Gold Coast Bereans

Out of Ghana, West Africa; Christian hearts and critical minds seeking, speaking and writing the truth with love. This is a conversation of a group of friends, now living in the USA and the UK, who have known each other for more than 20 years.

Monday, February 19, 2007

DISCERNING GOD'S WILL, G Columbus asks some questions

We interviewed for a new job in Madison, Wisconsin this last week but increasingly, we seem to be moving in the direction of staying put in Columbus, OH. The entire exercise made me think again about the recurring issue of how to seek and know God’s will for our lives. I have a few thoughts on this matter but would like to first hear some input. Specifically, the question that I pose for discussion is based on Proverbs 3, versus 5 and 6,

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

There are problems with the traditional methods that we depend on for guidance. I will mention a few

1. Wisdom through the counsel of many. This is helpful, but not infallible. Why? Because the counsel we receive is very much determined by the way we present a problem—how much weight we assign to particular pros and cons. Also the counsel of humans may not reflect God’s will. I am sure the disciples if asked about the cross, would have counseled Jesus to avoid it, like Peter did.

2. Guidance through prophecy/signs. This is again, useful but not infallible. Even when established to be from God, the interpretation of the prophecy and thespecific action called for by such guidance may not be straightforward. Remember the prophet Agabus who warned about what was about to happen to the Apostle Paul if he went on to Jerusalem. How many of us given that prophecy would have gone to Jerusalem anyway? It appears, therefore, that Paul had an inner compass or calling that led him to interpret the prophecy in a manner different from the way most else would have so that he went to Jerusalem despite the prophetic warning.

3. Discernment through expediency of circumstance. This is the argument that things have fallen so nicely in place that our only conclusion has to be that our decision/situation must be God’s will. David did not follow this prescription. When Saul essentially fell into his hands, he did not take advantage of his situation or justify murder by recalling Saul’s wickedness or the promise given to David that he himself would be king. Some must have argued that in doing so, he let the “golden opportunity” slip away. Again, it appears that an inner compass guided him away from this course of action. There are other things I want to say but I will first wait to hear from you guys. God bless. - Gauis Columbus


Anonymous Calorius said...

Once again, I am in almost complete agreement. We can find positive examples of all these three examples in the Bible. "…In the multitude of counsellors there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14) is your first point. Examples of your second point are Gideon's use of the fleece and the Apostles casting lots to replace Judas. Finally Joseph's entire life story reflects your third. But in the same Bible, as well as in our own experience, there are found numerous examples of how these methods can fail.

There are a number of things that I think we should keep in mind:

1. These "methods" are not "all or none". So for example even though one might not listen to a multitude of counselors, it doesn't mean to listen to no-one. And, although we do not depend on circumstances to guide us, yet we shouldn't be altogether stubborn and foolhardy when certain circumstances point in a certain way. A Christian could take a certain examination over and over again, failing each time, but not listen to counselors or to the circumstances that are pointing them towards a different career path. We may not use Urim and Thummin but we should not neglect any insights that God may give us supernaturally.

2. These methods are not mutually exclusive. Seldom do we meet the clear-cut question of "Shall we go up to war against Edom...?" More often it's a complex, continuous decision process with many different aspects, options and alternatives. Therefore, we should use all the resources we have. Advice from friends, mixed with a bit of reading the circumstances, mixed with a bit of supernatural revelation, mixed with some of the others that I believe you are going to discuss further.

3. For each of these methods, there are good ways to use them, and bad ways to use them. I think the only "methods" that are ALWAYS wrong are divination and its equivalents, like horoscopes and magic and the like, as well as complete reliance on our own or other human direction. But I think these things are bad because of the SOURCE of their direction (Satan or humanity), rather than just the methods used to ascertain them.

Psalm 1 talks about how “blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly….” So one of the principles here is, whose counsel? How we select our counselors is a major issue. Another principle is whether we actually LISTEN to the counsellors. How many of us know someone who frequently asks for advice but doesn't hear it?

One thing I admired is your use of the term “We” in regard to your interview. You have completely involved the entire family in these discussions, which is the right thing to do. Remember how it was Naaman's servant girl who pointed him to Elijah.

I suspect that our opinions will be divided on the question of how specific God's direction is. Does God have a specific job for me to do, or does He only care that I live a Spirit-filled life in any job that I have? What about where I live? How many children I have? Long ago, we used to ask the question of whether God had a specific partner for everyone, or did He just care that the person should fit certain specs. In my own opinion, I am thinking more and more that God does not direct certain details. This is a very controversial area, and I think everyone will need to make up his own mind. I have explanations for my viewpoint, but I will save them for later in order not to distract from where G Columbus is leading this discussion. We can return to this thread later.

February 19, 2007 at 11:05 AM  
Anonymous Alien Warrior said...

