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.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

DISCERNING GOD’S WILL. Part 2, Gaius Columbus provides some answers

I am happy to report that the the comments and discussions in response to Part 1 of this topic have brought us all closer to the core of this matter. For now, what I seem to hear everyone saying is that we cannot divorce a quest for God’s guidance from a right relationship with Him.

The data we gather by any method in our effort to do God’s will almost never speak for itself. I now believe that the data, whether it is prophecy, signs, circumstance or brotherly counsel, is neutral. By that I mean the very same data can be used to support rather different courses of action. The course on which one actually embarks appears to be determined by a deeper sense of God’s will for ones life. This is the inner compass I made reference to in my earlier post. It is this identification of the framework of God’s general direction for our lives that helps us to make sense of the guidance we receive.

I believe this explains the perplexing choices made by Jesus, Paul and David. Jesus knew and stayed focused on His overall mission on earth. For this reason, He correctly interpreted the information that came His way. For example, He saw immediately that an earthly kingdom and avoidance of the cross were not directions God wanted Him to take no matter how “irrational” these choices must have seemed to His followers. His disciples, unaware of this internal framework, were bewildered that He did not take advantage of the golden opportunities afforded Him by His popularity. Some speculate that this be one of the reasons that Judas eventually abandoned and betrayed Him.

Peter too seemed genuinely perplexed that our Lord, the Son of God, would accept an ignominious death when he could clearly choose a different path. Living and guided by a different framework, these disciples found Jesus’ choices peculiarly irrational. It was only later when they came to understand the framework under which our Lord operated that His choices made sense to them.

Similarly, David must have frustrated some of his generals. He, being a righteous man, knew that the “opportunity” presented to him when Saul was found asleep in the cave was no opportunity at all. Likewise, Paul’s companions seemed equally distraught by his decision to go to Jerusalem despite what they perceived to be a prophetic warning from Agabus. For Paul, however, knowing that apostleship meant suffering with Christ allowed him to put the right “spin” on the prophecy. He saw the prophecy not as a warning to avoid Jerusalem but merely as a confirmation of his mission. In all of these cases, the relationship each man had with God helped define the course of action he was to take and provided meaning and direction to signals that everyone else interpreted to suggest a different conclusion.

So how do we define this framework or inner compass for our lives without which we become ships tossed to and fro by unintelligible information? Unfortunately, this inner compass is hard to define exactly. It is probably an attitude of the heart that seeks God’s kingdom first, as you guys have all suggested. A man who has the right attitude to life—one that places God’s pleasure foremost in his life day and night—probably does not ask God what brand of socks he should wear, or what cereal box to pick for breakfast, however, this man’s general orientation, because it is pleasing to God means that God directs His steps. This man’s desire is to honor God so the Lord leads Him or partners with Him in all of His decisions—both the mundane and profound. In contrast, the man who is not seeking God’s will and pleasure in His life can probably not hear God’s voice even if it were to be given.

Remember the story of the war between Absalom and David. David had a really wise counselor, Ahithophel, who defected to Absalom during the civil war. Unfortunately, Absalom whose heart was in the wrong place (and encouraged by another advisor actually planted by David) spurned this wise man’s advice to his own detriment and to the demise of the counselor himself. Ahithophel was so annoyed at being overruled that he committed suicide.

We spend a lot of time seeking foolproof methods for determining God’s will. Instead, we should really be seeking to right our relationship with Him. If this inner compass is broken, if our lives’ priorities are misplaced, if God’s pleasure is not foremost on our minds, perhaps we waste our time when we attempt to use these tools to discern God’s will. We will remain uncertain even if given a sign and perhaps for that reason none will be given us. Tools such as the counsel of the godly, prophecy, signs, circumstance all become useless because none of these decision-making instruments by themselves—being essentially neutral and subject to differing interpretations—can determine what course we should take in any particular situation.

In contrast a right relationship with God will point the way consciously or unconsciously. If our hearts are right—if we seek His pleasure in our daily lives—He may use one, none, all of these tools or some other unnamed tool to guide us to the right decisions. He will enable us to place the right interpretation on the information garnered from these tools, even when our interpretation seems perplexing to those around us. For me, therefore, the question ceases to be what the best tools are for unequivocally determining God’s will in a particular situation. Instead, the key question has become “Is He truly Lord of my life? Are His purposes paramount in my life? Am I seeking to please Him in my daily walk?

True, I understand that out of His boundless mercy and grace I can and often am an unwitting recipient of His wisdom and direction. However, I have the opportunity, if I have the right guiding framework in life, to be a partner with Him in the tough decisions of my life and to rightly discern His will no matter how He makes it manifest. Unfortunately, like some of you have said also, I can hardly say that I am presently living daily for His pleasure or factoring His plans for the kingdom into my plans for present or future employment. This deficiency expressed by all of us is serious enough that I think we need to pray for each other. God bless - Gaius Columbus


Anonymous Gaius Chicago said...

Great exposition and summary, G Columbus. You may have missed your true calling in life ;).

I am however still conflicted on some aspects of the extent of God's micromanagement of our lives. We all agree on the broad categories of God's will for our lives, but depending on our comfort zone we may or may not be paralyzed from taking action until we "hear directly" from God.

How do we reconcile Jesus’ statement about His Father having knowledge of something as insignificant as the number of hairs on our head and an assertion of the lack of his micromanagement of our daily lives? David said in the Psalms that “the steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord” and yet at another time he said if “we trust in the Lord, He will fulfill the desires of our heart”.
Our Lord Jesus went as far as to giving us a near blank check when he proclaimed that if He and His word abide in us we can ask whatsoever we desire and it shall be ours.

My point is this- when are very, very close to God, His will becomes no different from ours and hence we may not have to keep going back for a special "asking" session. We can become almost like a robot programmed to take a specific course and line of action. God's will and ours become indistinguishable and inseparable. I think Moses never went to "seek God's will" because the presence of the Lord was always with him: on the contrary, Saul needed to seek the will of the Lord because he was so far removed from Him.

I think God micromanages every detail of our lives but not the way we perceive it. He is not always going to do it in a “thus sayeth the Lord" way but rather largely through the renewal of our mind, skills, experience, godly counsel, opportunity, talent and intuition from the Holy spirit. Looking at the example of the parable of the talents we may conclude that God gave them the free will to decide on what to do with the talent but still influenced their thought processes. He works in us both to will and desire His good pleasure.

I guess the real challenge is staying so close to Him that His word, which per Hebrew 4:12-13 is a force for change, does not become neutralized by the barriers we raise. - Gaius Chicago.

February 21, 2007 at 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Gaius Columbus Dissentus said...

Thanks for your input, G Chicago. I especially liked the verses you referred to -the renewing of our minds...; His working in us both to will and to do....; the ordering of our steps, if righteous...Puts our discussion on even firmer ground.

Incidentally, brothers, I think I now see Proverbs 3 v 5 and 6 (the verse that motivated this entire discussion) in a slightly more mature light. It says....”Trust in the Lord with all your might and do not lean on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths”. Previously, I saw verse 6, in particular, as meaning, “when you have an important decision to make, seek God’s face and He will direct you into making the right decision.” Based on our discussion, however, I now see this interpretation provides only a partial understanding of this well-known verse.

It now appears to me that a fuller understanding, paraphrased, is, “make God, the Lord and center of your life, an integral part of all your thoughts, desires, and plans, and in everything you do—both the trivial and the important—He will direct your thoughts and desires continually into the right paths.” The confidence to recognize God’s direction will come more naturally as a consequence of living out His will. Still, so that we properly balance this ideal—one from which we all fall repeatedly—with the amazing truth of God’s immeasurable grace and mercy, I feel it necessary to say also that God has undoubtedly granted all of us at various times in our Christian lives, grace and wisdom for making decisions that we did not deserve. He has given us grace at times when we were not “fully immersed in Kingdom activity”.

Perhaps you too have experienced, as I have, that when I have restricted His involvement in my life like this, I have tended to experience a more restricted and anemic sense of overall purpose in my life. In contrast, a fuller joy and purpose has tended to accompany my life when it is more deeply integrated with His purposes.

February 21, 2007 at 4:45 PM  
Anonymous Calorius said...

I think you are on the right on the mark, G Columbus. There is a verse somehere in the Book of John- I think it's John 17:7 or some other permutation of those numbers.
Jesus' listeners asked Him the same question: "how can we know that what you are saying is true?" He replied: "If any man's will is to do the will of my Father, he will know whether what I am saying is true or not"

It seems backwards to us, because we want to first hear the instruction then decide the obedience. Here He is saying first commit to obedience, then you'll get the instructions. It's like those spy movies where someone first gets into the enemy territory, then gets the instruction.

But many other things are like that in Christianity, and it is called faith. We accept Christ before we understand the full benefit. We are faithful in little before the big comes. We give before we can expect. We lay down before we can pick up our lives. Etc.

That is why the personal component is so important, because these things depend on our heart. In OT days you went to a seer or prophet, who found out something for you. Now, God has His law in each of us, and we discern His will individually. Even when we ask the advice of others, it is just that- advice. The method of "God has laid it on my heart that Kwabena should marry Esi" is very dangerous. And when someone tells me God has told him what I should do with the money n my pocket I am very leery. - Calorius

February 21, 2007 at 5:15 PM  

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