How to Discern the Will of God

Having worked with 20-year-olds for more than 15 years, and having been a 20-year-old myself in the not-too-distant past, I have noticed a recurring anxiety at times concerning the idea of calling and “discerning God’s will for my life.”  Should I take this job?  Should I move to this city?  Should I become a teacher, physician, engineer, church planter, stay-at-home-mom, realtor and so on? Should I date this girl? Should I break up with this guy? Should I buy this house or rent that one? And the list goes on. These seemingly big decisions can cause analysis paralysis, angst, frustration and even depression. Managing the tension between the desire to obey God, other people’s expectations, our own desires and opportunities available to us, can get to be overwhelming. Does God address this tension in the Scriptures? Thankfully, yes! In fact, we’re instructed to discern God’s will in multiple places throughout the Bible.

HERE ARE A COUPLE OF EXAMPLES:

  • “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” – Ephesians 5:15-17
  • “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

Let’s focus on the second verse for a moment. When Paul commands us to be transformed so we can discern the will of God, two questions should naturally occur to the reader:

  1. What, specifically, does Paul mean by, “the will of God?”
  2. And, how do we renew our minds in order to be transformed?

I’m going to take a crack at answering, or at least addressing, both of those questions and my hope is that you’re both encouraged and equipped as a result!

 WHAT, SPECIFICALLY, DOES PAUL MEAN BY, “THE WILL OF GOD?”

Scholars refer to two different forms of the will of God in Scripture. One is God’s moral will, and the other is His will of decree.  His will of decree is that which God orders and it happens absolutely as God determines.  “And God said, ‘Let there be light!’  And there was light” (Genesis 1:3). Boom. That simple.  God decrees, and no one or nothing can thwart His purpose. But there is a second manifestation of God’s will – His moral will. “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). Clearly God’s desired intent is not always fully executed when it comes to His moral will. In that light, Romans 12:2 is clearly speaking of discerning God’s moral will. But we can be more specific than that. We find in Scripture that there are several categories of His moral will. What follows is a representative list:

  • Directional Leadership // Most of the big life decisions I mentioned at the beginning of this post would fall into this category. “God, this relationship is going really well, is it ok to get married?” or, “God, do I take the offer in Phoenix or in Baltimore once I graduate?” And so on. God does provide leadership, but perhaps not always in the form we most desire. I’ll come back to this.
  • Extrinsic Principles // These are the really clear commands in Scripture: don’t murder, or commit adultery, etc. There is no ambiguity here. We know if we are in God’s will or not thanks to extrinsic principles.
  • Intrinsic Guidance // This category touches on the “gray areas: of life. “How many bananas should I buy this week?” or “Should I go to the bank first and then the post office? Or the other way around?” Wait, God cares about that? Yes, keep reading.

Why do I make these distinctions?  Because we tend to focus a lot of emotional energy on directional leadership – what we tend to refer to as “God’s calling on my life,” but I would argue that the Scriptures only deal with directional leadership perhaps one percent of the time. There is certainly evidence that God is concerned with what we do with our lives (e.g.“Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” – Acts 13:2), but I believe we stress this point a bit too much at times. Next, what about the extrinsic principles we see in Scripture? These help tremendously! But these principles still probably only account for an additional one to three percent of the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis.  I want to put forward to you that the overwhelming majority of what Paul meant when he exhorts us to, “discern God’s will” is in the area of intrinsic guidance. “But wait!,” you counter, “God is concerned about how many bananas I buy at HEB?” Yes, I believe He is.

THINK ABOUT IT: YOUR LIFE IS PREDOMINANTLY A COLLECTION OF MANY THOUSANDS OF SMALL DECISIONS MADE EVERY MOMENT OF EVERY DAY AND THOSE SMALL DECISIONS HAVE A MASSIVE CUMULATIVE EFFECT ON WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE DO IN THIS LIFE.

And this idea moves us to address the second question:

HOW DO WE RENEW OUR MINDS IN ORDER TO BE TRANSFORMED?

We eat a lot of venison in our home. If you have ever eaten venison, you know that it can be a bit gamey. My wife, in an effort to make the meat more palatable, will put a mixture of Worcestershire (had to look up how to spell that word!) sauce, spices and other tangible expressions of the love of God into a plastic bag and seal up the steaks for a day or two.  Why? Because the steaks need to marinate in those flavors until you can’t distinguish the meat from the flavor. Get my point? If you were to simply sprinkle some salt on the steak after it comes off the grill, you could just as easily wash or scrape off that salt and the meat would be unaffected. But after marinating, the meat has been transformed!

DISCERNING GOD’S WILL IS LIKE THAT.

