In Part 1, we looked at the first two attitudes toward God’s will: ignoring and disobeying. Today, we will look at the final attitude.
Obeying God’s Will (James 4:15)
Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work” (John 4:34). Paul often referred to the will of God as he shared his plans with his friends (Rom. 1:10; 15:32; 1 Cor. 4:19; 16:7). Paul did not consider the will of God a chain that shackled him; rather, it was a key that opened doors and set him free.
God’s will for our lives is comparable to the laws He has built in the universe, with this exception: those laws are general, but the will He has planned for our lives is specifically designed for us. No two lives are planned according to the same pattern.
To be sure, there are some things that must be true of all Christians. It is God’s will we yield ourselves to Him (2 Cor. 8:5). It is God’s will we avoid sexual immorality (1 Thes. 4:3). All Christians should rejoice, pray, and thank God (1 Thes. 5:16–18). Every commandment in the Bible addressed to believers is part of the will of God and must be obeyed. But God does not call each of us to the same work in life, or to exercise the same gifts and ministry. The will of God is “tailor-made” for each of us!
It is important we have the right attitude toward the will of God. Some people think God’s will is a cold, impersonal machine. God starts it going and it is up to us to keep it functioning smoothly. If we disobey Him in some way the machine grinds to a halt and we are out of God’s will for the rest of our lives.
God’s will is not a cold, impersonal machine. You do not determine God’s will in some mechanical way, like getting a soft drink out of a vending machine. The will of God is a living relationship between God and the believer. This relationship is not destroyed when the believer disobeys, for the Father still deals with His child, even if He must chasten.
Rather than looking at the will of God as a cold, impersonal machine, I prefer to see it as a warm, growing, living body. If something goes wrong with my body, I don’t die: the other parts of the body compensate for it until I get that organ working properly again. There is pain; there is also weakness; but there is not necessarily death.
When you and I get out of God’s will, it is not the end of everything. We suffer, to be sure; but when God cannot rule, He overrules. Just as the body compensates for the malfunctioning of one part, so God adjusts things to bring us back into His will. You see this illustrated clearly in the lives of Abraham and Jonah.
The believer’s relationship to the will of God is a growing experience. First, we should know His will (Acts 22:14). The will of God is not difficult to discover. If we are willing to obey, He is willing to reveal (John 7:17). It has been said that “obedience is the organ of spiritual knowledge.” This is true. God does not reveal His will to the curious or the careless, but to those who are ready and willing to obey Him.
But we must not stop with merely knowing some of God’s will. God wants us to be “filled with the knowledge of His will and all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col. 1:9). It is wrong to want to know God’s will about some matters and ignore His will in other matters. Everything in our lives is important to God and He has a plan for each detail.
God wants us to understand His will (Eph. 5:17). This is where spiritual wisdom comes in. A child can know the will of his father, but he may not understand his will. The child knows the “what,” but not the “why.” As the “friends” of Jesus Christ, we have the privilege of knowing why God does what He does (John 15:15). “He made known His ways to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel” (Ps. 103:7). The Israelites knew what God was doing, but Moses understood why He was doing it.
We must also prove God’s will (Rom. 12:2). The Greek verb means “to prove by experience.” We learn to determine the will of God by working at it. The more we obey the easier it is to discover what God wants us to do. It is something like learning to swim or play an instrument. You eventually “get the feel” of what you are doing and it becomes second nature to you.
People who keep asking, “How do I determine God’s will for my life?” may be announcing to everybody they have never really tried to do God’s will. You start with the thing you know you ought to do and you do that. Then God opens the way for the next step. You prove by experience what the will of God is. We learn both from successes and failures. “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me” (Matt. 11:29). The yoke suggests doing things together, putting into practice what God has taught you.
Finally, we must do God’s will from the heart (Eph. 6:6). Jonah knew the will of God and (after a spanking) did the will of God; but he did not do it from his heart. Jonah 4 indicates the angry prophet did not love the Lord, nor did he love the people of Nineveh. He merely did God’s will to keep from getting another spanking!
What Paul said about giving can also be applied to living: “not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Grudgingly means “reluctantly, painfully.” Some people get absolutely no joy out of doing God’s will. Of necessity means “under compulsion.” They obey because they have to, not because they want to. Their heart is not in it.
The secret of a happy life is to delight in duty. When duty becomes delight, then burdens become blessings. “Your statutes have been my songs in my pilgrimage” (Ps. 119:54). When we love God, then His statutes become songs and we enjoy serving Him. When we serve God grudgingly or because we have to, we may accomplish His work, but we ourselves will miss the blessing. It will be toil, not ministry. But when we do God’s will from the heart, we are enriched, no matter how difficult the task might have been.
We must never think a failure in knowing or doing God’s will permanently affects our relationship with the Lord. We can confess our sins and receive His forgiveness (1 John 1:9). We can learn from the mistakes. The important thing is a heart that loves God and wants to sincerely do His will and glorify His name.
What are the benefits of doing the will of God? For one thing, we enjoy a deeper fellowship with Jesus Christ (Mark 3:35). We have the privilege of knowing God’s truth (John 7:17) and seeing our prayers answered (1 John 5:14–15). There is an eternal quality to the life and works of the one who does the will of God (1 John 2:15–17). Certainly, there is the expectation of reward at the return of Jesus Christ (Matt. 25:34).
Which of these three attitudes do you have toward the will of God? Do you totally ignore God’s will as you make your daily plans and decisions? Do you know God’s will, yet refuse to obey it? Each attitude is wrong, and can only bring sorrow and ruin to the life of the person who holds it.
But the Christian who knows, loves, and obeys the will of God will enjoy God’s blessing. His life may not be easier, but it will be holier and happier. His very food will be the will of God (John 4:34); it will be the joy and delight of his heart (Ps. 40:8).