Sheep are peculiar animals—timid, defenseless, and not necessarily known for their great intelligence. In fact, they are rather stupid. They don’t know where to go, they don’t know what is best for them, and they wander off absentmindedly, getting themselves into dangerous situations. I read about one entire flock of sheep that stumbled absentmindedly into a ravine, stacking one on top of the other, smothering themselves to death. Sheep obviously need a shepherd to lead them.
Isn’t it interesting that God likens his people to sheep?45 It isn’t very flattering, but it is so very true. We do not always know what is best for us. Left to our own wisdom we inevitably get ourselves into trouble. We need a shepherd to guide us, and we need to know exactly what he wants us to do.
This is the point at which some Christians drop out of the game. They believe God has a plan for their lives and they may even agree that his plan includes every detail of daily living, but they are not convinced that he can or will communicate his plan to them. They may have groped in the darkness so long that they think God has purposely hidden his will from them. Or that his will is a deep, dark secret which only some special class of super-Christians can find. Maybe because we talk about finding God’s will they get the idea that it is lost or hidden, or that God is playing some kind of heavenly hide-and-seek game.
God’s plan for our lives is much too important for that kind of foolishness. He does not take pleasure in making things difficult for us. He wants to show us his will far more than we want to know it. If we have not yet discovered what it is, it has to be our fault, not his. Finding God’s will is not a matter of frantically searching for something hidden. It is following the divine Shepherd, and there is nothing mysterious about that.
Failure to follow him would be just plain stupid. That’s what the Apostle Paul told the Ephesians. “So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”46 Failure to comprehend God’s plan for our lives is foolish, a word that means literally “without the mind.” Or, as we would say today, ignorant, stupid, dumb.
If God is going to call us names like that for not knowing his will, then he certainly must be trying to reveal it to us. We are driven to the indisputable conclusion that we can know God’s plan for our lives. So let’s look at some of the evidence.
First look at the ever-popular Shepherd Psalm.
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.47
Twice in those inspired verses the poet points to the divine Shepherd’s definite direction. First, “He leads me beside quiet waters”—literally, “waters of rest.” The hillsides of life may be rocky, treacherous, barren, fruitless. But our Shepherd knows where to find shady green resting places beside cool, refreshing brooks, and we can count on him to lead us to them when he knows we need them.
Second, “He guides us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” “Paths of righteousness” may mean either “right paths” or “righteous paths.” Whichever, the reason he guides us is for his name’s sake. His name corresponds to his character, his reputation.
An ancient shepherd had to build himself a reputation for being trustworthy and dependable. If he were to lead a flock of sheep down the wrong path and get them lost, or lead them near a pack of wolves and get them killed, no sheep owners would ever entrust their sheep to him again. He did his job well for the sake of his reputation. God has maintained an impeccable reputation for faithfully guiding his people, and he isn’t about to ruin it now. We can count on his willingness to make his plan known to us. His character requires it.
Can you picture a human shepherd, whose livelihood depends on the welfare of those sheep, trying to run off and hide from them or trying to get them lost? That’s ridiculous! How can we think less of the divine Shepherd? Consider another analogy. Can you imagine a human parent, who has certain expectations of his children, refusing to tell them what he wants from them? That would be absurd. How can we think less of our heavenly Father? Jesus said, “If you, then though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”48 We have a right to expect the good gift of God’s guidance because we are his sons. “For as many as are led of the Spirit of God, they are the Sons of God.”49 We can know God’s will for our lives.
Another aspect of God’s reputation is at stake here too, and that is his reputation as a prayer-answering God. As we have seen, Paul prayed for the Colossians to be filled with the knowledge of his will.50 Epaphras joined him in prayer that they would “stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.”51 Evidently they were both led of the Spirit to make those requests, since Paul was inspired of the Spirit to record them for our edification. Does God answer prayer? He claims to.52 Will he answer this request for the knowledge of his will? He most certainly shall. His reputation as a God who answers prayer is in question.
You can pray confidently with the Psalmist, “Yes, you are my rock and my fortress; therefore for Your name’s sake lead me and guide me.”53 And you can expect him to answer.
If the argument from God’s nature is not conclusive enough, there is further evidence. We know that God will show us his plan for our lives simply because he said he would. Are you willing to take him at his word? The Bible is filled with promises of divine guidance. Let’s look at a few.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.”54 God uses three different words in that verse to reassure us that he will show us his will. He not only says that he will teach us or direct us in the way to go, but that he will instruct us in that way, meaning that he will cause us to understand it. Some people believe God is able to reveal his will, but they are not sure that they are capable of receiving it. God says he will make us capable; he will help us understand it.
