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Finding direction and the will of God

Borgman, D. (1988). "Finding direction and the will of God." S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies.


Young people spend a good bit of time considering direction and making choices: "What should I do about my friends-they expect me to do such and such?", "Who should I choose as my special friend?", or "With whom should I go to this special event?"

The matter of decisions becomes more difficult as the big questions of youth emerge:

    • To what school should I go?
    • What kind of career or job should I choose?
    • Whom should I marry?

The Bible refers to the faithful as followers. Jewish people of faith are described as followers of the Lord; New Testament believers are depicted as followers of Jesus Christ. Following the ways of the Lord or the will of God is essential to the life of faith.

Young Christians ask, "How can I find the will of God for my life?" Jeremiah dramatizes this question:

This is what the Lord says: 'Stand at the crossroads and look: ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.' But you said: 'We will not walk in it.' (Jeremiah 6:16)

    • The first step is to realize that life is a matter of great choices and that the will of God must be deeply desired. Anyone who wants to find the will of God must really want it:

With my whole heart I seek Thee; let me not wander from Thy commandments. (Psalm 119:10. Note the question of Psalm 119:9).
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these (practical needs and wants) will be yours as well. (Matthew 6:33)

    • The second step is found as one studies this issue in the book of Jeremiah:

I know, O LORD, that the way of man in not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. (Jeremiah 10:23)

Every young woman and man must realize the limits to the divine free will. A characteristic of youth is to think that one can rise to any challenge and solve all problems in one's new-found strength and wisdom. But all creatures must recognize their finitude and limitations. Only in such humility (that must often rise to desperation) can one find the will of God. Jeremiah cries:

O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself...

    • The third and next step expresses one of those wonderful biblical paradoxes. Wonderful as we begin to accept and live in them-awesome and confusing when they are first faced. Emphasizing these verses underlines the important human dimension. It is easy to "over-spiritualize" this matter, as one often does with many aspects of the Christian life:

A man's heart deviseth his way. (Proverbs 16:9a)
In his heart a man plans his course. (Proverbs 16:9a)
A man's mind plans his way. (Proverbs 16:9a)

The following verse does not just describe how to plan a future. A careful study of Proverbs 16:9 points to each person's life as a human-divine venture. The basis of knowing God's will is placed in God himself. The initiative of any positive direction in our lives is His. But God has put eternal and divine aspirations in our hearts and expects us to use that great resource.

Walk in the ways of your heart... (Eccles. 11:9c)
The mind of a wise man will know the time and way... (Eccles. 8:5)

Psalm 139 is a prayer for guidance and personal affirmation. It describes how God knows what is in each person (Psalm 139:1-6), how He knows all the possibilities of one's life course (Psalm 139:7-12), that the Lord has created in each person special and unique traits (Psalm 139:13-16), and that He is committed to a prosperous outcome of each person's life-no matter what the difficulties or the adversaries. (Psalm 139:17-22)

The 139th Psalm is a favorite prayer of many young people and youth leaders as it offers a strong sense of personal affirmation and guidance. What many miss, however, is its implied teaching: that the key to one's future is not in our stars, the mystical heavens, one's present situation or in a promised future, but it is in one's past. When pondering how God has made each person unique and how He has led all through the good and bad of the past-as one searches past accomplishments, strengths, and values-one will understand where God prepares each to go. It is in personal history and the desires of each person's heart that one finds the surest guide to the future.

Some will wonder why Proverbs 16:9b has not yet been mentioned. It will be considered following one other important step.

    • It is not easy to review history, to discern all the implications of one's past, to recognize each person's strengths and accomplishments, and to understand values and what is treasured most in life. It is God's intention that the Church be a gift-evoking body, a clarification of one's gifts, and a support for new directions. A careful study of 1 Cor. 12-14 and Ephes. 4 addresses this. Even in the early Church, Christians were often more envious, critical, and divisive. But this was not the divine or Pauline intent:

Without counsel plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22)
Accept one another. (Romans 15:7)
Be devoted to one another. (Romans 12:10)
Encourage one another and build each other up. (1 Thes. 5:11)

An excellent description of a modern church giving itself to the clarification of personal gifts for service is found in Elizabeth O'Connor's Call to Commitment:

I find many young Christians who would never think of calling together a group of friends to clarify their plans for the future. In spite of God's affirmation of our personal worth and admonition that we find guidance from others we trust, many of us still don't think our futures are worth a little support from those who are supposed to love us. We might well listen to the Beatles: 'I'll get by with a little help from my friends.' Instead many of us struggle-wondering why there is no answer to our prayers for guidance.

    • The fifth step now begins to make sense. After trusted friends have seen one's track record, clarified one's gifts, and affirmed one's dreams and goals, one looks to God:

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

Do you see how God helps each person set his or her course and then steps in to arrange the pieces of the puzzle? Our lives are created and ordered by God's grace and initiative, but He has established for each an amazing partnership for finding and doing His will.

People do not wait for God to make the bed or get dressed. The Lord does not want to do what He has put in one's power to do for him- or herself. God does help those who help themselves-especially those humble enough to seek His help. This is the divine paradox of knowing God's will.

    • A final step is to get going even when discouraged, to keep going even when confused. Just as one cannot steer a bicycle that is stopped or navigate a stationary airplane, God cannot guide a grounded follower. So, one must launch out into the unknown:

We walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor. 5:7)
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

    • God is most able to guide those who do not take His direction for granted. Humble and teachable followers are most easily led. God's will in each person's life is usually clearer from hindsight than in the present or when trying to look ahead.

Proverbs 3:5-7 help many young people find their way in life and faith. Above all, treasure Psalm 37:4, an Old Testament parallel to Matthew 6:33:

Delight yourself in the Lord, (How do you do that?) and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Really?)

This key promise of God should be kept close to the heart of every young person. Ask young people: What are the desires of your heart? Do you think that God knows about them? Does He want to give you good things (James 1:17)? What if God knows that your desires are not good and will end up hurting you and others? If you delight yourself in the Lord, is it possible that your dangerous desires can change? Can God help your desires in life to become what will truly bring you happiness?

Every young Christian ought to have someone praying about his or her future. Consider Paul as he thought of his young friends at Colosse:

We do not cease to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, (in order that you might) lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work, (and) increasing in the knowledge of God may you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy giving thanks to the Father...

This wonderful prayer for a knowledge of God's will is something to study further. It promises just enough information about God's will-not to answer all questions about the future-but to enable one to live a life worthy of the Lord. God shows each person enough about his or her situation to (1) please Him, (2) bear fruit for Him, and (3) grow to know Him better.

Pray Psalm 25 for God's will. One young Bible scholar suggests that what is called "God's will" in the New Testament is described as "God's way(s)" in the Old Testament. So substitute "will" for way(s), and then "direction" for the same words:

Our Father in Heaven, Thy will be done Lord, show me Thy way and lead me in paths of perfect life.

Dean Borgman cCYS