All children yearn for the day when they are free to make independent decisions rather than be confined within the boundaries chosen and dictated by their parents. We all have at least faint memories of those frustrating years when we could not choose to watch television or play because it was time for bed or studying, when we could not choose to stay in bed because it was time for school, or when we did not even have a choice of food because our favorite dish was unhealthy.
Ironically, after we finally grow up, we often find ourselves under tremendous pressure when flooded with the many choices we have to make, particularly when those choices are no longer over trivial matters. And this pressure can be further increased by the potential consequences of those choices. Although we know theoretically that we need to seek God's will at these crossroads in our lives, we often struggle in putting this knowledge into practice. How do we know what the will of God is for us? What must we do to arrive at this understanding and comfort?
Lead a Godly Life of Constant, Deep Communion with God Some Christians may harbor the misconception that God's will is manifested in supernatural ways such as visions, dreams, voices from heaven, or various signs. Hence, in their misguided search to understand God's will, they may seek these experiences. And when their expectations are not met, they may end up confused and disappointed, concluding that God has not answered their pleas and has not directed them in His path.
Undeniably, God revealed His will clearly to some people in the Bible through supernatural encounters. For example, there was direct contact between God and Noah when God instructed him to build the ark (Gen 6:13-7:6). Likewise, God spoke directly to Abraham, telling him to migrate from his homeland to the land of Canaan (Gen 12:1-5); and He appeared in the burning bush, revealing His will for Moses to deliver the Israelites (Ex 3:1-4:20). We could also add the example of Paul's encounter on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-22). These divine encounters dramatically transformed the lives of these men and shaped their way forward.
Although when we see them gathered in a list we may get the impression that such encounters were common, we must realize that they actually took place among different people over a long period of time. Each of these individuals may have had only one, or at most a few, such encounters in their entire lives. Hence, like us, at most of the crossroads in their lives they had to make choices without such direct encounters with God.
Still, even without constant supernatural guidance, these men generally made the right choices and led their lives in a way that was pleasing to God. A closer examination of their stories reveals that it was not the supernatural experiences, but rather their constant relationship and deep communion with God that saw them through. The supernatural experiences were often only a kick-start into action-it was their unceasing worship of God, their faithful adherence to His instructions and laws, and their humble submission to His power and authority that built the ever-deepening relationship that channeled them in the right direction.
Jesus Himself left a good example for us during His ministry on earth. From the tender age of twelve, He had esteemed the word of God and His Father's business (Lk 2:46-49). Before He formally began His ministry, He spent forty days and nights fasting and praying in the wilderness (Mt 4:1-2). There is no record that the names of the apostles were specifically revealed to Jesus, but it was after a night of prayer that He called them (Lk 6:12-16). Such close communion with God can be witnessed throughout Jesus' life even to the final moments in Gethsemane, when the will of God prevailed in the struggle against the will of man (Mt 26:36-46).
The lesson for us, therefore, is that when we need to make a major decision, we should not seek an obvious supernatural experience as an indication of God's will, or else we are likely to find ourselves unnecessarily disappointed. Rather, we should constantly strive to lead a godly life of deep communion with God. In this way, we will know the right direction to take when we encounter crossroads in our lives, and we can then confidently move forward, witnessing the will of God as it unfolds before our eyes.
Reconcile Our Choice with the General Will of God As we build up a deep communion with God, we must also determine if our choices are against His general will. We live in a very different era from that of the men we read about in the Bible. Unlike us, they never had the complete Bible, with the principles and laws of God clearly spelled out. Neither did they have the Holy Spirit poured into their hearts to guide them unto all truths, to counsel and motivate them. In some cases, such as Noah and Abraham, they never had an institution like the church, or even peers who could encourage them. It is no wonder then that God revealed Himself to these selected people in special ways.
For us today, however, the general will of God has already been recorded in the Bible. Often, through passages in the Bible that we read, through a quiet realization in our prayers as we reflect on the word of God, through sermons testifying His word, or even through the encouragement of friends in church, we realize that God has already indicated the direction we should take.
