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Knowing God's Will
Biblical Principles of Guidance
Original Edition (Revised/Expanded Edition also Available)

M. Blaine Smith ~ InterVarsity Press ~ 1979

Chapter One
A Serious Concern

"If there is a serious concern among Christian students today, it is for guidance. Holiness may have been the passion of another generation's Christian young men and women. Or soul winning. Or evangelizing the world in their generation. But not today. Today the theme is getting to know the will of God."

I would agree fully with Joseph Bayly's claim. But I would go one step further. I believe this concern for guidance is not only typical of Christian students but is really the central concern of most adult Christians today. As a pastor I find that the good majority of people seeking my counsel are seeking help in understanding God's will, and I find the typical Christian is confused over how to know God's will.

This confusion is surely due in part to the incredible diversity of choice we face as twentieth-century believers. Christians of previous centuries usually found their major choices in life parentally or culturally determined. But today we have a freedom of choice and opportunity that makes decisions considerably more complex, and confusion over God's will is the natural by-product for the Christian.

No Lack of Advice

The confusion is also nurtured by a lot of popular ideas floating around Christian circles about knowing God's will. So many well- meaning people offer simple and foolproof solutions to guidance. If you will just apply these principles, they say, then the will of God will be obvious. But unfortunately you find that the principles are not always so easily applied in concrete situations.

And worst of all, the simple and foolproof solutions sometimes contradict each other. One person says, "love God and do what you wish," while another insists, "To find God's will you should deny your desires." One teacher says, "God's will is normally the most logical alternative," while another points out, "Abraham `went out not knowing whither he went,' so God's will may seem illogical to you." One counselor says, "God's will is known through your intuition," while another argues, "Feelings are misleading; God directs through rational thought processes."

Advice abounds for people seeking God's will. Some promote the practice of "putting out a fleece." Others, especially in charismatic circles, stress the role of supernatural guidance through signs, visions or prophecy. Still others claim that God's will is best found through certain chain-of-command relationships. And a surprising number of Christians actually encourage the use of secular forms of guidance, such as astrology, Ouija boards, seances and palm reading.

All in all, it is no wonder the typical Christian is baffled by the prospect of finding God's will. In some cases the results of this confusion can be tragic. A young woman came to me convinced God had told her to kill herself. Assuming God was speaking to her through her impulses, she took her suicidal urges as divine guidance. Although her case is clearly extreme, it dramatizes the problems that can arise in this area.

A more typical case is that of a teacher friend of mine. Although he was having success as a teacher, he was frustrated by the lack of a clear calling to the teaching profession. "The Bible declares that St. Paul was commanded by God to be an apostle," he said. "My problem is that I don't feel commanded by God to do anything!" Like so many Christians today he was perplexed over how God's call to a particular profession might be known and wondered why he did not receive a call as unmistakable as Paul's. Lacking this clear sense of calling, he found his work regrettably mundane.

I could share many other examples from my own experience of people confused over God's will, as well as plenty from my own life. But my guess is that you can supply plenty of your own examples. You probably need little convincing that a problem exists here. I am sure you would agree that it is an understatement to say that there is value in studying what the Scriptures teach in this area.

The Task Ahead

My purpose in this book is to study the biblical principles of guidance, in order that the reader might develop a solid biblical foundation for making personal decisions. I should warn you in advance that I will not end up with a pat formula or two into which you can plug all your complicated decisions and get an immediate answer to God's will. God does not expect our decision making to be any easier than it is for nonbelievers, in fact we may even find it more difficult. But I am convinced that a thorough understanding of the biblical teaching on guidance can considerably reduce confusion over God's will.

In chapter two I will define two terms which are basic to our study--"complex decisions" and "the will of God." I want to point out some distinctions which will be helpful to our whole discussion.

In part II, I will deal with the question most basic to guidance: What is God's responsibility, and what is mine? It is my belief that God himself takes the initiative in guidance. Therefore, much of the anxiety suffered over the possibility of missing God's will is unjustified, for it is God's responsibility to lead us. But I must also stress that if we take our relationship with God seriously, we will seriously strive to understand and follow his will. He allows us this responsibility for the sake of our growth in Christ. This responsibility amounts to four things: having an attitude of willingness to do God's will; praying for guidance; studying Scripture; and using our minds to make logical, intelligent decisions. In the end, knowing God's will boils down to making a rational decision.

I will examine in part III two popular approaches to guidance which tend to distract us from rational thinking--supernatural guidance and inward guidance. While we should not close ourselves off to the possibility of supernatural guidance, and while we should have a proper respect for intuition, neither of these approaches should take precedence over sound thinking.

Personal desires, abilities, circumstances and the counsel of others are often the providential indications of God's will. I will discuss how to evaluate each of these factors in part IV. Finally, I will try to give you a couple of concluding illustrations which will help tie all the points together.

You could call this study a wholistic perspective on knowing God's will. [AUTHOR'S NOTE TO READERS ONLINE: the word "wholistic" did not have the New Age connotations in 1979 which "holistic" has today.] I have tried to deal systematically with the teachings of the whole Bible on guidance, hopefully touching on the major issues raised by the subject. I have also taken a wholistic view of the Christian life. Too often as believers we view the Christian life in extreme terms. On the one hand are those who feel that self-denial must characterize the lifestyle of the believer. On the other hand are those who think that the bent of the Christian life should be toward personal fulfillment. In reality, both these factors should play an important role, and a mature Christian perspective includes both self-denial and self-affirmation.

Understanding the relationship between these two is a vital part of understanding how God makes his will known. I will deal with this issue at various places in our study.

As you begin this book, you may be tempted to skip to the chapter that seems most interesting. But I believe the study will be most meaningful if the chapters are followed in order. They build on one another to some extent, and some of the later chapters would be difficult to understand fully without the concepts established in the earlier ones.

It is my hope and belief that you will find this study helpful in your personal search to know God's will. I trust it will lead you to a deeper experience of joy in the Lord.

Excerpt taken from Knowing God's Will by M. Blaine Smith. Copyright 1979 by M. Blaine Smith. Not intended for multiple copies.

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