and Doing God’s Will
In all my years as a Christian, the
one issue that has emerged more frequently than any other has been:
how do I know and fulfill God’s will for my life? Like
everyone else, Christians look for direction. They know there is a
spiritual dimension to life and that God wants them to walk in
fellowship with Him, but they also know they cannot legitimately
resort to the world’s ways of obtaining guidance, such as
horoscopes or seers. Christians sense that they are called to live
according to a higher purpose than their own.
The plethora of books available in the
market about knowing God’s will can be confusing. Should we
look for “signs” (Moses was shown signs)? Should we put
out fleeces (Gideon used fleeces)? What are harbour lights? Does it
really matter? Is the whole issue beyond our control anyway, because
God’s sovereignty is inevitably going to prevail? Is talking
about God’s will being too “spiritual” in the first
place? Or superstitious? Is it a physical or transcendental state?
Should we not pragmatically live on and just see what happens? What
distinguishes a Christian from an unbeliever in such issues as: What
should I study? Whom should I marry? What am I going to do with the
rest of my life? What are the consequences of straying from God’s
purpose? If I fall down, is there a way back?>
God’s will is for all His
Every Christian, regardless of age or
denomination, should be seeking to understand the will of God for
their lives. God has a plan for you, irrespective of your
background, faculties, temperament or disposition. You can’t
change yesterday, but you can choose to obey Him today. One of the
greatest joys you can have, as a Christian, is the assurance that you
are in the centre of His will. Doubt is dispelled, indifference is
cast out, because you know you are building something that will last
Many people seem to think that God
only speaks to pastors, priests and other luminaries of the church.
But He has a purpose for the student, the salesman, the plumber and
the housewife as well. His will isn’t limited to a certain
kind of person or activity. We are instructed in the Bible to
cultivate wisdom and discernment (Proverbs 4:5-8). We are told to
walk wisely and make the most of our time (Ephesians 5:15-16). God
is not the author of confusion, so ascertaining and living within His
plan are not beyond the reach of “ordinary” Christians.
God is keen for all Hs people to know
His will. If you are a parent, you never say to your children,
“There is something I want you to do. It is very important.
But, there’s one catch. I’m not going to tell you what
it is.” No loving parent would ever say that. God is the
perfect Father and he doesn’t capriciously hide His will from
us either. Life isn’t like a cosmic Easter egg hunt. You
don’t “discover” the will of God, so much as
building a meaningful relationship with the Father. Everything that
Jesus did and said were the eternal will of God; and He didn’t
have to struggle to do it. He is our example.
What do we mean by “the will
There are at least three key ways we
can understand the will of God. First, there is His sovereign will,
what He does because He is God. He is overall charge. His Master
Plan is always carried out. He is the Creator and sustainer of life.
His purpose and design are seen in nature. The laws He has set in
creation obey him. Basically, He does what He likes.
Second, there is God’s moral
will regarding how we should live. There are some things God tells
us to do and other things He tells us not to do (John 2:15-17;
Matthew 7:21). Love is right; honesty is right; kindness is right;
they are all part of God’s character and will. But lying,
cheating and pride are wrong. God has fixed certain standards as to
how people should treat one another and the planet they inhabit.
That is why we have the Ten Commandments. Man has strayed from the
moral will of God (cf Isaiah 55:8, 9). Many people excuse their
sinful lifestyles, believing there is not a problem (Proverbs 14:12;
16:25; 21:2) because they do not subscribe to His standards. The
easiest way to do this is to simply deny that He exists. If there is
no Lawgiver, there is no law and we are abandoned to nihilism and
chaos. As Christians, we should do all we can to live according to
God’s moral will (unbelievers call us “hypocrites: if we
don’t), because it is the right thing to do.
