How can you know God’s will? How’s it possible for you to know the mind of God? If God has a plan for your life, how does He reveal it to you? How can you find that plan? Or to put it in other words, how does a sinful, finite human being come to know what a holy and infinite God desires? In this study we’re going to look at verses which assure us that God will give us the guidance we need for every aspect of our lives, and which show us how to find that guidance.
A pilot once explained to me how airplanes are kept on their course by radar. A pilot cannot always see what is coming, particularly in bad weather. At best he can see only about a hundred miles. And yet he can fly an aircraft safely in all kinds of weather when the course is marked for him by radar. If he deviates, either to the right or the left, the radar warns him. Now God guides us in the same way. The verses we are going to be looking at do not mean that we will always be able to see more than one step ahead in our Christian lives. They do not mean that we’ll always be able to see ahead at all. But they do mean that God has a plan for our lives, and that He will reveal the steps of that plan to us.
The basis for this assurance lies in the nature of God. For it is God’s nature to reveal Himself and His purposes to man. When I was in seminary years ago, I learned the famous definition of God contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” The first time a person hears that definition, I suppose he inevitably thinks that just about everything that could possibly be said about God is wrapped up in it, for the definition is so long. And yet, as I began to memorize and study it, I learned that it was far from comprehensive. For one thing, there’s no mention of God’s being love. God is certainly infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His love. Moreover, today I believe I should also like to see God’s desire to reveal Himself to man included. And so I should like to say, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, truth, love, and desire to reveal Himself to man.”
Now in one sense, all that God has ever done has been directed toward this end. When God made the world, it was to reveal Himself to those who would eventually live on it. Creation reveals God. Hence Paul said that “The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). When God caused the Scriptures of the Old and New
Testament to be written, this too was to reveal Himself to man. And then finally, just as God revealed His power in nature and His purposes in Scripture, so did He reveal His personality in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why Jesus could say, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).
In addition, God’s revelation always involves a disclosure of His will for the individual person. On this basis, Donald Grey Barnhouse used to say that it was actually impossible for a Christian who wanted to know the will of God for his life not to know it. This statement by Barnhouse brings us to the first of the biblical principles by which a Christian may unquestionably come to know God’s will. For the Bible teaches that if you really want to know God’s will, you must be willing to do it even before you know what it is. This is clearly taught in John 7:17: “If any man will do his will” (the phrase means “wants or determines to do it”), “he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” Although Jesus was literally speaking in this verse of the rejection of His doctrine by the Jewish leaders, He was actually teaching the great principle that knowing the will of God consists largely in being willing to do it. I would say that perhaps 90% of knowing the will of God consists of being willing to do it, even before you know what it is.
Now if we’re to come to the point where we’re willing in advance to do God’s will, we must recognize first that in ourselves we do not want to do it. If we say to ourselves, “Oh, but I have always wanted to do the Lord’s will,” we’re kidding ourselves and we don’t know ourselves very well. “For the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7), as the Scriptures say.
There’s a great deal of the carnal mind in all of us. You and I are somewhat like the Israelites when they first came out of Egypt. They were a huge company. The Bible says that there were
600,000 men, and in addition to that were the women and children. So the total must have been in the neighborhood of two million people. This great host was traveling through the desert, where the temperature goes above 100 degrees in the daytime, and where it often falls to below freezing at night. In these extremes of hot and cold, the people would have perished if God had not performed a great miracle to save them.
Now the miracle was the miracle of the cloud, which signified God’s presence with the people and led them in their desert wanderings. The cloud was large enough to spread out over the camp of the Israelites in order to provide shade during the daytime, and to give warmth by night when it turned into a pillar of fire. It was also the banner by which they regulated their march. When the cloud moved, they moved; and when the cloud stopped, they stopped. One of our great hymns describes it by saying,
Round each habitation hovering, see the cloud and fire appear
For a glory and a covering, showing that the Lord is near:
Thus deriving from their banner light by night and shade by day,
Safe they feed upon the manna which he gives them when they pray.
The cloud was the single most distinguishing feature of their encampment. Now we must imagine how it would have been when the cloud moved forward, and how weary the people would have become of following it. Because in this we find a parallel to our own condition. We read in the final verses of Exodus, “And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys; but if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up” (Exodus 40:36, 37). Sometimes it moved often; at other times it didn’t move at all.