Understanding The Times
There has always been a lot of confusion regarding the way God speaks and makes His will known to us. We see how God spoke to certain people in the Old Testament, and we think perhaps that’s the way God should speak to us. We see how God spoke to people in the book of Acts, and we think perhaps that’s the way God should speak to us. Just as God revealed His will through angels and visions and dreams in the Bible, we might assume that God reveals His will to us in the same way today.
What needs to be understood about all this, is that out of all the believers in both Old and New Testaments, God only dealt with a handful of people in the above ways. Visions and dreams and angels sent by God, was not the norm for most believers. These were the exceptions. They did not define the rule. It’s a tragic mistake to think that this was the normal way that God revealed His will to His people – either in the Old Testament or the New. Tragic, because when believers apply the experiences of those few, and assume they should be the normal for today, they set themselves up for disappointment….and perhaps, eventually, disillusionment.
In the OT, they didn’t have the full written Scriptures until the 39 books were completed. Until then, God spoke to His people through the prophets whom He selected — like Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, and numerous others. Before God raised up prophets, He spoke directly to a few others, like Adam and Eve and Cain and Job and Abraham. There’s absolutely no biblical evidence that God spoke to anyone else in the same way other than what the Scriptures reveal. He spoke through a few prophets to the rest of His people. As for visions and dreams and angelic messengers, they too were the privileged few (and only on a few occasions), and there was always great significance attached to those occasions that related to God’s overall plan and purpose for His people — and usually, it ultimately had Christ in view. God never spoke to the common individual believer with the purpose of revealing His will for their lives. We don’t see that in either the OT or the NT.
Once the OT Scriptures were completed, there was no longer any need for God to speak to His people through the prophets or through dreams, visions, or angelic messengers. Once the OT was completed in written form, there’s no evidence that God continued to speak to His people through those ways. In fact, once the OT Scriptures were completed, God didn’t speak to His people in the same way until Christ appeared — and again, it was only through a few. The miracles that some of the prophets performed in the OT, confirmed the word they spoke. In other words, the miracles validated the message they spoke as being from God.
There was a four hundred year gap between the completion of the OT Scriptures and the arrival of Christ. Those are known as the four hundred years of silence. There’s a good article about this time period by Ray Stedman, titled, “The Four Hundred Years Between the Old and New Testaments,” that would be helpful reading here. Below is a quote from that article:
After Malachi had ceased his prophesying and the canon of the Old Testament closed — that is, the number of the books in the Old Testament was fulfilled and the inspired prophets ceased to speak — God allowed a period of time for the teachings of the Old Testament to penetrate throughout the world…..
….It is amazing how God utilizes history to work out his purposes. Though we are living in the days that might be termed “the silence of God,” when for almost 2,000 years there has been no inspired voice from God, we must look back — even as they did during those 400 silent years — upon the inspired record and realize that God has already said all that needs to be said, through the Old and New Testaments. God’s purposes have not ended, for sure. He is working them out as fully now as he did in those days. Just as the world had come to a place of hopelessness then, and the One who would fulfill all their hopes came into their midst, so the world again is facing a time when despair is spreading widely across the earth. Hopelessness is rampant everywhere and in this time God is moving to bring to fulfillment all the prophetic words concerning the coming of his Son again into the world to establish his kingdom. How long? How close? Who knows? But what God has done in history, he will do again as we approach the end of “the silence of God.”
So then, once Jesus came on the scene, we were again in the same situation as we were in the OT. God’s people were without the NT Scriptures. God was once again speaking through Jesus and the prophets, just as He did in the OT. The word that Jesus and His Apostles/prophets spoke was confirmed by miracles, just as we see in the OT. I need, again, to point out that it was a very few individuals through whom God spoke to His people. God did not speak to the average Christian like He did to and through them. Furthermore, just as visions and dreams and angelic messengers were seen during the writing and gathering of the OT Scriptures, we see the same thing as the NT Scriptures were being written and being gathered – and again, only to a few. Once the NT Scriptures were complete, there was no longer a need for God to speak to His people through the Apostles and prophets — just as we saw with the completion of the OT Scriptures.
