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God’s Will or God’s Way?

If the telephone should ring right now it would scare him to death, so intent is he on his thoughts. God knows what I should do. He knows everything. His will is perfect. But how do I know what His will is? "God, what do you want me to do about this? Tell me."

Silence. The vaulted doors of heaven seem locked and double-bolted, impenetrable. "Please… I desperately want to know." In his imagination and frustration, he can almost hear God saying, "Nope. Not going to do it. I know and have my plans for you, but that information is unavailable to mortal man." So he begins to search all his Sunday School memory banks and quiet time insights for a revealing scripture to be used as leverage on the Almighty.

"Ah, Ha! That’s it," he declares… "I think." And then, in barely audible muttering, he recounts, "There was a fellow in the Bible who ran out of bread to make midnight sandwiches for his house guest, and went to his friend’s place to bum a few slices. He eventually got the bread, but only because he persisted long enough to wear his sleepy buddy down." With renewed commitment to persistence, and increasing impatience, he forges ahead with bowed neck and set jaw to find God’s will.

Days pass and the decision-making deadline approaches. Whereas initially his intensity was fueled with frustration, now there is another factor–fear. What in the world am I going to do? I don’t want to miss God’s will, he thinks. "And what will my fate be if I mess up?" he blurts out, thinking of the most certain misfortune that will be his if he misses God’s best. Reverting to saner rationale he contemplates, but how am I supposed to know what God wants me to do if He won’t tell me! "Lord God, can’t you just give me a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’? I know that you have the answer. Why don’t you give me your thumbs up or thumbs down so I can get on with my life?"

Nothing. Not a word. Not a sign. Not a sound, not even a whisper.

"God, even a whisper would be OK by me. Whispers are cool; they’ll work. That’s the way you spoke to Elijah." But it was in a gentle breeze, he recalls, and so promptly moves his quiet time outside to the patio. Now I’m in the right spot! OK, Father. I’m ready for the breeze bearing Your will.

And time ticks on. Hours pass into days as he tries varied and sundry methods for prying God’s will loose. "Prying". Probably not a good word to use in terms of God, our man ruminates. But it is getting close to that, he confides to himself. Right now I’m so frustrated. Every door looks closed, and the closest thing I’ve got to peace is an acid stomach. Maybe my friend Chuck could help me. .

"Hello! Chuck, my man. Hey, I need some insight. How in the world am I supposed to discover God’s will on this decision? It’s like God’s gone to Mars for a sabbatical. I’ve asked Him for an answer in so many different ways that I’m fresh out of methods. I’ve read the Word and see that I am supposed to be persistent. I’ve looked for open doors, but everything looks closed to me. I’ve asked for a direct revelation, but at this point I’d settle for a simple note. I’ve tried to find God’s peace and found only frustration. Do you have any ideas?"

"Wow! You’ve really been putting your time in on this. As bad as I hate to say it, there’s only one thing left to conclude. Before you can get God to tell you what His will is, you’ll have to get rid of the sin in your life. It’s time to clean house ‘ol buddy."

"Thanks, Chuck I appreciate your honesty. I’ll consider carefully what you’ve suggested. See you around, and thanks again. Bye."

Geepers, Chuck! Sin in my life? Like I haven’t been asking the Lord about that for the last gazillion days. There’s got to be something else I’m overlooking. "Dear Lord Jesus, I need insight. The ball’s in Your court. I don’t know what else to do. Amen." This was the second shortest prayer he had ever prayed. The first was uttered three weeks ago: "Help!"

Trying hard to quash the questions and frustrations, he grabs a Diet Coke out of the fridge, picks up his reading, and settles into his favorite chair. All he really wants is a "yes" or "no", nothing fancy like handwriting on the wall. But God has something more in mind, and only time could have laid the proper groundwork up to this point. For only now was our man sufficiently weaned from his methods, his ideas, his analysis of the means he’d learned and created to hear God’s voice.

The words catapulted off the page of Tim Hansel’s book, You Gotta Keep Dancin’. "How do we know if it is the Lord speaking? The only answer I know is to become very familiar with His voice by spending time with Him."

