There is much that is said about knowing the will of God and doing the will of God in the church today, yet oftentimes there is little counsel that is given that is concrete, either Scripturally or in practice. Typically, if you express that you are searching the will of God in a particular matter, you are given counsel that revolves around the notion of “closed doors and open doors” or “listening to the small, still voice of God during prayer.” While these cannot be discounted (being that God can use whatever means he sees fit), biblically, these are not the ways by which we are called to determine God’s will.
For though the two aforementioned methods have their origins from the text of the Scriptures, they are from misapplication rather from than clear mandate. First, for though the notion of “closed and open doors” is used by the apostle Paul in his writings, it is always used in respect to the Gospel being proclaimed and received and not in respect to determining the will of God (cf. 1Cor. 16:9; 2Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3). For when Paul uses such language, it is in commentary upon what God has done through what Paul has already done concerning the clear will of the Lord, namely, preaching the Gospel. For Paul already knew from the Scriptures and from revelation that the will of God was to preach the Word of God to the Gentiles, and the open door of which he speaks was God providing the way by which Paul would accomplish the will of God.
Also, to use such “open door and closed door” methods for determining the will of God declares that the work of a Christian is always an unhindered work if it is done within the framework of God’s will. For it says in essence that God’s will for the Christian is a path without obstacle, and if the Christian sticks to God’s plan, his life will be smooth sailing. However, this notion is contrary to the Scripture’s declarations of the Christian life, for the Christian’s life by nature is one of suffering and difficulty, for we are told that we must suffer with Christ in this age so that we would be glorified with him on the Last Day (cf. Rm. 8:17). And since, in one respect, the world is governed by the Adversary, living according to the will of God will by necessity bring trouble and suffering rather than peace and ease.
Secondly, the notion of listening to the “still, small voice” of God, is not a teaching prescribed by God’s Word for Christian practice, but it is a once mentioned mean by which the Lord spoke to Elijah his prophet (cf. 1Kg. 19:12). Nowhere is the Christian told to listen to God through God’s whispering, but rather we are told to listen to the Lord by meditating upon his Word (cf. Jsh. 1:8; Ps. 119:11; Rm. 12:1). To claim that we must seek God outside of his Word for his will says that we do not think that God’s Word is sufficient for guiding our lives. However, we are told time and time again that God’s Word is not only sufficient for knowing the will of God, but it is the only means by which we can know the will of God.
Why this “still, small voice” doctrine is so prevalent in the church, I do not know, but it is probably because it is the most believable form of special revelation that God used in Scriptural narrative. For listening to voices that creep into our heads is not an uncommon occurrence, for there are incessant thoughts and inclinations that pop into our minds. The problem with listening to such voices is that we do not know their source. While it is possible that it could be the prompting of God, it could also be the prompting of a spiritual adversary or the prompting of our own hearts. The only clear means by which we are to know God’s will and purpose is through his Word, for it is the only thing that remains unchanging.
How then are we determine the will of God? First, we must be students of the Scriptures, meditating upon them day and night. For the Scriptures are God’s guide to us to live holy lives that are set apart for him and from the world. Secondly, after having meditated upon the Scriptures, we must seek to live their declarations out in our lives. Therefore, if the Scriptures say, “Preach the Gospel,” we must seek to preach the Gospel in our particular context. If they declare, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” we must seek out ways to love our neighbors as ourselves in our particular context.” And if the Scriptures say, “Owe no man nothing,” we must wrestle with what that means, and how we can live that out (despite the culture) where we are.
Thirdly, after meditating upon the Scriptures and after determining what the Scripture’s declarations mean in our particular context, we must persevere. For doing God’s will in this age will never come without opposition (even from the those who claim to be in the church), therefore we must be convinced of God’s will in our context and strive to live that out. We see this in the life of the apostle Paul, for he knew of God’s will to preach the Gospel, and he did it, but in his doing it, he was beaten and imprisoned on several occasions. However, the difficulties did not hinder him from doing what God had called him to do, and he preached the Gospel to his dying day. We likewise, must live like Paul, understanding God’s demands upon our lives, and living those demands out, whether doors are opened or not.