"In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths"
(Proverbs Chapter 3 Verse 6)
"Blessed is the man who has found his work; let him ask for no other blessedness; he has a life purpose." (Thomas Carlyle)
"Do we believe in God and that He is concerned with our life, and has a purpose for each one of us? Then, if we do, let us pull up our anchors and let the winds of God carry us where they will." (Temple Gairdner)
"Lord, let me have no will of my own, or consider my true happiness as depending in the smallest degree on anything that can befall me outwardly, but as consisting altogether in conformity to Thy will." (Henry Martyn)
Henry Drummond once said, "What is the end of life?
The end of life is not to do good although many of us think so. It is not to win souls, although I once thought so. The end of life is to do the will of God.''
By which, of course, he did not mean that the other two are not most worthy objects, but that if the will of God is first and foremost the aim of the Christian, doing good and the bringing of spiritual help to others, will automatically be the outcome.
Among the questions that trouble young people today is the problem of how to know the will of God, and this especially with regard to their careers. They long to be servants of Christ doing the will of God from the heart, but how are they to find what that will is?
They have the apostolic injunction, "Try to understand what the Lord's will is," and there is nothing they are more anxious to do. They want to be able, with regard to their ultimate vocation, to feel that they are not there by accident but that it is the place God has prepared for them.
The Christian has the reassuring knowledge that God, being his Father, has a plan for his life, and will make it known in His own time. There is nothing that interests a human parent more than the future and prospects of his child. And where man is fallible, God is not.
He has a purpose for each life committed unto His care, and it is a purpose of love. "I know the plans which I am planning for you, plans of welfare and not of calamity, to give you a future and a hope." The Lord is the same today as He was then, and what He would do for a people, He will surely do for an individual. Dan Crawford tells us that some tribe in Central Africa translates the verse – “My times are in Thy hands" in these priceless words, "All my life’s whys and whens and wheres and wherefores are in Thy hands.
They could be in no safer place, and our Father has told us clearly that we shall not be left in ignorance about them. “I will instruct thee," says He "and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go; Mine eye shall be upon thee."
But though God takes a fatherly interest in each one of His children, He never promises to reveal His plan to us more than one step at a time.
Our Guide wants our constant faith, a frequent looking up to Him for the next step, a willingness to set out not knowing whither, because of an unshakable faith the One who leads. The Lord is our Shepherd, and the oriental shepherd always goes before his flock, who are at rest that all will be well so long as he is in sight. If their eyes were on some of the rocky places and dangerous paths before them, they would almost certainly shrink back.
It is reassuring, too, to find that nothing need hinder God's purpose for my life.
Of all men who have been tempted to question the ways of Providence, Job is the outstanding example. And yet, having lost health and wealth, his dearest relatives, and the respect of his friends, he could look back on all the way that God had led him, and cry out "I know that Thou canst do everything, and that no thought of Thine can be hindered."
In the mysterious economy of God, it would seem that man's free will is able, at times and for a while, to cross the primary purpose of God. This comes out in the history of God's treatment of His chosen people. It was obviously God's first intention that they should come straight out of the land of bondage into Canaan, but because they grumbled by the way, and longed for the fleshpots of Egypt, we read, "Your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years . . . and ye shall know the altering of my purpose."
This is a most significant passage, throwing, as it does, a flood of light on the ways of God with men. There is a vital difference between God's primary purpose and His permissive plan.
While we are never out of reach of the sovereignty of God, it would seem that there do come times when we may slip from His primary purpose into His permissive plan. This thought runs right through the Bible.
We see it in Abraham's life. Three times he fell away, three times returning again to the place where he was at first. We know it in our own lives, for while it is God's will that we should go the way of holiness, we have often wandered, and then been conscious of His Spirit seeking to lead us back again.
But there is no need further to contemplate the prospect of missing God's best. If we realise fully that His way is best, we shall undoubtedly strain every nerve to make it ours.
"As for God, His way is perfect . . . it is God that . . . maketh my way perfect." "The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me."
When we say this from the depth of our hearts, we shall be prepared to make the will of God the ground plan of our whole life.
Granted that God has a plan for my life, that His plan is perfect, and that He will make it known, how am I to find out?
"No one knows," wrote Pilkington of Uganda, then a schoolmaster at home, "how little satisfaction I have had during the past two years - a continual, ceaseless, restless apprehension, 'You are not where God wants you. . . .' My daily and hourly longing is 'Only to know that the path I tread is the path marked out by Thee.'"
And many of us could echo his words.
