Discerning God's Will



The Necessary Spiritual Condition for God's Guidance

"Who is the man that fears the Lord? Him shall he teach in the way He chooses." (Psalm 25:12)

On matters not clearly laid out in the Bible, how can one know the will of God? This has a great deal to do with one's own spiritual condition rather than the methods. In other words, if his spiritual condition is right, God will disclose His will to him; conversely, if it is not, God will not do so.

How then can one's condition be right? A person whose condition is right is one who fears God. God discloses His will to only those who fear Him. A person who does not fear God will not know His will - no matter how right his methods are. Psalm 25:12 says, "Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him shall He teach in the way He chooses."

The Old Testament tells us that when Saul, who disobeyed God, tried anxiously to seek God's will, God did not disclose it to him - either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets. Saul ended up consulting a female medium (I Sam. 28). This shows that God makes His will known to only those who fear Him.

What It Means to "Fear God"

(1) Let God Be Your Master

The first time God clearly and figuratively illustrates the positive aspect of fearing God is found in Genesis 22:9-12, "Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' So he said, 'Here I am.' And he said, 'Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from Me.'"

What then does it mean to fear God? Here, it is illustrated by Abraham's willing sacrifice of his only son (his most precious possession born to him in his old age and by God's promise) which he offered to God without any reservation when God asked for it. In other words, fearing God is the total and unconditional sacrifice and obedience to God at any cost, in recognition of His sovereignty, His salvation, His love and mercy, and His lordship.

(2) Abhorrence of Evil & Sin

Another meaning of fearing God is contained in Proverbs 8:13 , "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil." Fearing God involves the spontaneous departure from evil and sin in the conviction that God is holy, righteous, and almighty. For example, in King David's prayer, " Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight" (Psalm 19:14), and in Paul's statement, " You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe" (I Thes. 2:10).

Example 1 -Apostle Paul

Shortly after Jesus ascended to heaven, He appeared before Saul (later renamed Paul) near Damascus. Out of the thousands of Jews and Pharisees, why did the Lord chose to personally appear in His glory to Saul, to call him to be an apostle and disclose His will to him? Of course, Paul was chosen even before the foundation of the world, as he quoted God's words in Romans 9:15, " I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion"! On the other hand, he was totally devoted to God and was a true and devout Pharisee rather than a hypocritical one ( "They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the straightest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee" (Acts 26:5); "concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Phil. 3:6). He was a student of the famous Rabi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) who "advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers" (Gal. 1:14) and served God " with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did" ( II Tim. 1:3).

You see, dear brothers and sisters, Paul truly tried his best to be God-fearing and blameless; he mistakenly persecuted Jesus and His disciples only because he did not recognize Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. The heart-searching Lord (Ps.139:2; Jer.17:10) knew this; so He appeared to Paul and disclosed His will to him.

Example 2 - Amy Carmichael

Amy Carmichael was a British missionary who served the Lord in India around the mid-20 th Century. The Lord gave her the vision to receive and bring up infant-girls who were victims of a derogatory Indian custom at that time. Unwanted infant-girls were abandoned in the temples for serving as temple-prostitutes when they were grown up. Sister Amy's burden was to receive and raise the abandoned infant-girls, to bring them to Christ and to equip them with professional skills to be independent.

Later, with the soaring number of infants, the premises became overcrowded. Without seeking help from anyone, Sister Amy turned to God alone. Though the need for a large building was apparent, Sister Amy wanted to know if it was indeed the will of God. (For every devoted follower of the Lord, every service to the Lord must not be based merely on objective need or personal enthusiasm but must be motivated and initiated by God, the Alpha and the Omega.) Eager to discern God's will regarding this pressing need, she prayed, "Lord, if this be Your will, let me receive a remittance of £100.00 (British currency)." The amounts of previously received offerings were small, the largest being a remittance of £100 (received only once). Having prayed fervently for some time, she received successively three offerings of £100 each. With this assurance and by faith, she then bought the neighboring piece of land on which a large building was established to house many more infant-girls. The Lord continued to supply their needs.

This is a very typical example of a God-fearing person getting to know God's will.

Example 3 - Dr. Chen-hua Yu (1901-1956)

As mentioned earlier, the Lord will direct the paths of those who fear Him. Here is a rather typical example of my deceased father's first experience in discerning God's will.

My father was an ophthalmologist employed by the Shanghai Red Cross Hospital in the 1930's. He had a three-year contract with the hospital at the expiry of which he could either renew or terminate and work elsewhere. When the contract was soon to expire, the hospital tried to retain him. At the same time, an air force hospital in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, offered him a job with more than double his salary. There was yet another opportunity: The church in Shanghai needed him and wanted him to operate a small clinic on his own, allowing him more time to serve the Lord. For the first time in his life, he sought God's will on the matter.

Despite fervent prayers, he did not receive any clear guidance. He continued praying and fasted repeatedly, but was still unsure which of the three paths to choose. The night before the final decision-making day, he anxiously pleaded, "Lord, I've sincerely tried hard praying and fasting in seeking Your will, but You haven't disclosed it to me! I'll meet with the hospital director tomorrow. If I should happen to make a wrong decision, then You'll have to be responsible." He prayed so hard that night as if wrestling with the Lord and not letting go of Him until He made His will known. Praise the Lord it was then that the Holy Spirit illumined him, "Do you truly want to know God's will? Do you, really? Haven't you secretly set your eyes on the job in Hangzhou that offers the highest salary with the lightest workload?" He then realized that, despite his earnest pleas, he had actually opted for the military hospital in Hangzhou that offered very attractive benefits and light workload (air-force crews were mostly physically fit with hardly any eye problems). Realizing his heart was biased and not perfect (II Chr. 16:9), he broke down in tears and asked for the Lord's forgiveness while at the same time renewing his dedication to the Lord.

Surprisingly, right at that time, Brother Glory Zhang, an elder of the church in Shanghai, knocked on the door and said, "Dr. Yu, it's very clear that God's will is for you to stay behind and run a small clinic so that you'd have more time for the church." Brother Zhang appeared just as my father gave up his own desire. It was clear to my father that Brother Zhang had come with God's message.

In seeking God's will, it is most imperative to sincerely and totally give up one's own desires, inclinations and interests and to focus on God's will alone. With a heart exalting the Lord and prepared to do and suffer for His will, one should have no difficulty discerning His will.

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