Discerning God's Will



Words of Caution

Overemphasis of Knowledge

As mentioned earlier, Christianity is not a type of philosophy or merely a set of teachings; it is a life experience with Jesus Christ. However, in today's Christian circle, there is an overemphasis of knowledge and a lack of spiritual experience. Over the past several decades, the number of Christian books published has rapidly increased, though many of them contain merely knowledge and principles with little spiritual worth and substance. Allow me to be frank: the number of books with rich spiritual contents is on the decrease. The Church today has increased in knowledge, as prophesized of the end-time in the last chapter of Daniel: " many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase" (Dan. 12:4). There is a surge of knowledge in various fields (such as natural science and social science), even to the point of bursting. The same is true with biblical knowledge in the Christian sphere.

True Christian faith emphasizes life, not knowledge (I Cor. 8:1b) and deals with issues such as how well we know the Lord or how much we have experienced the Lord.

Subjective Response to Objective Needs

Some Christians claim to be, but are actually not, walking in God's will. In reality, they are motivated by their own desires, enthusiasm and interests in response to circumstantial and objective needs.

After arriving in the "Free World," I often heard people say that they have the burden, or even the "vision," to preach the gospel or to provide training to Christians in China (e.g. short missions). Yet, how many of those who went were sufficiently prepared in the Lord and had the assurance of God's guidance? Those who went without clear direction from the Lord and good understanding of the real situation in China were motivated merely by their own zealous response to the needs they only partially perceived. Moreover, with a lack of true spiritual experience and solid biblical basis, they ventured to minister to the babies in Christ. What could such people offer to the Church in China?

Some people abroad collected monetary offerings but did not know how to channel or use them, resulting in mismanagement of funds and corrupt or controversial practices among ministers (a few ministers even used the sanctified funds to build houses for themselves). Some brought in erroneous publications or made inappropriate contacts, etc. Some caused discord and strife, or even introduced heresies and extremisms. Consequently, their efforts were more of a hindrance than a help.

I learned that a small mission group from Singapore spent a good deal of money preaching somewhere in Henan. Not knowing the background of "House Churches"7 in China, they brought along drums, trumpets, and organs that attracted many local people. As a result, the Public Security officers came and arrested them all. Since Singaporeans were foreigners, they were released after several hours or a couple of days. However, the local people, especially the Christian leaders, were treated quite differently. They were forced to make self-criticism, confessions, and accusations (betrayals) of other Christians. They were even fined, punished, imprisoned, or sent to Labor Camps.

Nowadays we see many Christian organizations collecting donations. Are such acts of "begging" necessary if they are truly called and envisioned by the Lord? Of course, it is a different story if, instead of soliciting donations, the burden for divine needs is shared with some godly members who look up to the Lord in one accord.

We have perhaps heard the testimony of George Mueller. In his life, he had raised more than 10,000 orphans. He had never asked or advertised for donations, nor had he ever announced the need of the orphanage to the public. In spite of this, offerings were sent to the orphanage. If Mueller felt that the money was not acceptable or was from a questionable source, he would return it. James Hudson Taylor, founder of the Inland Mission, is another example of serving the Lord by faith. The man who truly trusts God and receives His revelation or vision need not trust anyone for anything - the cattle covering hills of pasture belong to our Lord (Ps. 50:10).

As mentioned earlier, the decades of fiery trials in China revealed that, though many claimed to have visions, actually very few truly knew and walked in God's will (as Jeremiah described, " Thus says the Lord of hosts, do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; They speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the Lord" (Jer. 23:16).We must note that objective needs or subjective desires, enthusiasm and interests do not equate the will of God. Though King David's desire to build the temple for God was most admirable and even had the support of the prophet Nathan, this is what God told him, " You shall not build me a house to dwell in." (I Chr. 17:1-5).

Weakened Faith

As a mutual encouragement and reminder, let me bring up a very crucial point: We need the Lord's safeguarding of our hearts above all else, because hearts do change.

