HOW TO KNOW GOD'S WILL

Chapter 7

God is not only willing to reveal his will, he is desirous that we know it. We cannot know it unless he reveals it to us. But the loving God is ever the self-revealing God. It is a characteristic of love that it reveals itself to the object loved. God's wisdom will find a way to reveal his will and him to us in a way that is intelligible to us; otherwise, there would be no revelation. He speaks to us in various ways in order to reveal himself, but if we are to know him and his will, there must be a responsiveness on our part that makes it possible for us to know his will.

Many say, "Oh, if I only knew God's will," as though it were something past finding out. But there is a way to find it out -- there is a way to know his will. The first step toward learning it is to establish within us favorable conditions for learning it. As the telegraph operator sends his message over the wire, so God sends the revelation of his will to us through the various means he has of revealing himself. If there be no instrument to repeat the message at the other end of the telegraph-line, or if that instrument is out of order, no message will be conveyed to the intelligence of those who are there. In like manner, we must be in a proper attitude and condition in order to learn the will of God as we ought to know it.

If we desire to find out God's will, we shall have opportunity to learn it. There must first be that desire. Many people have no desire to know this will. Their ears are in rebellion against it. They have no interest in learning what it is. It is the seeking heart that finds. It is the yearning heart that understands. It is when we draw out our hearts toward God that God is drawn out toward us, as it is written, "Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you." So the more earnest our desire to find out God's will, the more likely we shall be to learn it. The earnest desire to know creates a favorable condition for the revelation of his will. It causes a receptiveness of our intellects, a comprehension by our souls. Many never find out God's will who pray to know it, because they never desire to know it with sufficient fervency to impel them to seek with earnestness and diligence.

To find out God's will, we must be willing to be led into his will. To be led into his will means to be led away from the world. The world is at enmity with God. Worldly-hearted professors who love pleasure more than they love God need have no expectation of entering into the secret place of the Most High, nor of having him reveal the secrets of his will to them. Only by leading us away from the world can God lead us to himself. Only by developing in us spiritual-mindedness can he create that understanding sympathy within us that enables us to comprehend his will. So we must choose between God's will and the world. To know his will we must "love not the world, neither the things that are in the world," but love righteousness and truth, and desire to be unworldly and Christ-like. The more we become like Christ in our characters, the less we shall be like the world, and the more we shall understand God and his purposes.

We must also be willing to be led away from our own ways. We have our own ideas about things. We have our own inclinations, our own plans, our own purposes. We must be willing to turn our backs upon these things in order to be led into God's will. Let's ask ourselves, are we willing to be led away from the world? To sever every tie that binds us to its worldliness? Are we willing to be Christ-like? Are we willing to give up our own way? If so, then we may find out God's will.

The purpose of God's revelation of his will, is in order that we may have a knowledge of his purpose, character, and will, so that we may be obedient to him. We must be willing to do his will and to inquire what is his will, for without having a sincere purpose to do that will, is to mock him. So long as there is any reluctance to obey, there is a barrier to the revelation of his will. If we desire to know his will through mere curiosity, we shall not learn it. If we desire to know his will so that we may condemn others who are not doing it, we shall not learn it. If we desire to know his will with a reservation in our heart that after we learn it we shall act as we please about doing it, we shall not learn it. All these things are barriers to his revelation. He may, and sometimes does, overleap the barrier and make known his will, or we may learn his will from the Bible, or otherwise, but to have divine guidance, there must be an open heart and a receptive mind. Jesus said, "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching" (John 7:17, A. S. V.). Willingness to do his will, must precede the learning of his will in many things. Our hearts must have the responsive willingness of true submission and the meekness of self-surrender. "The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way" (Psa. 25:9). Here is clearly set forth the state of those who are guided in judgment and taught the ways of the Lord. This meekness means submissiveness, a willingness to obey, a sincere desire to conform to God's will.

