How to Know God's Will
God’s will. You’ve heard about it. But how do you know what God's will actually is?
So you’ve decided to follow Christ. Awesome! But soon—perhaps very soon—after making that choice, you’re likely to be confronted with a host of others: Is my job the right one for me? Should I join this church or that one? Should I marry? Whom should I marry? When?
What decision will most please God?
Theologian J. I. Packer said, “No other concern commands more interest or arouses more anxiety [among evangelicals] nowadays than discovering the will of God.”1 He’s right. Those who follow Christ are anxious to please him—in both the big and small choices we make in our everyday lives. We want to “get it right” and be confident that we’re doing what God wants us to do.
The first step in knowing God’s will is simply to know God.
Imagine you’ve come into a marriage truly blind: you know nothing about your spouse, other than the fact that he or she is the one your family has chosen for you. How could you possibly know what your new mate prefers in any matter? Do they take their coffee black or with cream and sugar? You don’t know. You can’t know, because you don’t know this person at all. Of course, in time you will become aware of these things, but only as you get to know your spouse.
In the same way, you come to know the basics of God’s will for you by getting to know God himself. Read his Word—the Bible—to learn about his nature and character. Discover what he says about what pleases him and what does not. “God’s regular way of showing us what he calls us to is by appropriate application of the once-for-all revealed truths of the Bible.”2
But as you learn about God, remember this: your relationship with him is based upon his performance, not yours. No choice you could make, no decision you could arrive at, will cause him to love you more—or less—than he already does.
A Cosmic Scavenger Hunt?
A view frequently put forward is that discerning God’s will is like going on a cosmic scavenger hunt. We imagine that God has one single, perfect plan for our lives (which is, of course, hidden) that we must discover, recognize, and then follow to a tee.
Author Bruce Waltke calls this view “a version of the old con man’s ruse, the three-shell game.”3 Which shell is God’s will hidden under? What if I lose track of all the moving parts? How can I be sure of what and where his will is?
This view implies that in every matter, God has a specific, hidden Plan A. Failure to discover it results in a life-long sentence to Plan B.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
Years ago, a man very learned in the Jewish Law asked Jesus an important question about “doing the right thing” in order to please God. He asked, “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”4
In other words, God is pleased when we love him with our whole heart and love others as we do ourselves. This much is his will for every believer—and it is certainly not hidden from us. Jesus put it out there for the entire world to see.
It’s Not About You
As pastor Rick Warren famously said in his book The Purpose Driven Life, “It’s not about you.”5 God’s will is about, well, God. As you seek his will, endeavor to see beyond your immediate questions or desires and focus on bringing glory to God through your life.
God has a plan for his kingdom. As a believer, you are a part of the kingdom—but you’re not the only part. He is pleased and satisfied with you based on Christ’s sacrifice, not your performance.
In fact, many of the small decisions you agonize over could work out for your good and God’s glory in a number of different ways. His primary desire is that you love him—and others—well.
Obey What You Know, Trust, and Go
“We cannot predict or control what hasn’t happened yet, nor can we change the past, but God is sovereign over both,” writes Gerald Sittser. He suggests that instead of asking God whether you should be a teacher or an accountant, “a better question might be ‘God, what do you require of me now, today? What would please you and bring you honor in this immediate circumstance?’ Somehow, these decisions seem less paralyzing, and easier to discern.”6
Rather than becoming stuck and self-focused with each individual decision, it would be wiser to consider God’s Word carefully, ask the advice of mature believers, consider the doors that God may be opening or closing on opportunities, then simply obey what you are able to discern in faith.
God is wise, powerful, and good. He is able to cause all things to work together “for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”7 Once you’ve thoughtfully and prayerfully considered your options, simply obey what you know, trust in God, and move forward.
Finally, as you consider the will of God, be flexible. A yes to one situation does not necessarily mean yes forever, nor does it mean that a similar question won’t come up again in different conditions. Circumstances may change, but God does not.8 He is always faithful to his covenant children.
