How Do I Know God’s Will?

How Do I Know God’s Will?

Philippians 2:12–13

Want to know God’s will for your life? Let me ask you to stop, look, and listen. God makes His desires known to those who stop at His Word, look in with a sensitive spirit, and listen to others. When we go to His Word, we stop long enough to hear from above. When we look, we examine our surrounding circumstances in light of what He is saying to our inner spirit (perhaps you prefer to call this your conscience). And when we listen to others, we seek the counsel of wise, qualified people.

1. Stop at the Scriptures

The Bible tells us that the entrance of God’s Word gives light (Psalm 119:130). That it is a lamp for our feet and a light that shines brightly on our path (Psalm 119:105). God has placed His Word in our hands and allowed it to be translated into our tongue (both were His determined will) so we could have a much more objective set of guidelines to follow than our dreams, hunches, and feelings. Sixty-six books filled with precepts and principles. And the better we know His Word, the more clearly we will know His will.

Precepts. Some of the statements that appear in the Bible are specific, black-and-white truths that take all the guesswork about God’s will out of the way. Here are a few:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality. (1 Thessalonians 4:3)

See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:15–18)

These specific things are stated to be the will of God. There are even times that suffering is directly the will of God for us.

First Corinthians 7 says a lot about remaining single as well as being committed to one’s marriage. Clearly, this chapter (along with 2 Corinthians 6:14) states that a Christian is definitely not to marry a non-Christian. These are finely tuned precepts that reveal God’s will.

Principles. But the Bible also has principles, general guidelines to assist us through the gray areas. Not so much “do this” and “don’t do that,” but an appeal to use wisdom and discretion when such are needed.

We have both precepts and principles in our traffic laws. The sign that reads “Speed Limit 35” is a precept. The one that reads “Drive Carefully” is a principle. And that principle will mean one thing on a deserted street at two o’clock in the morning, but something else entirely at three-thirty in the afternoon when children are walking home from school.

Just remember this: A primary purpose of the Word of God is to help us know the will of God. Become a careful, diligent student of Scripture. Those who are will be better equipped to understand His desires and walk in them.

2. Look Around and Within

Philippians 2:12–13 presents a good cause for our cooperating with the Lord’s leading:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

These verses highlight three specifics: There’s a willingness to obey. There’s the need to “work out” or give ourselves to doing our part with a sensitive spirit (fear and trembling). And then there’s the promise that God will “work in you” to accomplish His plan. As we remain alert to His working, paying close attention to doors He opens and closes, He directs us into His will.

Closed doors are just as much God’s leading as open ones. The believer who wants to do God’s will must remain sensitive and cooperative, not forcing his or her way into areas that God closes off. The Lord uses circumstances and expects us to “read” them with a sensitive, alert conscience.

We must stop and check His Word. We must look around and within. And there is one more helpful piece of advice to remember. We must . . .

3. Listen to the Counsel of Qualified People

Solomon the wise once wrote:

A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water,
But a man of understanding draws it out. (Proverbs 20:5)

Iron sharpens iron,
So one man sharpens another. . . .

As in water face reflects face,
So the heart of man reflects man. (Proverbs 27:1719)

Like a quarterback, facing fourth-and-one on the thirty-yard line, who calls a time-out to consult with the coach, so must we. God uses others to help us know His desires.

God makes His will known: (1) through His Word . . . as we stop and study it, (2) through circumstances . . . as we look within and sense what He is saying, and (3) through the counsel of others . . . as we listen carefully.

 The better we know God’s Word, the more clearly we will know His will for us. Chuck Swindoll 

Excerpted from Avoiding Stress Fractures, Copyright © 1990, 1995 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.



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Soul Keeping: What Is The Soul?

John Ortberg

soul-keeping 500x325

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” – Matthew 16:25-26

What Is The Soul?

Your soul is the deepest thing about you. Jesus said that the soul is move valuable than the world. So why would we not value it? Two things are true: 1. You have a soul, 2. It is the only one you will ever have. – John Ortberg

As believers, we do not want to forfeit our souls. But what exactly is the soul? Can we identify it or describe it? Can we locate it in an x-ray? It would seem that something so important as the soul should be understood, protected, and nurtured.

In the new book and Bible study Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You, John Ortberg addresses the question: “What is the soul?” He begins with a comprehensive look at the soul as it is described throughout the scripture.

Watch the Trailer for Soul Keeping

In this six-session study, Ortberg shows that caring for your soul is necessary for your Christian life. John shows what your soul is, why it is important, how to assess your soul’s health, and how to care for it so that we can have a meaningful and beautiful life with God and others.

Play Session One of Soul Keeping

As you watch, use the outline below to follow along or to take additional notes on anything that stands out to you.

As you watch, use the outline below to follow along or to take additional notes on anything that stands out to you.

