Commitments and Decisions
A lot of the decisions we have to make in life are decisions where we've made commitments ahead of time. I have a commitment to teach Theology 501 at one o'clock on Tuesday afternoons this semester. I don't have to pray about whether I actually go to the classroom at ten to one to get the classroom set up in order to teach at one. I already have a commitment to do that. If I have a commitment to meet somebody, I'll commit and then follow through on that commitment. For a lot of things in our lives, there aren't decisions to make. They've already been made by commitments we've made. But, there are decisions.
Pray for Guidance
I have a to-do list that I carry around with me. Should I call this person today or put it off? Should I answer these emails today or put them off? In answering emails, how should I word this?
A lot of times I'm just quietly—in the back of my mind—praying, Lord, help me to know what's the most important thing to do at this moment. Which telephone calls should I make and which shouldn't I make?
Even in praying for God's guidance in that way, very often it will become clear why I should make this call or put that one off, answer this email or put that one off, work on this class preparation of this article that I'm writing or wait until later.
How the Holy Spirit Guides
So that's a compilation of a number of subjective factors by which the Holy Spirit guides and makes God’s will known to us. Sometimes we make a decision very quickly. We don't have time to consider all the factors that might be involved. But sometimes we have time to consider more of the factors and we should look first of all at the teachings of the Bible. What does it say about the situation we're deciding?
Our heart is often an indication of deep desires that God has planted within us.
But then we need to examine the facts of the situation. If a student is asking me whether to accept a youth pastor position, I’ll advise him to find out how much time it is going to involve and whether he’s compatible with other staff members of the church. He should find out more about the situation, and find out more about himself by asking for advice from friends about whether he’d fit into that situation well or not.
We can be guided by our conscience—our internal sense of right and wrong. Our heart is often an indication of deep desires that God has planted within us. There is another factor, and that is our own human spirits. By that I am saying the Holy Spirit works within us—but in the non-material part of us. Paul, when he came to Athens, said his spirit was provoked within him because the city was full of idols. (Acts 17:16) Mary, the mother of Jesus, rejoiced and said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:46-47).
So there is an non-physical component of our being that the Bible calls soul or spirit. We can sometimes sense things in situations that will help us understand the spiritual dynamics going on in that situation.
Then there's guidance from the Holy Spirit. Romans 8 and Galatians 5 say all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. That leading by the Holy Spirit can be perceived by us as a subjective sense of guidance, or just bringing something to mind which helps to clarify a situation. All of those factors can be taken into account in a cumulative way to help us know what God is guiding us to do.
Wayne Grudem is the author of What the Bible Says about How to Know God’s Will.