Another Spiritual Question

Why is it so much easier (or seem to be) for folks to discern God’s will/plan for other people? It seems easier to see God’s involvement through “the rear view mirror.” How do we discern where God is moving ahead?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://groansfromwithin.blogspot.com/ Kurt

    Scot, I find myself in the middle of a situation in which i wish i knew exactly what God’s will is. I ask him, and instead of answers i am left with questions and the occasional nudge…but no confirmation as of yet. I know God’s will is going to be revealed eventually, so in the mean time i seek godly counsel. In the past i have been in similar situations and God has used other followers to be a voice for him. Now, I am a charismatic in many respects and believe that God can speak directly to me; but often it seems that he uses others instead. Why is this? Well, i think it is a way for us to deepen our dependence on community. If God reveals his will every time to the individual, then it would reinforce the notion that spiritual life is about me and Jesus alone. But God seems to be moving us toward something more… He longs for his body to wrestle with his will together within his community.

  • http://www.godhungry.org Jim Martin

    Good question.
    Like you, I see God’s work best through the rear view mirror. I have seen a couple of problems with some people and their attempt to describe exactly what the will of God might be for someone else.
    For example, a person has the opportunity to move to either Nashville or Seattle (a job opportunity). Perhaps the choice is very difficult for that person. Then a well meaning friend comes along and says, “I think what God is trying to tell you is this. You need to go to Seattle…”
    It almost sounds that if that person is going to obey God and listen to his voice, he will then move to Seattle. So what if he moves elsewhere?
    I guess I am very cautious about communicating that I know exactly what the will of God is in situations like the one I just described. Far too often, I am afraid that person will be listening to my speculation instead of a revelation about God’s will.

  • donsands

    The one thing I learned about knowing God’s will is that it doesn’t have to have that “peace about it”, as so many people say: “I have peace about it.” Sometimes God’s doing God’s will is gut-wrenching, and dark and heavy, but we simply trust Him. We trust in His faithfulness, do as the Scriptures teach, and keep on worshiping God, walking by faith, as you wait on the Lord.
    I usually pray, “Lord, I don’t know what to do, so I’m going to trust as best I can, but you have to help the part of me that is untrusting, and weak. Father give me Your Holy Spirit, so that I can know how to proceed. I will trust you with all my heart, and not lean to my own understanding, as much as I can by Your grace, and I believe You promised to direct my path, for good or bad. But even the bad is good in the long run. Just as the Cross Jesus was nailed to, and mocked upon was the greates eveil, and yet the most glorious of all things that ever happened to me, and in the universe. Amen.”

  • Joey

    I have a few people in my life that I consult constantly. I don’t think I ever go into it thinking that what they say is gospel but I trust them and know their love for me. I feel as though God uses multiple avenues through which He communicates His will and that he gives us affirmation. One friend might tell us something, and this might be affirmed by another unrelated event or person. More often than not God’s will happens without our knowledge, prior knowledge, and often times without even our hindsight. God works whether or not I know it.

  • http://www.whateverisgood.blogspot.com Wes Ellis

    I don’t know why that is. I have a friend who can’t decide what he should do with his life right now. He’s 23, has a bachelor’s degree and has no debt. Knowing guy, his decision shouldn’t be so hard… get away, go somewhere and study or do missionary work or something… that’s what I’d do if I had no debt. But he can’t decide what to do… he’ll probably stay where he’s at and work at a coffee shop or something.
    Perhaps it’s not “God’s plan” but sometimes peoples’ decisions seem so much easier from a different vantage point. Sometimes we think things are easy until we’re in the same position. We need to approach people with humility.

  • http://thepracticingchurch.com/ Helen

    For a few years I was in a Christian tradition where it was common for God to tell other people what his will was for my life. After being paranoid about this for a while I realized it would be rude of God to tell other people what he wouldn’t tell me. After that I stopped worrying that he’d freely give information to other people that he was withholding from me. (As long as I was doing my best to listen to him)
    I also stopped worrying about what his specific will was because I decided it was more about what motivated the steps I was taking than it was about it being vitally important to take one step rather than another when both seemed like good, well-motivated choices.
    Also, I was going to a (Chicagoland) church where the pastor regularly said “It’s not as if God is sitting in heaven watching what you do and thinking “I DARE you to get it wrong…”. That was quite reassuring.

