Most Christians want to know the will of God, but do not know how to find it. Some want to know it before they have to choose it, in case it means going to Africa. If it is too difficult, they’ll take a pass and do their life their own way.
Some want to know God’s will because they think it guarantees prosperity and an easy life.
Some have the idea that the will of God only has to do with the big decisions like whom should I marry, where should I go to college, what major should I study and where is God’s will for my life to be spent. Actually, these may have more to do with the leading of God, rather than the revealed will of God. He is not in the horoscope business. He is in the wisdom business. He gives us enough wisdom and principles, in addition to His commands, to make excellent decisions if we pay attention to His revealed will.
Formulas for God’s will
Some people have the idea that God reveals His personal will tailored to every individual by a mystical or subjective communication. There are about a dozen formulas for determining the will of God that range from signposts to special revelations. There is the “Random Finger Method” where one closes his eyes, flips open the Bible and blindly points to a verse, which supposedly indicates God’s will. There is the “Gideon’s Fleece Method” which requires testing God with a special sign to indicate His will. There is the “Open Door Method,” which says any opportunity that appears is God’s will; or the opposite sign, the “Closed Door Method,” in which an impossible circumstance indicates what is not God’s will. The “heart peace” formula is promoted as a subjective means of determining God’s will. All of these are fraught with biblical problems and conflicts.
Many want to take some inner promptings as just as authoritative as the inspired Word of God. Whatever one feels is “God’s calling” should be obeyed lest he be disobedient to God’s will. My next two blogs will deal with discerning these inner leadings.
There are a number of biblical principles that need to be considered before making major decisions by these inner promptings, and more important, before ignoring the clear indications of God’s will. Why should God show us any more insights into His plan for our lives when we are only slightly interested in discovering all that He has so carefully revealed in His Word?
Don’t be a fool
We are warned that we are playing the “fool” if we do not “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph 5:17). This implies that God’s will is something that can be learned by anyone then applied to “be careful how you live” according to His recorded wisdom (Eph 5:15).
Help each other by prayer
To begin with, we are all in this search together to continually be learning His will and we should pray for one another to perceive what God has revealed. Paul wrote, “since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way” (Col 1:9-10). “Spiritual wisdom and understanding” refers to the application of God’s Word to life’s situations.
This goal of knowing all that He expects of us is not an easy one, so we need to be encouraging and exhorting one another to be in the Word daily, but especially praying that we each have the courage and commitment to live out His will. We are a team of believers helping each other follow His instructions. Epaphras was “always struggling in prayer on your behalf [the church at Colossi], so that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col 4:12 NET).
The Holy Spirit is undoubtedly praying the same thing for each of us: “He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:27). No one is more interested in showing us His will than the One who inspired the NT authors to write all that God wants us to follow every day.
Obey the NT commands
The first thing that must be accepted is the fact that all the applicable commands in the NT are the clear will of God for our lives. This sometimes is called the Moral will of God, but it is not to be brushed over lightly. There are over 365 commands that can be categorized in thirteen areas we are to master. These are commands regarding salvation, separation from the world, the judgment seat of Christ, witnessing for Christ, how to suffer persecution, how to worship, rules of personal relationships, dealing with temptation, how to think and what to value, how to deal with finances, patterns for marriage, how to pray and guidelines for discipleship. All of these are detailed and explained in “Walking His Way” a daily devotional Bible study by Don Fanning (see also www.obeythecommands.com).
The emphasis of the Apostle Paul is consistently on the inspired revelations of the NT that we are expected to learn and apply. “Finally then, brothers and sisters, we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received instruction from us about how you must live and please God (as you are in fact living) that you do so more and more.” (1Thes 4:1 NET) The will of God is a set of instructions that we are to live by that honor and please God by our willingness to live His way.
Believers often treat the commands as an optional lifestyle for the super spiritual, rather than the normal Christian life, yet Paul warned, “if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed” (2Thes 3:14).
To make it explicitly clear that Paul was not merely expressing his opinions he wrote, “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor 14:37). The commandments of the Lord are delivered to the church by inspiration through the Apostles and writers of the NT as the will of God.
