8 essential components for discerning God’s will

"He has created good works beforehand that we should walk in them" 8 essential components for discerning God’s will

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Chip Van Emmerik's picture

John MacArthur's little book, Found: God's Will, is probably still the best short version I have seen. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Mark_Smith's picture

I agree that the MacArthur book Chip mentions is good. I also agree with the principle of this list.

 

A couple of concerns. For me PERSONALLY I never have had ANYONE give me advice (or if they did it was poor). I have found that most people are AFRAID to give advice. When someone comes to me I try to give a legitimate answer, but no one ever did for me. Even if someone comes to me who I don't know very well, so I can't give personal advice, I still try to give general Biblical and life principles, but no one ever did for me.

Examples: When I became a Christian at 19 none of my family was, so they couldn't give me advice. I was sensing a call to ministry. I had just moved back to my hometown from Pennsylvania and had been attending a Southern Baptist church for a few months when I confided in the assistant pastor (of a good sized church for the area) that I was sensing a call to ministry. I will never forget the look on his face. (Now trust me, he didn't know me, so this was nothing personal) He just kind of stared and stammered. He never said anything...It was the most awkward 2-3 minutes of my life. I will be honest. That experience HAUNTED ME for years, and led me to drop plans for ministry and go back to science (a decision I regret by the way).

Later, having invested in a science education, whenever I asked people for advice they would say, well, you have that education, that must've been what God wanted you to do. But, is it possible to MAKE A MISTAKE and WASTE YOUR LIFE by way of career decision. I think so.

In the middle of this experience I was thinking of enlisting in the Marine Corps. FYI I started college with a Navy ROTC scholarship to be a Naval Flight Officer. But I gave it up when I became a Christian for reasons not worth writing (this is why I moved back home from Pennsylvania). I had no scholarship support for college after that, so I needed to do something. EVERY ONE, and I mean EVERY ONE, said it would be a mistake. I ignored them AND IT WAS THE GREATEST EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE up until then.

Bert Perry's picture

Mark

It strikes me that it ain't too late for you to do something in ministry if that's God calling to you.  Moses really only got going at age 80, after all.  Same thing with Joshua, right?  And Noah waited until age 500.  I'm guessing you've got a few years left.  :^)

Shocking that you never got advice, though in my experience, there are a LOT of people out there who respond very negatively to even the most obvious advice.  So maybe that explains it--they gave some obvious pointers  like (real example) "you know, moving to the nation's worst job market without a job lined up might be a bad idea" and got their head bit off, figuratively speaking, so they choose not to repeat the experience.

So at the risk of the same (nah), maybe your first bit; take a look at your skills and see where you might fit in, ask the pastor for a chance, and go for it.

(trembling in fear I am, of course)

Blessings!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

I appreciate that people respond negatively to advice. Not the case here. I would love some! Though I will say at 42 I am not looking for the same kind of advice that I sought at 19!

 

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Here's my two cents, even though I'm younger than you(!):

  • It's not too late to go into ministry. Talk to the Pastor(s) at your church, tell them your concerns, and see if God will verify that calling on your life. Teach a Sunday School class, or something similar. You've probably already done stuff like this before. If you're called, then God will make it clear whether He's gifted and equipped you for this. 

Here's a brief military bio on me, that may relate to whether your time thus far has been "wasted:"

  • I was really good in the Military Police. I'm not being prideful, I'm being serious. I was very good. Call me arrogant if you wish. 
  • I was the only enlisted guy to ever publish a peer-review article with the Joint Chief of Staff antiterrorism journal. I did a piece on the Khobar Towers bombing and the lessons learned for modern anti-terrorism doctrine
  • I got my BA in Emergency & Disaster Management, which dovetailed nicely with my segue into antiterrorism planning.
  • I wrote the relevant chapters in the Navy's Master-at-Arms rate training manual on evidence collection, and crime scene forensics. I even got a nice (but worthless) letter from the CO of Center for Security Forces thanking me.
  • I was, for a time, a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). This is a HARD certification. 
  • I graduated from the Navy's Anti-Terrorism Officer Course, the Army MP School's Anti-Terrorism Officer Course (Basic and Advanced), the Joint Chief's of Staff Anti-Terrorism Program Manager course, the Navy's Physical Security Supervisor course, and am still currently accredited by the International Association of Emergency Managers. 
  • I was on track to jump over to the officer ranks, and would have made the leap within a year or two. 

I got out at 10 years because I wanted to go into ministry. Everybody told me I was being stupid, foolish, bizarre, etc. I had a stable job, and was a rising star. I was making $58,000 (don't let anybody tell you the military doesn't pay well). I was doing well. But, I've never felt so free and at peace than the day when I was told my early separation request was approved. 

I didn't waste those 10 years. You didn't waste yours. Test out the waters in your local church, take or audit a virtual class or two from Maranatha (shameless plug alert!), and see what doors God will open. 

Preaching over. Hope this was encouraging, in some way! 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

See, Tyler, like I said, you need to write more.  Double dog dare, don't make me do triple.  :^)

BTW, your link is to your C drive, not an available file.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

But not the normal way. I have not attended seminary. Now I cannot afford to! I have looked into it and $300+ per credit hour just is impossible for me (mortgage, student loans for PhD, 4 kids).

It grates me when I tell someone I am in the ministry and they ask where I went to seminary. "I didn't!", I say.  "Oh"...then that far away look. They then move on.

My intent was not to complain, but to point out that a key to the "Finding God's Will" formula that includes "asking for advice or counsel" doesn't always work. And...to encourage people to give solid advice and not ignore requests for it.

Mark_Smith's picture

You are a certified fraud????

Smile
 

TylerR's picture

Editor

I get that same look when I tell people I never went to Bible College. They don't know what to think. When I try to helpfully add, "But . . . I DID go to Seminary!" all it earns me from some people is suspicion. Maybe they think "Seminary" = elitist? 

Take care. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

....but it strikes me that the list of pastors sans seminary/Bible college is pretty long and distinguished, starting with the Apostles and including such greats as Spurgeon and Bunyan.  Nothing against seminary, of course, but it does not seem that God requires a man to acquire student loans in order to serve Him.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jeremy Horn's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

But not the normal way. I have not attended seminary. Now I cannot afford to! I have looked into it and $300+ per credit hour just is impossible for me (mortgage, student loans for PhD, 4 kids).

It grates me when I tell someone I am in the ministry and they ask where I went to seminary. "I didn't!", I say.  "Oh"...then that far away look. They then move on.

My intent was not to complain, but to point out that a key to the "Finding God's Will" formula that includes "asking for advice or counsel" doesn't always work. And...to encourage people to give solid advice and not ignore requests for it.

Mark,

   I don't know much about your educational background except that it is in science. I do not know if you have had any formal theological training, but if you are interested there are other options available that do not cost you your arm leg, and firstborn son. For example, there are a few seminaries that have free courses in a MOOC format are in iTunes U lectures(I'm doing a free MOOC in hermenuetics from SEBTS right now). Also there are several inexpensive seminaries out there although they are not accredditated. So do not rule out the possibility of further training. If you would like to know what options I've found, you can send me a PM(I don't want to derail the thread.

Also, I do want to reiterate what TylerR has said about being in the will of God. God has, though His Sovereign working, placed you right where He wants you right now. That may or may not change,but He will always be in control no matter what happens.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Mark:

Check out some (gasp) cheaper, unaccredited options out there, like Tyndale or Paul Henebury's Telos Biblical Institute. You could also just audit any class you want from a Seminary, still hear the lectures and get the notes, but not have to any coursework. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jay's picture

Hey Mark-

If God has given you a desire to minister, don't worry about the education.  As others have said, there's a TON of resources out there, like the MOOCs that you can get via iTunes.  You can even get Greek and Hebrew classes, IIRC, via iTunes for free.

Start doing what you can do now - even if it's being an usher or teaching in a Children's church service or whatever.  God will bless that because He wants His name glorified.  The time you have spent doing 'science' is not wasted, and may provide you with unique and special tools that He will use in your future.

If there is anything I can do to assist, please let me know.  I went to Seminary but am not at a full time ministry right now, and I am satisfied with what and how God chose to work in my life with the tools I have been given.  You will be too.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Mark_Smith's picture

But my point was about giving ADVICE and it being one of the keys to finding God's will. People like the link author and MacArthur list it as a source of wisdom, as does Scripture, BUT IT CAN BE AND IS FALLIBLE. That is my point. People might give bad advice (hey, you are good at math and science, do that), or give none at all, which is as bad as bad advice!

Mark_Smith's picture

Can a person make a mistake in decisions. YES! 

Saying "God will turn it for good" doesn't help me at least. Take my example. How many of you desire to benefit from what I have learned about cosmology/big bang, etc. I'll tell you. ALMOST NONE. It does no good. How many of my fellow scientists care about what Genesis 1 says about creation. ALMOST NONE. It is pointless. I don't believe this is what God intended for me in any "perfect" sense. I made the decisions that led me here. I don't hide under the canopy of the sovereignty of God. I messed up, and so did those who gave or didn't give me advice.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Mark_Smith wrote:

Can a person make a mistake in decisions. YES! 

Saying "God will turn it for good" doesn't help me at least. Take my example. How many of you desire to benefit from what I have learned about cosmology/big bang, etc. I'll tell you. ALMOST NONE. It does no good. How many of my fellow scientists care about what Genesis 1 says about creation. ALMOST NONE. It is pointless. I don't believe this is what God intended for me in any "perfect" sense. I made the decisions that led me here. I don't hide under the canopy of the sovereignty of God. I messed up, and so did those who gave or didn't give me advice.

I disagree with your first sentence in the 2nd paragraph, strongly.

While you might have "messed up," as you put it (though none of us, including the ones who gave you advice, are in the position to know or tell you that), God knows where you are now.  While most of us here aren't going to take the conclusions of science over the Bible where they conflict, I still think your knowledge of science (a PhD in Physics, no less) will give you a unique perspective if you ever chose a career path in the ministry.  If you can't choose ministry for one reason or another at this point, I still would suggest that you can go forward for God right where you are (i.e. we are all in ministry, even if not vocationally), and there is no reason to consider yourself practically useless to God because you might have chosen wrongly or received bad advice.  Paul made lots of bad choices before he became the man God wanted him to be, and many other men of God made hashes out of their lives after they knew and followed God.  They were still able to move forward and have God use them greatly.  The best part about our sins being under the blood is that God gives us the grace to choose what he wants from that point on, and each time we confess.

Dave Barnhart

pvawter's picture

You know, Mark, (and I realize you're not looking for advice in this thread, nevertheless...) maybe you should contact outfits like ICR or Answers in Genesis about the possibility of writing or reviewing some of their materials. That certainly would be a way for you to leverage your expertise for the purpose of ministry.
For the record, I considered pursuing advanced degrees in physics and astronomy, but I didn't pursue them and ended up in seminary instead.

Mark_Smith's picture

I'm not the kind of creationist ICR or AiG is looking for. I'll leave it at that. But thanks for the suggestion. Seriously.

 

dcbiii, what I meant by the comment you object to is God is sovereign, true. But we individually make choices. I believe that is true. Now, God can turn things for good, but I think we "change our trajectory" based off of decisions we make. I don't think God pre-planned every decision we make for us. We pick them. Some lead us in directions that are hard to recover from. God can work with anything, but some decisions permanently limit where you can go.

For example, if a man improperly divorced his wife, he is permanently disqualified from ministry. Or if a man commits a felony that limits what he can do. Perhaps a man could have used his intellectual talents to be the fundamentalist writer/thinker listed on another thread, but instead he wasted that intellect on quantum field theory and cosmology. You never get that opportunity back!

I'll leave it at that.

 

 

Mark_Smith's picture

A. W. Pink. I have been reading his Iain Murray biography. Do you really think that God's best plan for Pink was for him to spend 20 years on some little island of the coast of England, isolated from the world and the church. Now, God did use him to write some good books, but what was lost?

pvawter's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

I'm not the kind of creationist ICR or AiG is looking for. I'll leave it at that. But thanks for the suggestion. Seriously.

Mark, you sound pretty sure about that. Is that based on your conversations here on SI? Or have you actually looked into it directly? 

While I may not always agree with you, I don't see why you couldn't participate with those organizations or some other similar group. Just my two cents.

Paul

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:
dcbiii, what I meant by the comment you object to is God is sovereign, true. But we individually make choices. I believe that is true. Now, God can turn things for good, but I think we "change our trajectory" based off of decisions we make. I don't think God pre-planned every decision we make for us. We pick them. Some lead us in directions that are hard to recover from. God can work with anything, but some decisions permanently limit where you can go.
I'm only commenting on this because it ties back into the thread topic on the will of God. If God's planning is contingent or or altered by our decision making, then He isn't really sovereign after all. He is limited and therefore not even qualified to be called God.  

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Mark_Smith's picture

I have been talking about the will of God the whole time.

Thank you for responding. I hear your argument all the time and it is very logical. So then God chooses everything? Everything is decreed by God before hand? You seem to be saying I have no real choice in anything. God decreed it all from eternity. Is that what you mean?

I have been trying to use my life as an example, but that distracts people. I should probably stop.

What bothers me is, lets say I make a big mistake in my life. An example would be divorce, that would preclude me from ministry. Did I pick that or was that God's plan from the beginning? If I make a mistake I can deal with that. If God planned me to fail and disqualify myself...that is harder to deal with.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

I have been talking about the will of God the whole time.

Thank you for responding. I hear your argument all the time and it is very logical. So then God chooses everything? Everything is decreed by God before hand? You seem to be saying I have no real choice in anything. God decreed it all from eternity. Is that what you mean?

I have been trying to use my life as an example, but that distracts people. I should probably stop.

What bothers me is, lets say I make a big mistake in my life. An example would be divorce, that would preclude me from ministry. Did I pick that or was that God's plan from the beginning? If I make a mistake I can deal with that. If God planned me to fail and disqualify myself...that is harder to deal with.

Actually Mark, that's exactly what I am saying. The only individual who actually has free will is God. If His decisions are limited in any way, including by our choices, He is actually not sovereign. That's the underlying thought, the only explanation for, verses like Ephesians 1:9.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Mark_Smith's picture

How does that work out in a specific situation. You are living your life. A decision needs to be made, go left or right. Only God has free will, but you have to go in one direction. How does that work?

Mark_Smith's picture

Are you saying there is really not a choice. God willed that you will go right, say. You will pick to go right, you have no freedom to go left.

Said another way, every decision has already been decreed, decided and pre-planned by God. You don't really have a choice. 

Greg Long's picture

Mark, I agree with Chip that everything is under God's sovereign control, including our mistakes and poor choices. As I may have mentioned before, it is helpful to know that there are two aspects to God's will, his decretive will (sovereign will) and his revealed will (permissive will) (Deut. 29:29). In the first sense, EVERYTHING that happens is according to His will, even evil (there are too many Bible verses to cite; this theme runs throughout all of Scripture--just look at the death of Christ as one example). In the second sense, we can certainly go against his will by making decisions that are against what He has revealed in Scripture (which is why Jesus tells us to pray that God's will would be done on earth as it is in heaven).

So perhaps some of your life decisions have gone against God's revealed will in Scripture (I don't know for sure, just going off of what you seem to be saying). But NONE of your decisions have gone against God's sovereign will. EVERYTHING you have done or that has been done to you, including the non-advice you received from the Southern Baptist pastor, is part of God's sovereign plan for your life. Just think of Joseph--the actions of his brothers and Potiphar's wife against him were definitely evil and against God's revealed will (God doesn't approve of kidnapping, slavery, false accusations, etc.), but they were all EXACTLY what God planned to happen to Joseph according to God's sovereign will so that he could raise up Joseph as a leader in Egypt. This is precisely what Ps. 105:17 says, and what Joseph meant when he told his brothers "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Gen. 50:20).

I don't know what God's plan is for you, Mark, but I firmly believe that nothing that has happened to you has been a surprise to God or has been out of his control. In fact, I think God has sovereignly orchestrated everything in your life, good and bad, to bring you to where you are today and to make you into the person you are today. The question is, how does he want to use the person he has made you to be and the experiences he has brought into your life to make you more like Jesus Christ and to use those things to serve Him?

Don't sit on the sidelines regretting how your life has gone. Ask God to help you serve Him in exactly the way He has planned for you.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

MDLeys's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:

Actually Mark, that's exactly what I am saying. The only individual who actually has free will is God. If His decisions are limited in any way, including by our choices, He is actually not sovereign. That's the underlying thought, the only explanation for, verses like Ephesians 1:9.