  • Scott M

    Hmmm. You know, on one level there is not a great mystery to God’s will for us. It is his will that we be conformed to the image of his son. It is his will that we love him, love each other with the same love he has shown us, and reflect him into creation. It is his will that we learn to be in communion with him and with each other. I’m sure any of us could easily continue the list.
    Within that scope there will often be things it’s pretty clear we should do and things it’s pretty clear we should not do. But I think in an awful lot of cases, God’s ‘will’ is simply that we choose. Either choice we are considering would fall within his will.

  • Nathan

    Well, we could (1) start by offloading this idea that there is only one path that represents this mythological “perfect will” for your life.
    (2) Then immerse ourselves in a rigorous and deep discipline of true prayer that is bathed in the text of Holy Scripture
    (3) Read more Henri Nouwen (just kidding. but maybe not.)

  • foxnala

    Does God always have a specific will for our lives as long as we’re making choices are within his “way”?
    For instance, I’m the dad of two boys – an 8 and a 7 year old. I don’t necessarily always have a “will” for how they spend their afternoon. They might choose to play outdoors together, read a book, build with Legos, etc. In fact, as they grow older, I hope I’ve raised them in such a way to make their own independent decisions about this kind of stuff. Where my “will” comes in though is when they choose to do stuff that they either know they’ve been forbidden to do (e.g., play with dangerous house-hold toos) or treat each other unlovingly or with malice (e.g, picking on each other).
    Does God’s “will” in our lives perhaps act similarly? Perhaps he allows us to make our own independent choices/decisions (or even hopes that we do).

  • http://www.estcumest.blogspot.com kent

    At least at this point in my journey I would say for me confidence is a powerful issue. In looking for the direction that God is trying to move us in for the next chapter of our lives, the second guessing and hesitations that come with a low sense of confidence certainly clouds to the ability to hear or discern clearly God promptings.

  • Diana

    I so agree with Scott M. We just need to take that next step. If we are walking with Jesus (loving God, loving others), where we wind up is where God wants us to be. Nathan – Amen to you, too!!!!
    I have the wonderful privilege of serving as a mentor to many. I find that the need generally isn’t for “direction” (which would demand that I be able to discern God’s will or plan for other people) but for “encouragement”. Most of the dear ones I am honored to minister to seem to know what needs to be done. They simply need support in taking that next step. Fear impedes us from following God in faith.
    When, after taking that step, we find that it has some surprising consequences (after all, I’m sure Abraham never anticipated, when he arrived at the land that was to be flowing with milk and honey, that he would encounter a famine!) they need someone alongside to remind them that this does not mean they have made a mistake, but instead,
    “that is what is!” Pain is part of the process. God still has a plan. He is not caught by surprise by the sudden turn of events, but instead, is present in their pain, guiding, providing, growing them, growing His Kingdom through them. He is teaching them, even in the times when life is a surprise, to love Him and to love others – His will.

  • http://speculativehermeneutics.blogspot.com John Ottens

    An hour and ten minutes after you posed this question, a closely related (though independent) post came up elsewhere on the internet:
    http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1886607,00.html?xid=rss-topstories
    Interesting, hey?

  • jestrfyl

    Charles Schulz posited an answer to questions like this. Both Linus and Snoopy (in the title of a book he was writing) asked, “Has It Ever Occurred to You That You Might Be Wrong?” As soon as someone tells me in any form that they KNOW God’s will, I assume they are full of themselves as well as an unhealthy balloon of hot air.
    Hey, The Got’cha Security ‘Skeeter is buzzed off. Hooray!

  • Kansas Bob

    Maybe it is a forest and trees sort of thing.. hard to see the big picture with all of those big trees (problems?) surrounding you.

  • Joanne

    What if it is all simpler than we make it. And what if God’s will is the Kingdom. And what if, living the Kingdom vision is God’s will and we get to do what we enjoy doing, what we do best, that is in sync with kingdom.
    I don’t think God’s will is a dot. but a sphere of his will that is kingdom.
    If we learn the kingdom, we might discover God’s heart.


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