Later this month my husband and I will celebrate our wedding anniversary. Twenty-one years and we still love—and like—each other. I remember the dilemma back when we were dating: “Is he the one? How do I know?” Marriage is a big deal—as in, life-long consequences—so I wanted to ensure I made the right decision. The most common advice I received included these three elements: “Pray about it.” “Seek wise counsel.” “Consider all the circumstances that led you to this point.”
The problem is, these steps do not provide clear answers. We still end up going with our best guess. A more educated, spiritual guess, but still somewhat blind. God did not speak audibly to me. I saw no billboards with John’s photo and the words, “Marry him, Kelley!” The Bible does not have my name in it (and when it says “John” we know it never meant John Mathews, Jr.). So how could I know for sure that marriage to him was God’s will?
We all face dilemmas of varying degrees. How do we know which ones warrant God’s input?
Surely marriage is important enough.
What about buying a house? Shouldn’t I seek God’s will on where to buy and how much to spend?
Surely my children should know God’s will for which college major and career they should pursue.
What about my outfit for the day?
Should I invite a certain friend out to lunch? Where should we go? Spoons, on the Square, definitely. The owners are Christian…
What should I write about today? Do I even bother making my bed? (No.)
How do I decide which decisions are important enough to seek God’s will? The trifecta of prayer, counsel, and circumstances doesn’t work very well. Consider these four options* instead.
Follow the light of God’s Word.
“If only my ways were committed to keeping your statutes!” (Ps 119:5).
Yes, the Bible does contain clear guidelines on moral behavior. God does tell us what is right and wrong. So we should follow the light of the Word in the areas where the Word actually teaches.Unfortunately, some of us end up using the Bible a lot like a spiritual divining rod. Have you ever prayed for guidance on something, then just opened up your Bible randomly and saw what you thought was God’s “word” to your situation? Sometimes that’s awfully convenient: what if I’d done that when I was dating John? Prayed for God’s will, then opened to Ruth 1 and read, “Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay…” (v. 16). Wow! He must be the one. Let’s do this thing.
No. The Bible is not a magic wand to be waved around until—poof!—we see our answer. This practice leads us to follow the Word in places it doesn’t even address as if it should tell us every decision when it does not. Knowing basic Bible study methods can help us understand what the author meant when he wrote it, what the passage means to us today, and how we can apply it to our lives. But there are specific rules and methods to studying the Bible, and none of them include random out-of-context verse grabbing.
The Word teaches many wise principles for living (see the book of Proverbs) that can help guide us today in practical matters such as money or parenting, so the better we know the Word, the better equipped we are for wise living in our different, individual contexts. But that’s not the same as God’s specific purpose in every moment of our day.
Some passages, however, are crystal clear about God’s will. For instance:
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality…” (1 Thess. 4:3).
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18).
If we follow the light God has given us for right or wrong behavior, we cannot go wrong in those decisions. But the Bible is silent on many, many issues. What then?