How Can I Know the Will of God?

In 1870 the Methodists in Indiana were holding their Annual Conference. At one point in the proceedings, the president of the college where they were meeting said, "I think we are living in a very exciting age." The presiding bishop asked him, "What do you see for the future?" The college president responded, "I believe we are coming into a time of great inventions. I believe, for example, that men will fly through the air like birds." The bishop said, "That's heresy! The Bible says that flight is reserved for the angels. We'll have no more such talk here."

When the Annual Conference was over, Bishop Wright went home to his two small sons. Their names were Orville and Wilbur.

God's will is bigger and more exciting than any we can imagine for ourselves (cf. 1 Cor 2:9). Living in his will is the key to living the abundant life Jesus came to give (Jn 10:10). The most common question I've been asked as a pastor is appropriate and urgent: how can I know the will of God for my life? 

Does God have a plan for us?

First we must believe that God does in fact have a plan for our lives. Some evolutionists say that life began as a chance coincidence, with no particular plan or purpose at all. Existentialists say that this life is all there is, and life is chaos. Martin Heidegger, for instance, wrote that we are actors on a stage, with no script, director, or audience, and courage is to face life as it is. Postmodernists say that truth is relative, that there is no overriding purpose to life. So, does God have a plan for us, or is life a random coincidence? In the words of Shakespeare, are we "sound and fury, signifying nothing"?

Here is God's answer: "I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jer 29:11). He had a plan for where and how they should live: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce" (v. 5). He had a plan for the families they should have: "Marry and have sons and daughters" (v. 6). He even had a plan for the country which enslaved them: "Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper" (v. 7).

A plan for where and how we live, the families we raise, and the country we inhabit—what is left out? God has a plan for every part of our lives. Romans 12:2 calls God's will "good, pleasing and perfect."

How can we know this plan?

Our Father wants us to know his will even more than we want to know it. Here's how he discloses it to us: "I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Ro 12:1-2).

First, make Christ your Savior. Paul's words are addressed to his "brothers," those who share his faith in Jesus. God's first will for you is that you accept his saving grace by trusting his Son as your Lord.

Second, put God on the throne of your life. Paul tells us to "offer your bodies as living sacrifices." "Offer" is the technical term for presenting a sacrifice. "Bodies" means the entire life. Not just Sunday, but Monday; not just a tenth of our money, but all of it obedient to his will; not just our ethics at church, but at work and school also. Do this as a "living sacrifice"—a daily, regular commitment.

In other words, put God on the throne of your life. There's room for only one person there. Write a blank check to God—promise that you will do whatever he wills you to do. God will not reveal his will until we are willing to obey it. Enthrone him now.

Third, refuse the world's influence (v. 2a): "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world." Stop being molded by our culture and its values. Ask yourself what the culture says about the issue before you, then reject it where it contradicts biblical truth.

Last, seek the mind of God (v. 2b). Be "transformed," remade in your inmost nature. "By the renewing of your mind"—spend time with God, so that he makes new your mind by Scripture and prayer. Seek his mind, his biblical guidance, his Spirit's leadership through prayer and worship.

When you put God in charge, refuse the world's standards, and seek his mind, you will experience his "good, pleasing and perfect will" (v. 2c). "Good" means that which works well in practical experience. "Pleasing" means that which brings delight and joy in emotional experience. "Perfect" means that which brings complete fulfillment of your purpose in personal experience.

Now you are in position to seek God's specific will for your specific problem or decision. He will guide you through biblical truth, open and closed doors and circumstances, the counsel of godly friends, and the urging of his Spirit in your heart. You will know what to do, when you need to know. And his will is always for your good and his glory.

Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuits, and made this prayer theirs:

Teach us, Lord, to serve you as you deserve,
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest,
To labor and not to ask any reward,
Save that of knowing that we do your will.