The prophets that God spoke through were few in both Old and New Testaments. And the visions and dreams and angelic messengers that characterized those times, were few — it was not the norm for the average Christian. That idea is nowhere to be found in the Bible. That idea has to be assumed. What must be understood is that in both cases – in both Old and New Testaments, those were transitional times, times of transition until the written Word of God was complete. In the case of the NT – the days of Christ and the Apostles – it was a time of transition from Old Covenant to New Covenant, from OT to NT. Those were special times in history that we will never see again. They were special times that required a special revelation from God….and I must emphasize again, that He did so to a select few people. It was in no way the norm for God to reveal Himself to the average Christian in such a manner. Nowhere do we see any evidence of that in the Bible.
If one doesn’t understand how God dealt with His people in both testaments, and why He dealt with them the way He did, a Christian can have the wrong idea about how God speaks and leads and reveals His will to us today as New Testament believers. We make a tragic mistake when we assume that God will speak to us and reveal His will to us the same way He did to the few that we see both Old and New Testaments. Even in the transitional period between OT and NT of the early Church, we don’t see God revealing His will to anyone for the purpose of providing personal direction for someone’s life. It’s NOT THERE! The Apostles and prophets were given primarily for the purpose of providing the Word of God and establishing the Church until the NT Scriptures were completed.
It’s biblical error to read about how God revealed Himself to the few, through any of the ways we’ve discussed in this article, and make the assumption that this is the norm for Christians today. This is not what the Bible teaches. This is not what the Bible reveals. That’s an idea that is based on a limited view and a faulty understanding of God’s Word. It’s very presumptuous to think that God will do for us what He did for the very few out of all the millions of believers in either Testament. That’s simply not the normal way that God reveals His will to the average Christian today. Again, I must make the point, that even in the early Church during the days of the Apostles and prophets, God did not speak in these miraculous ways for the purpose of providing personal direction for someone’s life. I sincerely don’t know where anyone gets that idea, because nowhere in the NT do we see that.
As long as a Christian clings to this false notion that God reveals His will to us in these ways (visions, dreams, personal prophecies, etc), and that’s what they’re waiting on God for, they’ll never know God’s will for their lives. If a Christian isn’t willing to make a move in their life until they receive a miraculous revelation from God, they will look back on a wasted life…..because that is NOT the biblical way that we seek God’s will.
The idea that God speaks to and through believers today in the same way that He did with the few of the Old and New Testaments, just isn’t reality. This false understanding of Scripture has caused so much confusion in the Church today. I’m not Moses or David or Elijah or Jeremiah, and I’m not the Apostle Paul or Peter, and neither are you. We need to get over it and live in the era that God has placed us in. We need to accept the dispensation in which we live, and serve God as He deals with us today — not as He dealt with the few of the OT or as He did with the few of the early Church. If you don’t adjust, you’re headed for great disappointment, and quite likely, disillusionment. That’s what unfulfilled expectations do.
The Biblical Way of Seeking God’s Will
If I was a pastor, and someone came into my office for counsel about how to know God’s will for our lives, this is what I would tell him or her:
I would start by explaining the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives (followed by the additional thirteen points). As New Testament believers, we’re to walk by the Spirit, not by miraculous revelation. We’re to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, and not depend on visions or dreams or personal prophecies or angels sent from God. That is not what the Bible teaches. Furthermore, we’re to walk according to wisdom, the wisdom that God provides. Wisdom is the main thing. In fact, walking by the Spirit and walking in wisdom are directly linked. Here’s an excerpt from my article, Living A Life of Wisdom
Wisdom and Walking by the Spirit:
16 But I say, Walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would. 18 But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, 21 envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 meekness, self-control; against such there is no law. 24 And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof. 25 If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk. 26 Let us not become vainglorious, provoking one another, envying one another.
