Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 02: The Word of the Cross, by Watchman Nee


There are three ways that God shows us His will. We must not consider or follow only one of these three ways. If we only consider one way, it will be easy for us to fall into Satan’s snare. We should consider these three ways simultaneously. If we consider the three ways together, we will not fall into error. When the light is complete, we will be able to live in God’s will in a complete way. The three ways are: the prompting of the Spirit, the teaching of the Bible, and the provisions in the environment. On his way back to England, while Dr. F.B. Meyer’s ship was approaching the mouth of the Thames River, he asked the ship captain, "The sea is so big; how do you know that this is the right place to enter the river?" The captain answered, "I steer my ship until the three lighthouses line up in a straight line. At that point I know that I have arrived at the London harbor." Dr. Meyer said, "When we see the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and the environment line up in a straight line, we know that we are walking in God’s will." Indeed, when all three things testify that we are standing on the right ground, we know that we are walking according to God’s will.

1. The Prompting of the Holy Spirit

There is no one who walks completely according to his own will. Either he walks according to God’s will, or he walks according to the devil’s will. The evil spirits are "operating in the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2). With those who obey and believe in God, "it is God who operates" (Phil. 2:13) in them. Within the heart of man, either an evil spirit is operating or God is operating. No one can be independent from these two things. Therefore, the conduct of every person is either the result of the operation of the Holy Spirit in his heart or the result of the operation of evil spirits in his heart. Even believers are no exceptions to this rule.

Most people act according to some kind of prompting. Sometimes they are prompted to a greater degree; sometimes they are prompted to a lesser degree. When the heart is motivated by promptings or impulses, a man acts accordingly.

It is unfortunate that most believers are ignorant of what it means to live a life in the Holy Spirit, or a life in which the Holy Spirit works. When their souls are stirred up, they think that it is the prompting of the Holy Spirit. They cannot differentiate between the prompting of the Holy Spirit and a stirring in the emotions. But, in reality, it is not that difficult to differentiate between the stirring in the soul and the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is difficult for immature Christians to make such a distinction. But for mature saints, the distinction between the two things is like the distinction between the wheat and the tare.

Besides the confusion between a stirring in the soul and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the devil will many times disguise himself as the angel of light. He will say something to entice us and feign the voice of the Holy Spirit. Brothers and sisters who love the Lord, do not think that all of Satan’s suggestions are evil, and do not think that all of his schemes and plans are unclean and base. We should realize that the ultimate goal of Satan is to distract us from God’s will. Sometimes (in fact, many times) he will lead us to do good things and to think that doing good is God’s will. But even though all of God’s will is good, not all good things are God’s will. The things may be good, but these good things may not be God’s will. Satan is not afraid of our doing good things; he is only afraid of our doing God’s will. As long as he can stop us from doing God’s will, he is satisfied. In trying to understand God’s will, we must not be overrun by any impulse and must not think that just because something is good and excellent, it is therefore God’s will. We have to realize that this is not always true. A good thing may not be God’s will. Even if it is, we still do not know if it is God’s will for us.

Therefore, in seeking after God’s will, we should distinguish between: (1) the prompting of the Holy Spirit, (2) the stirring in the soul, and (3) the impulses from Satan. The prompting of the Holy Spirit is an operation of God’s Spirit within our spirit, which prompts us to know God’s will. This kind of operation or prompting is quiet and lasting; it is not sudden or excitable. This kind of operation comes from God. Paul said, "I am going bound in the spirit to Jerusalem" (Acts 20:22). "While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he beheld that the city was full of idols" (17:16). When the Holy Spirit moved Paul, He moved his spirit; he was bound and not free. When the Holy Spirit prompted Paul to preach, He caused his spirit to become provoked and stirred up so that a great power operated within him and compelled him to obey.

It is a pity that believers do not know the human spirit. They do not know that man is tripartite, composed of the spirit, the soul, and the body (1 Thes. 5:23). They only know that man is composed of the soul and body. And although many believers know about the spirit and the soul in letter and know that there is a human spirit in addition to the Holy Spirit, they do not feel this spirit within them. They do not know what activity within them is the move of the spirit and what is the operation of the soul. Some have painfully mistaken the soul for the spirit! Because of such a handicap, it becomes difficult for them to know God’s will.

Some believers make the mistake of regarding the mind as the spirit. The mind belongs to the soul; it does not belong to the spirit. Therefore, thoughts in the mind are unreliable. We should not consider these thoughts to be the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 02: The Word of the Cross, Chapter 5, by Watchman Nee)