How can we discern the will of God? That’s an important question for those who have a saving relationship with God in Christ because once you have been saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, your heart is changed, and you have a passion to please God. God is real, and He does have a plan of redemption for this world that he invites you to be a part of. But how can we know God’s will for us, our part in His redemptive plans? That question is what we will address in tis study.
The Spirit Leads and His Servants Submit
Acts 16:1-5 – “Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek.2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium.3 Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.”
Here we are introduced to a prominent figure in the New Testament, Timothy. According to the New Testament Timothy was the son of a believing mother and unbelieving father (16:1,3). Paul refers to Timothy as being a faithful believer from a very young age whose grandmother and mother were believers too (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15). Later on in his life Timothy is recognized by the church leadership who laid hands on him (1 Timothy 4:14). Paul put a great deal of trust in Timothy giving him various ministry responsibilities in Troas (Acts 17:4), Thessalonica (1 Thessalonica 3:1,2,6), Corinth (Acts 18:1-5; 1 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Corinthians 1:19), Macedonia (Acts 19:22), and Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). Paul sought his company in ministry at Rome (2 Timothy 4:9,11,21).
Paul thought of Timothy as his “son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2,18; 4:17). Paul referred to Timothy as a faithful servant of the Lord whose character had been proven in ministry (Philippians 2:22). Timothy was someone trusted by Paul, a disciple of his, able to teach other churches because Timothy taught and passed on accurately what Paul had taught him (1 Corinthians 4:17). Timothy may have been somewhat timid in nature as Paul often exhorted him to courage and perseverance (1 Timothy 4:12-16; 6:20-21; 2 Timothy 1:7). He may have been sickly (1 Timothy 5:23). Timothy may have also been emotional as Paul mentioned his tears (2 Timothy 1:4).
Though Timothy was brought up by a Jewish mother, he was not circumcised. This is probably because of the influence of his Gentile father who was a Greek. Timothy had a good reputation (16:2) and was probably converted under Paul’s ministry during the first missionary journey when Paul ministered in Lystra (Acts 14:6; 1 Timothy 1:2). Paul wanted to take Timothy with him but knew that as he went through territories with a high population of Jews that Timothy’s uncircumcised condition would hinder the ministry of the gospel. Therefore, Paul circumcised Timothy to avoid any hindrance to the ministry of the gospel.
The Submissive Heart of Timothy – Led by the Spirit to be Circumcised.
Why was Timothy so willing to submit to the leading of the Spirit in this situation? Timothy was likely a young man. Circumcision is no trivial medical procedure for one who is a man. It would be a painful physical procedure. But even though this would be a great physical sacrifice, Timothy was willing to make it and submit to the will of the Spirit as dictated through Paul. It is probable that Timothy’s willingness to submit and be circumcised came from his upbringing in God’s word. Paul’s letter to Timothy tells us of this when he says:
- 2 Timothy 3:14-17 – “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Timothy’s upbringing in the word of God inclined him to give His all to God even if it meant undergoing circumcision.
The one led by the Spirit is a living sacrifice willing to submit to the Spirit’s leading. If you’re going to be led by the Spirit the first step is to have a servant’s submissive heart. That is exactly what Paul would later write in his letter to the Romans when the Spirit inspired him to say:
- Romans 12:1-2 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Timothy was following in the footsteps of his mentor Paul who was a living sacrifice. That willingness to follow and have a servant’s heart is probably why Paul wanted to take Timothy with him as a fellow minister and disciple him.
The Spirit Led Attitude – A Servant of All Discipline
What is the attitude we need to be led by the Spirit? Paul exemplifies this Spirit led attitude. Paul saw himself as a servant of all. Paul saw himself as a slave not only to Christ, but also to all for the sake of the gospel. He was willing to sacrifice anything to see others come to Christ and be saved (see Romans 9:1-3). Paul’s willingness to sacrifice his liberties for the sake of the salvation of others is conveyed in his words to the Corinthians where he states:
- 1 Corinthians 9:19-27 – “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more;20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law;21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law;22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you. 24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
For Paul the priority was the winning and discipling of souls and for that he was willing to give up any liberty. Paul saw this willingness to serve all as a “discipline.”
