How do we determine God’s will when we stand at the crossroads of life? In our past two articles, we considered four ways we can be guided to know and do God’s will. They are: 1) Prayer and submission; 2) “Clearing the decks”; 3) Using God’s Word; and 4) Personal discernment. Let us look at the last two steps for guidance (gleaned from Dr Peter Masters’ book, Steps for Guidance).
5. The overruling hand of God
The fifth step in the seeking of guidance is to consider the circumstantial overruling of God. If we have diligently followed the first four steps of divine direction – prayer, putting away all self-seeking motives and delusions, applying Biblical principles, weighing the issues – and have still not come to a clear conclusion – then the Lord may intervene to point out the right path by using our changing circumstances to direct us.
“This does not mean that the Lord will speak directly to our minds, but that He will firmly shut one door and open another. … How reassuring it is when everything seems confusing, and then at the last moment the Lord overrules so that only one way is possible” (Steps for Guidance).
We may sometimes think that a job is the right one for us, but the company rejects our application. Or we may consider buying a particular house because the price and location seem ideal, but the owner sells it to someone else instead. In such cases, it is evident that the Lord has intervened to direct our paths according to His will.
This circumstantial overruling hand of God was evident in the life of the apostle Paul. The Bible records an instance in his ministry when God opened a door for him to continue his ministry in Ephesus: “But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. 9 For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries” (I Cor 16: 8-9). Paul had intended to pass through Corinth on his way to Macedonia. But when the Lord directed his steps to “tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost”, the apostle heeded the divine directive and remained in Ephesus.
“To bow to the overruling of the Lord does not mean that we take alarm at minor setbacks. … When Paul’s ‘great door and effectual is opened’ there were many adversaries, but he paid no attention to the latter” (ibid). Though the apostle had to face “many adversaries”, his labours there were met with great success and revival (Acts 19: 1-41).
6. Assurance or Unease
The sixth and concluding step is to be sensitive to the Spirit’s counsel in our hearts or consciences – either warning us of a wrong choice, or assuring us that we are on the right path of doing God’s will. In Psalm 25, David said that the soul of one who feared God and sought His direction “shall dwell at ease” (vv 12-13a). This means that one who seeks divine counsel will have inner calm and peace.
“He will be like a man in his own comfortable and quiet home. The one is a condition of safety and of ease; the other, a condition of anxiety, doubt, trouble” (Albert Barnes).
This final stage, however, must not be taken lightly or carelessly. Many a believer has rashly applied this last step to their major decisions without considering the first five steps – earnest prayer, heart searching, applying the principles of Holy Scripture, diligently weighing the options and God’s overruling providence.
Dr Masters warned that this final step is “certainly the most subjective stage, and the most vulnerable to self-manipulation. Inevitably, their feelings have given a favourable answer to whatever they wanted.”
If we have not faithfully followed the steps of guidance, then we may land up doing our own will. Even while we seek God’s direction, we must be conscious of the deceitfulness of our own hearts and the inclination to follow our fleshly desires: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer 17: 9). Due to our sinful tendencies to self-will, it is dangerous for us to rely solely on feelings of peace to confirm a right decision.
However, for those who sincerely seek God’s counsel, “the contrasting emotions of peace or disquiet are either a valuable confirmation, or a precious warning. ... If we are honest and careful in seeking God’s will, and we head off into trouble, God will rescue us, either circumstantially, or by severe inner disquiet, and of that we may be sure. If however, we are headstrong and self-interested, then it may be God’s will that we should make bad decisions and head off into a time of trial and discipline for our future and eternal spiritual good” (ibid).
Brethren, let us take heed to the six Biblical steps of guidance as we make crucial decisions in life. Firstly, we ought to pray earnestly and be willing to submit to God’s counsel. Secondly, we need to clear out all wrong motives and desires. Thirdly, we must apply God’s Word. Fourthly, we should exercise personal discernment and weigh the issues on hand. Fifthly, we must consider the clear circumstantial over-rulings of the Lord. Sixthly, we must seek an assurance from God about our decision. Should our conscience be troubled or uneasy, we need to reconsider the matter very seriously before we make a final decision. May the Lord help us to seek His will in life’s major issues. Let we learn to wait patiently upon Him for His counsel and direction. Amen.