One of the most common questions believers ask is “How can I know God’s will?” This is a healthy question and reflects a desire to understand and to do the things that please God. Understanding God’s will is also necessary for spiritual growth. Unfortunately, in modern society instant answers and clear solutions have become expected. Some Christians can get frustrated when they find it difficult to know God’s will or when it is not as clear as they would like it to be. Whether the dilemma is how to lose 30 pounds in three months, how to become financially secure, or how to overcome a bad habit or addiction, we have become accustomed to having someone provide steps to follow that are guaranteed to achieve the desired outcome.
It is important to remember that God is not our enemy. We are not playing some game of hide and seek where we are desperately seeking to find something that God is enjoying hiding from us. Christ’s words to His disciples the night before his crucifixion should be an encouragement to us. He reminded them that they had entered a new relationship with Him, and He had now taken them into His confidence and revealed the Father’s will to them. We enjoy the same close relationship with our Lord and can rest assured that He also desires to make the Father’s business known to us.
While there are no easy answers and no set formulas to follow, we can understand the will of God by humbly responding to the truth He reveals. Following are some of the most common ways God reveals His will.
In his second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul reminded him that the holy Scriptures are given by God to make us wise and to help us discern what we should do. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Or, as the New Living Translation puts it, “It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.” Not only does Scripture reveal the character of God and how we can grow in godliness, it also prepares us for the specific things that He wants us to do.
The Apostle Peter told his readers that they should desire the pure spiritual milk of the Word as a newborn baby desires his mother’s milk. It is the primary means of growth for the believer. Regular, daily feeding will ensure that our thinking is informed by the Word. Not only is understanding the will of God necessary for spiritual growth, but spiritual growth is important in understanding the will of God. As the believer matures in his Christian walk, he gains more insight into the Word of God and is better able to understand and to apply the principles found in it.
Broadly speaking, when attempting to discern the will of God, the believer should look in Scripture for general principles to apply rather than expecting to find specific guidance. Humorous stories are told of individuals who have opened the Bible, put their fingers on the page, and then made a decision based on whatever they happened to read first. One such man, who was deeply in debt, found that his finger landed on Chapter 11 and he went out and filed bankruptcy. As unlikely as this story may be, it does remind us of the danger of using Scripture inappropriately.
Prayer is one of the primary means by which we can determine God’s leading. James 1:5 says that if anyone lacks wisdom (the ability to determine the right course of action), he should ask God, and God will freely and gladly respond to his request. Jesus, after teaching His disciples to pray, reminded them of the need for perseverance. He then promised that “everyone who asks, receives; everyone who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:10).
The Bible is full of examples of saints of the past who inquired of God when facing a decision and received the wisdom needed to take the right course of action (see, for example, the victories of King David recorded in II Samuel 5:17-25). Scripture also records the disastrous consequences when people jumped into action without waiting on God for direction (see, for example, the defeat of King Josiah recorded in II Chronicles 35:20-24).
The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit plays many roles in the life of the believer and one of the primary ones is to provide guidance. Jesus referred to the Spirit as the Counselor and indicated that He would teach and direct us. The Holy Spirit is a trusted counselor who confirms truth within our hearts by giving us peace and confidence to move forward. He will withhold this sense of peace if we are heading in the wrong direction.
Another primary function of the Spirit is to point out sin in our lives. Sin clouds our vision and distorts our view of things, making it impossible for us to see God’s leading. Worse yet, sin can cause us to be unable even to realize that our vision is faulty. When we allow Him the freedom to operate in our lives, the Holy Spirit acts with surgical precision to remove the sinful cataracts of our eyes and renew our vision.
Some Christians are uncomfortable trusting the Spirit for guidance because they fear it allows too much subjectivity into the process.
However, the role of the Spirit is to confirm within our hearts the objective truth of the Word of God. George Mueller, who cared for thousands of orphans in 19th century England and was known as a man of great faith and prayer explains, “I will seek the will of the Spirit of God through, or in connection with, the Word of God. The Spirit and the Word must be combined. If I look to the Spirit alone without the Word, I lay myself open to great delusions also. If the Holy Spirit guides us at all, He will do it according to the Scriptures and never contrary to them.”
