Exploring God's sovereign will, His revealed will, His will for all mankind and His will for believers hopefully has been helpful. But what about daily knowing God's specific, individual and personal will for our lives? "Should we take that new job offer?" "Would it be better if we move to that new city?" "Will our daughter be happier in that other school?" "Should I marry....?" "Do you want me to have that operation?" "...Take that medication?" "...Go here?" "...Do this?"
How can we know God's specific will for these kinds of things?
The first and most important ingredient in knowing God's individual will is having a love relationship with Him - loving Him with all our heart, mind and soul. Through this relationship and the intimacy it affords us, God reveals His will, His purposes and His ways. Our spiritual direction will only come from this love-relationship. Human logic and reason cannot be sources for spiritual guidance in our lives. As Christians, we cannot trust in our own understanding, any more than we can trust in our own righteousness. There is a much greater scheme of things that is not yet given to our human understanding, and this plan can only be revealed spiritually.
There are at least four different ways that we can know God's personal will: through His Word; through prayer and fasting; through His Spirit and counsel of others; and, through our circumstances.
The first and the most important way of hearing God is through the reading of His Word. This is the purest, the simplest and the surest way that God speaks to us. Besides the unparalleled gift of His Son, the Bible is the Lord's greatest gift to mankind, and yet few believers know the full range of its wisdom and power.
George Muller, the famous English teacher who, by faith alone, established a ministry to feed and house thousands upon thousands of orphans said, "Our outward man is not fit for work unless our inward man eats God's Word."
God Speaks to Us Through His Word
The Bible tells us that God has a plan and a purpose for each of our lives and that His plan is specific and personal. Listen to Psalm 37:23: "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and He delights in his way," and Psalm 32:8, "I will instruct [you] and teach [you] in the way which [you] shall go."
The first place we should go, then, to get guidance from the Lord is to His Word. The Bible is a personal Love letter from God through which He teaches, exhorts, rebukes, encourages, corrects, inspires, trains and guides us. (2 Timothy 3:16)
Before we even open our Bibles, it's imperative to pray, cleanse our hearts and ask God to open our spiritual understanding so that we can hear His voice and know His will for our lives. Also, it's helpful to memorize Scriptures, then no matter what hardships we are in or where we are, it can bring life and guidance. If we have God's Word memorized, then we can still meditate on His Word, even when we are away from home and our Bibles.
Reading the Word of God daily is how we are going to know God's specific will for that particular day. I don't mean just opening our Bible and haphazardly reading a passage or two, but having some sort of consistent daily reading plan. There are many good books that have "suggested" reading plans. Go to a Christian bookstore and see which particular book and plan appeals to you. When I first began a daily reading program, I started by reading three chapters a day-one in the Old Testament, one in the New Testament and one in Psalms or Proverbs. At the time, that seemed like a reasonable commitment to make. Over the years, I've gradually added more chapters to my daily reading.
I also find it extremely valuable to keep a daily journal. When I am struggling to know God's specific will on some issue, I write out my questions to the Lord in my journal (making sure to ask for His guidance on only one question at a time). Then, I read my daily reading. Sometimes His answers will come immediately. At other times, I must wait a few days or even a week, but whatever the time frame, I have learned to persevere because I know God will be faithful to reveal His specific will, in His timing and in His way. In my over- forty years as a Christian, He has never failed me.
As I read my daily reading, I prayerfully expect God to answer me concerning my specific questions. When I find a Scripture that seems to apply to one of my issues, I write it down and put a question mark beside it. When God confirms that Scripture at least two or three more times, then I believe I have His answer and I'm also confident that He will give me the strength I need to "walk out" His Word.
The Scriptures seem to suggest to seek the Lord three times for His answer to a specific question. (2 Corinthians 12:8) If He doesn't answer by the end of the third time, He is either saying "No" or "Wait." The Lord will, in time, tell us specifically what to do and specifically what not to do. He will teach us, He will guide us, He will exhort us and He will give us the discernment we need through the reading of His Word.
