Our discussion of God’s will has brought us unavoidably to God’s Word, the living and powerful tool which God uses to transform our lives and prepare us to carry out his perfect plan. There is no way we can overemphasize the Word in our discussion of divine guidance. The Word is God’s primary provision for steering us on the path of his choosing. It is the basic equipment we need to follow his plan.
The writer to the Hebrews mentioned the matter of equipment relative to doing God’s will. “Now the God of peace ... equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ. . . .”162 Let’s talk about that equipment.
We need equipment for almost anything we do in life. To repair a car engine we need a certain set of tools. To replace a broken screen door on the house we need a different set. To play tennis we need a certain kind of gear. To hike in the mountains we need another kind. And when we leave on vacation we usually take all the equipment we think we’ll need while we’re away. Just so, if we want to do God’s will on our journey through life, we need to be properly outfitted and supplied. We need to take all the right equipment with us.
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The Apostle Paul described the equipment we need when he said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”163 “Every good work” is nothing else than God’s will for our lives (as we discovered from Ephesians 2:10). And what is it that thoroughly equips us to do these good works? All Scripture!
The Scripture does everything that needs to be done to help us live in God’s will. It teaches us what is right. It rebukes us; that is, it shows us where we have gone wrong. It corrects us; that is, it brings us back to the right path when we stray. And it trains us; that is, it disciplines us in righteous living. The Scripture, in and of itself, thoroughly equips us, fully furnishes us, completely rigs us out to do the will of God.
The great Psalm extolling God’s Word confirms this important principle. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”164 We have discussed how a lamp lights the path in front of us, one step at a time. That lamp symbolizes God’s Word, which is crucial to finding God’s will. We cannot hope to find it apart from the Word. It is doubtful that God speaks in audible terms today. He has spoken in his Word, which contains all that he wants us to know for now. If we want to hear his voice and know his will, we need to go to his Word.
When a mathematician wants to find an unknown quantity, he uses known factors to do it. If X is unknown, but he does know that three times X equals six, then he can figure out that X equals two. The known factors help him find the unknown. If we want to discover what God wants us to do, we need all the absolute, invariable, known information that we can gather. The Word is the only known factor we have for sure, the only source of absolute truth. So we must fill our minds with that Word. The Psalmist wrote, “The entrance and unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding—discernment and comprehension—to the simple.”165 The “simple” are those who are not fully enlightened, who are still in need of spiritual guidance to keep them from being led astray. That would include all of us, wouldn’t it? And God’s Word provides the guidance we need.
God’s leading is always in accord with his Word. The more of the Word we know, the more sound and solid information we can bring to bear on the decisions we need to make. Obviously, God’s Word does not tell us what to do in every specific situation. It does not say whom to marry, or what occupation to choose, or where to take the family for vacation this year. But it does give us a great deal of information that bears directly on all those questions, and on every other decision we will ever face.
It is when our hearts are tuned to the Word and our minds are filled with the Word, that we are best equipped to recognize God’s guidance. It works like this: As we learn more of the Word, we grow to think as God thinks, we learn to see things from his perspective. Our attitudes, our opinions, our goals, our ideals, and our values become more like his. When we face major decisions we are able to evaluate them with the mind of Christ rather than with the mind of the flesh.166 In many instances we will automatically know what God wants us to do, and doing what he desires will become our daily life style and normal habit pattern of living.
The Word of God is the indispensable key to the whole subject of divine guidance. Think back to what we have already learned. We saw that the Word has assured us that God has a plan for every detail of our lives, and that he wants to reveal it to us step by step. We saw that we get to know him and learn to trust him through the Word. We saw that our minds are renewed and our lives transformed by the Word, so that we can be prepared to discern and do his will. And now we learn that the directions themselves are found in the Word. G. Christian Weiss summed it up beautifully: “There can never be any guidance contrary to the Word; there will seldom be guidance apart from the Word. Divine guidance must either come through, or in perfect harmony with, the written Word of God. Anything else is not divine guidance.”167
But how does God guide through the Word? When we buy a new piece of equipment we usually need instructions for using it. Maybe we should have some instruction on how to use the divine equipment of the Word to find God’s will for our lives.
There are four basic means by which God reveals his will to us through the Word. First, there are plain statements of his will—statements in which the phrase will of God or its equivalent is actually used in the passage. Second, there are positive and negative commands which tell us what God expects of us. Third, there are general principles that are relevant to our decisions. And finally, there may be strong impressions made on our minds as we read the Word.
We want to explore each of these in detail, but first we need to establish some guidelines. There is a right way and a wrong way to approach the Bible. The wrong way is to treat it as a magical fetish or superstitious charm, that is, to seek guidance from it as other people might seek it from a deck of cards or a pair of dice. Some Christians seem to think the Bible is some sort of sanctified soothsayer, a hallowed horoscope, or a holy Ouija board. When they have a question or a decision to which they have not been able to find an answer, in sheer desperation they close their eyes, empty their minds of any past knowledge of the Word, open the Bible at random, point to a text, and accept that fragment as divine guidance. Or maybe they use a casual dive into a Bible promise box to get an answer to their dilemma.
