Finding God’s will for your life

My oldest son is in a Sunday School class for young adults, and he says quite often guest teachers who come will speak on the topic of finding God’s will for your life. That age group is in the midst of or on the brink of making major life decisions, so it makes sense that a speaker would think that’s the kind of information they need to know. And they do — but it does get tiring hearing it over and over again with few explorations from the rest of God’s Word, and he was frustrated that so often the advice was to simply read your Bible, pray, and be willing to do whatever God wants you to do.

Those are the most important and basic components. But there are other considerations and practical helps as well.

A few years ago it was a “hot topic” in many churches that perhaps God doesn’t have a specific will for your life (what line of work, where to live, whom to marry, etc.): perhaps He leaves the choices to you. Proponents of that line of thinking would say something like, “Do we really believe God has a will for every part of our day, even down to what cereal we eat?” And because it seemed ridiculous to them to think that God wouldn’t expect us to use the powers of reason He gave us to make those kinds of decisions, it seemed to follow that He would expect us to do the same with life’s major decisions.

God did give us powers of reason and expects us to use them. In the December 6 reading of Our Daily Walk by F. B. Meyer, he writes:

There is every reason why we should employ the faculties of judgment and choice. When Samuel sent the young Saul away, he said, “Thou shalt do as occasion shall serve thee”; we are also told of Peter, that when the angel left him, he considered the matter, and came to Mary’s house.

But God’s purpose is behind all human decisions. There must be room for man to devise his steps, else we should become automatons. But all our volitions and choices must be ultimately subjected to the Rule and Will of the Most High. Let us commit our works and ways to God. We must roll our burden and ourselves on our faithful Creator.

While it is true that God expects us to use the minds He gave us,  there are too many instances of God’s specific will in the Bible to say He doesn’t ever have such. He wanted David, not his brothers, to be king; He wanted Solomon, not David, to build the temple; He wanted Mary to bear the Christ child; He directed Paul away from a specific area in his missions trip, etc..

Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart devises his way: but the Lord directs his steps.” I think the key must be along the lines of praying and seeking God’s will, asking Him to guide in choices and decisions.

It would be really nice if we could go to an oracle or prophet like they did in Old Testament times, or hear the direct voice of God as some did in Scripture, but God does not usually choose to reveal His will in those ways these days. Why? I am not sure of all the reasons, but I think one must be that in the process of seeking His will we draw nearer to Him, and we evaluate and pray over aspects of our life that we might not otherwise.

What follows is not a scholarly treatise but rather the outworking of my own thoughts on the matter.

Steps to finding God’s will

Read your Bible and pray. 🙂 OK, I did say that was basic. That does not mean we’ll find the name of the college, major, or spouse for our lives written either explicitly or in code there. But the more we’re walking with Him, aware of what He has already revealed and how He has worked in other people’s lives, getting to know Him better, in tune with how He thinks, the more easily He can lead us, and the more we’ll have the basis for making godly decisions in our own thinking.

Conversely, Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” If we’re taking in more of what the unsaved world says than what God says, it stands to reason that our thinking will be colored by them and not by Him.

Be willing to do whatever God wants. This is basic as well. In John 7:17 Jesus said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” Though this verse is talking about doctrine, I think the principle is true as well that if we’re willing to do His will, He will be willing to show us. There have been instances where God showed His will to someone who was unwilling — Moses and Jonah are two that come to mind — but overall it is easier if one is willing at the outset.

What do you want to do? This is actually a little trickier than it sounds. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight thyself also in the LORD: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” That doesn’t mean He will give you everything your little heart desires, because He knows some things you want would not be good for you. But if you’re truly delighting in Him, He will place the right desires within your heart. And it only stands to reason that whatever He wants you to do, He will give you an inclination toward, an aptitude for. But the tricky part is that sometimes you don’t have the desire to do what He wants you to. Moses comes to mind again as does Jeremiah. As they obeyed God, He did transform their desires. But there are times when what God wants you to do seems daunting, and it takes trust that He will give the enabling you know you don’t have yet.

Ask others. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” A parent, trusted teacher, pastor, or a mature friend (not the one who is going to tell you what you want to hear) can give you insight into what they think your aptitudes are. Some schools (and probably other places) have tests that you can take to help ascertain where your skills lie.

Try different things. This will give you experience in different areas which will help reveal where your gifts and talents are as well as help you develop needed skills.

For example, for years my husband and I worked with the children’s ministry in our church when our children were in it. He was really good at it; I did not enjoy it so much, but I could do it, and I did like that it was something we could do as a family. But one year the secretary of the organization asked for my help, and I discovered I loved the behind the scenes organizational work. I felt like I finally found my niche for that time in my life: I could still participate with my family, but in a way that was better suited to my particular personality and gifts.

Serve faithfully where you are. Joseph could not have known, as a favored son, as a servant, or as a prisoner, that one day he would be second in command to Pharaoh, but in every situation he did his best. Even in prison he manifested a cheerful attitude, a concern for others and a dependence on God. David could not have known, as a young shepherd boy, that one day he would be the king of Israel, but his early experiences gave him vital training that would translate into being a good leader as well as time to meditate on the things of the Lord and get to know Him in a way that was foundational to the rest of his life.

