How can I know God’s will?
I trusted in Christ for my salvation more than 40-years ago. Almost immediately, I wanted to know God’s will for my life. I read books and poured over the scriptures in my quest. A number of years ago, I was invited to present a workshop on “Determining God’s Will for Your Life.” I worked hard on preparing that workshop, but as I look back on it, I never did present any feasible way to determine God’s will. What really blows me away is that by the time I had finished this very academic treatment of the subject, I did not present one passage of scripture in support of what I had said.
Have you had similar experiences?
Even today, I want to know God’s will and I want to be in it. For example, I have been working with others to start the Northern Plains Biblical Seminary. This is quite the project. One of the items we constantly keep in front of us that we want to make sure we are in God’s will regarding the Seminary. We constantly pray that we are in His will and that He give us a few nuggets everyone once-in-a-while as an indication that we are going in the right direction.
God has been faithful through this process and has humored us with the nuggets we have requested. The problem is that after every step we take, the work in front of us grows. That is, with each step we take the next step is even larger. I guess I am style struggling with the process of determining God’s will.
What is God’s will?
A little while back, I stumbled onto Col 1:9. It says, “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding…” The passage made think afresh regarding God’s will. Paul is praying that the Colossians would “be filled with the knowledge of” God’s will. I hope this is as monumental a thought for you as it was for me.
- Paul is asking that the people be filled. This suggests to be that our whole being can contain the knowledge of God’s will.
- This happens through wisdom and understanding. Knowing God’s will does not come from a mind set on worldly things. Knowing God’s will only comes from the Holy Spirit who is at work in the person (1 Cor 2:5-6).
At this point we need to consider what “God’s will” is and if it is possible for us to really know it. In the New Testament, God’s “will” is an important term that indicates God’s choice and determination; it emanates from desire (Eph 1:5, 9, 11). The term conveys the idea of desire—even the heart’s desire. But we really miss the idea of the term with this English translation.
The Greek word translated “will” is thelema. This word promotes emotion more so than volition. Thus, “God’s will” is not so much “God’s intention” as it is “God’s heart’s desire.” God does have an intentional plan (Eph 1.11), but this is not the same as His heart’s desire. Behind God’s plan is His heart of love and of good pleasure. Therefore, God’s eternal plan came from the desire of His hear which was to have us become like His only Son.
If God’s desire is for us to know His heart’s desire, how do we do that?
I would like to consider four disciplines we can practice to determine God’s heart regarding us.
1. Believe that God has a will for me in my life (Rom 12:1-2).
This very well-known verse says, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Paul is saying that God’s will (His heart’s desire) is what is “good and acceptable and perfect.” Notice these do not describe what His will is like (i.e. God’s “good” will); rather, they describe what is in God’s heart; His will is what is good for every believer.
This is shown in 1 Pet 4:2-3 points out “that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles–when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.” We need to move beyond living for our own satisfaction and being living for the desires of God’s heart.
2. Be continually in a state of listening to God (Ps 85:8-9).
The Psalmist says, “I will hear what God the Lord will speak, For He will speak peace To His people and to His saints; But let them not turn back to folly. Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, That glory may dwell in our land.” In this passage, “glory” means the manifestation of His presence (cf. Isa. 60:1-2; Zech. 2:5).He realized his need to listen to God, through His word. Then he was convinced he see God’s salvation and His glory filling the land. These ideas expressed in God’s revelation to Israel find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ. This promise of peace and salvation through the glory of the One who dwells among men may have been in John’s mind when he wrote John 1:14. Therefore, we need to pattern our lives after what God revealed to us in the Bible.
3. Be continually in a state of pursuing the things of God (1 Tim 6:11).
This passage says, “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.” Paul began this concluding section of the epistle by encouraging Timothy to live the life God had prepared for him. The words “but you” are designed to draw a distinction between Timothy the “some people” of the previous verse who chased after riches. God was calling Timothy to be the opposite of the people of the world. He was to flee from their activities and to chase after personal virtues that are of eternal value: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Consider how closely this list complements the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and the qualifications of elders (1 Tim. 3:1-3).
4. Appeal to God’s glory for guidance (Ps 23:3; 31:3; Prov 3:5-6).
Little has to be said about the importance of appealing to God’s glory for guidance. David wrote, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake” and “Therefore, for Your name’s sake, Lead me and guide me.” In Proverbs we read, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” We need to call upon God to lead us.
Finding God’s will is not a mystery that needs to be solved. His heart’s desire (His will) is that we seek His righteousness in our lives and we live to give Him all glory and honor. He will look after the things we do. If we trust in Him and call upon Him, He will direct our paths and we don’t need to second guess whether we are in His “will” or not.
His “will” is not contained in “what” we do, but “why” we do it. From my example above, I was asking the question the question about whether the Seminary was in God’s will or was it my will. That is the wrong question. God’s desire is for me to serve and glorify Him. If my motivation in working toward the development of the Seminary is done to serve God and train people in righteousness, then it is His heart’s desire that it be done well.