in other areas, you need to get this straight first!
Still another verse that addresses God’s overall will for us is Ephesians 6:5,6:
“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh…as the servants of Christ, DOING THE WILL OF GOD from the heart.”
Here Paul gives instructions to servants, but his words can be equally applied to employees in relation to their employers. Gentlemen, when you go to work you are “doing the will of God.” We sometimes hear Christian wives complain that their husbands work so much they don’t have time for the things of God. While we would agree that God wants husbands involved in other areas of Christian service, it shouldn’t be forgotten that a man’s daily employment is a primary area of his Christian service. God has commanded that men work to provide for their families and support the Lord’s work financially. And so men who can work and are not working are living out of the will of God.
In the context of Ephesians 6, we can also extrapolate and conclude that wives who submit to their husbands and children who obey their parents are also doing the will of God (Eph. 5:22-6:4). This admonition to children includes adolescents, who are just beginning to wonder about God’s will for their lives. Young person, if you are seeking God’s will for your life, you need to be obedient to God in this area first! If you are living in rebellion to your parents, you are out of the will of God. Next, the overall will of God for our lives as Christians is surely the subject of I Thessalonians 4:3,4:
“For THIS IS THE WILL OF GOD, even your sanctification:
“That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour.”
The word “sanctified” means set apart unto God as holy to Him. Thus it is the will of God that you always use the “vessel” of your physical body in ways that “honour” the Lord. Do not fall for the world’s lie that says, “It’s my body, and I’ll do what I want with it.” If you are saved, “ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Cor. 6:19,20). If you are using your body for fornication or other unholy purposes, you are out of the will of God.
The overall will of God is also unquestionably the subject of I Thessalonians 5:18:
“In every thing give thanks: for THIS IS THE WILL OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS CONCERNING YOU.”
It is the will of God that we be thankful Christians, even when it looks as if there is little for which to be thankful. The Apostle Paul exemplified this noble spirit when after enduring two weeks of stormy seas he gave thanks for a simple meal (Acts 27:33-35). Any protests we might raise to this instruction are hushed when we recall that even in the shadow of the cross, knowing the ordeal that awaited Him at Calvary, the Lord Jesus Christ also gave thanks (I Cor. 11:24).
Well, as you can see, God has an overall will for you as a Christian, and every Christian should want to obey God in all these areas. Often we pray, “Lord, I want to be in the center of your will.” However, it should be remembered that the center of a dartboard is large enough to accommodate several darts. Some are closer to the center of the center than others, but all are in the center of the target, and none are worth more points than the others. In the same way, if you are a thankful, sanctified, faithful wife, child, or employee who has given yourself to the Lord, you are in the center of God’s will! And within that center, there is plenty of room to make decisions in life that will put you in a different area of the center of God’s will than other Christians, without losing any “points” with God, so to speak.
Perhaps the reader is thinking, “But how does this help me find God’s will in areas such as where to live, who to marry, and which job to take?” To this we would reply, who is more likely to find God’s will in these areas, a thankful, sanctified, faithful believer who has given himself to the Lord, or one who is not in the center of God’s overall will?
Next, God not only has an overall will for you as a believer, He also has an overall will for you as a member of the Body of Christ, a will that was first made known to the Apostle Paul. Right after Paul was saved on the road to Damascus, Ananias said to him:
“…The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest KNOW HIS WILL…” (Acts 22:14).
Imagine being told that of all the men on earth, God had chosen you to know His will! What a sacred privilege! And how precious it is to read that the apostle did not keep the knowledge of God’s will to himself, but shared it with us. Speaking of God the Father, we read,
“Having made known unto US the mystery of His will…” (Eph. 1:9).
Through the epistles of Paul, God has made known to us His overall will for us as members of the Body of Christ. And His overall will for us is different than His overall will for Israel. For instance, God’s will for us is to be raptured to heaven (I Thes. 4:13-18), where we will reign with Christ in the heavens (I Cor. 6:3). But God’s will for Israel is to reign with Christ in the kingdom of heaven on earth (Matt. 19:28). That’s why the Lord taught them to pray, “Thy kingdom come!” (Matt. 6:10). We don’t pray for the coming of the kingdom! If anything, we pray “Thy Church go!” Christians who don’t rightly divide the Word don’t know if they are coming or going!
Does this help us decide questions like where to live, who to marry, and which job to take? Yes, for in his Thessalonian epistles, Paul makes it clear that we will be raptured before the “wrath” of the Tribulation (I Thes. 1:10; 5:9), whereas the Lord taught His Hebrew followers they would have to go through the Tribulation to get to the kingdom. If you thought this latter was God’s plan for you, you might choose to live up in the hills with your gun, your 4-wheel drive and a cache of food. You might also find a job that would allow you to live like this, and you would choose to marry a woman willing to go along with it all!
