God Is Good. He wills only the best for us.
Though he is great and awesome, owning and sustaining every star and galaxy in our immense universe, he cares about us as persons. He has designed us with rich capacities for enjoyment—for tasting, seeing, feeling, thinking, loving, achieving, and worshiping—and he has “richly supplied us with all things to enjoy.”
With the same delicate precision he used in designing the complexities of space and the intricacies of the atom, he has formulated a plan for each of our lives, a plan that perfectly complements and develops the unique personality he envisioned before he made the world. His plan dovetails precisely with the calling and contribution he has in mind for each of us. The person and the plan were conceived together in his heart tailor-made for each other.
In the Bible, through commands and principles, God has revealed his general plan for all people. Beyond this, his specific plan for each person includes the circumstances he permits and the individual guidance he offers. Over and over the Bible reminds us that following his plan assures our well-being and the highest fulfillment of our potential, now and forever.
Mentally we may agree that God’s plan is for our greatest good. But often our struggles and reactions show that we don’t truly believe it. We may feel we know better than God what is good for us. To some of us, “good” means being ourselves whether we are right or wrong. It means getting what we think we want when we want it—a present sense of pleasure, relief, or achievement.
God also cares about our present joy, but even more he wants to ripen our capacity for enjoyment in every aspect of our person. He wants us to learn a stable happiness that is not threatened by what happens to us. He wants us to go beyond the dribbles of satisfaction we try to force out of life.
We are losers whenever we decide to do our own thing instead of God’s will. Any happiness we are able to squeeze from life by going our own way is soon marred by inner conflict. The honey gets mixed with sand. The peace we feel evaporates like dew under a scorching sun, giving way to inner disturbance or depression. The dividends we accumulate range from what is second best to what is mediocre or even intolerable.
God’s plan liberates us from the emotions that rob us of joy, such as hostility toward others, or the distress of feeling we never quite measure up, or the fear of what people think of us, or anxiety about our ability to cope with life. His plan brings true love into our lives—his limitless, unconditional love flowing in to meet our needs and flowing out to meet the needs of others.
Into this he blends peace, gladness, and the sense of fulfillment that comes from making a significant contribution in life.
So when God asks us to yield to him and his plan, his goal is not to limit us or deprive us of a satisfying, exciting life. When he asks us to surrender our personal plans or preferences, he offers us something better. Surrendering to him always makes us become more than we could ever envision or achieve ourselves.
God does not destroy personality—he enhances it. He delivers us from the inner imprisonment of our imagined independence. He does this at a cost—the surrender of our autonomy. It is a cost well worth paying.
This can be our prayer:
“Father, use your word to make me feel deeply your love and goodness and wisdom. Correct my false ideas about you that make me shrink back from your plan for me. Give me a long-range view that believes you for the best in life today, through all the weeks and years ahead, and forever. Work in me a glad surrender of all that I am and all that I have.”
May our experience not be like that of the beggar in Rabindranath Tagore’s Song Offerings:
I had gone a-begging from door to door in the village path, when thy golden chariot appeared in the distance like a gorgeous dream, and I wondered who was this King of all kings!
My hopes rose high and I thought my evil days were at an end, and I stood waiting for alms to be given unasked and for wealth scattered on all sides in the dust.
The chariot stopped where I stood. Thy glance fell on me and thou camest down with a smile. I felt that the luck of my life had come at last. Then of a sudden thou didst hold out thy right hand and say, “What hast thou to give to me?”
Ah, what a kingly jest was it to open thy palm to a beggar to beg! I was confused and stood undecided, and then from my wallet I slowly took out the least little grain of corn and gave it to thee.
But how great my surprise when at the day’s end I emptied my bag on the floor to find a least little gram of gold among the poor heap. I bitterly wept, and wished that I had had the heart to give thee my all!
Major principles—a checklist
In making your decisions, especially major ones, the principles in the checklist below can help you discover God’s “good, pleasing, and perfect will.”
For some years we have been using this checklist with great profit. In major decisions such as getting engaged and going overseas as missionaries, we have gone over it in detail. Sometimes for several months we have kept a running record of light the Holy Spirit has given us through these principles, then prayerfully reviewed the list as the time of decision approached.
We find that often the Lord doesn’t use all the principles in guiding us. Sometimes he gives us one or two big thousand-watt lights. At other times he gives many small fifty-watt ones that make us equally sure of his leading. If we come to yellow or red lights, we evaluate further, and usually wait for clarification.
Here are the principles:
1. Lordship—Am I willing to do God’s will, whatever it may be? This is the indispensable foundation for finding his will.
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
I urge you—to offer your bodies as living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1)
2. God’s word—What principles, commands, or prohibitions from the Scriptures apply to this decision? Has God given me any promises or motivating verses on the subject?
The entrance of your words gives light (Psalm 119:130)
3. Prayer—Have I prayed adequately about this? As I pray for something specific, do I have continued freedom in prayer, or lack of it?
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)
4. My God-given priorities, gifts, and calling—What gifts and abilities has God given me, and how does he want me to use these to accomplish his purposes in the world? What course of action is most in line with the long-range inclinations he has built into me?