The word “discipline” here comes from the Greek term HUPOPIADZO (Strong’s # 5299 – hoop-o-pee-ad´-zo) which means literally, “to hit under the eye (buffet or disable an antagonist as a pugilist).” It means figuratively, “to tease or annoy (into compliance), subdue (one’s passions) . . . keep under, weary.”  The form of this word infers that this is an ongoing practice (Present/Active/Indicative). Paul recognizes that making oneself “a servant to all” was not something that came naturally but is a work of the Spirit that required constant training like a boxer or athlete training for a competition. It is God who does this in us (1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:13), but there is also a part that we should do (Philippians 2:12). We need to show up and give ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice and be willing to serve in the Spirit. The one led by the Spirit has a servant of all discipline they follow in the Spirit.
Timothy in being circumcised shows the same heart as Paul, the same servant of all discipline. This led to his willingness to be circumcised if it meant it would enhance the outreach to lost souls and furtherance of the ministry. Timothy and Paul were united in their commitment to the saving of souls. The ministry flourished under the leadership of the Spirit and the right attitude of the disciples.
The Spirit Leads Those Willing to Submit to His “No”
Acts 16:6-10 – “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
Twice here it says that the Holy Spirit forbid Paul to go into certain areas (16:6,7). We are not told how the Spirit communicates His forbidding them to go to the regions in question. It may have been through circumstances, godly counsel or the prophetic word. Maybe the Spirit forbade them to go in a certain direction by not providing funds or provisions to go in that direction. Maybe they couldn’t come to a unity in their plans to that end. Maybe transportation or some other means was not available for some reason. For whatever reason, the Spirit did not provide for them to go into Asia or Bithynia.
What we do not see is Paul throwing a tantrum or forcing his way into places or activities that the Spirit has forbidden. Paul and his missionary party submitted to the “No” of the Spirit. They did not try to force the hand of the Spirit to do their bidding. They did not act like DEA agents (i.e. Drug Enforcement Agents) and take a battering ram to the door closed by the Spirit. They saw the forbidden and closed door of the Spirit not as rejection but as redirection. So often people have something set in their minds and fight against the Spirit until they force their will to be done rather than pray for God’s will to be done. The Spirit has a plan, and He only wants what is best. When we ignore His counsel and pry open doors that He has shut, we settle inevitably for second best and often find ourselves in situations that lead to much pain and even sin.
The Spirit does direct Paul here by way of a vision in the night or a dream. In our study of Acts 1:12-26 we looked at how the Spirit leads and who He leads. Here we see again the Spirit leading the apostles.
The Spirit Leads By Open Doors and Closed Doors
In the book of Revelation Jesus told the church of Philadelphia that He had set before them an open door. This helps us in recognizing how God confirms His word through circumstances. In Revelation it states:
- Revelation 3:8 – “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”
Now Jesus may be referring in particular to the door of heaven through which the true church would be raptured (Revelation 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). But this verse also conveys the thought that before us are doors, some of which God opens, some of which He shuts. When we receive a “word from the LORD” it will be confirmed by an open door of opportunity to fulfill that word. That is how we know it is from the LORD.
In the passage of Acts we are presently studying it says, “they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit, “and “the Spirit did not permit them,” (Acts 16:6,7). I believe this indicates that the Spirit did not open the door of opportunity for the missionaries to minister in these areas. The apostles apparently had a thought about going to preach in Asia and Bithynia, (otherwise why would it even be mentioned?). When the apostles came to a closed door, they moved on accepting that the circumstances did not confirm the word they had thought was from God. They did not pout but saw rejection as God’s redirection. God confirms His word to us by circumstances, which verify fully the word that He speaks.
The Spirit Speaks Through Visions
In Acts 16:9 Paul receives a “vision.” What is a “vision”? A “vision” is a means of divine revelation similar to a dream. The difference between a dream and a vision is that dreams only occur while a person is asleep, visions can occur while a person is awake (Daniel 10:7). In the Old Testament much of what is written in the books of Ezekiel and Daniel (Ezekiel 1:1; Daniel 8:1,17) are the result of revelation from God received via visions. In the New Testament we see God giving His word by way of visions in the life of Ananias (Acts 9:10-17); Peter (Acts 10); Paul (Acts 16:9-15); and John (Revelation 1).