As always I am thrilled to see how we all agree on these spiritual matters. I can't take away or add to what has just been said so far. In Henry Blackaby's book,"Experiencing God", he gives 4 ways that God talks to us. By His Holy Spirit through His Word in the Bible and prayer, the Church (I assume the Church refers to Godly believers), and circumstances, not necessarily in that order. I agree with all that he says but in practice it is not so clear cut and dry. As Calorius pointed out the process can be complex- like choosing a wife, or which of several different jobs offers, all equally good

What I glean from Mr. Blackaby is that one condition for hearing God speak should be that your relationship with Him must be healthy. I find that we can all make decisions without any input from the Father. For the Christian who is seeking to please Him the decision becomes more difficult because you are having to separate your own wishes which may not always be in line with God's from what God wants you to do. If your life has been marked by a constant searching for Gods will and obeying it is easy to know God’s will because you are already in it.

I think the problem with me and I suspect a lot of others is we have always taken steps with a view to pleasing God but in reality we are actually serving our own purposes and we secretly hope it is God's will and that God will bless it.

On the other hand I think some things don't need praying about. They are obvious and God makes that very clear. Others are less clear cut like the decision to cosign a loan for someone. On a rare while I will cosign for say a young intern out of Ghana who is buying a Toyota Tercel or some other car that is less than the size of a wheel barrow. In those instances I am actually taking a risk I can afford to absorb, otherwise forget it. I am not really using any discernment.

One thing I learnt remember about from our mentor Uncle James was that he never seemed to be at a loss as to God's will for his life. I remember him telling us when we were deciding whether to leave Ghana or not that he made the decision right out of college that God wanted him to be in Ghana and that was that. I think this is because he was singularly set on pleasing God at all costs and I question my commitment in that department. When you go to the Bible, Jesus and the Apostles- especially Paul- had that same mind set so Gods will was not a mystery to them at all. It puts John 5:19,20 in perspective.

We have to be in a relationship with God where our whole life is marked by the central theme of seeking to please Him. Is my life marked by a constant search for opportunities to present the gospel? When I should speak out to honor God do I keep silent? Paul would go and sit in a place similar to the Makola market just to look for an opportunity to witness. If after all God has done for us and taught us, His good pleasure is not our driving force in life maybe it is not strange that we find it difficult to know His will.

Lastly I personally believe that Rom 8:28 means that even if my choice was not the right one God Has the ability to make it right as long as my driving force was based on a true love for Him and I did not violate any of the other principles we have outlined.

Disclaimer: All I have said applies to me and anyone else who feels so inclined. It is not an attack on anyone else. - Alien Warrior

February 19, 2007 at 11:39 AM  
Blogger Robbo said...

I have been thinking about this issue recently. I carpool with a guy (who is Hindu) on four days each week in order to (in descending order of priority) save the environment, reduce traffic and pollution, prevent global warming, decrease my spending on gas and reduce the wear and tear on my car. By the way, why are some Christians so skeptical about climate change and global warming? Is it something in the Bible or is it politics and the fact that Al Gore has attached his name to it?

But returning to the issue at hand, I often have conversations with my friend about life. I got him to read Ecclesiastics in an effort to point out to him how the Bible shows life as meaningless if you take God out of the equation. In one of our discussions I said something and he asked me if I believed that God micromanages our lives?

I think this relates to our discussion here and the answer to that is Yes and No and goes back to God's sovereignty, man's will, predestination etc., for which there is no simple answer. I do agree with what all of you guys have said so far. I believe God does not micromanage our every move. He provides general principles for living and making decisions but is also very interested and takes note of how we apply the detail of those principles. In the parable of the talents, the Master gave out money to invest without any specifics and left. When He came back, He analyzed the detail of the investments and rewarded accordingly.

There are some specifics given by God in the Bible which we must follow and exhibit as Christians; the Ten Commandments (Exodus), the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew), the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians) and the characteristics of Love (1st Corinthians) readily come to mind. The key is obedience is small things and in all things. The passage about trusting Him with all your heart and in ALL your ways acknowledging Him should be taken literally and seriously.

I have to admit that in my own life I have not followed the above principle anywhere near as diligently as I should have. Several times, circumstances occur before I turn to prayer and several decisions have been taken apparently on the basis of circumstances. The most glaring example being I can think about is when I reached a career roadblock in the UK and then decided to pick an alternative which brought me to the USA. But that is where I believe that His grace comes in and is all sufficient. What looked to be a roadblock due to "system" turned me to a specialty I enjoy and which has given me a far better career opportunity. In the manner of Brutus defending his callous slaying of Julius Caesar "not that I loved Caesar less, but I love Rome more", I am now able to say "not that I loved Surgery less, but I love Radiology more".

In summary, we should be mindful that God is a good Father, infinitely better than our earthly fathers. He provides principles for obedience, He guides us by his Spirit, and above all He protects us in our micro and major decisions. Being human, we often make mistakes and we often are disobedient, even then there is the assurance of forgiveness and the Son's intercession on our behalf and a seemingly bad outcome of any decision should not make us loose sight of the bigger picture of eternity. - Robbo

February 19, 2007 at 12:15 PM  
Blogger Dan Edelen said...

I've certainly not be the prime example of how to discern God's will when it comes to direction in one's personal life. I've tried every means known and yet it always seems I get swept along no matter what I do.

Sometimes, things just are the way they are.

February 20, 2007 at 9:50 PM  

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