Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2).
I have been asked many questions about the will of God. “How do I know the will of God for my life?” “How do I know in a situation when I have two options which way God wants me to go?” “How do I know when to change jobs?” “How do I know which person I am supposed to marry?” “What school should I put my kids in?”
As Christians, we believe God is interested in these decisions and that He has a plan for our lives. We believe God has a preference as to which direction we should take, but discovering His will can be a frustrating process.
God definitely has a will for you! If you were to take a concordance and look up the phrases “will of God” and God’s will,” you would find that, in the New Testament, the phrases fall into two categories. One category is God’s “moral will.” The other category is God’s “personal will.”
God’s moral will in Scripture is the “do’s” and “don’ts” “Though shalt do this. Though shalt not do this.” Peter says it is God’s will we obey human government. Paul writes it is the will of God we be sanctified and abstain from moral impurity. There are almost a dozen other instances in the New Testament where God says, “This is my will.”
The other category of God’s will we are usually interested in is His personal will, which is His personal agenda for our lives. These are the things He has specifically designed for us to do. Paul was “called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God” (1 Corinthians 1:1). God didn’t call everybody to be an apostle. That was His specific will for Paul.
Why do we even have to discover God’s will? If we are His children and He is our heavenly Father, why doesn’t He just make His will plain to us? Why all the mystery? Why all the tension? Why all the pressure? Why all the fasting and praying?
As we read the Bible, we find that God is always more interested in revealing Himself than simply revealing details about His will for us. God does not want to function simply as an information center for our lives. He wants to be involved in our lives in the most intimate of ways through a relationship that revolves around faith and trust. In times of pressure and questioning, when we seek His will, God has the intention of drawing us into a more intimate relationship with Him.
Think about a time when you had to make a big decision. You prayed diligently and finally came to a conclusion about God’s plan. Not only did you arrive at an action plan, but you also emerged from the situation amazed at the goodness and grace of God. You not only had more information about what God wanted you to do, but you also had an awareness of who He is and how much He loves you.
God is involved in this process of discovering His will and while we may simply want information, He wants us to trust Him. The principle of discovering God’s will is couched in the context of a relationship. He is working to reveal Himself to us because He wants us to walk away from the process with our faith greater and our relationship more intimate.
Fortunately, God has given us an incredible and practical approach to discern His will. It is not some kind of mysterious journey. He has given us objective markers to help us know if our decisions agree with His will for our lives.
The first marker is God’s moral will.
God will never lead us to do anything that is in conflict with His moral will. Any decision we make or any option we are looking at that is in conflict with God’s moral will is simply not of God. He will never lead a husband to leave his wife for a more spiritual woman. It won’t happen. That is not God. He will never lead a teenager to rebel against his or her parents. That is not God’s way. He will never lead us to cheat on our income tax in order to give more money to the church.
God’s moral will plays another important role. Obeying His moral will (the things that are clear) is the foundation for decision making in the more challenging area of discerning God’s personal will. In John 14:21, Jesus put it this way: “Whoever has My commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me. The one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
The man or woman who develops a lifestyle in harmony with God’s moral commands will experience God’s guidance. When you and I live lives of obedience, we are constantly in step with God’s thoughts and God’s ways. It makes sense that we would be able to discern His voice more easily.
The second marker to know if our decisions agree with God’s will are the principles of His Word.
The Bible is full of principles and here is the key: at some point in our decision making, our options will intersect with the principles of God’s Word. God has given us His principles as a check and balance in our decision making process.
The difference between God’s moral law and His principles is this: God’s moral law is clear commands. “This is what you do. This is what you don’t do.” Principles, however, are more like equations – an equation where God says, “If a man does this, he can expect that to happen. If a woman does this, she can expect that to happen.”
Discovering the will of God is not the result of spending hours in a spiritual darkroom. That is not the picture. God has made it far simpler than that. It is not a mystical thing. It is very practical. God has given us principles that intersect with all the choices we must make. God wants to renew our minds with His principles.
Principles take precedent over a sense of inner peace. God does not want us to be slaves to vacillating feelings. He is far more practical than that. If we keep God’s moral law and constantly renew our minds to what is true, then as the decisions come along, we will be able to sort out the options and discern what the will of God is for us.
Do you spend time in God’s Word every day? If you don’t and if you are not in some sort of systematic discipline to fill your mind with God’s principles, you are going to have a difficult time making the right decisions because the key to decision making is the principles of His Word. Promises have a role, but they are girded by principles.
We are to meditate on the Word of God. Scripture gives us understanding of the ways, will, and purpose of God. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” As we search and think deeply on the Word of God, asking Him to speak to our hearts, God will work in such a way to help us understand His will. The only way to know the mind of God is to know the Scriptures. The Scriptures sift, purify, and clear up our thinking process so we are able to think after God.
The third marker to know if our decisions agree with God’s will is wisdom.
Ephesians 5:15 says, “Be very careful how you live, not as unwise but as wise.” In light of where I want to be in the future, what kind of marriage and family I want to have, where I want to be financially, where I want to be in terms of my career, and where I want to be in terms of my ability to serve God, is this the wise thing to do?
Let’s ignore the ridiculous. Don’t worry about what color socks you are going to wear. That is not the issue. We are talking about decisions in our lives that matter – who we are going to marry, how we are going to spend or invest our time, what we are going to do with our money, relationships, and family.
Sometimes God will give us wise counsel through others. However, before we seek somebody’s counsel, first examine his or her life. Is that person living in obedience to God? Is his lifestyle one of submission to the will of God? A godly counselor will tell us the truth whether we like it or not. If somebody is committed to God’s principles, he is going to be honest with us. Godly counselors are often God’s way of providing direction.
The Holy Spirit also has an essential role in helping us know God’s will (1 Corinthians 2:12).
One of the purposes of the Holy Spirit is to show us truth. Remember what Jesus said in the Upper Room? He said, “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).
There will be times when you are suddenly faced with a decision. In that moment, you may not be certain what to do, which way to turn. As one of His prescribed, designated, divine responsibilities the Holy Spirit unfolds and unveils God’s will for us by interceding on our behalf with God to reveal the mind of Christ in that given issue.
However, if you have sin in your life – willful, deliberate sin – trying to discover God’s will is frustrating. I am not saying you will never know the will of God if there is sin in your life, but you sure do make it difficult. Sometimes God may show you exactly what to do, but then He will say it will never work until you deal with the sin problem.
There is danger in praying and asking for God to show us His plan in a major decision when there is willful, deliberate sin in your life. Something is wrong in your thinking process if you are tolerating sin. You have rationalized a given area that God says has to be dealt with. Here is the problem: our evaluation of sin is not the same as God’s! He hates it. He wants it out of our lives. He sees it as a stumbling block to His best for us.
Remember, we belong to God. We do not have the right to make up our minds about what we are going to do and how we are going to do it independently of the will, purpose, plan, and desire of God. We forsook that right the day we received the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. In that moment, He became the Lord of our lives.
Sometimes God delays revealing His will because He is getting us ready. He knows we are not prepared to fulfill His plan. For example, you may lose your job and say, “Lord, what am I going to do?” God knows that in three months, He has the most fantastic job ready for you, but He is working on some character traits such as perseverance and faith in your life in the interim.
* Read more in my book: Back to the Basics: A Guide for Christian Living.