Thus it is not surprising to see the emphasis in Paul’s epistles on knowing God’s overall will for the Body of Christ. In Colossians 1:9, for instance, he told the Colossians:
“…we…do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.”
Notice Paul prays that we be filled with a knowledge of God’s will “in all wisdom.” Is wisdom important in knowing the will of God? Solomon would say yes! As we know, when God appeared to Solomon in a dream and offered to give him anything he asked, he asked for wisdom, and received it (I Kings 3:5-14). What a difference this made in his life! Before receiving wisdom, we read:
“And Solomon loved the Lord…only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places. And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there; for that was the great high place: a thousand burnt-offerings did Solomon offer upon that altar” (I Kings 3:3,4).
The “high places” were places where the heathen worshipped idols, and so we know that before he received wisdom, Solomon worshipped the right God in the wrong way! If this sounds familiar, it is because Christianity is filled with people doing the same! They worship the right God in the wrong way, with robes, candles, incense and all the other trappings of religion. Even true believers worship the right God in wrong ways, ways that include water baptism, speaking in tongues, and a host of other Scriptural but dispensationally incorrect practices.
How did Solomon worship God after he was given a supernatural gift of wisdom? Just read what happened after he awoke from the dream in which he received his wisdom:
“And Solomon awoke; and, behold, it was a dream. And he came to Jerusalem, and stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and offered up burnt-offerings…” (I Kings 3:15).
In other words, after receiving wisdom, Solomon worshipped the right God in the right way!
Now we see why Paul prayed that we would be filled with a knowledge of God’s will “in all wisdom.” Believers filled with this knowledge and the wisdom that comes with it will not be baptized, try to speak in tongues, or sacrifice their hard-earned dollars to the right God in the wrong places (ministries that do not teach the grace message).
One more thing about the wisdom of Solomon:
“When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon…she came to prove him with hard questions…And Solomon told her all her questions…And when the queen of Sheba had seen all Solomon’s wisdom… she said to the king, It was a true report that I heard…of thy wisdom. Howbeit…the half was not told me…thy wisdom…exceedeth the fame which I heard” (I Kings 10:1-7).
Each week people write to us here at BBS with similar “hard questions,” questions they’ve asked other ministries in vain. Often we are able to answer them, not because we are so smart, but because we have “the knowledge of His will in all wisdom”! You see, the wisdom of God in the Bible is divided into the wisdom of His Prophetic program and the wisdom of His Mystery program. When people write to other ministries for wisdom, they only hear God’s Prophetic wisdom. Like the queen of Sheba, they are only told the half of God’s wisdom!
As we introduced the subject of discerning God’s will last month, we promised to also help you understand the will of God, in areas like “Why was I stricken with cancer?” “Why did the tornado hit my house, and not my neighbor’s?” And even, “Why did my child have to die?” Believers who ask these questions of other ministries, ministries that have only the prophetic half of God’s wisdom, are forced to suggest that perhaps in such cases God is chastening these believers for their sins.
There is no question that chastening is Biblical. God promised to bless Israel when she was good, but curse her if she was bad, with droughts, famines, even allowing them to be conquered by their enemies (Lev. 26). Individuals in Israel were also chastened. Saul lost his kingdom (I Sam. 13:8-14). David lost his son (II Sam. 11:1-12:14).
So chastening is Biblical, but is it dispensationally Biblical? When you lose your child, are you being chastened of God? Questions like these can literally haunt a believer, and must be answered according to a knowledge of God’s will in all of His wisdom.
This writer believes that physical chastening is inconsistent with the dispensation of grace. Today God is not blessing us when we are good, for we are already blessed with “all” spiritual blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3). But to be consistent, we must also conclude that God is not cursing us when we are bad! If you fall into sin today, you needn’t fear God will give you a disease tomorrow.
Some object from I Corinthians 11:30 that chastening is Pauline, but this reference is from one of Paul’s early epistles, written before the withdrawal of many other transitional things, such as speaking in tongues and the other gifts described in the very next chapters of I Corinthians (12-14). If it is significant that there is no mention of these gifts in Paul’s later epistles, and we believe that it is significant, then it must also be significant that there is no mention of physical chastening in Paul’s later epistles.
