Crossways Concepts

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Insights from the scripture as lead by the Holy Spirit

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Determining The Will Of God

In the Old Testament there was something called the Urim and Thummin.  This was a handy device that most of us would like to use from time-to-time.  This item, although it is poorly understood in modern times, was used by the high priest to determine the will of God.  It was described in Exodus 28:30:

Place the Urim and Thummim in the breastpiece for decisions, so that they will also be over Aaron's heart whenever he comes before the LORD. Aaron will continually carry the [means of] decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the LORD.

There were various times when the people of God were unclear about which way to turn and they would have the priest check on God's will.  As you can imagine, this is an incredibly useful tool.  Although the documented occasions when the Urim and Thummin were consulted were significant turning points for the country, I have trouble imagining that it was never consulted for less historically significant decisions as well.

There is nothing like having to make a big decision to makes us feel totally inadequate.  So often, we just don't know the outcome, good or bad, that will come from our decisions.  We find ourselves making many important seeming decisions with so little information, that we are basically guessing the best action.

So, we seek the Lord.  What would He want?  After all, He loves us, He knows the future and he knows what is really in people's hearts and minds.  All we need to do is to get Him to tell us what is the right decision.  We start earnestly praying that God would reveal His answer to our problem.  Usually, we hear nothing from God.

Yet this doesn't mean that God doesn't care about our problem or that He isn't even talking to us about it.  As you probably know if is incredibly difficult to get God to advise us on our problem decisions.  This is because God doesn't want to be our on-demand advisor and we aren't very good at listening to Him, anyway.

Although our need for God's advice seems most obvious to us when we have a problem, that is positively not the only time we need it.  We are, in effect, telling God, “I'll run my life by myself, I'll let you know when I need you.”  If we expect to hear from God on our terms and to address our problems is to be telling God what to do.  This completely ignores the fact that He is God, our creator, and that we are to be His servant.  God is not our servant, waiting to do our will, for our pleasure.

God's will can't be something that we consult just when we want, when we have a problem that seems too large for us.  This isn't the relationship that we are supposed to have with Him.  Our relationship with Him, as a servant, is to continually seek to do what He wants.  To accomplish this obedient servant relationship with Him requires that the attention to His will be continuous.  How can we considered a faithful servant if we pay attention to what He wants, just once in a while?

Virtually everybody finds listening to God difficult.  God's voice is described as a “still, small voice”, a phrase also translated as a “soft whisper” (1 Kings 19:12).  Hearing a whisper in such a noisy world is difficult.  We rarely have quiet – we always have somebody talking or some form of media or music running.  How is a whisper supposed to penetrate all the racket?

However, the larger issue with hearing God's voice is that we don't really want to.  If we aren't totally submitted to God (is anybody on this earth?), then there are things that God will say to us that we don't want to hear.  We get good at tuning out the voice of God.  We become like the child that never hears their Mom when the message doesn't suit.  

Hearing God's voice is tough.  We can't go day-after-day tuning Him out, then suddenly expect to hear His message when we are needy.

Living in the will of God isn't about doing a good job at making those big decisions.  God has a plan for our lives.  He isn't some sort of fortune-teller that can advise us about the outcome of specific decisions.  Because of this misconception, we tend to ask the wrong questions.

For example, Dan is worried about needing to purchase a new car.  He has looked at the choices and narrowed his best options down to a sensible option and a fun option.  Now, he wants to go to God to seek His advise.  God may think that Dan doesn't really need a new car at all, but Dan won't hear that, he has already decided that he is going to buy one.  Situations like this, just condition us to not listen to God.

But frequently, what we see as a “big decision” isn't at all what God sees as the most important thing needing attention in our lives.  While we might be focused, like Dan, on a money transaction, God might be focused on an acquaintance of ours that is hurting, where He would like us to give comfort.  God has an entirely different focus on the world than we do and as a consequence, He is concerned with different things.  When we try to just listen to Him selectively, then more often than not, He will be on a different track.  Then, we perceive Him as no help at all because we only want to hear from Him on the subject we want to hear about.

In addition, we are not really that good at knowing what are our major decisions.  I remember sweating over where my son would go to college.  As things worked out, it didn't really make very much difference.  Also, we can totally miss a big decision.  For example, choosing to take an alternate route to work one day can be a decision that has life-or-death consequences, but at the time we don't consider the decision to be significant.  We can't determine when we need the Lord's help with decisions, because we just don't know which decisions will have significant or eternal consequences.

Our only option is to seek and submit to the Lord's will in everything we do.  Yet this isn't the easy option.  To choose to seek the Lord's way in all of our life has to become a way of life, it can't be a now-and-then thing that we choose now and ignore later.

It is hard to listen to God.  It is unnatural in this world.  There are so many distractions.  Sometimes He says things we don't want to hear.  His voice is so quiet.  People think we are crazy if God does speak to us.

Yet, God has the best plan.  Any other plan or advice we follow is settling for less.  His plan for His disciples is that we are in-tune and obedient to his will in the entirety of our lives.

