Does God have a direction for our lives that we need to discern through prayer and fasting and “hearing from God” in our hearts?
What Is God's Will?
I read this article yesterday, and wanted to share it here because Aaron Denlinger makes a similar to point to Andy’s original post, but at more length. Here are some trenchant observations from the post (bolded font is mine):
“Much that passes for Christian decision making in modern Evangelicalism strikes me as a mixture of lazy moral reasoning and illegitimate efforts to discern those ‘secret things’ (Deut. 29:29) that God has never promised to reveal to us.”
“When Christians speak of determining ‘God’s will’ for their lives, they rarely, so far as I can tell, mean by that efforts to determine God’s preceptive will (which, quite frankly, they would do better to concern themselves with). They typically, rather, refer to efforts to determine God’s decretive will, specifically as such infringes on their own personal lives.”
“The balance of Scripture, it seems to me, doesn’t encourage us in efforts to discern God’s decretive will for our lives by providential events (i.e., open or closed doors). Sometimes a closed door simply needs to be pushed on harder. Sometimes an open door needs to be passed by.”
“Augustine put is so much more succinctly and eloquently sixteen centuries ago: ‘Love God, and do what you want.’”
God’s Special Callings
You might be surprised to find that nowhere do the scriptures instruct us to set aside time to seek a special calling from God. Nor will you find examples of biblical characters so doing.
This realization is new to me. For it has been my practice to periodically set aside a half day for prayer and fasting as I come to a new season. I ask God to show me what to do or where to go, and then open up the Bible and wait for a “sense” of his direction. But not anymore. For, simply put, the idea is not biblical.
But isn’t this what we find Jesus doing in Mark 1:35-38? Isn’t this what the church is doing in Acts 13:2-3? So I thought, but then I read a little closer. Yes, Jesus woke up early to pray. And yes, he knew it was time to continue on to the next town when his disciples found him. But what makes us assume that Jesus woke up early in order to seek such direction? Eisegesis might lead me to this conclusion, but exegesis will not. As for Acts, the Spirit speaks to the church “while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting.” It was not while they were seeking direction, but while they were worshipping—that is, seeking God’s face. And those are not the same thing.
As the book of Acts then follows Paul and Barnabas after they are sent out, we would do well to take note of their custom in decision-making. They pass from city to city without mention of special direction from God and then return to Antioch. After returning, Paul simply proposes to Barnabas to go back and visit the churches they planted, again without special direction from God to do so. As he goes (without Barnabas), we then do read of the Spirit directing. First He “forbids” Paul from speaking the word in Asia. Then the Spirit does not allow them to go to Bithynia. Finally, Paul has a vision at night which he interprets to be God’s call to preach in Macedonia. (Acts 13:13, 14:24, 15:36, 16:6-10) Now observe the following: (1) Paul was free to make big decisions without special guidance from God. (2) The Spirit does not speak to Paul in response to him asking for a special calling, and in fact he never asks. (3) The Spirit never guides Paul in the same fashion.
But wait, are we not to go to God for wisdom?! Yes, but this is totally different. A special calling says, “Go there” or “Do that.” Wisdom says, “Here is how to think and live.” See for yourself in James. In 1:4 we discover that God calls us to steadfastness that we might be “lacking in nothing.” Immediately following in 1:5 we read that God will give us wisdom if we lack it. What’s the point? God does not mean for us to ask, “Should I go left or right?” when we meet life’s crossroads. For that would not remove any lack in my character as it is relevant only for the moment. Rather God invites us to ask, “Please teach me how to live,” in order to fill us with wisdom. (See also James 3:13-18 for James’ definition of wisdom.)
Please do not misunderstand. We must “acknowledge [God] in all [our] ways.” We must “present [our] bodies as living sacrifices.” We live understanding that we belong to God, but that does not mean that God directs us with “left” and “right” commands. Rather, we “discern by testing what is the will of God” as he “make[s] straight [our] paths.” (Prov 3:5-6, Rom 12:1-2. Note also that in Isaiah 30:21, God is confirming the way of holiness, not giving person-specific guidance.)
Perhaps a final passage to note on this subject is James 4:13-17. There James rebukes the person who arrogantly makes plans without thought to the Lord, or his own frailty. Notice James’ instruction to this person. He does not say, “Instead you ought to set aside time to pray and fast for direction.” Why? Because that was not the planner’s problem. The problem was that his heart did not realize that his plans will only be established “if the Lord wills.” And then comes perhaps the most insightful verse for our subject. “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” Do you know the holiness which God calls us all to pursue? To not run after it is sin. Do you know of the Great Commission? To not participate in it is sin. Do you have a special, personal calling from God? To ignore it is also sin. (Like Jonah, for example.)
For God does indeed give special callings! The point of this article is not to deny that. The point being made is that you need not seek one. For God knows where to find you and he knows how to talk! How absurd it would be to think that God has a special calling for your life, or special direction for you in this season, which he is eager to tell you, but cannot because you have not set aside a day to fast and pray in order to ask him!
You are free! Go to the ends of the earth, pour yourself out for a gospel ambition, give your life away to serve. Through it all God will teach you how to make decisions (wisdom) and he will guide you through his providence. “If the Lord wills,” he will establish your plan. If not, he will close the door. And he may at times speak a special calling into your life. But do not stay up late coveting a special calling that you feel you must have. Rather wake up early to seek God’s face, and stay up late to do his work.
(This was originally posted on the Biblearc blog by Andy Hubert on December 29, 2014).
@Brent-Karding Prayer with the addition of fasting was also a requirement at the casting of devils to the Apostles, and setting time aside to find the will of G-d Yaveh for the church that was just forming from nothing in Antioch and Jerusalem at the time, We need to listen to our hearts yes ,above our fleshly minds
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@AlephTav Replying to your first comment, it is indeed God’s will that we obey his commands and live in love! The two greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbour as ourselves. That is God’s will.
@Brent-Karding I consider this a great post. John 12:26 has something to tell us. It is written: If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him (NASB). Here is the promise for those who fallow Jesus and serve him: where He is the servant will be also taken. This is telling us that the follower of Jesus will be guided to to the place where Jesus wants to minister and make himself known. Definitely we can rest in the guidance of Christ in the service. This is not opening a door for negligence because this promise is for those that are committed to Him.