Last month we continued our series of articles on Faith in the Night Seasons by exploring God's will and how we can know it personally. What is God's will for decisions like, "Should I take that new job offer?"..."Should I marry?" ... "Should I have that operation?" etc. As we said last month, the most important ingredient for knowing God's specific will in our lives is having an intimate love relationship with Him. That way, we are assured He will reveal His will, His purposes and His ways in His timing. Human logic and human reason cannot be sources for spiritual guidance in our lives.
We spoke of four different ways that we can know God's will-through His Word, through prayer and fasting, through His Spirit and the counsel of others and through our circumstances.
The first way, which we reviewed last month, is that God reveals His specific will to us through His Word. God's Word tells us what to do and what not to do. God 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)
This month let's review the final three ways that we can know God's will personally.
God Speaks to Us Through Prayer and Fasting
God not only communicates His individual will to us through His Word, He also speaks to us through prayer and fasting. Sometimes we think of prayer as some mysterious spiritual regimen when, in fact, it is nothing more than simply talking to our Creator. Prayer is asking God what He wants us to do-what His will is-and then, listening for His answers. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him." (James 1:5)
Prayer is often linked to fasting, which is abstaining from some form of daily nourishment. When we fast, we literally "starve" our body in order to feed our spirit. Fasting is an incredible way of hearing God's voice more clearly. When our flesh is weakened, our spirit becomes more sensitive to the Spirit of God. Throughout the Bible, fasting was used to "heighten" or "quicken" the perception of those longing to discern God's will.
Fasting was a regular discipline for men like Daniel, who "...gave [his] attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting...." (Daniel 9:3 NAS) Later in this same chapter, God's answer to Daniel comes through the angel Gabriel, who says, "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you...." (Daniel 9:22-23 NAS) Even though Daniel was an incredible man of God, he still had to unlock the door to spiritual understanding through the discipline of prayer and fasting.
Some other examples in Scripture of those who fasted are Jesus (Matthew 4:2), Moses (Deuteronomy 9:9,18,25-29), Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), Daniel (Daniel 10:3), Ezra (Ezra 10:6), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4-11) and Paul (2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:27).
God Speaks to Us Through Submission to the Spirit
Not only does God communicate His specific will to us through His Word and through prayer and fasting, He also speaks to us through His Spirit. God's Word and His Spirit always work together in revealing what Jesus' will is. Together, God's Word and His Spirit are known as the "truth" - the Word that becomes the Deed. God's Word contains His will, and His Spirit is the One who interprets it for us. In other words, God's Spirit works alongside God's Word, not only showing us what His will is, but also giving us personal understanding of how it applies to our life.
Most of us have repeatedly heard the phrase "we must submit to the Lord." What exactly does this mean? The word submit means "to surrender or yield to the authority or power of another." When one army submits to another, they surrender their power and strength, and they willingly place themselves in the hands of the superior force.
When we initially submit to God and ask Him to come into our life, we become "born again" as John 3:3 explains, and we receive God's Spirit and His new Life. This is the time that the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our spirit within our hearts. As we begin to yield, submit and relinquish ourselves to Him, moment by moment, He will be able to control and direct our lives and we will begin to hear His voice.
An Example: George Muller
Of all the wonderful books I have read in researching Faith in the Night Seasons, the biography of George Muller was, by far, one of the most fascinating. Back in the 1800s, Mr. Muller was a young German Christian who answered the call of God to help poor children in Bristol, England. He had already mastered six languages and was brilliant in his own right, but never received a salary for what he did. Nevertheless, he established three orphanages, housed almost 2,000 orphans, ran six day-schools, helped 24 other schools, gave away over 6,600 Bibles and one million tracts.
The only way funds came in for his projects was by his constant submission to the Spirit of God, the reading of God's Word and prayer. In answer to George Muller's faithfulness, God provided all the funds he ever needed. His primary goal for submitting to God and living by faith was to show others that God is trustworthy and that He does answer prayer. Mr. Muller was a wonderful example to all around him, because he looked only to God to meet his needs, and God always did.
