The Urantia Book Fellowship

Principles of Knowing God's Will

By Harry McMullan III
From the 1981 Urantia Brotherhood Conference
Snowmass, Colorado

Ships and airplanes that move across continents and oceans have highly sophisticated guidance systems to assist them in arriving at their destinations. These systems allow the pilot to make course corrections totally without reference to land objects. Most of them work off of gyroscopes; there are inertial guidance systems, Doppler guidance systems, and stellar guidance systems. Whatever their design the purpose of these systems is to keep the ship on course. The first principle of divine guidance is to make sure that we are inwardly certain that God has given each of us an on-board guidance system which is capable of leading us to where we ought to go.

If human beings, within thirty years of the discovery of the transistor, have been able to devise guidance systems that will allow a cruise missile to travel 5000 miles and hit a target of only a few square meters in size, surely the Original Source of intelligence is capable of designing a suitable system to permit his children to know what his desires are.

Seeking God's Will Activates Our Highest Potentials

God wants to lead his children. Being led is not an extraordinary event, reserved for mystics and ascetics; rather, it is the normal order of things. It is abnormal not to be led by God. The subject is so confused that most people look upon guidance, if one is ever to receive it, as an intermittent, periodic, or even spasmodic affair. Well, if a human parent wants his child to do something, he tells him so; and, if that's a fair principle in human relations, it is also fair in divine relations.

There is a perfect will which God has for each of us. The Urantia Book teaches that the Adjusters come to indwell us, bringing with them, ". .the model careers, the ideal lives, as determined and foreordained by themselves and the Personalized Adjusters of Divinington. Thus they begin work with a definite and predetermined plan for the intellectual and spiritual development of their human subjects. ." [110:2.1]

Things run well when they are run in accordance with the designer's original intent. If I had a Corvette, and hitched an eight-row plow behind it, and took it out to the fields to cultivate, I shouldn't expect it to perform as well as it does where it was intended to be operated, namely, on the highway. If I tried to use water instead of gasoline to fuel it, it wouldn't get far. Likewise, we are happiest and most successful when we operate according to our Designer's original plan. Therefore, we search for God's perfect will for us, knowing that his will is our place of ultimate success and pleasure. Similarly, if we live contrary to God's design, we heap onto ourselves unhappiness, guilt, and frustration.

Do we trust God's goodness? If we don't, we won't be able to accept the guidance he has for us, because we will not believe that it is in our best interests to do so-- somebody else's best interests possibly, but not ours; and so we begin to search for a rationale not to do what we know is right. We must believe that God is a good God, not filled with the malice, vindictiveness, or short-sightedness which actuates human beings, as the ancient Greeks believed their gods to be motivated by. As we progressively understand the nature of God, we learn that he would never do anything to harm us. Neither does God ever deprive us of anything that might be essential or needful for our well-being.

God's Will and His Grace

God's will is good: it's what we would want for our selves if we could only see the larger picture. When we are held back from a possession, or an experience, it is in variably for our own good. How many times have each of us longed with all our hearts for something, not received it, and a year or so down the pike been thankful that it didn't work out? The most dramatic example of that experience for me happened while I was in college. I went to Panama with my father, who was negotiating the purchase of a large tract of land there, bounded by the Pacific on the south, two rivers east and west, and a mountain range to the north, consisting of about 125,000 acres. They were only asking $12 per acre.

We were both very disappointed when he couldn't arrange financing for the purchase of the property. Some seven or eight years later, I learned that the sellers had been making a living for years by selling that tract, at what looked like a bargain price, to buyers -- accepting a large down payment, taking back a purchase money mortgage and then murdering the buyer. After receiving the down payment they would take the buyers to the property, ostensibly for a further tour, and abandon them to the tender mercies of the murderous Choc Indians who lived nearby, whom the settlers had previously incited.

With the buyers dead, payments would cease to be made on the purchase money mortgage and the tract would revert to the sellers who would then repeat the process. We couldn't understand at the time why we hadn't been successful, but in retrospect it was by the grace of God.