Then he goes on to say he will counsel us with his eye upon us. He will give us perfect advice, then tenderly watch over us while we carry it out. What a fantastic promise! We would be foolish not to take him up on his offer.
And that is exactly what he says in the next verse. “Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, Otherwise they will not come near to you.”55 I like being compared to a mule even less than being compared to a sheep. But that is what I am if I ignore God’s guaranteed guidance.
How long is God willing to keep on showing us his will? The Psalmist says, “For this God is our God forever and ever; he will be our guide even unto death.”56 It matters not how old we are. He will keep on directing our paths to the very end of our lives.
“Well,” you say, “that’s a fine time to leave me—when I’m at death’s door.” But he doesn’t leave us then. “You will keep on guiding me all my life with your wisdom and counsel; and afterwards receive me into the glories of heaven!”57 When we exit from this earthly scene, he guides us right into his glorious presence for eternity. We couldn’t ask for anything more marvelous than that.
The book of Proverbs contains some great promises of guidance. For example, in addition to the unequivocal assertion of Proverbs 3:6 that God will direct our paths, Solomon makes this interesting observation: “The way of the slothful man is a hedge of thorns, but the way of the righteous is made plain.”58 God illuminates the believer’s path and shows him the way. That’s the kind of God he is. We can count on him to make our pathway plain.
Isaiah can testify to that. “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy one of Israel: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your profit, who leads you in the way you should go.”59 You see, he is the God who leads.
Some still insist, “Well, he may lead others in the way they should go, but my life is too tangled and confused. There’s no hope for me.” Isaiah has a word for you too. “I will make the blind walk in a way that they do not know and lead them in paths unfamiliar to them. Darkness before them I will turn to light, and rough places I will make smooth.”60
God is not willing to let you go on stumbling around in the dark. He wants to lead you into light. Satan knows that your life will bring glory to God when you know and do God’s will, so he will try to keep you from it. But he cannot succeed if you do not let him. God’s promises are firm: “I will lead,” “I will guide,” “I will make darkness into light.” Believe him!
“Promises, promises—they’re nothing but words,” you say. “I want to see action.” Trace the history of God’s dealings with men, and you will see illustration after illustration of God making known his will. Not only do his promises assure it and his character require it, but his actions prove it. Look at a few examples.
It wasn’t easy for Abraham to leave his home town of Ur and take off for points unknown, but God promised to guide him to the place where he wanted him to settle.61 And God did. When Abraham reached Canaan, God led him to a high hill and invited him to look out as far as he could see in every direction. Everything in sight was his. God had given it all to him and to his descendants.62 He had been faithful to his promise. He had led him to the promised land.
Later Abraham sent his servant on a trip of 500 miles to find a bride for his son Isaac. And Abraham promised the servant that the angel of God would guide his way.63 The man had no earthly idea for whom he was looking, but God led him to the precise girl he had prepared for Isaac. And he knew she was the one. The servant reported: “I bowed low and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had guided me in the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son.”64 God was faithful to his promise.
Abraham’s descendants later found themselves in Egyptian slavery, but God miraculously delivered them. Now they faced a dangerous trek through an unknown wilderness. How would they know the way? God promised to show them. And God did. He led them by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire during the night.65
Centuries later, they found themselves in captivity again, this time in Babylon. But God moved the heart of a pagan king named Cyrus to release them and send them back to their land, and God led them home.
The Psalmist summed up God’s faithfulness to the nation Israel through the years of their history like this: “And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!”66
Old Testament examples abound. But the New Testament has its outstanding illustrations as well. God supernaturally led a deacon named Philip from a successful evangelistic campaign in Samaria to a desert road near Gaza to witness to one lone Ethiopian.67 Only God knows how great an impact that one man eventually made on his nation. We do know that Christianity was firmly planted in Ethiopia from the earliest years of church history. It may have been partially the result of that eunuch’s faithful witness, and of Philip’s openness to God’s unmistakable leading.
Peter was led, contrary to all his natural impulses, to witness in the household of a Roman centurion.68 And the gospel of Jesus Christ dramatically burst into the Gentile world for its first major penetration. The Spirit of God then led a group of prophets and teachers in Antioch to set Paul and Barnabas apart for special spiritual service.69 And from that day forward the gospel of Jesus Christ began to penetrate the extremities of the known world. The roots of our own eternal salvation can be traced back to that particular revelation of God’s will, for it launched the first full-scale foreign missionary program that eventually brought the gospel to us.
And now God wants to continue his work through us. We can know his plan for our lives. We are really no different from the Apostle Paul in this regard. God saved him to “know his will,”70 and he saved us for the same purpose. The writer to the Hebrews said that God can “equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight.”71