Discerning God's Will



God's Will & His Timing

" My Hour Has Not Yet Come" (John 2:4)

As far as walking in God's will is concerned, there is the element of timing. At times when we are not well prepared enough to walk in God's will, circumstantial obstacles occur - an indication that there may be lessons we have yet to learn.

Let me illustrate with the experience of Anthony Norris Groves, a British brother who wanted to be a missionary in India. Though not very well known, this brother was greatly used by the Lord and was a prominent figure in Church history - Brother John Nelson Darby was greatly benefited by him spiritually. Brother Groves was a dentist with an attractive income. When called by the Lord to preach in India, he met with objection from his wife. Yet, the more he prayed about it, the more certain he was of his inner conviction and the heavier the burden grew - he was reassured that it was God's calling. There was, however, a lack of circumstantial evidence for him to go ahead: his wife, who did not even observe the Old Testament tithing, was in no way ready to walk the path of total sacrifice for the Lord. Clearly, the Lord's time had not yet come and Brother Groves knew he had to wait. In view of such circumstantial obstacles and spiritual burden, Brother Groves sensed that the time was not yet ripe; so he prayed fervently before the Lord as he prepared himself spiritually. Two or three years later, his wife began to tithe cheerfully but still objected to accompanying her husband to India. Brother Groves continued to pray fervently, and his wife later increased her offering to 25%. He continued praying and finally his wife was willing to sell all their possessions to accompany him to India. During their trip to India, they had to overstay in Baghdad because of certain circumstantial obstacles - during which time some family members were stricken with plague. Eventually they reached India.

Let us remember, therefore, that circumstantial obstacles may occur even when we are certain of the Lord's calling and guidance. When they occur, we need to wait patiently and faithfully before the Lord, who will straighten things out in due course.

Another type of situation that we may encounter is that there are no circumstantial obstacles but our inner conviction tells us to wait because the Lord's "time has not yet come" (John 7:6). God's sweet will is definitely behind this. In Chapter 11 of the gospel of John, Jesus' friend Lazarus was critically ill, and Martha and Mary (whom Jesus loved) sent for Jesus to come quickly to heal Lazarus. Surprisingly, after "he had heard ?? he stayed two more days" ( John 11:6). There were reasons for Jesus' delay: for the glory of God and the Son of God ( John 11:4); for the trial of faith for Martha, Mary and other believers (I Peter 1:7); and to perform a greater miracle to lead more people to believe in Him ( John 11:39-46).

Example 1 - Relocation in God's Time

I remember that my father had an experience similar to that of Brother Groves. In 1936, my family resided in Changsha, Hunan Province. My father was the director of the ophthalmology department of Yale Hospital ( Hunan Province), and we were accommodated in the cozy staff quarters ( Yale Garden) on the campus of Yale University (a subsidiary of the Yale University in the United States). The Yale Hospital was one of the three most renowned hospitals in China that awarded its physicians with satisfactory performance increments of 25 silver dollars each year. The cost of living was very low - half-a-cart of coal fuel that could last several months cost three silver dollars; 120 eggs or 120 tangerines cost one silver dollar - and the family's monthly expenses were under 40 silver dollars. As my father was making 200 silver dollars per month, we were quite well off.

One day, my father received a telegram from Brother Watchman Nee in Shanghai expressing his hope for my father to move back to Shanghai to minister with him as an elder. Instead of making a quick decision based on the need of the church in Shanghai, my father first went before the Lord to seek His will - this step was very crucial. Seeing no advantage in moving, my mother did not agree to the proposal, explaining: "Life is so stable here, and the professors' quarters here in Yale Garden are so gorgeous. Besides, we have the help of a house-maid."

The maid was a great help as there were five young children. She had previously lost her vision (probably due to cataracts) which was regained after operation by my father. She was a villager and preferred to work in the city for a higher income; so she served in our home. My mother was very fond of her because she was loyal and treated the children as if they were her own. In all, my mother had many good reasons for not leaving Changsha.

On the contrary, my father, after fervent prayers, was more certain of God's will for him to go to Shanghai. At the time, we held assemblies in our home for the nurses, physicians, patients, and neighbors who had come to know Christ since my father worked in Changsha. Before my father could leave for Shanghai, several problems had to be solved: First, My mother needed to change her mind; the Spirit of God had to work in her to make her totally willing to move. Second, there was need for a brother to take over my father's service in the church assembly at our home, particularly with regard to the nurturing of new believers. My father needed to pray about several other problems. In other words, God had to eliminate all the circumstantial obstacles and straighten the way for the family to leave for Shanghai.

Since God wanted my father to go to Shanghai, God Himself amazingly solved all the problems one by one. The last obstacle was the adamant mind of my mother - about which my father earnestly prayed. Thank God that, one early morning, as my mother was nursing my fourth brother, Chong-jia, she amazingly heard a very gentle, assuring and clear voice speaking to her, "This is a calling for you to go to Shanghai; such a move has God's blessing!" She immediately told my father about this. "That's the angel of the Lord speaking to you," my father said. (Note: The Holy Spirit does not speak audibly into our ears but softly into our inner spirit without articulation.) Since then, my mother's heart had totally changed, and she was all prepared to leave Changsha for Shanghai. Thank God that "with God nothing will be impossible" ( Luke 1:37).

We then arranged to relocate - we sold or gave away many of our belongings and made arrangements with the house-maid. We left Changsha by ship in 1936. In order to lower some living expenses, my father went alone to Shanghai4 first while my mother took us to our hometown of New Prosperity in Zhejiang Province. When our hometown was attacked and bombed during the Japanese invasion in 1940, we all moved to Shanghai.

So, you see, as God reveals His will to us, He also confirms it with circumstantial evidences.

Example 2 - " The Lord Is My Rock" ( Ps. 18:1)

Right before the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific Ocean in 1941, it was rumored that Japanese invaders would bomb the water & electrical power company and the coal-gas company in Shanghai (population then over four million). Countless people therefore tried every means to flee the city. A brother asked my father (then a senior elder of the church) if he wanted to leave also. My father replied, "No, I'm not leaving; clearly, God has led me to Shanghai and hasn't told me to leave. So I'll stay - even if I may die in Shanghai." Consequently, my family did not fret and flee, and we did not suffer any loss while many who fled suffered great losses. Many had their possessions stolen from their homes, and they could not bring their luggage because trains and ships were too overcrowded??even the lavatories were packed with people. Some of those who rode on top of the trains were knocked off and died as the trains passed through overhanging highways, while those who survived were almost frozen in the winter cold.

I remember clearly the day when the Japanese soldiers marched into the British concession in Shanghai on December 7. Early that morning, I still went to school as usual. My school was by the Outer Beach of Huangpu River that passed through the city of Shanghai, dividing it into two districts - the east and the west. After the first two lessons, the teacher announced that it was the end of the school-day and urged us to return home. My home was on Shanzhong Road (now renamed Changshu Road). On my way home, I noticed that the Japanese invaders had positioned their small tankers and machine guns at the main cross-junctions, creating a very scary scene. I took the narrow lanes home.

A person who knows that he is walking in God's will is above circumstances; even in the midst of unfavorable circumstances, he feels as secure as a rock. What a blessing!

4 A big city with higher living expenses

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