Any physical chastening God might engage in today would be completely ineffectual, for the following reason: When Saul sinned, Samuel was there to make the connection between his sin and the loss of his kingdom. When David sinned, Nathan was there to connect his sin to the loss of his child. Without a spirit-filled man to make this connection, David may well have thought his child had died of natural causes. Even the Corinthians had the Apostle Paul to tell them there was a reason they were weak and sickly. However, today there are no inspired prophets who can link the hardships in your life to specific sins in your life, and you will drive yourself crazy speculating on such things.
That’s why any physical chastening God might do today would be completely ineffectual. Imagine spanking your child often, but never telling him why! He would never learn right from wrong, for he couldn’t know what specific action on his part brought the chastening!
Some might rightly ask, “What son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” (Heb. 12:7), but there is an answer to this question. Fathers do not physically chasten adult sons. If the reader is still spanking his adult son, there is something seriously wrong with your relationship with him! Adult sons are chastened with words of correction, and this is how God chastens His sons today. We have received “the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:5), and are considered full-grown sons in God’s sight. And so while “the children of Israel” were often chastened physically, today “all Scripture is given…for correction” (II Tim. 3:16). When we fall into sin, we open the Word and it chastens us, or a mature Christian friend shares with us what God has to say about what we have done.
And so when the tornado hits your home, or you are stricken with cancer, or your child is taken in death, you don’t have to wonder if you are being chastened of God. These things are just the result of living in a sin-cursed world.
How thrilling it is as a grace pastor to be able visit a brother in the hospital, and not have to suggest that perhaps he is being punished for his sins. A young couple in our church recently lost their precious one-year-old daughter, and we cannot imagine the heartbreak they endured. The last thing they needed was someone with only half an understanding of God’s will suggesting that perhaps they themselves were to blame for their loss!
What a great message we have! How liberating it is! What a thrill it was to watch as those parents found, as millions before them had found, that God’s grace is sufficient in even such times as this.
In our next issue, we will have more to say about understanding God’s will in such areas. For now, isn’t it wonderful to be able to simply rest in the love and grace of the Saviour!
Perhaps the most basic and fundamental declaration of the will of God is found in I Timothy 2:3,4:
“…GOD our Saviour…WILL have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
If you are not saved, it is the will of God that you be saved from your sins. If you are saved, it is God’s will that you come to a knowledge of the truth, the truth of the distinctiveness of the Pauline revelation. If you are saved and have already come to a knowledge of the truth, it is God’s will that you get others saved, and bring them to a knowledge of the truth. And God’s will for your life, in all other areas of your life, revolves around His will for you in these areas. To demonstrate this, in the present article we shall consider references to the will of God in the life of the Apostle Paul. We find the first in Acts 18:
“And he came to Ephesus, and…when they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not; but bade them farewell, saying…I will return again unto you, IF GOD WILL” (Acts 18:19-21).
In hindsight, it clearly was the will of God that Paul return to Ephesus, for upon his return, he established a very spiritual church there, and a base of operations from which “all they which dwelt in Asia heard the Word of the Lord” (Acts 19:1,9,10). If it is God’s will that people be saved and come to know the truth, then it was clearly God’s will for Paul to return to Ephesus.
In Acts 21, Paul was warned that going to Jerusalem would result in his arrest (v. 10-12). When the apostle determined to go anyway, the disciples replied, “The will of the Lord be done” (v. 14). But was it?
Seemingly not! Upon Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem, he was nearly beaten to death by the Jews, escaping only when the Romans arrested him (v. 31-33). But remember, it was not God’s will that Paul have an easy life, but that people be saved and come to know the truth. And we know that this was the result of Paul’s experience from what he wrote in Philippians 1, where he explained that “the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel,
“So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places” (Phil. 1:13).
Paul’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment in Rome enabled him to reach influential members of Caesar’s palace with the gospel (Phil. 4:22), and soon the truth was radiating out from there unto “all other places.” And, as Paul later wrote,
“…many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (1:14).
In addition, Paul’s Roman imprisonment had still another beneficial fallout:
“And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house…teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him” (Acts 28:30,31).
Before his incarceration, plenty of men forbad him to preach the gospel, and the many perils he enumerates in II Corinthians 11:23-27 were a constant concern. But now the Roman guards assigned to keep him from escaping unwittingly served as personal bodyguards, protecting him from harm and from any who might threaten him for preaching the truth! Thus in hindsight, we can say of Paul’s trip to Jerusalem that the will of the Lord was certainly done.
As we move on to Paul’s epistles, we find Paul praying and
“Making request, if by any means…I might have a prosperous journey BY THE WILL OF GOD to come unto you” (Rom. 1:10).
Paul’s mention of God’s will here assures us he was not praying for his own personal prosperity, but that his journey might be “prosperous” in getting people saved, and bringing them to the truth. Would to God that all His people prayed for this kind of prosperity!