15 Look therefore carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise; 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 17 Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit;
To “walk by the Spirit,” means to walk in yieldedness to the Spirit. It means to allow the Holy Spirit to empower and lead our lives. It means to walk within the sphere of the Spirit’s influence. Those who are “filled with the Spirit,” walk by the Spirit. Those who walk by the Spirit, “walk as wise,” and “understand what the will of the Lord is.”
Let’s not miss this: In the above Ephesians passage, wisdom and understanding of God’s will is linked to being filled with the Spirit. Paul tells us that we’re to “walk” as wise, and this is in connection with being filled with the Spirit. Notice also that in the Galatians passage, Paul tells us to “walk” by the Spirit. Thus it’s clear that those who walk by the Spirit are those who walk in wisdom. Or those who walk in wisdom, are those who walk by the Spirit.
As we’ve been talking about all along, wisdom is the “principle” thing. This is to be our highest goal, for those who walk in wisdom, walk with God. There are those who may believe that they’re walking with God, but you look at their lives and it’s filled with foolish choices and foolish pursuits and foolish practices. Only those who walk in wisdom walk with God.
How do we walk by the Spirit?
Christians want to know how we walk by the Spirit, and rightly so. I believe many Christians view it as something mysterious, or perhaps even mystical, but I believe the Bible is clear that it’s more about walking in the wisdom of God. In the Galatians passage above, we see that the “fruit of the Spirit” is in connection to “walking by the Spirit.” We also learned that walking by the Spirit means to be walking in wisdom.
Therefore those who walk in the wisdom of God will see the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. No one who walks in foolishness will see the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. Walking in God’s wisdom always produces the fruit of the Spirit. The two cannot be separated.
There’s more to say about walking in wisdom, but I would refer you to my article, Living A Life of Wisdom where I list 13 points for walking in wisdom. But let me just say this about it. Learning to walk in wisdom takes time. It’s a learning process, just like walking with God and growing in Christlikeness is a process. Learning to walk in the wisdom of God is no different. Learning to discern God’s will takes time. That too is a learning experience. We’re called to walk with God and to walk by faith. Walking with God and walking according to wisdom and walking by faith are all related. When we walk by wisdom, it’s a matter trusting God that He’s leading us in the process. Of course, we must be walking in a right relationship with God for that to come together according to His will.
Below are several more points about determining God’s will for our lives. All of these points are the practical outworking of wisdom.
1- Inquire of God – Inquiring of God means to pray and seek His will through His written Word. It means we ask God for direction. We ask God to lead us. We ask Him to grant us wisdom about what we’re needing from Him, for example: What to do as a career, what college to go to, where to live, who to marry, what church to go to, what our spiritual gifts are, what ministry to serve in, etc.
What inquiring doesn’t mean, is putting our life on hold. Inquiring of God and waiting for His guidance doesn’t mean a life of inactivity. The Christian life is a life of activity, a life of serving the Lord and making a difference in people’s lives and being productive. Waiting on the Lord is never done in the context of being idle with our lives. Nowhere in the Bible do we see anyone living idle lives while waiting for God to answer prayer and provide direction for their lives (except for very brief times). It’s neither God’s will, nor is it a good testimony for Christ.
2 – Obey the general commands of Scripture – If we don’t obey the already revealed will of God as given in the Scriptures, we cannot expect God to provide further light or direction.
We don’t have to have everything figured out before we make a move in life. For example, we know it’s God’s will to work, to be employed (Eph 4:28; 1 Th 2:9; 4:11; 2 Th 3:8-12), so, we go to work. We do what we can while we’re waiting for God’s ultimate plan for our lives. Since we know it’s God’s will to work, we go where the jobs are and ask God to lead in the job-hunting process. To get a job, we go where the jobs are listed. We go to the job market. We scan all the different ads and see what’s available and we see what appears to be a good fit and something we’d like to do. Those jobs that seem appealing, we place an application. All the while we’re asking and trusting God to lead throughout the process.
