How Do I Know God's Will for My Life?
How Do I Know God’s Will for My Life?
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5–6
Of all the issues that cause stress and confusion among Christians, the question of divine guidance must be near the top. How can I know God’s will for me? Are there certain steps we need to learn in order to access information from God that we would not otherwise know? How does God guide me?
The Human Approach
Inevitably the answer is often sought in various misleading ideas and wrong expectations about the will of God. The problem is a human view on guidance that begins with the idea of God’s perfect plan for my life. Guidance then becomes a search for that plan. It is assumed that doing God’s will comes down to just one possible outcome. This turns decision-making into a hunt for the right piece to a jigsaw puzzle.
In reality, though, Christians simply make a free choice based on biblical principles applied to common sense and personal preference. Some people may spiritualize their decisions with a religious mantra, such as “I felt led to do this” or “I feel a real sense of peace about this.”
But you may be surprised that the Bible never speaks like that.
We so often fail to understand the vast range of liberty we have. The will of God is not just one small dot in the center of a circle. Rather, it is a vast ocean of possibilities where hundreds or even thousands of alternative choices are pleasing to God. So long as we act according to the Word of God, we are free to decide. And yet we so often don’t feel comfortable with this freedom!
The Biblical Approach
Our decisions should be applications of all God has explicitly said and implied in the Bible. But that doesn’t mean decision making is simply a clinical matter of rationality, leaving no place for prayer and faith. Good decision making involves an important interplay of prayer, reason, and faith.
The Role of Prayer
Prayer is no doubt important. But some prayers virtually deny the all-sufficiency of Scripture—when people ask God to personally “speak to their hearts” about what decision to take. This embraces the idea of “ongoing revelation,” an error emphatically denied in Scripture.
If our prayer amounts to asking “Lord, please give me some extra guidance outside of Scripture,” then we do not really believe that Scripture alone is sufficient. So what is the role of prayer? What should we pray for? These four things can be identified:
- We pray for a right interpretation of Scripture. We ask, “Lord, give me a right understanding of Scripture as it relates to the decision I need to make.” We pray for the illumination of the Holy Spirit so that we will interpret each part of Scripture in harmony with the whole. We don’t want to twist or distort God’s word by ignoring the context. We don’t want to be a victim of ignorance, so we pray for a teachable spirit that will, for example, listen to our pastors and test what we hear with the Scripture (Acts 17)
- We pray for the wisdom and discernment needed for correctly assessing all the circumstances of the decision. We need wisdom to deal with the opinions and reactions of others, and wisdom to know how to handle the possible consequences of our decision. We need wisdom to know which of any valid alternatives will be the most expedient, useful, and practical.
- We pray for the humility and spiritual discipline to be submissive to Scripture, especially when it goes “against the grain.” Godliness involves self-denial. We pray for God to give us the grace to know when self-denial is appropriate. Whenever we put the interests of the kingdom of God first, there is a cost. Regardless of our personal interests, each of us needs to ask additional questions such as, “What is the best decision for my family?” and “How will it affect my usefulness and availability in the church?”
- We pray to recognize God’s sovereign right. He is perfectly free to bless or hinder our plans as he sees fit. Like Jesus, we need to pray, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Therefore, we pray for grace to love God no matter what he does with our decision. Should he prosper it, let us give him all the glory. Should he bring it to nothing, or even bring affliction along with it, let us respond with the humility of Job: “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away: blessed be the name of the Lord.” We pray, in other words, so that we might let God be God. We pray that the master of the universe might do what seems good to him with everything in this universe, including our decisions and plans, remembering he loves us in Christ.