The core of the Christian life is to learn how to know God’s will for our lives personally and intimately. God told my wife (Becca) and me that we were going to serve as missionary teachers in Asia. After months of research and interviews, we got the offer to teach in Seoul, Korea. But then God told us no. Frustrated, I thought we weren’t going. Becca, however, remained resolute. She was right. Within a few weeks, another opportunity came our way and God said yes, that was where he wanted us.
How to Know God's Will: What is God’s Will?
When we ask about the will of God, often we mean, what does God want? It includes God’s desires, but his will is far bigger and more complex.
Simply stated, God’s will is his plan and design for all of creation. God’s will begins with his intention based on his nature–goodness, love, hope. His extravagant love infuses his instructions on how to live (1 John 5:3).
Like a legal document we call a will, there is power and authority to ensure that his desires and instructions are carried out. God is Lord of all things; no greater power exists. His will is guaranteed. God’s will contains his power. Light appeared in darkness when he spoke it. Grace is found in the Word of God, now the Person of Jesus (John 1:17).
How to Know God's Will: What Does the Bible Say about God’s Will?
Paul uses the term “the whole will of God” to describe the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom for salvation (Acts 20:27). The Gospel Paul preached to all people, Jew and Gentile is God’s plan for the reconciliation of all things to the Father through the Son (1 Cor.15:23-28).
This is the story God is telling. He guarantees the ending will be good for those that live according to that purpose (Rom 8:28).
God desires our best and should determine our moral choices. Peter tells us to do good because that is “God’s will” for us to silence the evil person (1 Pet 2:15).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that not everyone who calls him Lord will enter the Kingdom, “Only those who actually do the will of my Father.” He continues to say that on the Day of Judgment many will talk about their religious deeds, even miraculous ones, but he will reply, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws” (Matt 7:21-23, emphasis mine).
God’s will is not only legal, authoritative, and universal, it is relational by necessity. It is personal to us. To me.
How to Know God’s Will in Decision Making
Scripture gives the revealed, universal will of God but not the details. There are guidelines on marriage, for one example, but I’m not told exactly who or when. Even if I should, according to Paul’s personal example (1 Cor 7).
I’m supposed to make disciples (Matt 28:19) but go where? Across the street? Another country? And even when I get there, who exactly?
I am faced with daily decisions with impacts and consequences. How will I know if my decisions are the Father’s will? If I don’t know his will, how can I do it?
5 Ways of How to Know God’s Will for Our Lives
Here are five ways to know God’s will for our lives.
Stop Doing Things FOR God. Live WITH Him.
We have to know God to know his will.
Let’s get one thing straight. I can’t do anything FOR God. Even Jesus said in John 5:30, “I of myself can do nothing.”How can I? Jesus doesn’t leave us there, thankfully. He tells us the secret: “I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.”
Attempting to carry out God’s will separate from our intimate relationship with him leads to dead religion and legalism.
From Matthew 7 quoted above, the person Jesus is talking to was surprised. He called Jesus “Lord.” He did awesome religious things. But Jesus rejected him because of a lack of relationship: “Depart from me, I never knew you.”
The invitation is not for us to live FOR God but WITH him. That makes sense, right? If his ultimate goal and plan is the reconciliation of all things to the Father, then why do we think we could do his will apart from living reconciled in intimate relationship, listening to his voice? We can’t.
Becca and I heard the call. But we had to hear His voice for exactly where. A biblical example is when Paul endeavored to go preach in Asia (Acts 16:6-10), but God redirected him to Greece. We must cling to his voice and his person.
This gives spiritual weight to Christian disciplines – prayer, scripture, faith fellowship, etc. Not as items to check off a list but as ways to stay connected to his voice.
Living with God and not for him is the foundation of everything that follows.
Submit Your Will to the Father’s Will
As part of John 5:30, Jesus declares that he didn’t live according to his own will but submitted to the Father.
Paul tells us in Romans 12:1-2 to give our lives as “a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Did you catch that? If we will consider ourselves living sacrifices, submitting what I want and my plans to God’s love and his plan, THEN I will learn to know God’s will, which is good and complete.
How does this work? I must be willing to give up my expectations (based on my limited vision) for God’s will, even if it seems like a sacrifice.