Hence, if we truly want to understand God's will for us, we must not numb our senses to these channels. We may rightfully protest that the Bible does not include an exhaustive list of scenarios, but it does contain universal principles that can apply to every situation. The Bible may not specify whether we should become an accountant, a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or a teacher, but it does contain clear moral specifications of right and wrong to help us determine if our choice of career entangles us in sins against God. Likewise, the Bible may not name the exact person we should choose as a spouse, but it does contain clear principles such as the instruction to marry in the Lord. If we examine the Bible closely, it will also reveal those qualities that God deems as virtues, which we should use in our selection of a spouse.
A summation of all these principles in the Bible, as they apply to every angle of our lives, points us to the paramount issue-salvation. That is, the general will of God for each of us is to use our limited time on earth to work toward our salvation. It is critical at every crossroad in our lives to consider honestly whether our choice brings us nearer to or further from God, whether the direction we are adopting is toward salvation or destruction.
Some choices may seem neutral at first, yet we should always consider their potential consequences. For example, while many jobs do not directly contradict biblical principles, they may open the floodgates to the potential need to lie, entertain at night-spots, or engage in vicious office politics, or they may bind us with such a heavy workload and pressure that our time and minds are taken from God. In such cases, we need to re-evaluate our choices. This idea also applies to the selection of academic courses, since they ultimately channel us toward certain career choices.
Consider the Motives behind Our Choices God wants us to worship Him in spirit and truth (Jn 4:24), to maintain a good conscience and sincere faith (1 Tim 1:5), and to be a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit (Jn 1:47). Thus while some choices may seem harmless, as they do not seem to violate the general will of God or lead us to undesirable consequences, we still must be cautious not to err in our motives.
For example, have we made a career choice based on our subconscious attraction to the monetary rewards and status it brings, comforting ourselves that the job does not contradict biblical principles, and yet blinding ourselves to the potential dangers lurking ahead? Or have we chosen a spouse because of a subconscious attraction to his or her physical beauty and social status, comforting ourselves that he or she is after all a church believer, and yet ignoring the Christian virtues that should have been our paramount consideration? Sometimes, even though our choices in themselves seem acceptable on the surface, our true motives have left a foothold for the devil.
Lot's choice to take his family to Sodom aptly illustrates this important message. It seemed the obvious choice for Lot to go to Sodom when he lifted his eyes and saw that all the plain of Jordan was well watered (Gen 13:10). Yet his attraction to the potential wealth awaiting him had subconsciously blinded him to Sodom's decadence, which led to the subsequent death of his wife and deterioration of his daughters' morals (Gen 19:26; 19:30-38). This story should remain a warning for us today to consider our motives for our decisions. What really attracts us to make a particular choice?
Accept the Consequences of the Right Choices If we apply the above principles as we make choices at the crossroads in our lives, we will probably make them in accordance with God's will. We must realize, however, that this is no guarantee of an easy path ahead.
It is critical that as we make the right choice, we resolve to accept the consequences that may follow. Joseph’s choice to lead a God-fearing life did not land him in luxury, but rather led to betrayal by his brethren, separation from his beloved father, false accusation by his mistress, and unjust imprisonment. Even the butler, whom he helped in prison by the will of God, forgot about him for two whole years. Yet this was the necessary unfolding of God’s will for Joseph and for the house of Israel—and more important, for God’s ultimate plan of salvation.
Although Joseph never understood the reason for his suffering when he was in the midst of it, and although he could see his youth and life ticking away in a seemingly meaningless way, he still held fast to the right choice that he had made in the beginning. The lesson for us is to hold on to the right choices we make, even if the immediate consequences seem unfavorable. The story of Joseph encourages us that if we continue to lead a life of close communion with God, we will surely see His great will unfolding before our eyes.
These principles are surely not an exhaustive guide to making choices according to God’s will, but they represent some useful methods we can apply when we need to make major decisions. Many people feel lost when facing a crossroad in their lives. This is not because God's will is not evident, but rather because they have waited until they are at the crossroad before they start drawing near to search the will of God, or even because they have a subconscious unwillingness to accept what they already know is the right choice. Hence, the principle of leading a godly life of constant and deep communion with God is critical. It is not the isolated, desperate plea that we make to God that will reveal His will, nor is it the sudden surge in emotions that will help us to follow His guidance. Rather, a constant, deep communion with God will allow us to understand His will when we need it, and soften our hearts to submit to Him.