At RelevantMagazine.com, David Platt shares a helpful excerpt on discerning the will of God from his book Follow Me. I recommend reading the whole article, but I would nonetheless suggest the article needs further clarification.
In his post, Platt lists a variety of methods we use to discover God’s will, and he implies these methods are not adequate. Alluding to these methods, he writes, “We yearn for mechanical formulas. We want to find shortcuts to the mind of God. But this is not God’s design…”
I know what he’s getting at, and I agree. But by poking at these methods without further comment, I fear Platt may only further frustrate and confuse someone genuinely seeking God’s will. While the methods he lists can certainly be misguided (and I would be quick to point this out too), they are nevertheless grounded in a biblical understanding of faith.
These methods can be helpful to the degree they are properly understood. So let’s do that. Let’s carefully walk through Platt’s list and tease out the positives and negatives of each method for knowing God’s will. We’ll consider the pitfalls and positive potential of each.
1. Random Finger Method.
Description: Opening the Bible to a random location to find your answer. It’s using the Bible like a magic eight ball. Pitfalls: This method is surprisingly subjective. It appears random, but we decide what about and how a selection is significant. Done well: Consulting the Bible is a great idea when you’re unsure what God wants. It describes love. It shows us the kinds of behavior and attitudes God wants. It is the definitive starting place of all decisions.
2. Astonishing Miracle Method.
Description: Watching for signs in the heavens, odd occurrences, etc. Pitfalls: Such miraculous signs are rare, and those of the less miraculous variety are again subject to our interpretation. What a shooting star means is up for debate. Done well: Miraculous signs do happen. In fact, the apostles were validated by miracles. Even today, God gets our attention by miraculous rescues. One thinks of near death experiences.
3. Cast the Fleece Method.
Description: Deciding on some type of coin to flip and naming what each side (or outcome) signifies. For example: If this person doesn’t call me in the next five minutes, I guess it’s just not meant to be. Pitfalls: Again, a high degree of subjectivity intrudes. Right off the bat, we have decided there are only two options when three or four or five may exist. Done well: The idea of casting a fleece comes from Judges 6:36-39. Gideon is not necessarily a model believer here. But the fact that he is “casting a fleece” is not the problem. His lack of faith is. Casting the fleece can be good as a method of simply resolving to live with the circumstances. Sometimes it is simply a declaration of que sera sera, that we are not sure what the best answer is but we will go with whatever happens in faith. This can be a type of “Your will be done” moment.
4. Still Small Voice Method.
Description: Waiting for an inner sense that some decision is right or wrong. Pitfalls: Feelings come and go. They’re hard to discern. Feelings are often misleading and/or short-lived. Done well: We do have something called a conscience. For Christians, the Holy Spirit also lives inside them, guiding and directing them. So again, listening for a still small voice is legitimate.
5. Open/Closed Door Method.
Description: Assuming success means yes and failure means no, or thinking if you can, you should, and if can’t, you shouldn’t. So if you get offered the job, it’s a sign you should take it. Pitfalls: Sometimes we must push through closed doors. Sometimes we should decline open doors. Done well: Once again, this method has a biblical precedent. In the Book of Acts, Paul felt led to travel but kept meeting with closed doors. Finally, he received a call, an open door to go to Macedonia (Acts 16). This was his word from the Lord. Similarly, sometimes we try and try but only meet with closed doors, and at last, something opens. In these moments, it is often fair and wise to conclude God’s will is being revealed through these circumstances.
Again, I agree totally with the heart of David’s post, and I recognize the many pitfalls of the above methods, but I do not wish to completely disarm God’s people by saying no practical means of discernment exist. Properly understood and executed in faith, all of the above methods of discernment can prove helpful to believers genuinely seeking to know God’s will for a situation.