We must love God's will so that we can say with the Psalmist, "O, how I love thy law." Love of God's will is a characteristic of the true Christian. The more devoted he is to God, the more he loves God's will, and the more he will know of it. Love makes intuition and perception keen, and revelation easy to give and receive. Love gives to us a listening ear and a seeing eye. The voice of God may be ever so distinct, but if we do not listen we shall not hear. His will may be manifested ever so clearly, but if we are careless and indifferent to his will, too much occupied with the things about us, intent on our own purposes, or following our own fancies, we shall not know God's will, at least that part of it that must be sought in order to be found out.

We must quiet the hindering voices that we may hear. How many voices cry in our ears when we need to be still and listen for God's quiet words! He has said, "Be still and know that I am God." And so we must silence the voices, the babel of which fills our ears, continually drowning the voice of God and keeping us ignorant of his will. Among these voices that must be silenced, we note, first, our own will. How its desires clamor! How many things we wish to do! How many treasures we desire to possess! Our desires are constantly thronging before us like a crowd of children, each shouting to drown the voice of the other in order to get what he wants for himself. How can we hear God in the midst of this clamor? How can we find out his will under such conditions? How imperious and clamorous for its own way is selfish desire! How it urges its plans! How it argues on its own behalf! What demands it makes! How it pleads for gratification! But we must silence all its voices. We must bring it into quietness. When we have arrived at the place where we can say, "Not my will," and keep that will from breaking out in rebellion, then we may hope to hear an expression of God's will, but not until then. How many times our desires override God's desires, and keep us ignorant of them! How many times our plans, "get in the way", of God's plans! Thus we not only miss knowing God's will, but, miss the blessedness that results from doing it.

Second, the hindering voice of the heart must be silenced. Its selfish fears and hopes, its vanities, its self-praise. When our heart fears, our attention is on the object of our fear, not upon God. So when we seek God's will, our fears often baffle us because their cries ring in our ears so loud that we cannot hear the voice of God. The effect is similar when the high anticipations of selfish hope buoy up our souls until we see nothing but the object of our hopes. Hope sings in our heart, expectation rejoices, but the voice of God is drowned. Then, too, the heart is often set upon its own vanities. The little affairs of its own claim its attention and speak loudly in its ears. So the voice of God goes unnoticed. How often, too, the voice of self-praise tells of one's own goodness in tones that sound so sweet to the ears, and bring such a feeling of self-complacency, that they drown out all else! How this voice tells us of our good qualities, of our accomplishments, of what we are and will be! How hard it is for us to become willing to silence this voice of our heart, so that we may listen to God! These voices of the heart keep many Christians from hearing God, and from knowing his will. The heart must come quietly before God. It must sink into silence. It must listen attentively. Then the still small voice of God, which has been speaking all the while, may be heard.

Third, the voice of the mind must be silenced. When we go to seek God's will, often a thousand thoughts call for our attention. A thousand interests seem to gather around us and demand our notice. The affairs of business, of pleasure, of numerous responsibilities, all speak with their various voices. The roar of the market, the clanging wheels of commerce, the voice of the auctioneer, the soft voice of alluring pleasure, all these in chorus speak to us. It is not at all their will to be silenced. But before we can hear God, we must master them.

Fourth, the voices of the body must be silenced. The desire for gratification of the senses, love of ease, indolence, all strive to make themselves heard. They demand attention. They echo their calls in our ears like a flock of blackbirds, till we do not know whether or not God is speaking.

We must silence all these voices. We must come to quietness and rest. We must silence all waywardness and selfish desire. All fears, all doubts must be put away. Our anxious struggles must cease. There must be no voice of clamorous self-desire or of contrary purpose. There must be no indecision as to our attitude toward God's will. When we have attained to this silence, then we must wait on God and circumstances. We must wait in "perfect consent of the whole inward nature, in submission and quiet confidence before God." We must be resigned to his will, whatever it may be, without trace of rebellion or reluctance. "Resignation is silence of the will." In this attitude, the voice of God will sound exceedingly sweet to us, and the soul will understand when he speaks.