I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)
Think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (Romans 12:3)
There are different kinds of gifts—There are different kinds of service—There are different kinds of working. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
5. The continued inner promptings of the Holy Spirit—Does he motivate me either toward or away from a particular course of action?
May your good Spirit
lead me on level ground. (Psalm 143:10)
Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.(Romans 8:14)
6. Godly counsel—What is the prayerful counsel of someone who knows me and is somewhat familiar with the situation? Am I avoiding or disregarding counsel that I should consider?
Listen to advice and accept instruction,
and in the end you will be wise. (Proverbs 19:20)
7. Providential circumstances—Has God arranged events to point clearly in one direction? If I am facing obstacles, are they God’s way of stopping me? Or are they satanic hindrances to be overcome by faith?
In all things God works for the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28)
What he opens, no one can shut; and what he shuts, no one can open. (Revelation 3:7)
8. Common sense and personal desires—What does common sense tell me? And what are my feelings and desires, as well as the feelings and desires of those who will be affected by this decision? Which of these factors seem to be from God? Which ones seem to be temptations to make a wrong or second-best choice?
Delight yourself in the Lord
and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
9. Peace—Do I have continued inner peace as I consider these principles in prayer? Or do I experience restlessness, impatience, or inner conflict?
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. (Colossians 3:15)
10. Timing—What is God’s mind about the when of this decision? Are my emotions pressing me to move too fast? Or am I holding back too long before stepping out—perhaps through fear, or by waiting too long for conclusive evidence?
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:14)
It is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord (Lamentations 3:26)
Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. (2 Corinthians 8:11)
11. Faith—Does God want me to step out by faith—trusting him to overrule if I make a sincere mistake, and to take care of all the consequences to myself and others?
Commit your way to the Lord. (Psalm 37:5)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5)
To use this list effectively, we suggest that you write down the thoughts the Lord gives you as you consider the principles. Arrange your ideas under three column headings: “Pros” (positive factors and advantages), “Cons” (negative factors and disadvantages), and “Alternatives.”
In emotionally loaded issues, try to give greater weight to the more objective principles. Don’t rely only on peace, for example, or only on personal desires and feelings.
Seeking guidance through the Scriptures
In seeking guidance from God’s word, we should give primary attention to the commands and principles for living that apply to all believers. Occasionally God guides us (or confirms guidance already given) by impressing us with a special verse that seems exactly suited to our situation. This is a valid form of guidance. But we must recognize the subjective element in it, avoiding the possible dangers of relying on it too much, and refraining from being dogmatic about our conclusions. We should ask ourselves:
Is this God speaking, or am I merely finding confirmation for what I want? (It is possible to make the Scriptures say things we want to hear, and to ignore passages that teach something different)
Do other avenues of finding God’s will (such as my own willingness to obey, scriptural principles, continued prayer, and godly counsel) confirm my impressions, or do they cast doubt on their accuracy?
Do I approach the Bible by looking for verses to leap out at me, and so miss the overall teachings of Scripture and personal fellowship with the living God?
Am I seeking an easy method of finding God’s will, a “Christian” substitute for horoscopes and Ouija boards, instead of carefully determining what God wants and making mature decisions?
Sometimes people find promises and interpret them as specific assurances about the future. Then, when things do not turn out as they expect, they become disillusioned, perhaps even doubting the Bible’s trustworthiness. They fail to realize that they have simply misinterpreted what God said and misclaimed the promises.
This need not be humiliating or discouraging. Our mistakes can remind us not to force the Bible into saying what we want to hear. They can spur us to approach the Scriptures with the primary purpose of knowing God better, and learning to see things as he does so we can walk in his ways.
Happy are we to have God’s Word always to guide us! What is the mariner without his compass? And what is the Christian without the Bible? This is the unerring chart, the map in which every shoal is described, and all the channels from the quicksands of destruction to the haven of salvation mapped and marked by One who knows all the way.
C. H. Spurgeon
God can, and sometimes does, guide us in miraculous or spectacular ways—such as Peter’s vision in Acts 10. But these are exceptional occurrences, and not the usual way God leads us.
Elisabeth Elliot, in A Slow and Certain Light, made the following observations about guidance by miraculous means:
But here is one thing we ought to notice about these miracles. When God guided by means of the pillar of cloud and fire, by the star of Bethlehem, by visitations of angels, by the word coming through visions and dreams and prophets and even through an insulted donkey, in most cases these were not signs that had been asked for. And when they were asked for, as in the case of Jehoshaphat and Ahab, they were not accepted.
Supernatural phenomena were given at the discretion of the divine wisdom. It is not for us to ask that God will guide us in some miraculous way. If, in his wisdom, he knows that such means are what we need, he will surely give them.
If God chooses a spectacular method to guide us, we certainly will not miss it. But if we constantly seek spectacular or dramatic guidance, we are likely to miss the enrichment and intimacy that comes as we daily tune in to his Spirit, his word, and his usual ways of communicating his will.