In parts 1 and 2, I shared the two most common go-to methods for discerning God’s will:
- “I wait to see which doors open and which ones close”, or
- “I wait until I have a peace about it”
I also discussed how frequently I’ve been wrong about discerning the will of God. I explained that the primary reason for this is that “the mind is a very tricky thing”. In other words, I’ve tricked myself into believing that something was God’s will when it was not. I now realize that, deep down, my thoughts were actually a reflection of my personal desires.
To be brutally honest, God’s will was not even part of the equation. My mind was coercing my thoughts into believing that events I was witnessing were testimony that God was speaking. Notice that I did not say I heard from God. I saw things, changing circumstances, the actions of others, and these all affected my thinking.
I also discovered a direct correlation between my desires and my prayers. My prayers were aligned not with “Thy will be done”, but with my inconspicuous personal desires. Galatians 5:17 talks about how “the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another”. My personal desires are of the flesh. God’s will is of the Spirit. I prayed using special or clever language that was only concealing my fleshly desires. My prayers actually served to reinforce the desires of my flesh. I now realize that I cannot coerce God into answering my prayers.
James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures”. This was my problem, although I would have told you that my desires were pure. So, the mind is a very tricky thing, and that means our thoughts are so often not trustworthy.
One thing we know is that what we think determines how we feel, and how we feel determines what we do. Remember that Romans 12:2 says that the biblical prescription for change is the renewing of the mind (click here for my discussion of this in greater detail). This makes our thought life paramount when we contemplate God’s will.
What it all boils down to is this: absent clear and unmistakable direction from the Lord, the probability that we’ll get it wrong is high. We need to hear from God. But this raises a question: Does God speak today? The answer is an emphatic and comforting “Yes!”.
God speaks primarily in four ways. In order of most prevalent and reliable, they are:
- The Bible: God speaks unambiguously.
- The Holy Spirit: God speaks internally.
- Circumstances: God speaks externally.
- Others: God speaks ministerially.
The Bible. This is the most direct and reliable way God speaks. So many of our decisions and choices would be resolved simply by a greater familiarity with God’s special revelation. Always go the Bible first for direction. It is the only way God communicates to His children where you don’t have to wonder if it’s really Him speaking.
The Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the one who gives us “impressions”. He is the one who speaks a word behind you saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21). However, here is where it gets tricky because it is sometimes hard to tell whether it is the Spirit speaking or the flesh. I’ll show you how to distinguish in “A Word of Caution” below.
Circumstances. How are things lining up? What’s going on around you, things you don’t control? Pay attention to these because they can be “signposts along the road”.
Others. This one is least reliable because there are just too many people prepared to tell you the will of God for your life. Why would God tell them to tell you instead of just telling you? Doesn’t that make them a medium? What we’re usually talking about here is godly counsel, those wise persons you know who when they speak, their words are trustworthy. This is the “wisdom in many counselors” principle (Proverbs 15:22). But it can also be that perfectly timed comment made by another that “tingles” your spirit and alerts you that what you just heard may be significant.
A Word of Caution: All of these indicators must agree. If even one of them differs, beware. You are wise to wait for clear and unmistakable direction. Remember those words, “clear and unmistakable”. That’s the key. If there’s any doubt whatsoever, it must be for a reason. It could very well be the Holy Spirit putting a restraint on you, in effect saying, “Don’t do that”. “Don’t go there”.
What about “stepping out on faith” vs. “waiting on God”? There is no question that we sometimes have to take that proverbial step of faith, but be careful. I’ve misunderstood God’s will so many times that I’ve mostly defaulted to this: If God doesn’t say go, I don’t budge. As long as I’m abiding in Him, I’m in a position to hear Him speak if and when He chooses.
The fact remains, however, that sometimes God is silent. We can pray and seek God earnestly, yet our entreaties are met with a deafening silence. What I do when this is the case is to simply go by the last thing God told me. No other choice makes sense to me. I risk making my own decision, a decision emanating from my flesh. When we wonder why we’re not hearing from Him, maybe it’s because He doesn’t have anything to say. Maybe He’s silently communicating, “I’ll let you know when I have something new for you”.
At some point, we simply have to let it go and be content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves (Philippians 4:11). This takes faith, which just so happens to be the single biggest obstacle for most of those I’ve counseled. We’ve got to trust God, especially when He’s silent, for “He rewards those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6), and “The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. ~John 15:7.
But we have the mind of Christ. ~2 Corinthians 2:16.
When the Holy Spirit begins to operate within your mind, you begin to think what the Holy Spirit thinks. What the Holy Spirit thinks is no different from what Jesus is thinking. And what Jesus is thinking is no different from what the Father is thinking. Through the Holy Spirit, you are participating in the thought process of the Trinity. Essentially, your thoughts becomes the revealed will of God. You haven’t searched for God’s will. You have searched for God. The Lord’s Word abides in you. In this way, your thoughts begin to naturally align themselves with God’s will. ~Dr. Tony Evans.
God knows how to get our attention, and He does indeed speak, but He never bypasses the mind.
So much has been written on this subject, thereby making it impossible for me to cover this from every angle. However, I invite your comments. I’d love to know where you agree or disagree, to read anything you can add to the discussion, and to entertain any questions you may still have.