When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” —Acts 21:12-14 ESV
Pastor Steven Cole discusses discerning God’s will, based on Acts 21:1-12, our passage for today’s Bible reading plan. Here is an excerpt from “Discerning the Will of God”
But, then, how do we discern God’s will? The bad news (or good news, depending on how you look at it) is that there is no simple, mechanical formula in Scripture for discerning God’s will in specific situations. If there were, we would probably just apply the formula without seeking God Himself. So the good news side of it is that God primarily guides us through our relationship with Him, as we grow to understand His Word and learn to walk daily by His Holy Spirit. But since even the best of us (including Paul) are fallen sinners, it is an imperfect and somewhat uncertain process at best. But even when we miss God’s will due to our dim sight or sin, He is sovereign and gracious to overcome our mistakes.
The uncertainty of this process is revealed in the difference of opinion between godly scholars over whether Paul was right or wrong to go to Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit had repeatedly revealed to Paul that he would encounter “bonds and afflictions” if he went there (20:23). Some commentators, such as Donald Barnhouse, Ray Stedman, and James Boice, argue (in light of 21:4) that Paul was either deliberately sinning or making a foolish mistake to continue his journey in light of these warnings. Others (the majority of those that I read) argue that Paul was right and that those who pled with him not to go were wrong. But our text and the history of Paul in Acts reveal some principles on how to discern God’s will:
We should walk so closely with God that we discern His guidance as we live in obedience to His Word, in dependence on His Holy Spirit.
With that as a brief summary, I want to work through seven principles for discerning God’s will, some of which are in our text, and others which come from Paul’s walk with God.