Some young believers' fervent love for the Lord diminished after marriage. Some brothers and sisters loved the Lord when they were poor but no longer do so when they are well off. Hearts change easily, especially at life's turning points - such as career success or failure, prosperity, adversities, bankruptcy, etc. (see Prov. 30:7,9), health conditions (sickness, aging, terminal illness, etc.), spiritual triumphs (third-heaven experience, or furnace and lion-den testimonies), extraordinary revelation, pride bred by people's praises (see I Cor.11:23-12:7); disappoint- ment, discouragement or depression arising from personal criticism, attack or rejection; environmental changes and hardship, etc. Any of these factors may affect our love for the Lord. That is why we must ask the Lord to safeguard and strengthen us, especially at life's turning points. Let us reinforce our spiritual "corners" with "two boards" (Ex. 26:23 - tabernacle's corners reinforced with two boards).

In China, right before and soon after the Communist government took over, some young brothers and sisters learned that they had to give up their belief in order to be assigned good jobs8, and many did. Some were able to maintain their faith initially but faltered as they found the prices (imprisonment and Labor Camps) were too high for them.

A brother, a long-time acquaintance of mine who was rejected by his idol-worshipping parents, had served the Lord for many years and was sent to a Labor Camp in 1956. Five years later, his mother was critically ill and, being a very filial son, he requested permission to leave for Shanghai to see his dying mother. There being no such precedence, his request was denied. He then became very despondent and his faith wavered. He failed to realize that God was in control of every happening and that, whether or not he understood or accepted the way things happened, God's sweet will was always behind it. If we fix our eyes on the people, things or happenings around us, we may doubt God's love and our hearts may change. We need to wait patiently in the understanding that there is God's love for us in all His deeds (Psalm 145:17; Rom. 8:28-29).

I remember a very devout and godly brother who, in his 20's, was an elder of a sizable church in northern China. After he moved to Shanghai years later, he had helped me spiritually. During the Cultural Revolution, he was often criticized and denounced for his faith at public meetings and, as he was suffering from hepatitis with very high SGPT (a test for the liver), he was about to break down. He turned to the Lord, "Tomorrow I'll have to confront denunciation again! Lord, please lower my SGPT!" Yet, rather than going down, his SGPT had even risen. Besides, his only son had an accident in the factory with his right hand cut off by a machine. At that moment, his faith totally collapsed. I can truly sympathize with him and understand his feelings and weakness. Given such situation, very few could reverberate Job's remarks, " Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" (Job 13:15).

Oh, how we need God's mercy! How many of us are willing to lay our " Isaac" on the altar? How many can say, " none of these things move me, nor do I count my life dear to myself" (Acts 20:24). This brother's faith weakened to the point of denying the Lord for 14 years before he was swiftly and amazingly restored by the loving and merciful Lord! Praise the Lord!

Regrettably, some brothers who were able to stay steadfast during the 10-year or 20-year Labor Camp forsook the Lord after their release. Why did their hearts grow cold? Possibly because they were afraid that they could not survive another 20-year imprisonment should they be re-arrested. For this reason, they dared not contact and fellowship with other Christians any more, almost losing their functions as members of the Body.

In our life, there are many possible ways that may render our change of heart. For this reason, we need to constantly ask the Lord to safeguard our hearts above all things, that we may, throughout the rest of our lives, honor Him, bow in humble adoration and walk in His will (Jude: 24).

We need to remember that our God on the throne of mercy is in control of all things, that He is our loving Heavenly Father who gives us His all, that He is omniscient, omnipotent, and all wise. All things happen to us for a cause; they are permitted and carefully designed by God for those who love Him so as to conform them to the image of His son (Rom 8:28,29). Blessed are those whose faith is strong and whose hearts fully trust the Lord.

Hidden Temptations

In discerning God's will, we must note that anything inconsistent with biblical principles is definitely not God's will. For instance, the Bible teaches, " Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers" ( II Cor. 6:14). The word "yoke" refers not only to matters of mutual responsibilities in the legal sense but also to matters of mutual responsibilities before the Lord. Therefore, it is not consistent with biblical principle to co-own or co-operate a factory or business with unbelievers. The ox (denotes Christian) and the ass (denotes unbeliever) cannot plow together (Deut. 22:10); otherwise the ox will suffer loss.

