When you're young person, there are two or three things that generally are important to you, and finding and doing the will of God is not one of them. It's important to be part of the right crowd. Kids are in a time in their life when they are leaving the security of the parents' making all the decisions, and the influence of the home, and moving quickly toward the time in their life where they make their own decisions and live on their own. So most young people find it important to identify with the crowd.
Another thing I remember from being young is that it was important not only to do what everybody did, but to do what made you feel good. We thought about having a good time. And the philosophy of our hearts was: If it felt good, do itthe old Epicurean "Eat, drink, and be merry today, for tomorrow you die." I don't know that before I was saved, at 19 years of age, I ever had a serious thought about what God wanted me to do in the plan of my life.
Another thing that was important to me in high school was: do it right now. Everything was today; tomorrow was of no importance. When I was 10, we were right smack dab in the middle of the Second World War. They were all saying, "America is going to lose. The time is short; we haven't got much time left." That contributed to thinking, Whatever you're going to do, hurry up, because the Germans or the Japanese or the Italians are going to come bomb us, and there's no tomorrow. I confess that God did not dawn on me progressively. He had to pick me up out of the clear, blue sky at a Christian assembly and just shake me and grab my attention. Within the space of hours, I had turned from absolutely no spiritual interest at all to a shaking experience of interest in God.
Looking back from 47 years of living, I believe the most important thing anybody could have done for me in my teenage years was to teach me how to know and find and do, the will of Godhow to walk in the pathways of God. When you start to live as a youth, you don't just all of a sudden wake up and become something you've never been before. You start slowly and gradually to live a certain lifestyle, live by mindsets and priorities, and make decisions, and those ruts just automatically, hour after hour, day after day, get deeper and deeper until all you are as an adult is an extension of all you were as a young person. So it is extremely important that you learn how to find those ruts and those pathways and those directions of life that are in the will of God.
That brings us to another problem. When you say "the will of God" to most young people, you're saying, "Don't have any fun," or "Get burned alive at the stake, or be boiled in a pot somewhere in Africa as a missionary." Well, I want to tell you something: Being a missionary in Africa is one of the most fun things you can do. But that's beside the point. God wants to reveal his will to you only because he wants you to live. It's fantasticGod's your best friend! Jesus loves you. Your parents want the best for you. You'll never know how much your preacher wants you to do right. Why? Because we don't want you to have any fun? No, because we do want you to have some fun. Go back for a minute to that "Do what the crowd does, do it because it feels good, and do it right now" philosophy. If you follow this way of life right now, the Bible says it is "the broad road that leads to death." In other words, you'll find that the broad way of "Open the gates and let her rip" and "Do your own thing" gets narrower and narrower and more restrictive and harder and tighter and awful and burdensome and miserable and actually ends up in death. But if you will get in God's way and God's paths and God's plan and God's willeven though it is disciplinary, it is restrictive, it's hard, and it's tough sometimesyou'll find that there is a freedom in that power in Christ and that narrow way that leads to life getting broader and broader and broader. I want you to know that to find God's paths and walk in God's ruts and go God's way is to give you freedom and life and is the most wonderful thing in all the world. Oh, I pray that you will want to know and do God's will!
Can you imagine that God has a pattern, a plan, a blueprint for your life? The blueprints of this building show 48,000 miles of wire. There are four tons of bolts that hold up the five major rafters of this building. It's amazingall that intricate stuff goes together. Do you know God has a plan that detailed, that intricate, that specific for every minute area of your life, and it's all good? You're not just a product of chance. God has a plan for you. God has paths for you, and they're good.
Now I hope I've gotten your appetite whetted and your interest level raised to where you want to know, then, "How do I find God's will? How does one walk in God's paths? How does God direct us into what he wants us to do?" I'm going to give you a prescription. This prescription is a simple, little three points in the Bible, and this is the way God will direct you into his will: 1) trust in him; 2) lean on him; 3) walk with him. That's all you've got to do.
You find God's direction for life by trusting the Lord with all your heart
First, trust in the Lord with all your heart. You know what "with all your heart" means: "I love her with all my heart." "I want that new car with all my heart." "I want to win that game with all my heart." "I want to get out of school with all my heart." Well, do we know what it means to trust in the Lord with all your heart? For one thing, the word trust in him is a word in the Hebrew that the Greek writers of the New Testament picked up and made a salvation word out of. It is the word we translate believe, and it means to commit yourself totally to something. When you become a Christian, it means to commit yourself as I have committed myself to the weight of this platform, to the weight of that chair, to hold me up: I am trusting all I am to all that it is. That's what it means to trust the Lord. It means that my mind, my heart, my soul, my future, my life, everythingI bank on Jesus Christ. I'm going to the bitter end. I'm going all the way, believing that he is the way. He has never, ever disappointed anybody who did trust in him.
