Editor's note:

All of us have major decisions to make at various times in our lives. These are things like: marriage, career choices, major purchases, and numerous other big decisions. Some decisions may be difficult to make due to options presented or to circumstances that hinder. How do we determine God’s will? How do we hear His voice?

In Hearing God, Dallas Willard writes, “If I could keep only one bit of writing on hearing God outside the Bible itself, it would be hard to pass over a few pages from Frederick B. Meyer’s book The Secret of Guidance (222).

I’ve found that this short book has been worth reading over and over. Its emphasis on spiritual formation is well expressed by Dallas Willard in his forward to the Moody Classics edition, “The best way to understand Meyer and this book is to see him as engaged in pastoral spiritual formation, but in the manner so effectively and widely practiced by teachers in the pre-World War I period, when it was assumed that Christianity—being a Christian—was a life to be lived, not just a doctrine to be professed” (Meyer, The Secret of Guidance 8).

The following is an edited excerpt from the first chapter, in which Meyer expresses five significant factors recommended to determine the voice of God.

—Marvin Norlien

Excerpt from The Secret of Guidance

There are certain practical directions that we must attend to in order that we may be led into the mind of the Lord.

1. Our Motives Must Be Pure

We must be very careful in judging our motives, searching them as the detectives at the doors of the English House of Commons search each stranger who enters. When by the grace of God we have been delivered from grosser forms of sin, we are still liable to the subtle working of self in our holiest and loveliest hours. It poisons our motives. It breathes decay on our fairest fruit-bearing. It whispers seductive flatteries into our pleased ears.

So long as there is some thought of personal advantage, some idea of acquiring the praise and commendation of men, some aim at self-aggrandizement, it will be simply impossible to find out God’s purpose concerning us. The door must be resolutely shut against all these if we would hear the still small voice.

Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the single eye, and to inspire in your heart one aim alone: that which animated our Lord, and enabled Him to cry, as He reviewed His life, “I have glorified Thee on the earth.”…

2. Our Will Must Be Surrendered

“My judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent Me” (John 5: 30). This was the secret that Jesus not only practiced, but taught. In one form or another He was constantly insisting on a surrendered will, as the key to perfect knowledge. “If any man will do His will, he shall know” (John 7:17).

There is all the difference between a will that is extinguished and one that is surrendered. God does not demand that our wills should be crushed out… He only asks that they should say “Yes” to Him.

It is for the lack of this subordination that we so often miss the guidance we seek. There is a secret controversy between our will and God’s. And we shall never be right till we have let Him take, and break, and make. Oh! Do seek for that. If you cannot give, let Him take. If you are not willing, confess that you are willing to be made willing. Hand yourself over to Him to work in you, to will and to do of His own good pleasure. We must be as plastic clay, ready to take any shape that the great Potter may choose, so shall we be able to detect His guidance.

3. We Must Seek Information for Our Mind

This is certainly the next step. God has given us these wonderful faculties of brain-power, and He will not ignore them. In grace He does not cancel the action of any of His marvelous bestowments, but He uses them for the communication of His purposes and thoughts.

It is of the greatest importance, then, that we should feed our minds with facts, with reliable information, with the results of human experience, and (above all) with the teachings of the Word of God. It is a matter for the utmost admiration to notice how full the Bible is of biography and history, so that there is hardly a single crisis in our lives that may not be matched from those wondrous pages. There is no book like the Bible for casting a light on the dark landings of human life.

We have no need or right to run hither and thither to ask our friends what we ought to do; but there is no harm in our taking pains to gather all reliable information, on which the flame of holy thought and consecrated purpose may feed and grow strong. It is for us ultimately to decide as God shall teach us, but His voice may come to us through the voice of sanctified commonsense, acting on the materials we have collected. Of course at times God may bid us act against our reason, but these are very exceptional; and then our duty will be so clear that there can be no mistake. But for the most part God will speak in the results of deliberate consideration, weighing and balancing the pros and cons.

4. We Must Be Much in Prayer For Guidance

The Psalms are full of earnest pleadings for clear direction: “Show me Thy way, O Lord, lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies” (Psalm 27:11). It is the law of our Father’s house that His children shall ask for what they want. “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not” (James 1:5).

In a time of change and crisis, we need to be much in prayer, not only on our knees, but in that sweet form of inward prayer, in which the spirit is constantly offering itself up to God, asking to be shown His will.

One good form of prayer at such a juncture is to ask that doors may be shut, that the way be closed, and that all enterprises which are not according to God’s will may be arrested at their very beginning. Put the matter absolutely into God’s hands from the outset, and He will not fail to shatter the project and defeat the aim which is not according to His holy will.

5. We Must Wait the Gradual Unfolding of God’s Plan In Providence.

God’s impressions within and His word without are always corroborated by His Providence around, and we should quietly wait until these three focus into one point.

Sometimes it looks as if we are bound to act. Everyone says we must do something; and, indeed, things seem to have reached so desperate a pitch that we must… . It is not easy at such times to stand still and see the salvation of God; but we must.

God waits long enough to test patience of faith, but not a moment behind the extreme hour of need. “The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and shall not lie; though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come; it will not tarry” (Habakkuk 2:3).

It is remarkable how God guides us by circumstances. At one moment the way may seem utterly blocked, and then shortly afterwards some trivial incident occurs, which might not seem much to others, but which to the keen eye of faith speaks volumes. Sometimes these signs are repeated in different ways in answer to prayer. They are not haphazard results of chance, but the opening up of circumstances in the direction in which we should walk. And they begin to multiply, as we advance towards our goal, just as lights do as we near a populous town, when darting through the land by night express.

Sometimes men sigh for an angel to come to point them their way; that simply indicates that as yet the time has not come for them to move. If you do not know what you ought to do, stand still until you do. And when the time comes for action, circumstances, like glow-worms, will sparkle along your path; and you will become so sure that you are right, when God’s three witnesses concur, that you could not be surer though an angel beckoned you on.

The circumstances of our daily life are to us an infallible indication of God’s will, when they concur with the inward promptings of the Spirit and with the Word of God. So long as they are stationary, wait. When you must act, they will open, and a way will be made through oceans and rivers, wastes and rocks.

We often make a great mistake, thinking that God is not guiding us at all, because we cannot see far in front. But this is not His method. He only undertakes that the steps of a good man should be ordered by the Lord. Not next year, but tomorrow. Not the next mile, but the next yard. Not the whole pattern, but the next stitch in the canvas.

Let us look high enough for guidance. Let us encourage our soul to wait only upon God till it is given. Let us cultivate that meekness that He will guide in judgment. Let us seek to be of quick understanding, that we may be apt to see the least sign of His will. Let us stand with girded loins and lighted lamps, that we may be prompt to obey. Blessed are those servants. They shall be led by a right way to the golden city of the saints.

Speaking for myself, after months of waiting and prayer, I have become absolutely sure of the guidance of my heavenly Father; and with the emphasis of personal experience, I would encourage each troubled and perplexed soul that may read these lines to wait patiently for the Lord, until He clearly indicates His will.

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Excerpted from The Secret of Guidance by F.B. Meyer (Moody Publishers, 2010).