God spoke and our man heard. He wasn’t exactly prepared for this message, but his heart was ready to hear. He was shortchanging himself and God by limiting their interaction to a pedantic black and white, yes or no, mechanical relationship when what God really wanted was time alone with him. Only in this way could He really be known.

For many Christians, the motivating factor in their search for God’s will is to get the right answers so they don’t make any mistakes. If they can just do His will then they won’t have to worry about being in the wrong place, backtracking from a poor decision, suffering failure, or struggling to make the right decisions when every indicator is clouded with ambiguity. If they can just find God’s will, they won’t have to fear the unpleasant consequences or dread the decision-making process or, sad to say, have to put forth the effort required to build a relationship with God. Understanding God’s will is not a matter of playing your cards right; it’s not like looking something up with the right reference tools, then saying the right words, or acting just the right way. God is not a mechanical dispensary. His will is wrapped up in His Being. By knowing Him, we know His will. By communicating with Him, we discern His voice.

Yes, there is the biblical story of Gideon laying out the fleece in order to find God’s will. However, what have you gained in terms of relationship if all you hold in your hand is a wet fleece? While you may know the direction of your next step today, you don’t have anything to tell you how to discern God’s will tomorrow. All you will have gained is the experience of what God did with your fleece, but you won’t know God any better.

Knowing God. Just the idea can sound daunting, presumptuous, and inviting all at the same time. Mix the misconstrued ideas of God’s will in with knowing Him, and the prospect of a congenial relationship all of a sudden requires staying within His "good graces" and falls under the above category of "daunting." After all, God is all knowing. His will is perfect and indomitable. Thus, if the goal is to literally determine God’s will, no one in his right mind would ever want to violate the will of the God of the universe. If this is really what knowing God’s will is all about, then we should all sit perfectly still until we are sure we have heard from God. Even though this represents flawless logic and seems reasonable to our human understanding of the Divine, there remains one major problem: This isn’t the way God wants it!

Don’t get me wrong. God had a will and He expresses it regularly. But knowing God is not about getting His will straight; it’s about knowing Him. Perhaps the term "God’s will" miscommunicates the heart of God. Maybe "God’s ways" would more accurately convey His heart.

Let me illustrate: As an employer I can make my will known to a new employee within the first hour he is on the job. However, it will take that employee considerably longer to know my ways. But once he knows them, he will have great insight into my will because he knows me.

If I were to ask you if you know me, you might say, "Why, yes. You are the eldest of four brothers, born to Bill and Anabel Gillham in Ardmore, Oklahoma deep in the winter of 1956. You are the President of Lifetime Guarantee and drive an orange Bug."

All of this is true. But these are just informative things about me. There are lots of folks who know about me and what I do. I have a bunch of acquaintances and a fair number of friends, but I count my confidants and close friends on one hand. These people are the ones who really know me and my ways. It is with them that I have shared my hopes and dreams, bared my soul, and opened my heart.

God does not intend to be intimidating. He wants to be called "Father." Knowing Him is not presumptuous; it’s His idea. Quite literally, it is an invitation. Discovering God’s will is far more profound than doing the right things as a result of hearing God express His wishes. Knowing God’s will is really an invitation from God to discover His ways, discern His heart, listen to His dreams, understand His thoughts and see through His eyes. If you have sat with God as He bared His soul and revealed His dreams, questions about His will become much less daunting and mysterious because you know Him more deeply than His will can reveal. You know Him and His ways.

"I understand," our man says. "As my relationship matures with the Father, so will our mutual sharing. Through time spent together I will recognize His voice, understand His ways, and know His heart. Our bond will be that of close friends. You know, seeking to know God’s will, I nearly missed knowing Him and His ways."

Preston Gillham

About the Author

As a co-founder, Preston Gillham led Lifetime for 30 years. Preston is a writer, speaker, and leadership guide. He has authored numerous articles and several books including No Mercy and Battle for the Round Tower. He blogs on “Life and Leadership”. More about Preston, his writings, speaking, and his consulting practice can be located at PrestonGillham.com.