God's will is always best for us, but it often isn't the easiest or most comfortable way, at least initially. He might put us through a course of training that is grueling, but nonetheless necessary. The high school football coach runs his players in summer training to the point of dropping in the August heat, but without toughening up the players, they would stand no chance of winning games.

We shouldn't think that God is holding something back from us. That was what Lucifer told his associates, namely, that God was depriving them of total liberty and self-rule NOW. If anything is being withheld from us by God, it is for our own good. God causes all things to work together for good, and not just for those who love him and who are called according to his purposes, as the Bible says. He causes circumstances to work together for good for all of his children, regardless of whether they love or serve him. This doesn't mean that the circumstances are necessarily good in themselves, but that he can make them into good. We allow him to make circumstances good by submitting to his will, which is our best possible alternative in any given situation. We must recognize that God is active and alive in our lives and seeking to help us to the maximum extent. Situations arise which require choice: we come to a fork in the road, which way do we go? Now there isn't any teaching of The Urantia Book that tells us it would be better to work for IBM rather than Xerox or that we should move to Des Moines rather than Dubuque. Let's say that God has something for me to do in Des Moines, but I go to Dubuque instead.

If I have sincerely sought the Father's will in the matter, and honestly chosen what I believe his will to be, he will make my errors right. He will create in Dubuque the opportunity which will work to my highest good, and capitalize to the maximum extent on my being there even though according to his perfect will, I should have been in Des Moines, and mistook what I believed his will to be. If our decision was made in sincere faith, we grow regardless of whether the decision itself is right or wrong. We can learn as much from our mistakes as we can from our successes, if we approach them in faith. In fact, deep wisdom seems to be more effectively learned in failure, rather than success. The Urantia Book teaches that "Defeat is the true mirror in which you may honestly view your real self." [156:5.17]

When we truly know in our innermost being that God is good, we offer him our lives; we become willing to go anywhere, do anything, be anything in his service. Knowing that God shapes every circumstance for good gives us enormous confidence, for whatever happens, we know that God will make it good for us. In his will, we can't lose. We cease trying to fight life or to engineer some particular personal result by our activities, rather saying, "Father, what pleases you?"

This leads to another principle of receiving clear guidance, which is to avoid having set, preconceived opinions about how we expect events to turn out. We must cease having a mind of our own in the matter before us. We must not come before God as an advocate of any particular position. The object is not to get what we want, but what he wants. What would we be accomplishing anyway, if hypothetically we were successful in persuading God to do other than his perfect will? The only result would be lessened benefit or outright harm, both to ourselves and to all others involved in the situation. Our desire should be to find that which is the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God, whatever path it takes us down, and whatever the consequences to our self-concept or pride.

If I already have my mind made up that what I need is the job, the house, the money, then I'm not really asking God for his will to be done, but for permission from him to do what I want to do anyway. Instead of trying to talk God out of something, we should aspire to live in conformity with his plans.

Wholehearted Trust We must trust God completely, and accept his will in full. He doesn't lay his will out like food on a cafeteria line, from which we can choose the spinach, skip the beets, take some corn, but not the asparagus. When he reveals his will to us, he expects us to act on that revelation. In fact, if he were to reveal to us aspects of his will which in his omniscience he knew that we were not going to live up to, he would be heaping condemnation on our heads, for as The Urantia Book teaches, to know and not to do is sin. Obviously, not desiring to create a condition of sin in us, he reveals his will to us only in amounts which he knows that we are capable of successfully carrying out. The sin of Adam and Eve was the mixing of good and evil, the mixing of God's will with their own desires. Our following of God must be 100%. To follow him 99% of the time is not obedience, nor surrender, and is different only in degree from following him only 1% of the time. The Urantia Book teaches that God is a God of supreme loyalties, who desires either all of our loyalty or none. We either follow and obey him, and have our lives dedicated to him, or not. I might emphasize that I'm not talking about eternal survival here, where only the faintest flicker of faith can save us, but about the full walk with God, which is the vocation to which we are all called.

We shouldn't ever think that we are confronted with a situation which requires a departure from God's will; that somehow his ways do not apply in a particular case, or that we, being closer, see aspects of the problem that God doesn't see. His will is always perfect. We must not compartmentalize God, and leave him out of any aspect of our lives. His will is as valid in our business life as it is in our family life.