A great many Christians have been sadly disappointed at the results they have obtained by these methods. Some have gotten upset with God for letting them down, and their faith has been severely shaken. Although God did lead men by casting lots on some occasions before his Word was completed, there is no indication that we should resort to such methods of chance today.
I am not denying that God has used isolated verses to bring comfort, encouragement, or guidance; nor that he has caused certain passages to come alive with decisive direction for the moment’s need. He has done that for me, quite dramatically, in a number of critical circumstances in my life. But he did not give us his Word as an emergency consultation service. He gave it to us to reveal his mind and to remodel our lives. It takes time and study to learn and to change.
When a fellow receives a letter from his girl friend, he doesn’t haphazardly pick several words out of the middle paragraph, pin all his hopes for the future on that one phrase, and disregard the rest of the letter. He wants to know what the whole letter says, and he understands that one phrase in relationship to its wider context. How can we stake a decision on a chance verse chosen like a sweepstakes ticket, or as Alan Redpath puts it, a “lucky dip” into a promise box?168 We need to begin familiarizing ourselves with the whole of God’s revelation.
In addition to this warning about the potential misuse of the Word, there are some positive guidelines to follow when we approach the Scriptures for direction. For one thing, we need to understand the words in their normal sense. Don’t look for some deep, dark, hidden meaning. God has endeavored to reveal his truth to us plainly, not to obscure it from us. And while figurative language does occur, those figures of speech were used to teach literal truths. The words which the writers chose were generally intended to be understood in a normal sense.
Secondly, apply the accepted rules of grammar to what you read. Don’t try to make it say what you want it to or what someone else has told you it says. Simply observe what the words actually say in their grammatical relationship to each other.
Thirdly, understand what you read in the context in which it appears. If the statement can be understood in more than one way, choose the interpretation which is most consistent with the subject of the paragraph, and with the theme and purpose of the entire book in which it is found. We can probably find justification in the Bible for doing almost anything we want to do by lifting proof texts out of their context. That is not divine guidance.
In the fourth place, become familiar with the cultural and historical background of the original readers, and try to understand the passage as they would have understood it. Differing customs might have an effect on how we apply it to our situation. A good Bible dictionary, Bible encyclopedia, and books on Bible backgrounds will be helpful here.
Finally, be sure to recognize to whom the passage was written. While we gain benefit from every part of the Bible, it was not all written to be our rule of life as Christians in this age. For example, God commanded the Israelites to throw stones at a man who was found gathering sticks on Saturday.169 Obviously that is not God’s will for us today. While all Scripture is profitable, and while great principles of godly living are found throughout its pages, God’s specific directions to us are found chiefly in the New Testament epistles.
If we want to know God’s will, and if the Bible is the supreme source of guidance, then we need to get started equipping ourselves for life’s journey. As Jesus said, “Search the Scriptures.”170 Follow the example of the Bereans who “searched the Scriptures daily.”171Take advantage of every opportunity to increase your knowledge of God’s truth. When the church doors are open and the Word is being taught, be there.172 Bring a notebook along with you and write down what God is saying to you personally through the exposition of the Word, what changes he wants you to make, how he wants you to live. Get involved in a home Bible class with a knowledgeable, spiritually minded teacher. Listen to tapes of reputable Bible teachers.
Spend time in the Word privately every day. Read it slowly and thoughtfully, a paragraph at a time, pencil in hand. Look for information about the Lord himself, what he is like how he thinks and feels, his purposes and priorities, his values and standards. Write them down. Ask yourself how the passage applies to your own life. Decide how God may want you to implement it in daily living. Write it down. You will be building a wealth of divine truth into your life that will help you evaluate your decisions from God’s viewpoint.
Consider taking your vacation at a Bible conference or Christian camp where you not only find recreation but add to your understanding of the Word. Consider taking some Bible correspondence courses or some classes at a good Bible college. Whatever you plan to do with your life, it might be profitable to spend at least a year in a Bible college in order to establish a firm foundation in God’s Word. Your grasp of the Scriptures will not come overnight. It will take time and discipline. But as you approach the Word with an open heart day after day, seeking the will of God, he promises to direct your path.
Alan Redpath tells how God used the Word to lead him out of the business world and into the ministry. First he wrote on a piece of paper all of his reasons for staying in business. Then he wrote all of his reasons for entering the ministry. He took that paper with him each morning as he met with God, desiring only to do what God directed. As he studied the Word day by day, God began to give him verses that answered his arguments for staying in business. It took more than a year, but eventually God eliminated every one of those arguments and left him with only the reasons for entering the ministry. He made his decision on the basis of God’s priorities for his life as they were revealed through the Word. That is a valid use of the Word for finding the will of God.173
Isn’t it time we got serious about studying God’s Word? It’s a big book, and none of us can be expected to master all of it in one lifetime; but that is no excuse for procrastination. What we learn today may help us in the decision we face tomorrow. Let’s get started.