“This week,” writes Pastor Gregg Matte, “a relational intersection could change the course of your life. A conversation on bended knee could be the tipping point of your prayer life. By the same token, an unexpected phone call could bring you to your knees in grief. Life isn’t always easy. Its course can change in seconds, even as we try to plan out the years.”9
A hiker knows that, no matter the destination, he needs to be able to orient himself to true north. If he can keep this constant before him, he can find his way. True north for the believer seeking God’s will is the answer to these questions: Will God be glorified in this choice? Does it demonstrate my love for him and for others?
If you can answer yes, your decision is in harmony with God, and you can be confident as you move in faith.
- J. I. Packer, Hot Tub Religion: Christian Living in a Materialistic World (Wheaton, IL:Tyndale Publishers,1987), 105.
- J. I. Packer and Carol Nystrom, God’s Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2012), 5.
- Bruce Waltke, Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 7.
- The Holy Bible, New International Version, © 2011, Matthew 22:36–40.
- Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishers, 2002), 11.
- Gerald L. Sittser, “God’s Will: It’s No Secret,” Discipleship Journal, February 1998.
- The Holy Bible, Romans 8:28.
- Ibid., James 1:17. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
- Gregg Matte, Finding God's Will: Seek Him, Know Him, Take the Next Step (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2010), 20.
- Photo Credit: Galyna Andrushko / Shutterstock.com.
Where Is God?
How can God be active in our lives if he’s not here with us?We’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s missing is awareness.David Brenner
Have you ever looked around you and wondered, Where is God?
Perhaps, for you, it was a particularly gorgeous day outside; you could feel the afternoon sun warming your whole body. Maybe you asked yourself, Is God here in this beauty? Or perhaps it was the opposite. A trying time followed by another challenge . . . and another and another. Did you survey your life, shake your head, and wonder, Where is God in all this pain?
Maybe you’ve heard that God lives in heaven. But heaven can seem awfully far away, can’t it? In fact, sometimes it feels like God isn’t around at all—especially when bad things happen in our lives.
Yet the Bible frequently describes God as a father who protects and provides for his “sons and daughters."1 But if God is a spiritual father who is active in his children’s lives, where is he? How can he be so far from his children?
To begin, we must not fall into the trap of thinking about God in the same way that we think of earthly things. God is not subject to human limitation. If someone asks us where we are, there is only one truthful answer; we can be in only one place at a time.
The same is not true of God. God can be everywhere at once. Though it can be hard to grasp, this is what people of faith believe. They believe God is present with everyone at the same time. Simultaneously, God is in heaven.
The Christian concept of the Trinity is key here. Christians understand God as “three-in-one”: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.2 These three persons are distinct but united; three persons form one God.
How does this help us answer the question of where God is? Well, let’s take a look.
God the Father: God Is in Heaven
Within the Bible, God the Father is described as “the God of heaven,”3 and heaven is called “the house of God.”4 In fact, in Isaiah 66:1, God himself says, “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool.”
There are countless more instances that demonstrate God’s residence in heaven. Even God’s own words reflect this. He promises that he “will rain down bread from heaven” for the sake of the Israelites.5 Then, after revealing the Ten Commandments, God says to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven.’”6
After the Exodus, the Hebrew prophets repeatedly entreated the Lord to “hear [their prayers] from heaven.”7 They were confident of God’s location.
But this didn’t end with the Old Testament. Even Jesus instructed us to call God “our Father in heaven” when we pray.8 In John 17:1, Jesus himself looks “toward heaven” and prays to the Father.
Christians believe that, as our Father in heaven, God loves us like a parent loves his children. But how can God actively love us as a father if he is in heaven and we’re on earth?
God the Son: God Is on Earth
There are some instances within the Old Testament of God the Father coming down to earth—perhaps most notably as a pillar of smoke or fire when leading the Israelites out of Egypt.9 However, Christians point to one main example of God’s presence on earth: Jesus.
The gospels claim that God the Son came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus is sometimes called Immanuel, which means “God with us.”10
The gospels describe Jesus as a human person who was born at a particular time in history, a person who lived in a specific part of the world for a certain period of time. But Jesus was not just a human; he was “conceived . . . from the Holy Spirit.”11 As Christians often put it, Jesus was fully God and fully man. Jesus is God in the flesh.
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is described as the Son of God.12 The Bible tells us that Jesus lived among us, died for our sins, was resurrected three days later, and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father.13
Though this may seem strange, the most important question to ask here is this: Why would God come to earth as a human being at all? According to the Bible, Jesus came to “save his people from their sins.”14 God became a human person for our salvation.