When we carve out time to prayerfully study the Bible, pray and meditate on the nature of God, it is like we are taking our brains out of our skulls and sealing them up in the Worcestershire sauce of Heaven until God’s nature and His ways have soaked into us, utterly transforming us through the miraculous renewal that takes place in our minds! Over time, we come to possess an inner compass, animated by the Holy Spirit, that directs even the subtlest decisions. Buying bananas, while seemingly an inane task when it comes to the things of God, is important because it touches our finances, health and other areas. And the Bible speaks directly to those. But because we don’t sit cross-legged in HEB with our journals in hand trying to discern whether to buy eight or 12 bananas this grocery run, we need to be reprogrammed to where we can make these thousands of small decisions in alignment with God’s moral will on the fly.

I would like to suggest that this is predominantly what Paul meant that we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds to discern God’s will.  It’s in the 97 percent of our life that we often don’t see as spiritual, but that God is very much concerned with, i.e. your subtle decisions in conversations, at work, in recreation and so on.  Now, the bonus is that as we hide God’s Word in our hearts – as we marinate our minds in the Scriptures – we become equipped to discern God’s moral will when it comes to extrinsic principals (i.e. don’t look at a woman with lust in your heart), as well as His directional leadership. At times, God will speak a clear word to tell us where to go and what to do (e.g. Acts 16:9-10 and the Macedonian vision).  I find that to be the exception, however, rather than the rule.  Instead, I see that God has first and foremost, “called” us to Himself (Matthew 4:21, Matthew 9:9, Mark 7:14, Mark 8:1, Luke 6:13, Romans 1:6, Romans 8:30, 1 Corinthians 1:9).  And then from that place of intimacy, He leads us in every area of life as the Holy Spirit breathes on His word in our heart (e.g. Acts 16:6-8 where Paul had a general call and operated broadly within that context).

HOW DO WE DISCERN THE WILL OF GOD?

We become so saturated in His Word that we become like a glove that is moved by His hand at work in our subconscious. We marinate our brain in the Scriptures, if you will. If you wait to do that until you’re facing a big decision, you’re missing out on the lion’s share of what it means to be a disciple and to live in loving obedience to Jesus Christ. But for the ones who have taken the time to study His Word for themselves and submitted themselves to God’s revealed will in the Scriptures, you know the peace and contentment that abides even in times of great stress when you don’t know what to do. You find that the “big” decisions have taken their rightful place in your soul next to the greater call to submit all of life to His leadership through His Word.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31

One helpful resource to get started can be found here.  If you have never read the whole Bible, now is a great time to start!  The whole counsel of God is critical to renewing our minds to be able to discern God’s will.

May God bless you immensely as you study His Word and may you know His peace at every crossroad as a result!

By Mick Murray – Discipleship Night School Director

 

 

 

Acts of Mercy

Acts of Mercy is the Crisis Relief and Disaster Relief arm of Antioch and Antioch Movement. Acts of Mercy works to mobilize the Church to save lives in times of disaster and to bring sustainable transformation to communities locally and around the world.

Friday Club

Invest in the lives of children at Friday Club with games, fun challenges, tasty snacks, small group discussions and even field trips around the city. We meet every Friday from 4:15 to 6:30 p.m. during the school year. Not only do you get to invest in a child, but you’ll also have an opportunity to connect with the family if you pick up or drop off your student(s).

Close

Man and Salvation

We believe man was created by a direct and immediate act of God. [Genesis 1:26-27Genesis 2:4]

We believe man, by transgression, fell from the state of righteousness and holiness in which he was first created into total spiritual depravity, a state of death in trespasses and sins in which he is held as a slave of sin and an enemy of God. As such, he is unable to attain divine righteousness by his own efforts but must be redeemed and delivered by the power of the gospel. [Romans 5:12-211 Corinthians 15:1-4]

We believe repentance and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ are an integral part of God’s work of justification of the believer. Through faith in the shed blood of Christ, he or she is justified and made a partaker in the death of Christ. [Romans 5:1, 9]

We believe it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. [Ephesians 2:8-9]

We further believe the emphasis for a continuous walk in grace should be on demonstrating righteousness and purity of heart, believing in the keeping power of God, walking after the Spirit and not after the flesh, living a lifestyle that demonstrates the character, standards and convictions of Jesus Christ and not being conformed to the world. [Jude 24Romans 8:25Galatians 5:16-25Romans 4:1-5Romans 12:1-2]

We believe repentance is dependent upon the conviction of the Holy Spirit in the lives of sinners and believers and upon their response. The conviction of the Holy Spirit, which often accompanies the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, will result in the revelation of the sinfulness of self, which should lead to godly sorrow. [2 Corinthians 7:10Psalm 51Acts 11:182 Timothy 2:25Romans 1:18-32Matthew 9:12-13]

We believe that in the final judgment, which will accompany the return of Christ, every person will give an account to God of every aspect of this earthly life. Unbelievers will be separated from God for eternity in hell. Believers will experience the final resurrection and live eternally with Christ in the new heavens and the new earth. [1 Corinthians 3:10-152 Corinthians 5:10Revelation 20:11-15]

The Godhead

We believe in one God who has revealed Himself in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. [Romans 1:20]

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all co-eternal and all stand equally superior to time, free from the temporal distinctions of past and future.