Now a sobering question: Are you willing to pray, as Paul prayed, that God might use you “by any means” to prosper the gospel in your life? Before you answer, remember that the means God chose to prosper the gospel in Paul’s life included getting him beaten, arrested and imprisoned, not to mention the two-week storm at sea that Paul endured in transit to Rome (Acts 27). The world would not consider this a “prosperous journey,” but the islanders who heard the gospel after Paul’s subsequent shipwreck would disagree!
Did God send that storm? No, we feel certain it was rather sent by Satan. We just serve a God who knows how to capitalize on Satan’s opposition, which brings us to the next mention of the will of God in Paul’s epistles:
“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.
“And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF GOD” (Rom. 8:26,27).
The “infirmities” (v. 26) that cause us to groan in pain (v. 22) naturally cause us to pray for their removal, just as Paul prayed (II Cor. 12:7,8). However, God knew that the removal of Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not the best thing spiritually, and so denied his request. Similarly, with our limited understanding of what is best spiritually, we too groan for the removal of infirmities. But the Spirit groans for what is best spiritually, “with groanings which cannot be uttered” by us with our limited understanding. Had Paul known that being beaten, arrested and imprisoned would fall out to such a furtherance of the gospel, we dare say he would have willingly prayed for these hardships to befall him.
How then does the Spirit intercede for us? Well, “He that searcheth the hearts” is God (I Chron. 28:9). Now, you would think that it would say, “He that searcheth your heart knows your mind,” but it doesn’t. Paul rather says that God who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit! And unlike us, the Spirit knows if removing our infirmities or our problems is the best way to get people saved and bring them to the truth. And so when we pray for the removal of thorns and problems, not knowing “what we should pray for as we ought,” the Spirit “maketh intercession for us according to the will of God.”
Does this mean God does not hear our prayers, or know our hearts? We know that He does both, from II Chronicles 6:7-9, where Solomon said,
“Now it was in the heart of David my father to build an house for the name of the Lord…but the Lord said to David my father, Forasmuch as it was in thine heart to build an house for My name, thou didst well that it was in thine heart. Notwithstanding thou shalt not build the house….”
Here it is obvious that God searched David’s heart, and knew he was minded to build a temple for the Lord. However, God did not want David to build the temple, since he was a man of war (I Chron. 28:3).
And so while He knew the desire of David’s heart, even commended him for it, He acted according to His own will.
We believe this is a good illustration of how prayer works, according to Romans 8:26,27. God hears our prayers, and knows our hearts, but answers prayer in accordance with His will, His will that all be saved and come to know the truth. Does this mean we should only pray for people to be saved and come to know the truth? Hardly, for in Paul’s next reference to the will of God, he says,
“Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake… that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;
“That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints;
“That I may come unto you with joy BY THE WILL OF GOD…” (Rom. 15:30-32).
Paul’s mention of “prayers to God for me” teaches us that there is nothing wrong with asking for people to pray for us, as long as, as Paul says here, it is “for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake.” That is, Paul asked them to pray for his personal safety so that he could deliver the contribution he had collected among the Gentiles to the poor saints at Jerusalem (15:23-27), and then visit the Romans “with the fulness of the blessing of the gospel” (15:29). Both of these things were part of the will of God at that time. And so we conclude that it is all right to petition God for personal safety so that we can continue to share the gospel and the Grace Message, which is the will of God for us today. If you ask this writer to pray for your health or safety just so you can skate through life without illness, injury or problems, we flatly refuse to do so, but we are happy to uphold you in prayer in areas like this so that you can continue to serve the Lord.
When Paul asked them to pray that he might be able to come unto them “with joy,” we are tempted to conclude that God did not answer this part of Paul’s prayer, when we consider the beating, the arrest and the shipwreck that brought him to Rome. However, we suggest that Paul did come to them with joy, despite these hardships, when he reflected on the spiritual blessing his trip had brought to the islanders, the Romans, and the poor saints at Jerusalem. We too can learn to have joy, no matter how God answers our prayers, if we learn to rejoice in the right things—the salvation of the lost, and the opening of the eyes of the saved to the truth.
Does God then give people cancer, cause tornadoes to hit their homes, or cause their baby to die just to bring about spiritual good?
No, like the storm that brought the gospel to the islanders, things like this are either the opposition of Satan, instances of reaping what we sow (Gal. 6:7), or just the consequence of living in a world cursed by sin. God does not expect us to rejoice in these things, but He does encourage us to rejoice in the spiritual good that He can work through these things (Rom. 8:28).
