4 Helpful Ways to Discern God's Will

Good decision making and discerning the will of God requires seeking counsel, applying Scripture, evaluating circumstances, and praying.

4 Helpful Ways to Discern God's Will
direction sign | photo by Nick Page

by Gordon Judd, deacon of Grace Bible Church in Pleasant Hill

Decision making is something everyone, believer or not, does many times a day. From the mundane decisions like ‘what should I wear today?’ or ‘should I go to the Giants game?’ to the big hitter decisions like ‘should I take the promotion and relocate to another state or stay here?’ we are constantly making decisions.

For believers, how does our faith enter into our decision making? How can we know God’s will for us in a particular decision? Some may say it is as simple as God gave you a brain so whatever your own reasoning leads you to is the right decision for you. While that may be very easy to implement and live by, that methodology, when used in absence of other elements, is not backed up by Scripture. In fact, that method is referred to often in Scripture.

“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” (Proverbs 28:26)

The Lord is even more condemning in Jeremiah 14:14 in speaking about prophets giving lying visions and worthless divinations from the deceit of their own mind. So, if we are not to make decisions solely by our own mind, what do we have left? Let’s look to Scripture for an example of God-focused decision making.

In Acts 1:15-26, we find the story of choosing a replacement for Judas Iscariot’s position as an apostle after his betrayal and death is recorded. The apostles and brothers gathered together to address the issue. What is recorded provides valuable insight for all believers as to how their faith affects their decision-making process.

1. The Counsel of Others

The very first thing to notice is the apostles and brethren were gathered together to decide this. Peter did not rely on his own mind or assume that he had special insight into what God had planned. He started by seeking the wise counsel of others involved in the ministry. This sets an example for us in understanding God’s will in a particular decision will often involve seeking the wise counsel of others. Where we look to for wise counsel must be approached in faith and can take many shapes. For those who are married, wise counsel will almost always include your spouse. We must also be mindful to not look only to others who already share our personal view on a particular decision, which would be more about justifying our decision rather than seeking wise counsel.

2. The Reliance of Scripture

The next thing we see in Acts 1:16-20 is that Peter is looking to scripture as a basis for the decision before them. This is not just a matter of picking one verse that talks about a similar situation, this is about drawing from the whole counsel of God’s Word that imparts his heart and mind. The take away for us from this example is that Scripture needs to reside in our hearts and minds. This means that we have to be in God’s word regularly and with eagerness to learn it. While technology makes it easy to find passages on most any subject within a couple of keystrokes, it is the aspect of having Scripture in our hearts and minds that makes it accessible when we are making a decision.

3. The Limits of Circumstances

Peter then establishes conditions based on circumstances to guide their process. In this case, he actually uses two sets of circumstances. The first was to use the circumstance of picking from the pool of men who had been with them from the time of the Lord’s baptism by John the Baptist until the Lord was taken up from them. The second circumstance was the actual selecting between Justus and Matthias by lot. This tells us that our decision making needs to include the circumstances we are in. Our circumstances are constantly changing, even during the course of a single decision. In seeking God’s will in a particular decision, it must consider the providential circumstances around us.

4. The Dependence of Prayer

Finally, we are told in verse 14 that they were all praying together and then again in verse 24 as they had put the two names forth, they were praying over that actual process they were using to choose by lot. Prayer should be part of every decision we make, in general in seeking God’s will and, often, specifically over a particular decision.

Putting it all together, seeking God’s will in a particular decision will be a continual and iterative process using the graces God has given us for the Spirit to speak to us in those decisions which include 1) application of scripture 2) seeking wise counsel 3) evaluating the circumstances and 4) prayer. The believer should have great confidence that they will be less likely to be deceived by their own mind and desires and more likely to hear the still small voice of the Spirit in making decisions through the gracious means that God has given us.

Further Study of God's Will and Guidance