Finding out the will of God is a matter of trust (Proverbs 3:5-6). Faith does not operate by sight (i.e. the obvious).
It requires Spirit-inspired discernment and wisdom, grounded on a familiarity with Scripture.
What is obvious is not necessarily God’s way.
Paul was a changed man following his Damascus experience during which he encountered the risen Lord. From a persecuting Pharisee, he became a passionate follower of the Way. He began to preach boldly in the name of Jesus.
Surely, he would be a ‘shoo-in’ when it came to reaching out to his fellow Pharisees with the gospel: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6, ESV).
He was the obvious choice as an evangelist to the hard-core and zealous Jews. However, the Lord called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles instead. In his testimony before the Jewish people following his arrest, Paul shared how he protested:
“Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.” (Acts 22:19-20, ESV)
But the Lord sent him to places far away from Jerusalem.
We resort to the obvious as the will of God when we rely more on our own understanding than on God.
There are times when the not-so-obvious is God’s will. Being tasked to choose the next king of Israel, Samuel was led by the Lord to the house of Jesse. According to Samuel’s assessment, all the seven sons appeared suitable for kingship, but he heard the Lord telling him otherwise.
Then came the last one, David. Jesse himself did not bother to call David to appear before Samuel because he was just a boy tending to the sheep, unlike his older brothers who were soldiers in Saul’s army. There was nothing about David that would make even his father want to bother about him. But David was the one whom God told Samuel to anoint as the next king.
Even David’s brother did not think highly of him. Eliab, the eldest of the siblings, accused him of fleeing his shepherding responsibilities just so that he could watch some action at the battlefront (1 Samuel 17:28). King Saul initially came to the same conclusion like all the rest did about David. We are not sure why he eventually let David face Goliath but the rest is history.
There may be times when the will of God may be obvious. There are some matters which are plainly clear, especially in matters where Scripture is unequivocal, as in stealing, adultery, murder, and the like: God’s will is – don’t! The issue here is not about what is obvious or not. It is more a matter of what is really the will or plan of God that we should follow.
Finding out the will of God is a matter of trust (Proverbs 3:5-6). Faith does not operate by sight (i.e. the obvious). It requires Spirit-inspired discernment and wisdom, grounded on a familiarity with Scripture. This comes from a deep relationship with God that has developed over time. Paul’s protestation on his assignment came early in his ministry; in his journeys later on, he was led (as well as prevented from going) to certain places, often by submitting himself to the Spirit’s guidance.
Ultimately, it all boils down to our willingness to submit to God, and not follow the devices of our own heart, because deceitfulness in the human heart may still choose to disobey.
Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2012. He has been a Methodist pastor for 29 years.