I once learned a valuable lesson while trying to cook my first meal on a camping trip. I was assigned to be the “camp cook” for an outing. I prepared myself for this noble task by reading several outdoor cookbooks.

The experts said to cook on something called “a bed of glowing coals.” These same experts, as well as the books’ illustrators, portrayed the camp cook as a tranquil person hunkered over a bed of glowing coals, turning trout in the frying pan with a hunting knife blade.

I soon found out, however, that these “glowing coals” were a fiction concocted by the experts. The fire on which I cooked could never have been described with words such as “glowing” or “bed.” Rather, my fire took on a more combustible temperament better suited for terms such as “blazing” and “inferno.”  I also learned that the camp cook was really a wildly distraught individual who charged through heat waves to spear savagely at charred hunks of meat or potato he’d tossed on the grill from a distance of 20 feet.

My friends on the trip found a new application for those rollicking old fireside songs as they used them to drown out my whoops, hollers, and shrieks of pain to prevent them from reaching the ears of little children.

Long after my burns healed, I found out that the good people at Coleman make propane-heated camping grills. If only Ihad known then what Iknow now.

The same can probably be said of most of us when it comes to discerning God’s will.  In the past, we’ve read a book or two, listened to the experts give us “five steps to know God’s will,” and then proceeded to walk right into the fire. All the while, the people whom God used to pen the Bible have tried to give us several pieces of equipment to help us figure out what God wants in any given situation.

These utensils are not part of any recipe we can repeat time and again for the same results. Rather, they are instruments designed to be used in tandem to help us make decisions in line with God’s will.

Scripture. The Book of Proverbs begins, “To know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding, to receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity” (Prov. 1:2–3, NASB). This passage first teaches us that God’s will has more to do with knowing what to be rather than knowing what to do. Many Bible verses reveal that God wants us to live in sanctification (Eph. 1:4; 2:10; Phil. 1:6; 2 Tim. 1:8–9; 1 Pet. 1:1–2). So we all ought to heed the words of a wise brother who once said, “We need to concern ourselves less with what God ‘is saying’ and more with what He has already said.”

Second, this passage tells us to use our brains. Granted, God may sometimes ask us to do something that seems unwise or illogical—Noah’s ark comes to mind. But as a rule, we should try to make wise choices. And God has given us the ultimate resource for obtaining wisdom—the Bible.

Prayer and the Holy Spirit. Lloyd John Ogilvie, chaplain of the United States Senate, once asked his radio and television audiences, “If you had a prolonged time with the Holy Spirit, what would you want to talk about?” Overwhelmingly, they responded “the will of God.” Knowingly or not, these people would be talking to the right person. The Holy Spirit often reveals God’s will by bringing to mind thoughts and verses of Scripture. And one of His favorite times to reveal these things is when we’re praying.

Wise Counsel. Sometimes, though, our ability to heed Scripture or listen to the Holy Spirit may seem clouded. We may misinterpret Bible verses to justify our actions. Most of us don’t do it on purpose; we just trick ourselves into believing that God’s will matches our desires. And often it does, when our desires are in line with His. But sometimes they’re not. That’s why God wants us to seek the counsel of wise believers.

Remember Moses at Rephidim?  He tried to rule the whole Hebrew nation by himself (Exod. 18:13–16). Fortunately for everyone, his father-in-law Jethro came for a visit and saw that Moses was overworking himself. Jethro persuaded him to delegate most of his responsibilities to able men (vv. 17–27). We all should have a Jethro in our lives.

Resistance. Moses illustrates another principle in Scripture: When the flesh initiates a plan, it flounders; but when God initiates a plan, it flows. Remember how Moses tried to jump-start God’s plan to deliver the Hebrews by killing an Egyptian overseer (Exod. 2:11–12)? His timing was premature and he ended up fleeing for his own life instead of saving his people (v. 15).

As a general rule, we can expect things to “click” when we’re operating in God’s will. It’s amazing how He can open doors when He wants to. But don’t ignore the all-important corollary to this rule: God’s will won’t always be easy. In fact, it can get downright tough and often looks like a mistake. Fortunately for us, God redeems mistakes. God used Moses’ decision to kill the overseer—which caused him to spend 40 years in the desert—to change the course of his life. If Moses hadn’t spent those years leading a flock of stinky sheep through the desert, he wouldn’t have known how to lead a flock of grumpy Hebrews through the wilderness.

Peace. Although it’s the most subjective of the tools, a sense of peace cannot be under-estimated. Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6–7). In other words, God promises peace when we pray about decisions and matters that make us feel anxious.

These tools, used together, can help us eliminate wrong choices. Use them as questions: Will my decision violate Scripture? Has the Spirit impressed a verse or thought on my  mind? Are the people I trust advising me in a certain direction? Are things “clicking”or do I feel like I’m swimming upstream? Do I have a sense of peace about my decision?

Making a wise decision is never as simple as following a recipe. Yet neither should it intimidate us. God is sovereign. We can rest assured that everything that takes place—even a bad choice—falls within His ability to work. And what God wants may not be what we want or intend. But when our plans veer from their projected paths, they may still go exactly the way He wants them to go.

Facing a tough decision? Don’t sweat it.  Step up to the grill and start cooking. Just remember, though…to keep from getting burned, we have to use the right equipment.

Jason Shepherd (Th.M. 97) is a senior writer at Insight for Living in Anaheim, California. He has coauthored numerous Bible study guides with Chuck Swindoll.

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