In a question and answer session during my recent series on Prayer in Chillicothe, Ohio, someone asked, “How does God answer prayer? If you are seeking guidance on a specific issue, how does He provide that guidance?” Great question. I’d like to share 5 keys for how to deal with this question.
Key #1: Don’t look for a specific step by step plan.
Many of us have this question. I know for me, I had this question when I thought God somehow had some specific step by step plan for my life that I somehow had to figure out or I would botch everything. The reality is, God’s plans do not hinge on you finding that one particular job in that one geographical location while married to that one specific person while acting in one specific way.
Before we go any further, I want to remove from you that feeling that somehow you have to be as smart as God. Let God be God. Neither do you have to work through some mysterious step-by-step process to somehow figure out the hidden plan God has for your life. Here is what you need to understand. The key to the world is not resting on your soldiers. You don’t have to worry that if you decide to move to Peoria instead of Atlanta that God’s plans will come crashing down. God is bigger than that.
Trust me, if God has something only you can do as part of His big plan. He’ll get you there to do it.
But don’t wait to do it until you are caught in the middle of some crossroads. If you want to make wise decisions, you need to have a foundation of Scriptural knowledge and perspective already. I’m often amazed at the number of people who tell me they prayed about some decision but when asked what they learned in Scripture about the decision, they don’t have anything to say. It never occurred to them to go to the Bible.
Don’t forget II Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be equipped for every good work” (ESV). What does this tell us? It points out that if what we are doing aligns with Scripture it is a good work. I understand that Scripture will not say, “Work at the auto plant.” Or “Work for the newspaper.” But it will tell you how you need to live. If you can live that way with the particular job, then you can go for it.
Key #3: Seek wise counsel.
Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (ESV). For some reason we all want this inner voice that will tell us what to do. Why not use the outer voices God has given us to help us. One of the reasons He has organized His people into local churches is to provide good counsel and guidance. Talk to your shepherds. Get their input and feedback. Find some older Christian whose spiritual walk you respect and get their guidance. In the end, you will still have to make the decision, but God hasn’t left you down here to figure everything out on your own. He has given you older and wiser brothers and sisters to help. Use them. Rely on them. Don’t dismiss them when their advice does not coincide with what you naturally want. Consider it and weigh the pros and cons. Just keep in mind what happened when Rehoboam sought wise counsel in I Kings 12:1-17.
As you gain a Scriptural foundation for your life’s choices, you will inevitably read Matthew 6:33. While we could probably list all kinds of principles in this list, I think this one provides a good overall point about knowing God’s guidance for our lives. Whatever choice you are trying to make, strive for rigorous honesty with this question. The issue with career choice must not be merely about money and benefits. The issue of spouse is not merely about looks or income. The issue of college is not just about who has the best football team. The number one principle to govern all decisions is whether or not the choice you are making puts God’s kingdom and righteousness first. Many people have chosen the job that will give them lots of benefits and money and let them retire early but keeps them from really pursuing spiritual work and growth saying it will give them all kinds of time later to do spiritual things. First, they usually never make it to that point of spiritual growth because they develop the bad habit of being nonspiritual. Second, this is not putting God’s kingdom and righteousness first but last.
This principle takes really rigorous honesty. This is another place where the wise counsel of others can help you out.
Key #5: Trust God to be God
If you have prayed, studied, sought wise counsel, determined that your choice is seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness, then make your choice with the faith that God will be God and you do not have to be. Romans 8:28 says God will cause everything to work out for good for those who love God. Even if somehow through this process you have made a boneheaded decision, God can still use that for your good, for the good of His people and for the good of His glory.
When you decided to move to Peoria, quit wondering if Atlanta was the better choice. Simply serve God as best you can in Peoria and He will use you in ways you never dreamed of. Quit pining for where you have been or where you could have gone. Just do your best to serve God where you are and let Him be God. I think I can almost guarantee you if you take that approach after a few years you will look back and see how much good has come from the choice. If on the other hand, you went to Atlanta. Do the same thing. Do your best to serve God there and you will be amazed how He chooses to use you.
I just ask you to take comfort that you do not have to be God. The pillars of the universe are not resting on your every choice. The plans of God are not in danger of being overthrown by your choices. Simply do your best to serve God according to His word in the best way you know how and trust Him to take care of the rest.