Neither should we worry that God is unable to get through to us. The one who created intelligence in the first place can come up with a way to make his will known to his children. God is not limited in any way. He can use any of the resources available to him (which is everything) to get through to us. In a more spectacular vein, he might send an angel to see us; he might cause a friend to give us important advice; he might cause a particular part of The Urantia Book or the Bible to come alive in our souls; he might send a stranger to deliver us a message. He might even call us on the telephone, and if that sounds strange, is it really any stranger than him giving us a 2000 page book. He could place an ad in the local newspaper. He can speak to us through circumstance, or the still small voice. God is absolutely unlimited in his ability to get through to us, and we should put our minds at rest concerning his ability to do so. He knows us, where we live, what clothes we have in our closets, what cars we drive, who our friends are, and what our problems and opportunities are. Even though from time to time he may choose to communicate with us through exotic means, ordinarily all of the basic guidance we need we can find in The Urantia Book.

There, guidance is objective. Even though readers sometimes debate interpretations of certain parts of The Urantia Book, at least it is there in black and white, and, generally speaking, long-time readers interpret passages about the same. I can't imagine God ever leading any of us contrary to his teachings in The Urantia Book, and for that reason it should be our least suspect form of guidance. All other forms of leading are more subjective and hence open to interpretation, being colored by the psychological pressure of the clamoring of our insistent human wills. What somebody else tells us may be wrong; we may misunderstand circumstances; the tingles up our spine may have come from a draft, rather than spiritual leading. For that reason, in searching for a knowledge of God's will. we should all have a systematic program of Urantia Book study. If we were studying a technical course such as mathematics, we would obviously not want to concentrate on multiplication to the exclusion of subtraction.

Likewise, if we believe that The Urantia Book is the word of God to us, we should spend a lot of time learning what it says about things. We must make sure that as the years pass, we make definite progress in our spiritual understanding. The Urantia Book will never disappoint us. What it tells us to do won't necessarily be the easy way, but it will always be the right way, which ensures, in turn, that it will be the most pleasant and profitable way for us in the long run. It will always be the way of wisdom and success when seen from the downstream side of the situation. And what is wisdom but being able to see the long-term perspective of events, thus being empowered with foreknowledge as to how to act so as to bring about the desired result?

Jesus gave us a Law of Use, namely, that to those who have, more shall be given, but from those who have not, even that which they have shall be taken away [171:8.7]. What we don't exercise, we lose. By the end of my high school years, I was fluent in French and German, but guess what has happened to them after 15 years of disuse? We gain our spiritual growth by practice, just as we gain our mastery of a foreign language, and that practice is the practice of the presence of God; sharing our inner life with God and making him a part of all that we do.

All of us have been given the ability to know the will of God because God himself lives within us. The kingdom of heaven is within. There is no possible deprivation of environment which will impede the success of a soul dedicated to the doing of the Father's will. It is the desire of our heavenly Parent to guide us, and the possibility of receiving that guidance is our birthright .

No Shortcuts to Finding God's Will

Our decision-making should not be skewed on the basis of what our minds think of as the most pleasant alternative. What God wants is good, and what he doesn't want represents degrees of evil. If we want to do his will we must learn what he thinks is good, and what he thinks is not good. His value system is totally different than that of the world. The world says, "Go after riches, power and fame." Jesus taught us to seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all things needful will be added to us. There aren't any shortcuts; we must submit ourselves to God and begin the process of learning to do his will.

There is a general guidance available to all of us, which is, and ever will be, true; such as is found in the spiritual teachings of The Urantia Book. It will never be right to steal, and if our supposed divine inspiration tells us to do so, we deceive ourselves. In addition to that general guidance, there is a specific guidance which God has for each of us, uniquely intended for the person concerned. Honesty, mercy, and love, for example, are not normally guides to whether we should move to Des Moines or Dubuque. Specific guidance gives us course changes on a very intimate basis. The steps to receiving this guidance are: first, that we believe that God is actively involved in our lives; second, that he has a will for us; third, that his will is the best thing that could happen to us; fourth, that he is capable, in the manner of his choosing, of making his wishes known to us; and fifth, that he has endowed us with the ability to do his will. Ordinarily, the measure of the refinement of our guidance will be the measure of the refinement of our walk with God. If we are coarse towards him, our leading will be coarse; but, if we are refined in our attempts to follow his ways, if we are tender toward God and compassionate toward our brothers and sisters, our leading will likewise be refined.