We would like to conclude this article with a Bible illustration of what we’ve been saying, and so we turn now to the Book of Philemon. Some wonder why this little epistle is included in the canon of Scripture, for it doesn’t seem to teach any of the great doctrines of the Pauline faith. But while it is true that Philemon doesn’t teach great doctrines, it most assuredly illustrates them. That’s why it appears last in our Bible in the divinely-arranged order of Paul’s epistles, for every preacher knows that first you teach doctrine, then you illustrate it. But before we show how Philemon illustrates Paul’s teachings about the will of God, we want to preface our remarks by first demonstrating at length that Philemon is indeed a book designed to illustrate the doctrines that went before in Paul’s epistles.
Philemon had a servant named Onesimus, who ran away, met Paul, and got saved. Paul returned the runaway slave to his master with the epistle to Philemon, in which he begs Philemon to be lenient to his returning servant. As an apostle, Paul could have commanded Philemon to show mercy (See Verse 8, where the Greek word for “enjoin” is elsewhere always translated “command” or “charge”). But Paul chose rather to “beseech” his old friend “for love’s sake” (v. 9). This is of course a precious illustration of how God Almighty could command us to serve Him, as He did with Israel under the Law, but under Grace He rather beseeches us to serve Him, for love’s sake (II Cor. 5:14). In the Old Testament, God never beseeched anyone to do anything, but under Grace, He inspired Paul to “beseech” us over and over. And so we see how this key doctrine of grace is not taught here in Philemon, but wonderfully illustrated.
Next, Paul reminds Philemon that “in time past” Onesimus was “unprofitable” to him as an unsaved servant, “but now” was returning as a profitable faithful servant (v. 11). We believe Paul purposely used those words “time past” and “but now” to remind Philemon that he himself had “in time past” been “unprofitable” to God, “but now” was His profitable servant (Eph. 2:11; Rom. 3:12; Eph. 2:13). Since God had mercy on Philemon, Paul argues, shouldn’t Philemon have mercy on Onesimus? Another key doctrine of Grace teaches that we should treat one another as God treats us (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13), a doctrine that the Book of Philemon does not teach, but here illustrates.
Under the Law of Moses, the people of Israel were expressly told not to return runaway slaves (Deut. 23:15,16). But Paul returned Onesimus to Philemon, delightfully illustrating how we are not under the Law of Moses (Rom. 6:14,15). Of course, Paul was tempted to keep Onesimus, who could then have ministered to Paul’s needs in Philemon’s place (Phile. 13). “But,” as he says, “without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly” (v. 14). Those words “necessity” and “willingly” remind us of how Paul says we are to give to the Lord’s work “not…of necessity” (II Cor. 9:7), but “if there be first a willing mind” (II Cor. 8:12). You see, Paul was giving Philemon a chance to give his servant to Paul according to the guidelines of grace, and thereby “benefit” at the Judgment Seat of Christ, thus illustrating yet another doctrine of grace.
Next, Paul intercedes for Onesimus, asking Philemon to “receive him as myself” (v. 17). Doesn’t this illustrate how God receives us in the Lord Jesus Christ? Just as Onesimus was unacceptable to Philemon in himself, but acceptable to him in Paul, just so you and I are unacceptable to God in ourselves, but are thankfully “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6).
Runaway slaves often stole from their masters to finance their getaway, and so Paul tells Philemon,
“If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account” (Phile. 18).
What a thrilling illustration of the doctrine of imputation! How precious to know that though we have wronged God terribly with our sins, our transgressions were imputed to Christ as He hung on the cross (II Cor. 5:21). How much we owe the Lord for all He did for us at Calvary, yea, we owe Him our very lives! And how well this is illustrated when Paul reminds Philemon, “thou owest unto me even thine own self besides” (v. 19).
It is difficult to believe Paul could “have joy” (v. 20) after vowing to pay all the debt owed by Onesimus, but what a depiction of the Lord Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2), paying all of our sin debt in the process.
We often hear it said, “If you tell people they are not under the Law, they won’t serve the Lord,” but those who say this know little of the power of grace. God is confident that under Grace we will do more than what was asked of Israel under Law, a truth illustrated in Philemon 21:
“Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.”
Under Grace, the Macedonians were under no obligation to tithe, but rather than neglect their duty they gave “beyond their power” (II Cor. 8:3). God help us to do more than He asks in every aspect of our Christian life!
Finally, the Book of Philemon illustrates the Pauline doctrine of prayer when Paul tells his beloved friend, “I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you” (Phile. 22). The apostle was so sure he would be released from prison in response to Philemon’s prayer that he told him to get a room ready for him. We too can pray with similar confidence that God will do what is best spiritually for us and those around us.
