1 Samuel 24:3-6 – 3 And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. 4 And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’ ” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. 5 And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. 6 He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.”
“I just know deep down in my heart that this is something that God wants me to do. Besides, look at how many things have lined up to point me in this direction. It must be God’s will.” Who could be the speaker behind such words? It could be a recent reader of Experiencing God. It could be your lost neighbor who is trying to sound spiritual for your sake. It could be the teen girl who is rationalizing a relationship with a young man her parents dislike. It could be you, as you try to decide whether or not to stay in a difficult church or ministry. Or, it could be a paraphrase of David’s thoughts from the above passage before the conviction of God fell on him.
Here’s the setting, in case anyone does not know this story. David is hiding in a cave. King Saul, the guy who is chasing David all over the wilderness with intensions of murdering him, feels the call of nature. So, he goes into the very same cave where David is hiding to take care of business. David’s friends think David should kill Saul, as God has “clearly” put him into David’s hands. While Saul is there in a very vulnerable position, David creeps up and cuts off part of Saul’s royal robe, leaving him with something more akin to a royal mini-skirt (maybe not that bad, who knows). And David then feels the conviction of God for doing something inappropriate against God’s anointed king.
Here’s what we need to think about: discerning God’s will. Many people in our world make decisions about how God is leading them based on the particular circumstances that are before them. Supposedly opened or closed doors in life, difficult circumstances, declines in church attendance or giving, a great or small number of people responding to evangelistic appeals, or a perfectly-worded bumper sticker are all possible ways that some Christians might decide that something is or is not God’s will for them. If things “line up just right,” we assume that God is telling us something. If things are hard and we find ourselves troubled at every turn, we assume God is leading us away from something. The problem is, such factors are very poor means for understanding the will of God.
Look at David. Everything circumstantially lined up for him to believe it was God’s will for him to kill Saul. David had already been told that he was the rightful king by Samuel. David was running for his life from Saul, and self-defense could certainly have been put into the discussion. David’s friends, those all-important others from whom we receive counsel, all told David that this was God putting Saul into David’s power. Besides, how could it possibly be that Saul would need to go potty in exactly the cave where David was hiding? No way was this a coincidence.
The problem for David is that, though all the circumstances and the counsel of his friends pointed toward it being God’s will for him to kill Saul, God was not telling David this at all. God has always wanted his people to respect their leaders, even when they are not the best (cf. Romans 13:1-ff). What David needed was not a special set of circumstances, nor was it the counsel of others, nor was it a tingly gut feeling; David needed God’s word, rightly understood and applied, in order to truly grasp what it was that God was telling him. (Yes, I know that David did not have Romans 13 to look into for himself in the cave; but I think the point holds valid.)
Knowing God’s Will
So, how do you know if something is God’s will? The answer is simple: know God’s word and obey it. As John MacArthur has so wonderfully taught before (cf. Macarthur, Found: God’s Will), we determine what God wants us to do, not through mystical methods, but through his words and his principles. IF we are loving God with all our hearts and living in obedience to his commands in all things—delighting in the Lord (cf. Psalm 37:4)—then we have freedom to act in accord with our desires since we can believe that those desires are governed by the Lord’s word and his commands. I’m not here advocating choices made out of selfishness, but choices made out of reverence for God, obedience to his clear commands, and a desire that is foremost for his glory.
Yes, I know that what I have given here is simplistic in many ways. There are many more things that need to be hashed out before one can truly feel that he or she has everything he needs to understand the will of God. Prayer is still a factor, and we do not totally discount what wise counselors tell us. However, what I want to accomplish is to turn our hearts away from mysticism. I want us to stop relying on our circumstances. I want us to stop relying solely on human wisdom. I want us to stop thinking that our decisions are to be governed by some sort of externally imposed tummy tremors. If we want to hear God’s voice, we need to read, understand, apply, and obey his word.