This is important to grasp because the LORD communicates His plans through means such as prophetic visions. Through the prophet Amos God states, “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). We need to discern God’s message delivered prophetically. When a prophet claims to be conveying a message from God, it must fit within the parameters of God’s word already delivered through inspiration (i.e. Deuteronomy 13:1-5) and any action predicted must come to pass as stated by God (i.e. Deuteronomy 18:21-22). If either of these criteria are not met, that “prophet” is not from God and is to be disregarded.
We need to pause here and build a bit on what we considered earlier in the book of Acts (see Acts 1:12-25). What we need to consider is the question, “How Do I Discern God’s Will and Heart From My Will and Heart?”
The Problem of our Flesh in Discerning the Will and Leading of the Spirit
This is the million-dollar question. How do we know if a thought that comes into our head or heart is from the LORD or not? The Spirit is there and leading us into all truth (John 14:26; 15:26), but sometimes we aren’t sure of which way the LORD is directing. You see we have this troublesome issue of the flesh (Greek SARX). Our flesh is self-centered, self-serving, self-promoting, and self-conscious to the maximum. Our flesh is sly and deceptive in getting its way and will use manipulation and self-deceit to get what it wants. On the surface we say we want to discern and follow the will and guidance of the Spirit, but underneath, in our flesh, we sometimes are really just pursuing what we, or me, wants, desires or lusts for. Remember what God revealed to us about our hearts through Jeremiah the prophet who was inspired to write:
- Jeremiah 17:9-10 – “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?10 I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.”
Our heart is naturally inclined to deceive us. This is especially so before we are saved and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. But the truth is, our heart and fleshly carnal nature continues to try and promote its self-centered ways even after we are saved and indwelled by the Spirit (e.g. Romans 7:18-20, 24-25a; Gal. 5:16-25).
Our flesh can be very tricky, and it leads us to rationalize and manipulate reality to its favor when we allow it to. Therefore, sometimes it’s hard to discern what thoughts are from God and what thoughts are from me. So what do we do? We need to prayerfully go to the Spirit and seek His help and His truth in our regard.
The Solution to the Flesh Problem – THE SPIRIT FILLED LIFE
There is triumph available for the disciple over the struggle with the flesh. The Galatians 5 passage above tells us, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). The greatest book of the Bible is Romans, and the pinnacle of this great epistle is chapter eight where the victory that is possible over our flesh in the power of the Spirit is laid out by Paul (cf. Romans 8:5-14, 26-29, and 37).
The Holy Spirit Who indwells the believer empowers the believer to resist his or her fleshly desires and proceed in the ongoing process of sanctification which is the work of the Spirit in us to conform us to the nature of Jesus. If we are going to rightly discern the Spirit’s leading we need to be aware of our fleshly tendencies and side with the Holy Spirit against them. We need to seek the confirmation of the Spirit’s leading, and there is a way to do this.
The Three Confirming Tests of the Spirit in Discerning the Will of God
There are basically three tests to determine whether or not a thought or word in your head is or is not from the Spirit. The three questions we need to ask to determine if a word is from God or not are: Is the word on God’s will COMPLIANT? Is the word on God’s will CONFIRMED? Is the word on God’s will CONCLUSIVE?
First, Is My Sense of the Spirit’s leading COMPLIANT With God’s Word?
The Spirit will never give us a word or steer us in a direction that contradicts or is out of compliance with His written word. God will never contradict Himself. Therefore, the first question and the predominant question we need to ask is, how does it jive with the Bible? In the book of Deuteronomy the LORD states through Moses:
- Deuteronomy 13:1-5 – “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder,2 “and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them,’3 “you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.4 “You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.5 “But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst.”
This is an extremely important if not the most important aspect of confirming God’s will you’re your life. Just because a “sign” or “wonder” comes to pass does not mean it is from God or that it confirms God’s will for your life. In the end times the Antichrist will have the ability to make “lying wonders” and if you are inclined to look to miracles, signs and wonders alone as confirmation of God’s will and presence, you will be ripe for deception (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). We are seeing even now in our time the rise in the occurrence of apparitions (e.g. of Mary), of charlatans who perform so-called signs and wonders. There is a “power evangelism” that focuses on getting the attention of people via the supposed miraculous. What we see in our world today and in the church is often an emphasis on the experiential to the neglect of God’s word. This is dangerous because when experience, signs and wonders are given priority over God’s word, it paves the way for deception and manipulation. Therefore, the phrase, “and the sign or wonder comes to pass,” indicates that a confirming circumstances do not necessarily mean something is from God. A confirming word or circumstance is only from the Lord if and only if it complies with the written word of God.
It is also important to understand and apply this verse in somewhat of a more personal way. What do I mean? Well, your flesh (i.e. the carnal nature discussed above) is like a false prophet within who will manipulate scriptures to fulfill its own lusts. It is amazing what the flesh will lead people to do in terms of misinterpreting and rationalizing away the meaning of scriptures in order to get what their flesh wants. You need to beware of this and while we do not stone or kill off false prophets in our day, you definitely should do everything to stone and put to death the fleshly false prophet within (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5-9).
For a practical example, say you are working overtime to pay some outstanding bills and you have been praying for God to help you with your finances. One night while working late you find that the company’s petty cash drawer filled with money is accidentally left unlocked. A word comes to you, “Go ahead, I left the drawer open for you. Take the money. No one will know. Go ahead take it.” In that situation there is a word and a confirming circumstance, you have prayed for financial help and now here is an opportunity to get some money, i.e. the unlocked and open petty cash drawer. BUT that would be stealing and that does not comply with the word of God (Exodus 15; Ephesians 4:28). Therefore it must be rejected as being a word from God or the will of God. If it is not from the LORD where is it from? It could be a word originating from our fleshly desires, or it could be a word from Satan much the same as in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). Remember, in the Garden of Eden Eve received a word. There was an opportunity to follow through on the word she received. But since that impression or word contradicted God’s word, she should have rejected it.
Another example can be seen in someone who feels called to ministry or who feels the Lord wants them to do a certain task or do a certain thing. There are those who have left family, even divorced so that they could go and live as a monk or follow some other “ministry” opportunity or do something they have in their mind to do. But this contradicts what Paul wrote to pastor Timothy saying:
- 1 Timothy 5:8 – “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
The Spirit will never guide in a way that one’s family is neglected or uncared for. A good saying to follow is where God guides God provides. If the Spirit is leading you into ministry, then He will provide for you AND your family, (especially your family). You won’t find one example in Scripture where the Spirit led someone to the neglect of their loved ones. The Spirit is a great supporter of the family. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25-26). Wives are to cooperate and respect their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-23). Fathers are to provide for their families as the verse from Timothy states above (see also Ephesians 6:4). There is nothing that will tarnish a minister (and the God they claim to serve) more, than neglect of the family.
The Right Application of God’s Word
Cults misuse the word of God to confirm their false doctrines. People can twist Gods’ word and take it out of context to confirm their will. God reveals a simple gospel in the Bible and sinful man is always trying to add to it in an effort to gain control or manipulative influence over others. The Bible warns us against such falsehoods when it says:
- 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 – “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!”
The Spirit tells us here through Paul that the gospel is simple, it’s not complicated, and it is designed by God to be understandable. The gospel is not enigmatic or esoteric; it is profoundly elemental (2 Corinthians 11:3). Paul here points out in verse four that there are those who present and preach “another Jesus,” that is, one different than the Biblical Jesus. There are those who scrape and peel parts of what the Bible says about Jesus that they don’t like and when they do they put themselves in a position of authority and create Jesus in their own sinful image (e.g. the Jesus Seminar). Paul also speaks of “a different spirit . . . or a different gospel” that some will present, and these are false and impotent to save and sustain spiritual life (see Galatians 1:6-9). What makes these false teachings all the more difficult to discern is that Gods’ word is often used (i.e. misused) to present the false teachings.
How are we to differentiate the real Jesus, the real Spirit, and the right gospel from those that are false imitations? We differentiate the true from the false, the authentic from the imitation, by the right application of God’s word in the Spirit to confirm them as from God or not. It is the right use of God’s word that counts! A word taken out of context is a pretext, a manipulation and a false use of God’s word.
In the wilderness Satan came against Jesus to tempt Him. He brought some words to the mind of Jesus but if you examine that situation you see a perfect example of handling the temptations of Satan. Jesus viewed all things through the lens of scripture (Matthew 4:1-11). Every time Satan struck out at Jesus, Jesus responded, “It is written.” We should do the same. We should note also that it is the right application of God’s word that is important. Satan misused scripture in his attempt to draw Jesus into sin. We should not twist scriptures to get by these criteria of determining if or if not a word is from the LORD.
