Pride and providence: distinguishing sovereign purpose from self-promotion

psalm 1:1–2 [widescreen]

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

Psalm 1:1, 2

WE MUST BE SUSPICIOUS OF THOSE MOMENTS WHEN WE ARE CERTAIN OF THE “VOICE” OF GOD THAT IT IS NOT OUR OWN PRIDE DISGUISED AS DIVINE INSPIRATION. We humans can be so crafty, we may even deceive ourselves (James 1:22; 1 John 1:8). In past dispensations, God revealed his will through patriarchs and prophets but now has spoken through Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-3). We may wish we had such inspired men around today to reveal the will of God in our specific context. It does not help that modern theologians muddy the waters presumptuously speaking about what God is up to and teasing us with the notion that there is some kind of predetermined plan for every trivial moment of our lives. We are left puzzling over how we will somehow discover God’s will, and wondering constantly if we are somehow messing it all up. How can we know the will of God? And how can we distinguish the purposes of God from our own, or worse, from the schemes of Satan?

6 ways to discern the purposes of God

  1. Read. I realize the Bible doesn’t answer every question, and it may not seem to speak directly to your specific context. But there is simply no substitute for getting in the word of God when it comes to understanding his will (Ephesians 3:4).
  2. Meditate. Not only do we need to read the word, but it must become our constant meditation. We must be drenched in the Holy Scripture. Memorize it. Study it. Share it. Just be still and ponder its meaning and application. Do not miss this—meditate further on the nature of God himself as revealed in scripture. Remember, we worship God, not the Bible. The Bible points us to him. Let his awesome glory humble you and open your heart to worship. A hurried reading of the word will do little to change us; we must hide it in our hearts (Psalm 119:11).
  3. Pray. Meditation and prayer go hand in hand. Usually, they happen together. Prayer does not always begin with an opening and end with an ending. It can be fluid, conversational, and spontaneous. God is always present. Talk to him like you believe that wonderful truth (Colossians 1:9)! We must take care that our prayer is one of surrender just as Jesus prayed, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
  4. Ask. God has always chosen to work through people. While men are imperfect and far from having all the answers, we may grow in God’s wisdom by seeking counsel from faithful, mature Christians who have been down the same path we are now walking (Proverbs 11:14).
  5. Wait. One of the difficult realities of life is accepting God’s timetable. God sees the big picture. He orchestrates each part and weaves together the beautiful symphony of life. We only play our small part. Often, we do not even know what our part is. We ask, but it seems no answer comes. We must grow to trust that if we will prepare our hearts and be ready, in his time, God will clearly direct us in his own way. There is a refining quality produced in our faith by waiting (Psalm 27:14).
  6. Follow. There is a beautiful simplicity to following Jesus if we can learn it; we have only to take one step at a time as it becomes clear to us. We like to plan. We like to know where we’re going and how we’re getting there. But following Jesus doesn’t usually work like that. Jesus simply calls us to follow whatever the cost and wherever the path may lead. Like Abram of old, we walk by faith. There is wonderful peace in learning to take life one day at a time, one step at a time trusting in Jesus and his promises. Faith is not merely academic; it is experiential. Practically speaking, we know there are lessons that can only be learned hands on. Similarly, the path is further revealed to us as we follow in faith what Jesus has already shown us (Hebrews 5:11-14).

5 ways to pursue self-promotion

  1. Confuse. Make your primary influences various sources of media: self-help books, magazines, social media, celebrities, talk show hosts, or popular gurus. Spend all your time pursuing wealth, education, popularity, pleasure, and entertainment. Adopt as your philosophy to “know yourself” or “follow your heart,” or at least let careless media choices mix these paganistic ideologies with your “Christianity.” Keep it random, and keep it worldly.
  2. Multi-task. Constantly have on some kind of music, TV, or smart device to avoid boredom because you are uncomfortable with quiet time.
  3. Plan. Plan everything out yourself in detail and expect it to go that way. If you pray, pray your plans to God as though you are advising him, and ask him to make it happen the way you think it should go.
  4. Do. Just do it like Nike, bro. If you do ask for advice, only ask people who you know will agree with you, or manipulate them into doing so.
  5. Control. Insist on doing things your way. Convince yourself theologically that God doesn’t get involved, and so it’s all on you anyway. Or convince yourself that God speaks to you directly so the voices in your head are in fact divine. Become creative at disguising or ignoring your true motives and dressing them up in false humility. If the Bible is somehow in discord with your life choices, ignore it or dismiss it as outdated. Force things to happen and ignore the friction caused in your life and relationships. Overlook the disparity between your inward anxiety and lack of self-control as you try to control everything and everyone around you. Maintain a tight grip on your life knowing that if you actually surrendered to God, he might not do it your way.

To discern the purposes of God, we must tune our hearts to God’s frequency. We simply cannot spend our time serving ourselves and expect to be in tune with God. We cannot be constantly tuned to the world’s frequency, or to self, and then suddenly in a moment of decision or crisis hope to discern spiritual purposes. The good news for every seeker is that God has promised he is not far from each one of us if we will but reach for him (Acts 17:26, 27).

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Irish Folk Hymn (750); tr. Mary E. Byrne (1905); alt. Eleanor H. Hull (1912

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