People will often ask me, "Can you really trust God's words in the Bible to direct your daily life?" Let me give you a personal example, and then you can judge for yourself.
A Personal Example
I am usually asked to commit to a speaking engagement at least six months to a year in advance. At that time, I take that speaking request before the Lord. After praying and asking Him to show me His specific will about that upcoming engagement, I write down the Scriptures He gives me, and then let the Holy Spirit guide me in my final decision (I pray and do this three times until I'm assured it's His will).
A few years ago, while I was in prayer about a certain upcoming seminar, the Lord not only gave me many Scriptures confirming that I was to go, He also gave me several Scripture verses that left me very puzzled, one of which was Jeremiah 27:14-16, "Hearken not unto the words of the prophet that speaks to you... for they prophesy a lie unto you. For I have not sent them, saith the Lord, yet they prophesy a lie in My Name... Hearken not to [their] words...for they prophesy a lie unto you." I obediently wrote down all the Scriptures He gave me in my prayer journal (as I always do). However, I put a question mark beside the Jeremiah Scripture.
Nine months later, on the very first night of that particular seminar, a man came up to me and introduced himself as a prophet. He then described a vision he'd had concerning me. Now, ordinarily, I wouldn't have paid much attention to this gentleman's dream until I checked it out with the Lord, except that this prophecy totally contradicted an incredible word that I had received just three months before. I was absolutely convinced that the first prophecy was of God, because it lined up perfectly with all the Scriptures that God Himself had given me.
What was spooky about this man's prophesy, was that he used the exact metaphors of the first prophecy, but they totally negated and contradicted it. I listened with intrigue, but was totally taken back by the discrepancy. Which prophecy should I listen to? Which one was from the Lord?
On the way back to the hotel room, I confessed my confusion to the Lord and asked for His understanding. That night I tossed and turned, but God completely woke me up in the middle of the night to remind me of the Scripture that He had given me nine months before. I had totally forgotten about it!
I jumped out of bed, grabbed my journal and there on my page was Jeremiah 27:14-16,"Hearken not unto the words of the prophet that speaks to you...for they prophesy a lie unto you. For I have not sent them, saith the Lord, yet they prophesy a lie in My Name... Hearken not to their words...for they prophesy a lie unto you."
Needless to say, God instantly gave me peace that this "prophet's" vision was not of Him.
God does speak very specifically through His Word...but only if we are willing to take the time to listen!
The Promises of God in the Bible
This experience of mine brings up a good question: Can we take the promises of God in the Bible literally? When we come across a promise in Scripture, can we apply that specific promise to our own lives?
Before we even consider making this application, we must first seek an accurate interpretation of that particular Scripture. In other words, we must not mishandle God's Word. Misinterpreting the Word of God is always dangerous - and sometimes deadly. Flipping the Bible open and randomly pointing to a passage, or taking a particular Scripture out of context, or even using a Scripture "promise box," is somewhat like consulting a spiritual Ouija board. It's a form of divination, and should not be trusted.
Once again, the safest way to know if we can apply a Scripture to our own life situation is to be involved in a daily reading plan. As I mentioned before, if we come across something in our daily reading that relates to our situation, we should write it down in our journal. If it's applicable to our situation, the Lord will confirm it at least two or three more times, again through our daily reading. (In other words, we don't have to jump all over God's Word in order to find compatible Scriptures, He will bring the appropriate ones to us!) Next, He will validate those Scriptures through our prayer time, through our submission to His Spirit, and through other counselors. Only then will we know that specific Scripture is from Him and for our particular situation.
Keep in mind that even though God's promises are true, their fulfillment in our lives often lies beyond our understanding. God is so limitless that His eternal view of the events here on earth is vastly different from our own. Therefore, when we hear His words, we must approach them very carefully. In other words, the way God might fulfill His promises to us may totally confound our understanding, challenge our thought processes, and even disappoint our earthly hopes.
As the Lord Himself declares in Isaiah 55:9, "...As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways..."
