A close look at the book of Acts in the New Testament, or attitudes of those in the Old Testament will show you an underlying assumption: God is in control of every circumstance. What happens, happens because God allows it or causes it. God not only created the universe, but He named every star, planted every blade of grass, watches over the animals in the forest that no one else sees, has actually numbered the hairs on your head (and evidently could tell you something like, “Yes you pulled out hair number 14, number 30122, and uh… oh yes, number 14117 thru 14194…” if He wanted to.
It’s an amazing claim that has begged many philosophical questions over the centuries, but it is still the underlying assumption of the people in the Bible. God is in control.
So when these guys and gals went looking for God’s will, and tried to figure out what God wanted in a particular situation, they started with the idea that nothing which happens is an accident.
Not a thing is random.
Therefore, in the Old Testament they would often just cast lots. People have discussed what “casting lots” may have looked like or been like, but generally speaking it was like drawing names out of a hat. One method was to write on some rocks the different answers, put them into a container and pull them out blindly -exactly like pulling names out of a hat.
So when the Israelites tried to figure out who sinned and had caused them to be defeated in battle, they cast lots until the lot fell to a guy named Achan. Sure enough, Achan had stolen and hidden some treasure which God had commanded them not to take.
It’s why, when the 11 apostles were trying to figure out who should replace Judas, (Acts 1) they cast lots between two men they had proposed and the lot fell to Matthias who took his place with the other apostles.
They didn’t do this for everything. Generally, they just went by the Scriptures, but occasionally they needed specific direction and so casting lots was appropriate. Other times, prophets would seek the Lord in prayer, or angel might appear and give someone a specific message, or God might speak in a supernatural way such as from a cloud, a burning bush, etc…. And throughout all of these stories, God was powerful, mighty and a God to be feared and obeyed.
After the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, the promise of Jesus that God’s Spirit would dwell inside every single person who put their faith in Him came true. Suddenly the relationship people had between themselves and God wasn’t a distant purely fearful thing, but a close, intimate relationship between a child and the Father. And it changed the way people sought God’s will.
In the story of the Church’s beginning in Acts, the Christians would seek God’s will in the Scriptures just like in the Old Testament, they would occasionally see angels or visions like people occasionally might see in the Old Testament, but now they were getting some cue’s from the Spirit who was with them wherever they went!
The Spirit would tell Philip “Go run next to that chariot.”
Or Peter, “Go downstairs, some men are looking for you.”
It was personal. Intimate. God speaking to one single man or woman. I believe speaking to their heart.
And for big questions for which no angel appeared and no dream made it clear and no burning bush was available, the leaders of the Church (the apostles and elders) and often many from the congregation, would search the Scriptures, examine the circumstances that were going on, discuss the issues together, pray and/or fast together, and arrive at a conclusion together that seemed/felt right.
Arbitrary? Only if you assume they arrived at the conclusion randomly and the Holy Spirit exerted no influence.
Just like with the people in the Old Testament, they assumed there was no such thing as random events, they assumed God was working in the circumstances around them, and assumed that God was guiding their decisions through the Holy Spirit who lived inside each believer. They knew the Spirit was around because miracles were being performed, prayers were being answered, and God was changing lives. In other words, they watched, they read, they prayed, and they tried to be sensitive to where it felt like God was leading them.
They even wrote a letter in Acts 15, communicating a major decision that had this phrase:
“It seemed right to the Holy Spirit and to us….”
Ron Luce of Teen Mania Ministries once said people underestimate their ability to sense spiritual things. I believe he’s probably right. But that leaves us with this:
What about me? What about you? How can we know the will of God?
It sounds so easy to hear others talk about it, but how do I do it?
First, pray and believe God will bring you to an answer. It may take some time, so keep praying. Daniel prayed for three weeks for an answer, and I know other Christians who prayed for longer. (although I wonder if they were just spiritually hard of hearing?) Look to the Bible to see what God may have said about your question already… it’s possible God just wants you to start reading His Word or praying more often. And like the early church, pay attention to circumstances. Is God opening a door for you? Is God blocking you from doing something?
For the people in the Bible, there was no such thing as mere conincidence.
And finally, after praying, studying, thinking, discussing, watching, and considering… Where do you feel like God is leading you?
I tell people all the time when they are asking my advice on a particular decision: Pray for wisdom! And don’t just pray, but believe God will give you wisdom! Then, since God is giving you wisdom… use it! Make the best decision you can, the one that feels right.
After all, if you have wisdom, the right decision should sit well with you don’t you think?
And if the Holy Spirit lives in you and you do what the Holy Spirit wants… it should sit well with you in your thoughts and heart, right?
There might be a spoon, but there are no accidents.