Video Notes

The Parable of the Keeper of the Stream

Questions about the human soul:

  • What is it?
  • What does it consist of?
  • Why does it matter, if it does matter? Is it doing okay?

All of us have an outer life and an inner life.

  • My outer life is the public, visible me — my accomplishments, my work, my reputation.
  • My inner life is largely invisible. It’s where my secret thoughts, hopes, and wishes live.

The self is not the soul.

  • In the twentieth century, we replaced community, society, church, and faith with a tiny little unit that cannot bear the weight of meaning. We’ve replaced all these larger entities with the self.
  • The self is a stand-alone, do-it-yourself unit, while the soul reminds us we are not made for ourselves or by ourselves. The soul always exists before God.

Your soul connects your thoughts, your sensations, your emotions, your will, and integrates them into an entire being.

The four parts of a human being: each part of a human being must be healthy and working as God intended it to, and that makes a healthy soul.

  • Will: The innermost circle is the will — the capacity to choose . The will is what makes you a person and not a thing. It is important but it is also extremely limited.
  • Mind: The second circle is the mind, a person’s thoughts and feelings. “The mind of the sinful [person] is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6 NIV 1984).
  • Body: The third circle is the body. “Our bodies are like our little power packs — we couldn’t be us without them . . .  But they are not the whole story. We are not just the stuff that our bodies are made of” (Dallas Willard).
  • Soul: The final circle is the soul. The human soul is what integrates all of our different parts into a single person.

“A healthy soul is an integrated soul, and an unhealthy soul is a ‘disintegrated’ one” (Dallas Willard).

  • When we’re dealing with a disintegrated soul, we have to come to grips with sin.
  • What does it mean to lose one’s soul?
  • “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
  • What Jesus is saying is a diagnostic expression. To lose my soul means I no longer have a healthy center that organizes and guides my life.

You have a soul, and for you to have a soul that is healed, that is healthy, that is redeemed by God, matters more than the outcome of any circumstance in your world or your life. Your eternal destiny rests on the well-being of your soul — and only God can heal the soul.

What does it mean to “keep” one’s soul?

  • You have one soul; and gaining the whole world will not help you if you lose it.
  • Caring for your soul, allowing it to flourish in God’s presence and become a gift to the world around you, is the primary charge that faces you before eternity.
  • Your soul will live forever — and you are the keeper of your soul.


Study Questions

1. What part of the teaching had the most impact on you?

You Are the Keeper

2. A keeper is someone who is in charge of caring for, maintaining, or protecting something. For example, there are innkeepers, zookeepers, bookkeepers, groundskeepers, housekeepers, peacekeepers, shopkeepers, gatekeepers, beekeepers, etc.

  • Along with the parable John told about the keeper of the stream, what do these images of keepers suggest about the tasks and characteristics of “keeping” in general? For example, the stream keeper’s work was described as “unseen.”
  • What comes to mind when you think of these characteristics in connection with your soul? In other words, what might they reveal about what it means for you to engage in soul keeping?

Describing the Soul

3. It can be hard to define the soul, but sometimes we have moments when we recognize it even if we can’t define it. For example, John described feeling “an enormous combination of joy and humility and awe” when he watches a sunset at Big Sur, and how there is a depth to that experience that goes beyond what he can apprehend visually.

  • Think back over the last day or two. In what moments did you catch a glimpse of your soul at work? (If nothing comes to mind, think back to the most recent experience you can recall.)
  • How, specifically, do you recognize your soul in these moments? In 
other words, what distinguishes these moments from other moments?
  • Overall, would you say you tend to be more aware of your soul in uplifting experiences (such as the one John described) or in experiences of hardship and suffering? Share the reasons for your response.

4. The Bible doesn’t provide a comprehensive definition of the soul, but the words biblical writers use offer insights about its meaning. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for the soul is nephesh (nehfesh) . New Testament writers use the Greek word psyche (psü-kha ̄’) to name the soul. The root words for both nephesh and psyche refer to “breath.”

Nephesh can be translated in several ways, but it is commonly renderedlife or soul. For example:

The ransom for a life [nephesh] is costly, no payment is ever enough. (Psalm 49:8)

Only take care, and keep your soul [nephesh] diligently. (Deuteronomy 4:9a ESV)

Psyche is also frequently translated as life or soul. We see both uses in this statement made by Jesus:

For whoever wants to save their life [psyche] will lose it, but whoever loses their life [psyche] for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul [psyche]? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul [psyche]? (Matthew 16:25-26)

In biblical usage, nephesh and psyche are words that encompass all that makes a person a living being, “summing up . . . the whole personality, of the whole self of a person.” In essence, they are words that refer to your life as an integrated whole and all the components that make you uniquely you.