Young brothers and sisters enrolling in colleges should avoid taking courses which prepare them for careers that set the stage for temptations - such as certain fields of performing-arts with temptations of lust, or commercial fields with temptations of greed and forgery; whereas science fields present fewer temptations. One of my close brothers in Christ, Kai Sun, majored in political science before China came under Communist rule. Later, realizing too many hidden temptations in the political stage, he switched to Chinese literature. In decision-making, brothers and sisters must pray earnestly for the Lord's direction.

Distorted Religious Practice

At the time I was a practicing church deacon in Suzhou in the 1950's, Sister Liz Zhang, a celibate in her 40's, had for years practiced fasting three days a week (even more often when she learned of imminent evangelistic meetings), thus giving others the impression of a very devout Christian. She rarely went out but always stayed home in her dark chamber without allowing anyone else in. During my seven years in the church of Suzhou (1950-1957), I had only seen her once at church meetings. I became curious and later learned that some elders and senior co-workers in Shanghai (close to Suzhou) had advised her to regularly attend church meetings, but their efforts were in vain. Later, I visited her twice with brothers and sisters, persuading her to join our meetings, quoting from the Bible - " Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some; but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching" (Heb. 10:25). As usual, she responded: "Brother, why won't I want to attend church meetings? How I'd like to attend everyday! But God hasn't told me to!" "God doesn't go against His own teachings in the Bible," we said. "For the Bible was His own Word! Sister, you're mistaken and deceived by Satan." I also doubted if her act of fasting was indeed motivated by the Holy Spirit. Regrettably, even until her death she did not accept the counsel of church members. This was a serious mistake.

Let us remember that inconsistency with biblical principles, which constitutes disobedience of God, is definitely not from God. In addition, we should not despise biblical counsel given by devout and godly senior members.

False Teachings & Satan's Snares

It is regrettable that in the "Free World" now, not many brothers and sisters get up early to keep the morning watch for praying and Bible reading. We need to be well acquainted with the Bible in order to know God's heart - it is advisable, especially for young Christians, to recite as many important Bible verses as possible, including God's precious promises. It is extremely vital to note that anything sinful or inconsistent with God's words in the Bible is definitely not from God or in His will.

We must be cautious and pay special attention to words not from the Bible because fallacies do prevail in many of today's churches. In Taiwan, for instance, there were practices of "multiple baptisms" even though Ephesians 4:5 clearly states only "one baptism." In addition, there were cases of leading church members suing other members (forbidden in I Cor.6:1-8) while brothers and sisters were made to contribute to the attorney and court fees. There was also the erroneous practice of the so-called "door-knocking gospel-preaching" which offered baptism to anyone who proclaimed these four words, "Oh! Lord! Hallelujah! Amen!" Such practices are not biblically based. In addition, a certain brother claimed to be "the Unique Minister of the word of God" (ref. Acts 6:4) and that because he was the "only one" in the world who had the gift of the ministry, he was in overall command, including the sermons. For a certain period, none of the coworkers were allowed to preach and his recordings only were allowed to be heard in all the affiliated assemblies. Where in the Bible can you find such teachings or similarity? As a result, several small groups of brothers and sisters left this Christian organization.

To avoid being misled, we must be cautious and reject anything that is unbiblical. We should obey and emulate only what the Bible commands, instructs, and approves of. In response to the disciples' question on the sign of Jesus' return, Jesus gave a very important reminder, " Take heed that no one deceives you" (Matt. 24:4). (Original version: "See that no one misleads you."). In the end-time before the Lord's return, there are innumerable Christian leaders, and we can easily be misled if we are not cautious enough. Actually, there is but one way we should take - which is in accordance with the Bible, led by the Holy Spirit on the way of the cross; and that is the path of life.

In Acts 20:20 & 27, Paul stressed, "I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you"; "For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God." Pardon me for being candid: With regard to the so-called "spiritual gifts" such as "tongues," "spiritual baptism," or "divine healing" etc., we must be very cautious and discriminating and anoint our eyes with eye salve ( Rev. 3: 18) - whether we are in the United States or other parts of the "Free World," or even China. It is true that the Bible does mention these spiritual gifts; but is your "tongue" the same tongue as that described in the Bible or is it just a disguise of the evil spirit? The tongues mentioned in the Bible are spoken languages or dialects (Acts 2:4-13) which could be understood by people from the respective countries. For instance, when someone who did not know a certain dialect suddenly speaks it (not just some chirping sound), people who know that dialect can understand what he says.