The third way we understand what God
wants is His “particular will”. Jesus came to the earth
in God’s perfect time. He will come again in accordance with
God’s perfect time. He has a plan for you, just as He had a
plan for Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul (Acts 17:30,
31), and for other men and women in the Bible. There are no
accidents in God’s purpose. He wants us to be saved through
faith in Christ (Acts 17:30-31) and to be conformed to His image
(Romans 8:29). He wants you to know His plan for your life
decisions. The Bible teaches us that, as Christians, we are to live
under the authority of the Holy Spirit. These are all; aspects of
God’s specific will for our lives.
God loves us as individuals and has
promised to guide us. Some people are afraid to find the will of God
because of what they might be asked to do. That’s called not
trusting God’s integrity. But put yourself in His place. If a
son or daughter came to you and said, “I’ll do anything
you want me to do”, do you think you would take unfair
advantage of such generosity of spirit and make his or her life
miserable? Of course not. You love your children and you want what
is best for them. Don’t be afraid of the will of God. He is
good and He loves you. He may allow you to be tested (at times it
may feel He is pushing you to the limit of your endurance – 1
Corinthians 10:13), but that is so that you will grow as a Christian,
be conformed to His image and made even more ready to do His will.
Obedience is a matter of trust.
Having the right attitude
Having the right attitude is
important. Let’s consider a few aspects of what this means.
1. Having a desire to know and please
“Not my will, but yours be
done”. That was the heartbeat of Jesus’ prayer in the
Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22:42. Faced with the agony of
betrayal, torture and crucifixion he could have called it quits and
not gone through with God’s plan. The fact that Jesus went all
the way and laid down his life on the cross was because he had
maintained this attitude throughout his entire life and ministry
(John 5:30; 8:27-29). The first thing about knowing and having God’s
will become a reality in your life is to lay down your plan and
surrender to Him. Let Him deal with personal motives that are
inconsistent with (or in opposition to) His purpose (see Matthew
6:10; Psalm 27:4-5; 40:8). In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught
us that down here is a mess, but heaven has got it all together.
Experiences shows that our heartfelt
desires are often planted there by the Lord. We find that we enjoy
doing what is actually His will, because the vision to do it
originally came from Him. What He has been doing in the mean time
has been working in our hearts, preparing us to do what pleases Him.
You must earnestly, sincerely pray for God to guide you. To use a
human analogy, you report for duty as a Christian soldier, rather
than wait around for the Commander to find you and hope you are ready
to fall into line.
If you have been waiting a long time
for God to guide you, perhaps you need to consider how much time you
spend with Him in private. If you get along with the Lord in quiet
every day, praying and reading His word, you’ll soon hear Him
speaking to you.
2. Be ambitious for His glory
Jesus’ desire was always that
God be glorified in His life (John 12:20-30). To do God’s will
requires that we exchange our ambitions for His. Sound drastic?
Jesus used the analogy of a seed. Only as a seed dies and is buried
is it possible to produce a harvest. To do God’s will requires
yielding our lives to Him and dying to ourselves, so that we can live
3. Surrender to the Lordship of Christ
Jesus acknowledged that it can be hard
focusing on doing God’s will. But it was this that kept Him
going. He came to earth to carry out God’s purpose, so that
we, in turn, could learn to do His will. To do God’s will
means giving primary allegiance to His kingdom (the place where He is
king) and following Jesus’ lead (John 12:26). Investing our
lives for Christ is the most rewarding life of all (Mark 10:29-30).
“For me to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Galatians
2:20). This is total surrender.
4. Learn to trust God.
If you truly trust God, you will be
prepared to obey Him.
5. Be prepared to serve God where you
It doesn’t make sense planning
only for the future. Don’t build your life on hypothetical
situations, “if only” or “when the circumstances
are right”. That ideal day may never come. Make every day
count for Christ, where you are, with the tools God has placed in
your hand for the moment. As you are faithful with little, God will
entrust you with much. For each person the options will differ.
They may involve working in industry, business, public service,
education, at home, or in full-time Christian work.
