Lamps don’t ordinarily light up whole city blocks; they’re more like a flashlight that helps you see your next step or two. God’s guidance doesn’t usually shine very far ahead, just far enough to keep us out of trouble and dependent on him for help!
Most people bemoan not knowing God’s voice very well, but don’t take the time to know what he’s already said in his Word – the Bible. His Word is like a ruler by which we test our experiences. We’re not wise to measure our lives only by subjective experience when we have a more objective statement of what’s true in our Bible. A lot of God’s followers live by feelings and experience faith, when it would be wiser to live by faith and experience feelings. God will give us whatever subjective experiences he deems best, and we’re advised to interpret them through the filter his objective Word.
I was 25-years old and beginning to sense that the Lord was calling me to plant a church in Santa Cruz, California. He gave me a number of subjective indications to this effect along with several Scriptural ones. One of the most memorable passages is the parable in which Jesus said that the servants were to go to the “highways and byways” to invite the public to the King’s banquet. By this, God was showing me that this was supposed to be a church built, not by transfer from other churches, but by going to the streets and “compelling them to come in.”
Principles more than particulars…
From the Bible we’re more apt to learn principles of God’s working than to glean particular directions to follow. Of course, there are many specific commands contained in the Bible, which God expects us to obey. The Ten Commandments for example are clear and specific precepts to follow. Don’t make idols, lie, or kill people – pretty clear. But in general, the Bible is more of a compass than a map. It points us in a direction, warns us of hazards to avoid, but doesn’t always fill in all the details on how to make the trip.
I might coin the phrases: “The All-Purpose Will of God” versus his “Particular-Purpose Will.” By “All-Purpose,” I refer to things that are always his will for everyone at all times (i.e. love God, love others, don’t steal or lie, serve the poor…). You get the picture. His more “Particular-Purpose” would be more about how those things get worked out in our individual lives (such as, “I think he wants me to show love for that precise person in this particular way…” or “I feel led to be a part of that local ministry that gives food to the poor.”)
We find his All-Purpose Will in what I call the “Bible’s Big Verses.” (I’m not implying that the Bible has any “little verses” or unimportant ones. I’m just saying that there are some passages (the “big” ones), which summarize God’s will for all of his friends for all time; and then there are others (the “small” ones, more accurately, “specific” ones), which lead us in a more precise and specific way to do his will. Here’s a brief sample of what I might call “Big Verses” which guide us in a “Big Picture” way.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
(Since Jesus said these two commands sum up God’s requirements, this is kind of the biggest of all the big verses. “Love God and love people – any questions?!”)
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
(This is what people do who love God and people. They make disciples. Above is the Great Commandment and this is the Great Commission.)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2
(I include this one because of how it transitions from God’s general will to his more particular will. Do you see it? Give yourself totally to God; don’t let your culture define you – big picture principle. And when you do that, you’ll be able to know God’s will – small picture particulars.)
God will give us whatever subjective experiences
he deems best, and we’re advised to interpret
them through the filter his objective Word.
He doesn’t break his own rules (usually)…
Remember what I said above about Garmin not contradicting the rules of the road and sending you up the wrong way on a one-way street? Well, in a similar way, God doesn’t tell us to do things that are in direct conflict with what he’s already told us in his Word. That’s why I say that the Bible is your “first stop,” and maybe your last one too. It may not tell you exactly what to do in every circumstance, but it will most definitely give you the universal parameters within which to search for his specific will.
Out of all the principles that I talk about in this paper, this first one is the most important. That’s because your vision or dream or advice or circumstance might seem to point you a certain way, yet if the Bible prohibits it, you’d be well advised to decline. One man prayed for $100.00. Soon after that he found a wallet with that exact amount! Should he assume God provided? The circumstances say, “Yes,” but the Word says “No.”
The Bible is your “level” – you know the tool that determines whether or not your picture is straight or your table is level. Make sure that what you feel is God’s will for you lines up with God’s Word.
Don’t use the “Lucky Dip Method” (at least not very often)…
When I recommend going to the Bible for direction I’m not suggesting that you flip through its pages, and with eyes shut, place your finger on a verse at random. Though God in His mercy has used this method mostly with new disciples from time to time, this “Crystal Ball Approach,” or “Lucky Dip Method” is treating the Bible more like a horoscope or a deck of tarot cards than the love letter it was meant to be. You can get some pretty funny guidance from the Bible this way. One man, for instance, was convinced he should marry this girl named “Grace,” because he “landed” on the verse: “My grace is sufficient for you”! Another guy happened upon the passage that speaks of someone “purchasing to himself a good degree,” and decided that God was leading him to attend an expensive university!
It’s really better to read the Bible more systematically and thoroughly. When you have a good grasp of its contents, he has something to work with in order to lead you long range and short as he chooses. “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”