God will continually in life bring you up against insolvable problems and blind alleys and immovable obstacles and difficulties that have no solution. Let me say that again: God will purposely create situations in your life that you cannot solve, problems that can't be changed, where you can't do anything but trust the Lord. Don't back out of it; don't go under it; don't call the bank; don't go around it. Go through it. It's always safe to trust the Lord. You'll find many Ys in your life. The road of life will split, and the Y to the right will be "Here's an answer; here's a way out; here's a solution; here's something you can do." But the way to the left, the Y on this split of the roadthere will be no human, logical explanation. It just won't work, but it seems like it ought to. It seems like God is leading you that way. It seems like that's what God wants. You have to choose: the easy way or the hard way.
You remember the story of Gideon. Gideon was a captain in the army of Israel, the leader. Thirty thousand Midianites attacked him. Well, Gideon got an army of 30,000 Israelites to go out and fight the Midianites. The Lord looked down from heaven and said, "Gideon, what have you got?" He said, "I've got 30,000 Israelites to fight 30,000 Midianites." "How come you did that, Gideon?" "I don't know, Lord. It just seemed like the thing to do." "Well, Gideon, there's a little problem with that. If 30,000 of you go out and whip 30,000 of them, that's logical, that's reasonable, that makes sense, that can be explained in human terms. Everybody will say, 'Look what man did. Gideon's a good soldier. We did it ourselves.' I want you to send 29,700 of them home." "What?!" "Yeah, you take just 300 out there, because I don't want you saying, 'My arm or my own strength has gotten us the victory.' I want to create a situation in your life in which when something happens, it'll be so phenomenal they'll say, 'God had to have done it,' and that way I'll get the glory, and you'll learn what it means to trust me."
You see, God often places you in situations where there's an easy way and a tough way. But the tough way is better, because that's the only way God can teach you to trust the Lord. I like Simon Peter. One day Jesus walked on the water. 0l' Simon thought, I believe a fella can do that. He got out and said, "Lord, I want to walk on the water." Jesus said, "Come ahead." Simon got out there and started walking on the water. Everybody looked at him. "Look at Simon! He's doing what a man's never done before." Simon said, "Lord, I'm coming to you. Isn't this great?" About that time one of those big, stormy waves splashed him across the forehead, and he said, "I don't think this is so great, after all." He looked down at those waves and started to sink. When he kept looking at Jesus, he kept walking. When he looked at the conditions around him, he started sinking. You must never, ever get your eyes off the immutable, irrevocable promise of God and God's power. He can do anything. Trust God. Believe God. Trust in the Lord in all areas of your life with all your heart. God will bless that kind of person.
You find God's direction for life by not leaning on your own understanding
The second ingredient to have the direction of God in your life is to "lean not unto thine own understanding." Everybody leans on something. Young people, you are hoisting the sails of your life at a time that you are living in an academic atmosphere. And from kindergarten to college into Ph.D., maybe for 16, 18, or 20 years, the biggest influence that will come into your life is education, and knowing is everything. To know, to read the books, to gather the informationthat's the priority in the world you live in. So that's what most people lean on. We can do it ourselves; we can figure it ourselves. The Bible says, "Wait a minute. You had better understand that if you lean on your own understanding, your own body of information, rather than leaning on the Lord for guidance, for direction, for advice, you're going to fall.
Now to lean on the Lord for his answer, for his perspective, for his direction is simply to pray about everything. You may have a problem about which way to go to school, or whether to continue to school. But you just must know that to be a contented, happy, $15,000 carpenter is ten million miles ahead of being a $115,000 thinker, author, or politician if God wants you to be a carpenter. What is important is not to be rich or famous or president or king. What's important is to find and do the will of God. Do you know that to be a Southern Baptist missionary, you have to have four years or five years of collegealmost the equivalent of a Ph.D.above high school? Now, why do those people do that? Why don't they quit and come home? Why don't they drive around in a Rolls Royce and have their own planes and live in mansions? They've got the brains and the intelligence and the education to do it. Why would anybody live on beans and rice and bury himself in Taiwan or Japan or in the bush or the jungles in Africa for $8,650 a year? Because they found out that to be where God wants you is to be happy, and to do and be anything else is not to be happy.
How do you know God's will? Why, you just ask him. One of the great verses of the Bible says, "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, and God gives to all men liberally"hear that "generously""and upbraideth not." What does "upbraideth not" mean? It means God isn't going to put you down. You go to the Lord and say, "Lord, there's the cutest girl in Chemistry. Lord, I've got these pimples all over my nose, and I can't even get her to look at me." And the Lord's going to say, "H! Are you kidding? You're going to talk to me about pimples on your nose?" No, he'll never do that. Every little thing that's important to you is important to God. Lean on him, talk to him, ask him. He'll make you know in your heart what you're supposed to do.