6. Learn to practice obedience
God has promised guidance. That
guidance has certain provisions that come into play. You must be
prepared to obey Him. When Saul first saw Jesus, he asked, “Lord,
what do you want me to do?” (Acts 9:6). Saul rightly supposed
that God had something in mind. Unfortunately, many Christians don’t
bother asking. They simply expect God to rubber-stamp the plans they
have already made. It is as if they had designed the house and now
they want to architect and building inspectors to put their seals of
approval on it without looking too closely. We must never forget
that it is God who is building the house. If you really want Him to
guide you, you will have to be willing to listen to Him and obey
whatever He calls you to do. If you learn how to be obedient in
“small things”, larger situations will not unduly test
you, because you will have learned how to grasp what God is saying to
7. Let God teach you meekness
When Paul responded with, “What
do you want me to do”, he displayed a sense of teachability.
He allowed God to be in control. Psalm 25:9 says, “The meek He
will guide”. If you aren’t meek (humble, teachable,
submitted to Him), you will have trouble knowing and complying with
His will. Your first reaction will probably be to argue with Him.
There are too many arguers. God resists proud people (James 4:6).
You are more likely to be receptive to God’s direction for your
life when you wait for Him and have an open and dependant heart.
8. Put your whole self into it
When you have a desire to please God,
and take a delight in it, live as though you are in His presence and
have a relationship with the Holy Spirit, your desires will begin to
align with God’s purpose (Psalm 37:4). Then you can pray in
line with God’s will and your prayers will be answered.
Knowing the will of God is both a
process and a posture. It is a process because we are ever seeking
to know God’s will in a practical sense (“How should I
live?”) and God is revealing it to us. It is a posture,
because we need to be in a position of prayer and have an attitude of
obedience. As we embark on this road, we will know God’s
wishes every day.
God’s will is a relationship,
not a requirement or a roadmap. When the Children of Israel wandered
in the wilderness, He didn’t provide a map showing them where
to go and send them off with a wave and a compass, to follow their
own techniques and devices. He went with them, providing a pillar of
fire by night and cloud by day, as tangible signs that His presence
was with them. When the fire or cloud moved, they followed. He set
up a relationship with the people. Many Christians want God to send
them a complete plan, from A to B, that will outline everything they
will see along the way, but that is not how life works. That would
take all the romance and excitement (not to mention the challenge)
out of the Christian walk.
Biblical principles for Divine
In addition to all of the above, I
believe the following general principles apply to knowing the will of
God experientially in our lives.
1, God has revealed His will for our
lives through the Bible
The Bible is a record of God and man
in relationship with one another. It is a book of principles for
living based on a Person, not a manual of regulations (Psalm
119:105). Go to the Bible; see what He has to say about your
circumstances. No “revelation” will ever contradict
God’s Word. It is final, our ultimate authority about
salvation, healing, the Holy Spirit, prosperity and eternal life; it
provides practical guidance on such important areas as marriage and
family, industrial relations, Christian relationships, holy living,
dealing with the environment, and so on. Put it into practice (James
2. God has given us the gifts we need
Start by looking at the gifts and
talents you have. God created us all with talents, variable
personalities and circumstances, so that we can wisely carry out His
3. The Holy Spirit will guide you as
you walk with Him
God often speaks to us with a “still
small voice” (Isaiah 30:21). The Holy Spirit will speak to you
and confirm His will to you. Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit (Mark
12:12). He intercedes for us according to the will of God (Romans
8:26, 27). The Spirit leads the people of God. If our minds are
under the direction of the Spirit, we will be wise and knowledgeable
about what God wants. If we are not Spirit-controlled, we will not
be able to operate according to the “mind of Christ”, but
the self-centred mind of our old nature.
It is important not to rely on
feelings alone. Impressions can come from God or another source,
such as Satan, demons, an angel, human emotions, hormone imbalances,
insomnia, medication, fear, excitement, or an upset stomach. Sinful
impressions (temptations) can be exposed for what they are by a
Spirit-sensitized conscience and the Word of God. Don’t listen
to “voices” that are inconsistent with God’s Word,
no matter how plausible they sound. Impressions are not necessarily
valid. We must learn to de-code what we feel.
