During February we’re focusing on seeking guidance. Please click the Prayer tab above to read our strategic prayer request for this month.
By Jim Bliffen
When I was a fifth year student working toward a bachelor of theology degree I was to select a topic for a 40 page thesis. I selected the topic “How to Discern the Will of God” and did a considerable amount of research but never wrote the paper. In the research I looked into ways people have sought to find direction from God concerning their daily lives. The book I found most helpful was a book written by Knofel Staton entitled “How to Know the Will of God”. He broke God’s will down into two categories, God’s general will or the ‘umbrella’ of His will, and His specific will for an individual’s life. God’s general will for everyone’s life is in found in the scriptures. We can read it in such places as the law or in terse statements such as Micah 6:8; “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” Staying under this umbrella is difficult but it is possible to know this will of God and it gives plenty of direction to our lives.
Knowing His specific will for one’s life is far more challenging. Staton says the good news is that even if we miss God’s specific will for us, as long as we are faithful to live under the umbrella of His general will, we will be all right even though we may not enjoy the fullness of life God has planned for us. I believe there are times when we face choices in life that God’s plan is that we use the brain and intelligence He has invested in us to make a good decision and either way we chose is fine with Him, He can work with it. But when He has some specific task or deed in mind for us He has rather definite ways of letting us know. The Bible makes it clear that it is not all right to ignore a clear calling from God, as in the case of Jonah.
Sometimes God uses dreams, sometimes signs, and sometimes a still small voice that seems to speak to our soul. All of these can be very subjective experiences and we need to be careful as to how we interrupt them. One test that lets us know if it is God speaking is does this specific message agree with His general message found in the Bible. God does not send mixed messages. However, when I was called to the mission field I believe I heard clearly from God clearly calling me in one of these subjective ways. I am sure everyone who is involved with Christian ministry has received His call in some form also.
Much of this came to me through my wife, Joni. She had a dream about a verse in the Bible in which God was telling the Israelites about a good new land that He was leading them into. There were other signs that accompanied the dream that let her know it God was calling her to the mission field. It was my own words that were intended to set me free that entrapped me into God’s desire for us to be missionaries. Joni asked me one night if I thought I could be a missionary. I told no. She asked, “What if God is calling me?” I said, “Joni, you and I are a team. It has always been this way since we were married. God will not call you to something that He will not call me to also.” My words were true but not the way I intended them.
The real clincher for me was a conversation that Joni had with William Butler at PMI. He was very sick at that point and told her that he was doing finance but God had called him to be a translator. He wanted to finish his translation work before he died but was afraid that unless God sent someone to take care of the finances that he may not complete the New Testament that he was working on. When Joni relayed this conversation to me, God spoke to my heart in that moment and said you are going on the mission field.
I still had hopes that PBT would reject me because I considered myself highly unqualified to go on the mission field. However, PBT let me down, which I also took as a sign from God, and accepted me as a missionary, destroying much of my confidence I had in them as a sending organization. Then I thought that maybe we couldn’t raise the support, or sell our house, or any number of other obstacles that could derail us from going. But God swept all that stuff out of the way and cleared the road for His purpose for me to come to completion. So here I am, a missionary.
This experience has taught me that God does have a specific plan for my life. If His plan is important to Him, He will let me know what it is. He will clear the way for His plan to become a reality. If I am faithfully following His general will for my life He will reveal His specific will according to His desires. Our prayer focus for February is that God will show us how to inspire and equip people to read/use their mother tongue Scriptures and that hearing will create a deep hunger and readiness for more. If we are being faithful to the call we have already received from Him, and faithful to remain under the umbrella of His general will, then He will open the doors, make the way known to us, and give us the gifts we need to accomplish His purpose in this. Let us be faithful to move as God gives direction to accomplish this task and we will succeed.
Jim serves in the area of Scripture Use.