The right opening moves can set you up for a winning game. By making wise foundational choices, we’re able to launch successfully into a new season: we prepare to legally drive, by taking a driver’s test; we graduate from college, so we can work as a computer engineer; a particular school or company, over another, accepts us because they deem us qualified to succeed with them.
What loving parent would put their children in harm’s way, if by observing past choices they knew that moving forward would not be a good thing for them? Our heavenly Father is no different. I believe so strongly in this principle that I won’t do a wedding ceremony unless the couple has properly prepared to be newlyweds. For me, this doesn’t mean just taking a few pre-marriage counseling sessions, while the couple is foremost planning for the wedding day and not preparing for the life they’ll live after their vows.
God often allows life’s tests and foundational opportunities to unfold, so that we’re ready to succeed in the next step (Gen 22:1; Deut 8:16; Matt 4:1; 25:14-28). For example, though Abraham had the potential to be the father of many nations (Gen 15:4-5), it wasn’t until many, many years later – after the necessary preparatory steps had been made – that this promise was fully secured (22:15-18). Likewise, Jesus’ wilderness temptation was only possible, because it followed a successful preparatory season that involved him growing in “wisdom and stature and favor before God and man,” a time period where he learned “obedience from what he suffered (Luke 2:52; Heb 5:8). Then, came the baptism declaration: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”: you couldn’t ask for a better platform to begin ministry than this one. ☺
Don’t start the next chapter in your life until you’ve finished well your current one, for the faithfulness of today will prepare you for the steps of tomorrow!
Make prayer an essential ingredient. As was normally the case, Jesus’ major life altering decisions always sprang from prayer, e.g., the wilderness temptation, the start of his ministry, the picking of the apostles, and his Gethsemane preparation before Golgotha. When faced with important options, bathe it in prayer! Don’t be like the senseless religious leaders, “who do not inquire of the Lord; so they do not prosper” (Jer 10:21). It’s presumptuous and prideful to believe you can be obedient to God’s will without prayer.
God still communicates with those who incline their ear to him. For me, this typically involves a thought in my head accompanied by either the quickening of God’s Spirit or an unexplainable peace and joy in my heart (1 Kings 19:11-13; Isa 55:12; Col 3:15). There are many other ways that God chooses to communicate with his people, way too many to list here. Though such communication is subjective—open for interpretation, and in need of judgment—the Living God still communicates with his people! The voice of the LORD still “thunders … breaks … shakes … and makes” us who we are, allowing us to move forward with strength and peace. LORD, be enthroned over our lives, so that our response to your gracious leading brings glory to your name (Ps 29; John 12:27-28).
Evaluate whether you need to go on a fast. Unfortunately, the discipline of fasting is a dying skill within the body of Christ; however, for the fathers of our faith, it was a God-given tool. This discipline, used properly, can yield wonderful results. There are many excellent articles and short books on this topic. Don’t go on a fast without a proper understanding of this dynamic. Abstaining from food, or the like, is not a magical wand we wave to get our way; nevertheless, as in Jesus’ case, when faced with difficult choices, fasting is a helpful discipline that humbles our soul and allows us to choose life not death (Ps 35:13).
Supernatural events aren’t necessarily from God. Jesus’ first supernatural encounter was with the devil. Yes, God is the ultimate circumstance engineer; however, not all opportunities, bizarre conditions, open or closed doors … or even what might be called unexplainable, supernatural events point us in the right direction. Be self-controlled and alert. Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light and his servants aren’t beyond being found even in church or anywhere else. They prowl around looking for an audience to feed their pride and need for control – boastful, full of empty words that claim great promises, and masters more of the world’s culture than God’s ways. Every charlatan will have their moment of glory but only before an audience of fools. Sometimes, if something is too good to be true, it really is too good to be true. ☺
What’s the fruit of someone’s life that’s giving you advice? Has their work been tested and approved (Matt 7:15-23; 1 Cor 3:1-19; 2 Cor 11:13-15; Gal 5:22-26; 1 Pet 5:8)? Further, beware of going from person to person seeking guidance until you find someone who agrees with a direction that’s stuck in your heart. You may even hear counsel from a trusted friend or spouse that you want to hear, but remember that Adam and Eve found comfort in their own deception and ended up walking away from God’s best. Additionally, remember that any biased counselor, even a well-meaning one, is capable of giving you bad advice and you too are capable of easily deciding towards and defending a personal decision that you eagerly want: an open door initially pointed Jonah in the wrong direction (Jonah 1:3).
Lastly, though you may eventually conclude that you received direction – because a scripture leaped from the page of the Bible, a word from a sermon held your heart, a thought hounded you … or the peace of God that surpassed your current understanding led you forward – nonetheless, these subjective experiences should be confirmed and held loosely until firmly established by other factors. A part of being careful is both realizing that major decisions should receive two or three godly witnesses (2 Cor 13:1) and appreciating that you don’t have to force into place what God wants for you – what you gain in your own initiative and strength you’ll loose, what you leave in God’s hands and cooperate with you’ll gain.