God’s Will for your Life: A Short Primer on Biblical Decision-Making
If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve heard people talk about the will of God.
Maybe you’ve heard people talk about “finding God’s will for your life” or “missing God’s will for your life”. Or maybe you’ve heard people talk about “being in the center of God’s will”.
We’ve been told since as far back as we have been Christians that God loves us and has a special plan for our lives.
But is that true? And if it is, why does it seem so hard to figure it out?
At every stage and season of life, we are forced to make decisions, sometimes in very specific situations.
We are buried under an avalanche of choices, and if we’re honest, it kind of feels like finding God’s will is like finding your way through a maze or figuring out a complicated puzzle.
How do we find God’s will for our lives? The answer is actually much simpler than you might think.
Here are 6 key principles to help you (and others) make decisions that are in line with God’s will.
We often struggle with God’s will, because we have a flawed view of how God leads His children. God is not sneaky. He doesn’t hide instructions from us and then hold us accountable for not following them.
So the starting point for finding God’s will is pursuing God personally. He is a good and kind Shepherd (Psalm 23).
God does not come at our call and point us in the right direction. He walks ahead of us and calls us to follow Him.
This reveals a deeper issue for us. When we ask for God’s will, we’re really asking to know the future. We want God to show us the way before we take a step. We’re not asking for Him to lead us. We’re asking for Him to tell us what’s going to happen. And when He doesn’t do that, we feel stress and worry.
Kevin DeYoung, the author of a great book on knowing God's will, put it this way: “Anxiety is simply living out the future before it gets here.”
Finding God’s will for your life is going to require a great deal of faith. You’re going to have to be okay with unanswered questions and incomplete information.
Our pursuit of God isn’t just a necessary part of finding His will. It’s the main part. In other words, God is the goal, not a means to an end. Sinclair Ferguson puts it this way: “We learn about guidance primarily by learning about the Guide.”
And the beauty of this important truth is that if you find Him, you don’t need to know everything.
Remember the Ultimate Goal is to Be More Like Jesus
There are a lot of things we don’t know about our lives and our futures. But there is one thing that we do know. We know that God works all things together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
That is good news coming from our good God. But it does leave us with one more question that we need to answer – “What is this good that God is working out?”
For the answer, we have to keep reading. In Romans 8:29, we learn that everything that happens to us is working together to conform us into the image of His Son. The “good” that God is working for us is a transformation of life. He is making us like Jesus.
Now, let me tell why this is important. This means that you can never really miss God’s will for your life.
God doesn’t have a plan B or C or D. If He did, every one of us would have already blown through those 26 letters. God has just one plan – Plan A. And it’s to make you like Jesus.
He started the work when you trusted Christ, He continues the work throughout your life, and He will finish the work when you stand before Him one day.
Wherever you are now, you are in God’s will. And this is true because God’s goal for your right now is Christ-likeness. And He can use every kind of circumstance or event to accomplish that.
Depending on where you are and what choices you have made, this process can be enjoyable or painful. But it’s always possible.
You may not have answers for every question in your life, but you can be sure about this: If you are a child of God, He is using all the events and circumstances in your life to make you more like Jesus. All of it will work out for your good and His glory.
The word “decide” means “to cut”. When you make a decision, you cut yourself off from the other options that you had.
This is why we wrestle with so many decisions. We want to make the right choice. But we don’t always know what God wants us to do.
How are we supposed to know God’s will for these important decisions?
In the past, Christians have answered that question in some very unusual ways. Perhaps you’ve heard of people making decisions by looking for “open doors”, putting out spiritual “fleeces”, opening the Bible to randomly selected verses, or acting on inner feelings or impressions.
Those are just some of the ways that Christians try to discern God’s will, and here is a major flaw in all of them. They all enslave us in the chains of hopeless subjectivity:
- How do you know if the open door is from God or Satan? For that matter, how do you know it’s not open just because you put your foot through it?
- How do you know if the circumstantial obstacle is meant to make you turn back or meant to be overcome?
- What do you do when you randomly turn to verses that are irrelevant or unclear?
- How do you know if the feeling of unrest is God’s way of telling you to stop or your body’s way of telling you that you’re terrified?
To make decisions according to the will of God, we don’t need secret guidance from some secret source. We need to read, study, understand, and apply God’s Word.
Yes, God uses other miraculous ways to speak to His people in Scripture (talking Donkeys, writing on the wall, etc.), but He never promises to do that for everyone and He never commands us to seek that kind of revelation.
What He’s promised to do is to lead you by His Holy Spirit and through His revealed will in the Scriptures.
Now, this is both incredibly liberating and incredibly convicting. It’s liberating, because it means that finding God’s will is not some mystery that you have to discover “out there” somewhere. But it’s convicting because it means that finding God’s will is largely dependent on your knowing and obeying God’s Word.
God’s Word is the only authoritative means of knowing God’s will. There may be other methods that we use to help us make decisions, but none of those methods are on the same level as Scripture.
All of God’s authoritative direction for your life flows through His Word. And all of the most important direction comes in the form of commands.
It was Mark Twain who famously said: “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
But along with those clear commands (“Thou shalt not…”), the Bible also gives commands about our motives, attitudes, and affections. These are not as obvious or as easy to apply.
Applying all of Scripture to all of life requires wisdom and discernment. And since we need that wisdom and discernment to apply the Scripture, we must see that prayer is also necessary for us to know God’s will.
