Discerning The Will Of God

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
— Acts 16:9-10 (ESV)

How do I discern the will of God?

This is the question that many Christians often ask. These Christians are earnest in desiring to know and do God’s will. The question is frequently asked in relation to important decisions in life. For example, choosing between career options, the choice of a life-partner and which school to attend. Even in less important decisions, we also want to know what God thinks. This is a good practice. A proverb in the bible counsels us not to lean on our own understanding but to acknowledge God in all our decision-makings. (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Discerning God’s will involves hearing Him and observing how He leads us. The first thing to know about hearing God is that there is no fixed formula. In some circles, Christians love to prescribe formulas for everything. However, God is not a machine. You do not follow a few steps to elicit an answer from Him. If you want to hear from God, you relate to Him. You walk with Him and talk to Him. In other words, you maintain a close relationship with Him. In any human relationship, people communicate better when they enjoy a close relationship. They do not just hear what one another is saying, but they also pick up the nuances. It is the same with our communication with God.

So, do not expect to hear God clearly if you do not have a reasonably close relationship with Him. Maintaining a close relationship with God requires effort. Spend time with Him reading His Word and praying. Otherwise, you would not be able to hear Him even when He speaks to you.

I have often come across people who claim that they seek the Lord, but they hear nothing from Him. After asking a few questions, I quickly realise that God has spoken either through His Word or circumstances. However, because they cannot recognise His voice and they do not know His ways, they fail to discern His leading.

Granted, there are times when we do not hear God at all. Sometimes, God does not speak. He chooses to keep silent. And He can be quiet for a long time. He has His reasons. During such times, always bear in mind that God is good. He knows the plans that He has for us and He has our best interests in His heart. God spoke these reassuring words to the Jews during their exile in Babylon, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11). God’s plans for us are always good.

Do not expect to hear God clearly if you do not have a reasonably close relationship with Him. Maintaining a close relationship with God requires effort.

There are various reasons why God chooses to keep silent. Let me give you three reasons.

First, He is not answering the prayer for the moment. Sometimes, timing is everything. He who makes everything beautiful in its time knows the best and perfect time to answer our prayers.

Second, He hears us, but He is not going to answer our prayer requests. We must learn to trust God. In our limited perspective and foresight, we may think that what we pray for is the best way forward for us. However, God has other ideas. He who knows the end from the beginning knows what is best for us.

Third, God is closing the door to open another door. The apostle, Paul, had this experience in his second missionary journey. As you know, Paul was always looking for new opportunities to proclaim the gospel. He had covered the regions of Phrygia and Galatia, and he tried to go to the city of Bithynia, but “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” Then, Paul tried to go to Troas, but once again, God stopped him in his track (Acts 16:6-8).

That night, Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man pleading with him to go to his city. Immediately, Paul understood that God had closed the doors to Phrygia, Galatia and Troas and opened the door to Macedonia. Essentially, God redirected Paul’s missionary effort from Asia Minor to Europe. Paul was to take the gospel to another continent. It was a strategic change of direction according to God’s sovereign will. The impact is felt to this day. While the Christian influence had died in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) more than a thousand years ago, Europe has been the bastion of Christianity until the steep decline in the recent decades.

God knows where the various options will take us. He knows what is going to happen to us and how each option will finally end up. We have no idea.

Over the years, I have discovered the best way to seek God’s will in any decision is to pray for opened and closed doors. Ask God to close the doors to where He does not want us to be and open only those doors to where He specifically wants us to be. In doing this, we give God the permission to freely direct us as He chooses. This is the best way to pray if we want God’s will for our lives. God knows where the various options will take us. He knows what is going to happen to us and how each option will finally end up. We have no idea. Our most informed decisions may not necessarily be the best options for us. So, I rather trust God to choose the best way forward for me.

Be warned that God’s choice may not be our choice. It is often, though not always, the case. I suspect that most people dread it when God closes the doors to the desires of their hearts. However, if we want God’s will for our lives, we must learn to manage our expectations and accept the outcome of God’s leading.

Ravi Zacharias is an eminent Christian thinker and brilliant apologist. When he was a young man, he aspired to be a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force. After a series of gruelling tests, he was shortlisted for the final interview. The recruitment officer rejected Ravi on the ground that he lacked the killer instinct. Understandably, he was terribly disappointed. Consider for a moment. Ravi would not have been the influential thinker and apologist that he is today if God had not shut the door to the Indian Air Force.

Trust the Lord in all your ways and He will make straight your paths! (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Pastors Leslie & Adeline Chua