Book Review: Finding God’s Will, by J. I. Packer
J.I. Packer’s Finding God’s Will is a very useful and characteristically careful study of guidance in the New Testament. It’s short, only 29 pages, and that in a tiny book that measures no more than 3×4 inches. Packer spends several pages carefully proving from the Scriptures that God does in fact speak to His people. When he comes to the question of how precisely that happens, he leaves open the possibility that some decisions are made by “God-given prompting and inclination,” (12). The problem, he says, is when Christians make the mistake of thinking that every decision requires this kind of guidance to be sought. To the contrary, Packer argues, “The consequences of this mistake among earnest Christians have been both comic and tragic,” (13). He gives several examples of people who have believed that they were receiving a divine prompting to do ridiculous or even sinful things. The corrective to this is to realize that “the fundamental mode whereby our rational Creator guides his rational creatures is by rational understanding and application of his written Word,” (15). And what is the basic form of divine guidance through the Word? “The basic form of divine guidance, therefore, is the presentation to us of positive ideals as guidelines for all our living,” for example, loving others, avoiding sexual sin, seeking certain virtues, avoiding vice. “Only within the limits of this guidance” does God ever prompt us when we are faced with a decision. He will never prompt us to do anything that is contrary to His Word.
Packer also gives a list of common pitfalls when people are seeking guidance about a certain decision. Those pitfalls are unwillingness to think, unwillingness to think ahead, unwillingness to take advice, unwillingness to suspect oneself (“We can never distrust ourselves too much,” 20), unwillingness to discount personal magnetism, and unwillingness to wait. The whole list and discussion is full Packer’s typical, edifying insight.
The final section of the book reminds us that even when we are in God’s will, the sailing will not always be smooth. In a fallen, hostile world, obedience to God’s commands often leads us into hardship or even persecution. The book is well worth the fifteen minutes it will take you to read it.
So how do I decide what to do? According to Packer, most important is to be living within the guidelines that God lays out for us in His Word. Some decisions can be made easily by looking at Scripture and determining to live faithfully within its guidelines. Once the scriptural guidelines have been considered, some decisions, are made decisively clear by a God-given prompting or inclination. Make sure that you have taken full account of the scriptural guidelines that the Lord has given us, and then think it through, seek godly counsel, and pray reverently about what He would have you do. By a combination of all that, God may incline you to do one thing over another. Never imagine that God is leading you to do anything that violates any principle in His Word.