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.
The Pentecost Power
The Pentecost power – not just for one day –
It’s the power to the people – it’s the power for the way.
The Spirit gives the power to believe the Word
That the Father sent us Jesus as our King and Lord.
It’s a life-giving Spirit, we are now born again;
It’s the truth-telling Spirt: we are now God’s friends.
It’s a power-filling Spirit: miracles, and healing, too –
The healing of forgiveness, and the miracle of you!
We believe that we cannot, by our reason or our strength,
Even come to the Lord, no matter what the length.
Through the Gospel comes the Spirit to enunciate the call;
Spirit gather and enlightens and protects us from the fall.
To the Body we are joined through the life-giving water:
We are dead to sin, but we live as God’s daughters
The Spirit was sent by the Father and Son,
Co-eternal, co-equal, our God Three-in-One.
The Spirit’s like the wind, answers blowing in the breezes,
Gives us will and direction to do what God pleases.
It removes a heart made of rock and rolls
In its place in our lives a living soul.
The Spirit, Jesus said, would be our Paraclete:
Never leaving or forsaking, giving comfort sweet,
Giving words to the mouth, giving basis for the stand,
It will never, never, ever let us out of God’s hand.
So the Spirit’s in the water, and the Spirit’s in the Word,
And the Spirit’s in the preaching and the teaching we’ve heard.
We are blessed for the journey, we are powered for the way;
We’re forgiven by the Spirit, and the Spirit helps us pray.
If it wasn’t for the Spirit, we would have no faith at all,
So give glory to the Spirit; the Spirit gives us all
The Spirit is sent by the Father and Son
Co-eternal, co-equal, our God Three-in-One.
Singing praises to the Father, living praises to the Son,
Rapping praises to the Spirit, we praise the Three-in-One.
The Pentecost power – not just for one day:
The Spirit lives inside us, helping us to say
Words (and beats in your head) provided by Pastor Martin Doering
Try as we might to walk in the light, our goals are soon fractured by falls. At times accidental, mistakes elemental confront us with bruises or brawls. The flows of a season, or change without reason, bring pitfalls and pratfalls unseen. We try to avoid them; we thought we destroyed them! (Surely, you know what I mean.)
The coin’s other side, the one that we hide, is: we bring sabotage to our way. I dare what’s denied; I follow my pride and determine that I’m going to stray. Mea culpa, we moan, and we try to atone for intentions that brought us to ruin. Bad decisions, mistakes, evil actions, sharp breaks – these sins are beyond our undoing.
The Lord, mighty Savior, looks on me with favor, uplifting me out from my doom. He takes broken pieces, creates what he pleases, reveals his new life in my tomb. Restored and forgiven I’m freed now to live in his wonder-filled mercy and grace. The burdens are lifted; my life has been gifted to serve and to love for God’s praise.
Do restoration and redemption seem too good to be true?
Are the hurts and hang-ups so huge that not even God can heal the hatred?
How do I respond to a message of submission, salvation and service?
Lord, lift me from the pits and lead me in the paths of renewal and reconciliation. You are the Shepherd; I will follow You, Jesus. Amen.
Please take the time to find and read Psalm 30. Psalm 130 and John 8:1-11.
Pastor Martin Doering
Migratory birds are known to fly thousands of miles to find places for feeding, mating and nesting. Sea creatures can navigate through vast oceans in their life cycles. Ants cooperate in excavating nests, building food reserves and enlarging their colonies.
Why are we humans so confused about our lives and our plans?
The apostle Paul wrote of the internal struggle in each of us: “I do not understand what I do! For whaqt I want to do — I do not do. But what I hate, I do!” (Romans 7:15 NIV) Not only do we hear competing voices and viewpoints around us, but we also conduct inner conversations between wisdom and folly, conscience and desire.
The proverbial writer put it like this: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12 NIV) Because our nature has been distorted and warped by sinfulness, our intellect and our desires are not always trustworthy. There are times when we choose to do forbidden things, deadly games, destructive activities or malicious gossip. We follow the temptation; we devise our own sabotage; we wallow in selfishness.
Different thoughts, differing desires, and disparate goals are the ingredients for the confusion in which we stew. Our Lord knows this about us, and provides our rescuer, our redeemer, our restorer. Jesus of Nazareth made what seems to be an audacious claim: “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6 NIV) Instead of confusion, Jesus grants us correction and cohesion. Our Lord guides as a shepherd guides sheep; our Lord teaches the way of mercy, peace, forgiveness and life; our Lord becomes our saving light and our driving force.
Can you hear the voice calling out into your confusion? Do you see the light shining through your darkness? Do you sense the Spirit seeking your soul? Is there someone knocking on the door of your heart?
God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through him, might be saved. (John 3:17 NIV)
Lord Jesus Christ, show me the way of wisdom and understanding, of healing and hope, of love and life.
Please take the effort to read and pray about John 14 and Romans 8.
The motor finally consumed the last drops of fuel. A final puff of smoke came out of the pipes. It was exhausted!
Puns aside, when my motor runs out of fuel, when I am exhausted, my soul is weary. Having neither the desire to complete the task, nor the energy to proceed, my momentum comes to a halt. What has happened?
Perhaps I could focus on the amount or the composition of the fuels I’ve been using. Have I eaten too much, or too little? Did I swallow drinks that contained toxins that rapidly depleted my strength?
Maybe the reality is that I’ve not been taking care of my “machine.” Despite my dreams of being superhuman, I live with a body that needs exercise and sleep, movement and recuperation. The stages of life and exercise change with the activities and the years.
Like a moth drawn to a flame, I have an appetite for staying awake to watch flickering images on a screen or backlit digital displays. Thank God for the people who provide us electricity and lights and computers! But sometimes my hunger for more images and sounds keeps me awake and away from sleep.
Jesus of Nazareth, speaking in another time and a different country, spoke an invitation that seems directed to worn-out and wearied folks like me. “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NIV)
Those words are directly in line with what David wrote in Psalm 23: our Shepherd Lord restores the soul. Moses had received the promise directly from the Lord: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14 NIV)
The Lord invites us, especially when we are weary, to find rest and restoration in His presence and power and promises. St. Augustine is reported to have written: my soul knows no rest until it finds its rest in the Lord.
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, living Word of God, speak to my heart of your mercy and grace. Lord Jesus Christ, living bread from heaven, fill me with strength and revive this weary body of mine. Lord Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and the Life, revive me again; grant me a new heart and a new spirit. Lord Jesus Christ, you are my peace, my rest and my energy. Amen.
Please take the time to listen to Psalm 62.