Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. - Psalm 119:105


Munger on Knowing God's Will

By Robert B. Munger
A fine young Christian man came to see me in my study one afternoon. "I'm faced with some important decisions. I've been reading my Bible and praying but don't seem to be getting any guidance from God. Time is running out on me. I don't know what to do!"

"Come, follow me!" Jesus said. He did not say where he was going to lead them nor did he designate the place of their ministry. The call of Jesus is first and always to himself, to walk with him and be at his side. His first call is not to a particular mission or movement. He does not hand us a plan telling us exactly where we are to be or what we are to do at any particular moment. Rather, he offers himself, saying, "Follow me."

A fine young Christian man came to see me in my study one afternoon. "I'm faced with some important decisions. I've been reading my Bible and praying but don't seem to be getting any guidance from God. Time is running out on me. I don't know what to do!"

"Tell me about it," I replied.

"Well, I graduate in June in engineering. I have two good job offers - one in Utah, the other in California. I'm also considering giving two years as a short-term missionary overseas before making a long-term career commitment here in the United States. Most importantly, I've been going with a wonderful young Christian woman. She doesn't graduate for another year. I need to know if this relationship is of God before I graduate and leave."

There they were - three crucial, life-determining decisions cascading down on him at once. Vocation ... location ... marriage. You may not be in such a crisis of decision but most students are making major choices. How do we make right decisions? What process will assure us that we are doing God's will?

Carrier pigeons have an amazing sense of direction. Across hundreds of miles of strange territory they make their way home with unerring instinct. When released from their box, they circle high in the air until they have gained their sense of direction then fly straight toward their home nest. To gain a sense of God's direction for our lives, we must heed Jesus' words in his call to his disciples. First note some of the basic principles of guidance found in his call. Then consider some practical procedures to help us get a good start toward fulfilling his intention for our lives.

Look at Mark 1:14-18. "After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.'The time has come,' he said. 'The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!' As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.'At once they left their nets and followed him."

We Are Called to Follow a Person

"Come, follow me!" Jesus said. He did not say where he was going to lead them nor did he designate the place of their ministry. The call of Jesus is first and always to himself, to walk with him and be at his side. His first call is not to a particular mission or movement. He does not hand us a plan telling us exactly where we are to be or what we are to do at any particular moment. Rather, he offers himself, saying, "Follow me."

Martin Luther confessed, "I do not know the way that I take but well do I know my guide." I would rather have an experienced guide than a detailed map. More than once, with a map in front of me, I have sat in my car completely confused and utterly lost. A good guide may not inform me how he is going to arrive at the desired destination but he will give me directions when needed so that I may make the right decision at the proper time. Best of all a guide is a companion on the journey. "This God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end" (Ps 48:14). To gain a clear sense of direction and move out in today's world according to the will of God, we therefore begin with a wholehearted, irrevocable decision to follow Jesus Christ, to live for him, to be his. We offer ourselves up to him, to serve and please him supremely.

We Are Called to a High Purpose

We are to be fishers of men and women. That is big business. I am convinced that the greatest work in all the world is to make Jesus Christ known as Savior and Lord. Give yourself so that you will have a part in fulfilling his reign in the world and establishing to the glory of God the power of the Holy Spirit. Nothing is bigger than that. Nothing will give you more significance or meaning or dignity or value than the commitment to be Christ's and to be in his will and to do his work in the world. No matter how insignificant an individual may feel, to be linked to that purpose gives supreme significance. "He that does the will of God abides forever" and you are in a forever work that will last.

What are you going to do ten years from now? How much is it going to count a thousand years from now? If you have not thought through your intended vocation, you have some business to do with God. Are your plans what God wants you to do so that you may fulfill his supreme purpose? You may not go to a foreign mission field, you may not be in a church vocation, but be sure that you are led by God so that his purpose will be forwarded. Let us be fishers of men and women, in business for God.

A man sitting next to me during a plane flight said he was on his way to conclude the purchase of property for his company which was opening a new branch in a West Coast city. He was very excited about the company he represented. Then he turned and asked, "What is your business?" It was a very natural opening and I replied, "I am engaged in the greatest business in the world." "Really?" "Yes, the greatest business, with the most important product, the greatest future and, above all, the greatest president and manager.'

It was during the summer following my graduation from the university that I started seriously to follow Christ. Since that time I often have reflected, Suppose I had chosen to live as many of my colleagues and pursue my own plans? I had been accepted at the University of California School of Dentistry. The Depression had knocked out prospects of a future in business, convincing me to switch my major from economics to pre-medicine. Dentistry appealed to me more than medicine because there were no house calls and one could play golf Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays. A good living and a good time were my primary goals.

Suppose I had settled for an easy life and personal happiness. What would be my satisfactions now, fifty years later? I am overwhelmed at the incredible grace of God that has given me a part in that work which abides forever, the mission that fills an ordinary life with extraordinary meaning and brings immeasurable rewards in both time and eternity. To follow Christ is to be in the biggest and most rewarding business in all the world.

