Specific, Scriptural Direction for God’s Will
In the marathon that is the Christian life, there are many turns that must be taken to remain in what is popularly called the “will of God”. In actuality, the will of God is not a final state in which a servant of the Lord should find themselves when the dust of this life settles, but rather a fulfilling of God’s desire right now. The will of God simply refers to doing and being that which God desires. You might say it is doing “those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22).
In this effort to “do God’s will”, there are doubtless turns and changes that must be made; yea, changes that God Himself ordains. This is normal. It is the ascertaining of those changes, and how God directs us to make them, that often causes a great deal of anxiety. These changes, or decisions, might involve your role in God’s work, who to marry, what church to attend or myriad other individual choices. A person that truly loves God will want to always be found fulfilling God’s desires in his life. How is it, though, that we can make sure that we are actually doing what God would have us to do? Many of these turns in our walk with God will not be clearly illuminated by a Bible verse. If God would have you to go to the mission field, with a small number of exceptions, you will not find the name of the country to which God would have you to go in the Bible text. It is simply absent. Further, no amount of raving and demanding by others will make that country’s name appear to give you “clear direction” from a Bible verse. It is just reality. However, it does not follow that in cases in which specific things in your life must be decided that God has left you without direction. We must remember, God is alive. His Word is alive. We are alive in Him. He is well able to direct us (Romans 8:14). You might not find an arrow for that specific choice that must be made in your life. However, by at least one Scriptural example, we can see how God individually directs His children in the specifics. Let’s remember two things first:
a. God does not lead us contrary to the Scripture. The Bible is God’s Word. The Bible is our Lord’s clearest explanation of His will. Nothing usurps that. If what you are doing or want to do is condemned by God in the Scripture He has already given, there need not be any further inquiry. In God’s mind, the matter is settled. It is not what He wants you to do. See Deuteronomy 13:1-4.
b. God will not lead us while our will is set on rebellion. It is a vain exercise to ask God for direction in your life when you are unwilling to either follow the clear direction He has already given or future leading that He might provide. How silly would it be to ask God for direction about where to serve as a missionary when you are unwilling to go to this country or that? See Proverbs 2:1-7.
With those important prerequisites behind us, let us consider the Scriptural example. The account is found in Acts chapter 10. It is the story of Cornelius, the man whose salvation would be a turning point in our Lord’s dealings with men. For brevity’s sake, I’ll assume you are familiar with the story. As shown in Acts chapters 10 and 11, God is wanting to give Peter a change in direction mid-stream. He is wanting to open the door of faith to the Gentiles via Cornelius as a first-fruit. Although this idea is mentioned in the Old Testament Scripture, this specific event was unanticipated by Peter. He needed God’s direction in the specifics, and God gave it to him. Let’s look.
1. God leads us by the timeliness of His providence.
Peter was upon a housetop praying before dinner when God gave him this special vision of the sheet with unclean animals. Immediately after this vision was completed, there were three men that were “already come” (Acts 11:11) from Cornelius standing at the gate of the house where Peter was. What you might not understand is that Cornelius’ vision of the angel happened several days before. Cornelius sent the men to Peter as he was told. That journey wasn’t across the street, or even across town. From Caesarea (Cornelius’ house) to Joppa (where Peter was) is about 30 miles as the crow flies. It took the greater part of two days for the journey (Acts 10:30). So, all the events with Cornelius God had already put into motion so that by the time Peter saw this mysterious vision, the men from Cornelius were just arriving. God used His providential timing as a way to help convince Peter of His direction. “God’s train might run slow, but it always arrives on time.” Amen.
2. God leads us by the promptings of His Spirit.
As I said at the outset, God is alive and He has made us alive by His power and resurrection. Therefore, His Spirit is well able to talk to us in our spirit to guide us along the way. This is, in fact, exactly what God did for Peter. Our Lord did not simply tell Peter the whole plan by means of the Holy Spirit, though He could have. This might have given him reason to second-guess the matter later. Instead, the Holy Spirit just helped remove hesitation and doubt for the moment until the greater direction was unrolled before Peter’s eyes. When we sin, God takes away His peace—the Spirit is grieved (Ephesians 4:30). However, when we are pleasing God, His Spirit confirms and encourages us. Remember, it is the work of the Spirit to “guide [us] into all truth” (John 16:13).
3. God leads us by His direction to other people.
When Peter met the men come from Cornelius with such impeccable timing, it certainly was convincing to him of God’s hand in the matter. Furthermore, when Peter finally met Cornelius and heard his story of the vision of the angel (Acts 11:13-14), the matter became even more convincing to Peter (I guess you could entertain that a devil had given this vision to Cornelius, seeing Peter didn’t know. But it seems unlikely that the devil would have Cornelius to call Peter to tell him how to be saved.). To Peter it was evident that God had been working in the lives of all of these men completely independently was another step in God revealing the totality of this turn in Peter’s life. Peter did not summarily dismiss it simply because those things didn’t happen directly to him. He was too humble for that. He had seen God’s work before, and he recognized God’s work before him now. This sort of thing happened with our family when we first had started making plans to come to Cambodia as missionaries. When we visited a church, a couple in the church invited us over for dinner. We didn’t know it at the time, but God was seriously working in their hearts about mission work. As it turned out, God used what He had been doing in our lives in regard to missions to help convince this couple that He wanted them in mission work as well. They are now in western Africa telling people about Jesus. Glory to God!
4. God leads us by the Scripture.
This story is a perfect example in which an individual believer has no specific direction from the Scripture in the matter. All of the above things happened to help convince Peter of God’s new direction. The Scripture became the veritable “nail in the coffin” in Peter’s mind. When Peter preached the Gospel to Cornelius and his company, they believed on the Lord and began to speak in other tongues. According to 1 Corinthians 14:22, the gift of tongues was a sign, specifically a Jewish sign. So, God gave them the same gift as He had given to the 120 at Pentecost (Acts 11:15), demonstrating that they had believed unto salvation and had therefore received the Spirit. Just then, like a bolt of lightning, God sent a verse of Scripture—one that Peter knew well—into his mind: “Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 11:16). God reminded Peter of this Scripture at this moment, while he was watching these guys speak in tongues as they all had done at Pentecost. In other words, God applied this verse to this moment as the final confirmation. Peter got it! He then understood his earlier vision and God’s new direction. The rest is history! How many times have you been thinking about doing something, either good or bad, and the Lord bring a Scripture to your mind at that moment? This is God’s direction—God’s application of own Word. Praise the Lord for the living word of God and living God of the word!
5. God leads us by the confirmation of other faithful Christians.
At this point, in Peter’s mind the point is clear. He commands Cornelius’ company to be baptized. After all, they have all believed now. Peter is convinced. However, everyone else isn’t. The brethren in Judea aren’t convinced (Acts 11:2-3). They contended with Peter, who is then compelled to recount the story, which is the first part of Acts 11. After recounting all the individual steps, the brethren are also convinced (Acts 11:18). They also saw clearly that God was in this matter to give the church new direction. This served as a confirmation of what Peter knew already to be the truth.
The matter of Peter and Cornelius is a Scriptural example of God leading an individual believer in a matter which had no specific biblical command. It is worthy to note that each one of the points above, if taken alone, might not be very convincing that a decision is indeed God’s will. However, when they begin to occur together, it begins to become convincing that only God could and would orchestrate such a matter. Thus, specific and individual decisions should not be simply left to our prerogative and discretion just because we have a Scriptural, though general, command from the Lord. Seek the Lord’s face and wait until He gives you, as an individual, the specific direction as to the way He wants you to fulfill his command and be involved in His work.