  • Briefly reflect on the soul using the image of breath, the meaning of the biblical root words. For example, you might consider when you tend to be most and least aware of your physical breathing, what takes your breath away, or what makes you hold your breath. What parallels do you recognize between these physical experiences of breath and the ways in which you might experience, or fail to experience, your soul at work?
  • The three Scriptures quoted above stress the incalculable value of the soul and the importance of making an intentional effort to care for it. And yet, as Dallas Willard acknowledged, even among Christians, “very few people [are] seriously concerned about the state of their own soul.” Overall, how would you assess yourself in this regard? For example, would you say the attention and care you give to the state of your soul right now is the highest it’s ever been, the lowest, or somewhere between? Share the reasons for your response.

Caring for the Soul

5. John described a distinction Dallas Willard made between being busy and being hurried:

Hurry is the great enemy of souls in our day. Being busy is mostly a condition of our outer world; it is having many things to do. Being hurried is a problem of the soul. It’s being so preoccupied with myself and what myself has to do that I am no longer able to be fully present with God and fully present with you. There is no way a soul can thrive when it is hurried.

  • How would you assess the threat level of hurry to your soul right now? Is it very high, moderate, or low?
  • When are you most likely to succumb to hurry — to lose the ability to be fully present with God and others?
  • If you were to describe the characteristics of a person who is busy but not hurried, what would they be? For example, what would you expect to notice about their demeanor, their actions, and their interactions with others?

Your Turn

John said that this was the most important thing he had to say:

You have a soul, and for you to have a soul that is healed, that is healthy, that is redeemed by God, matters more than the outcome of any circumstance in your world or your life. Your eternal destiny rests on the well-being of your soul — and only God can heal the soul.

In what ways might the next twenty-four hours be different if you were to take this statement seriously? For example, how might it influence the decisions you make, the way you spend your time, or the way you relate to others?

You’re invited to leave your comments on this week’s blog!

* Excerpted with permission from Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You study guide by John Ortberg, copyright 2014 Zondervan.

John Ortberg

John Ortberg is senior pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California. He is the bestselling author of Who is this Man, When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box, The Life You’ve Always Wanted and If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. John and his wife, Nancy, have three grown children.



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When Pastors Fall: Why Full and Public Repentance Matters

When Pastors Fall: Why Full and Public Repentance Matters

Pastors are held to a higher standard and must repent of sin in accordance with that standard. | Ed Stetzer

When Pastors Fall: Why Full and Public Repentance Matters

Pastor scandals happen.

Needless to say, I don’t say that with any enthusiasm. In fact, it is greatly discouraging to me, but it’s true nonetheless.

Furthermore, this is not just a recent phenomenon, though the evangelical world has been filled with reports over the last few months.

It’s just disheartening.

Pastors have a responsibility to what has been entrusted to them.

Yet, these scandals have been happening for a long time– since the beginning of Christianity (and before in Judaism). Pastoral failings stretch so far back in Christian history, we have New Testament instruction about them.

First Timothy 5 is, perhaps, the clearest passage on this issue.

That passage and others remind us that pastors– and other leaders of similar persuasions– are held to a different (higher) standard in the scriptures.

First, the level of proof for accusation is higher– it’s on the basis of two or three witnesses, whereas in Matthew 18 any one believer can go to any one fellow believer when sin arises. This serves as a buffer against unwarranted criticism that can come with pastoral positions (though it’s often abused, but that is for another conversation).

Also, it’s clear that pastors are worthy of honor– double honor, actually:

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:17-20).

As such, pastors are different, not in value, but in responsibility and expectation. They are worthy of double honor and they are harder to accuse. We can see the practical reason for this– like it or not, being a religious leader attracts a higher level of criticism. If you are a pastor, you are probably already well aware of that reality.

Yet, some pastors want to stop there, quoting verses that say you cannot touch the “anointed.” They sometimes think that disagreeing with them is the same as disagreeing with the Lord.

Such an attitude reflects an attitude that doesn’t take the rest of scripture seriously. Sin matters, and when that sin happens in the life of a public spiritual leader, the great damage can be done. The scriptural teaching takes that into account as well.

So, while pastors have a higher scriptural standard to receive criticism– and cultural realities exist making it harder to make such accusations– pastors also have a higher standard to repentance. Yes, repentance should be evident when any believer is caught in sin, but something more is required when a pastor is involved, and this matters just as much as the cautions against accusations.

With this higher standard in mind, I want to offer three principles of repentance for pastors and Christian leaders.

1. Repentance must be public.

Yes, pastors have a higher standard to receive criticism, but when that standard is met, a new standard kicks in– as far as the sin is known the repentance should be known.

When you became a pastor, you forfeited the right for your sin not to be known.

Pastors have a responsibility to what has been entrusted to them. If you are a small church pastor, your church should know. If you have been entrusted with a global ministry, however, your repentance should be known on a global scale.