When we have once silenced the voices that cry in our ears, we must not suppose that they are silenced forever. Soon they will begin again, and if we listen they will soon become “a babel”, drowning the voice of God We must keep the voices silenced. This is not always easy, but it is necessary if we would enter into that nearness to God where with the listening ear we hear his quiet voice. As soon as we listen to the voice of one selfish desire, all are encouraged to speak, and the voice of God cannot be heard in their confusion.

After we have silenced the voices, we must be patient and wait God's time of revelation. "The beginning of spiritual life in the soul is revolutionary, but the increase of that life is evolutionary." It is like the slow unfolding of the bud under the springtime sun. God does not at once transport us into the fullness of truth, but leads us, as we are able to go on. He could reveal all his will at once, but we should not be capable of comprehending it. Therefore, we must be content to let him lead, as we are able to follow. But if we pray with the Psalmist, "Teach me to do thy will" (Psa. 143:10), provided we earnestly desire to do his will, he will patiently teach us his will, never growing weary even though we should be dull of hearing and slow of apprehension.

Sometimes when we desire to know God's will, he does not reveal it at once. We are earnestly seeking to know it in the way that we understand is best to find it out, and yet his will is not revealed. Our way is obscured before us--we do not know what to do next. We cry to God, but there is no answer. Why does he not reveal himself? Why does he not speak, so that the soul may hear? If he is silent, let us be assured that there is a good reason for his silence. Perhaps the time is not yet ripe for the revelation of his purpose. The premature revelation of his "will," might often thwart his purpose. Sometimes it is necessary for God to leave us in ignorance of his will, in order that he might work it out, and accomplish his designed purpose. Many times our unsatisfied longings, our thwarted purposes, our sufferings of anguish, all work together to accomplish his purpose. I am sure that had God revealed his purpose concerning myself to me instead of letting me pass through these long years of poignant suffering, I should never have learned to know him as I now know him. If I should have understood his purpose at the beginning of my affliction, I could not have cooperated with him, and so he hid his purpose until it was accomplished. Then he let me look back over the way in which he had brought me, and my heart is glad that I had not known his will.

So in many a life, God must hide his will in order to accomplish his purpose. Though ignorance of his will may cause anguish of spirit, that anguish is all compensated in the end, when the soul has risen to higher heights and has sunk down into deeper depths than would have been possible had the way been made plain and the will of God made manifest all the time. Sometimes it is said that the submitted soul always knows God's will, but many a Christian can look back to times when he did not know God's will, when he was perplexed and troubled because he did not know it. But he can now see that his ignorance did not hinder God's working out of his own purpose. So if we do not always know God's will fully, we can still trust him, and in God's own time we shall know it, for he will not fail to reveal it when it is necessary for us to know it.

Sometimes we are not in condition to know his will; so he must delay its revelation until our heats are prepared. The delay is often more of a blessing to the person than the immediate revelation of his will would be, because it works in him patience and trust. The waiting may be bitter, but the end thereof is rejoicing. If we grow weary in awaiting the revelation of his will and ask, "Why?" Impatiently, we may grieve him and may ruin the precious fruit that might have come to perfection through patient waiting. We are exhorted to wait patiently on the Lord. Waiting may be hard; we may long to know now; it may seem all-important that we should know now. We may not be able to understand why God is silent. We may even feel that he has hidden his face from us. But let us be patient; let us trust and wait. The silence will be broken in due time, and our souls shall be made to rejoice when the wisdom of God's silence is revealed.

We must not choose the manner of the revelation of his will, except when he shows us that it is his pleasure for it to be so revealed. If we choose the manner, and require God to manifest himself after that manner, he may be forced to answer us with silence only. Unbelief seeks a sign. The Jews said, "Show us a sign and we will believe." They said this because of their unbelief. If we put out our "fleece" to make a test, we may find dew on both the fleece and the ground, or it may be that there is dew on neither. Sometimes God gives a sign when he sees that it is expedient to do so. But people often ask for some sign, and when it does not come, they draw a wrong conclusion. When we choose a way for God to reveal his will to us, we hamper him in his method. We shut him up to one way of answering. It may not be wise for him to answer in this way. If we get no answer, we may, under such circumstances, conclude that his will is something that it is not.

Sometimes people ask God to give them a dream in order to reveal his will. Then they have some strange dream, jump at some conclusion concerning it, and take that to be the will of God when, perhaps, God had nothing to do with the dream. Perhaps he was trying to show them his will in some other way, or perhaps they knew his will already and only wanted him to confirm it. If we know his will, there is no need to ask him to confirm it by some sign. Sometimes a person opens his Bible and takes the first text of scripture that his eyes fall upon as God's answer. Sometimes this works all right, and sometimes it does not. Very little dependence is to be placed in such signs. There are better ways of finding out God's will. If there is no knowledge of his will, and he does not reveal it to our consciousness, after we have taken the proper steps to find it out, then we may well take it for granted that it is his will for us to stand still and wait. When we do not know his will, the best thing to do is to do nothing. If we run ahead, we are likely to find ourselves in the wrong path. If we do not know his will, let us begin to search for the hindrances to our knowing it. If we find no hindrance, let us patiently wait until he speaks. If we find a hindrance, let us get it out of the way, then, seek for his will until it is revealed. We should always leave God free to speak as he wills in his own way, not in our way.

He wills us to know his will insofar as it is necessary for us to know how to act in order that we may please him. When we earnestly seek it, we may cast the responsibility of its revelation upon him, being assured that he will not be silent when he ought to speak and that he will speak plainly enough for us to understand when he does speak. Thus we shall be "filled with the knowledge of his will" and be able to walk pleasing before him.

There are many things in life concerning which we do not need to know the will of God. This may seem strange, but it is true. There are many of them that do not involve any principle of right or wrong. It does not matter whether we do them or not. In these things God lets us have our own choice. In them we may follow our own pleasure. This choice is a matter of no special importance to him, because it does not involve any moral consideration. Many people trouble themselves to try and find out God's will in these matters, which he leaves to their own choice and in which he has not active will. In these things we may have God's guidance where it is necessary, even when he withholds any especial revelation of his will because he has no special will concerning them. But he will watch over our ways to keep us from going astray when we are trying to please him, and this, too, in the little, common details of life. There are many things he allows us to choose and follow our own pleasure. Ordinarily, he does not care whether a man is a merchant or a banker, whether he wears light clothes or dark clothes, whether he drives an automobile or a horse, whether he paints his house or leaves it unpainted, whether he goes to the town that is to the east of him or to the one to the west of him, whether he lives in the city or in the country, whether he eats cooked food or raw food, whether he whistles, or sings, or is quiet. In a thousand things, God gives us our own way and lets us follow our own inclinations. His will enters into the matter only when our conduct involves some moral principle. If any of these things would draw us away from him, or would hinder the operation of his will in us, or the carrying out of his purpose through us, then his will enters and our ears should be open for his guiding voice.

The mother does not tell he child everything she wants it to do. She knows that the child will do many things of its own inclination. It will eat when it is hungry, it will play at the proper time, it will go to sleep; many things that she desires, nature will work out. She will guide it only when it needs guidance. She will turn its course from what it would naturally do only when she sees it is proper to do so. God deals with us in the same way. So we need not expect him to guide us in all of the things that come up in our lives, for he has given to us intelligence, judgment, wisdom, instinct, and a variety of faculties that guide us under normal conditions. Yet while we go forward following our own inclinations in these things, there is ever the possibility that for some wise purpose of his own, God may step in and direct the course of our lives into some unexpected channel. At such a time, he should find in us a readiness to obey. But when our choice is left free, we may exercise it without fear that we shall be transgressing his will. If God is silent, he is not indifferent or neglectful. He will speak in order to make known his will to his obedient children, whenever there is occasion for him to speak.