What is God’s will? Can I ever really know what it is, or do I have to guess—try to figure it out, but never really know if I got it right or not?
“Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself.” (Ephesians 1:9)
Many times well-meaning people who want to please God pray, “Lord, what is your will for me?” in a particular matter. When the answer isn’t as clear-cut as a direct Divine revelation from heaven, they become discouraged or confused. Quite honestly, they don’t understand that while God may not always directly address their particular concern, He has, nonetheless, provided the tools we need to understand His will.
1) When trying to determine whether something is God’s will or not, the first thing you need to do is make sure it isn’t already specifically addressed in Scripture. If the thing you are contemplating is a sin, you can be 100% certain that it isn’t God’s will for you—even if you “feel” otherwise. If, for example, I am considering marrying someone who has not submitted Himself to the authority of God in His life, I must understand that this is not God’s will for me, because there are specific Bible verses forbidding Christians marrying those who are not. God will never contradict Himself; if He has spoken on an issue in Scripture, not only is it not His will for you—He specifically forbids you from doing it!
2) If something isn’t a sin, the next thing you need to address is whether it is wise. Even though an action might not be a sin, it might still be unwise. Wisdom is so important to God that an entire book of the Bible, Proverbs, deals specifically with it. Because of its significance, we need to prayerfully think through every decision to make sure that it is truly the wise thing to do.
One of the best ways to do this is to try to understand if doing it will help you be more pleasing to God, or pull you away from Him. If, for example, I am considering an extra job to get the down payment for a car, but this might require my working on Sunday mornings, wisdom would dictate I keep looking for another position. Marrying someone who is not a Christian is clearly a sin, but it will also draw your life away from God because of your spouse’s inclinations.
Another thing to consider is whether taking this action will cause needless stress in your life. The key word here is “needless.” Everything worth the effort is stressful in one way or another. Having children is stressful; going to work is stressful; having a ministry is stressful. What you are trying to discern is if making a different decision is wiser in the long run. Take, for instance, the example of marriage again. Say I am a missionary and my potential spouse is a missionary—a match seemingly made in heaven. But say that since childhood I have felt led by God to work with a remote tribe in New Guinea, while my fiancé feels an equally strong calling to minister to the homeless in New York City. This is not a situation that can be easily resolved, and if we were to marry, this would cause friction in my life that would not be there if I married someone with the same calling. The same can be said of marrying an alcoholic or a drug addict, or of intentionally choosing a job eighty miles away from home when there is an equally good one available ten miles away. These are not necessarily highly spiritual issues, yet they impact our entire lives, and in some cases, can even determine if we lead highly productive lives for our Lord, or simply marginal ones. We must be wise!
3) A final safeguard to adhere to is to run a significant decision by a Christian who knows God’s Word well. This is not to say that we should give another person’s words the same weight as God’s Word; it is simply that an experienced Christian who can counsel not according to personal opinion, but Biblically, is invaluable. “…a man of understanding will attain wisecounsel.” (Proverbs 1:5b)
Many times we imagine that God has a detailed master plan up in heaven specifically directing the intricate details of our lives and that if we somehow inadvertently deviate from this plan, our lives will be doomed. God certainly does have a plan, and while He has chosen to give specific revelation to certain individuals in Scripture, and will certainly give wisdom to those who ask, much of His will is revealed to us in broad parameters.
God’s master plan—His will for all His people—is revealed in Scripture. It is His will that we submit to His authority over our lives. It is His will that we read the Bible. It is His will that we talk to Him. It is His will that we get together with other Bible-believing Christians, which can involve in-home fellowship, but which typically involves going to church. It is His will that we turn away from any sinful behavior. It is His will that Christians marry Christians. It is His will that we tell other people about the forgiveness that Jesus obtained for us and that it is our duty to live in obedience to His Word. It is His will that we love one another. You get the picture.
These are the broad parameters—the frame of the picture—of His will for our lives. It’s just like putting a puzzle together. If we get the frame put together correctly first, the rest of the puzzle will be much easier. In the same way, if we do the generalities that we clearly understand to be His will for everyone, it will be much easier to make decisions regarding the specifics of our lives, because we will have the right framework laid down.
It is certainly the right thing to ask God if a certain action is something that He wants for you. God’s Word clearly teaches, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting… “ (James 1:5,6) We must simply make certain that as we consider the important decisions of our lives we use all the tools He provides to better understand His will for us.
Thank You that You desire for us to be wise, not foolish. Please give us wisdom and understanding. Help us know Your will as You have shown it to us in the Bible, that we may better be equipped to make the important decisions in our lives, and not stumble. Thank You, in Jesus’ name. Amen.