The Bible tells us to work, so we work. It’s not as important what job we have, as it is that we have a job. Because working at something is being obedient to God’s already revealed will (as stated in the Bible), while doing nothing at all is not doing God’s will all.
Working a job is extremely important. When we aren’t working, we’re unfulfilled, we’re incomplete — because God has designed us to work, especially men. Work teaches us discipline and responsibility. Work teaches us how to relate to other people and to work together as a team. It gives us opportunity to share our faith and to be a light in the world. It allows us to make our own living so that we’re not reliant on someone else. It allows us to provide for our families. As Christians, we have been called to live productive lives, to be useful in this life for God’s glory.
While we’re working at a job that may be less than what we’re really looking for (or what we believe is God’s ultimate plan for us), or while seeking to know the career path we’re to take, we continue to pray and seek God’s will and other opportunities.
3 – Test the inner voice – Let me be clear, I have no doubts that God speaks to our hearts about many things. I believe this is part of walking in the Spirit. However, we have to be extremely careful about this. When we rely on the inner voice to determine God’s will for our lives, we can be easily deceived by the voices of our own mind. The way we guard against that, is to test those voices according to God’s Word and sound wisdom. The voice of God will never contradict either:
“16 cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; 18 having the eyes of your heart enlightened…” (Eph 1:16-18)
In praying for the Ephesian believers, notice Paul places “wisdom” first — before “revelation.” Revelation refers to the Word of God. At the time of this writing, the Church was still without the completed New Testament Scriptures. Thus revelation was primarily the teachings of Christianity. I believe Paul put wisdom ahead of the Word of God in this sentence because application of God’s Word must be according to sound wisdom….and sound wisdom comes from a proper understanding of God’s Word.
God’s Word and wisdom always work together. I don’t think enough emphasis is placed on wisdom, and too much emphasis placed on the inner voice. When it comes to seeking God’s will and making decisions, I think it’s clear that the Holy Spirit speaks according to wisdom, the wisdom that He Himself provides. God does all things according to wisdom, and we’re instructed to do the same thing.
Put another way, I believe that when God speaks to our hearts about a certain decision or a certain path, I believe it will be the form of wisdom. When it comes to decision making, God’s voice and the voice of wisdom are one and the same. We should not even consider separating the two. It’s a tragic mistake to rely on the inner voice of God apart from the voice of wisdom. To do so can result in some very bizarre ideas about what we believe God is saying to us.
Therefore, when we think God may be speaking to us about a certain direction to take in life, we need to evaluate it carefully according to sound wisdom. If it has the appearance of foolishness, it should be rejected. If it doesn’t sound biblical or wise to many other Christians, then again, it should probably be rejected. The objective and biblical viewpoint of other Christians is very important, and should not be minimized.
Also, as already indicated, the voices we hear must be according to truth. Wisdom must be according to a right understanding of Scripture. There is such a thing as a false wisdom that is based on a false understanding of the Bible. Therefore, we must be faithful students of God’s Word and always getting counsel when we lack understanding.
4 – Pay close attention to the way God has wired you and gifted you – I believe God has designed us and has gifted us the way He has for a purpose. The gifts and abilities and interests we have provides an indication of how God would have us serve Him. I believe it’s irresponsible to ignore these things. God doesn’t do anything haphazardly or without purpose. He’s designed each of us uniquely. I believe the unique manner in which He’s designed us, is meant to fill a unique role in the world. We all have a natural bend that reveals who we are and where we might be most productive and useful. Therefore, I believe God’s will is normally to be found within the sphere of our unique gifting and passions of the heart.
While honest and wise self-evaluation is necessary, it’s also important to get the opinion of others who know us well. An objective evaluation from others may help to reveal a false view of ourselves….or to confirm a correct one.
