1 Chronicles 17:2
And Nathan said to David, “Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you.”
Discerning the will of God is often one of the more difficult topics for Christians to discuss. How do we know when God wants us to do something or not do something? How do we know when a desire is ours or God’s? What should be our pattern? Should we wait for a voice from heaven or a nudging during our prayer time? Should we listen for the voice of a prophet or simply seek wisdom in Scripture?
I think we can find something interesting about discerning God’s will in the above passage. When David found himself firmly established as King over a secure land, he had a stirring within his heart. He wanted to build a temple, a place for the ark of the covenant to rest. And so he proposed this idea to Nathan the prophet.
Notice what Nathan’s first reaction to David was. He told David that God was with David. He told David to do what was in his heart to do.
Now, later that night, as you can read in verses 3 and following, God came to the prophet and told him to rein David in. This desire in David’s heart, though a good desire, was not God’s plan for him.
What grabs my attention this morning is the fact that Nathan’s gut reaction to David’s statement was to tell him to go do whatever was in his heart to do. Nathan did not feel a need to check David’s general desire here. He told David that, since God was with him, he assumed David’s desire to be right.
And, you know what, as I study the issue of discerning God’s will, I do not think Nathan was wrong. Obviously I understand that God used Nathan to later redirect David. But I think that this exception proves the rule.
What did Nathan know? Nathan knew that, as a general truth, a man who loves God with his whole heart is going to desire things that are the will of God. Nathan knew that a man who has a heart for God and who is submitting to the clearly given commands of God will be wanting things that God approves. And so, in a very general sense, it was safe for Nathan to say that David should proceed with his plans.
The fact that God changes David’s plan is not, in my mind, evidence against what I have just written. You see, when a believer who loves God with all his heart desires to move in a certain way for the glory of God, if that believer’s desire does not accord with God’s plan, God will let the believer know. God has a way of checking our desires and correcting them by his word in order to make sure that those who love him will desire what he wants.
Psalm 37:4 calls for us to delight in God and promises that God will give us the desires of our heart. The idea here is that, as we make god our delight, our heart will desire God. As we delight in God, our heart’s desire will be that which God desires. As we obey and love our Lord, he will make our hearts and minds to be conformed to his desires.
So, believers, I think that there is actually something positive to learn from Nathan’s counsel even though, in this exceptional case, the desire was not carried out. When you love God with your whole heart, you will desire things that please God. When you want to do something (go to a particular college, take a particular job, marry a particular person, go on a particular mission trip), check that desire against the grid of the word of God and the wise counsel of other saints of God who love him too. If what you desire is within the bounds of the Bible, and if your life is a life that demonstrates love of Jesus through obedience to his commands, then you may, like Nathan did, assume a green light from God. And, like Nathan, if God has a different desire for you, if you are loving God with your whole heart and following his clearly written commands, God will move in such a way as to either allow you to move forward or not to do so.