Dr. Lehman Strauss was one of the best preachers America has ever produced. Over the course of his sixty-year ministry, he successfully served in the various roles of pastor, evangelist, teacher, and commentator. He truly was a great man of God, a man with much wisdom and discernment.
Strauss used to tell the story of a certain church member that he once had. This church member was a devout Christian who owned a farm in Pennsylvania. One day the farmer said to Strauss, “Lehman, I believe God is calling me to preach.” Even though Strauss and the man were good friends, and Strauss had no doubts about the man’s sincerity, he did have serious doubts about the man’s call to preach. So Strauss asked the farmer, “What gave you the idea God called you to preach?” The farmer answered, “Yesterday I was in the fields plowing, and I saw in a cloud formation the two letters PC. I knew at once it was a vision from God telling me to PREACH CHRIST.” To that Strauss wryly replied, “Is is possible God was telling you to PLANT CORN?”
I use this story as an illustration to warn you about attempting to discern God’s will by way of “signs.” I’m reminded of the old joke about the woman who was attempting to diet. She loved the doughnuts from a particular doughnut shop in her hometown and stopped there for breakfast every morning on her way to work. But when she began her diet, she knew those doughnuts were off limits. So, on her way to work one morning she prayed, “Lord, if it is your will for me to stop and get a doughnut for breakfast this morning, help there to be a parking space right in front of the shop as I drive by.” And low and behold, as she drove by, she did find a perfect parking spot right in front of the shop. Of course, that spot didn’t open up until her fifth time circling the store!
How do you determine God’s will for any given situation? First, you find out what the Bible has to say about the situation. God’s will never contradicts God’s word. Second, you pay attention to that burden you feel, that burden to either do something or stop doing something, that burden you just can’t shake, that burden that gnaws at you. When God wants you to either do something or stop doing something, He gives you a burden that aligns with His will. Third, you take circumstances into account. Is there a pathway that will allow you to act upon your burden? Is there an open door for you? If there isn’t, either that burden you feel isn’t from God or the timing isn’t right yet for you to act upon it. (Sometimes God’s will for your life can be thwarted by other people, but if that happens God will remove the burden from you.) Lastly, once you have acted upon your burden, do you have a deep-settled inner peace about your course of action? If you do, that is a tell-tale indicator that you’ve done God’s will.
But what about “signs”? Well, did you know that the Bible uses the word “sign” to refer to nothing less than a bona fide miracle? You see, we water down, even trivialize, the whole idea of “signs” when we attempt to put our modern-day spin on it. Here are a few examples of such spin:
- “I’m trying to decide which college God wants me to attend, and I just happened to see a person wearing a t-shirt with the logo of one of my options. Is that God speaking to me about my choice?”
- “I’m planning to break up with my boyfriend, but I heard our song on the radio today. Is that God’s way of telling me not to break up with him?”
- “I had a dream last night that I quit my job. Does that mean that God wants me to turn in my resignation?”
Cloud formations? Parking spots? T-shirt messages? Songs on the radio? Dreams? Oh, dear friend, be careful about using such things to try to determine God’s will for your life. I’m not saying that God can’t use anything and everything to make His will known to you if He so chooses, but I am saying that only a true miracle qualifies as a Biblical “sign.” As for anything less, my standardized advice to you is, don’t believe the hype.