We Are Called to a Powerful Partnership

"I will make you fishers of men," Jesus said. In his Gospel Luke relates that the call of the disciples followed the miraculous draft of fishes (5:1-11). All night the men had fished and had caught nothing. Reluctantly, at the command of Christ, they pushed out into the deep and let down their nets. They were amazed to pull in a catch of fish beyond the capacity of their boats to contain. They knew it was not a stroke of fisherman's luck. Certainly it was not due to their wisdom or skill. All they had done was to shove out at the word of Jesus and let down their nets. It was Christ's doing. The Master Fisherman had been at work.

In that moment, still overcome by the awesome display of Jesus'authority and power in the miraculous draft of fishes, they heard him say, "From now on you will catch men." Could he mean it? Ordinary people? Sinful people? With hang-ups and failures and average abilities? "Yes," we can hear the Lord reply. "As I worked through you to catch fish, so I will work through you to catch people and do the greater work of God I come to fulfill. Simply follow me. Trust me and do what I say." They forsook all and followed him. As we now know, he did for them what he said he would do.

He will do the same for you and me. Jesus Christ is the Master Fisherman enabling those who follow him to do the work of God. He is also the good shepherd who guides and cares for those who trust themselves to him. Blaine Smith puts this well in Knowing God's Will. The shepherd in New Testament times was an autocrat over the sheep. He took charge of their care, saw to their needs, led them out to pasture and brought them back again to the fold. Sheep were utterly dependent on him. Sheep are stupid animals, not knowing how to find their food or make their way back to the sheepfold. But the halting, helpless, even wayward sheep are not left to their own way. They are shepherded. The shepherd's call and encouragement, his rod and staff, make sure every sheep in the flock will safely arrive.

We too need not be anxious about getting the right directions from God or be concerned about whether we will have the courage to follow his direction. Instead, we are simply to put ourselves in the shepherd's care. If we want to do his will, he will see to it that we have the necessary information and put within us the desire and the energy to move out with him. He is able even to overrule past mistakes and in the process mature us in Christian life and service. The words of the apostle Paul encourage us: "God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose" (Phil 2:13 TEV).

If you are not certain that you have launched in response to the word of the Master Fisherman, or question whether you have placed yourself in the care of the good shepherd, consider this suggestion. Prayerfully and carefully draft a statement of ownership recognizing the lordship of Jesus Christ over all you are and have, authorizing him to take whatever steps necessary to accomplish his will in and through us. Sign it. Settle it once and for all. Then continually remind him of his responsibility to keep that which has been entrusted to him (2 Tim 1:12).

We Are Called to a Close Companionship

"He appointed twelve ... that they might be with him," to be his companions (Mk 3:14). He wanted them to be alongside in his saving mission, as personal friends. He was teaching and training them to one day carry his mission to the world. More than that, he loved them and desired their companionship just as he loves you and me and wants us to be close to him forever. He calls us not only for what he may bring to us and through us to the world but also for what we may bring to him. Incomprehensible but true. He loves us. He wants me to be with him because he loves me. Do we ourselves not want to be with a close friend just for companionship? Do not loving spouses have joy simply in each other? So God, the source of all true love and who is love, delights in the companionship of our heart the one with his.

In following Christ, my first struggle was to be willing to give up my personal plans, to leave family and friends and boats and nets, to follow him wherever he might lead. My second great struggle, which to me was more difficult than the first, was to give up my ambition to be a successful servant of Christ and humbly be and do whatever he wanted. I was eager to achieve great things for God, to preach to crowds of people with numbers of converts and applauding saints. Lovingly he brought me to a deeper level of commitment, a desire to be and do whatever pleased him. One thing, however, I know I must have - the light of his face and the smile of his favor. Here is the key to guidance: we must be willing to do God's will before we know what it is. To trust ourselves to him. To be taught, shaped and led as he shall choose.

Roll Up Your Sleeves

Now let us turn from principles to a few practical procedures. First, offer yourself daily to God. "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice" (Rom 12:1 RSV). As a recruit presents himself for military service, confident that he will be developed into an effective soldier, we are to present ourselves to our commander, Jesus Christ. Each morning report to him' saying, "Here I am. Do in me whatever needs to be done. I give you full authority to take whatever steps are necessary that I may be all that you want me to be and do all that you want me to do." He is completely reliable. He will take us at our word. "In all your ways acknowl- edge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Prov 3:6).