Sometimes God's promises cannot be understood in a "literal" sense, so we must be careful not to bind specific verses to our finite human interpretation. The scope of God's Word goes far beyond our own lives, and the Scriptures we receive might point to a fulfillment that's much wider and much broader and much grander than anything we could ever imagine. David Hazzard beautifully explains in his book You Set My Spirit Free:
For many of the people long ago, God's prophetic words did not come to pass in the way they expected. That was because, like us, they did not seek God's higher view first and interpreted what He told them from their own self-serving viewpoint - in the wrong way, that is. They also looked for absolutely literal fulfillment of God's word, ignoring the fact that He might be addressing spiritual conditions.
"Lord, You Promised!"
Hebrews tells us that there are many Old Testament men who believed God's promises, but never saw them fulfilled. ( Hebrews 11:13, 39) God's Word to these men did not turn out as they each expected, because many of them understood them in their own natural and literal way. This is exactly how I felt about the specific promises that God gave me on that mountain top in 1990! Because He did not fulfill them according to my own understanding and my own time reference, I began to struggle with despair and defeat.
How many of you are in a similar situation?
How many of you have waited for God to fulfill specific promises concerning physical healing, spiritual revival, business deals, ministry opportunities, salvation of loved ones or personal finances and yet, never had an answer? As we wait for these promises to be fulfilled, our hearts can literally become sick and our faith can be shaken to its core. ( Proverbs 13:12)
We logically dismiss our deferred hope by saying, "Well, I guess God really didn't make that promise." And before too long, we're also saying, "Maybe I've never heard God correctly. In fact, maybe God doesn't even care about me!" Misunderstanding gives birth to impatience, impatience gives birth to disappointment, disappointment gives birth to doubt, doubt gives birth to unbelief, and unbelief gives birth to bitterness. That's Satan's formula for transforming a believer into an apostate.
Although God never does anything without reason, human beings cannot always fathom His reasons. Again David Hazzard says, "For the Spirit is living and full of meaning, far more than literal words themselves, and it has the miraculous ability to affect lives far beyond all we can imagine or expect." The Lord's Love for us is perfect and, therefore, it's critical that we trust Him to fulfill His promises in His way and in His time. Let us not be dismayed or disappointed by the mysterious ways of God, for He dwells in light inaccessible...hid from our eyes and His ways are past finding out.
Holding on to God or His Promises?
All our confusion about hearing and believing God's promises occurs because we are relying on our own understanding, instead of resting on His Word. When we do so, we limit God and we hedge Him in on all sides.
God assured the prophet Habakkuk that His promises would come to pass at the appointed time ( 2:3), yet only He alone knows the secret of that appointed time. What makes us think we can understand His perfect plan? Our natural mind, which is so influenced by our soulish thoughts, emotions and desires, often tells us that God's promises are late. Even the psalmist cried out in despair: "Doth His promise fail for evermore?" (Psalm 77:8)
The Bible assures us, however, that God is never late. (2 Peter 3:9) He is the Lord, and He will always do things perfectly in His timing; thus, it's up to us to change our wrong perceptions about Him. We must lay all our misconceptions at the foot of the cross. We must believe in His faithfulness and His lovingkindness. As someone once said, "When we can't see His hand, we must trust His Heart." This is the only way to survive the "silence" of the Lord. God will never lie, nor will He fail to fulfill His promise at the "appointed time."
So what is our part in this waiting process? Our part is simply to believe and trust in Him. Let us choose to be like Abraham who "did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that what He had promised, He was also able to perform." (Romans 4:20-21 NAS)
The question we must always ask ourselves is: are we holding onto God or to His Promises?
So, the first way God reveals His specific will to us is through His Word. God's Word tells us what to do and what not to do. He even exhorts us to consume (eat) His Word so that it actually can become a part of us. "Thy words were found and I ate them, and Thy words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart..." (Jeremiah 15:16 NAS)
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This article has been excerpted from Chuck and Nan's new book Faith in the Night Seasons.