If you want to lead the most popular seminar at any Christian conference for college students, just call it “How to Find God’s Will for Your Life.” This topic overwhelms everything at different places in life, especially when we are first out in the world with multitudes of choices and little direction. In Acts 20 Paul begins heading to Jerusalem. This travelogue gives us insight in how he knew God’s plan for his life.
And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, compelled by the Spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, except that in every town the Holy Spirit warns me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. Acts 20:22-23
In Acts 20:22, Paul states that he is compelled to visit Jerusalem. This statement guides the travelogue through chapter 21 as Paul visits with Christians on his way to Jerusalem. Paul knows God’s will. How did this happen for him?
Paul, on a regular basis, sought the will of God. He earnestly desired to know what God wanted for him. He sought the will of God in all things, not only the big decisions of life. You may remember Paul, on his second journey, wanting to visit the cities around Ephesus, but the Spirit prevented him before calling him to Macedonia. Paul consistently sought the will of God.
He did so through prayer and reading of the word. Most answers to the question of God’s will can be answered simply by reading his word. By knowing the scripture, both the truths taught straightforwardly and the principles revealed through the narrative, you can find God’s will for most circumstances. Prayer is God’s way of communicating to you His desires and His truth. In prayer, God can bring you to agree with his desires.
Part of that prayer must be listening. Make time in your prayer life to hear from God. This is not bargaining, or testing; it is listening. If you are struggling with a decision that is not a moral decision, begin by telling God about it and then listen for his direction. Listen to him in the midst of your experiences. Often when you are involved doing what you know to be His will, he will speak to you.
We sought out the disciples and stayed there seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Acts 21:4
Paul heard from the Spirit not only of the trip to Jerusalem, but also of impending danger waiting for him. While staying in Tyre the disciples, in the Spirit, also warned him to not go to Jerusalem. These two messages of the Spirit seem contradictory, but they are not. In fact, they are complimentary. The believers told of the dangers awaiting Paul in Jerusalem. In their eyes, because of the danger awaiting him, he should not go to Jerusalem. So they warned him and pleaded with him in tears to not go on. But their words matched the word Paul had received from the Spirit, and so they served to confirm for him the need to go to Jerusalem.
He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him over to the Gentiles.’” Acts 21:11
In Caesarea, the prophet Agabus told Paul, in a very graphical manner, of the imprisonment he would go through. While Agabus did not attempt to dissuade Paul, the other believers did, including Luke. Again, the word from Agabus just reinforced Paul’s resolve to follow the Spirit to Jerusalem.
Oddly, while it may not have seemed so at first, both of these instances confirmed to Paul the leading of the Spirit he had already sensed. That is very important. We need to hear from others, other mature believers, confirmation of the word we have received from the Lord. Even though they wanted Paul to stay away from Jerusalem, he knew the Spirit was leading him there.
Listen to others, talk to them about how the Spirit is leading you. See if they can confirm or correct your understanding of the will of God. This is the role of the community of the church. Too often we follow the “Lone Ranger” model of Christianity, where everyone is one their own and no one is accountable to or acts as an encouragement to another. The church is a Christian community. We are called to share with one another, to encourage one another, to exhort one another to be godly, to follow God’s will. It can be a great help to you if you will seek the wise counsel of believers as you seek to know and do God’s will.
Finally, but maybe most importantly, you must be committed to the will of God. Often, you will never hear from God until you agree to do what he says. Paul “would not be dissuaded.” He was committed to do the will of God. He stayed with it despite well-meaning Christians who tried to turn him from the path.
Since he would not be persuaded, we said no more except, “The Lord’s will be done.” Acts 21:14
And the believers finally stated the words most important for them, “The Lord’s will be done.” Trust God with His will. We can be committed to do what God desires because we can trust him.