You find God's direction for life by acknowledging God in all you do
The third thing he says is this: "In all thy ways acknowledge him." There are two key words, young people, in this verseways and acknowledge. Let's talk about the ways. There are four Hebrew words in the Old Testament that are translated way. This word way means "a little goat trail that leads off of the main trail." What this is saying is. God is interested in the little, tiny, side details of your life. Where you stop at night on a trip, the hotel you check into, or the motel, could make a vast difference in your life about somebody you might meet. The Lord might have something in mind for you in your lifewhere you eat lunch, whether you carry your lunch that day, everything. You don't have to get up every morning and say, "Lord shall I wear my green suit? Lord, shall I wear my cowboy boots? Lord, shall I take bologna or ham today in my lunch?" No, I'm just saying that he is saying, "Even in the little goat trails of life, let alone the major moral decisions of your lifein everythinglive in an attitude that says, 'I am acknowledging the Lord.' "
Now, what does acknowledge mean? As you can see, it comes from knowledge. The apostle Paul picked up on this and said, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." That means: When you become a Christian, everything Jesus is, you are. Everything he has, you possesshis attributes, his righteousness. You stand now before God accepted in the righteousness of Christ; the finished work of Jesus' shed blood on the Cross is ascribed to you; the wisdom of God is given to you; the power of God is given to you; the personality of Christ is given to youin totality. I can say as a believer, "Christ liveth in me." So, his mind is in me. So what does it mean to acknowledge God in all my ways? It means down the little side ways, the goat trails of life, as well as all the big ways, to always let God's mind come through my mind.
How do I translate that into human, everyday, practical language? It means at every juncture of life, ask the questions. What did Jesus do? What would Jesus do? Think like Jesus would think. Let God's mind be your mind. How would the mind of God reason? How would Jesus act right here? I don't think there is a situation in life you'll come to that doesn't have a parallel from the Gospels of some incident where you can kind of figure out how Jesus would have acted in that situation. Trust him; lean on him; walk with himin his footsteps, in his mind, in his body. Do what he would dodo what he didin each decision of life, and you've got it made, he promises you. He'll take care of it all. He'll direct your paths.
Let me tell you a story about a college student in Texas whom Jesus led. About four or five months ago, this attractive young woman had studied far beyond what she expectedlate into the night, nearly midnightin the library, and when it closed she got run out and had to go home. It was late, and she was tired, and she wanted to get there in a hurry. She knew not to walk through this little park where the trees were and where there were dark areas, but the option was to go about or mile around, and she didn't want to do that. She was a great, lovely Christian girl. She knew what it meant to walk in God's ways, to pray for his direction, and to always trust. With a little prayer in her heart, she decided to take the short cut, trusting in him that it was his way. She began to get a little frightened as she got into the middle, and I guess started singing a little song about "Lord, help me," or something, but she kept on going. About halfway through, at a very dark spot, she saw a man leaning against a tree looking at her. He wasn't five or ten steps away. He was a big, ugly, , mean bruiser. She just prayed the little prayer, trusted the Lord, looked at him, and kept right on walking. To her great delight, she did not hear footsteps follow her. She went home safely, breathed a little sigh of relief and prayer of thanks, and went to bed. The next morning the girls in the dorm were gathered together and asked if there were any girls who had walked through that little, dark park area the night before. She raised her hand, and they said, "There is a detective who would like to talk to you." Ten minutes after she had walked through, another coed had walked through alone, and a man had raped her. The detective said, "Will you go down to the and see if you can identify the man? She said, "I will." She went down to the police station, and there were eight men lined up. Immediately she recognized the man in the park whom she had seen. She said, "That's the man." The other girl identified him, too, and the man was arrested. As they started to leave, she asked the detective, "May I speak a word to that man?" He said, "Speak to him? Why?" "I can't explain, but it's important to me. I've got to speak to him." He said, "All right." She walked up to the man in the and said, "You recognize me, don't you?" He said yes. "I was the girl in the park last night. I went through ten minutes before the girl you attacked, didn't I?" "That's right." She said, "I want to ask you one question: Why her? Why not me? Why didn't you attack me?" She said the man stepped back and said, "Attack you? Are you kidding? With that great, big guy that was walking beside you?" You know who made him see a great, big guy by that girl. It was none other than the one who said, "You trust in me, you lean on me, you acknowledge me in all your ways, and let me direct your paths."
John R. Bisagno is pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. His books include Letters to Timothy: A Handbook for Pastors (Broadman and Holman, 2001).