Now that we know we are sons of God what does that mean to us as we go about our daily life and make the decisions that face us each day? Does God help us with these decisions? Does he have a desired outcome for how we live and what we decide to do or are we on our own. If he is concerned, how detailed is that concern? Is it big picture only or does he get down to the little things? We will look at these important considerations, which go to the heart of our decision-making process and its inherent responsibility. Before we start, if you are new to this study, you can find all of the previous lessons using the Knowing God category link. There are also study materials for the book available at william.meisheid.com.
I have often heard people say, “If only I knew the right thing to do, I would do it.” Over the years I have said the same thing myself, but I know that is not entirely true. It is a good excuse though. “If only” is a good way to let ourselves off the hook, to transfer responsibility or blame or just to avoid dealing with something. It gives us a convenient way to save face and appear spiritual. That said, sometimes the frustration is real and there is real dissatisfaction with flying blind and not being sure what to do.
Packer begins this chapter admitting guidance is a chronic problem for Christians. And while there are those who dont know enough about God to even hear him when he might be speaking to them, much less even believe that he is trying to tell them what to do, most of us want God to guide us, but are frustrated with our inability to be sure if God is speaking to us and we are missing it.
God Has A Plan
That is the fundamental truth and Packer wants us to start out knowing two fundamental truths:
1. Gods plan for us is real. Theologically Gods plan is multifaceted. He has an eternal purpose, a plan for the ages that applies to all of creation through all time. It is the big picture plan. But he also has specific purposes for each of us, just as a potter has a specific for the vessel he is creating as he molds it on the wheel. This specificity goes so far, Jesus said, that the hairs on our head are numbered and God follows everything we do (Matthew 10:29-31). The Psalmist knew that from the moment of his conception God had been working out his plan for him (Psalm 139:13) and Isaiah noted that God has appointed all things in their proper time (Isaiah 44:7-8; 24-28).
2. Gods ability to communicate that plan is real. It is one thing to have a plan and another thing to make that plan known so we can make decisions based on it. God communicates what he wants us to know of his plan many ways: through prophets, in his Word, through miraculous occurrences, in dreams and visions, by directly speaking to us both audibly and through that still small voice that nudges us along or turns us away, and in the circumstances and events that constantly confront us. Doors open, doors close.
So why do we fail to see or properly interpret Gods guidance? This is an important question. Packer argues that we distort the evidence, overlooking the obvious and demanding the esoteric or miraculous, opening ourselves to easy delusion. We must first start with the Word. Everything we think God may be saying now has to be assessed against what we know he said before. God does not contradict himself. He is not going to tell you to leave your wife for another woman because he forbids that in his Word. Packer notes one major area that seems consistently to be a problem:
1. Scripture. A problem develops because scripture may not directly apply but only circumscribe the lawful possibilities facing us, leaving us with many possible correct or acceptable choices.
2. Gods prompting. Without specific only general scriptural direction we are left to ascertain Gods specific direction through promptings and inclinations, open and closed doors, about which we seek a settled peace.
Packer admonishes that all choices are not of this type or do they have these two characteristics. He sees a serious problem with our proclivity to treat all of life as if it fit into these simplistic categories.
It is all too easy to see everything in this context which invariably leads to Scripture, rather than being studied and applied with wisdom and grace, both in developing our character and setting the context of our decisions, being used instead as a talisman or dousing tool since what we really want is to get right onto direct impressions from God. I am not talking about the legitimate voice of our conscience and the counsel of wisdom and common sense extolled in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, but an internal prompting read as the Holy Spirit leading us by inward voices.
I have to be very careful to say here that God does lead by such still small voices speaking to our hearts and prompting us, but rather than the rule, the moment by moment steering gear of our lives, it is the exceptional, the only as needed and sometimes not even then occurrence. The very real danger is in making this the normative form of decision making. It is not for naught that Paul warns us to test every spirit to see if it be of God, since these still small voices are spiritual and not always from our heavenly father.
Even Paul, who was among the greatest and most sensitive of saints to the guidance of God could say to the Philippians:
I don’t know what to choose. I could keep on living and doing something useful. It is a hard choice to make. I want to die and be with Christ, because that would be much better. But I know that all of you still need me. Philippians 2:22-24
No one said this was going to be easy. However, I believe because we live in a culture that exemplifies 10 ways to succeed in life and 5 things you need to know in order to do anything, we want everything spelled out in a few easy steps that reduce the thinking load, make the decisions automatic. We want everything 1, 2, 3 so that we can also check off our compliance and be able to cover ourselves by arguing we did what we were told to do. That path eventually leads to either legalistic compliance or magical expectations. I did it, why are you upset or I did it, why didnt it work out like it was supposed to?
Packer discusses the six common pitfalls when making decisions and admits that in the end there are no easy answers to the questions, noting that sometimes Gods true guidance leads us into trouble not out of it, which to many seems paradoxical. While I am not going to cover all six of those pitfalls I do want to look at the first one: unwillingness to think. Noting Deuteronomy 32:28-29, Packer reminds us that God wants us to have good sense and to listen and consider whether we are going astray. We need to think and Paul tells us in Romans 12:1-2 that we need to be transformed by renewing our mind, which includes all of our thinking, reasoning, and discernment faculties. We do this so that we can know Gods good and perfect will for us. Conclusion: The processes of a renewed mind are essential to ascertaining God will, his essential guidance for our lives. Hey, our heavenly Father did not call us to come and reason with him for no purpose. (Isaiah 1:18).
This brings us to what for me is the real issue: trust. Sometimes we just have to make a choice based on everything we know and trust God to take care what follows. At that moment I believe we are tested, not for the accuracy of our decision, but on the submission of our hearts. Our motives are weighed in the balance, since it will be them who most greatly influence our decision point. We could make the right decision but for the wrong reasons or the wrong decision for the right reasons. In either case God looks upon and judges our hearts and at these moments we ourselves have insight into what is really there in the center of our being.
Packer closes with an important point, one that we should hold dear.
Thus it appears that the right context for discussing guidance is one of confidence in the God who will not let us ruin our souls.
Is not that the real issue? If in the end, we do the best and most honest thing we can. That each choice is made with principled thought and discernment and openness to however God may choose to lead us, can we trust God to make it right, to work out everything for our good? Absolutely! He is our FATHER.
May Gods grace and wisdom and discernment guide everything you do and say, today and for the rest of your life and may your trust in his everlasting arms never fail as you boldly step out from the Throne of Grace to do his good and perfect will to the best of your ability. Amen.