Is God’s will specifically revealed?

Does God promise to reveal His specific will on matters not directly addressed in Scripture?

Few of us struggle with discerning God’s will on matters that are clearly commanded or clearly forbidden in Scripture. When we lack specific biblical directives, we often look to other means for discovering God’s will. But in such undefined areas, we must remember that Scripture firmly warns us to attach an “if” to all our plans.

James 4:13-16 provides us with a very helpful illustration concerning God’s will in these areas. Take a moment and read this text.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ 14. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ 16. As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.”

The picture here is of first century Jewish merchants confidently asserting their plans for future business and profit.

James does not explicitly condemn them for planning, but warns them to attach an “if” to their plans out of honor for God’s final authority. James wrote, “…you ought to say, ‘if the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that’” (v. 15.)

The merchants in the illustration confidently assert

    • A short-term plan: “today or tomorrow,”
    • A long-term plan: “spend a year,”
    • A specific plan: “in such and such a city,” and
    • A final result: “to make a profit.”

The problem is not really with the detail of their plans, but with the arrogant attitude behind the plans. Nor does James say, “First ask God to reveal the plan, then you can speak confidently about the future.”

No amount of prayer will give us the authority to drop the “if” from our plans. Christians should therefore not say, “we prayed fervently about this plan and we know God is going to accomplish it.” James would say, “Where is your ‘if’?” And the absence of the “if” in our plans is disrespect for God’s final right to change anything he desires. It fails to honor God’s sovereignty over life itself. Thus, “you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that'” (15). The presence of the “if” recognizes God as supreme over all of life. 

James is not requiring a slavish use of the phrase, “If the Lord wills…” as much as a submissive attitude of heart and restraint in how we speak about the future.

Proverbs 27:1 wisely reminds us, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

The “if” is also a place of peace and security in God’s final authority over life. Our decisions should be made with peaceful assurance that our Heavenly Father (who knows our needs before we ask, Matthew 6:8) is sovereign.  

The recognition of God’s sovereignty is not just that, “He works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11), but that He also promised to, “work all things together for good for those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).

“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). 

The Bible repeatedly advocates wise planning. But it also announces God’s right to change or set limits on our plans. So be careful in how you speak about God’s will on matters not specifically addressed in Scripture. 

God has provided us with a great wealth of wisdom in Scripture (I Timothy 3:15-17) and gifted us with teachers to equip and mature the Church (Ephesians 4:11-16). God holds us responsible for our use of His provisions.

God may not choose to tell us everything we want to know but he has told us all we need to know.   

“…it is to be feared that many today who profess to be Christ’s never learn wisdom through failure to attend sufficiently to God’s written Word. … It is folly to pretend to seek God’s will for your life, in terms of a marriage partner or some form of Christian vocation, when there is no deep desire to pursue God’s will as he has already kindly revealed it” (D.A. Carson, Spiritual Reformation).

When making decisions our first responsibility is to discover whether there are any direct commands in Scripture either forbidding or demanding a specific course of action. If specific statements cannot be found, we must seek general biblical principles or examples that apply to the decision. But even here we must be careful not to normalize biblical examples as if God works the same way in every period of history. Gideon’s fleece, for example, was never intended as a normal pattern for guidance.

Circumstantial signs, opened doors, inner impressions, or feeling called by God

The most important matter is whether circumstantial signs or inner impressions align with Scripture and sound counsel. Subjective data (desires and signs) must always be determined by objective considerations. For example, one may feel called to pastoral ministry and even believe God has opened doors to pursue this desire. But the final test of God’s call is the qualifications for church leaders in the New Testament (see: I Timothy 3 and Titus 1). A man disqualifies himself from pursuing his desires and opened doors if he fails to meet the objective qualifications for Church leadership.

Steve Cornell

See also, “Do inner promptings reveal God’s will?”

Listen:      Short audio about God’s will

20 Questions about the right one

  1. Can you talk ?
  2. Can you play?
  3. Can you work together?
  4. Do you have mutual friends?
  5. Are you proud of each other?
  6. Are you intellectually on the same level?
  7. Do you have common interests?
  8. Do you share the same values – honesty, cleanliness, Church, roles?
  9. Do you feel comfortable with how you make decisions together?
  10. Do you help each other emotionally?
  11. Do you have absolute trust in each other?
  12. Are you more creative and energetic because of each other?
  13. Do you help each other grow closer to God?
  14. Can we accept and appreciate each other’s family?
  15. Do you have unresolved relationships in your past?
  16. Is sex under control?
  17. Have you spent enough time together?
  18. Have you fought and forgiven?
  19. Have you talked about each area of your future life?
  20. Have you had counseling?