The People of God
Fellow believers are another resource we can draw on to understand the will of God. Proverbs 20:18 reminds us to make plans by seeking advice. It is part of God’s design for the church that more mature believers and those gifted at teaching are to teach the Word to younger believers (1 Timothy 3:11-14). This mentoring approach not only communicates principles found in Scripture, but also shows us how to appropriately apply those principles in everyday life.
An example of the biblical pattern is found in Acts chapter 15. Differences of opinion had arisen in the early church regarding the extent to which Gentile believers should be required to keep the Jewish law. Leaders in the church met together in Jerusalem to seek God’s will concerning this situation. Acts 15:6 records that the apostles and elders met to consider this question. It was only after much open discussion that Peter stood up to address the assembly. Then further exchanges took place before the group finally reached a consensus decision regarding the direction they should take.
God expects the believer to use his mind in the process of discovering His will. One of the ways that we meet this expectation is to make sense of the world around us⎜the circumstances that come our way. Often, a common sense approach toward interpreting political, social, economic, or other events will guide us to the right plan of action. For example, a person may be considering adding an addition to his house, one that would take it to within fourteen feet of a right of way. If the local authorities pass an ordinance restricting construction within 25 feet of a right of way, then the person no longer needs to consider whether it is God’s will for him to build the addition.
We should also consider the circumstances of our existence. God has created each of us as a unique human being, with a complex blend of abilities, interests, and desires. Surely these factors⎜God’s design⎜ should be taken into account when determining His will for us. It is highly unlikely that God’s will for a short, slow young man with no interest in sports is for him to play professional basketball. However, a young lady who is extremely talented musically and has a strong desire to perform may well be led of God to use those abilities and to satisfy that desire by performing to His glory.
Although there is not a set formula for knowing God’s will, God often reveals His will in the ways we have considered. Equally important, if not more so, than the means of discovering God’s will is the mindset we have while searching for direction. God will bless us as we exhibit the following attitudes.
Submission. “Whatever it turns out to be, I’ll do it.” Some Christians wrongly believe that they can ask God for direction and then decide whether or not they want to obey the marching orders they receive. Others simply look for confirmation of what they’ve already decided they want to do. Either approach betrays a stubborn resistance to the Lordship of Christ in our lives. The fact is that God reveals more of Himself and His will to us as we walk in obedience. Remember that it is in the context of obedience that Jesus spoke of His new relationship with His disciples and the revelation of the Father’s will to them (John 15).
Humility. “I know I don’t have all the answers.” The story is told of an old sailor who repeatedly got lost at sea, so his friends gave him a compass and urged him to use it. The next time he went out in his boat, he followed their advice and took the compass with him. But as usual he became hopelessly confused and was unable to find land. Finally, he was rescued by his friends. Disgusted and impatient with him, they asked, “Why didn’t you use that compass we gave you? You could have saved us a lot of trouble!” The sailor responded, “I didn’t dare to! I wanted to go north, but as hard as I tried to make the needle aim in that direction, it just kept on pointing southeast.” Our pride tells us that we know best or that we don’t need anyone to tell us what to do. We must strive for a posture of humility that expresses itself in a teachable spirit and a willingness to learn from others.
Patience. “I’m willing to wait as long as it takes.” Determining God’s will is often not easy. It may involve waiting on God and wrestling with Him about the decision. Noted theologian and author James Packer reminds us, “ ‘Wait on the Lord’ is a constant refrain in the Psalms and it is a necessary word, for the Lord often keeps us waiting. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God.” We can rest assured that God will never keep us waiting longer than is necessary to accomplish His purposes. However He knows that the process may be as important as the outcome.
Psalm 119:105 speaks of God’s word as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. It is not referred to as a floodlight to illumine the road ahead. Often we have only enough light to take the next step on the path, but that is sufficient if we are willing to trust the One leading us. In this process of seeking God’s will, we would do well to remember the prayer of Richard of Chicester, a saint of the early 13th century: “Day by day, dear Lord, of Thee three things I pray. To see Thee more clearly, to love Thee more dearly, to follow Thee more nearly, day by day.”
• Meditate on Psalm 119:33-40. List the verbs in these verses associated with God’s Word.
• Choose an area in which you want to know God’s will. Based on what you have learned in this lesson, write down what you will do to discover God’s will.