I am often asked, “How do you discern God’s will?” I must admit, I am pretty childlike in my approach to decision making. I follow four simple steps as a normal part of my decision making practice, but they are especially helpful when I get stuck, or when I get so emotionally involved in a decision I can’t see my way forward. These four steps are the objective process I follow to help me discern God’s will.
These steps are not a formula or a ‘guarantee’, but following this pattern relieves the stress of not knowing where to begin in seeking God. In other words, these steps provide objective guidelines so I am not lost in the subjectivity of the process.
Being indecisive creates stress for you and for those you lead. Double-mindedness creates instability and lack of credibility. But the promise of James 3 is the wisdom from above is ‘without uncertainty and open to reason’. Wisdom from above that James speaks about frees us from indecisiveness and gives us confidence to know and obey God’s will.
The first step for me: I summarize the decision I need to make in a simple yes or no question that I pose to God. I have a hard time hearing God speak in long paragraphs. So I ask God ‘yes’, or a ‘no’, ‘now’ or a ‘later’ type questions. I ask Him to guide what question to ask him, then I ask Him in simple, concrete terms. Like I said, very childlike.
Don’t complicate the decision. Keep it simple. Pose your question to God in concrete terms. “Do you want me to do, a, b, or c, Father?” I like to leave one of those options open as the one that may be God’s will that I have not thought about before, just to make sure I am not getting ahead of God.
Then I ask God to speak to me through my desires, as I submit them to Him. I consciously, prayerfully say to God that I choose to “die to my own desires”, asking Him to take what is in me that is not His will, and let it die. In prayer, by faith, I reckon myself to be dead to any thought or desire that is not His will (Romans 6:11). Then I receive by faith His will for me, believing that He will shape my desires to be conformed to His will.
That is the promise of Romans 6:11 and I stand on that promise (though specifically written about dying to our sin nature, this great promise also applies to sinful or self-centered or unwise desires that can lead us away from God’s will for us in our decision making).
Psalm 37:4-5 is a foundation for me: “Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart...” I take that literally. I focus on God, worshipping Him, delighting in Him first, and trust that as I do that, He will shape and fashion my very desires to be conformed to His will. Not the object of my desires, but the desires themselves. Then I trust that as I wake each day, what I desire is God’s will for me. It is a very childlike process: I trust that in response to the process of asking, dying and receiving, God will speak to my spirit with deep inner peace.
I believe fervently that God designed us to hear his voice, that He made us to know Him and to know His voice. God speaks to us through his Word, his people, circumstances, and impressions, inner peace, and many other ways. You need to be sure you’re listening to those “channels” so you can hear what the Lord is saying to you.
I ask God for several confirmations, first from the Bible, but also from my spouse, then from godly people, friends and from wise counselors. I submit major decisions to those with designated spiritual authority in my life. I include leaders in our church family. I look for God’s confirmations to give me the assurance that what I am hearing subjectively in my spirit, is indeed, from the Lord. Objective, outside confirmations are a great way to build our confidence that we have heard from God. The starting point is inner peace and desire, but i will never make a major decision without lots of confirmation. It is a safety mechanism.
It’s at this point in the decision making process, when I start to receive confirmations, that I deliberately do a “risk analysis” on my decision. I look at it from all angles. I try to consider the pro’s and con’s. Why? Not because I am unsure, but because I want to be thorough. I figure if I have heard God right, then doing this will only lead to greater confidence in the decision. If you hear God correctly, submit the decision to the microscope to look at it thoroughly, you won’t lose anything, and you certainly will gain a lot.
I trust God in faith for God to give me wisdom to carry out the decision – and to keep me in His will. Making decisions as a follower of Jesus is not a solitary process. God is guiding us. Psalm 37:4-5 says, “Commit your way to the Lord and He will act”. You’re familiar with Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (NIV). This is God’s promise to us: if we committed to obey Him, He will guide us! He will make sure we don’t miss His will! What a great assurance: if we keep a humble heart and step out in faith to obey God, He will nudge us to the right or to the left to make sure we get right where He wants us!!