5 – Commit each day to the Lord – Begin each day by asking God to fulfill His will in your life for that day. Ask Him to lead you throughout the day. Ask Him to fill you with His wisdom in all things. I think Christians can become paralyzed, fearful to do anything until they’ve heard clearly from God in some way. I believe we can become very bogged down trying to figure out God’s will is in the tiniest details of our day. But I don’t believe that describes “walking by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16-25). When we begin our day asking and relying on God to lead us throughout our day (in the context of a right relationship with Him), I believe we can relax and go about our day, trusting that God is involved in our every decision and in everything we do. As Christians, we’re to live and walk by faith.
6 – Get involved in church ministry – This is not an option. God requires all of us to be in involved in a local church ministry. This is God’s will for every Christian unless there is a physical or health issue that prevents it. God has established the local church specifically for followers of Christ. God carries out His will in the world through the local church. Next to our family, the local assembly of believers is to be the center of life and activity for us. It’s our home away from home. This is a place where we learn the Word of God together, where we pray together, worship together, fellowship with one another, serve together, reach out to the community together. It’s all of those things, and more.
God uses the local assembly to help meet our needs, to provide direction for our lives, to get us in contact with people who can provide resources and opportunities. When we’re not actively involved in a local assembly, we take ourselves out of one of the primary ways that God reveals His will and provides for our needs. We Christians are not to be an island unto ourselves. If Christians are not faithfully serving in a local church, then I don’t believe we can expect God to answer our prayers regarding His will for our lives. As I said earlier, we have to be faithful to the will of God that has already been revealed. If we’re not obeying the revealed will of God, as given to us in His Word, then we cannot expect God to work on our behalf. He only rewards faithfulness.
Also, take advantage of the opportunities that come your way to serve Christ. If we’re not willing to serve when those wide open doors come our way, we can’t expect God to open up the doors of opportunity that we’re hoping for. We must be faithful in the smaller things before He grants us the things that require greater responsibility. These smaller opportunities to serve Christ are meant not only to make a difference in the lives we’re ministering to, but they’re also designed to test our faithfulness and to prepare us for greater responsibility.
7 – Be teachable – We absolutely must be open to learning from others, especially those who have walked with the Lord for a great many years, who have lived and made mistakes and have learned to be wise. We must be open to learning from those who have been students of God’s Word for many years. We must humble ourselves and consider carefully what others teach. When we think we have it all figured out, and don’t need others to teach us, we’re in trouble. That’s pride at work. There must be a good balance between our own study and hearing what others have to say as a result of their study of God’s Word.
God has designed the Christian community to work together and to learn together. There’s so much we can learn from those who have walked with God and served in many different areas of ministry and who have experienced much of life. They have a lot of wisdom to share. We should not discount their value.
8 – Get counsel – Again, we should not get to the point to where we think we don’t need the wise counsel of others. Even those who have a solid understanding of Scripture often need the objective advice of others. Oftentimes there are situations that are difficult to figure out even for those who are known for their wisdom. A lot of people have a lifetime of experience and knowledge that they can bring to the table. People can be a wonderful resource to draw from.
9 – Learn, learn, learn – When we read the Bible, especially Proverbs, it’s really clear that God encourages and honors learning. Yes, He commands it. Wisdom, knowledge, and understanding is to be continuous, especially in regard to spiritual things. However, Proverbs also reveals the importance of learning other things too. Look at the wisdom and understanding that God blessed Solomon with. God places a premium on learning, for it opens doors of opportunities, where there wouldn’t be otherwise. It prepares us for life. It prepares us to be productive and useful in the world. It prepares us to work in careers where witnesses for Christ are needed. God uses believers in all kinds of different areas of work, and that requires learning.
If you believe God is leading you into full time ministry, it’s wise to get a Bible college education. You’ll not only learn the Bible, but you will be exposed to all different kinds of ministry opportunities to get involved in. It will provide any productive discussions with a lot of people. That experience will serve you well. Doors of opportunity await Bible college graduates.
