God wants us all to know His will. Apostle Paul wrote, “So be very careful how you live, not being like those with no understanding, but live honourably with true wisdom, for we are living in evil times. Take full advantage of every day as you spend your life for His purposes. And don’t live foolishly for then you will have discernment to fully understand God’s will.” Ephesians 5:15-17, The Passion Translation.
To the Colossians, Apostle Paul wrote, “We do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” Colossians 1:9, KJV.
God expects all Christians to know His General Will as it is so clearly expressed in the Bible. At times, however, when we have to make big decisions in our lives, we badly need to know God’s Specific Will for us. God desires that all His children will be living in His Perfect Will, knowing exactly what He has called them to do. However, if we do not know His Perfect Will for us, we will at least, hopefully, find His Permissive Will: that is to say, God’s Plan B. Anything less than the Permissive Will of our Father can only be called disobedience.
The Bible clearly teaches God’s General Will. For example, Apostle Paul wrote, “Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in His eyes.” Romans 12:2, The Passion Translation.
Apostle Paul also wrote, “God’s will is for you to be set apart for Him in holiness and that you keep yourselves unpolluted from sexual defilement.” 1 Thessalonians 3: 4, The Passion Translation.
The specific will of God for individual Christians
An example of the Specific Will of God is found in the church in Antioch. We read that, while they were worshipping the Lord in prayer and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “I have called Barnabas and Saul to do an important work for me. Now, release them to go and fulfil it.”
Acts 13:1-2, The Passion Translation.
To be in the Perfect Will of God means to be in the very centre of God’s will. In Acts 16, we read that Paul tried to take the gospel to Asia, but the Holy Spirit prevented that because it was not His time. Instead, He gave Paul unmistakable guidance through a vision in the night in which a man from Macedonia was pleading, “Come over into Macedonia and help us.” It was a significant step for the Apostle: the Gospel was to be preached for the first time in Europe. That was the Perfect Will of God at that time.
It is said that most Christians are living in the Permissive Will of God. We could say that in the Permissive Will of God we are only settling for a ‘Pass’ – but in the Perfect Will of God we are aiming for a ‘Distinction.’
A good illustration of the difference between the Perfect and the Permissive Will of God is recorded in 1 Samuel 8:6-22. The Perfect Will of God was for Israel to be a theocracy. Israel, on the other hand, wanted to be like other nations; they preferred to have a king to rule over them rather than Almighty God; they rejected His rule and suffered the consequences of deliberately stepping out of God’s Perfect Will.
It is said that most Christians are in the Permissive Will of God, satisfied with settling for a mere ‘Pass.’ That is because they are not aligning their own will with God’s will. The highlight of the year for me in the Methodist Church in which I was raised, was the prayer of total commitment which we prayed all together at New Year in the Annual Covenant Service. In this prayer we told the Lord that we genuinely wanted to yield ourselves to Him, leaving every choice in our lives one hundred percent to Him. It is a prayer of full surrender to the will of God in which we renewed our total commitment to serve God at the beginning of each New Year:
My Covenant with God
“I am no longer my own, but Yours. Put me to what You will, rank me with whom You will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for You, or laid aside for You, exalted for You, or brought low for You. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and whole-heartily yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, You are mine, and I am Yours. So be it. And the Covenant now made on Earth, let it be ratified in Heaven.”
In Bible times, God sometimes guided His people by speaking to them in a clearly audible voice.
We read that through the centuries God spoke from time to time in an audible voice to His people. It is recorded that in the cool of the day God would enjoy fellowship with Adam and Eve in the Garden. They were familiar with His voice. One day He challenged, “Adam, where are you?” knowing that they had fallen into sin (Genesis 3:8’). They immediately recognised the voice of God. Later, after Cain had murdered his brother Abel out of jealousy, God called out to him, “Where is your brother Abel?” Genesis 4:9.
God spoke audibly to Moses at the burning bush when He called him to liberate the Children of Israel from slavery to their Egyptian taskmasters. (Exodus 3:4ff)
God spoke audibly to the boy Samuel, when he was servant to Eli the priest in the house of the Lord at Shiloh. Young Samuel heard the voice of God clearly and ran to Eli, thinking that the priest was calling him. (1Samuel chapter 3).
The crowds heard the voice of God audibly when Jesus was baptised. “As Jesus rose up out of the water, the heavenly realm opened up over him and he saw the Holy Spirit descend out of the heavens and rest upon him in the form of a dove. Then suddenly the voice of the Father *shouted from the sky, saying, “This is the Son I love, and my greatest delight is in Him.” Matthew 3:16-17, The Passion Translation.
Peter, James and John heard the voice of God when Jesus was transfigured before their eyes. Luke records, “… a radiant cloud of glory formed above them and overshadowed them. As the glory cloud enveloped them, they were struck with fear. Then the voice of God *thundered from within the cloud, “This is My Son, my Beloved One. Listen carefully to all he has to say.” Luke 9: 34-35, The Passion Translation.