Some may have warm feelings about the Lord, especially in worship experiences, but have little interest in seeking out all that Jesus has commanded for His followers. They misinterpret their “loving feeling” as a genuine relationship and consider worshipping God as the goal of the Christian life. Yet Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). It is not what one “feels” about Christ, how wonderful His is, but how seriously we take every instruction He has painstakingly given to us in His Word so we can learn how to walk with Him in full harmony.
There are clear statements that declare what the will of God is:
- Be thankful for everything: “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1Thes 5:18)
- Avoid all sexual immorality: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality” (1Thes 4:3)
- Submit to civil ordinances: For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men– (1Pet 2:15)
- Suffering for Christ may be God’s will. “For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (1Pet 3:17). Paul adds, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2Tim 3:12). This does not mean to seek out suffering in order to be in God’s will, but rather suffering is inevitable to those who choose to obey God’s instructions in His Word.
The attitude of the believer is to emulate a slave who is attentive to every word that comes from his master: “As bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (Eph 6:6). If we believe the Bible is the Word of God, then we should search out every command that He has given us in His Word, because we love whatever He commands us to do or think. David said it this way: “Therefore I love Your commandments More than gold, yes, than fine gold!” (Psa 119:127).
Pay attention to what He says
Proverbs 2 describes a series of attitudes for a seeker of God’s wisdom: “if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, So that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding… If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God”[His will] (Pro 2:1-2, 4-5). His wisdom is not mystical but already revealed in His Word. If we want it, then we must seek it out to find it.
Peter wrote the goal of how we should live: “no longer should live the rest of his [our] time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1Pe 4:2). Make it a life-goal to pursue the knowledge and application of how God wants us to live with Him.
Paul did not know the future will of God
Most people are interested in the will of God to know what the future holds, but God is more interested in how we live today. Professional golfers have to learn to “stay in the moment” and not think about what could happen in the future, lest they make a costly mistake. All the biblical references to the will of God are present time oriented, not future oriented. Following the will of God daily will lead a person to fulfill His will for tomorrow.
Paul made plans to travel to Rome but he did not know how, when or if he would get there. He was praying “making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you” (Rom 1:10). Later by the end of his Epistle Paul was still hopeful that his plans to come to Rome were God’s will when he wrote, “that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, (Rom 15:32).
Paul lived preaching the gospel where it was not known in obedience to the Great Commission. Twice in Acts 16 Paul attempted to go to a region that the Holy Spirit stopped him from pursuing (16:6, 7). He launched out in a direction that made sense to him but God stopped him, then Paul made another choice with no inner direction from God to go to Troas. There God gave him the vision of an invitation from a Macedonian man. The next morning Paul sailed the Aegean Sea to Macedonia. When we are doing what He commands, He will make sure we are in the right place at the right time. That is the beauty of His will.
Whatever transpires is God’s will
Our trust is placed in a God who guides and controls the circumstances of our lives for His eternal purposes, not necessarily for our selfish desires. In His graciousness He can grant us far more than we deserve, but He can also bring disaster and persecution to those He loves (i.e., His Son was crucified and all His Apostles were martyrs). “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1Pe 4:19).
We are part of a much bigger picture of His purposes that we cannot see, but His plan is perfect. He wants us to trust Him through whatever our circumstances might be. Just to be a participant in His plan is a privilege, whatever the price we have to pay. His grace is sufficient for us to honor Him, whatever might be our experience (2 Cor 12:9).
Means of realizing God’s will
The will of God is a new way of thinking and conforming our minds to His wisdom and commands revealed in Scriptures. This is not mystical, but is acquired by learning from His Word all that God has instructed us to practice in our lives. Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
This “renewing” (Gk., “renovation or complete change for the better”) means a change of presuppositions, beliefs, values and convictions based on new insights and instructions given by God in His Word. By adapting to His way of thinking our lives will be a living proof that His will is “good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2), which honors Him and glorifies Him. To “glorify” means “to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged.” As we value the will of God revealed in His Word, and prove its worth by applying it to our transformed lives, others will gain confidence and appreciation for His Word and thus for Him as a Person.
Paul told the Thessalonians how to live and “please God” (1 Thes 4:1) by excelling in all Paul had instructed them: “for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” (1Thes 4:2). This is the will of God.
God so values those who seek to live out His will that, in spite of many failures, He will remember forever His servants: “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep” (Act 13:36). May it be said of us, we “served [our] own generation by the will of God.”