It has become commonplace in much of American Christianity to respond to anything and everything with the comment, “I need to pray about this to see whether or not it is God’s will for me.”
What’s wrong with that? It’s prayer, right? Well, yes and no. My concern is that American Christians (saying this only because this is what I can speak affirmatively about) are using comments like the one above and “prayer” as a means of getting out of doing anything God desires for believers to do and helping others in the world today.
I’ve asked some people to participate in prayer as a church. Then, hear the response, “Well, let me pray about that and see if that is God’s will for my life.” Seriously? You need to pray to God to see if praying to God is God’s will for your life? Something isn’t right here. That’s not where it ends. How many of us have talked to others in the church about helping with various things that are outside of someone’s comfort zone only to hear the same comment which has become a default American evangelical copout for doing nothing at all?
It is a problem. Prayer isn’t the problem, the problem is that when American Christians don’t want to help out or serve, typically, we will say things like, “Let me pray about this and see if it’s God’s will.” That is wholesome and a wonderful thing to say and the individual then sounds a little more godly and pious for saying it which means the person hearing this can’t really respond because how do you respond to someone who says something as wholesome and golden as that? However, the trouble is there is no accountability for this phrase and it’s typically forgotten over time. In fact, I would be so bold to say that sometimes the people who hear this said to them understand that this means the person isn’t interested personally in helping them or serving in some capacity.
How did we ever equate our personal measure of desire and comfort in helping others or serving in the church with God’s will?
No doubt, there are legit moments in life where the statement above, “Let me pray about this and see if it’s God’s will,” is fitting and is abided by. However, what I am wondering is how many of those who make these statements are actually discerning God’s will as opposed to their own desire to help someone. For this to be answered and understood more fully, let’s consider how it is we discern God’s will…
Good Ways of discerning God’s will:
- Going to the Bible and discovering what God has to say about the given issue/subject. Is it biblical?
- Going to prayer, really praying not just saying it, and praying for clarity and discernment and wisdom and submitting your will to God’s will (exemplified in the Lord’s Prayer).
- Using ‘common sense.’ Yes, I just said that. No, I’m not referring to Thomas Paine’s work, but simply common sense. It’s not wrong to use our heads, our ability to think has been given us by God through common grace. Although, our final authority is Scripture, our minds are a gift of God to be used for His glory and common sense, though occasionally uncommon, can be a good tool in life.
- Consulting a pastor, elder, spiritual mentor, wife/husband, family, and close friends (assuming wife, husband, family, friends are believers). These people basically exist in relation to you in part for the purpose of helping you and supporting you, so why not utilize them?
These are the typical and proven methods of discerning God’s will in and for life. Now, to reinforce my point and for a bit of humor, I will address some poor ways of discerning God’s will…
Poor Ways of Discerning God’s Will:
- Consulting a “spirit-guide,” psychic, witch, sorcerer, Medicine Man, unbeliever, horse (except Mr. Ed, of course), monkey, pet whether cat or dog or other. Why not consult a psychic? The Bible has some problems with that. On a basic level, how could someone who doesn’t know God possibly know God’s will for your life? Answer, they don’t.
- Doing whatever you want to do. Sounds normal, but is it good? The trouble is as Christians we still struggle with sin, even our mental capacity has been affected by the Fall. Evidence of this is we typically want to sin. It’s not like sin is unappealing to us. There is a reason it is appealing to us. So, if we do what we want to do, if we aren’t careful, we could be choosing sin and claiming it is God’s will. In essence, doing whatever we want is actually the opposite of doing God’s will, unless you in fact are God. Are you so bold? Evidence: See Crusades; Witch Trials; Inquisition…
- Saying you will pray and discern God’s will, then simply forgetting about it immediately after saying it.
- Saying you will pray and discern God’s will, then praying your decision and will to God and claiming it is God’s will after.
- Consulting false gods.
- Going on a vacation. After all, you really want to go climbing anyway, or surfing, or sight-seeing, or skiing, or scuba diving, or backpacking, or camping anyway. Might as well add some spiritual discernment into the mix so you can legitimize your trip or does your trip legitimize your spiritual discernment? It can be good to have a spiritual retreat away from the busyness of life in order to do some of the good ‘ways of discerning God’s will’ mentioned earlier, but if you’re getting away from things without going to God’s Word, prayer, or consulting other believers you trust, than is not your discernment simply coming from yourself? Or does God have a unique relationship with your that He doesn’t have with anyone else in which God hangs out with you like He did Adam in the Garden in Genesis 2-3?
- Deciding in your ‘heart of hearts’ that you simply don’t like or feel comfortable with certain things, even parts of the Christian life, and convincing yourself that you are justified in your position because of the way you feel about it despite what God’s Word says, the majority of orthodox Christians today and in all history, and the whole of secondary biblical sources such as the Apostolic Fathers some of which were included in early Bibles and what the Church Fathers (east or west) have to say on a subject and if you are Reformed, what John Calvin has to say on a subject or the confessions/catechisms as opposed to latest young, hip, semi-Reformed guru (Note: I like some of these guys too, I’m just saying consult Calvin and primary sources and use discernment with some of the newer things, please.)
Perhaps, Christians would do better in being more decisive on things and simply saying “Yes” or “No” about more things, and reserving the ‘let me see if it’s God’s will’ comment for major life-changing things. This was never meant to be a long post nor a decisive, complete discussion on the subject discussed with proper citations. It is simply meant to be a hopefully thought-provoking probe into some of the commonplace things that we tend to say as Christians in the church, and hopefully search our motivation for saying such things so that we can truly discern God’s will rightly and not simply say as much in order to make an excuse for not doing what may actually be God’s will. I hope this post was helpful for your. If you’d like to further the discussion as this was only a fun start, please comment below and keep the discussion going.
-grace and peace