How Do We Know God's Will?

I've been thinking lately about how differently I look at God's will now than I did when I came to Christ in high school.

When I was a brand new Christian in 1970, I read the books and listened to the tapes about finding God's will. After a few years of this, I began to realize that the assumption seemed to be that God's will was lost. We were looking for it as if it were buried treasure.

But that didn't make sense. Wouldn't God want us to know His will? Why would He hide it from us. It was as if we were assuming God is a Cosmic Easter Bunny who hides the eggs and maybe says "You're getting warmer," and sometimes we stumble onto them, but we never know whether we've found them all or not.

In talking with my friends, most of whom (unlike me) had grown up in Christian homes, I found that many assumed God's will was revealed in a dramatic experience or sudden revelation. A voice that says "Go on the Mexico trip this summer" or "Ask Sarah to the prom."

Some thought God's will was something to be afraid of. One girl said, "I hate spiders and humidity so I just know God's going to send me to some equatorial jungle in South America."

Others thought, as many still do, that God's will is nothing but the circumstances that come your way. "I've been offered a job there, so it must be God's will." Or, "he asked me out, so it must be God's will," or "the bank approved my loan application so it must be God's will."

Is God's will mainly about lots of personal details, including school, job, who to date, where to live, etc.? Or is it about something else? Scripture, I think, gives some clear answers. (These passages are worth looking up.)

God's primary will for lost people is that they turn to Christ and be saved. (2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:3-4).

Once we're saved, God has a further will for our lives. There are certain things He wants us to do and not do—He has actually laid out for us certain good works to do to His glory (Eph. 2:9-10). God's will is something for us to do, not just to believe or affirm (Mk. 3:31-35; 1 Jn. 2:17).

Because God loves us, His will for us is in our best interests too. Where God wants us is the very best place to be, the only safe place. So you're far better off in that equatorial jungle inside of God's will, than in the safest imaginable location outside of God's will.

What is to God's glory is also for our good (Matt. 16:26; 25:21; Lk. 2:10; Jn. 16:7; 1 Cor. 7:35; Eph. 6:8). If God wants you in that jungle, you wouldn't be happy anywhere else!

God wants us to know His will. He's not cruel. Because he loves us he gives us his Word, the Road Map, so we don't have to grope in darkness. (1 Cor. 2:9-10; Ps. 119:105)

God's will is that we be sexually pure (1 Thess. 4:3-7). This extends to fleeing from temptation (1 Cor. 6:18) and keeping our bodies from impurity. It also includes keeping our minds pure (Matt. 15:19-20; 5:28; Prov. 4:23; Ps. 119:37; Phil. 4:8).

God says those who don't know His will are unwise, and it is God's will that we be filled with and controlled by his Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:17-18).

James 1:5 says we don't have wisdom because we don't ask for it—so prayer is critical in seeking and living the will of God. When we are controlled by the Spirit, we show it in certain ways. We will not commit the acts of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:19-21), but will produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). When in God's will, we'll participate in worshipping the Lord, teaching each other, giving thanks to God and serving others (Eph. 5:17-33).

God's will is that we live in submission to God-given authority, that others may see our willingness to humble ourselves as servants (1 Pet. 2:13-15). It also means we recognize God as our highest authority and put obedience to Him above obedience to men (Acts 4:18-20).

Contrary to the false claims of the health and wealth gospel, sometimes God's will is that we go through difficult times, even suffering, to accomplish his purpose in us and through us (1 Pet. 3:17). For this reason we should not be surprised by suffering (1 Peter 4:19).

The Bible is the revealed will of God. If you want to live in his will, then "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col. 3:16). Fill your heart and mind with the Word of God, trust in His empowerment to obey Him, and confess and repent when you disobey and fail. If you do this, you will be living in the will of God.

So, to summarize, the will of God is not wrapped up in the details of what we do, but the character of who we are. It is not just the large choices, but the daily small choices that cumulatively build us into who God wants (wills) us to be. God cares about the little things and His will can include details, but these are secondary. What is primary is that we choose to follow his clear direction in spiritual and moral arenas. Then all the details fall into place from there.

"Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart" (Ps. 37:4). Augustine said, "Love God and do as you please." Because if you're really loving God, you want to do what pleases Him.

For me, over the years knowing the will of God has become much easier. It's not that I have to know exactly where to go, but that when I go anywhere I ask Him for direction, seek to surrender each day to Him, and ask Him to bring into my life those divine appointments that make life so interesting. In the last several days I've had them with a tennis player (I coach high school boys), a coach at a match, a bus driver, a guy in a parking lot, and a neighbor whose dog was on the loose. I often have them in stores and restaurants and on airplanes.

God appoints the times and places we live (Acts 17), and is a Master of the exact timing that's the beauty of divine appointments. (If Nanci and I had walked in the restaurant sixty seconds earlier or later I wouldn't have had the opportunity to help the woman get the big bag and two children to her car, and I wouldn't have been able to give her one of my books that shares the gospel. One day I'll get to hear the rest of the story.)

God's will is more than a duty; it's a joyful opportunity. What a privilege to serve Him. I want to know Christ, like Paul said in Philippians 3. When you know Christ, when you fellowship with His people, and when you saturate yourself in His Word, knowing God's will becomes less mysterious, and tends to follow naturally (or supernaturally, depending on how you look at it). He tugs on your heart, and you say yes. And even our saying yes is a work of grace.

Photo by Ali Kazal on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries