Is that sometimes the cry of your heart? That’s not surprising. David prayed: ‘Show me the way I should go’ (Psalm 143:8). Christians probably pray more for guidance than for anything else. We sincerely want to know God’s will, and yet sometimes it seems hard, even confusing. Perhaps one of our problems is inconsistency. We can demonstrate that by asking a series of questions.
Would you seek God’s will in the choice of a husband or wife?
Would you seek his guidance in the purchase of a house?
What about buying a car?
How about a refrigerator?
Presumably you answered ‘Yes’ to the first question, but by the time you got to the last one, the answer was ‘No.’ Somewhere down the list there was a ‘Maybe.’ What does that tell us? That we divide life into ‘big’ things and ‘little’ things. There are things that are important enough to merit God’s guidance, but other things that are not worth praying about. How do we decide what things are sufficiently important to pray about? For example, in making purchases, do we set a monetary value above which we pray and below which we do not bother? Such an approach is obviously faulty.
Let us ask another question: Is God interested in every area of our lives? Surely he is. Those who know the Lord as their heavenly Father certainly believe that he is just as interested in the welfare of his children as we are of ours. No area of our life is beyond his interest and control. The difficulty comes in knowing how God’s purpose for our lives is conveyed to us. Many believe that God has an individualized plan for their lives – something like an AA route map that members can obtain to get them to a given destination. For such, guidance involves getting to know that individual plan.
How much is revealed?
To be sure, God is the sovereign Lord who decrees all things. Even a sparrow doesn’t die without his will (Matthew 10:29). But how much of that sovereign will does he reveal to us? One problem with the road-map approach is that God’s sovereign, and oft-times secret, will includes everything, including the consequences of human sin. It was in God’s sovereign will that Judas was to betray Christ. Supposing Judas had prayed when tempted to do that dreadful thing? If he had sought to know the will of God, what might he have discovered? It may have been in the secret counsels of God for Judas to act as he did, but for Judas it was sin. The right thing would have been to show love and devotion to Jesus, and to put betrayal out of his mind.
Pleasing the Lord
Sinclair Ferguson makes an important point in his book Taking the Christian life seriously. He points out that many Christians today ask the question, ‘What is God’s will for my life?’, whereas the writers of old encouraged a different approach. They asked, ‘What can I do to please the Lord? – for that is my guidance.’ Do you see the difference? One approach wants to know God’s secret will in their life, something the Lord may not reveal, and which, in most cases, is not for us to know. The second approach wants to know what is pleasing to the Lord. What should concern us is not his particular plan for our lives, but his directions for living. God has revealed in the Scriptures the kind of lifestyle that is pleasing to him, and that is what should concern us. Ninety per cent of guidance is simple obedience to the Word of God.
For some this might seem to take much of the mystery and spirituality out of the Christian life. It takes a lot of uncertainty out of it, for sure, but it certainly does not take God out of guidance. After all, in deferring to the guidance of God’s Word we are seeking his will in just the place he has revealed it! There are times when God intervenes in our lives in unusual and amazing ways. Things happen that we could never have dreamed of. Sometimes our path is unmistakably blocked, while at others it unfolds in a supernatural way. That cannot be disputed. But while God may reveal his will providentially or even supernaturally, our task is to seek guidance through the directives and principles of Scripture.
To pray or not to pray?
Let us now return to the things we listed at the beginning. How do we seek guidance? Start with the newspaper. Why don’t we pray about the choice here? We probably feel that with such an insignificant purchase there is no need, and also that we are sufficiently mature to make the choice ourselves. Go back to choosing a marriage partner. No one doubts the enormous importance of making the right choice here. The implications of the choice, good or bad, are far-reaching. The choice of a house is also important. A bad choice could waste a lot of money or leave us in a poor location in relation to a church. So naturally, as Christians, we pray about a marriage partner and major purchases. But we are still left with a list that has a cut-off point, below which we feel it no longer matters whether we pray or not. There is something fundamentally unsound here.
Returning to the newspaper: Are we wrong not to pray about this? There are a few Christians who would pray about which one to buy, or even whether to buy one or not. They might stand in front of the display of papers and ask God whether they should buy one that day and if so, which one? We might smile at that but they are probably being consistent. They would pray about every purchase – from a house to a tin of baked beans. In every case they would act according to an inward impression as to what they felt the Lord was telling them. Most of us find this amusing, at least at the baked beans end of the scale. But if it is right to get guidance about a house or marriage partner by an inward impression, why not the newspaper?
We have already agreed that God is interested in every area of life. Surely God is interested in which newspaper we buy. After all, many of them are so filled with junk and sex that we could be harmed by the wrong choice. But we don’t need to stand in front of the array of newspapers asking the Lord to direct us! We should make our choice of newspapers on the basis of biblical principle, considering such things as wholesomeness; truthfulness in news coverage; things we want to learn; things we should avoid; and so on. The fact is, we do have a choice, but that choice should be based on the light that God has given us in his Word. It does not need extra-biblical guidance and subjective impressions. It does, of course, need wisdom, and for that we should pray regularly.
Most of us have no problem applying biblical principle to newspapers, or even cars. But when it comes to choosing a husband or wife, somehow different principles seem to come into play. Is that right? In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul is discussing the remarriage of a Christian widow. He says, ‘She is free to marry anyone she wishes’ (v. 39). Many would have preferred the apostle to say, ‘She must seek to know which man the Lord has for her’, but he doesn’t. The fact is, there are choices of husbands just as there are choices of newspapers. As already noted, the choice of a marriage partner has enormous implications; marriage must not be trivialized. So, of course, we need to know God’s will. The question is: How should we seek it?
The importance of obedience
In seeking a husband for Isaac, Abraham’s servant stipulated certain events that would show him he had found the right woman. And the Lord was amazingly gracious to him in giving him the signs he had requested (Genesis 24). However, the main thing we should notice is that, long before he received the confirmatory signs, Abraham’s servant was obeying instructions! He had been specifically sent to the only family outside Canaan that Abraham knew was God-fearing. That was the starting-point. We have choices, but there are always fences. Paul said that a widow could marry anyone she chose, but ‘He must belong to the Lord.’ In seeking a partner the Christian is limited to another Christian. In addition, biblical principle requires that we be wise and intelligent in our actions. A person seeking a marriage partner would be foolish not to consider compatibility in terms of intellect, interests, background and so on. Others can give us counsel and perhaps keep us from acting unwisely. Thirdly, the Scriptures hallow the concept of specific love between a man and a woman – so much so, that Paul uses it to picture Christ’s love for the church (Ephesians 5:22-29). This is where emotions come into play, for no one should marry a person they do not love.
As a further example, consider the question of looking for a church to attend. What should guide us in our choice? Some people make the mistake of considering material things such as the size of the church and its social activities. Bible principle, however, bids us look first at the message that is proclaimed, the reality of the church’s worship, and the evidence of genuine love between its members. In doing so we obey the Lord’s injunction to ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ (Matthew 6:33).
This ‘Bible principle’ approach to guidance can be applied to every area of life: to purchases, job hunting, education, friendships, and so on. God is interested in everything we do and we ought to seek to please him – even in buying our newspaper.