While college may not be for everyone, I believe everyone should consider it before the Lord. This is where honest self-evaluation is important. But even if one doesn’t go to college, we shouldn’t stop learning — but we should learn with purpose. That is, we should learn things that will make us useful to others. Afterall, God has placed us in this world to make a difference in people’s lives. Knowledge and skill opens up doors not only for employment, but also for meeting the needs of others, and for witnessing for Christ.
10 – Don’t allow fear to dictate your decisions – Oftentimes even when we believe God is leading us in a certain direction, we become fearful and change directions. We miss out on a lot of wonderful opportunities when we do that; we miss out on a lot of rewarding experiences. When we know something will be for our good, when we know that something will help develop us and shape our lives, we need to trust the Lord and keep going. Fear is a killer. We must move ahead in God’s will regardless of the scary type of situations we may find ourselves in. We must trust that God will provide everything we need to do what He’s calling us or leading us to do.
11 – In all things, balance – Avoid the extremes. I believe we find ourselves out of God’s will at either end of the extremes. When I say “balanced,” I don’t mean that our commitment to the Lord is to be mediocre. I mean that our approach to the Christian life should be reasonable and rational and sensible. Those who do, will be living a life that is biblical. Christians can live and do some very extreme and nutty things. Things that are viewed as bizarre or loony by both Christians and non-Christians, is a very poor testimony for Christ. We’ve been called to be effective witnesses for Christ. If we do things that are far off the path of wisdom and sensible thinking, we only draw attention to ourselves in a negative way; this harms our Christian testimony, and leads to being ostracized by both believers and unbelievers. Furthermore, it will likely result in closed doors.
12 – Get out among the people – Get involved in people’s lives. Church involvement is the main thing, but also join clubs, sports teams, get together with co-workers and neighbors. I’ve learned that when we involve ourselves in people’s lives, things happen and doors open and one thing leads to another. Nothing much happens inside the walls of our home. We can’t cut ourselves off from the world and from people, and expect God to make things happen for us. Life is lived outside of the home. Serving Christ is outside of the home. It begins in the home, but it’s to expand beyond that. The friendships and connections we make outside of the home can lead to wonderful experiences, many of them life-changing — not only for us, but for others, as well. This is God’s way.
Just as Jesus and the Apostles and the early Church believers got out among the people and turned the world upside down for God’s glory, we’re to follow their example. Those who pray for God to reveal His will to them while being idle and isolating themselves from the world, will likely never see what they expect to receive from God. The reason I can say that with such confidence, is because I know that that’s not the biblical way. God honors hard work. He honors those who are already busy for Him, serving Him, making a difference in people’s lives, making a difference in this world for His glory. Idleness and isolation is NOT God’s will. In no way is that type of life pleasing to the Lord, and is NOT what He responds to.
13 – Seek wisdom with a passion – As Proverbs says (Pr 4:7) “wisdom is the principal thing,” therefore, seek to be wise with everything within you. Wisdom is the light that guides our path. It’s what prevents us from making foolish choices and ruining our lives. It’s the principle of life that gives us stability and ensures success. On the wall of every Christian home should be a sign that says: “Wisdom is the principle thing.” If not on the wall of your home, it needs to be on the wall of your mind. Wisdom is what should dominate our every thought with every step we take, each and every day of our lives. That’s where we find the will of God.
A lot of these points are especially applicable to career and ministry, but the principles are still there that can be applied to every other area of life. The things talked about here form the foundation for our whole life. This is the Christian life. This is the walk of wisdom. This is how we seek God’s will. It’s what God delights in and what He responds to.
Those who seek God’s will via miraculous revelation, such as through dreams, visions, personal prophecies, or through angelic messengers – rather than through the wisdom that God provides – will be greatly disappointed. Years will be wasted waiting for such a thing from God. Those things were never the norm for the average believer, and only for the few until the Scriptures of both Old and New Testaments were finally completed.
We now have the completed, written Word of God and the Holy Spirit to lead us along the path of wisdom. That’s our firm foundation. There is no substitute for that. There is no substitute for living a life of wisdom and sensible thinking. There is nothing unspiritual about that, for it comes from God Himself.