We have already outlined a biblical way to discern God’s will on complex decisions (see “Trusting God with Big Decisions”). However, we should also consider faulty methods that believers choose in discerning God’s will. These faulty methods are unreliable at best and unbiblical at worst. Let’s consider several.
ERROR #1: Taking passages out of context.
Smith tells the story of a man who decided to marry a woman named “Grace,” because he read 2 Corinthians 12:9, which says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” He also tells the anecdote of a man who was looking for guidance and turned to the Bible:
Some people treat the Bible as a book of magic. You have probably heard of the fellow who opened the Bible and put his finger down on the phrase, “Judas went out and hanged himself.” This did not comfort him very much, so he tried again. And his finger fell on the verse, “Go you and do likewise.” That shook him terribly, so he tried it one more time, and the verse he hit on was “And what you doest, do quickly.” … We should avoid the crystal-ball approach to the Bible which looks for easy answers to difficult decisions and seeks to escape from our God-given responsibility for careful decision making.
If we are going to try to get guidance from Scripture, this involves reading Scripture in its context. Otherwise, we are merely projecting
ERROR #2: Inner Feelings or Promptings.
While God might prompt us in certain directions from time to time (Acts 15:28; 20:22), we should be very critical of these promptings and feelings. We also have a category for personal desire in regards to decision-making (Rom. 15:23-24; 2 Tim. 1:4; 1 Cor. 7:9; Ps. 37:4). The Bible tells us to “test the spirits” (1 Jn. 4:1) and to “examine everything carefully” (1 Thess. 5:21). This would include our emotions and feelings. Proverbs 14:12 states, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (NIV).
ERROR #3: Fleeces.
In Judges 6, Gideon offers a “fleece” to God; that is, he set up a test where God could demonstrate his will for him. Gideon told God, “I will put a wool fleece on the threshing floor tonight. If the fleece is wet with dew in the morning but the ground is dry, then I will know that you are going to help me rescue Israel as you promised” (Judg. 6:37 NLT). The next morning, this is exactly what happened: the fleece was covered with dew, while the ground was dry. In a similar way, sometimes, believers will offer “fleeces” to God in order to discern his will. For instance, they might put a job application in for a position and say, “God if it’s your will, then I pray I would get the position. If it’s not, then I will know that it isn’t.”
We feel that there are a number of problems with this method:
First, this doesn’t fit the original context in Judges 6. In the context, Gideon already knew God’s will (c.f. vv.14-16). Instead, Gideon was looking for encouragement in following what God had already revealed to him. This is far different than the method practiced by many believers.
Second, while God can intervene supernaturally in this way, God typically calls on believers to think through our complex decisions. For instance, regarding the supernatural events in the book of Acts, consider a number of observations:
(1) The book of Acts chronicles a 30 year history. While there are many miraculous events in the book, it is also a condensation of three decades of material.
(2) God typically highlights key places in salvation history with tremendous supernatural events (e.g. the Exodus, the Conquest of Canaan, the ministry of Jesus, the beginning of the church). However, in between these major events of salvation history, there are often centuries of the seemingly mundane, providential working of God (e.g. the book of Esther). Therefore, even if Acts does contain more miraculous events than today, this might be because of God’s working in history.
(3) As Smith argues, even in the book of Acts, believers typically made decisions through reason—not supernatural intervention. There is also no NT imperative knowing the future. Smith observes, “The Scriptures nowhere teach that knowledge of the future is necessary or even helpful for intelligent decision making.” While Agabus tells the future accurately to Paul (Acts 21:11), this didn’t necessarily tell him if he should go to Jerusalem or not. In fact, Paul still felt that this future was still God’s will (Acts vv.13-14).
(4) Sometimes, in the book of Acts, supernatural intervention occurred only to stop the believers, rather than to give them direction (Acts 16:6).
Third, if God wants to intervene supernaturally, that is his prerogative, but it shouldn’t be our expectation or demand. God supernaturally intervened in the life of Moses (Ex. 3), Saul (1 Sam. 9-10), David (1 Sam. 16:1-13), Paul (Acts 9), and many, many others. However, in each case, these people were not even asking for God to do so.
 Smith, M. Blaine. Knowing God’s Will: Finding Guidance for Personal Decisions. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991. 20.
 Smith, M. Blaine. Knowing God’s Will: Finding Guidance for Personal Decisions. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991. 20, 21.
 Smith, M. Blaine. Knowing God’s Will: Finding Guidance for Personal Decisions. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991. 61.
 Smith, M. Blaine. Knowing God’s Will: Finding Guidance for Personal Decisions. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991. 21.
 Smith writes, “There is no instance of a prophecy’s being regarded as guidance in the New Testament after Pentecost. Likewise, there is no statement in the New Testament to the effect that we should look on prophecy as a possible source of guidance.” Smith, M. Blaine. Knowing God’s Will: Finding Guidance for Personal Decisions. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991. 73.