Saul of Tarsus heard the voice of Jesus as he journeyed to Damascus to persecute the Christians there. Luke records that, “Just outside the city, a brilliant light flashing from heaven suddenly exploded all around him. Falling to the ground, he heard a *booming voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” The men accompanying Saul were stunned and speechless, for they heard a heavenly voice but could see no one.” Acts 9: 3-5, The Passion Translation.
Does God speak to His children in an audible voice today?
Yes, God does occasionally speak with an audible voice to His children even today. I know someone to whom this happened. She was attending a week-long Christian conference with her family. The meetings were held in a large theatre. On the evening in question the subject was Missions. Shortly before the meeting was due to begin, one of the organisers asked the congregation to bow their heads and remain in prayer until the speaker went to the platform. The waiting people duly bowed their heads in reverence.
Suddenly this person heard a commanding, authoritative voice. She said that it sounded like thunder as it reverberated through that vast auditorium. The voice spoke with an authority that was apparently beyond the ability of even the most eminent actor to imitate. She heard only three words, “Will you go?” Startled by the sheer volume of sound, she quickly raised her head and looked around. To her astonishment, everyone else in the theatre was still sitting, praying with their heads bowed, having apparently heard nothing. She had expected to see them all looking around them in shock. It was totally incomprehensible to her that they had not heard anything because the voice she heard was sovereign, commanding, all-powerful, extremely loud and full of majesty. It sounded like thunder. Gradually it dawned on her that maybe there was just a possibility that it was God Himself speaking to her in this striking way. She had longed to go on the mission field but had not dared to believe that such a calling might be for her. Some years later, she described what had happened that evening to the Principal of her Bible School who confirmed to her that she had indeed heard the audible voice of Almighty God. God was guiding His child into His perfect will for her.
*The words in bold italics in the Scriptures quoted above describe accurately the volume of the powerful, majestic voice heard by the person to whom I refer.
God often guides by a strong impression
This is a persistent feeling – a quickening or a knowing that comes at times to all Christians that we ought, or ought not, to do something in particular. It is almost certainly the Holy Spirit giving us a nudge in the right direction. There have been countless times when this has happened to me. Something important had been mislaid, for example, and I was irresistibly led to look in a certain place; the missing object was invariably found there.
Strong impressions from the Lord could be about a phone call that needs to be made straightaway: an order has to be placed, or an appointment made. Maybe a reply to an overlooked email is long overdue. If ignored, the feeling soon becomes impossible to resist. Peace returns immediately when Holy Spirit promptings are obeyed. Our heart must “be always guided by the peace of the Anointed One.” (The Passion Translation).
The Greek word Paul used, which is translated ‘rule’ in Colossians 3:15 in the KJV, means ‘to act as an umpire.’ He wrote, “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts.” This would have brought vividly to the mind of the readers of the original Greek text of the New Testament a picture of an umpire blowing his whistle whenever a foul has been committed. If we do not have peace in our heart we need to touch base immediately with the Holy Spirit. It is invariably a sign that we are somehow missing His will for us. God guides us by confirming that we are in the centre of His will by giving us His perfect peace in our hearts.
A very strong impression
Late one night, I had a clear impression that there was a strong spirit of jealousy coming against me. I took authority over it straightaway in the Sovereign Name of Jesus, binding that demon, together with any associated demons and all their leaders, backup and forces of retaliation, to the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ. There was immediately a lightness in my spirit, and I was soon fast asleep.
God guides through quickening His Word to us
When we open our Bible a verse can sometimes ‘jump out of the page’ and grab our attention; our eyes are drawn straight to it. This is known as a ‘rhema’ – a Word quickened to us by the Holy Spirit for a specific purpose. This is fairly common. Some people who are seeking a word from the Lord like to use ‘The Bible Promise Book.’ Others may favour a Promise Box: a small box full of assorted Bible verses on little cards to meet every imaginable need. It is important to pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us before using these means of discernment.
God may guide through the Holy Spirit gift of prophecy
The gifts of the Spirit are usually confirming; God often uses other methods first. For example, a prophecy had been given to my husband and me at the end of a meeting many years ago. It was to do with our having a joint calling to serve God, but not giving specific details other than that ‘there was a big work ahead for us to do for Him, and that He had brought us together for that very purpose.’ This prophecy confirmed the longing we shared. We treasured in our hearts those words of the Lord to us. Some time later a second, more specific, prophecy was given to us in another church, telling us that God was calling us to India and giving details of what we must do to prepare. Prophecy can often be a confirmation of what we already know in our spirit.
Guidance may be Step by Step
Once the prophecy referred to above had been given to my husband and me, we needed an open door to enable us to make a meaningful first visit to India. At that time I used to watch a certain inspiring programme on Christian TV, recording it for my husband to watch when he returned from work. I never watched the last few minutes, which consisted mainly of adverts about resources, but I left the TV recording while I got on with my housework. One day, I walked back into the living room to see on the screen “Come to India with — —!”