We should apply the word rightly as Paul states to Timothy:
- 2 Timothy 2:15 – “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
We need to diligently study God’s word as a worker or student who is well trained in its true meaning. Paul was inspired to write to the Thessalonians:
- 1 Thessalonians 5:21 – “Test all things; hold fast what is good.”
The word of God is the instrument by which all things are to be tested. When I was a young man I worked in a precision machine shop with my father. One of the instruments we used there was a micrometer which we used to measure widths of pieces to the ten-thousands of an inch. But if the micrometer was off, our work would be ruined. Therefore we even had to test the micrometers with a special cylindrical tool that was exactly a certain width. That is what the Bible is like; it’s the one reliable gauge to which all other things must be compared.
The compliance with the word of God takes priority over confirming circumstances. The primary determining factor as to whether a word in your head, heart or coming from someone else, is from the LORD is whether it complies with God’s written word. That is why in the New Testament it states of the Bible:
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
In this verse from 2 Timothy, the term “reproof” is ELEGMOS, (Strong’s #1650) and literally means, “a reproof, a proof, proving, testing.”  One of the primary purposes of God’s word is to determine what is and what isn’t from God. So know your Bible, it’s indispensable to discerning what is and isn’t from the LORD.
Second, Is My Sense of the Spirit’s Leading CONFIRMED?
Is what you sense the Spirit leading you to do confirmed by circumstances and /or by others? If you feel as though the Lord wants you to do something, but there are no funds to do it, then perhaps you have read Him wrong. Or perhaps He is telling you, “Wait, now is not My time.”
The Spirit will often confirm His direction by way of opening and closing doors (see above – Revelation 3). Where God guides He provides. It is a pretty good bet that if you find yourself in a situation where you are lacking funds or resources, that God did not guide you there. That is why it is so wrong for those in radio and television or any other ministry to beg for money and donations as though God was poor. God is not poor and to plead for funding betrays the likelihood that those pleading and begging for funds have not followed the guidance of the Spirit and have likely overstepped their bounds.
In addition to the confirmation that comes through open and closed doors, there is a second very important means of confirmation, godly counsel.
Getting Godly Counsel BEFORE You Make a Decision
It is always good to seek counsel from other godly people, before you make any final decisions. As pastors I often have people coming to me for my thoughts on certain issues in their lives. I have learned that those who come to me before they finalize a decision tend to be genuinely seeking the will of the Lord because they are trying to objectively weigh the evidence and confirming issues. But those who come to me and say, “Hey pastor, guess what, I’m doing this . . . What do you think?” Those people who come to me after they have made their decision really did not want my honest advice because if they did they would have come before they made their decision. Those who come to me after the fact really are just seeking my approval of their decision rather than any honest counsel from me. Perhaps they are fearful I would not have confirmed their sense of the Spirit’s leading, so they only come after the fact. Some people go out of their way to avoid getting godly counsel because what they really want is their own (fleshly?) way. If you think about it, those who avoid godly counsel in their decision-making process probably already have a sense that what they want to do is questionable, otherwise they would have sought honest godly counsel. God loves you and wants His best for you, wouldn’t it be better to submit to His confirmation through godly counsel so that the Spirit can lead you in the path of His blessing? Seek God and His righteousness first and all these things will be added to you.
The Bible conveys this prudent path of getting godly counsel before decisions are made when it states:
- Proverbs 11:14 – “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”
- Proverbs 15:22 – “Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established.”
- Proverbs 24:6 – “For by wise counsel you will wage your own war, And in a multitude of counselors there is safety.”
- Luke 14:28-32 – “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—29 “lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,30 “saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’31 “Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?32 “Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.”
If you are sensing a call to something, the Spirit will often confirm it through others who see the same thing in you. But make sure the counselors you rely on are true and honest enough to tell you the truth even if it will disappoint you (Proverbs 27:6).
So you see, if the confirmation does not come it may be that the word you received was not from God or that you need to wait longer for God to confirm the word. If you can’t wait, it may be an indication that the word was not from God. Let patience have its perfect effect in you (James 1:2-5).
A Time to Wait on the LORD
What do we do when we have a word that doesn’t contradict God’s word but has yet to be conclusively confirmed? We wait on the LORD. We have to give the situation and ourselves to the LORD. That is what the word of God states in the following verses:
- Psalm 27:13-14 – “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed That I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living.14 Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!”
- Psalm 37:34 – “Wait on the Lord, And keep His way, And He shall exalt you to inherit the land; When the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.”
- Lamentations 3:24-25 – “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!”25 The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the soul who seeks Him.”
- Habakkuk 2:3-4 – “For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry.4 “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.”
- Luke 12:35-36 – “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning;36 “and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately.”
- 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 – “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus,5 that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge,6 even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you,7 so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,8 who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
- 2 Thessalonians 3:5 – “Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.”
Now you might read these verses and say, “Hmmm, I see the idea of waiting from the Old Testament verses, but the New Testament verses seem to refer to our waiting for the return of Jesus. How does that have anything to do with my particular circumstance?” It has everything to do with it! We need to wait patiently on the Lord to use us the way He sees fit. I believe the time is short before Jesus will return to rapture His church from the earth. Jesus knows exactly how to use us until His return. He will not waste us; we can trust Him to use us in the most effective way.
Those who rush ahead of the Lord are often those who feel their lives are slipping away without any significant impact being made for the Lord. When you reach a certain age and you haven’t attained some self-imposed goals or objectives, you begin to get nervous, frustrated and wonder if you will ever reach them. That is when people begin to compromise and settle for anything just to move on in their lives. But impatience and self-assertion are not the way to find and be fulfilled in God’s will, that will only lead to a mess and falling short of God’s perfect plans for you.
We need to remember the prerequisite for discerning the Spirit’s leading, Romans 12:1-2:
- Romans 12:1-2 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
The application of this verse can’t be emphasized enough in discerning God’s will for your life. If you are to find God’s best for your life, you must come as a living sacrifice before God which means you must prayerfully seek for Him to help you come to Him objectively with no ulterior motives. For those seeking to be married, you need to ask yourself, “Am I ready to accept that God may want to keep me single?” For those seeking a promotion you need to ask, “Am I ready to accept that God may want to use me where I am and not promote me?” For those seeking higher education ask, “Am I ready to accept that God may not want me to go to school but may want to equip me in a different way for ministry?” For those looking to move to a different location, ask, “Am I ready to accept that God may not want me to move away, but may want me to stay where I am even if it is not as economically beneficial as if I were to move away?” If you want to discern God’s will, you need to come to a point where you say, “Whatever you want Lord, I’m yours.” You need to be willing to receive what God has for you even though it might not be something you have considered or even want right now. But we can be certain that submitting to God will always result in His abundant life and fulfillment more than anything we force or refuse from Him.
God’s Desires in Your Heart
You say, “But I want . . .” and then fill in the blank. God does put desires in our hearts, but we first have to give ourselves to Him. We have to give up our carnal wants and desires. The Psalmist wrote:
- Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.”
That doesn’t mean that if we “delight” ourselves in the Lord He gives us everything we want, quite to the contrary, when we delight ourselves in the Lord, when we are pliable and open to His will, when we are open and objective to whatever He desires for us, then He will put His desires in our heart. Leave what you think you need and come to God seeking His heart and what He knows you need. If you have a desire to do something and it complies with God’s word and is confirmed by an open door and godly counsel from the Lord, then go for it!
Choosing a Mate
Let me pause here and consider one of the biggest decisions people make in their lives, choosing a mate. God provides those He wants married with a mate (Proverbs 18:22). But marriage is a big responsibility and not everyone is destined to be married (see 1 Corinthians 7). There is nothing worse than marrying the wrong partner or getting into the wrong business relationship or dragging your loved ones on a wild goose chase fueled by delusions of grandeur in one’s flesh. Sometimes people never marry because their standards differ from what the Lord wants. Physical attraction is important, but the Bible says that the inner beauty of the soul and spirit is of far greater worth (1 Peter 3:3-6). Is that something you have considered in your search for a mate? The most important aspect of picking a mate is not whether or not they are knock out beautiful or handsome, but are they so strong in the Lord that they will enhance your walk with the Lord or not, are they a soul mate, a friend in the Lord? (See 2 Corinthians 6). Are you limiting God’s will for you because your “dream” mate must be blond or have blue eyes? Have you overlooked someone God may have brought your way, but for some superficial reason you have refused to consider him or her. There are frogs that God can turn into princes today. There are Shrieks and pretty princesses that God can bring to pass. I don’t’ want to be accused of trying to be a matchmaker here, I am simply trying to introduce you to some thought-provoking considerations and potential possibilities from the Lord.
