“What is God’s will for my life?” This question consumes the minds of many believers perpetually. Taught from birth to seek God’s will in everything, many find themselves stuck on major (or minor) decisions trying to discern what God wants them to do.
I come to free you.
Okay, as dramatically as I imagine saying that in my head, I’m really only trying to point out a Biblical truth which actually is somewhat liberating. Ready for it? Here it goes.
You don’t need to constantly seek out “God’s will”—i.e. mysterious plans God has for your future—to actually be in God’s will.
What is the meaning of this? See, we have to be careful about how we conceive of God’s will. As given in Scripture, God’s will does not refer to the secret plans of the future which God has ready for us. In popular usage, though, people seem to imagine that God’s will is just that: a secret plan for their future which they are obligated to follow but can only be found out by intently praying and listening to God (a suspiciously Gnostic-sounding notion). Yet when the Bible speaks of God’s will, it is actually pretty clear cut. For example, 1 Thessalonians is one of a handful of places in Scripture which explicitly speaks of God’s will for us:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-6
In this case, we are given specific instructions that are called “God’s will for us.” Avoid sexual immorality. Control your body in a holy and honorable way. Don’t wrong or take advantage of each other. Not much is left to the imagination, or left to be sought out by prayer.
People seem to imagine that God’s will is a secret plan for their future which they are obligated to follow but can only be found out by intently praying and listening to God.
See, the idea we have of “phoning home” to God to figure out what we need to do is just not right. Consider parents: do they raise their children to call them every time they need to make a decision, or do they raise them to have the wisdom and teaching needed to make good decisions on their own? Likewise, God is not interested in teaching us to sit around waiting for Him to tell us everything to do, but instead wants us to grow in wisdom and love so that we can make the right decisions on our own using the tools He has given us.
Having said this, I want to give a simple, five-step method for finding God’s will for your life. It’s pretty straightforward, and I believe it honors the order God has given us for making decisions.
- Check with Scripture. The first and most basic step is to submit to the authority of Scripture. If you are trying to make a decision, start by verifying that what is in alignment with what God has revealed to us of His will. After all, everything we need to be told explicitly about God’s will can be found in Scripture. For a blatantly obvious example, if you are trying to decide whether to kill someone or not, you should know what to do as soon as you read “You shall not murder.” As a more practical example, if you are wondering whether you should give more to people in need, you may very well have your answer when you read, “God loves a cheerful giver.”
- Listen to your conscience. Sometimes you just know that something is wrong, even if you’re not sure why and you can rationalize it away. Don’t go that way. If you have that niggling voice of “no,” they don’t do it. On the flip side, sometimes you know you should be doing something, even if you’re good at convincing yourself otherwise. Don’t keep fighting it. When you already know what’s right or wrong, and you have already checked this out with Scripture, just do what’s right.
- Submit to the authorities over you. If something is okay with Scripture and with conscience, you still need to verify that it is right by the people God has put in authority over your. Maybe it’s okay Biblically and wouldn’t violate any dictate of conscience, but you shouldn’t share a beer with friends if you’re under 21 because that’s illegal. And perhaps there is no reason why it should be wrong to watch Frozen 18 times in one week, but if your parents tell you to knock it off you need to obey them.
- Use your brain. If you still have options after checking with Scripture, conscience, and your authorities, now it’s time to check with your own brain. Be reasonable about your decisions. Don’t be an idiot. Sure, maybe the Bible doesn’t say “Do not jump off of a bridge using rubber bands for a bungee cord,” but God did give you reason, and reason should tell you to stop. And honestly, sometimes this can be the most difficult step, because sometimes you just can’t seem to figure out what is the smartest choice (I’m thinking especially of picking a college here). I should also point out that following your reason isn’t always the same as doing what intuitively makes sense. For example, selling everything you have and giving to the poor may not seem to make any sense, but when you reason it out and realize that you will gain better treasures in Heaven, the rational choice is to give.
- Follow your heart. What? Did I really just say that? Yes, I did, but I put it as the last step for good reason. Seriously, if something is good with Scripture, checks out with your conscience, leaves you in good standing with your authorities, and is a reasonable decision, then you should just do what you want with it. Now, just because you want something or feel something doesn’t mean you can disregard the higher priorities in this process, but if it makes it all the way down to this step 5, just do what you want to do. There is seriously no reason not to.
At the end of this, you’ve probably found God’s will. Of course, it’s possible that you still missed it. Maybe you messed up on the way down, or maybe God’s planning something that wasn’t even on your radar before. But in the former situation, God gives us grace and will work it out for your good. In the latter situation, I am convinced that God will control the doors. If what you conclude by the end of this process isn’t what God wants, you are not doing wrong; instead, God will open the doors He wants open and close the doors He wants closed until you end up where He wishes. But if you really follow through these things well, you cannot go wrong in any meaningful way.
Of course, just because you try to go this route doesn’t mean you will find it easy. Steps 4 and 5 can be particularly difficult sometimes. That’s okay. When we get stuck, God has an answer. See, the ability to navigate these steps and arrive at a good decision has a name: wisdom. Wisdom is what allows us to see things properly so that we understand what we should do. It will help you with every step of this process, and fortunately God has promised to provide us with it if we ask Him. So if you need help making a decision, the solution isn’t necessarily to pray, “God, tell me what to do” or “God, show me Your will,” but instead “God, give me wisdom to make good decisions.” This, after all, is why wisdom is “more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold” (Proverbs 3:14).