We are grateful for the reader’s patience as we took the time to document how this little epistle was written to illustrate Pauline truth, for we now turn our attention to Philemon 15, where Paul says of the departure of Onesimus from his master,
“For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever.”
In hindsight, we know it was God’s will for Onesimus to run away, meet Paul, and be wonderfully saved. The word “perhaps” here indicates that in looking back, Paul thought he saw the hand of God in it all, but he was not sure.
Now we are going to say something that we suspect the reader may not like. We believe this illustrates that it is not possible to know the will of God for certain in advance. The Book of Philemon illustrates that while, like Paul, we might be able to see God’s will in hindsight, we cannot know God’s will for sure in advance.
So how are we to make the big decisions in life, or even the smaller decisions for that matter, without knowing God’s will? This is a question we shall address in next month’s message, the last in our series on this important subject.
Last month we concluded we cannot be certain of the will of God in advance. But if this be so, how are we to make decisions in life? Let’s begin by laying some groundwork in Ephesians 1:5:
“Having predestinated us unto the ADOPTION of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.”
Adoption in Bible days occurred when a young Hebrew boy was officially recognized by his father as an adult son. Up ’til then, the boy was kept under tutors and governors, who treated him like a child, telling him things like, “Don’t touch that, it’s hot!”, and “Don’t eat that, that’s an insect!” But from the day the boy was recognized to be an adult son, he was responsible to make his own decisions in life.
In the same way, the people of Israel were often called “the children of Israel,” for God treated them like children. He gave them a Law that told them what they could eat and what they could not eat, what they could touch and what they could not touch. But we are not under the Law (Rom. 6:14,15), and so are not subject to the ordinances of “touch not; taste not; handle not” (Col. 2:20-22), and can eat whatever we please (I Tim. 4:4). We have received the adoption (Gal. 4:5), and God considers us responsible to make our own decisions in life. And since Ephesians 1:5 says all this was “according to the good pleasure of His will,” we know that it is the will of God that we make our own decisions in life!
Let’s look now to the life of the Apostle Paul, whom God calls our “pattern” (I Tim. 1:16), and see how Paul made decisions as an adult son, without knowing God’s will in advance. We begin in Acts 15:36-38:
“…Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.
“And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.
“But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.”
When there was a decision to be made, Paul did not wait for step-by-step directions from God, as he received in Acts 16:6,7. Even though he would continue to hear from God audibly (Acts 23:11) and through prophets (Acts 21:4,10,11), God was already conditioning Paul to begin to think for himself, and make decisions without knowing God’s will in advance. Here, he “thought not good” to bring John with him.
Did Paul find the will of God here? Seemingly not, for the sharp contention between Barnabas and him caused them to go their separate ways. But if it be God’s will for men to be saved and come to know His truth (I Tim. 2:4), then surely God’s will was done, for now there were two parties going forth in His name, instead of just one!
How did Paul make his decision? He simply drew on his past experience with John (Acts 13:13), and determined that the present mission was too important to give him another chance to prove his dependability. Barnabas meanwhile had already seen signs that John was maturing into the “profitable” servant that even Paul later judged him to be (II Tim. 4:11). In short, both men made decisions based on their experience, and the will of God was done in the end.
Are there tools other than experience that we can use to help us make decisions in the will of God? Let’s consider some other examples from the life of Paul, our pattern:
“Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus…
“Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.
“Him would Paul have to go forth with him…” (Acts 16:1-3).
Looking back, choosing Timothy to replace John Mark was obviously the will of God, for he became a selfless servant of the Lord (Phil. 2:19-22). But how did Paul know the will of God here? He couldn’t know it for sure, but he based his decision on the recommendation of other believers, for Timothy was well spoken of by the brethren in two different cities. This is good advice for us as we seek the will of God, in all areas of life. This writer seldom chooses a doctor or a mechanic without a recommendation, nor do we purchase a Ford or a Chrysler without weighing the advice of others who know more about such things.
Similarly, we would hope that a church wouldn’t call a pastor without some sort of recommendation. That’s all “ordination” really is, written evidence that a group of godly men have given their approval of a spiritual man. In Paul’s day, such approval came in the form of “letters of commendation” (II Cor. 3:1), which as an apostle he himself did not need, but which a local church today would be wise to seek.
Is there an example in Paul’s life that would help us in the area of finding employment? We feel we find just such an example in Acts 18:
“After these things Paul…came to Corinth;
“And found a certain Jew named Aquila…with his wife Priscilla…
“And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers” (v. 1-3).