Many times we make decisions in an effort to escape the Lord’s will or discipline in our lives. Jonah is one who comes to mind in this regard (see the book of Jonah). People faced with God’s discipline which they may find uncomfortable or who rebel against Gods’ will, sometimes flee for supposed greener pastures only to find that until we go through and learn the lesson God is trying to teach them in a certain aspect of their life, they will be stalled spiritually until they submit to God. God won’t let us escape; He loves us too much for that (Hebrews 12). God will pick up where we left off until we learn what He wants us to learn and then and only then can we move on. God is diligent and persistent in this regard, and He will go out of His way to make His point. He’ll go so far as to bring a storm and a great fish if He needs to in order to get your attention (again see Jonah).
The Two Errors People Make
The two errors people make in discerning God’s will for their lives are either not going through the doors God opens before them or trying to bash through the closed doors He puts before them. When you aren’t certain of which is which, wait on the Lord until the Spirit shows you. When there is no confirmation or clear leading from the Lord stay put and wait for the Lord until there is. The Spirit may be telling you that you are right where He wants you, or that at least it is not time for you to move out of where you are.
When my wife first met me she felt as though the LORD told her that she would marry me. I didn’t get that word at first, but she did. She didn’t tell me this until after I proposed to her. She waited on the Lord to put that desire in my heart and so that she would be certain that it was from the Lord and not something she coerced out of me. Well, three years after we met, the word she heard was confirmed as from the LORD because we were married. She waited three years for her confirmation that what she felt the Spirit was telling here was right.
In another situation, I felt as though the Lord was closing the door to ministry where I was and opening the door for me to go to seminary. Initially my wife Dee was not interested in leaving an area that she had never been away from before. The thought of moving to Kentucky (where the seminary was located) was not something my wife felt she wanted to do. But I left it in the Lord’s hands trusting Him to either change her heart or change mine. He changed hers and we went off to seminary. I let the Lord do His work. If it was His will for me to go to seminary, He would guide and provide, and that included communicating His desire to my bride. I would never have gone to seminary if God hadn’t confirmed His will like He did through Dee. A spouse is one of the best and most practical ways the Lord confirms His will for your life, and I would never ignore any advice from my wife.
When I was considering seminary I wanted to make sure this was from His heart and not my heart. Therefore, I felt that if this was the Lord’s will for me that He would provide the funds for it. I prayerfully reasoned that it wouldn’t be right or the Lord’s will to go into hock to be trained for ministry. If I graduated seminary in debt, it would hinder my freedom to go where the Lord might want me to go. I didn’t feel it was the Lord’s will to take such a yoke of financial bondage on myself. In prayerfully preparing for this venture in faith, I never asked for donations or financial help from anyone. We sold almost all of our earthly things and bought a 1973 Ford Econoline Window Van in which we packed our clothes and my books with some other items and drove off to Kentucky. We drove the 700 plus miles to the state of Kentucky with enough money for the summer to live and for me to take classes. It was a step of faith. If I was wrong I’d have to admit that I was wrong in my reading of the Lord’s will from my life. But I believed God had put this desire in my heart. Sure enough God provided by helping us to both get jobs, and I was awarded scholarships, which paid for my seminary education. Now my job was a humbling one, cleaning offices and restaurants at night (and let me tell you it was a Mexican food restaurant, and those bathrooms were pretty raunchy and filthy at times!). God guided and provided, and I graduated on time and debt free. I knew that all this was from the Lord because of how He confirmed it by providing for us during this venture in faith. I can’t say it enough, where God guides, God provides. If there are no provisions, then you need to ask, “Is the Lord guiding me in this direction.”
Stiff-necked Spirit Resisters
There are some people who are willfully self-deceived because they are overcome with their desire to do or get something they want. With such people no matter how clear the Spirit directs that what they want is not what He wants for them, they still twist the circumstances to their own carnal desires. The Spirit may be slamming a door shut through circumstances, godly counsel, and even His word, but they still refuse to see the writing on the wall (see Daniel 5). Such people have tunnel vision and such a self-centered and self-willed (fleshly) perspective on things that they close themselves to the leading of the Spirit. This is sad because it leads to ruin and great harm and disappointment not only for them, but for those around them as well. When such people do come around to repenting, their cry becomes, “Oh Lord, please bless this mess!”
