The Book of Acts gives us a perfect illustration of divine guidance. This story in Chapter 11, as we will see, is about Peter preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. This, of course, was a surprise to the legalistic Jewish Christians who thought that the Gospel was only for the Jews. You will recall how the Jews considered the Gentiles heathens.
God, through the Apostle Peter, shows the Jewish believers in Jerusalem that the Gospel is to be preached to everyone. In verse one, the Jewish believers receive word that Peter had preached the Gospel to the Gentiles. In verse two, the legalistic Jewish believers confronted Peter. In verse three, their objection was that Peter ate with the Gentiles who did not observe Jewish dietary laws. In verse four, Peter began to describe the events. It is during this description that we see the divine guidance of God.
“I was in the city of Joppa praying and in a trance I saw a vision.” (Verse 5)
Hebrews 4:16 tells us to come with confidence to the throne of grace (a term for prayer) that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need. Therefore, it should be perfectly normal for the believer to ask for guidance in prayer. However, if the will of God is clearly stated in the Word of God, then there is no legitimate reason to pray about it. For example, a believer is told not to marry an unbeliever; no prayer needed. However, a person could and should seek the Lord’s guidance as to which believer to marry.
Unlike this occasion in Acts, before the canon of Scripture was completed, God no longer speaks to us audibly. God now speaks to us through His Word. Many believers think that God is our “fairy godmother” with a magic wand and that He can be coerced or bribed by our prayers. In order for our prayers for guidance to be answered we must first make sure that we are praying properly. Proper prayer means that you have named your known sins to God and that you are under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Prayer should always be directed to God the Father, in the name of God the Son, by the power of God the Holy Spirit. God’s answer of guidance may come in a variety of ways. For example, He may close a door of opportunity in one area, only to open another door in a different area.
“…I had fastened mine eyes, I considered and saw…” (Verse 6)
The Greek word for considered literally means, to very carefully ponder in one’s mind. God guides the believer through the knowledge of God’s Word that has been stored in the mind. God never leads us contrary to His Word. Therefore, it is important to study and believe God’s Word. The more you know of God’s Word, the more of God’s will you will know.
Peter used the information that he had received from Jesus, which he had stored in his mind, to realize a new truth. The truth was, that believers were no longer governed by the Mosaic Law. Peter observed and evaluated the situation from divine viewpoint and reached the correct conclusion.
“And I heard a voice saying unto me.” (Verse 7)
Remember that this was before the completion of the canon of Scripture. Prior to the canon, God used the spoken word, dreams, trances, visions, animals, bushes, etc. to communicate with man. Now that we have the Bible, the complete revelation from God, there is no need for direct communication from God. If it does not agree with the Word of God, then it’s not His will.
“And behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was.” (Verse 11)
In God’s providence, He often uses circumstances to fulfill His purpose for us. It is up to us using Divine Viewpoint Thinking to interpret these circumstances. However, we must be careful; they may simply be a test with regard to our knowledge of the will of God. If we act upon something that is stated in Scripture to be against God’s will, then it means we are ignoring the clear mandates of the Word of God.
“And the Spirit told me go with them.” (Verse 12)
In this case, Peter was instructed directly by the Holy Spirit in a vision. Today, the Holy Spirit guides us according to the written Word. This is a matter of choice by the believer in allowing the Holy Spirit to guide his life. Failure to allow this guidance results in grieving and/or quenching the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is God’s will that we continually be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the only way in which we can truly fulfill God’s plan for us. (I Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30; 5:17-18)
“And I remembered the word of the Lord.” (Verse 16)
By recalling what he had learned from Jesus (a ministry of the Holy Spirit to the believer), Peter contributed greatly to his guidance. He remembered that Jesus said “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” He had just witnessed the Holy Spirit “coming upon” the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius and his recall of the words of Jesus helped him put this event in perspective. Peter began to understand that both Jewish and Gentile believers had received the power to live the spiritual life. (Acts 1:5-8)
It is the will of God for the entire human race to be saved. God does not want anyone to perish. But, He has given us all free will and it is up to us to choose to believe in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. So first, a person must make sure that he has eternal life and then he can do the will of God in phase two, the Christian Way of Life.
We can execute His will in phase two only if we have the power to do so. His will cannot be executed in the “energy of the flesh.” This power, as we have studied, is by means of the filling of the Holy Spirit. This filling is neither felt nor seen; it is not an emotional experience; it is simply a fact stated in God’s Word for us to believe. Once again it is only potential, you must make the choice to allow Him to continuously guide your life on a moment-by-moment basis.
The will of God is found in God’s Word. God’s “General Will” for the believer is easily found through study of His Word. We have studied the general will of God as the “do’s and don’ts” that we find throughout Scripture. For example, it is not God’s will for us to complain, to malign, to have self pity, to have bitterness, to gossip, to feel guilty, to be afraid or to be antagonistic towards others, just to name a few of the most common mental attitudes sins of believers. If God’s will is not clearly stated in God’s Word, then we must reach doctrinal conclusions based on Divine Viewpoint Thinking and Divine Viewpoint Norms and Standards under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Essential to this entire process of discovering God’s will is spiritual growth. If we are not growing spiritually then we are “dying” with regard to our spiritual life (temporal death). Divine guidance is a matter of applying what you have learned to every situation in life and being sensitive to the Lord’s leadership. This does not mean that we act upon some emotional feeing that we get. The sensitivity to the Lord’s leading is based solely on the amount of Bible doctrine you have in your soul and the proper application of that doctrine. Emotion can be a wonderful thing for the maturing believer, if it is tempered by accurate Bible doctrine in the soul. God’s will is always to “play by His rules” and not to make up your own as you go along. A right thing must always be done in a right way. It is God’s will for us always to follow His clear policies. These policies are found only in His Word.
Discovering God’s will for our lives should be top priority for all of us. Faithful study and application of God’s Word, spending a maximum amount of time in fellowship with God by keeping short accounts and by allowing God the Holy Spirit to influence our thoughts and guide our actions, will lead each of us to His individual will for each of us.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6