It looks as if the world of the future will be one in which personal choice is a very secondary matter. There will be rules and regulations common to all, the avoidance of which may be out of the question for the loyal citizen. If this is so, it is, of course, a Christian duty to obey the laws of the state and to render to Caesar that which is Caesar's.
One's choice of a life work will be influenced, but not entirely restricted by such conditions, and situations are certain to arise for all young Christians when a decision will have to be made which will affect the future of their lives.
How can one get divine guidance then?
God seldom guides a soul that follows afar off.
An African proverb says, "Truly to hear you must get near." He will not reveal His way to the ear that does not listen. It is first through the study of Scripture, in answer to believing prayer that God guides.
Often a certain passage will stand out as God's special message, and it must be obediently regarded. At other times by the reading of the Word, the principles along which God is likely to lead become increasingly clear, and one can begin to be aware of the way in which guidance will come.
There is a second way.
That is by the opportunity of opened doors.
Paul, unless specially led otherwise, considered an open door as one to be entered. The offer of a scholarship to a student is as likely to be God's way of guidance as the closing of the door of adequate health is to a missionary. Paul did not try to push open a shut door; he looked for the open one that he had missed.
As Emerson has written, "Every man has his own vocation.. There is one direction in which all space is open to him . . . He is like a ship in a river; he runs against obstructions on every side but one; on that side all obstruction is taken away and he sweeps serenely over a deepening channel into an infinite sea."
But it is not always as plain sailing as the essayist would have us believe.
There are occasions when a man is offered two posts at the same time; when the advice of one friend differs from that of another; when the demands of the State seem to cross those of conscience; when the aspirations of a lifetime are swallowed up in the decision of a moment.
Hence the need to hear the still small voice of God in the soul.
And the voice that tells us, "This is the way, walk ye in it," cannot be heard in the hubbub of everyday life. Decisions which are to affect the whole trend of one's life should be made in the silence with God.
The importance of getting alone with Him cannot be overstressed. The saints of the Old Testament received their commissions in the quiet of the divine presence. And we need, sometimes, to make time to get apart with Him and definitely "be silent to the Lord, and wait patiently" for that inner persuasion which develops into the conviction that "this is His will for me."
If there are still conflicting urges, the peace of God must "be umpire" between them. "Let the peace which Christ gives settle all questionings in your hearts."
On whichever of two courses the peace of God settles down, that is likely to be His will. Where there is unrest, or where there is doubt, He will not be leading, for God's guidance is clear guidance - clear, that is to say, when the moment to step forward comes.
Until there is this peace of heart, and inward assurance, it is better to wait. When the heavenly vision, however it may come, is granted, there must be immediate obedience. It may be simply the common-sense decision made in the quiet with God; it may have involved a spiritual struggle on the hillside at night. But however the light has come, the step must be taken, even though it may lead in unexpected directions.
However much it may differ from a personal choice inspired perhaps by selfish motives, the Scriptures assure us that God's will is good and acceptable and perfect.
There are certain conditions which have to be fulfilled before the man of God can expect the leading of his Lord.
The first is found in the Book of Proverbs, where we read, "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths."
The promise is certain if the terms are accepted. No self-reliance, no self-seeking, no selfish ambitions can be allowed. In all things Christ must be acknowledged. He must have not merely a prominent, but the pre-eminent place.
There is another condition.
The souls who own Christ in every department of their lives must then commit all and submit all. "Roll thy way upon the Lord; trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass."
Again the promise is sure if the terms are undertaken. There must be a complete committal into God's hands of the problems of one's future. The burden of care and anxiety must be transferred to His shoulders, where the government of our lives should rightfully be.
"Cast (once and for all, it is an aorist tense in the Greek) all your anxiety upon Him, because He careth for you." This act of committal must be followed by one of submission. Having left all in His hands, we must abide by His decision about the future and prospects of what is His. "Is it not lawful," He will say, "for me to do what I will with mine own?"
The soul that is in the hand of God must never question the wisdom of His providences. He alone knows what is good for us, and when we remember that God is Love, smooth or rough, winding or straight, His way we will know to be the best. So where we cannot understand we will set ourselves to trust.
* * *
Try to find out what the will of the Lord for your life is, and be prepared for anything.
Be content with knowing only one step at a time.
If you do something contrary to God's will, come back to Him in repentance, for He will not discard you.
Recognise the over-ruling hand of God in the unavoidable circumstances of life.
Commit all to God, and then submit in all to Him.
Give Christ the pre-eminence in all things.