One Sunday, an usher brought to me an offering plate holding a bacon biscuit that a college student had deposited in the morning offering. A little note attached said, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, give I unto thee.”

This is what you can expect when you have a church with a large number of college students around.

The other thing you can expect is a lot of questions about how to know the will of God for your life. Students want to know how to know which job God wants them to take; if God wants them to date boy x or y or stay single and run an orphanage in India; whether to go to medical school or become a musician.

And, of course, students aren’t the only ones who ask such questions. All of us enter seasons in which we wonder, What is God’s will for me in this situation? We fear that if we make the wrong decision, we’ll mess ourselves up for life — like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure® books in which you make some seemingly arbitrary decision, like who to sit next to on a bus, that results in marriage to a beautiful princess on your own island in the Caribbean, while the opposite choice leads to your slow, painful death by flesh-eating bacteria in a South American prison. (I can still recall the terror those books put into my heart about decision making!)

So we start to obsess: What if I choose the wrong option? What if I go to college A . . . but God planned for me to meet my wife at college B? Does that mean I’ll be single for the rest of my life? And what if I make the right choice but she makes the wrong one? Can she mess it up for me too?

And so we peer into our hearts as into a Magic 8-Ball, nearly hyperventilating as we look for the one right “Spirit answer” to various questions. We wait for that “peace that passes all understanding” to show that God is pleased with our choice. We start to obsess about hunches: Was that strange urge I just had the Spirit moving me? Was that sense of uneasiness in the pit of my stomach the Spirit’s disapproval of my choice? I once heard a well-known Christian teacher say that any time you have a “restlessness” in your spirit, you should consider it an indication that you are getting out of God’s will. Really? I am a type-A, overly analytical person, which means I always have a “restlessness in my spirit” about any decision I make. So how can I know which “restlessness” is from God and which results from my own hyperactive personality?

Is “peace in your heart” really proof that God wants you to make a certain decision? I remain often skeptical about that. First, people often tell me about some colossally stupid decision that, at the time, filled them with perfect peace. I’ve done that too. Second, I made some of the best decisions of my life filled with fear and trembling. Third, I see in Scripture an enemy whose whole goal is precisely to give us “peace” about spectacularly wretched decisions. (When Satan tempted Eve to eat the fruit, no doubt he gave her a “peace” about it, even though she was about to make the biggest mistake of her life.) Fourth (and most important), I see nothing in Scripture telling us to look for peace in our hearts as proof the Spirit is behind something. If there’s a verse that says such a thing, I don’t know what it is. But what about the “peace that passes all understanding” Paul refers to (Phil. 4:6 – 7 NKJV)? If you read the context of those verses, you’ll see that “peace” comes from reflecting on God’s fatherly promises to provide for us, not as a warm fuzzy from the Spirit when he’s happy about a particular choice. This peace is the result of a trust, not a litmus test for confirming which choice is right.

Maybe you assume that God always reveals his will by “opening doors” for you: That is, when God wants you to do something, he sets up strings of coincidences that make decisions easy. That may be true sometimes, but not every “open door” is from God. Some are from our enemy. Think about Jonah. As he ran from God, the Scripture says there “happened” to be a ship going to Tarshish (Jonah 1:3), a city 180 degrees in the opposite direction of where God had told him to go. Was Jonah to conclude that the coincidence of a ship going to Tarshish was God’s new direction for him? (Can’t you hear Jonah going up to the ticket window at the harbor: “Do you have any tickets going away from Nineveh? . . . Oh, you do! Jehovah Jireh! It must be the will of God for me to go to Tarshish!”)

Clearly, open doors are not always reliable guides to what God wants of us. (We’ll get more into this in chapter 11.)

The Spirit of God Guides Us Primarily Through His Word

The most reliable guide to the will of God is the Word of God. I’m not sure this is the kind of thing to which you can assign a percentage, but if you could, I’d say 99 percent of the will of God is in the Word. The Spirit primarily guides us to obey God’s revealed commands, adopt his values, and become the kind of people he wants us to be.

J. D. Greear, Jesus, Continued…: Why the Spirit inside You Is Better than Jesus beside You(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014).

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