discerning God's will

Pick Your Battles Carefully: Knowing God’s Will

11 May 2022

6.1 MINS

How often do we seek God first before rushing off on a course of action? Take a breath to discover His will, lest you cause some damage, even with a good intention.

There are plenty of things you can get involved in and devote your energies to. Then again, there are plenty of things to avoid and not be bothered with. Some things are worth doing and even going to war over, and some are not. The key is knowing when and where to engage, and when and where not to engage.

This is true in so many areas. It may mean getting involved in some need you come upon, or some dispute that you can enter into. It may involve a feuding couple who are asking you to intervene and take sides. It may be a social media post you just came upon which is really quite concerning, and you are keen to get involved and set the record straight.

And it can be on a much bigger scale. Should my church get involved in a certain political project? Should one nation intervene in the affairs of another nation? Are some belligerent neighbouring nations becoming so threatening and dangerous that some sort of action — maybe even military action — is needed?

We need real wisdom and discernment to know if and when we should get involved in all sorts of things, whether as individuals, or organisations, or as nations. Sometimes the matter may well be worth getting stuck into, but the timing is just not right. Good actions can become bad actions if not entered into prudently, wisely, and in a timely fashion.

Patient Discernment

Of interest, I actually had a brief dream about such things a few days ago. It went something like this: Someone told me about a sum of money someone wanted to borrow, and I was dubious and sceptical — even upset. I thought he was in financial need because of bad or harmful choices. I thought he would go and spend any money given to him on buying drugs or some such thing.

I was going to speak out about this matter, but I decided to bite my lip. A little later, I learned that the reason this person needed the money was because he had spent his money earlier on helping others in real need. So I realised it was a good thing that I did not rush to judgment and speak out at the time.

So much of this comes down to trying to discern God’s will for your life in particular situations. Should I intervene in the intense — and potentially dangerous — argument my neighbours are now going through? Should I engage with what seems to be false doctrine being pushed on social media?

Basic Principles

There are plenty of general biblical principles to help guide us in knowing God’s will, but often seeking clarity on more particular matters can be hard to ascertain. But those broad principles are still worth being aware of and seeking to apply.

For example, the next time you are thinking about charging into some online debate and going to war on the social media, we need to keep in mind passages such as this:

Ecclesiastes 3:8 [There is] a time for war, and a time for peace.

Proverbs 15:28 The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.

Proverbs 26:17 Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own
is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.

We are too often ready to enter into a battle with all guns blazing, when sometimes the wise and godly thing to do is to hold back. Indeed, simply praying first would be a great idea! How often have I waded into some online dispute without first offering a quick prayer to God: “Lord, is this something you want me to engage with, or just leave alone?”

I could have saved myself a lot of grief and angst had I prayed a prayer like that much more often. And this kind of seeking God’s will before going to battle is certainly biblical. Sure, the prayers there would mainly have been about going into actual physical battles, and not some Facebook punch-up, but the principle is the same.

Prayer Before Action

We see many times in the Old Testament where a godly king or ruler first sought God before taking any action in a battle. Consider just some of these passages:

Judges 1:1 After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the Lord, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?”

Judges 20:18 The people of Israel arose and went up to Bethel and inquired of God, “Who shall go up first for us to fight against the people of Benjamin?” And the Lord said, “Judah shall go up first.”

Judges 20:23 And the people of Israel went up and wept before the Lord until the evening. And they inquired of the Lord, “Shall we again draw near to fight against our brothers, the people of Benjamin?” And the Lord said, “Go up against them.”

1 Samuel 14:37 And Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into the hand of Israel?” But he did not answer him that day.

1 Samuel 23:2 Therefore David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” And the Lord said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah.”

1 Samuel 28:6 And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets.

1 Samuel 30:8 And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?” He answered him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.”

2 Samuel 2:1 After this David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” And the Lord said to him, “Go up.” David said, “To which shall I go up?” And he said, “To Hebron.”

2 Samuel 5:19 And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?” And the Lord said to David, “Go up, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand.”

2 Samuel 5:23 And when David inquired of the Lord, he said, “You shall not go up; go around to their rear, and come against them opposite the balsam trees.”

1 Chronicles 14:9-10 Now the Philistines had come and made a raid in the Valley of Rephaim. And David inquired of God, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?” And the Lord said to him, “Go up, and I will give them into your hand.”

A few things stand out here. One, sometimes the Lord said yes, and sometimes the Lord said no. But the crucial point is that at least they inquired of God first before rushing off on a course of action.

Two, sometimes God did not answer them. This is often seen with a person like King Saul who had lost out on God’s favour and protection because of his sin and disobedience.

Listening to God’s Voice

Three, and most intriguing, is the fact that God did indeed speak to them. Hundreds of times in Scripture we read about God speaking to Joe and talking to Sam. Have you ever wondered about this? Just how did he communicate with these folks? Was it with an audible voice? Or just an inward impression?

We read in the 1 Samuel 28 passage above that some of the means God used to communicate with people was via “dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets.” The Urim and Thummim are admittedly rather mysterious things that we will not discuss here (but I may perhaps do so in a future article).

But given that what God said to people often involved very precise and detailed communication and instructions, this was often much more than some inner impression. How these folks actually heard God is not always fully clear, but often an audible voice is certainly what was involved.

Can we hear the voice of God today? And if so, how does that take place? That too needs to be the stuff of another article. But the main point that I wanted to raise here is the fact that often at crucial points God’s people specifically inquired of God, asking Him what His will was concerning certain things.

And so often God answered — one way or another. As I say, today the battles might be much smaller: eg., entering into a theological bun fight online and the like. The point is, are we taking a time-out to ask God if this or that course of action is something He wants us to enter into?

If we do take the time to inquire of God, perhaps just a deep settled peace — or its absence — will be part of the way we ascertain God’s will on these matters. However we seem to get divine guidance, the main point here is that we need to ask.

Far too often, we just rush out and do things as Christians without bothering to spend time with God first, seeking to determine what is on His mind and heart for us. That is not how believers should operate. At the very least, we need to take a rather broad biblical principle such as this to heart:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.(James 1:5)


Originally published at CultureWatch. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio.

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