Upon arriving in Corinth, the Apostle found a job by what is now called networking, i.e., finding work by making your need known among your circle of friends and relatives. Many trades and industries seem dominated by certain ethnic groups simply because these groups decided to help their own at hiring time. Paul’s example here shows there is no reason God’s people can’t do the same. When this writer was a teen, a carpenter in our church hired him as a helper on a job, and later in our painting business, we hired people from our own church almost exclusively. If more Christian employers would follow this example whenever possible, there might be fewer believers looking for work.
The next time we find Paul discerning God’s will, it just may have saved his life. The silversmiths in Ephesus incited a riot to oppose the teachings of Paul, and the whole city rushed into the theatre in a crazed fervor (Acts 19:23-29).
“And when Paul would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not” (Acts 19:30).
Here we see that God can help us make decisions in life through the aid of godly counsel received from trusted friends (Prov. 11:14). But it is imperative that, like Paul, we be careful to receive such help only from “the disciples,” and not from Oprah or Dr. Phil, etc. In football, a good quarterback often seeks advice from his veteran coaches, but he never crosses the field to seek advice from the opposing team’s coaches! Unbelievers are not always wrong in their advice, but even a broken clock is right twice a day!
In the next verse, we see Paul receiving advice from yet another source:
“And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him, desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the theatre” (Acts 19:31).
The Greek word for “chief of Asia” here is Asiarches, a class of wealthy and prominent men recognized by the Roman empire and promoted to positions of authority. If you think about it, there is a reason why men get to be wealthy and prominent and promoted. It is because they have made wise choices in life. And so we see that advice from believers such as this is an especially good source of counsel.
Perhaps the reader is thinking that it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Paul should not attempt to address a dangerous mob of what he himself later admitted were “beasts” (I Cor. 15:32). However, knowing what was best and convincing Paul of it was quite another matter! Paul did not count his life dear to himself (Acts 20:24), and all he saw that day was an opportunity to preach to an assembled multitude of souls. These were wise men indeed, who could talk Paul out of preaching the gospel his heart burned to preach. These chief men were able to help Paul see the big picture, and to know that it was decidedly not God’s will that he preach the gospel that day. Through their wise counsel, Paul lived to preach another day, and to write the prison epistles that completed the Word of God, enriching the lives of us all.
Another threat on Paul’s life was averted in the very next chapter:
“…And when the Jews laid wait for him, as he was about to sail into Syria, he purposed to return through Macedonia” (Acts 20:3).
The Bible phrase “laid wait” here refers to an ambush that was set in hopes of slaying Paul. How did he react to this? “As he was about to” do one thing, he changed his plans at the last moment! Then we read,
“And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater…Aristarchus…Secundus…Gaius…Timotheus…Tychicus and Trophimus” (Acts 20:4).
Hearing of the ambush, Paul surrounded himself with seven bodyguards! He didn’t need a dream or a vision from God to suggest this wise course of action, just common sense! And there is yet more to Paul’s resourcefulness:
“These going before tarried for us at Troas” (Acts 20:5).
After the bodyguards discouraged an immediate attack, Paul sent them ahead as decoys while he himself waited behind, a tactic that would make our own Secret Service proud as they guard our president.
But what happens when the decisions we make are not in line with the will of God? We feel this scenario is addressed as we turn now to Paul’s epistles:
“Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,)…” (Rom. 1:13).
We believe it was Satan who “let” or hindered Paul from going to Rome (cf. I Thes. 2:18). But why did God allow this? Looking back in hindsight, we can conclude that the believers in Rome didn’t need a visit from Paul! In Chapter 16 of this epistle, he mentions twenty-seven prominent saints, serving the Lord in at least three separate assemblies. They were doing just fine without him!
Interestingly, the Greek word for “purposed” here is most often translated “judgment.” In Paul’s judgment, the Romans needed a visit from him, but God overruled, and allowed Satan to hinder him. What a comfort it is to know that God can even use our adversary to accomplish His will and bring about the best spiritual results (something He proved abundantly at Calvary!). For our part, Paul’s use of the phrases “it may be,” and “I trust” and “if the Lord permit” (I Cor. 16:5-7) indicate that while the apostle made decisions as an adult son, he left it all with the Lord, something that we too would do well to bear in mind.
Sometimes even after gathering wise counsel, drawing on past experiences, and employing all the decision-making tools that an adult son can muster, it is still not clear what we should do. But even in times such as this, we can still look to the example of Paul for guidance. Speaking of his desire to send Timothy to the Philippians, Paul said,
“Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me” (Phil. 2:23).
When Paul wasn’t certain what to do, he took a “wait and see” attitude, and so should we. How precious it is to see God’s Word directing us to God’s will even when it is not clear what should be done.
What about discerning the will of God in finding a spouse? First, we know from II Corinthians 6:14 that we must not consider being “unequally yoked” with an unbeliever. If you marry a child of the devil, you are going to have trouble with your father-in-law! But after you are convinced that your potential spouse is saved and likeminded in matters of faith and practice, then Christian men and women are free to follow the advice Paul gave to Christian women: “she is at liberty to be married to whom she will” (I Cor. 7:39). Having received the adoption, you are free to make an adult decision and marry whomever you will!
As we study God’s Word, however, both men and women can benefit from tips we see in Scripture, such as we find in Genesis 24. While we cannot seek a spouse by asking what Abraham’s servant asked when he petitioned the Lord (v. 14), there are some things we can glean from this passage that might prove helpful in the area of choosing a mate.
For instance, notice Rebekah “went down” and “came up” to water the camels of Abraham’s servant (v. 16). This indicates the well was downhill, and she had to carry the water uphill. This shows she wasn’t lazy, and a good work ethic is an excellent character trait to seek in a spouse. Notice also she “hasted” to bring the water (v. 18), showing her eagerness to be of service. Nor did she cease her trips up and down the hill until she had drawn water “for all his camels” (v. 20), all ten of them! (v. 10). We are told that after a long day, one camel can drink up to twenty gallons of water. Multiply that times ten camels and we are amazed to read that this young girl may have carried 200 gallons of water weighing 1600 pounds (over ¾ ton!) uphill to water the camels of a stranger! Such kindness is yet another quality to look for in a mate.
How does one find such a wonderful companion? Listen as Abraham’s servant thanked God for his find:
“…I being in the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master’s brethren” (Gen. 24:27).
Abraham had sent his servant to the land of his brethren to seek a wife for his son, but once out of sight, a slothful servant could have saved himself a lot of work by looking closer to home. But had Abraham’s servant done so, he would have been looking for love in all the wrong places. But this servant wanted God’s choice, and so put himself in God’s way! Similarly, if you are looking for a grace believing spouse, you too need to get in God’s way! Attend our Bible conferences and camp retreats, vacation near grace churches, enroll in our Berean Bible Institute, and you too are much more apt to find a partner in the house of your Master’s brethren.
Finally, how is a man to know if it is God’s will for him to enter the ministry? After this writer was saved a year, at age 16 we asked our pastor this very question. He wisely opened his Bible to I Timothy 3:1:
“If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.”
Notice that “desire” is the first thing Paul mentions (twice!) in the list of qualifications for the ministry that follows. And so if you have a desire to serve the Lord in the ministry full-time, consider yourself called, for most men do not have this desire.
This writer was blessed to be saved in a grace church, and in the year following our salvation, we could tell from listening to Christian radio that we have the answer to the prevailing confusion in Christendom! It was this that instilled in us a burning desire to make this blessed message known as the pastor of a local church.
And so if your heart burns to champion the message of grace, don’t wait for a sign from God. Instead, continue to study His Word, begin to develop the qualifications listed in this passage, and seek to be trained for His service. If you are faithful in these things, perhaps someday a group of godly men will be able to recommend that you be ordained to the ministry.
In closing, if it be asked why God chose to allow us to seek His will as adult sons, prayerfully making informed decisions as best we can, we believe that this is only a taste of how we will be serving God throughout eternity. Sometimes we are asked what heaven will be like, and whether or not God will control us in some robotic way. We like to reply with a passage from I Kings 22, where God gives us a glimpse of a heavenly staff meeting conducted in the days of King Ahab:
“And the Lord said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner.
“And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him.
“And the Lord said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And He said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so” (v. 20-22).
Here Ahab had done wickedly, and it was the will of God that he die by the sword in battle. But how could he be convinced to attack Ramoth-gilead? Surely God knew the best way to convince him! Why does it appear He is asking His heavenly host for suggestions?
We believe that God here is developing talent among His host, the way a wise CEO might know the best path that his corporation should take, but presents the problem to his staff in an effort to help them develop the same type of analytical mind that enabled him to rise to the top and serve the company to his full potential. We submit that this is how it will be in heaven. Rather than micro-managing our lives, our sonship will continue on in heaven, and we will spend eternity learning how to serve Him better. What a privilege to be already training for this service now, in this life!
As we conclude our study of this important subject, we hope the reader has found these suggestions helpful in seeking God’s will, especially our young people. We wonder if some of them feel that every detail of their lives is pre-determined, and if they make one wrong turn in life they will somehow miss out on the will of God forever. If this series has done nothing else, we trust it has allayed this type of thinking, and instilled in all of our readers the confidence which the Lord Jesus Christ would like us to have as we endeavor to live for Him.