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For….what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (II Corinthians 6:14-15)

To be “yoked together” pictures two oxen sharing the same yoke while plowing a field. An unequal yoke is described in Scripture as the yoking of dissimilar animals (Deuteronomy 22:10). 

The command against an unequal yoke prohibits believers from entering into cooperative relationships with unbelievers that would bind them to compromise their commitment to the Lord. One reason might be found in Jesus’ warning that we cannot serve two different masters (Matt. 6:24). 

Marriage and the unequal yoke

The unequal yoke is most often applied to the marriage decision. A marriage relationship requires more unity than most realize. It’s a yoking of life at many important points and places. If those who are yoked in marriage have too many differences, they will be pulling in different directions. Their unity will be threatened.

I keep a miniature wooden yoke in my office to use as a visual for explaining the importance of an equally yoked marriage. It’s a fitting description because life together in a marriage involves many decisions that could easily lead to disagreements (especially when raising children together). 

Marriage will significantly test the oneness and unity of two people. The yoke illustration implies that believer and unbeliever will be pulling in opposite directions or working at cross purposes with each other.

But this text assumes an ability to identify the differences between believers and unbelievers. So the first question about marriage for those who seek God’s will is how to identifying a true believer. See:  Answering the first question….

Steve Cornell

Audio resource: What Should You Expect? 

The word of God is alive and active

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). 

Five key passages describing the role of Scripture in spiritual transformation:

1. Psalm 1:1-3

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

My response: delighting and continually reflecting deeply on it.

Result: Blessed, firmly planted and flourishing— Whatever he does prospers

2. Matthew 7:24-27

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

My response: Hearing and putting into practicing Christ’s words.

Result: Strong and stable in the face of life’s storms

3. James 1:22-25

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.”

My response: Obedience as I intensely and continuously study it.

Result: “he will be blessed in what he does” (v. 25)

4.  II Timothy 3:15-17 (NLT)

“You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

Divine origin and usefulness of Scripture

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to

  • teach us what is true and
  • to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.
  • It corrects us when we are wrong and
  • teaches us to do what is right.

God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (II Timothy 3:15-17, NLT).

My response: to be taught and corrected regarding right and wrong

Result: Equipped for every good work

5. Deuteronomy 8:2-3

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

My response: Recognize that I am sustained by God’s word

Result: Dependency on God for life — as I depend on food for physical life

Taste and see that the text is good

  • Man doesn’t live on bread alone but on each word from Yahweh’s mouth (Deuteronomy 8:3).
  • God’s words are sweet like honey (Psalm 119:103).
  • When your words came, I ate them;
 they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty. (Jeremiah 15:16).
  • Believers should long for the milk of God’s word like newborn infants (1 Peter 2:2).
  • “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12-13).

Steve Cornell

See:

If it is the Lord’s will

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:13-17)

This text is encouraging to those who embrace the will of God. On one level, we are feeble and frail –thus we cannot know and should not speak with certainty about future plans. We must add the “if” — “If it is the Lord’s will….”

Take note that James does not say we should pray about the future so that we can know for sure what God wants for us. No amount of prayer permits us to drop an “if” from plans for the future. The “if” means God is sovereign over all. 

The “if” might appear to make things uncertain and generate insecurity but not for those who know the One who controls the future. And, of course, there is so much that we know about God’s final plans for His redeemed that we can have great hope — even in our darkest hour.

“If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” Here is a position of confidence, security and peace for those who rest in God (see: Psalm 62).

Short Audio Reflection: The will of God

More resources on following God’s will here.

Steve Cornell

Prescription for great relationships

 

This one is for married couples and for singles who are looking for true love.

I often tell people that it takes work for marriage to work. It’s one thing to be in love and another to love someone for life.

We tend to want everything to be easier than it often is and end up missing out on the deeper blessings by giving up too early when we face difficulties. I don’t say this to encourage anyone to stay in an abusive relationship. Or to settle for one that is wrongly matched up.

Once married, however, a couple must intentionally resist complacency if they desire to thrive in their relationship. Doing this requires more than will power. There must also be a shared standard to reach toward.

I believe that one of the best standards is  found in I Corinthians 13:4-8. Here we learn how love behaves in relationships. Here we find God’s prescription for great relationships.

