How do we determine God's will? How do we know what we should or should not be doing?
I ask because I have several acquaintances who, in the past few weeks, have each told me that they ultimately decided against a decision they were faced with in their lives. Each experience was unique, and ranged from the seemingly rather mundane to a significant life decision. The common factor in each of these occurrences was that the individual ultimately decided against whatever was presented to them because they felt that God had not given them "a peace" about doing what they were presented with. This got me to thinking about how we determine just what exactly God has called us to do. Does he give us "a peace" when he wants us to do something? And if he does, what does "having a peace" about doing something look and feel like? Ultimately, I'm asking if relying on a feeling of peace about a certain situation or outcome of a decision is a valid way of seeking and understanding God's will.
First, I think we need to take into consideration some doctrine about how our emotions work. The Bible says that our hearts are wicked, self-serving, and are unknowable. So in one sense, if we are relying on an internal feeling of peace as a verification of God's direction in our lives, we also need to realize that it is possible for our emotions to be deceptive when it comes to the decision making process. That is, I think we need to be honest about the fact that we have a tendency to serve ourselves and pursue our own desires - not God's. This is not to say that the Spirit doesn't guide us, and that we always make self-centered decisions. It is to say that, although we are in Christ, those tendencies still exist. We need to recognize them, and admit the possibility that a need for a "peaceful easy feeling" might be born out of selfishness.
Second, I think there's a good chance that most of the things God has called us to do are not easy things. That is, God usually calls people to do the kinds of things that don't necessarily inspire feelings of peace. Just ask the Apostle Paul how much peace he felt about all of the things God had him do. So if we gauge what God has called us to do by how much peace is inspired in our innermost emotions by the circumstances of what we are faced with, we may come to wrong decisions.
At the same time, however, we can indeed have peace, even when it comes to hard things, because of who and what God is. He is the all-powerful God of the universe who sustains life and works to serve and protect those whom he loves. In this sense, we can rest assured that even when we do hard things we have the support of the Almighty God. This should bring us a certain sense of peace - even when facing death. Think about it: the resolve of Daniel's friends as they faced the fiery furnace was steadfast. They had "a peace" about being burned alive. Daniel himself went to the lion's den with "a peace." The apostles no doubt had "a peace" about defying the government and preaching the gospel to the masses. From whence did their peace come? From a warm fuzzy feeling in their bosom, or from the knowledge that the God of the universe was going before them? If any of these had waited for "a peace" before acting on what God had led them to do, they probably wouldn't have done it. Rather, their peace came from their knowledge of who God is and what he can do.
In this sense, there really isn't anything that we should not have "a peace" about. If God is indeed for us, then who can be against us? Whether I am called to something life-changing, like flying to the other side of the world and enter the mission field, or to "just" serve in a seemingly mundane ministry in the local church, God is with us equally in both cases. And his limitless resources are available to us no matter what we are doing. In this sense, one should never not do something because one doesn't have enough "peace" about it. The God of the universe being on your side is all the peace you need.
This is the problem with trying to determine what God wants us to do by using feelings and emotions. Emotions are ultimately unverifiable and can even lead us astray at times. Kevin DeYoung's book, Just Do Something: how to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc., while having perhaps the best subtitle of any book ever, talks about how we can often end up doing nothing when faced with decisions because we're waiting for some mystical feeling or sign. Rather, he argues, God has told us what we are to do. We just need to do it. And when we've started to do it, to continue to do it. This is often a harder process than trying to get the right feeling or sign, and it's usually why people don't do anything. They wait around in limbo, perhaps because they simply don't like what God has called them to do.
So how do we determine what to do? Todd Friel offers a framework for discerning God's will for your life that I think is helpful:
1. Determine what you want to do. It would be foolish to say that our own desires, preferences, and talents don't factor into the things we do. After all, God has made us who we are for a purpose. We should allow those things that make us unique to guide us in the process of determining what God wants us to do. So step one would be to figure out what you want to do. If you don't want to do something, it's possible that God may not want you to do that, but don't scratch something off your list just because you don't want to do it. God still may give you what you need to see it through.
2. Read the Bible. The Bible is God's direction for all of life. Every question is answered the Bible; every directive is given in the Bible; all information about what people should be doing with their lives is written in the Bible. In order to know what I should be doing with my life, I need to be reading the Bible.
3. Pray. Ask God for wisdom about what you want to do. Confess sin and your tendency to seek your own desires first. Repeat steps 2 and 3.
4. Seek godly counsel. Think you might know what God wants you to do? Run it by a few other older, wiser people and see what they think. This is an important step, and is one that should not be avoided. One of the most important parts of my own call to ministry was receiving affirmation from other people that they likewise believed that God had called me to ministry. Seek godly counsel, and listen to it. After all, someone wiser than you may have a different idea about what you're about to do, and God could be using them to guide you away from a particular action.
5. Do it! Once you've determined what you want to do, read your Bible, prayed, and sought godly counsel, then just do it! Make sure you do whatever you've committed to do well, and that you see it through to the end.
Note that a person could go through these five steps and still feel rather uncomfortable about what they have determined God had called them to do. For instance, becoming a missionary and going to a foreign country to live, work, and preach the gospel is something that would scare me to death. My fear and lack of peace, however, is no indication that God has not indeed called me to do it. So then, should I wait for God to give me "a peace" about something before I do it? Maybe, if the peace we're talking about is knowledge of his greatness and power. We just need to be careful about personal feelings and emotions when it comes to decision making and claiming God's will for our lives.
And I should know, because I have a peace about that.