Yes, the Bible clearly says that Jesus lived on earth. And yes, the Bible also clearly says that Jesus died.15 But the good news, according to the New Testament, is this: Jesus did not remain dead. The gospels say that on the third day after the crucifixion, Jesus conquered death and was resurrected.16 After this, Jesus remained with his disciples for several weeks, teaching them and encouraging them.
Eventually he told them he had to go to his Father’s house to prepare a place for them.17 Jesus gathered his disciples, spoke to them a final time, and then was “taken up into heaven.”18
Yet that’s still not the end of the story. The Bible tells us that Christ will “appear a second time.”19 “The Lord himself will come down from heaven. . . . And so we will be with the Lord forever.”20 Now, in heaven, Jesus waits for his time to return.
But what about in the meantime? Sure, Jesus was once on earth—but now he’s in heaven. How does this help us in the present?
God the Spirit: God Is Everywhere
Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he promised that he would not leave believers entirely alone. Jesus assured the disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever. . . . [and] the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”21
The Holy Spirit—God the Spirit—is the final person of the Trinity. After Jesus’ death, God the Father sent the Spirit as a source of strength, direction, and comfort in this troubled world.22 Christians believe that through the Spirit, God continues to guide his followers who are here on earth.
The Holy Spirit is present everywhere, both on earth and in heaven. Psalm 139:7–10 shows us this:Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
From these verses, Christians conclude that God is present everywhere, actively loving, guiding, and protecting his people.
So what does the Holy Spirit do? The Holy Spirit “will guide you into all the truth.”23 The Spirit provides gifts “of wisdom and of understanding . . . of counsel and of might . . . [and] of the knowledge and fear of the Lord” to God’s people.24 Christians are to rely on this inner sense of God’s direction when it comes to making wise decisions. Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
Jesus told his disciples that they would know God the Spirit, for “he lives with you and will be in you.”25 God the Spirit is an active presence in the lives of God’s people—the Spirit is everywhere in all of God’s people. The Spirit guides us, spiritually nurtures us, and transforms us from people who once lived for ourselves into people who live “for him who died for them and was raised again.”26
Everywhere at Once
So which is it? Is God in heaven or is God everywhere on earth? Well, the answer is both.
God is not merely in heaven. God is here, actively participating in our lives—whether or not we always recognize his presence. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit together show us that even in the worst of times, God has not abandoned us.
On days when it seems that God is nowhere to be found, may you find comfort in these words: “Acknowledge and take heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”27
- The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, 2 Corinthians 6:18.
- See The Holy Bible, John 14:26. Also consider John 10:30; Matthew 10:20; and 1 John 5:20.
- The Holy Bible, Genesis 24:3.
- Ibid., Genesis 28:17.
- Ibid., Exodus 16:4.
- Ibid., Exodus 20:22.
- See, for example, The Holy Bible, 1 Kings 8:30, 8:32, 8:34; 2 Chronicles 6:21, 6:23, 6:25.
- The Holy Bible, Matthew 6:9, emphasis added.
- See The Holy Bible, Exodus 13:21–22.
- Ibid., Matthew 1:23.
- The Holy Bible, Matthew 1:20.
- See The Holy Bible, Matthew 4:3; Mark 1:1; John 5:25, 20:31; Romans 1:4; Galatians 2:20.
- Ibid., Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9, 7:55–56.
- The Holy Bible, Matthew 1:21. See also Galatians 1:4; 1 John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 5:21.
- See The Holy Bible, Mark 15:37–38; 1 Corinthians 15:1–3; 2 Corinthians 5:15.
- Ibid., Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20–21.
- See The Holy Bible, John 14:2–3.
- The Holy Bible, Luke 24:51.
- Ibid., Hebrews 9:28.
- Ibid., 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17.
- Ibid., John 14:16, 26.
- See The Holy Bible, Acts 1–2.
- The Holy Bible, John 16:13.
- Ibid., Isaiah 11:2.
- Ibid., John 14:17.
- Ibid., 2 Corinthians 5:15.
- Ibid., Deuteronomy 4:39.
- Photo Credit: Alexey Kuzma / Stocksy.com.