Sorry Chip but I have to respond to your comment and yes I know that it does go back over and over old ground (I read a lot but comment only a little ...)

It is explicitly clear from the Word from both God's own mouth as well as Scriptural narratives that:

  • God is ultimately sovereign
  • man has the ability to make choices and will be held accountable as such

I don't know how anyone could aim to try to win a debate arguing that a just God (i.e. with fairness and integrity) could in any way interfere in the choices of a person, limiting their ability to exercise free will, then hold then ultimately and eternally accountable for those choices ...

Addressing my subject line "God's Sovereignty = God Decreeing All That Occurs?" ... from your comment it would appear that you and some others interpret God being sovereign as being equivalent to Him deciding and enacting every event that happens.  This simply does not sync with what we understand of sovereignty in our common usage.  Let me illustrate ...

There is a king who is sovereign over his kingdom and is well informed (almost to the point of being omniscient) of all that is going on.  He becomes aware of a group planning to revolt and overthrow him (which is against the "rules" of the kingdom).  In his awareness of many aspects of his kingdom and in his ultimate wisdom, he allows this action to proceed, puts plans in place and responds accordingly, winning the victory (as he knew he would) and emphasizing his superiority.  A few observations:

  • he allowed actions to occur that were outside of the "rules" of his kingdom
  • he did not actively cause the wrong to occur - it was the free will and choice of those in rebellion and they could and should be held ultimately responsible
  • he permitted these actions to occur and responded in ultimate wisdom to bring about good (I'm thinking of Joseph and his brothers ...)

I would suggest that at no point in the above narrative does the king in any way relinquish his sovereignty.  In fact I would argue that by allowing the free will of others and still bringing about the ultimate goal he desired he demonstrated his ultimate superiority.

Can't God's sovereignty and man's free will co-exist without us having to try to rationalize them away to the degree that we come to conclusions only a stone's throw from "man doesn't really have a free will" or "God decrees when man chooses to sin"?

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

Are you saying there is really not a choice. God willed that you will go right, say. You will pick to go right, you have no freedom to go left.

Said another way, every decision has already been decreed, decided and pre-planned by God. You don't really have a choice. 

Mark,

I'm heading out the door, but I just read the post Greg Long put up and I could not have said it any better (or as well for that matter). The issue of personal choice is really an illusion for everyone except God. However, since I don't know God's complete plan ahead of time, I am still accountable for the direction I go. Spurgeon once said God's sovereignty and man's free will are like the twin rails of the railroad track. As we look into the distance, they appear to cross even though we know that is just an optical illusion. I can't claim all the answers. However, as I struggled with this many years ago, I finally determined that God's sovereignty was the principle issue. Nothing can be said to hinder or restrict God in any way, or else He ceases to be sovereign and ceases to be God. God's choices and actions and re in now way dependant upon man's choices or actions - ever.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

MDLeys's picture

Chip,

Unless there is some confusion with terminology then I can only conclude that your statement "The issue of personal choice is really an illusion for everyone except God" is nonsense.

You keep emphasizing God's sovereignty.  Can you please define this?

Does His sovereignty involve both "active" intervening steps in order to achieve His goals as well as "passive" permissive times where in His foreknowledge He permits people to make decisions without direct intervention?

BTW, not being flippant, but we just finished dinner and I had not planned to have another hot dog.  Someone offered me the final bread roll and I pondered for a second and decided that I would have another.  If personal choice is really an illusion, then please explain to me how that situation just played out according to your standpoint ...

Greg Long's picture

Most who believe in God's sovereignty do not believe that personal choice is an illusion. They believe both that God is absolutely sovereign over everything that happens (consider the alternative! ) and that humans make real choices for which they are responsible. See Gen. 50:20 again for this balance. You will also see this balance perfectly summarized in Luke 22:22, in which Jesus says that Judas' betrayal was decreed by God but that Judas was responsible ("woe to" him!). Also see Acts 2:23 and 4:27-28 explicitly make this connection.

Obviously there are many resources that would explain this much better, but I would recommend the chapter on God's providence in Grudems Systematic Theology, and for a more popular and practical presentation, Jerry Bridges' Trusting God Even When Life Hurts.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

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