Monday, May 11, 2015

Finding God's Will Part 3

We are faced with decisions everyday. As committed Christians we want to honor God in our decisions. Some of us fear missing God's will. We struggle with discerning God's will for our life. Does God have an individual will for us? How do we make good decisions that honor God? This struggle to know God's will seems to have started in the nineteenth century. Before that time people had little choice in many of the decisions we now have the freedom to decide for ourselves. J.I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom seeks to answer the questions we have about finding God's will in their book, God's Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions. This book was previously published under the title Guard Us, Guide Us. It seems to be the same book published under a different title.

The authors note the current situation: "During the past century and a half, the topic of guidance from God has become a focus of just such fear in many Christian hearts" (10). The authors believe that individuals basically believed that God in his sovereignty was working out His perfect plans for their life. They think that in the aftermath to the birth of pietism two things went wrong: "First, the notion spread that getting and following direct guidance from God, as something above and beyond making commonsense decisions in Christian terms, was a matter of great importance in the Christian life. Second, God's plan for the Christian individual's life came to be thought of like a travel itinerary in which making planned connections is crucial and missing a connection wrecks the plan and spoils the rest of the journey" (10). One can see how these two things could cause fear and anxiety for the Christian seeking God's guidance. They could expect divine guidance for every little decision they make. It would lead to depending on subjective feelings or putting out fleeces or some special sign on what God wants them to do. One problem we would never mature in our decision making. God does not want us to be robots.

 Packer notes the consequences of this type of thinking: "In consequence, fearful (fear-full) and perplexed anxiety with regard to decision making became widespread among evangelical people. Believers felt unable to make far-reaching decisions until they had received some special personal indication from God as to what they should do. Fear of making what from God's standpoint would be wrong commitments vocationally, professionally, socially, relationally, and matrimonially induced a kind of inner paralysis that resulted in good and desirable commitments not being made, because people could not bring themselves to make any commitments at all" (10) which turns out to be a decision. Does God really want to paralyze our decision-making capability? Something seems to be wrong. It would seem that unless God tells us otherwise he expects us to make wise decisions based on His moral will and in submission to His sovereign will.

One unique feature of this book is that the first chapter emphasizes that we are God's covenant people. We are the sheep and He is the Shepherd. This chapter includes a detailed exposition of Psalms 23. The authors emphasize that "He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake (v.3)." Chapter two quotes a favorite poem of mine by JOhn Henry Newman: "Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead thou me on!/ The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead Thou me on!/Guide thou my feet; I do not ask to see The distant scene; one step enough for me." I think this poem suggest that the future is in God's hand. We can trust Him to guide us. He will provide what we need to make each day's decision. He wants us to use what He has provided for our guidance: reason, the Bible, counsel from other Christians, wisdom and common sense. We expect our children to grow in wisdom in making good decisions. We are co-workers with God. The authors give us the way for wise decision making: "But the wise Christian seeking God's guidance doesn't start with impressions and subjective fantasies. Wise Christians start with the written Word of God, which they receive as their guidebook, as from the hand of Jesus Christ himself. We make our decisions in the light of what Scripture actually says and then, following on from that, in the light of wisdom that comes to us as we soak ourselves in God's word" (59). Other resources for following God's will for your life are being in good spiritual health, counsel from mature Christians, following good role models. and guidance from the Holy Spirit. God is our Good Shepherd. He will guide us and he will correct us when we get off track.

Packer lists some tips for following God's Guidance:

  1. What is the best I can do for God?
  2. Submit to the teachings of scripture. Some of these are to love God and our neighbor.
  3. Follow examples of godly Christians in the Bible.
  4. Use wisdom in making decisions. Draw on the counsel of others.
  5. Listen to what God may be speaking to you in your heart.
  6. Experience God's peace that He provides
  7. Observe the circumstances
  8. Do not expect guidance before the decision needs to be made.
  9. Be open to God guiding you to something you would not choose.
  10. If you make a bad decision, it is not the end of the world. We learn from our mistakes. We grow in skill as we apply scripture to our daily lives.
In the appendix, the authors include words from John Newton on the subject of "Divine Guidance." 
God's Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions is a good guide to understanding how to follow God's direction from life. It is both biblical and helpful. The writing is good and easy to understand. The authors provide examples to illustrate their point. One thing was not quite sure about. The authors note we are not to trust impressions or subjective feelings. But they state that God's peace confirms his guidance. Packer notes, "The gift of God-centered pace of heart as we contemplate and embrace the best, wisest, and most God-honoring option open to us is God's ordinary way of confirming to us that we have attained the wisdom that we sought by observing circumstances, praying for a clear head and discerning heart, searching the Scriptures, consulting experienced friends, and thinking hard before the Lord" (236). I do believe that if we do these things God will guide us. Much of how people seek guidance seems more like paganism than Christianity.

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