While we might wish for a Urim and Thummin that we can use like a cell phone to God, it just doesn't work that easily.  There is no simple single answer that makes it easy and obvious to hear from God, in order to understand His will.  Here are a series of things that have helped me:

1.Be deliberate about listening – Make sure that listening for the voice of God is a regular part of your time spent with Him.  Although He will occasionally hit us over the head with the proverbial 2-by-4 to get our attention, most of his speaking to His people is only a whisper.  If you aren't really trying to listen, you can miss it completely.  Prayer is supposed to be a 2-way communication.  If all your time with the Lord is spent with you talking, then how can He guide you?

2.Listening requires practice – Listening and waiting on the Lord to speak can seem so awkward. While we know we aren't supposed to be listening with our ears, we don't know what we should be listening with...or how...or where.  To make it worse, nobody can tell us how to listen to hear a voice from a Spirit that lives inside us.  It seems that everybody's experience with listening to the Lord is different, so nobody can tell you how it should be done.  This has to be a trial-and-error approach.  But, remember, our God is faithful when we sincerely seek Him.  It is also important to remember that He rarely responds as fast as our natural impatience would like Him to.  Learning to feel comfortable with our ability to always hear from God, every single time He speaks, may take years.  In the years I have been trying diligently to listen to God, while I feel I have a higher rate of success, I don't really have a strong confidence that I always get it right.

This practice at listening to God is very important.  In John 10, Jesus describes Himself as a good shepherd.  He says, “The sheep follow Him because they recognize His voice”.  The only way that we can recognize His voice is to hear it frequently.  When we learn His voice, we won't be mislead, we will be able to follow Him precisely.

3.Spend distraction-free time – We live in such a busy world.  There are always so many things going on, how are we supposed to hear a whisper?  It seems that we can't get into a room before we turn on some sort of a noise maker.  It would appear that the whole world is designed to keep us from having time alone with our thoughts.  But, to know the will of God requires that we hear Him.  Living in this world of ours, we have to deliberately pursue quiet or we will never hear Him.  Spend time where you can talk to God and let your mind wander.  Many of my insights from God come while I am driving with the radio turned off, just me and the quiet.

4.Leave the agenda behind – God must be the boss of our life.  We need to live His will.  If we aren't careful our will will want to insinuate itself into our relationship with the Lord.  One way that this happens is when we expect the Lord to attend to our wants and needs first.  While it is obvious that the Lord does care about our needs, those may or may not be what He wants to talk to us about today.  We have to be open to hearing His voice, no matter the subject matter.  It is easy to get tunnel-vision on a certain subject and miss out completely on something really important.

5.Be obedient to what you hear – One of the trademarks of things God tells us, is that they aren't what we would think or do.  Of course they are foreign seeming, because they don't come from us, they don't come from somebody of this world, they don't even come from another human.  These things that God tells us often make us uncomfortable.  His goal is to grow us, our goal is to stay the same, because that is comfortable.  Yet God doesn't share His will with us so we can laugh at Him and His ideas.  He expects us to be obedient, He expects His instructions to be turned into action.  Remember, we are his servant, a good servant does the will of his master.

6.As needed, verify what you hear – It is perfectly normal to wonder if what you hear is really from God.  When I listen for God, the things I hear fall into 3 categories: Things I KNOW are of God, things I know aren't of God and a lot of things that I'm not sure about.  For those things that I'm not sure about, there are some things I do to attempt to discern which things are of God.  There are certain things that should throw up a red flag and be examined more closely:

– If there is something that benefits you.  Whether this benefit is in terms of money, satisfaction, prestige or anything else, you should recognize that this is something that Satan could tempt you with.  Scrutinize these items very carefully.
– Things that you wanted to do anyway.  We are bad about convincing ourselves that God has blessed OUR plans.  God's ideas generally go off in a direction we had never considered, because He isn't like us.  If the word we get from God aligns with our plans, the we should be suspicious that we are only hearing echoes of “self” and that the voice isn't really God at all.
– Anything that isn't consistent with God's character.  God is consistent, so you can be positive that God will never tell you to do something that the Bible says not to do.  God will never tell you to do anything that hurts or cheats somebody else.

When we hear words that we think may be from God, but we aren't sure, there are several things we can do to help us know.  First, continue to pray about it.  There have been situations where I have kept praying about a questionable word for months and found that the idea tarnished over time.  Second, ask a person of God, that you trust, to pray with you, so they can offer their insights (keep in mind that may people fake being close to God, so use care to choose a person).  Third, pour over any Scriptures that seem even vaguely related, listening closely for what God might reveal through His written word.  As a last resort, you can always follow a version of the example set in Judges 6, although I would suggest using even variants of this process with great care (See Deuteronomy 6:16).

Following God's will can't be something that we turn on just when we want it.  We either lead a life that is submitted to God's will or we don't.  He has a plan for your life.  This plan is a lot more that just helping you make a few decisions, now and then, it needs to be our life.

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Lexington, Ky

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