One of our best inner guides to knowing God's will as it relates to a particular situation is whether his peace is resting with us, that peace which Jesus described as the peace that passes all understanding. This is peace that doesn't depend on whether the sun is shining, or whether we got the raise, or whether the landlord raised the rent, or on whether we seem to be successful or not. His peace is inner; we are being led, motivated, and guided from within. One of the main characteristics of this peace, once we have experienced it, is that we are highly uncomfortable when we lose it. It functions like physical pain. Individuals born without the ability to feel pain stay in jeopardy of fatal injuries, because they don't know when their bodies are being hurt. God's peace is our gyroscope, telling us when we get off course.

When we walk in the light as he is in the light, we experience his peace, but if we sin, the peace at least temporarily leaves us. When we return to the Father, when we renew a right relationship with the universe, his peace returns. To continually experience this inner peace, we must maintain a conscience void of offense. Is there anything worth disrupting our relationship with God? The Urantia Book teaches that Jesus made such extraordinary progress in the conquest of his mind in one short life because of his singleness of purpose and unselfish devotion. He was wholly consecrated, unreservedly dedicated to the doing of his Father's will. "In his devotion to the cause of the kingdom, Jesus burned all bridges behind him; he sacrificed all hindrances to the doing of his Father's will." [196:2.7]

Jesus taught that all we have to do is live loyally today, and tomorrow will take care of itself. The things he leads us to do today will turn out to have been right somewhere down the pike, even if it takes years or generations. We don't have to have the reason for a particular course of action spelled out; all we have to do is make sure that we live loyally and abide in his peace.

We should be thankful that God doesn't always make his will crystal-clear to us. He could send down an angel to unroll a scroll, whereon a message written in Old English script would instruct us as to what we should do in a particular situation. But that would deprive us of the adventure of finding out his will by trial and error. We would become puppetized. Instead, God teaches us by the more difficult but surer method of "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little." We have to learn about his nature in order to understand his will, and in so learning we become more like him. We must be still and know that God is God. When and as we do, we will hear the still small voice, which will speak to us at every crossroads, saying, "This is the way."

Do we get our guidance from God or from the world? If Joe down the street puts in a swimming pool do we feel that we should too, even though we can't afford it? How much are we led by fashions, not only in dress, but in ideas? The world pressures people to conform to it, and sends them into what The Urantia Book calls "industrial servitude" by inducing them to purchase, on credit, goods they don't really need. Our guidance should come from God, not Gucci.

Occasionally, we become faced with big decisions: to move to another town, to change our employment, to go into a new business, to marry, and so forth. In such cases, we don't want any possibility of error; we want to be certain that we have a correct reading of the Father's will. In such situations we can expect God to confirm his guidance to us by repetition. Different episodes of his guidance will complement and intersect with each other. We get an inner feeling on the matter, then we ask the counsel of spiritually-minded friends. From the human perspective, we see that the decision makes good common sense. We feel at peace with God about it. Finally, circumstances may open up in such a way as to facilitate the endeavor. We are not out of line to ask God for his clear, unmistakable guidance before we make a radical change in our lifestyle, and we should not be in a hurry about it. He will use different witnesses to confirm his will to us.

Seek Spiritual Counsel

In seeking wise counsel concerning a spiritual problem, we need to talk with spiritual people; one of Judas's problems was that when he felt that he had to talk with someone, he sought out unspiritual people. However, many of our problems are more technical in nature and here we must seek advice from people competent in their fields. I would far rather be operated on by a competent atheist physician than by John Hales, since surgery is not his field of specialty.