It sounds impressive to say, “The
Lord told me” or “The Lord led me”, but remember
that God has been blamed for the most outlandish actions by people
claiming they were acting in His name. Inverted pride can be
confused with God’s will. I have had people tell me God gave
them secret devices to save them from the harmful effects of
Martians, commanded them to claim sovereign states in His name and
asked me to tell the Prime Minister that they were divine messengers
commissioned by the Holy Spirit. As you develop a close relationship
with God you will be able to distinguish between your emotions, the
work of the enemy and the genuine work of the Holy Spirit.
4. Circumstances can be a good guide
Circumstances often give you insights
into God’s will. He opens doors that no one can close
(Revelation 3:7, 8). Sometimes you will find that certain courses of
action are simply not possible; doors are closed. If God has shut
the door, don’t fight it. A major part of serving God is
learning to operate positively within a given set of circumstances.
When those circumstances start to line up, check what God has been
revealing by other means (Psalm 138:8).
5, The counsel of mature Christians
Another source of information and
practical assistance in trying to determine God’s will or an
appropriate choice is other people, especially more mature
Christians. These might be a pastor, teacher, friend, relative or
counsellor. God places spiritual leadership over us (Hebrews 13:7)
to help us. Talk to someone you respect and trust, someone whose
life you can observe and who displays an appropriate level of
maturity (Proverbs 24:6). Listen to the counsel of others. Get
their opinions. However, do not use their counsel or conclusions as
substitutes for seeking the Lord Himself. We are ultimately
accountable to God. Specific direction in the form of prophecy
should always be subjected to testing and scrutiny by the Body of
6. Learning comes through obedience
We must learn to obey God in the
little things. The Bible says that “obedience is better than
sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22b). If we obey in small things, it
is easier to do so with major decisions. Likewise, disobedience can
easily become a habit.
7. Supernatural guidance can be used
by God to show us the way
God sometimes uses supernatural means
to keep us in the centre of His purpose. These can include dreams
and visions, miracles, divine provision, spiritual gifts or direct
intervention in some other form. The same God who did this in Bible
times is alive and well and can do so today.
8. The peace of God
You can often sense God’s
approval in a peace of mind that is experienced after making a
decision, or a restlessness of spirit if your choice has been a poor
one. The Bible speaks of God’s “rest” (Hebrews 4).
There is a sense in which we can “rest” in faith that we
are in the centre of His will. Nevertheless, for reasons outlined
above, it is important not to rely on feelings alone, as these can be
very subjective. (It is hard to be objective when you are
We do well to act on what we know or
believe is right and then remain open to learning and growth as a
result of the decision. We can have confidence that we are on the
right track in doing God’s will when what we do springs from
God’s will; is based on obedience to the Gospel and the use of
spiritual gifts of which we have been made stewards; works towards
reconciliation, healing and beauty in the world, glorifies the Father
and is predicated on dependence on Jesus (John 15:5). Human
substitutes for God’s will always fall short of His purposes.
Where to start
Every Christian should take a
spiritual inventory to see whether they are living according to God’s
purpose. I want to encourage you to have a genuine desire to know
and operate in God’s will. Spend quality time in His Word.
Seek the wise counsel of older Christians. Listen carefully for the
Spirit’s leading. Have an active prayer life. Don’t
just fold your hands and wait for something to happen. God doesn’t
work for you – He works with you. Be yielded to the Lord as
you ask Him to guide you.
What if you make a mistake? We can
all learn through out mistakes, but it is preferable to learn the
right lessons from the beginning. If you do slip up, try to
understand what went wrong. Don’t sink into condemnation (that
will only serve to compound the issues) but re-commit your life and
decisions to Christ and listen to Him as He lovingly guides you to
the next step.
Take the opportunity God is giving