Dr. James Naismith

Basic Studies In Christian Living for Young Believers #12

The will of God for my life. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else.” These words, penned in the writer’s autograph book nearly 20 years ago by a missionary to the former Belgian Congo, have left an indelible impression on his memory. To know and to do the will of God should be the ambition of every Christian. Anything less is no better than second best. “What is the end of life?” asked Henry Drummond of Stirling, Scotland, and he answered, “The end of life is not to do good, although many of us think so. It is thought so. The end of life is to do the will of God.” And this, of course, embraces all other objects in life. If our lives are in the current of His will, we can be sure they will be channels of blessing to others, and will bring glory to God. Nor need we doubt the blessing that will result in our own lives nor the rest and peace that we shall experience from the very consciousness of doing His will.

Our Great Exemplar, the Lord Jesus Christ, has left us this supreme example of being always in the will of God. In the only record we have of His early years, He is presented to us as One who “must be about (His) Father’s business” (Luke 2.49). On the evening of His death, about to complete the great purpose of the Father, He prayed, “Not My will but Thine be done” (Luke 22.42). And between these two events, His life was one of continual obedience to the Father’s will; this was His meat (John 4:34); this was His purpose (John 6:38). Let us “follow His steps.”

But how are we to know the will of God? How can we be certain of His guidance in life? How can we rest in the blessed assurance that He is leading and we are following? Oft times we are perplexed and uncertain, longing for the voice behind us that says, “This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isa. 30:21). At the many crossroads of life, how difficult it is frequently to choose the right direction — the path of His choosing!

Yet it is the Lord’s gracious desire that we should know His will, and among His most precious promises are those assuring us of His guidance. “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with Mine eye” (Ps. 32:8). “The Lord shall guide thee continually” (Isa. 58:11). Nor does He leave us in doubt as to the methods He uses in directing our paths and the conditions we must fulfil to experience His leading.

“In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Prow. 3.6). The first essential, then, is an acknowledgment of God in every department and sphere of our lives and a willingness to submit to His will in every detail. When we place His interests first, and really seek His will and not our own, His glory and not our selfish ambitions, we shall find it easy to discern His leading. But we must be ready to act on His direction and to obey His commands at all times. “If any man will—is willing to—do His will, he shall know …” (John 7:17). “The Lord shall guide thee continually,” — but we must be willing to be guided continually — not only in the major decisions of life but in the minutest details. He who seeks to do God’s will every day will readily know that will on special days.

Secondly, the Christian’s sure source of guidance is the Word of God — described by the Psalmist as “a lamp” to his feet, and “a light” to his path (119:105). The Lord never guides contrary to His Word. Any course of action which will bring us into circumstances at variance with the principles laid down in His Book is not of His leading. It is our responsibility to hearken to His voice in His Word, to obey it and to place implicit trust in Him to fulfil His promises in it. To disobey the Scriptures is to run counter to His revealed will, to refuse His clear guidance. While it is true that a verse of Scripture — sometimes out of its context — has frequently been a means of direction to His people, yet it is not usually by isolated texts, selected at random, that God leads, but by the general teaching of His Word. Oft times the passage on which we have been meditating will contain specific counsel, and, supplemented by portions that have been, from days previously, impressed upon our minds and lives, will be God’s means of guidance for the day. He who seeks God’s leading must therefore become acquainted with his Father’s Wishes, revealed in His Word, and be daily meditating upon the Scriptures.

Thirdly, the Spirit of God is our Guide (John 16:13; Rom. 8:14). As our constant Companion in life, He is not only our Comforter, but our Counsellor directing us in the Scriptures and leading our steps in obedience thereto. It must be clear, therefore, that the Spirit-filled Christian who lives his life under the continual control of the Holy Spirit will be walking daily in the path of God’s will for him. The apostle Paul experienced this (Acts 13:2, 16, 7, etc.) and so could exhort, “Be not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” How? we may ask, and he continues “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:17, 18).

A fourth principle of guidance is to follow the Son of God, who declared: “I am the Light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8.12). Travellers in a dark world need not only the lamp of God’s written Word but the light of God’s Living Word to illumine the path. As His sheep we are very apt to go astray unless we hearken to His voice as He calls us and follow Him. As we get to know His voice, we shall readily distinguish it from the voice of strangers and from all other voices that may call us — from without or within; and shall flee from them (John 10:3-5). We can be sure He will lead us in right paths—“paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.” Let us be sure that He is leading — and not a stranger. There are many circumstances and situations where we might go — but we would not be following Christ, for we would not find Him there! There is always safety in following closely — but how easy it is to follow, but afar off, like Peter — and how disastrous the consequences can be! So let us hearken to His last recorded words in John’s Gospel — to Peter —“Follow thou Me” (John 21:22).

Waiting upon God is a fifth means the believer has of ascertaining the mind of the Lord. To know his father’s desire, a child has but to ask him. Our Father is waiting for His children to ask Him, to wait upon Him in prayerful committal of their steps to Him. No matter is too trivial for Him though it may appear so to us. “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6). “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5). Implicit in the term “waiting upon God” is the thought that God does not always show us immediately the right path, and we do well to bide His time. It is folly to rush on without knowing His will — even though an urgent decision appears to us to be necessary. God will not keep us waiting too long —but we can go before Him, in our time and not His, and live to regret it. Moreover, God does not show us the whole path ahead, much as we should like to know. He guides us at each step, and in the matter of guidance, it is not necessary for us to know two steps ahead — so long as every step is in His control.

The children of God can be a further help to another child who seeks to learn his Father’s will. The experience of another can be of great value to one less mature, and we ought all to help one another. The counsel of others is, however, no substitute for the wisdom from above, which God gives liberally to those who ask Him, nor for the direct leading of the Spirit throughout the Word. The apostle Paul received advice from well-meaning believers of experience and ability (Acts 21:4-14). Their predictions were accurate. But the Apostle — rightly, we judge —did not accept their counsel, though he knew the correctness of their forecast 20:22-24), and in the end they submitted to the will of God. By all means let us seek the advice of mature believers, remembering, however, that God has different ways with each child in His family and that He gives to us individually the guidance suited to His purpose for our lives.

Finally, we may discern in the Providence of God, by which He orders and overrules the circumstances of our lives, His purpose for us at any particular time. The opening of doors before us is oft times a confirmation of the rightness of the path we are treading, and, conversely, a series of closed doors — which do not open to the knock of faith — should lead us to reconsider prayerfully the decision we have taken. Circumstances, however, are a very fallible guide, and great care is required in interpreting them. Sometimes God’s will takes us through storms and difficulties — it was certainly thus with Paul as the record of the Acts and his own account in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 plainly reveal. On the other hand, when all is plain sailing and the sea is calm, we are not necessarily in the current of God’s will. Frequently, however, the Lord graciously confirms His purposes for us by ordering our circumstances in such a way that we cannot but rejoice in the evidence of His leading. Every missionary record is filled with such incidents, and all of us can look back with gratitude to occasions in our own lives when the alignment of circumstances confirmed an inward conviction wrought by the Spirit of God in response to prayer and meditation upon God’s Word.

Gideon’s experiences with the fleece — Judges 6:36-40 — have encouraged many to ask the Lord for similar tokens of His will. As, in His grace, He responded to Gideon, so He has done in the experience of many today. In general, however, His will can be learned by the means outlined here, and there will seldom be need to seek further tokens. If we use such a method, we should do so for confirmation of guidance received through following and waiting upon the Lord and meditating upon His Word, and not merely as an easy shortcut to knowing God’s will and to save us having to wait for His time.