Determining which way to turn does not have to be a mystery for the believer. By asking systematic questions, we can align our decisions with God's plan and purpose for our life.
As a pastor, one of the most common questions I hear is, "How can I know the will of God?" People ask this not only when they are trying to determine the overall direction their life should take, but also regarding smaller daily decisions they face. Many Christians are confused about whether it is possible to know the Father's will or if He even has a specific will for their lives.
When people are uncertain of the Lord's direction, they often think, I will just do my best and hope it all works out. But that is not God's best. He has a willâ€”that is, a specific desire, plan, and purposeâ€”for every one of His children. Jeremiah 29:11-13 clearly shows that His plan is for our good, and we can discover it if we wholeheartedly seek it. Remember that God is a planner, not a reactor. He planned Creation and Messiah's arrival as well as our redemption, resurrection, and rewards. After such precise planning, the Lord would not tell humanity, "Just do the best you can." We could never fulfill His unique plan for us individually if left to our own devices.
Be assured: you can know God's will, and you can know it for sure. The Lord does not play games with His children by hiding His thoughts from us. One of His greatest desires for us is that we live out His plan for our lives. And yet, people often agonize about whether or not they have somehow stepped outside of God's will or are missing the mark without knowing it.
You do not have to fret, because you can know with total certainty what God's will is for every circumstance of your life. While He may not disclose each detail about the situations you face, Scripture reveals specific steps you can take in order to learn and fulfill His will for your life.
In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul wrote that he was praying for them to be "filled with the knowledge of [God's] will" (Colossians 1:9), not simply to have some vague idea about what the Lord had in mind. To be filled with this knowledge means that the will of God permeates every single aspect of what we think, do, and say. His will is to be the grid through which we sift each motivation, action, and circumstance of life. In other words, no matter what we are involved inâ€”whether it concerns family, finances, relationships, health, or faithâ€”our continual thought should be, Father, what would You have me to do? What is the wise course of action? Unless we know and follow His plan, we will miss the wondrous blessings He has in store for us.
In order to discern what God desires for your life, it is helpful to understand that His will has two aspects. First, His determined will include those things that are unchangeableâ€”God's overruling sovereignty will see to it that nothing deters these occurrences. Fulfillment of prophecy and divine promises are examples of His determined will. Second, His desired will involves everything He wants for you that, with your limited free will, you are able to turn down. Both aspects of God's will represent His very best for us.
The benefits of obeying the Lord's will and the consequences of ignoring it are compelling reasons to search out God's desires for your life. When making big decisions, consider the following questions:
IS IT CONSISTENT WITH THE BIBLE? Look for Scripture that either indicates this is the right way to go or gives you reason not to proceed. Even if you cannot find verses describing a situation comparable to yours, look for applicable truths. God's Word is full of life principles; a single passage can offer wisdom that applies to many circumstances. Psalm 119:11says, "Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You." In other words, Scripture is a guide, but in order to be useful, it must be read, and its wisdom must be stored in your heart.
IS THIS A WISE DECISION? To answer this question, you must ask several others: What are the future consequences? Am I rushing into something? Where is this going to take me? Will it create debt? Will it harm anyone? As you ask these questions, the Holy Spirit will bear witness to your spirit whether moving ahead is right or wrong. But answer these questions honestlyâ€”Satan wants to help program your mind so that you will rationalize and conclude that what you want to do is okay.
CAN I HONESTLY ASK GOD TO ENABLE ME TO ACHIEVE THIS? Some people will tell you it is okay to ask God for anything, but that is not the case. For example, even if you need money badly, you cannot ask God to permit a deceptive or fraudulent scheme. Remember, anything you acquire outside of God's will sooner or later turns to ashes.
DO I HAVE GENUINE PEACE ABOUT THIS? Colossians 3:15 says, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts." But what does it mean to have peace? Some people "pray" about their decisions without giving God an opportunity to respond. They simply talk about their own desires and assume they have a divine go-ahead, but that is not seeking the mind of Godâ€”you cannot force peace. You can, however, know when it is genuine. As you lie down at night and have a moment to be still, bring your concern before the Lord. If there isn't a ripple in your heart, your conscience and emotions are saying nothing but "yes," and you understand God to be saying "yes," then you have perfect peace. Should you sense anything else, stop and wait.
Sometimes what you desire is actually in God's will, but not for the present moment. Until His timing is right, you will not experience peace about proceeding. An answer of "no" or "wait" might seem frustrating if you desperately want something. But think about how safe we are as believers. God will never lie to us or mislead us. He will always guide us in the direction that is in our best interest, and we need to be wise enough to follow. He simply will not give us any peace about something that is not His willâ€”if He did, we would not be able to trust Him.
DOES THIS FIT WHO I AM AS A FOLLOWER OF JESUS? Some things just do not fit a child of God. For example, the Bible says that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), so anything that is physically harmful is not the will of God. Divine discipline comes in different forms: if we disobey the laws of health, we will suffer the consequences, even if we are obedient in other ways. Another area of concern is the believer's testimony. The way we respond to other peopleâ€”whether they are family, coworkers, or waiters serving our mealâ€”should be consistent with the fact that we belong to Christ and reflect Him to the world. In other words, if we claim to be Christians, it would not be fitting to hold a grudge, gossip, have inappropriate relationships, or express unduly harsh criticism.
DOES THIS FIT GOD'S OVERALL PLAN FOR MY LIFE? We need to consider how our thinking, conduct, and here-and-now decisions coincide with the Lord's long-range plans for us. This is why we must teach our children to be very careful about how they decide upon a vocation, choose a marriage partner, and make all the other major decisions of life. In each instance, the question is, Does this fit God's purpose for my life? It would be one thing if the Lord left all choices up to us; then we would be free to make every decision without considering His will on the matter. But He has a specific plan for each believer, and it is for our best because He is a loving, all-knowing, all-wise Father.
WILL THIS DECISION HONOR GOD? That is, Am I showing reverence and respect for the heavenly Father by taking this course of action? Is it evident by what I am doing that I acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Lord and master of my life? Our actions and attitudes should be in keeping with who we know God to be rather than a statement that we are "doing our own thing." Our disobedience surely grieves the heart of God, but He is not the only one who notices. The world watches Christians to see if they are consistent or hypocritical, so it is extremely important that our decisions reflect an obedient heart toward God.
THESE SEVEN QUESTIONS ARE SIMPLE, BUT WHEN CONSIDERED HONESTLY, THEY REVEAL A LOT ABOUT WHAT IS IN YOUR OWN HEART. They also help you to discover the heart of God. Once you know the Lord's mind on a matter, there is one final question to ask yourself: Now that I know the Father's will, am I willing to obey His plan? Following God can be costly ( Luke 14:26-33)â€”you may be misunderstood, criticized, or penalized in some way. But no matter what the Lord may see fit to do with your life, His plan is always the best possible course of action. By obeying Him and watching Him work, you will see how faithful He is.
If you are in the process of making a difficult decision and are frightened about the consequences, remember that you have entrusted your life to a loving heavenly Father who plans only the best, promises only the best, and provides only the best. You simply cannot lose when you obey the will of God.