This is the first aim in prayer - to listen to God, not to get God to listen to us.
The Scottish theologian, William Barclay, used to say it this way: "It so often happens that in prayer we are really saying, 'Thy will be changed' when we ought to be saying, 'Thy will be done'."
The guidance we receive through prayer should be seasoned with this kind of grace.
I love the way Charles Spurgeon put it: "Do not ask God to confirm your opinion, but ask Him to make your opinion conformable with His Truth.“
Scripture-shaped requests will lead to Scripture-shaped answers.
When the knowledge of God’s will takes root in our hearts, it grows into wisdom and understanding. And the fruit of wisdom and understanding is a life that is pleasing to God.
The very act of meditating and praying the Scriptures will have a tremendous effect on your decision-making.
So far, we’ve looked at 4 principles in the biblical decision-making process:
- We’ve talked about knowing God as the only way to know His will.
- We’ve talked about trusting God as He works out His will to make us like Christ.
- We’ve talked about listening to God as He reveals His will in the Bible.
- We’ve talked about asking God to give us wisdom from His Word.
But in this process of knowing God’s will, there is one defect that’s been there all along.
And that’s us. We are the ones who are supposed to know and trust and listen to and ask God for His will to be done.
And that’s a problem. Because we are flawed. We are deeply self-centered. We are filled with hidden agendas, emotional insecurities, and irrational fears. And all of these things get thrown into this process of decision making.
So knowing God’s will cannot be a solo project. Part of the wisdom that you need to live out God’s will for your life is going to be given to you through other people.
That’s why the book of Proverbs stresses the importance of seeking and heeding counsel before making important decisions.
A good counselor will spend more time helping you sift through your heart than he will helping you sift through your options. Most of our bad decisions are the result of a lack of spiritual fruit (attitudes, affections, values, etc.), not a lack of options.
A good counselor will help you do more than just look at the decision you’re making. They’ll help you look at the direction you’re taking. They’ll help you consider the effect of your decisions on others and on your future.
But most of all, a good counselor will use the Scriptures wisely, honestly, and carefully to shed light on your decision. All counsel must be filtered through God’s Word.
Most of us our terrible at receiving counsel because we don’t want to admit we’re wrong. We don’t want someone else to see us better than we see ourselves. We don’t want someone else to show us that our decision is a foolish one.
Pride blinds you to the things you need to see most, and it cuts you off from the counsel you need to hear most.
So along with praying for wisdom, we also need to pray that Holy Spirit would bring forth the fruit of humility and teachability. These are not natural qualities for us. But we desperately need them to find God’s will.
So far, we’ve covered 5 principles for answering one big question: “How do I know God’s will for my life?”
And maybe you’re a little disappointed. After all, none of these principles give you the magic key to getting guidance from God.
That’s what we really want. We want instant access to customized guidance. But why?
Underneath all of our prayers for guidance, you will always find at least a remnant of fear.
We’re afraid of being alone. So we turn to God, because we want to be known. We don’t want to face the trials and uncertainties of life alone.
We’re afraid of being lost. So we turn to God, because we want to be found. We want to know that our lives matter. That we matter.
We’re afraid of being wrong. So we turn to God, because we want to be safe. We want to know that everything will turn out.
It is this fear, whether we realize it or not, that often drives us to ask God for guidance and direction.
And the only way to dispel this fear is to drag it into the light of Christ.
Hebrews 1:1 tells us that God spoke at various times and in various ways in the past. He spoke through visions and dreams. He spoke through angels. He spoke in an audible voice. He wrote on walls. He delivered messages through burning bushes and talking donkeys.
Now, let’s be honest. When we feel lost, alone, and uncertain, we want these kind of miracles. We want God to speak to us audibly. We want God to write His answer on our living room wall. Sure, it would be terrifying. But at least we’d know that we’re not alone. At least we would know what to do.
But that’s not how He speaks today. The very next verse (Hebrews 1:2) tells us that now, God speaks to us by His Son.
Jesus is God’s final Word. Everything God wants to tell you comes through Jesus. More than that, everything that God wants to do in you comes through Jesus.
The more clearly we see Christ, the more clearly we see what we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do.
So it is supremely important for us to see Christ, to think about Christ, and to worship Christ, and to enjoy Christ.
When we are desperate for guidance in our lives, we often allow fear to control us. We imagine that God has abandoned us, forgotten us, and maybe even that He is punishing us.
But this fear that feel about our lives and our future is not from God. In fact, it’s proof that we are no longer listening to Him. Because God has already spoken on those things.
Jesus is God’s final word on your sin, failure, fear, loneliness, and guilt.
You do not need to fear being alone. Jesus has brought you near.
You do not need to fear being lost. Jesus has redeemed you…
You do not need to fear being wrong. Jesus has declared you righteous.
You do not need to fear being a failure. Jesus has already won.
We get discouraged about past mistakes. We get fearful about the future. We complain that God is not giving us the direction that we need. We feel lonely, discouraged, and desperate.
So we call out to God: “God, speak to me!”
And the reply comes back: “I have. I sent my Son.”
Jesus is God’s final Word. Knowing God’s will is less about knowing the answers to the fleeting questions of daily life and more about knowing the matchless glory of the eternal Christ.
You will find joy, satisfaction, and meaning in Him, or you will not find it all.