Second, pray for guidance and grace. Ask him to make his way plain to you and put his desires within you. (See Lk 11:9- 13.) In Affirming the Will of God, Paul Little recalls his own experience:

At the Urbana Convention in 1948, Dr. Norton Sterrett asked, "How many of you who are concerned about the will of God spend five minutes a day asking him to show you his will?" It was as if somebody had grabbed me by the throat. At that time I was an undergraduate, concerned about what I should do when I graduated from the university. I was running around campus, going to this meeting, reading that book, trying to find somebody's little formula - 1, 2, 3, 4 and a bell rings - and I was frustrated out of my mind trying to figure out the will of God. I was doing everything but getting into the presence of God and asking him to show me. May I ask you the same question: Do you spend even five minutes a day specifically asking God to show you?
(pp. 17-18)

Third, inform the mind. We are guided by the truth of God's Word. The Scriptures are a primary source of our knowledge of God. Here we learn about him and his will for our lives. Here Christ's Word addresses us and his grace promises to support us. John White states it well in The Fight:

God does not desire to guide us magically. He wants us to know his mind. He wants us to grasp his very heart. We need minds so soaked with the content of Scripture, so imbued with biblical outlooks and principles, so sensitive to the Holy Spirit's prompting that we will know instinctively the upright step to take in any circumstance, small or great ... Through the study of Scripture you may become acquainted with the ways and thoughts of God.

We are guided also by the facts of God's world. People are guided by what they know, not by what they do not know. How does it happen that so many earnest, committed Christians labor in the familiar field here at home and so few choose to place their lives for Christ in the areas of the world where the "laborers are so few"? May it not simply be that they have never been adequately exposed to the facts of the world today or allowed them to penetrate deeply into consciousness?

William Carey placed a map of the world above his cobbler's bench and marked on the map the number of people in those areas unreached by the gospel in order that he might pray for them. The modern missionary movement began. The five students of Williams College who took shelter under a haystack to pray and offer themselves to God for world evangelization had been studying geography. The hard facts of lost millions pressed them to pray and to act. Robert E. Speer, who for fifty years was a powerful force for world missions, placed a map of the world above his desk while an undergraduate at Princeton University and made it his business to learn more about the world. He prayed that God would help him know where and how he might best serve Jesus Christ. They all fed the fire of their faith with the fuel of facts.

We keep in touch with God's world through persons, periodicals, programs, missionary conferences and workshops. Do not neglect to read missionary biographies. Personal conversation with those in cross-cultural missions is also helpful. Best of all is a short-term or summer mission assignment, many of which are now available through various agencies and mission boards. Continually we are to lift up our eyes to see the fields of God's world, ripe, ready to harvest (Jn 4:35).

A fourth thing we should do to find God's will is to join with other world Christians. Jesus called his disciples to a committed company. We must not presume to be solitary followers of Jesus Christ. Seek the counsel of trusted believers. To move out step by step alongside our Lord with bright faith and a warm heart, we need one another as fellow followers - praying for one another, supporting one another, seeking to love one another even as he has loved us (Jn 31:34-35).

If, as a result of Urbana, there were to be one thousand teams of three to five students committed to Christ and to one another praying, learning and serving so that God may be glorified and his will done on earth, I believe the impact would be immeasurably greater than if we were to scatter across the land as earnest Christian individuals. We all need a support team around us, caring enough to hold us accountable and providing encouragement and love.

Finally, you should get going! Start now right where you are! Sam Shoemaker had a hard-hitting formula for Christian living: "Get right with God! Get together! Get going!" We are called in Christ. We have been given his message. We are now in his service, entrusted with the everlasting gospel. Wherever our lives are touching people there is a God-given ministry with opportunity to listen, to love, to lift, to share and to serve. Flight across an ocean into another country or culture does not some how change us. The statement is true, "Wherever you go, you are there! " When Jesus called his first followers he said, "Follow me" and started walking. If they were to follow him they had to move. They left everything and followed. World opportunities are before us. Jesus is striding to enter them in love and power. He is calling us to follow.

It was the summer following my graduation from the university that I ventured to follow Christ. It was quite a change for me. I was about to enter a dental school. It seemed to offer a good living without the demands of the medical profession - no house calls, with Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays for golf. In a Bible class, however, the truth of 1 Corinthians 15:58 struck me: "Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

To give myself fully to the work of the crucified and risen Lord was both right and reasonable. At that time none of my friends were preparing for Christian service. None of my close companions were professing Christians. I moved in one step from a fraternity house to a Bible school. The "culture shock" was profound.

When my train was pulling out of Berkeley for school in Chicago, I saw from my train window the lights of San Francisco disappear around a bend of the track. I was profoundly lonely and anxious. Where in the world was I going? In what part of that world would he choose to place me? And what did he want me to do? Would I really find joy and fulfillment serving Christ or would I regret the step I had taken?

Suddenly I sensed Another's presence. It seemed as though Jesus himself came alongside, saying, "I am with you and will be with you always. I'm in charge here. Relax. Trust me! Enjoy the journey!" So the years have gone by. I have no regrets at all, only profound gratitude. He has kept faith.


© 1981  Into Thy Word Ministries From the teaching notes of Robert B. Munger

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