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God’s will: Three levels

  1. Sovereign will (will of decree). Requires trust. Matt 10:30, Acts 4:28.
  2. Moral will (will of desire). Requires obedience. Matt 7:21, 1 John 2:17.
  3. Specific will (will of direction). His will for our lives, affecting our decision-making. James 1:5.
  4. Some speak of God's permissive will -- what he permits, but doesn't necessarily approve.

Where we err

  1. Trying to figure it all out ahead of time. Preoccupied with future: Matt 6:25-34, James 4:13-17.
  2. Too many options (marriage, work, groceries…), compared with the "old days."
  3. We don’t want to take responsibility. Easier to blame counselor or the Spirit…
  4. Pagan thinking:
    1. Aiming to manipulate the deity to grant blessings (prosperity, health, harm to enemies, etc).
      1. Controlling the god instead of allowing God to control us.
      2. This is completely backwards!
    2. Ethics divorced from religion; morality was optional as long as one went through the motions of the various rituals.
    3. Aiming to learn the future or will of the god(s) by mechanical means.
      1. Methods include examining arrows (rhabdomancy) – Ezekiel 21:21; astrology – Isaiah 47:13; flights of birds (a common type of augury); examining livers (hepatoscopy); sortilege (casting lots); patterns in water/oil; fortune cookies; Tarot cards; palmistry; Feng shui; dream analysis (oneiromancy); tea leaves (tasseomancy); crystal balls...
      2. This is nothing but superstition!
  5. Random reading
    1. This is just lazy thinking!
    2. Bibliomancy -- asking questions and rifling through the Bible, assuming the first passage one's eyes settle on contains the answer.
  6. Defective views of God.
    1. Thinking that since God has planned it, I’m meant to discover it. (How do we know?)
    2. Thinking God conceals his plans from us to make it difficult for us to find our way.
    3. Thinking that God's word is not meant to be studied diligently, rather only to be used as a sanctified Ouija board (bibliomancy).

Old Testament

  1. Forbids divination (Deuteronomy 18:10-12) and consulting false gods.
  2. Allows revelation through
    1. Prophets, psalmists, historians...
    2. Angels -- as long as they do not contradict the word of the Lord (1 Kings 13:18; see Galatians 1:8-9).
    3. Directly-- the voice of the Lord (Exodus 20)
    4. Visions / dreams (Numbers 12)
    5. Urim & Thummim and lots (seeking a yes/no answer). Legitimate means of divining God's will, permitted to the priests.
    6. Burning bushes, talking donkeys, dreams, signs…
  3. What still applies today
    1. Common sense (Ezra 7:18, 1 Chron 13:2, Acts 20:16)
    2. Seek wisdom (Proverbs 1:1-7 etc).
    3. Scripture (Romans 15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:11, 2 Timothy 3:16).
  4. Caution!
    1. Fleecing (Judges 6:36-40) comes from weak faith. See also Isaiah 7:10-12 (Ahaz is unwilling to ask for a sign, putting the Lord to the test).
    2. Counterfeiting messages from God – Jeremiah 23.
    3. Reading too much into circumstances – 1 Samuel 24, 26; Numbers 20; Judges 14:4 ("from the Lord").
    4. "Open door"? -- just because a course of action is possible doesn't mean it's right.
    5. Perspective: (Divine) Pillar / (human) counsel – Numbers 10.

New Testament

  1. Communicated with his people in ways similar to OT times: prophets (Acts 13), angels (Acts 8), Macedonian call (Acts 16)…
    1. Neither the norm nor sought by the Christians we read about in Acts.
    2. We are no longer in the apostolic, foundational age (Ephesians 2:20, Jude 3).
  2. What still applies
    1. O.T. Scripture (the Bible of the early church – 2 Tim 3:16)
    2. Apostolic teaching (Acts 2:42)
    3. Key scripture: Hebrews 1:1ff – God speaks by his Son through the Spirit working in the Scriptures (3:7,15, 4:7,12 – Psalm 95).

Pseudo-Christian means of finding God’s will

  1. Proverbs 3:5-6? Too easy to follow path of least resistance. Psalm 143:10: moral paths.
  2. The “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19).
  3. Assuming every mystical sensation is from the Spirit (feelings, promptings, nudges, leadings, etc).
    1. Leading of the Spirit in scripture is primarily moral (Galatians 5, Romans 8)
    2. Excessive control in parenting stunts growth and stultifies spirituality.
    3. “Peace of Christ” (Colossians 3:15)?
    4. Asking for “wisdom” (James 1:5)?
    5. Lots (Acts 1) – fails to distinguish the covenants.
    6. Dreams – too subjective.
    7. New Age teaching (feelings, auras, channeling, etc). See article on The Secret at


  1. Romans 12:1-2 – Discernment comes as we conform our hearts to the will of God. Let God shape our characters, hearts, desires.
  2. God speaks to us primarily in his word, but also through events, people, conscience, nature, experience -- and there's no reason he couldn't reveal his will to us by extraordinary means (he is God -- Psalm 115:3!). But we must be careful when we are trying to discern the true voice of God, for we are surrounded by many voices (the world, worldly people, Satan, our own voice, false religious ideas, etc).
  3. Trust his sovereign will, obey his moral will, focus least on his specific will. Choose spiritually, take responsibility for decisions.
  4. If we must have a formula for Christian decision-making, here it is:
    1. Search the Scriptures.
    2. Seek godly counsel. Not all persons are equally able to give good advice.
    3. Pray. Do your best to make sure you are willing to follow the narrow road, not confusing your will with God’s will. (Think of Jesus in Gethsemane.)
    4. Decide. There may well be more than one valid choice. Even if our choices are suboptimal, God can still work through that!
    5. Stand by your decision – you are the responsible one. Trust that God will act.

Further study:

  • Garry Friesen, Decision Making and the Will of God. This is the excellent volume after which this podcast is named. I read it first in 1986, and highly recommend it.
  • Bruce K. Waltke, Finding the Will of God, a Pagan Notion? A work by a respected biblical scholar.
  • Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something, A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will, or How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, Etc. Fun and light reading.
  • Douglas Jacoby, The Spirit. This book explores the pitfalls of the charismatic mind-set, and highlights how the Spirit moves in our lives and brings us into line with the will of God.
  • Douglas Jacoby, Anchored for Life. This series gives perspective on how Christians can navigate the black & white, and gray, of scripture.
  • Consider also the new book Good News for Anxious Christians, by Phillip Cary, reviewed at the Barnabas Ministry.