Another aspect of this principle is the saying that “It is easier to steer a car that is moving than one that is parked.” There are times to be still, to get alone and pray and think, to wait, but often God reveals His will while we’re faithfully doing the job at hand. The Biblical figures I’ve mentioned above as well as most of the prophets and disciples were all “called” in that way. Abraham’s servant, when sent to find a bride for Isaac, testified, “I being in the way, the LORD led me” (Genesis 24:27).

Open doors. Explore the possibilities that are open to you. Though we’re blessed to have multitudes of opportunities and freedom to choose (in the sense of not being expected to follow our ancestors in a certain trade), sometimes the wide array of choices can make it even harder to narrow down what options we should pursue. But as you search for a job, for example, you explore the options at hand, whether through the local want ads or job recruitment businesses or sites or personal leads from people you know, sift and sort through them until you find a few that seem to click with you, and then follow those possibilities as far as you can until you have some idea whether or not they are for you. An open door doesn’t necessarily mean you should keep going until you go through it, but it is a good indicator; likewise a closed door is a pretty good indicator that that job or possibility was not for you, but then again, it may just mean that the time is not right yet.

Check for “blockage” in your communication with the Lord. There are some things that hinder our prayers from being answered.

Often people speak of having “a peace” about a certain decision as an indication or confirmation that that decision was from the Lord. I am not sure where that principle comes from Scripturally unless it is based on Colossians 3:15: “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” The context of that verse, though, has to do with interpersonal relationships rather than finding the will of God. And I think we can safely say that a feeling of peace doesn’t always accompany the revelation of God’s will (Moses again comes to mind as well as others.) But there is something, though  I hate to call it a feeling: maybe a settledness would be a better word, or an assurance that this is the right way to go. God rarely reveals His whole will for your life as a blueprint for you to then follow, but He usually leads step by step. There may be opportunities, whether in a job, a ministry, a potential mate, where everything seems like this would be a good choice, but there is something in your spirit that just doesn’t feel settled about it. It may just be fear or nervousness, but I wouldn’t move forward until you’ve had time to try to discern whether that is the case or whether that’s the Lord’s leading that this is not His will.

To try to sum it up, I would say that finding God’s will involves doing all you know to be His will currently, staying in close communication with Him through His Word and prayer, exploring the opportunities available to you, not expecting an audible response or a “revelation,” but trusting that He will guide through circumstances, counsel of others, and His impressions on your heart.

To give a couple of personal examples, when I was a student at a Christian college with almost 6.000 other young people and felt pretty sure my future mate was there somewhere, I was almost overwhelmed, wondering how in the world we would ever find each other. But I had to trust that the Lord would lead our paths together. Once Jim and I did start dating, I had trouble with knowing for sure whether he was “the one.” But after a lot of prayer and searching, I realized that I had prayed, just before he asked me out the first time, that only the guys would ask me out whom the Lord wanted me to go out with, and I had been seeking and wanting His leading all along. There every reason to believe that He had led me to this point and this man.

That story and part of my struggle with what to do with my life is told here, but I always knew I wanted to be a wife and mother, though I did have to wrestle with being surrendered to the Lord if that was not His will for me. At various times in my life I also wanted to be a teacher, a psychologist, a writer, a missionary, and I don’t remember what all else. As I explored those options, one by one they fell away. As I began to serve in my local church, I eventually became involved with the ladies’ missionary fellowship. As I mentioned before, other experiences seemed to indicate to me that I was more of a “behind the scenes” person. I loved what I did within that niche. Then one day while at a Bible Conference, the preacher of the hour (I’ve forgotten who) spoke about those who helped Paul along the way in his missionary journeys. My heart just leapt in response to what he was saying and I felt this was my calling.

Even in “smaller” decisions, like the theme for the annual ladies’ luncheon, as I pray about it, I’ll jot down several ideas that come to mind, then think and pray over those ideas til one seems to stand out. I’ll do the same with speakers, and then contact the ladies I have in mind until I come to the one who is willing and whose schedule is free. With this and other decisions, it’s not so much that there are lights flashing, arrows pointing, an audible “Yes! That’s it!” But seeking God’s leading all along, sifting through the possibilities, one rises in my mind, and I follow that lead until it becomes clear that it is the way to go or that it is not an option.

I hope and trust that this has been a help, not for my own children, for whom I have prayed for the Lord’ leading all their lives, but for anyone else who happens upon it.

Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee. Psalm 143:8.

The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.
Psalm 25:9.

For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me. Psalm 31:3.

I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Psalm 32:8.

Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Psalm 73:24.

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Proverbs 3:5-6.

Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. Psalm 16:11.

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4 thoughts on “Finding God’s will for your life

  1. Most of the time and especially for the big decisions I am lead just the way you describe… through a certain verse that applies, an unexpected idea or suggestion from a trusted friend, Pastor’s message will sometimes be just SO appropriate… things like that! But there are other times when the Holy Spirit speaks directly to me and tells me to do things that I would NEVER in a MILLION years do on my own! And I have even argued with Him over it – but before all is said and done, He has me doing it! So you really REALLY have to “listen”. But on those occasions when I have DONE those things, I have been blessed with a “peaceful” feeling afterward. God really DOES “speak” to us… but I think too often we don’t “hear”… and obey.

  2. Pingback: Retrospective Stray Thoughts « Stray Thoughts

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