The times that Muller was sick, his prayer was not, "Lord, heal me," but, "Lord, bring me closer to You through this sickness." He constantly told those he worked with that praying and submitting to God's Spirit "brings God remarkably near." Before he ever would pray or read God's Word, he always would cleanse his heart and make sure that his conscience was clear by the blood of Christ. He used to declare, "You can't trust in God, if your conscience is weakened."
He would seek the Lord for days on end about a particular issue. In fact, he entreated the Lord for 607 days before he moved to build the last orphanage. But because of his dependence upon the Spirit of God for guidance, not only were all his finances taken care of, but also the Lord gave him the wisdom to manage the work. God's glory was always his aim, and it certainly was always the result. "Whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)
All communication with God occurs in our spirit, not in our soul. When our soul and spirit are sanctified, we will be able to hear God's voice. However, the minute we choose to ignore God's voice and follow the voice of our own human emotion or reason, God's Spirit within us becomes quenched, which then blocks His leading and guiding. At this point, we often complain that God is no longer speaking to us. Yet, the truth is that we were the ones to first hang up the phone!
God not only shows us His individual will through His Word, through prayer and fasting and through submission to His Spirit, but He also communicates His will to us through godly counselors and sometimes through our circumstances.
It's important to understand that we can't trust our circumstances alone to show us God's will. Although circumstances can confirm God's will, they must not be judged apart from the other means of confirmation (His Word, prayer and fasting and submission to His Spirit).
For example, setting out some kind of "fleece" for God to show us His will through circumstances can be just another form of divination, if it's not accompanied by Scriptural confirmation and guidance through prayer.
When circumstances are wonderful, it's so easy for us to say, "Oh, I know this situation must be from God! Everything is perfect. It must be His will for me!" A man or woman of faith, however, knows how to maintain trust in God even when his circumstances are bleak.
Although a young Christian may be sideswiped by a harsh situation, a person of faith will remember that God loves him no matter what his life experiences at the moment are telling him. Therefore, a mature Christian won't try to squeeze God's will out of the circumstances that surround him.
Real trust is like the eagle who soars high above the storms of earth and keeps his eyes only upon the sun!
Throughout the Bible, God has rewarded this "eagle" type of faith, by allowing some believers to actually see Him in the midst of harsh circumstances.
For example, there's the extraordinary story of Stephen, who preached a bold and fearless message of salvation to the Sanhedrin, and then was quickly executed for his beliefs. Scripture assures us that Stephen was so full of the Holy Spirit, that when he was being stoned to death, he saw the heavens opened, and the Son of man "standing on the right hand of God." (Acts 7:55) Stephen loved God more than he loved his own life. Thus, God allowed this faithful servant to see and experience the glory to come, even while he was dying.
Also, there is the incredible example of the three young men who refused to bow down and worship King Nebuchadnezzar. While remaining faithful to God, they were thrown alive into a fiery furnace. In those very flames, the king recorded that "they [had] no hurt" and that there was a fourth man standing with them in the fire whose appearance was "like the Son of God." (Daniel 3:25)
These young men would have lost their faith had they measured God's Love by their circumstances. Yet, because they trusted in the Name of the Lord, He sent His Son to stand with them in the fire. Not only were Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego saved that day, but also the king himself paid homage to their all-powerful God. (Daniel 3:28)
Finally, there is the example of Moses in Exodus, Chapter 3. After Moses had been ridiculed by his own people over his killing the Egyptian, he fled to the land of Midian. (Exodus 2:15) After 40 years of exile there, God appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai and gave Him the Ten Commandments. In the middle of those 40 years, had Moses tried to understand God's specific will for his life, he probably would have been confused and frustrated. But he remained faithful to God during those long, arduous years in the wilderness, and God rewarded his faithfulness by allowing him to see Him "face to face."
The key here is, that before God reveals Himself to us, we must first be willing to unconditionally obey Him. Stephen, the men in the fiery furnace, and Moses had done exactly that. And this seems to be the Biblical order of things that God has instituted within His kingdom from the very beginning. The more we trust and obey Him, the more He leads and guides us; the more we allow Him to lead and guide us, the more we will get to know Him; and the more we get to know Him, the more we'll experience (and see) His presence in our lives.
God not only validates His will through our circumstances, He also often uses godly counselors. (Proverbs 1:5) Although these counselors can be professionals, pastors or laymen, they should always be Christian men and women who are walking by the Spirit of the Lord. These counselors certainly don't have to be "perfect," for no one is, but they should, at least, be living what they are counseling. That way, Jesus will always be in the center of their counseling situations. If He is not, we are simply wasting our time.
Our pastors, counselors and doctors, no matter how good they are, cannot tell us exactly what God's will is for our lives, nor can they heal us. Only Jesus can do these things for us. Our counselors can help to confirm from the Scriptures and by prayer and by the witness of the Spirit what they believe God is saying, but:
1) Only Jesus can see our hearts;
2) Only Jesus can show us the real root causes of our problems;
3) Only He can remove those roots as far as the east is from the west;
4) Only He can align our feelings with our choices and make us genuine;
5) Only He can give us the Love we need to go on as if nothing has happened; and,
6) Only He can show us His specific and individual will for our lives.
The world, and much of the church, is currently being led astray by much emotional counsel and soulish mercy. While secular counselors seek our comfort, we must keep in mind that worldly counsel (even though it might be good advice), is often just the opposite from what God would tell us.
Over and over again in the Bible, God warns us to beware of "other" voices that we hear. These may come in the form of other people's opinions, our own minds or the voice of the enemy. It's imperative that we always hold these thoughts up to the light of Scripture and check them out. We are not to trust these voices until we validate them with God's Word and through prayer. If the Bible does not confirm what we heard, then we should immediately set it aside. If it's truly from God, He will bear witness to it in other ways.
Discerning God's Will When We Have to Move Quickly
In our walk with the Lord, we will encounter many life situations where we don't have the liberty to wait for God's specific will or His answers on a particular issue. In other words, we don't have time to seek His will through His Word, through prayer and fasting, or through godly counsel. If this is the case, there are four important things we can do:
1) Pray and acknowledge that God is in control of your life.
2) Let Him know that you have to move quickly, but you're not sure yet what His will is.
3) Tell Him what you are about to do.
4) Humbly ask Him to "shut the door" if it's not His will. (He is great at slamming doors!)
This is an especially good time to hold on to the words of Proverbs 3:5,6: "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct [your] paths."
Waiting for God's Answers
As we submit to God's Spirit and wait for Him to speak, lead and guide us, it's important that, even in this waiting period, we align our will with His. How do we do this? By making faith choices to do God's will, even though we don't feel like it yet.1 The answer is always to be cleansed and submitted to God's Spirit, then we can kind of float weightlessly until we see what He will do.
Some good questions to ask ourselves in the meantime are: Have I prayed? Is my will surrendered? Have I waited for the Holy Spirit's answer? Are my motives pure?
If you are still unsure of His will, here is a list of other good questions to ask yourself:
Remember, our ability to discern God's individual will is affected greatly by our love for Him. To love God means to totally give ourselves over to Him. It's not an emotional feeling, but an entire surrender of our body, soul and spirit. The more we love Him and the more we totally give ourselves over to Him, the more sensitive we will become to the thoughts of our Beloved and the more willing we will become to listen for the sound of His voice.
When we willingly put God first in our lives, He graciously imparts to us the wisdom of His ways. Therefore, let us order our lives so that God can say of us: "...he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer Him...." (Psalm 91:14-15)
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