Sacred Pace: 4 Steps to Discerning God’s Will in Your Decisions / Step 3 – Watch for Circumstances
By Terry Looper, author of Sacred Pace: Four Steps to Hearing God and Aligning Yourself with His Will (W Publishing, 2019).
How often do you read a devotional or a Bible verse, and it later proves providential? Or maybe you hear a sermon or have a seemingly random conversation with someone, and in a week or two, something that was said speaks to a decision you’re trying to make?
One of Christianity’s giants, George Müller, wrote that we should not only take circumstances into account but consider them providential. “We can make our plans,” says Proverbs 16:9 (NLT), “but the LORD determines our steps.”
That truth is usually most apparent in Step 3 of my process for discerning God’s will, where I “Watch for Circumstances” as I wait on God for his answers in my decisions.
The Bible is definitive about Christ’s supremacy over all things: “All things were created through him and for him. . . . And in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16–17 NKJV). His sovereignty means that every circumstance in our lives either derives from him or is allowed by him. Nothing is a coincidence. It all sifts through his hands before it reaches us. And he uses these beyond-our-control events in often-surprising ways to show us his way. Our part is to be open to Providence in all its forms, holding the unfolding plan lightly as we watch and pray.
That patience is so critical at this stage of a sacred pace. We must be careful not to speed ahead of God. I try to remember these principles so that I can stay in step with him:
- Let the plan play out. By their nature, circumstances require that we keep an open hand. We have to let them roll out, with God orchestrating their rhythm, just as a conductor speeds up or slows down the tempo for emphasis in a concert piece. The Lord may alter or change our circumstances at any time in order to keep us moving in the right direction. Sometimes he uses them to guide us or to confirm his answer, and sometimes he uses them to prepare our hearts to hear his answer. Regardless, moving at God’s pace means we don’t have to over analyze the events that come our way. God directs our paths in part by arranging circumstances to reveal and confirm what he wants us to do—and when.“To everything there is a season,” says the writer of Ecclesiastes, “a time for every purpose under heaven” (3:1 NKJV). The Lord will make the next step plainly known, at just the right time, as long as we’re intent on learning his plan. What a relief this is! To understand that God does all the heavy lifting when we’re faced with tough decisions takes the pressure off! We can leave both the clock and the calendar up to him, assured that he’s faithfully at work to reveal his will.
- Be slow to deem something “a sign.” When you think the Holy Spirit has definitively “spoken” through a circumstance, ask him to confirm it or to close the door on it—and then wait and see. See if what seems to be from him “gains legs” over time. If it does, add it to the storehouse of potential data points. If not, forget it and be on the lookout for what God is doing in another direction. With time, the data points that matter will “add up”—they’ll tip in a particular direction—giving you a clearer sense of God’s will for you.
- Be grateful for every kind of answer. Our efforts to listen to God either confirm the pointers he has indicated, send us in a new direction we never considered, or help us realize that we’re headed in the wrong direction and need to “recalculate.” “It is God making [us] wise,” says Tim Keller.This is an important point. Because of God’s sovereign care for us, we can recognize any shift of events as coming from his hand, including the ones that initially feel disappointing. Rather than perceiving setbacks as delays to your destination and no’s as his disapproval, genuine seekers of his will can understand them all to be his protection and guidance.For example, an old boss of mine didn’t want me developing any new business. It was very frustrating to me at the time. But in time, his refusal and my boredom in that position were things that the Lord used to persuade me to finally risk starting my own company.There’s no denying it: others’ decisions and choices do sometimes affect us; disappointments do come our way. Yet those seeming setbacks in my life have often proven to be God’s blessings in disguise, helping me more clearly see the circumstances that matter just as surely as the good surprises do.In pain and prosperity, the Spirit is directing our steps. Thank him for closing doors for you. Those closed doors are moving you that much closer to the one he already has standing wide open. And, best of all, you’re right on schedule, on pace toward his will!
Psalm 37:23 (NIV) is a wonderful, encouraging reminder while we wait: “The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him.” I can’t ever say what God has planned for me miles down the road, much less tomorrow. But today, I can focus on delighting in him and his will, knowing that the One who controls my circumstances is also the One who sees my future, and knows best, and loves me more than I love myself.
When he does grant me his answer, it’ll be one wrapped in his peace, faithfully moving me in his direction, toward his desires and purpose for me.
See other posts in this series:
- Sacred Pace: 4 Steps to Discerning God’s Will in Your Decisions
- Sacred Pace: Step 1 – Consult Your Friend Jesus
- Sacred Pace: Step 2 – Gather the Facts
Sacred Pace is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Terry Looper (@TerryLLooper) is the Founder of Texon LP and has served as the organization’s President and Chief Executive Officer for almost 30 years. He’s the author of Sacred Pace: Four Steps to Hearing God and Aligning Yourself with His Will (W Publishing, 2019). Terry is married to Doris, his wife of 48 years, and has two married daughters and five grandchildren.
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June 17, 2019