Christian Decision Making 2

Are the concepts of understanding God’s will through the study of scripture and the revelatory sensing of His voice and direction truly oppositional? Do they not coincide throughout the scriptural account? I believe both are necessary to avoid error in discerning the Father’s will and following the Lord.

One of the first things encountered in the Christian walk is this desire to know and follow God’s will coupled with a disconcerting inability to do it with the tools of our former flesh-based methods. We become faced with the fact that spiritual things are spiritually discerned. That is why study alone, even of the Holy Scriptures is not, in itself, sufficient. If it were, we would not have the Pharisee. Likewise, though, if we were not to start there, either by hearing or reading of God’s Word, we would have no ability to recognize the genuine Person and character of God. We would instead just play futile guessing games hoping to come up lucky in knowing and understanding the Inexpressible, Immutable, Immortal God. If it weren’t so common an occupation you would laugh at the very thought of attempting it.

When God’s Word says of itself that “it is a light unto my feet”, it shows the initiating and illuminating quality of what God has already revealed through historical example and special revelation to specific chosen men. This brings up the reason written Scripture, as contained in the canon of the Bible, is so invaluable: it immediately outlines the path and eliminates a huge amount of trial and error in the understanding of God’s will. What fool rejects that tremendous advantage?

In that way, and in the importance of continued available guidance, as well as trusted standard of measure, the written scripture remains primary in importance. Yet, primary does not preclude things of importance in conjunction with it. In fact, I would submit that the open conversation between our spirit and God’s in a living organic relationship is taught within those scriptures by which we get our standard of spiritual measure. Since this is the point of contention between ideas of how to discern God’s will for our lives and make decisions in line with His nature, this is where we will begin the discussion.

God has a voice. That voice is referred to throughout His dealings with men, it is further refined in definition through the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). The natural man can study scripture, and many do, without ever coming to knowledge of the truth (Romans 2:20), so there comes a time when the law must be written on the tablets of the heart and the spirit trained to be in an attitude of receptive hearing. Interestingly enough, when beginning the study into this topic I found a dearth of scripture with the idea of “listening” to God. That word just isn’t used very often, although when it is used it is often translated as “seeking” and carries connotations of investigation. that attaches the importance of searching scriptures. In Isaiah 55:2 we find:

2 Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.

This scripture with dual application, both a spiritual sense and a practical sense, has the word translated as “hearken” and it is a function of perceiving something with the ear. Often the following of God’s direction is coupled with a physical prosperity and it is so in this instance, regardless of the contentions on this topic. Man wants an either/or when God gives a both/and , and substitutes their either/or’s for God’s plain and direct admonitions. How much of our conflict over scripture and doctrine derive from imbalance of this sort of activity? Whatever our inclination, it does not change the direction of truth.

Within the “direction of truth” idea is one that trips up sincere Christians often enough. Instead of embracing God’s principles we quibble on demanded direct references in scripture:”Show me where God says that.” One example is on the question of whether to smoke cigarettes as a Christian. The Bible doesn’t say “thou shalt not smoke…inhaling or not” It doesn’t reference such things at all, but it does state that the physical body is the temple of the Lord. It belongs to Him in the sense that it is to honor Him with the works done in it and with it, and there is responsibility to try to keep it in good working order. Now we have a way to judge the action of smoking cigarettes, in principle. It is the same with methods of learning about God and hearing His voice. There are principles and indications in scripture that indicate that such practice is not in conflict, but adjunctive to understanding God’s will.

At this point, you might cut to the chase and ask, “But does God really care what I have for breakfast today?” I think this comes from an idea that a Big God can only care about the Big Things. Even if you don’t hold that concept, maybe the vestiges of that theology influences how you approach the idea of seeking God and knowing His will. I do think there is a maturing process in Christians… we get to know God enough and His ways enough, through many modes, to then move more smoothly through the decision making and action processes of our lives to no longer need checking for guidance as often. Our consciences get exercised in doing right and good, and we don’t have to question so many of our matters in an examination and inquiry. I think this is what is expressed, by some, when they advocate using the wisdom given you to live by. But it might involve seeking what you eat for breakfast to begin with.

I understand how some may balk at ideas of “learning to hear God” in a methodical training session, or that every believer might expect personal communications from God, but in principle, there is basis for this in scripture. At least, I think the language and concepts of it are derived from scripture. Prophecy and prophets have a place whenever God wants to make clear communication, especially of warning or comfort in trying circumstance, and there is no reason to divide the spirit of prophecy between the Testaments. We have faith, which includes One Spirit, manifested in variants of expression and gifts. In the Old Testament, the “school of the prophets” as it is sometimes referred to, there were groups of prophets headed by a master, the usual manner of schooling in ancient times. I think this gives rise to the idea of training people to hear and judge the messages given by prophecy, or direct communication from God. It is clear, though, that this is not the only way given to “hear” God. The book of Job says this in chapter 33:
“Indeed God speaks once,
Or twice, yet no one notices it.
15 “In a dream, a vision of the night,
When sound sleep falls on men,
While they slumber in their beds,
16 Then He opens the ears of men,
And seals their instruction,
17 That He may turn man aside from his conduct,
And keep man from pride;
18 He keeps back his soul from the pit,
And his life from passing over into Sheol.