God is not a masochist. We must believe he is out for our good. His call to sacrifice our story is an invitation into a bigger one with far greater rewards. (Matt 19:29)
Becca and I were young with promising careers when we were called to Korea. Our families lived close. We loved our church fellowship like a family. Leaving was difficult. Some people thought we were crazy.
But we surrendered our will to God. Yes, there were sacrifices. You know what? Our family – both earthly and spiritual – grew exponentially. As hard as that life was, we would not trade that time for anything because what we gained was exponentially (eternally) greater.
Does the Decision Go Contrary to God’s Revealed, Universal Will?
While those principles of God’s universal will may not give us the details of life, they provide important guidelines. The details of who and where I go to make disciples may not be in Matthew 28, but here’s one thing I know–refusing to make disciples is not the will of the Father.
Returning to the New Testament teaching on marriage, we may not know the details of if or when or who, but we do know that we shouldn’t choose to marry an unbeliever when we are a Christ-follower (2 Cor 6:14).
These boundaries in Scripture may not provide the specific choice but are invaluable keys to God’s best for us in his perfect will.
At the same time, we know the kinds of things that please God–the fruit of the Spirit, generosity, forgiveness, humility, etc. We simply need to listen to his voice for the details of our specific situation.
On a practical level, we must be diligent to study Scripture. Yes, alone with God. But also, in a community of faith.
Humbly Seek Counsel from the Community of Faith
Paul says that the Church is the “pillar and foundation of Truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15). The Spirit of God resides in us both individually and corporately as the Body of Christ. Wisdom does not only reside in our individual relationship with God but also in our connection with other disciples.
God gives gifts to people to build up the whole Body of Christ (1 Cor 14:12). God once told me that there are some things he will only give me in secret, and there are other things he would only show me through relationship with his family. We need these gifts.
Living in a faith community, we also see examples of faith to emulate (1 Cor 11:1). Other disciples will see things about us we don’t, our gifts and spiritual impacts in ways we can’t. Since they also want the best for us, these saints can give further wisdom about life’s decisions.
This community disciples and holds us accountable. The ones we share with intimately shouldn’t be a big group. Jesus shared with twelve, even more with three (Matt 17:1-8). But we do need those trusted spiritual voices in our lives.
While Becca and I sought God’s will on going to Korea, we were in constant communication with our pastors and close, trusted friends. They didn’t want to see us go, but they confirmed God’s call on our life and sent us with blessing.
It becomes easy to get so busy with life that we neglect developing these relationships. We must be intentional to reach out and invest in close, trusted spiritual friendships within the Body of Christ.
Don’t Worry about Making a Mistake
If we follow the principles outlined above … there’s no need to worry about making a mistake.
So often we give into a performance mentality, a qualification mindset, lies that bring fear instead of the joy he wants to share. Fear isn’t the spirit he’s given us (2 Timothy 1:7).
Fear of making a mistake will keep us from stepping out in faith when God speaks to us.
He already loves you. He’s already for you. He’s already leading you to the life that will give you the most eternal, extravagant joy, despite what it looks in the middle of the story. He died for you when you didn’t love him, nor did you care. He is already full of joy that you walk with him.
Let’s suppose my child asks me what I want, and I say, “Bake me a cake.” Then they bake me a cake. If it doesn’t taste great or they make a mess in the kitchen, should I yell and come down hard on them? No. That would crush their hearts.
Our Father isn’t like that. He remembers we are dust (Psalm 103:14). A bruised reed he will not break (Isaiah 42:3). He is a good Father. The greatest. Even if we make a mistake in our endeavor to live with him, the Father corrects us gently, in love, simply pleased we are with him and ready to work all things for his glory and our good.
We must live in close relationship with the Father; submit our will and expectations to God’s plan, knowing he is good and leads us to greater things; stay rooted in the wisdom of scripture; seek wisdom in close, trusted spiritual community; don’t allow fear to rob you of the faith to act.
These five ways will teach us to know God’s will and live in the fullness of joy with him.
Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Ben White
Britt Mooney (with his amazing wife, Becca) has lived as a missionary in Korea, traveled for missions to several countries, and now lives in Suwanee GA as a church planter that works bi-vocationally with Phoenix Roasters, a missional coffee company. He has a podcast about the Kingdom of God called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author with Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.