In addition, a man truly filled with the Holy Spirit is powerful and authoritative. For example, Peter, who led 3,000 and 5,000 people respectively to Christ, was unafraid of threats and imprisonment; Stephen who became a courageous martyr for Christ; the seven stewards of the church in Jerusalem who competently took over the catering job from other members in support of their growing ministry. Though there is such a thing as the gift of healing (I Cor. 12:9, 28), it is very different from today's so-called "divine-healing."

During my Taiwan visit, an elderly sister told me that her church invited a "divine-healer" from Australia who requested a "five-star" hotel. Brothers and sisters, may I point this out: from such a request alone, we should be enlightened to question, "Oh, can this be the servant of Jesus of Nazareth who said while on earth, " Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay His head" (Matt. 8:20). Most likely, the "divine-healer" was not sent by God.

That is why in order to be able to discern (I Cor. 2:14-15), we must know the Bible well as well as abide in the Lord. We must not accept anything inconsistent with biblical principles. We are told in Matthew Chapter 24 that, in the end-time before the return of Jesus, there will be many more wonders. A Christian who does not know the Bible well will easily be deceived into believing that all wonders come from God. Remember when Moses' staff turned into a serpent, the staffs of Pharaoh's magicians also turned into serpents; only that they were all swallowed up by the serpent of Aaron's staff (Ex. 7:8-12). This illustrates that Satan has a certain degree of supernatural power, even though his ability to perform miracles is very limited (ref. John 10:21). Now in the end-time, there will be greater signs and wonders that will mislead many, even the elect (Matt. 24:24).

We must remember this: there are two sources of supernatural powers - God and Satan. Satan has accumulated 6,000 years of sinful experiences on earth, one of which is the invention of counterfeits - to make the false seem true, to "mingle pearls with fish-eyes" (counterfeits), to make false "tongues," false "faith-healing" and false "spiritual baptism." In so doing, Satan deceives immature and na?ve Christians who fall deeply into his snare, with devastating consequences that may even include demon-possession. May the Lord have mercy on us and give us the ability to discern (I Cor. 2:15; Rev. 3: 18).

In the end-time, there will be a growing number of false Christians, false prophets, false teachers and even false " christs" (as in the United States, China, and Israel), and the number of counterfeit supernatural experiences is on the rise. We must, therefore, be alert.

There is but one spiritual path, which is the path of the Lord Jesus - the path of the cross, the narrow path of life, or the path of love. Let me reiterate, especially to young brothers and sisters: know your Bible well. Never violate biblical principles; rather, tremble at God's Word (Ezra 9:4; Isa. 66:2).

Let Us Pray

Our loving Heavenly Father! God of glory! We worship You, the sovereign God enthroned in the highest. By Your grace, we've been given the power to discern Your will. You've alerted us not to be fools but to know Your will. May we, by Your grace, also walk in Your will. Bless us all in our spiritual walk - grace upon grace and strength upon strength. Create in us a heart that desires Your will, discerns Your will and lives in Your will. O Lord, we especially need Your grace in such difficult times. We plead and pray in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!

7 In mainland China, there is no true freedom of belief:

The House Churches are made up of Christians who hold Jesus Christ as the Head of the Church and the Bible as the sole authority of Christian living and ministry. Christians of these underground or semi-underground churches usually assemble in their homes, mostly in small groups. They have long been subjected to trials and are in urgent need of fervent prayer support.

The official churches are the so-called "Three-Self Churches" established and controlled by the government. They are forced to accept the human authority instead of Jesus Christ as the Head of the Church and to accept the atheistic government's policies and regulations, rather than the Bible, as the highest authority. They are, therefore, not real Christian churches.

8 Soon after China came under Communist rule in 1949, jobs for all college and high-school graduates were to be assigned by the government only - graduates were not allowed to find jobs, nor were organizations allowed to employ their workers. It was not until 1978 - the year that the government adopted the "reform and open to the outside world" policy - that this system began to change gradually.

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