This is a slight revision of an old post from 2012.
This past Sunday evening I taught on discerning God’s will, specifically discerning God’s will for those areas where there is no biblical guidance. In other words, how do we know what God wants when we are dealing with a non-moral issue? Perhaps the most important point was that God does not guide us mystically or supernaturally. God generally guides us through people, prayer, circumstances, common sense, wisdom, and our own desires. God does occasionally guide us through a “gut feeling” or a “hunch.” But these feelings are not infallible nor normative. Below is my pattern for biblical decision making. I am talking here mainly about major decisions, though there is some application to more minor ones.
1. Read God’s Word a lot. Here we learn godliness, wisdom, and the path of righteousness.
As we become more intimately familiar with God’s Word in Scripture, we become more intimately familiar with God, his ways, his habits, his characteristic reactions. We can pray according to his will, finishing his sentences. This doesn’t come from looking over God’s shoulder, but from diligent study of the Scripture, faithful participation in worship and sacraments, the usual means by which God reveals himself and his will to us. (Peter Leithart, From Beyond the Veil, 177)
But do not rely on random Bible verses. Verses must be interpreted in context. God of course, can use random Bible verses, but that does not mean we should make it our habit to interpret God’s Word this way.
Make sure it is not sin. This means specific breaking of God’s law. You can be sure sin is not God’s will.
What if something might be a sin, but you are not sure? Here you should follow Romans 14:23. If your conscience is pricked, that is if you feel guilty, do not do it.
Make sure you are loving God and loving your neighbor. Examine your motives. Why are you doing what you are doing? It is possible to make the right decision for the wrong reason. For example, a certain job could be where the Lord is leading you, but you could be taking it out of greed instead of love for God and neighbor.
2. Pray over the decision, but do not sit around until an answer comes in the mail. Pray over it and trust that God is going to answer your prayer through normal rational means (see below). Don’t pray over it until you get a lightening strike from Heaven telling you what to do.
3. Talk it over with your pastor, spouse, parents, elders, and/or friends. Ask those closest to you to help you with the decision. Ask those who have made a similar decision for their advice. But do not blame them for what happens, nor make their advice the equivalent of God’s Word. Collect data and get advice.
4. Look at your circumstances. What makes the most sense in your situation? Do not be afraid to ask, “What do I want to do?” For example, when choosing a career the two questions you should ask are: “What do I like to do?” and “What am I good at?” Do your research when making a decision. But do not research it to death. In our age, where the floodgates of information have been opened, you can research forever. You will never have enough data to predict the future.
5. Remember we rarely feel fine with any major decision we make. Every decision involves the cutting out of other decisions, which can leave an uneasy feeling in our gut. Marrying this girl means I will never marry any other. Taking this career path probably means other career paths will be closed to me. Even decisions which are not as permanent cut us off from other options. If we buy this house, we cannot buy that house. Just because you are uneasy does not make it a wrong decision.
6. Once you have studied God’s Word, prayed, taken counsel, and researched your options, make a decision and don’t look back. Trust God that he will guide you and direct you. If your decision turns out poorly do not assume that you made a mistake. God’s will often leads us through mistakes and failures.