We believe in God the Father, Creator of all things visible and invisible. [Colossians 1:15-16]

We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, who came into the world to reveal the Father and was the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person. Jesus Christ was the Creator of everything, for by Him all things were made. We further believe that in Christ dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form and that He was very-God and very-Man. [John 1:1-2141 Timothy 3:16Acts 7:37-38]

We believe in Jesus Christ’s pre-existence, incarnation, virgin birth, sinless life, miracles, substitutionary and atoning death, bodily resurrection, bodily ascension into heaven, exaltation, present rule at the right hand of God, coming personal return in power and great glory and everlasting Kingdom and dominion. [Acts 1:11Acts 3:19-21Daniel 7:14Revelation 20:4]

We acknowledge His Lordship—that Jesus Christ is Lord over all things in heaven, on earth and under the earth. [Philippians 2:9-10]

We believe in the Holy Spirit, His present ministry, His indwelling, His empowering, His impartation of gifts for today and His transforming power in the lives of all believers. [1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Galatians 5:22-23Ephesians 1:13-14]

The Lord's Commands

We believe in the Lord’s Supper and believer’s baptism as acts of our obedience and a testimony of our faith. [Matthew 3:6Mark 16:161 Corinthians 11:23-29]

We believe water baptism (by immersion) is an obedient response to the command of Jesus. Baptism is to be performed only upon repentant believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. [Matthew 28:18-20]

We believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. [Acts 2:4; Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6]

We hold that the real evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is one’s response to the Word of God, a Christ-like life, showing forth Christ’s character and experiencing and manifesting the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. [John 16:13-14; John 15:26Galatians 5:22-231 Corinthians 12:4-11]

The Family

We believe God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord. [Genesis 1:27-28Genesis 2:20-25Matthew 19:4-6Psalm 139:13-15]

The Church

We believe the Church is both universal and local. All believers form the Church, in unity with all believers throughout history; and yet, the church is also local, with believers gathering in committed community and under the authority of Christ. [Ephesians 1:22-23]

Scripture describes the Church as:

This language is intimate and reveals Jesus’ commitment to and care for His people. Furthermore, the Church is God’s instrument for revealing His purpose and the fullness of Jesus on earth for His glory. [Ephesians 3:10Ephesians 1:23]

STARS

We believe mentoring relationships can help kids succeed in school and in life, which will be part of transforming their lives, their families and our community’s future. 

Antioch started the STARS Mentoring Project in response to the needs among youth in our neighborhood. In this Mentoring Project, we are building strength, resilience and hope in the children of our community through mentoring relationships and academic support.

Many kids in our community are struggling in school, experiencing some degree of poverty or are lacking positive adult role models. These are huge barriers to a child’s success in school and to ending cycles of generational poverty. Studies have shown that not graduating from high school has a huge effect on people’s lives, and 3rd-grade reading ability is one of the main factors that determine whether someone makes it to high school graduation. We invite you to join us and invest in the students of our community.

Book Club

Our vision is to see a future where every student in Waco, TX, can read and succeed. Statistics show that 3rd graders who read below their grade level are eight times less likely to graduate high school. STARS aims to change the course of a child’s life by raising volunteers to read with two to three students once a week for 30 minutes at their school. This is a big treat for the kids, and we’ve seen many of them catch up to their grade’s reading level. Our goal is to have 1,000 mentors in schools throughout Waco. 

Unbound

End human trafficking. Ignite hope.

 Unbound is Antioch’s anti-human trafficking ministry, working to mobilize the Church and activate local communities to fight human trafficking. Since 2012, Unbound Waco has empowered more than 10,000 youth to stay safe, trained thousands of professionals to identify and respond to human trafficking and served more than 340 victims and survivors in our community. Unbound Waco also provides leadership to the Heart of Texas Human Trafficking Coalition. 