Circumstances can be a witness to us. Jesus had been thinking about taking a trip through the Roman Empire, and along came Ganid and Gonod with an offer. Jesus was interested in working in an executive capacity. and in seeing Persia, and along came an opportunity to manage a caravan going that way. Not overmuch reliance should be placed on circumstances; they can be totally misleading. The fact that things are arrayed against us may only mean that God is giving us an opportunity to overcome them. Your alarm clock doesn't go off, you sleep late, and miss the plane. Were you meant to, was it God's will that you miss the flight? Not necessarily, maybe you just need a new alarm clock. We shouldn't necessarily alter our course of action due to obstacles. More often, circumstances can be helpful in leading us by revealing opportunities.

The Urantia Book teaches that Jesus led his life in the channel of its natural flowing. We should not and could not avail ourselves of every situation that opens up for us, but when other conditions of guidance are met, circumstances can be an additional signpost. I used to work staking out drainage ditches in the swamps of eastern North Carolina. I would sight through the transit, and my helper would be a distance away with an armload of straight five foot wooden sticks, which he would drive into the ground when I waved my hat at him in a certain way to indicate that he was on course. After he had driven as many as four stakes in the same line, he no longer needed my help from behind the transit, for all he had to do was sight down the row of stakes to get a line straighter than the dragline operator was capable of digging. Coming into a harbor, the pilot often lines up the buoy lights to keep himself in the channel. In seeking spiritual guidance, we need to look for the different ways in which God guides us to line up, to confirm, and complement each other. Until we receive such confirming guidance, we should not radically change our lifestyle. We should keep doing what we are doing until God tells us otherwise: "Whatsoever your hands find to do, do it with all your might."

God normally discloses his will to us incrementally, step by step. We take the right step today and he shows us the right step tomorrow. In order for the step which he intends to show us tomorrow to be valid, we must have taken the step he gave us today. His will is progressively revealed as we follow what he has already given us. In practice, this means that we must live according to the principles of the kingdom; we must serve our fellows. We must give the bread of life to a hungry world: we must use all the resources at our command to help our fellows: in mind, body, and estate. When we are encased in selfishness, only concerned about our personal plans and schemes, we can hardly receive guidance; but when we help others, we find that we ourselves are helped. If we give, it will be given unto us, if we seek the good of others, good will return our way.

The Kingdom First

A key principle of guidance is humility. Since pride is the greatest sin. Perhaps humility is the greatest virtue. Pride says, "I can manage my affairs very nicely on my own without you, God." But God cannot lead a person intent on leading himself, who says, in essence, "I think I know more about the situation than God does." If we think that we have a better grasp of our destiny than God does, we are not candidates for guidance. On the other hand, if we humble ourselves he exalts us. When we humbly ask him to teach us, he rewards us by showing us his ways. We should come to God and say, "Father, I want to do it your way, for I know that yours is the best way, not just for me, but for all concerned." When we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all other things needful are added to us.

The most all-embracing principle of receiving God's guidance is to know the Guide. It is far better to understand how God does things than it is to have a specific answer to a specific question. It's better to have the Guide with us all the way than to have even a detailed road map. God will never lead us contrary to his nature, so the more we know about his nature, the better qualified we are to receive his guidance. The Jewish leaders, even though they had spent their lives in religious pursuits, made the worst error imaginable by crucifying Jesus, because they did not know God. God would much rather have us love one another than be precise in our doctrinal interpretations. Doctrine exists in the mind, whereas love lives in the soul.

When we know the way God acts and who he is, he guides us subtly and unconsciously, because we are responding to his nature. On the other hand, if we don't know God, we stand an excellent chance of misunderstanding whatever guidance he might give us, because we won't be capable of interpreting what we hear. As we practice the presence of God, his nature becomes grafted onto ours. We become more like him, and following his will becomes more of an out-flowing of what we have become. The deepest part of each one of us must become wrapped up in God himself: there must be implicit trust of the Father, without even a shadow of suspicion that he isn't there, or that he doesn't care, or that he's not able to help.

Finally, we must remember that guidance, and the ability to follow it, is a gift of God, which we cannot psyche ourselves into on our own. We receive these gifts, we don't generate them on our own. The ability to hear and follow God is an endowment. As The Gracious, acceptable, and perfect will of God." [143:2.4]

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