When we are faced with the question of “What should I do?” or “What’s Next?” we can often turn to Scripture as though it’s a magic 8 ball. We pray as if, in return, we will get a Siri-like voice telling us where to turn next. We are also instructed to not look for signs, and to not “put out fleeces.” Should I just do something? Or is there something to do first? These are questions I, along with my family, have had to wrestle with as we look towards the future to discern the Lord’s will.
Over the past two years we have had to live in a tension of what seems to be a grey-zone. We trust the Lord yet we wait in what may seem like a holding pattern. We are amidst a major transition of being called and yet waiting to go. I wish age and spiritual maturity meant easier decision-making. Instead, I’ve found that while my decisions are as complex as ever, my process for seeking God’s will has become like a well-worn path in the woods.
A foundational verse I’ve often returned to for knowing God’s will is Romans 12:1-2:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Imagine this. There are three concentric shapes on a napkin: A heart, surrounded by a square, all inside a triangle.
First the Heart:
Paul is instructing Christians. And if he is instructing Christians, it means that mature Christian hearts can just as easily drift from life-as-sacrifice mode to life-as-comfort mode, or maybe even life-for-survival mode. Paul teaches us that the most important step in discerning the will of God is a freshly surrendered heart, flowing from fresh gospel awareness.
Adoniram Gordon puts it memorably, “Getting rid of sin and selfishness is like getting rid of the magnets that are perverting the compass from true north. Once the needle is free from these influences it can more easily find true north.” If I’m thinking through a job transfer, I’m searching my heart for skewed, sinful motives (or “life modes” that I am caught in), like vain-glory, power, or love of money.
Secondly, the Square:
The Navigators have a diagram called the Navigator’s Wheel that calls Christians to get moving in the general direction of God’s will through Word, prayer, fellowship, and evangelism. These four spiritual disciplines form the vertices of the square. They help us continually transform (Romans 12:2). As we seek to discern the Lord’s will in our lives, we should fast and pray. We see throughout Scripture that people fasted and prayed, seeking that the Lord would reveal through the Holy Spirit the Lord’s will. We see an example of this is Acts 14:23.
Lastly, the Triangle:
In the triangle we see the importance of the desire to go or do, being affirmed by others and the opportunity. The three things are a means to work within community to discern together the Lord’s will.
- Desire: The heart and circle ensure that you don’t under-spiritualize decision-making. Desire ensures that you don’t over-spiritualize decision-making. It’s easy to repress your image-bearing, dominion-taking abilities in the name needing to pray more about it. Instead, after being aware of your heart’s intentions, simply ask yourself: What do I want? What sounds like an invitation? Do I sense God calling me to this? Do I like this?
- Affirmation: Proverbs 15:22 tells us the importance of seeking counsel. Before letting myself stress about a decision, I make it a point to ask and invite trusted community to help by asking hard questions and to speak into areas I will overlook. For me, this trusted community is usually my parents, my wife’s parents, 1-2 experts in the field, and a friend who knows me well.
- Opportunity: Are there any financial constraints? What’s the job market? Have you considered your family’s needs? The answers to these questions are all indicators that help narrow down your realistic set of options. God absolutely calls us to be fools for the gospel, but not fools in decision-making.
Here’s what I have learned as I have sought the Lord’s will where I have been and where He has led me . . .
From Angst to Rest. God’s sovereignty frees us from undue anxiety about this question. Proverbs 19:21 says, “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” In theological speak, God’s secret will is always prevailing. This should give Christians rest from haunting questions like, “I knew I shouldn’t have taken this job because now I’ve missed God’s will for my life.”
From WWJD to Wisdom. A significant shift took place in my life when I stopped getting stuck at “what’s the right thing to do,” and started moving on to the more helpful question, “what’s wise and most beneficial?” (see 1 Corinthians 10:23).
From Daily Agony to Smart Rhythms. Plotting out consistent God-honoring rhythms in a calendar helped relieve much of the “what is God’s will right now” stress in life.
The bigger the decision, the longer period of time I ought to deliberate. Don’t make a life-altering decision in less than two weeks. If you can, take a day retreat to fast and pray. Don’t assume that in doing this that it will be like Moses at Sinai. Most of my life has been walking this path of heart, square, and triangle all the while knowing and believing that God is sovereign. Even once the big decision has been made and we are stepping into the will of the Lord, we will always be trusting and discerning His will for our lives as we seek to live and labor faithfully to what he has called us.