Engage the Nations

Engage the Nations exists to bridge the gap between the local church and our long-term teams by mobilizing interns to help fulfill the Great Commission in this generation. We will mobilize teams for 3-month internships that will work with long-term teams to catalyze church planting and disciple-making movements in their regions. Our goal is that each intern will have encounters with Jesus, be equipped as a disciple-maker, be envisioned for the lost and learn how to support the long-term work going on around the world. Our hope is that our summer teams will be able to identify key, fruitful and apostolic locals who, upon the team’s departure at the end of the summer, can be connected with the long-term team for continued investment and discipleship.

Recovery Ministry

Our desire is to empower men and women to know their identity in Christ and help them develop Bible-based tools to live out their life’s purpose in freedom.   

Antioch Recovery Ministry exists to help bring holistic transformation to both men and women struggling with drug and alcohol addiction through biblically based recovery groups and discipleship. We provide a safe, welcoming and judgment-free environment where men and women come together to work through their recovery journey. We offer an opportunity to be part of a supportive community and learn together through authentic discipleship how to get free from addiction. 

Addiction can leave behind a wide range of short- and long-term effects that can be devastating—not just to the individual—but to the community, state and nation. It destroys families, friendships and careers and impacts a person’s overall health. Here is how we integrate discipleship into recovery:   

  • Weekly Recovery Groups (Separate meetings for men and women) 
  • Discipleship Groups 
  • Referral Assistance  
  • Provide Community Support
  • Provide Recovery Tools

Church Planting School

Reaching the nations of the earth

A core part of Antioch’s vision is to see reproducing, disciple-making churches planted in every country around the world. Jesus said in Matthew 28, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” For some, this means responding to the call of God on their lives to go to another nation and be part of God’s redemptive work. If God has called you and you have completed the Antioch Discipleship School, we invite you to apply to the Antioch Church Planting School. The ACPS will train and equip you for overseas work as well as increase your awareness of what God is doing in the earth. 

If you aren’t sure if you’re called to the nations but are interested in learning more about it, we would love to talk to you.

Marriage and Family

Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.  The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his companion in managing the household and nurturing the next generation. Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord. Parents are to demonstrate to their children God’s pattern for marriage.
Genesis 1:27-28; Genesis 2:20-25; Genesis 1:27; Ephesians 5:25; Ephesians 5:24; Genesis 2:20-21; Titus 2:4-5; Psalm 139:13-15

Faith in Practice

Jail Ministry

We host Sunday services in the local county jail for inmates, both men and women. Services include worship, preaching/teaching and ministry response times. We provide inmates with Bibles and devotionals upon request. Through this ministry, we’re reaching many in our community who are feeling broken and hopeless and bringing Jesus into such tough places. There are many opportunities to be part of this team, including going to the jail, writing inmates and interceding. If you are interested in this ministry, please contact us at impactwaco@antiochwaco.com.

Food Distribution

Our mobile food distribution happens twice a month in the Antioch Waco parking lot. Through this ministry, we have the opportunity to provide groceries to hundreds of families in need in our community each month. As cars are loaded with groceries, volunteers offer to pray for those who would like it. This takes place the 2nd & 4th Tuesday of each month. If you would like to volunteer with this ministry, please email us at impactwaco@antiochwaco.com.

Sports Ministry

Through our Sports Ministry, we’re able to engage kids and families in our local community where they’re most comfortable and provide great coaching, mentorship and a model of life following Jesus. We do this by working with local little leagues, running sports camps and taking impact trips. This is a great way to build relationships with families and student athletes in our Waco community. If you’re interested in learning more about Sports Ministry and our available volunteer opportunities, please contact us at impactwaco@antiochwaco.com.

Prayer Trips

Strategic Prayer Trips are short-term trips overseas and in the US where we learn to follow the Holy Spirit, ask for His guidance and leadership and obey onsite. The goal of these trips is to obey the Father and to see the Kingdom of God advance in the earth.

SERVE Trips

SERVE is an opportunity to spend up to 11 months as part of an international church planting team. Participants get the experience of making disciples, living cross-culturally and working as a team under the leadership of seasoned missionaries. This internship experience helps young people determine whether long-term church planting is right for them. Timeframes and costs for the internships will vary based on location and will be subject to final approval from the Long Term Team who would be hosting. Please note that the SERVE application is in-depth and comes with the requirement of having finished an Antioch Discipleship School.

The Bible

We believe the Bible is the inspired, authoritative, living, eternally reliable Word of God, equally in all parts, and without error in its original manuscript and our primary and authoritative source of revelation from God, superior to conscience and reason, though not contrary to reason. Therefore, the Bible is our final authority for faith and practice and is necessary for our daily lives as it continually points us toward the person of Jesus. [2 Timothy 3:16-171 Peter 1:23-25Hebrews 4:12]