“He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. “(Psalm 23:3)
How can you know God’s will? Through the Bible, as the most explicit way. But suppose you need to know His will about something that isn’t revealed in Scripture—nonmoral choices that we often face in life. You may be puzzling over what career path He wants you to take. Does He want your wife to be healed or for you to care for her full-time? Does He want you to save this money for retirement or give it away? Does He want you to rebuke an erring church member or keep silent? The decisions are never-ending, and a serious disciple wants to please God in the choices made.
Name something about which you need the Lord’s guidance that does not seem to be addressed in Scripture. With most biblical truth we humans seem to find it much easier to go to an extreme than to stay at the center of biblical tension. So it is with guidance. Some people use Scripture in a sort of magical way, looking for words that seem to speak directly to their current dilemma or, on the other hand, denying that God has any particular will for nonmoral choices.
How comforting it would have been, when we were trying to decide whether to leave our educational work in the mountains of North Carolina, to find a Scripture that spoke directly to our situation: “You’ve been traveling around this hill country long enough” (Deut. 2:3). Comforting? Wrongheaded! It is wrong to use Scripture to say something the Holy Spirit never intended to communicate when He inspired the author to write it. The Bible is given to communicate a specific meaning, and our task is to determine the meaning the author had in mind, not to use words totally out of context because we see a correlation between those words and our present circumstances.
But there’s the possibility of running to the opposite extreme. A once popular book captured the imaginations of thousands of believers by insisting that, counter to historical understandings of divine guidance, God does not have an individual will or plan for each believer. Go to Scripture to find moral guidance, he argued, and beyond that, anything an obedient disciple chooses is OK. I admit that the chief focus of God’s will and God’s guidance in Scripture is moral guidance; He promises to lead us in right paths for His name’s sake (see Psalm 23:3). But God also guides us in the nonmoral choices of life—where to go, what to do, how to do it. One of God’s great gifts is guidance; He leads His sheep each step of the way.
God indeed has a plan for each life. He is even more interested than we are in our discovering and fulfilling that plan. But how does He guide us toward His purposes? I heard a speaker once say that he looks for four “running lights” to line up on the runway before he takes off. When they’re in line, he said, he moves. Then he added, “Often, however, I’m not 100 percent sure till I’m in flight!”
The running lights are: 1) the Bible: the commands or principles of Scripture that address the choice; 2) the voice of the church or those to whom I am responsible: individual counsel by wise and godly individuals as well as official corporate decisions; 3) circumstances; and 4) inner conviction through prayer. Remember, all four lights have to be in line. It’s not wise to base a decision only on inner conviction or the counsel of a friend who might have a vested interest in the outcome. What does each running light indicate about the decision you identified earlier for which you need the Lord’s guidance?