Contact details were given at the end of the programme, together with an announcement that those who joined the team would have opportunities for hands-on ministry: this meant praying for the sick and leading people to salvation in Jesus. We would also be given an interesting tourist schedule. Hands-on experience was just what we were greatly in need of! We phoned the contact number and were accepted to join an international group of around one hundred people. They didn’t even take up our references – they were obviously trusting the Lord that only those whom He was calling would apply. To our surprise, we found that we were the only people from the UK. It was a truly unforgettable and life-changing experience, and a major step forward in our preparation for missionary work.
God guides through Circumstances
The timing of God is perfect. When we applied to join that large international team to work for Jesus with them in India, there was only just enough time for us to arrange the mandatory vaccinations and obtain malaria medication. Had I not continued recording the TV programme until the end, we would not have known that the answer we needed was right there on our TV screen in our very living room! A mission outreach in Uttar Pradesh, northern India, was the main part of this trip, with much practical hands-on training for us all. This was just what my husband and I needed and it came at exactly the right time for us.
God Guides through visions
In the mid 1980s my family and I were not happy in our church. We were so hungry for teaching in the deep things of God and, although our church was very loving and had many activities in which we and our children could be involved, we yearned for a closer, much deeper walk with God. One day, my husband and I, our three children and our little West Highland White Terrier were driving to the beach, where Vicky could have a good run on the sands. As we drove round a bend, I saw a most unusual sight. I alone in our family noticed this and it struck me as so out of the ordinary that I quickly mentioned it. I had seen a flock of miserable-looking sheep standing huddled together knee deep in thick mud near a farm gate. There was no pasture whatsoever in that field: not a single blade of grass, only an occasional spiky piece of stubble sticking up out of the deep mud. The sheep had moved right up to the gate near the road, as though they wanted to get out of there. It was at that point that the Lord spoke clearly in my spirit. Meanwhile we continued driving towards the beach.
“How stupid is that!” I said to my husband as I described the scene, “Whoever would treat their sheep like that? Those poor sheep can’t move for the thick deep mud reaching above their knees. They are rooted to the spot and have nothing at all to eat, so it’s no wonder they look so miserable: they are literally stuck in the mud!” My husband suggested we turn round so that we could all see this extraordinary sight. We did so immediately, only to find that the scene had totally changed in less than a couple of minutes! Not only were there no sheep, but there was no mud either, and the large empty field now had rich green grass! I insisted that I had not made it up – I had definitely seen what I described. Fortunately my family believed me. It was then that I divulged what the Lord had said to me as I was looking at that strange sight only two or three minutes earlier. The Lord said, “If you continue to live in this place, you will become just like these sheep – stuck in the mud!” The inner voice was unmistakably clear, as was the distress of those starving sheep. We took this to be guidance from the Lord that we should move to another county, which we immediately made plans to do. It was a huge step of faith for us as a family. The school year was due to begin before long and we had three school age children. We had a house to sell, and we did not even know which county the Lord had selected for us to settle in!
Years later, when I shared with our Bible School Principal the unusual sight of miserable-looking sheep stuck in mud up to their knees, and what the Lord had said to me as I looked at them in amazement, she told me that I had seen an ‘open vision.’ I had not heard that term before.
It was during those few weeks of the school summer holidays that I heard the Lord say something else to me that left me bewildered and wondering if I could possibly have have Him aright. He told me that our elder son, just turned sixteen, would be living with another family for a while. My husband and I kept that unexpected and extraordinary piece of information to ourselves for the time being! But it was indeed the still small voice of the Lord that I had heard in my spirit. For a number of reasons, all to do with the house sale and our long distance removal, it became necessary for our elder son to live away from home for a term. That unusual personal prophetic word to me fulfilled to the letter. He was tremendously happy in his temporary home with new friends in his age group all starting Sixth Form College together in the county town.
God Guides through Dreams
We read in Acts 16:9-10 of a dream Apostle Paul had when he came to Troas on his second missionary journey. He saw a man saying, “Come over into Macedonia and help us.” Paul and his co-worker had been attempting to take the gospel to Asia, and had recognised that the Holy Spirit was firmly closing that door because it was not yet the right time for Asia. In his dream God told the Apostle where his next ministry was to be: he was to branch out into Europe. It is recorded that “immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
Shortly after settling in our new county, I saw an advertisement for a Modern Languages post in a small private school and went for an interview. The pupils seemed to like me, and the classes were astonishingly small. However, one thing troubled me: I was expected to run a sports club after school at a time when I needed to be back at home with my family. The Headmaster wanted to know my decision within three days. I rarely dream, but the Lord gave me a very vivid dream which I remembered in detail on waking; that did not normally happen to me. In the dream I was driving along a familiar road and came to a fork. I knew that I had always taken the right fork before, but in the dream there was an enormous bright red circular No Entry sign, larger than life:
Puzzled, I quickly looked at the left fork and saw a rectangular blue sign with a white arrow and the words ‘One Way.’
The meaning of the dream was clear enough: I was used to being a teacher, but this time it was not God’s will for me and He was showing me not to take that familiar route. Nevertheless, to be sure, I checked it out with our pastor, who confirmed my opinion.
A final word: