Earlier this year at Bible study, someone asked about this verse:
“Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?”1 Corinthians 1:17 (emphasis added)
She then asked, “How can we know whether the plans we’re making are the Lord’s and not ‘worldly’?”
A few weeks ago, someone else shared that she feels uncertain about how to pray about what she should do with her career. Then, a third person asked me how to discern when it’s time to leave a job and go to the next one. “How would I know if it’s His will or not?,” she asked.
This made me reflect on my own journey. Looking back at my past decisions, many of them seem like my own plans and not necessarily His. And this has come up again recently as I’ve made some important decisions with my career and family.
Identifying the Wrong First Question
My first thought was to send them to Chapter 6 of Knowing God by J.I. Packer. (I wrote about that chapter in 2017.) Back then as I read that, I was wrestling with how to choose a job, career, boyfriend, and place to live. It was a lot. That chapter caused me to ask myself whether I’m doing the things Packer urges when in need of guidance.
As I look back on what I learned from Packer, I see now that asking whether our plans are His or ours is actually not the right first question to be asking. The first question is not, “Is this God’s will?”
It will be necessary to ask later on.
But the first thing we need to ask is: “How is my relationship with you, Lord? Have I chosen to trust You in everyday moments lately?” Don’t ask it in third person, but ask it directly to Him.
When we start with the first question, it usually means one of these things:
- I’m impatient with the Lord: “Hurry up, Lord. I need answers.”
- I want people’s approval, not yours: “People want me to know the answer. I want people to believe I know the answer and for them to believe that it came from You. This takes precedence over Your will.”
- I am passive: “I haven’t put in the work to know the answer, so just show me now so I don’t have to actually think about the talents you have given me and asked me to use.”
And let me clarify before I say anything more — I’ve been the first two of these three for so many years off and on, and it’s a constant battle. I have major impatience problems. I still struggle with wanting people to think of me in a certain way, particularly as a person who has it together.
Instead, Here’s Where to Start
Yet when I think of the times the Lord gave me the most clarity of what to do, this is pretty much how the conversation starts:
“Lord, You are the King of Kings. You created me. I am here today to worship You. The question is,
Do I trust You?
Do I believe You? (John 16:31)
Or do I just say I believe IN you, but not believe You and your promises?”
Then the issue is really out in the open: How is my relationship with the Lord?
I don’t know about you, but if I am going to ask someone I love for advice, there’s usually years of trust and honesty that have been established. Therefore, have I chosen to trust Him without knowing what lies before me recently? Have I let him work through me in the small daily moments — conversations with friends and family members and at work? Do I sense His presence? Have I been still enough with Him lately where that could even be possible?
If the answer to all that is no, and I’m back swimming in my impatience and approval of man, I’m likely only to get more impatient and ultimately unsure of the Lord’s will. Exactly where I don’t want to be!
Regardless, His Will Prevails
Now, an important caveat: even if I haven’t been still and asked Him about what He desires for my next steps (much less about my trust and belief in Him), He will still work through the situation. My discernment of the situation is a way for me to grow in my relationship with Him, but ultimately, His promises will still be true yesterday, today, and forevermore (Hebrews 13:3). Que sera, sera, as Doris Day says.
We see this throughout the Bible: Even when Jacob makes a sinful choice to not love Leah in Genesis 29:31, we see the Lord “considering this.” His will was always for Leah to be the mother of Judah, and Jacob’s sin did not affect that outcome. He was merciful to Leah in the midst of Jacob’s sin and gave her four sons. Like Jacob, my lack of taking the steps I should will not change what He already intends to do.
Freedom as a Foundation for Discernment
Before your next big decision is in front of you, instead of starting with asking him for clarity and discernment, take your doubts and sins to the Lord and ask Him to heal you and change you. Perhaps then, not only will He set a strong foundation for your discernment of His will, but it will also create the healing that is needed to fully accept His forgiveness and create the freedom needed to increase our trust in Him and our belief in Him.
How can we expect to hear God’s will for our lives if we don’t trust in the freedom that comes from Him alone?
Lord, thank you for hearing us. Thank you that you constantly chase after us. You are who brought us to the wine cellar (Songs 2:4) — we did not do that by our own power. You are constantly after our good, and no matter what it is we desire to discern, You will bring us closer to you in the process if only we seek to increase our trust and belief in you simultaneously. Root out any sins of pride, sloth, and envy that stand in the way of our discernment and our relationship with you. Help us to experience the freedom necessary to follow You fearlessly and to be bold enough to trust You wherever you ask us to go. In Your holy, precious, and beautiful Name. Amen.