Knowing God’s will is key to living a life that is both blessed and a blessing. But how do we know what His will is? Unlike the characters of The Race, we don’t have electronic devices that make His voice audible to us, so His leading isn’t always as easy to perceive as we’d like.
In “Determining the Will of God,” Pastor Doug Batchelor presents the most complete discussion of this topic that I’ve found to date. In less than an hour, he examines both trustworthy and questionable methods of learning God’s will, as well as some general principles to be aware of. I’ll summarize the trustworthy methods, but you can watch or listen to this talk for yourself here:
Trustworthy methods of learning God’s will:
1. Pray for a Willing Heart. God speaks to those who truly want to know His will (Psalm 25:9). In his book, How to Know God’s Will in Your Life, Morris Venden talks about having no will of your own on the matter under consideration. That’s not to say you have no preference, but you should seek a place in which you’re fully surrendered to God and truly willing to go in whichever direction He indicates.
2. Consult God’s Word. We can all safely guide our lives by the absolute expressions of God’s will found in the Bible (Psalm 119:105). For example, He clearly says that He wants everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9), so we don’t have to wonder if that’s His will for us individually.
The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) are another such absolute expression of God’s will. In them, He revealed certain basic laws of behavior that apply to all humans. Yet some Christians feel that these laws can be suspended simply because something else “feels right” to them. The wayward wife says, “I know he’s not my husband, but it feels so right when I’m with him—I just know God meant for us to be together.”
As a gynecologist, I’ve often seen the pain such false reasoning brings to families, even Christian families. God won’t force His will on us. He’ll let us go our own way if we insist on it. But we shouldn’t then wonder at the pain that results from our stubbornness, much less blame Him for it. Rationalizing won’t suspend the laws of human behavior or the laws of health any more than it will suspend the law of gravity.
3. Be Faithful to His Revealed Will. If we aren’t following the path that God has already outlined, He’s not likely to shine any light farther down the path (Matt 13:12; John 12:35). So if you feel like you’re at an impasse, perhaps you need to ask, “Am I doing what He’s already shown me to do?”
4. Obtain Christian Counsel (Prov. 11:14). Godly friends may be able to see your situation from a different perspective or to see talents/possibilities in you that you’re unaware of. When looking for counselors, look for Christians who seem to have their lives together, people in whom you see the fruit of the Spirit.
5. Observe/Pray for Providences. God may sometimes arrange events (e.g., Ruth gleaning in Boaz’s field), or open and close doors (2 Cor. 2:12) to point us in the right direction.
6. Pray. (This list isn’t in any particular order, by the way.) Throughout the Bible, God shows a pattern of revealing His will to those who ask Him to (Gen 18:17; Matt 7:7-8; John 15:15; 1 John 5:14-15).
7. Fast and Pray. In some cases, particularly when it comes to big or difficult decisions, fasting may be helpful in drawing closer to God and becoming more attuned to His leading (2 Chr 20:3-4; Acts 13:2-3).
8. Have Faith—on two fronts. First, have faith that God will show you His will (Prov 3:5-6). Second, have faith that He will strengthen you to accomplish His will once revealed (Phil 4:13).
9. Do the Safe Thing. If God’s leading isn’t 100 percent clear, move toward the safest alternative. In other words, don’t take unnecessary risks.
10. Make Sure the Decision Brings Glory to God (1 Cor 10:31; Matt 6:33). Your focus should be on God’s glory—not your own.
11. Consider Others. If the decision will bring changes to others’ lives—for example, family members or roommates—bring them into your decision-making process (Rom 14:7; Gal 5:14)
12. Pray for and be aware of the Holy Spirit’s Guidance (Isa 30:21). Learning to listen for the Spirit’s voice is a topic all to itself. But His voice becomes more familiar—and, therefore, easier to hear—as we mature in our spiritual walk. Once again, a key to recognizing the Spirit’s voice is understanding that He will never lead us in a path that opposes God’s will as clearly expressed in His Word. (Other spirits certainly will, though.)
13. Be Patient. David repeatedly advises us to “wait on the Lord” (e.g. Ps. 27:14). In our hurry-up society, waiting can be a difficult skill to learn. But sometimes God simply doesn’t answer our requests right away because He wants us to stay put for a while. Maybe we need to learn something before He can answer us. Maybe He’s planning to bring someone to us or to bring an opportunity into our lives. Maybe He wants us to simply stand by and watch while He solves the problem Himself (Exod 14:13; 2 Chr 20:17). In any case, if we try to run ahead of Him, we’ll mess up His perfect plan.
14. Tally the Evidence. If you feel as though God hasn’t given you a clear answer, try going through each of these categories and specifically looking for how God is speaking through each one. You may see quieter evidence of a clear pathway in the pattern that emerges (Deut 19:15; Matt 18:16).
15. What is Your Heart’s Desire? Even Christians seem to feel that following God’s leading must be difficult and disagreeable. But this notion isn’t biblical. Rather, our heart’s desires line up more and more closely with His will as we abide in Him (Rom 12:2; John 15:7-11). If we feel a passion for a particular ministry, it’s quite likely that God has implanted that passion within our hearts. Not only do we find our greatest joy in following these desires, but God finds great joy in fulfilling them (Ps 21:2; 20:4; 37:4).
Learning God’s will should not be an occasional pursuit. Rather, we should be constantly looking for indications of His will—constantly recalibrating, as Pastor Batchelor puts it—to make sure that we stay in the center of His will at all times.