Such people often compound their sinful stubbornness by blaming God for their miserable situation (that they got themselves into by their own fleshly self-willed ways). There is a name for such people in the Bible and that name is “stiff-necked.” There are people who are stiff-necked Spirit resisters who turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the communication of the Spirit in their lives in order to assert and get their own will and way, no matter what.
The people of God in the Old Testament were characterized by such stiff-necked and stubborn ways throughout their history. Some examples of God’s indictment of His people in this regard are:
- 2 Chronicles 24:19 – “Yet He sent prophets to them, to bring them back to the Lord; and they testified against them, but they would not listen.”
- 2 Chronicles 30:8 – [King Hezekiah called to the wayward people] “Now do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the Lord; and enter His sanctuary, which He has sanctified forever, and serve the Lord your God, that the fierceness of His wrath may turn away from you.”
- Jeremiah 32:33 – “‘And they have turned to Me the back, and not the face; though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not listened to receive instruction.”
- Jeremiah 44:16 – “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you!”
- Zechariah 7:11-12 – “But they refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear.12 “Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the Lord of hosts.”
- Acts 7:51 – [Stephen said] “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.”
Beware your flesh and the schemes of the devil who will try to coax you and insight you into being a stiff-necked Spirit resister. Repent from such ways and seek the Spirit to cleanse your heart and free it from such sinful self-centeredness! (Romans 2:28-29). Remember the words of the scripture which state:
- Proverbs 1:5 – “A wise man will hear and increase learning, And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel,”
- Proverbs 12:15 – “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise.”
- Proverbs 15:31-33 – “The ear that hears the rebukes of life Will abide among the wise.32 He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, But he who heeds rebuke gets understanding.33 The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom, And before honor is humility.”
As we continue now in our study of Acts we see how He confirms His leading to the apostles.
Third, Is My Sense of the Spirit’s Leading CONCLUSIVE?
Here we ask, Does the word about God’s will I hear come to pass? A word might come to you saying, “Today is the day I am going to rapture you to heaven. Go shout the news in the streets.” Now if the day passes and you’re still here shouting about the coming of the Lord in the streets, it wasn’t from the LORD and you’re going to look like a crazy fool, not to mention you will defame and dishonor the name of God. Many a false prophet has been exposed by this test. Does the word conclude as it is purported to? In Deuteronomy God is preparing His people through Moses to ward off pagan false teachers and so He forgives a very simple and clear test for determining if a word is from God:
- Deuteronomy 18:20-22 – “‘But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’21 “And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’—22 “when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”
This test is not only for false prophets but is all encompassing in that if you receive what you think might be a word from the LORD, you will know it actually was from the LORD if and only if it comes to pass and conclusively fulfills all it claims.
A Modern Day False “Church”
In the above previous illustration I knew it was God’s will for me to go to seminary because He provided where He guided. My wife Dee knew that the word she received about me being the one she would marry was from the Lord because God conclusively confirmed it by uniting us in marriage. On the other hand, there have been those in recent times who have predicted the rapture of Christ in 1988, 1989 and those who predicted the end of the world in 1994 none of which came to pass. Therefore we know the words they received were not from the Lord.
It has been well documented that the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult has predicted the end of the world would occur on numerous occasions. They predicted the end of the world would occur in 1874, 1910, 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1975. But we’re still here and certainly nothing like the end of the world has occurred and therefore we see the only thing that is confirmed in regard to the Jehovah’s Witness cult is that they are a false church, not of God and they are teachers of falsehoods. 
What Should Be Done With False Churches and False Prophets
When it becomes clear that a group is cultish and false or a person is a false prophet, what should be done? In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he is inspired to write:
- Ephesians 5:8-14 – “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light9 (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth),10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.13 But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.14 Therefore He says: 1 “Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.”
Disciple, we need to wake up and take a stand, we need to expose that which is false with the light of God’s scripture truth. How do we expose such falsehood? It is first by withdrawing any support for such false entities. Then, it may be by sharing exposing truth with someone we come into contact with who is caught up in such falsehood. It may be by writing a letter or supporting a ministry that exposes such falsehoods by standing for truth. We should be into God’s word and prayerfully depending on the Spirit to equip us to test all things to see whether they are of God and according to His truth.
James Strong, New Strong’s dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.
W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Vine’s complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.
 See David A. Reed, Ed. Index of Watch Tower Errors, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House) 1990.