When God's Will Isn't Clear
The Difficulty is Part of God's Design
Have you ever stopped to think that most of the decisions you make aren’t explicitly addressed in the Bible? The Bible doesn’t clearly answer questions like, Should I eat out? What should I wear? Should I stop giving money to my unwise family member? Should I grocery shop today or tomorrow? How should I respond to this instance of my child’s defiance? Should I read a book or do the dishes? Should I check my email again? Which project should I not work on?
Some of these decisions that aren’t answered in the Bible are actually huge, life-directional ones. Should I marry this person? Should we adopt a child? Should I pursue a different vocation? Should we homeschool? Should I pursue chemo or try an alternative cancer treatment? Should we buy this home or a less expensive one? Which college should I attend? Is it time to put my elderly parent in a nursing home? Should I go to the mission field? Should I separate from my spouse while we work on these very painful issues? Should I give more or save more?
As we weigh these ambiguous decisions the Apostle Paul instructs us,
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
Well, that’s helpful. But how do you do that, Paul? How do you understand what the will of the Lord is when it is not explicit—especially when many of these decisions must be made quickly?
Paul answers this way:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
There’s the key: the renewal of our minds. The will of God in ambiguous decisions can only be discerned by a renewed mind.
But it can still be difficult. A renewed mind doesn’t always instantly know what God’s will is. God sometimes allows us to wrestle and wait for clarity.
Why? Because the motives and affections of our hearts are revealed in decisions that require discernment, whether simple and spontaneous or difficult and deliberate.
If God made more things explicit, we would tend to give more attention to what we do than what we love. Like the Pharisees, we likely would focus on whitewashing our tombs with good works to impress others rather than deal with the dead bones of our sinful pride.
But in decisions that require discernment, the wheat is distinguished from the tares. All of us make decisions based on what we really love. If deep down we love the world, this will become apparent in the pattern of decisions that we make—we will look mainly like the world. But if we really love Jesus we will increasingly love what he loves. This is the transformation of a renewed mind. And our love for him and his kingdom will be revealed in the pattern of small and large decisions that we make. I say “pattern of decisions” because all of us sin and make mistakes. But conformity to the world or to Jesus is most clearly seen in the pattern of decisions we make over time.
That’s why God can take his sweet time as he helps us discern his will. His goal is for us to mature and have our “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). So he regularly uses circuitous routes to get us from point A to point B. Because what matters most to God is not how fast something gets done but whether or not we are learning to love and trust him supremely.
What got me to think about these things is a sermon John Piper preached from Romans 12:2 titled, “What Is the Will of God and How Do We Know It?” I recommend it highly to anyone seeking the will of God. One very helpful thing that John does is explain the difference between God’s will of command (his explicit will) and his will of decree (all the things that he ordains to happen—including evil). Understanding how these two wills work together is very important for the Christian. He also gives some excellent instruction on how to pursue the renewal of your mind. It doesn’t just happen magically. There are means of grace God wants us to use.
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The wonderful thing to remember in all of our decision—making is that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He laid down his life for us sheep so that all of our sins (including every sinful or defective decision) are covered. He will never leave or forsake us. In fact, he is leading us even through the sometimes confusing terrain. He has a staff long enough to pull us out of every hole and a rod to guide us back when we stray. Every difficulty in discerning what he wants us to do is designed to increase our trust in him and ultimately our love for him.
Pursuing a renewed mind with you,
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org