Here is love that protects relationships from destructive conflict. This love opposes bitter rivilary. While playful rivalry is not bad and can be fun, troubled relationships are almost always plagued with some form of ugly and divisive rivalry.

Revisit true love:

  1. Love is patient: It is long-suffering. It restrains anger when provoked. Patience is more than passive waiting. It’s active restraint that rests in God.
  2. Love is kind: It reaches out in good will with acts of care for others. Love patiently forebears and in kindness — actively pursues. Loving people are distinguished by their kindness.
  3. Love does not envy: It does not resent the blessings of others. Envious people engage in rivalry. The envier gloats over the harm or misfortune of the one envied. She delights in evil.
  4. Love does not boast: Love corrects the desire to call attention to self. A loving person is not a windbag or braggart. He does not parade himself. Love is willing to work anonymously. It needs no stage, applause or recognition.
  5. Love is not proud: not puffed up; not arrogant; not full of oneself. A loving person does not think more highly of himself than sober judgment dictates (Romans 12:3).
  6. Love is does not dishonor others: It is not rude. It is respectful of others.
  7. Love is not self-seeking: It does not insist on its own way. It is not self-absorbed.
  8. Love is not easily angered: It is not easily agitated nor easily provoked. Loving people are not hot-tempered, short-fused people.
  9. Love keeps no record of wrongs: Love seeks forgiveness and reconciliation. When hurt badly, this part of love is hard to practice. 
  10. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth: This rules out gossip, slander, and delight in the downfall of others.

The grand finale: Love always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres.

Using a staccato of four verbs with repeated emphasis on how love brings everything under its influence, we learn that, “there is nothing love cannot face” (NEB).

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (NLT). Love is tenacious and faithful. Love is brave and noble; it never fails.

Love is “the most excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31). “These three remain: Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13). “Over all virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:14).

God’s love was put on display when he loved unworthy people like you and me. For “when we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Jesus gave us a great example of love by coming into our world and humbling himself for our benefit. The Creator became a creature; the King became a servant; the Shepherd became a lamb;  the High Priest became the sacrifice, the sinless one was made sin for us that we might be acceptable before God in Him! (see: II Corinthians 5:17-21; Philippians 2:3-10).

Steve Cornell

10 Point Inventory

This ten point inventory is meant for personal evaluation not for judging others. While it certainly could be used as a guide to help others, I suggest caution because lists and tests easily become legalistic tools that promote sinful pride. 

With this said, it’s certainly wise to examine and to guard our own hearts. I think you’ll find this 10 point inventory helpful.  

1. The test of anger: What makes you mad? 

“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed (provoked within) to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). “He (Jesus) looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts” (Mark 3:5).

2. The test of humor: What makes you laugh? 

“There’s a time to laugh, and a time to cry” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21) (see also: Ephesians 5:3-4).

3. The test of music: What makes you sing? 

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts” (Ephesians 5:18-19). “Let my tongue sing about your Word,
 for all your commands are right” (Psalm 119:172).

4. The test of anxiety: What makes you worry? What do you fear?

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe” (Prov. 29:25). “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:42-43). Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28; cf. Ps. 111:10; see also: Matthew 6:25-34; Philippians 4:6-7; I Peter 5:6-7; Isa. 41:10).

5. The test of money:
 How important is it to you? What do you do with it?

“Honor the Lord with your wealth” (Prov. 3:9a). “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:11). Loving money is condemned (see: Luke 16:14; I Timothy 6:9-10; II Timothy 3:2).

6. The test of value: 
What is most important to you?

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well: (Matthew 6:33; cf. Colossians 3:23). Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (I John 2;15-17). “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:36-37).

7. The test of influence:
 What difference are you making in others?

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16; cf. Philippians 2:14-16).

8. The test of companionship: What kind of people do you prefer to be with?

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (II Cor. 6:14-15). “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20) (cf. Psalm 1:1-3;Proverbs 22:24-25;Amos 3:3;I Corinthians 5:9-13).

9. The test of speech:
 What do you like to talk about?

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45)“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:32). Brothers, do not slander one another” (James 4:11; cf. Prov. 11:12-13; 16:28; 18:7-8; 21:23).

10. The test of time: What do you use it for? How well do you use it?

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16).

Our Final Inventory 

II Corinthians 5:9-10 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

I Corinthians 3:10-15—“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

Steve Cornell

See also: 7 Daily Practices for Every Follower of Christ