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A Helpful Filter for Discerning God's Will in our Decisions

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*Much of this article is based on a recent conversation with a christian counselor and this article from Desiring God.

As christians, we often get hung up on the idea of “God’s will.” We wonder what God’s will for us is in a certain season of life, or we doubt that we are doing the “right” thing with our life. We need to make a decision about something and we are almost paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong one.  

These four questions can help guide our thinking about this and I believe could be helpful for many of us as we make decisions.

1. Does God's word speak about it?

What does the Bible actually say is the will of God? When we want to know which job offer to accept or what schooling method to use for our children, how do we find the answer in scripture? (As a side note, John Piper breaks the will of God down into two distinct “wills”, the will of decree (God’s sovereign control over all that comes to pass) and the will of command (what he wants us to be doing in our lives.) We will be talking only about the will of command in this post. See the article linked above for more on this.)  

There are very few verses that actually use this language in the Bible. An example would be 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” or chapter 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” So, the will of God that we see in scripture is generally used to describe patterns of holiness for our lives. We can also rely on the principles of scripture, rather than the direct statements of what is God’s will for us as we try to make decisions about our life. Is something that we are thinking of doing clearly in violation of one of the principles of scripture or is it in line with God’s heart as revealed in the whole Bible? 

If God’s word doesn’t clearly speak about the subject in question and if what we are deciding about is not in violation of any of the principles of scripture, then we move on to the next question. 

2. What are my values in this particular situation?

How do my personal values come into play in this decision? Each one of us may value different things more highly than others, even among believers. Hard work, respect, compassion, and service to others are just a few examples of values. I’d encourage you to define your highest personal values and use those to help guide your decision-making.

3. What consequences am I willing to tolerate?

Every decision we make brings consequences, some good and some bad. It is helpful to think through the consequences or repercussions of a decision and see if those consequences are ones you are willing to tolerate. For example, taking on another ministry role outside the home would leave me with less time to be at home with my family. Depending on what else we have going on in our life and what season of life we are in, that may or may not be a consequence I am willing to tolerate. 

4. Do I want to do this?

Within the broad principles of scripture there is a lot of freedom for decision-making! After thinking through what God’s word says about a topic, if it aligns with my family values, if the consequences of the decision are tolerable for us, many decisions come down to simply do we want to do it? As humans, we have limited time, resources, and energy (which humbly reminds us of our finite-ness and need for an infinite God.) Which means that we can’t possibly say yes to everything. Sometimes we need to evaluate if we can actually say yes to something considering our physical limitations. Consider this verse from 1 Corinthians, “Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity. (1 Cor. 16:12, italics mine)” It sounds like from this verse that Apollos just didn’t have the opportunity or desire to go visit the Corinthians at that time and that was ok. I would also encourage you during this stage to gather godly counsel from trusted sources in your life. 

As you think through these questions, the most important thing is that your mind is soaked in scripture. This quote by John Piper says it so well,

What is necessary is that we have a renewed mind, that is so shaped and so governed by the revealed will of God in the Bible, that we see and assess all relevant factors with the mind of Christ, and discern what God is calling us to do.”

I pray that we will all have that renewed mind he is talking about (Rom. 12:1-2) and make godly decisions that we know are part of the will of God for us.

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