Acts 18:19-21 "They came to Ephesus, and he left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer time, he did not consent, 21 buttaking leave of them and saying, “I will return to you again if God wills,” he set sail from Ephesus."
In today's post we consider what is entailed in discerning God's will in everyday life. For ease of study, I will have each main point begin with a subsequent letter of the alphabet, hence the title of this series: "ABC's of discerning God's will".
In the opening text we find the Apostle Paul being hindered by the Holy Spirit from entering into the region of Asia Minor (Ephesus, Mysia). Why would God prevent this great missionary from sharing the Gospel in that land at that time? We discover in Acts 16-17 that God had a mission for Paul to achieve first - namely going over to the region of Macedonia. The fruits of Paul's Macedonian mission can be seen in the letters he wrote to the churches in that region: Philippi, Thessalonica and Corinth. We then find after Paul had completed his assignment, the Lord had lifted the restraints and Paul was then permitted to freely enter into Ephesus.
How is it that Paul was able to discern the Spirit's leadings and promptings? I would suggest that God's way of leading His people entails a combination of interior promptings, circumstances, people and of course the objective, infallibe Word of God. We will list four major components in discerning God's Will. Notice the following ABC's of discerning God's Will:
Active obedience. You and I dear friend cannot expect to detect God's leading and promptings if we are operating outside the known will of God. Paul was obeying God in his work of spreading the Gospel. Obedience to Christ's Lordship positions us in ready mode for sensing God's direction.
Bible. It is impossible to hear God and know His will apart from the Bible. The Bible was revealed by God for the sake of "us and our children" (Deuteronomy 29:29). God's Word is the objective standard by which all the other methods of discerning God's will are evaluated.
Circumstances. How often do we take the time to "read" our circumstances. God is creative in the ways He guides His people. Circumstances are a big indicator of what God is doing in our lives. Certainly Paul had to read his circumstances and make an informed decision. He had Divine guidance from God for sure, but the circumstances acted as a secondary method of confirming that he and his companions had to go one way, rather than another.
Divine Promptings. This refers to the internal leadings of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Person of the Godhead Who indwells us and is fully God. He speaks to us from the moment of the newbirth/conversion (Romans 8:14-16). By the scriptures the Holy Spirit inside our human spirit delivers insights and illumination (1 Corinthians 2:10-13). The Holy Spirit is the One who provides warrant or justified reasons for why we believe we are saved, Jesus is Lord and the Bible is true (1 Corinthians 12:1-3; 12:12; Galatians 4:6; 1 John 2:20,27).
All four of these elements are evident in Paul's missionary journeys here in Acts. As we noted already, he was actively obeying God (Acts 16:10). Paul had a Divine word from God, which would be tantamount to our scriptures, since he did not have a completed New Testament at that point (Acts 10:10). Paul discerned from the circumstances that he could not go into Ephesus, concluding that the Spirit was not leading them there (Acts 16:6-7). Later on of course Paul was able to go into Ephesus, recognizing that God's will was involved (Acts 18:19-21). Then we find Divine promptings at work, as demonstrated in the cited texts and by the presence of the Holy Spirit through the passages.
So as you and I live our lives for the Lord today, let's aim to do His will. Let's be actively obedient. Let's consult the Bible in our decision making. Let's be mindful of our circumstances. Then finally, let's be listening for what could be Divine promptings from the Holy Spirit.
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