This is not a replacement of scripture, but it is an adjunct. God has many ways of speaking to man, and this is how it ought to be, given the many possible circumstances of humanity. Not all men at all times have had the Bible, or preaching from it, as readily available and accessible as in these days or this society. Yet God speaks. There are no barriers of understanding or accessibility to God’s Holy Spirit for the believer, and it is through means of His Spirit that He often speaks and directs. When people describe this as “impression”, “leading” or “having peace”, I think other truths are being referenced. The idea of having peace on a matter comes from the idea that God’s Wisdom is “peaceable” and gives the fruit of peace (James 3:17), judging by the outcome as one source of measure. Here is the key: one source, not the only source, God having given “the more sure word” of written scripture to judge these feelings and impressions by. That is why I consider it to be a sandwich formation, with the study of the word beginning the matter, the attentive hearing of the spirit within, and the final checking against the scripture revelation. It is a system of balance and checks, as we are all familiar with the misuse of written scripture to convey a direction not at all in the spirit of Christ, and the sometimes outlandish outcomes of “following the spirit”.

A view that takes the modes of study and given wisdom plus spiritual discernment and direct revelation meshes with the entire idea of “making enquiry” of God (the greatest share of scripture reference may be found inside the study of this phrase) and “waiting upon God”. If one has all the tools needed at hand, and no more personal direction is needed for decisions… what is this “waiting upon God”? We have the lamp before us, Psalm 119:105, but we have the word behind us (hearing), Isaiah 30:21. Some of this is contained in a concept of “timing”. As the famous quote from Ecclesiastes (chapter 3) and Jesus’ reproach (Matthew 16:3) indicate, there are times to make certain actions and decisions and times to refrain from them.

On the whole I think the “contention” between two oppositional views is contrived. Admittedly, the umbrage seems to be mostly on the side of the “seemingly more spiritual” idea of direct communication from God’s voice, from God’s mouth to our ear…as the saying goes. The facts of history have shown that man is decidedly prone to miscommunication based on this alone- there has always been a need for checking with something greater than oneself in discerning God’s voice, and this comes from reminders of what God has previously given us.

Least trustworthy is “the way that seems right in our own eyes”. This being the condition of men in the advent of Noah’s flood. The general principle in Christian decision making is that God has given many different helps and guideposts within the confines of Christian experience, from the written word, to gifts within certain callings, to the guidance of the Holy spirit within us, but that all are within the parameter of living relationship with the Living God. For this reason I think we are less self sufficient in our decision-making than some would make it seem. Yet far more responsible to do our part than the other side would have us imagine. This is the great privilege of our opportunity to do the works ordained of God for us. We enter into the master plan of God and cooperate fully as we walk with God in this life.

This brings me to the final question I might have. I have gotten the idea from remonstrance on the topic that it is folly to think God has a specific plan for us personally. If God has a master plan for the turn of history and the general outcome of the world as we know it, and I think the book of Revelation gives that idea… then how would there be no plan for individuals within it? That we influence and change our participation within the general plan makes sense with an idea of free will and free agency, but within the concept of God’s Sovereignty there is a general plan and an overriding direction to a certain end. In that is the urgency of the gospel message. To choose life and the mercy of God while the slate may still be rewritten for us. Our decisions have consequences of varied permanency and impact. We begin to realize this along with an increasing desire to align more perfectly with God’s sight of the eternal and of His better judgment in the days, the hearts of men, and the outcome of seemingly inconsequential matters. This is where the attentive spiritual ear, and ability to decode the communications comes in. What is Bible study, but a sort of decoding? The whole activity of exegesis might be expressed this way. The challenge for each individual is find the plan that fits him into relationship with God, with others, with his calling, with his DNA, with his giftings. This is why I think we have this impetus to find and settle into a harmonious pairing with God’s will, it is what we are made for. Shouldn’t we know if we were ear or eye in the larger organism of the body of Christ? This view is in diametric opposition to the materialistic “cog in the wheel” discouragement that many are subject to, it is a view that a personal God personally chose your components of talent, of strengths and abilities, even numbering how many hairs would grow on your head with a view of your fulfillment within the larger plan. It is more than just a nice thought.

The point is that a Big God can take care of all the smallest things, and not even break a sweat, so why wouldn’t He? Our delight is finding our place in the puzzle of the mystery…finding our meaning as we relate to God and our fellow man.