Yes, that’s hard. But you cannot use the higher standard of receiving criticism to your advantage when it is beneficial, but ignore the higher standard of repentance when things are difficult.

The details don’t need to be known, but the sin does. Adultery, lying, theft should be named, not hinted. When you became a pastor, you forfeited the right for your sin not to be known when the accusations prove to be true. It does not have to be prurient, but it must be clear.

2. Repentance must be thorough.

It really matters that we are honest and that our repentance is complete.

Saying, “I am sorry you were offended” is not repentance. Giving a carefully worded statement without accepting full responsibility is the way of secular culture. It speaks more to having the right public relations firm than having a repentant heart.

Attempts to avoid blame reveal a higher regard for reputation than a repentant heart. True repentance sounds more like this:

  • I did not tell the truth because I wanted to be liked and listened to. I am sorry.
  • I committed adultery—on more than one occasion—and it’s my sin.
  • I was not honest with the finances to my personal benefit—I stole and it’s wrong.
Repentance is freeing.

Not only is such repentance biblical, but it’s helpful. The fact is, nowadays, if you are not completely honest, it does not go away—the Internet remembers for a long time and only true repentance says, “Yes, it was true. I was wrong. Now, I am working to change.”

As Lanny Davis wrote about political scandals, Tell it all, tell it early, tell it yourself.” Or, to quote a paraphrase of Proverbs 28:13, “What we cover, God uncovers and what we uncover, God covers.”

There is great freedom in confessing it all, early, and moving on toward restoration. The alternative is to be trapped in a cycle of waiting until more evidence comes forward and then trying to spin it to salvage our reputation.

Repentance is freeing.

3. Repentance should lead to restoration.

I have a friend who confessed adultery to his pastor and elders. He was told to resign and move on, but was prevented from confessing publicly despite the sin being known publicly. In doing this, his pastor and church failed him because it prevented any hope of restoration. Now, he has to always wonder, “Will it come out again?” He’d rather have confessed it and moved on. His church leadership robbed him of true pastoral repentance, robbed the church of an honest dealing with sin, and robbed his future ministry as a restored pastor.

Fear leads to forever hiding where faith leads to confession and restoration.

When it comes to pastoral repentance, fear leads to forever hiding where faith leads to confession and restoration.

I’m not saying that every pastor can be restored to every role—that’s a discussion for another day. But, a pastor who commits adultery, for example, needs to be under a discipline process with the church that lasts a considerable length of time (at least two years in my opinion).

The pastor or leader then sits under the authority, guidance, and restoration process of the restoration team (probably local church leaders or those they designate). The process moves forward with counseling, accountability, help for those hurt by the actions, and more.

At the conclusion of the process– and there needs to be a pre-planned timeline and conclusion– those doing the restoring should consider the next steps.

Where now?

There is much at stake in this issue. When there is public and thorough repentance, there can be public and complete restoration. When there is not, 1 Timothy 5:19 should be a warning to us all: “Publicly rebuke those who sin, so that the rest will also be afraid.”

What’s more, unless we pastors engage in public repentance, our “bold” preaching about sin and grace often appears to be little more than window dressing. In other words, what we believe about God, sin and grace is proven true when we treat our own sin as seriously as we say others should.

Too many leaders are not repenting in accordance to scripture and too many churches don’t know how to work through repentance to restoration. Both matter– and scripture provides a path for both.

For more information, I’d recommend the Focus on the Family resource, “Pastoral Restoration: The Path to Recovery.”



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He Has Risen!


But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. – Luke 24:1-9, ESV
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Kelley Mooney’s spiritual lyrical adaptation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”
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Another Version: A Special Version of Hallelujah With a Christian Twist
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One Thing Remains

“One Thing Remains” by Kristian Stanfill

Your love never fails
It never gives up
It never runs out on me
Your love
never gives up on me

And it’s higher than the mountains that I face
And it’s stronger than the power of the grave
And constant in the trial and the change
This one thing remains, yeah

And it’s higher than the mountains that I face
And it’s stronger than the power of the grave
And it’s constant in the trial and the change
This one thing remains
This one thing remains, yeah

‘Cause Your love never fails
It never gives up
It never runs out on me
Your love

And on and on
and on and on it goes
Yes, it overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I’ll never, ever have to be afraid
‘Cause this one thing remains
This one thing remains

Your love never fails
It never gives up
It never runs out on me
Your love

In death, in life
I’m confident and covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid
There’s nothing that can separate
my heart from Your great love

‘Cause Your love never fails
It never gives up
It never runs out on me
Your love

And on and on
and on and on it goes
Yes, it overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I’ll never, ever have to be afraid
‘Cause this one thing remains

Your love never fails
It never gives up
It never runs out on me
Your love

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We Believe

“We Believe” by Newsboys

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