Determining the Will of God
September 11, 2008
By Pastor Doug Batchelor
An Amazing Fact: In 1692, the city of Port Royal, Jamaica, literally slid into the sea when it was struck by a massive earthquake. Many had predicted that this corrupt city of pirates and cutthroats would one day suffer God’s judgment. Therefore, the disaster surprised no one, least of all the handful of religious men who were swept to their doom along with the wicked. One such man was Lewis Galdy. When the first violent shock came, Galdy was buried deep beneath the earth. Amazingly, he remained conscious and understood what had happened. In prayer, he resigned himself to the will of God. But a few moments later, another earthquake threw Galdy high in the air and out over the churning sea. He landed unhurt in the water and swam until a boat picked him up.
The safest place in the world to be is in the middle of God’s will.
It doesn’t matter if you are surrounded by war, typhoons, tornados, volcanos, or earthquakes; if you’re in the middle of God’s will, you have nothing to worry about. The Bible says, “The world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17 NKJV). If you are following God’s will, you have eternal life.
As a pastor, I often hear the questions: “How do I know that I’m doing what God wants me to do? How do I determine the will of God for my life?” These are very good questions. In fact, they’re the most important questions you can ask. Why? Because Jesus taught us to say “Thy will be done.”
Of course, we all must abide by the general principles regarding the will of God, which are universal. It is God’s will for everyone to be holy, loving, and true. But the Lord also has individual plans for each person that are as varied and unique as snowflakes.
Where Do We Begin?
We face a lot of big decisions in our lifetimes. When young people get out of high school, they have to ask: “What college will I attend? What will I study? Will I even go?” Then they must decide about a job and a spouse. “What job should I pursue? Who am I going to marry? Should I marry at all?”
Before we get into determining what God would have you do in any given circumstance, let’s deal with some basics. First and foremost, it is God’s will for you to be saved. The Lord is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). What you are doing in life as a vocation should take a back seat if you don’t have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Second, when a natural disaster strikes, insurance companies often refer to it as “an act of God.” That’s not always true. Not everything that happens is the will of God. Even though God is not willing that any should perish, some are going to perish. Obviously, you and I have also done things in our lives that were out of God’s will.
Besides, why would He tell us to pray that His will be done if it is always done anyway? That’s why we should be pursuing the will of God in our lives. Because God’s will doesn’t always happen, we have to do our best to search out — and be in — God’s will for the sake of His kingdom.
So I’m going to give you a brief list that will help you determine God’s will in your life. This list comes from those whom I respect the most: the Holy Spirit speaking through the Bible, great Bible scholars and commentators, and friends and fellow pastors. I believe this list is both grounded in the Word of God and everyday common sense.
Be Willing and Surrendered
The first step is the most important and often the most difficult: Be willing and surrendered. John 7:17 says, “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” (NKJV). God will let you know His will — if you are truly willing to do it once you know what it is. Ask God to give you a submissive and willing heart.
Moreover, surrender yourself to Jesus before expecting Him to lead you some place to work on His behalf. If your heart is in a state of rebellion and you’re not surrendered, why would God show you His will? All He would do is add to your compounded guilt.
I especially like this simple prayer, “Lord, you be the needle, I’ll be the thread. You go first, and I’ll follow wherever you lead.” That’s the kind of humble attitude we need to discern God’s will. (See Psalm 25:9.) You might not like what He’s about to show you, but make up your mind that by His grace you will do it before you even know what it is.
Be Guided by His Word
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). When you are searching for God’s will, you need to open the Bible even more than you normally would. Ask God to help you find specific guidance for your life in His Word.
Sometimes, it’s possible to find out what the Bible says on the exact options you’re considering. Indeed, the Word has a lot of practical things to say about God’s will. For starters, the law of God can help you discern whether He wants you to do one thing or another. That can mean an emphatic “yes” or “no” found right in the commandments.
As a pastor, I’m still surprised that a lot of married Christians wonder, “Should I leave my spouse and go off with another person?” They might say, “It just feels so right. We can see God’s blessing. We see this as God’s will for us.” But this isn’t something you need to pray about. The answer is right in the Ten Commandments. God has clearly told His people never to do this kind of thing. “I delight to do thy will, … thy law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8).
Consider Christian Counsel
“Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). When searching for God’s will, find others who have good judgment and will be honest with you.
What kind of counselors? “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NKJV). In other words, don’t get counsel from people whose lives are a disaster; they’re probably not in the best position to give you advice.
However, godly friends can help you take honest inventory of yourself and discover your gifts and talents. They might point you in a direction you weren’t even considering. Growing up, no one thought I was going to be a pastor. It didn’t occur to me when I became a believer. But when I started giving Bible studies to friends, more and more people I respected said, “Doug, have you considered the ministry? We think you have a gift in that area.” So through collective counsel of godly people, I moved in this direction. God will do the same for you, if you ask Him.
Pray (and Fast)
“This is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:14, 15). When you want to know God’s will, you need to pray He will guide you. But you also need to harmonize your requests with His will.
In John 15:15, Jesus says, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (NKJV). If you want to know the will of God, be a friend of God. How do you become His friend? You talk to Him. Friends talk about their plans together, so spend time praying and talking to the Lord. God reveals His will to His friends and servants.
In addition to prayer, your discernment of God’s will might include fasting, which is a deeper level of seeking clarity. In 2 Chronicles 20, when Israel was surrounded by her enemies, Jehoshaphat commanded the people to fast and pray. In response to their obedience, God gave the nation guidance and deliverance. Fasting often clears the mind and helps us separate the carnal desires from spiritual priorities. Put more simply, the radio reception improves.
Glorify God and Don’t Be Selfish
“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). When you are seeking after God’s will, make sure you avoid options that don’t glorify Him. If one of your options is going to harm His kingdom, then it is the wrong option. (See Matthew 6:33.)
In every decision, ask, “Lord, is this going to reach more people for you? What will make the biggest impact for your kingdom?” This is a vital factor in your decision process. It is part of loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
And much like considering God’s glory in our decisions, we need to remember the effect it will have on our neighbors — whether that’s our spouse, parents, children, or whoever. “None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself” (Romans 14:7).
I’m always saddened when I hear people trying to make a decision about their life, and all they’re saying is, “What is this going to mean for me?” Instead, they need to be thinking of their families and how their decision is going to affect those around them. Galatians 5:14 says, “All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” It’s a sign of true conversion when someone isn’t always saying, “What’s in it for me?”
Be Patient and Faithful
“We count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (James 5:11). In deciding the will of God, you must be patient.
Sometimes we become restless and want to do just about anything but keep guessing at what we should do. We want to act sooner than later, but sometimes God wants you to wait. Believe me, you’re better off waiting for God’s will having the right job, the right spouse, or the right school than rushing ahead of the Lord and having the wrong job, the wrong spouse, or the wrong school. You’re going to be miserable if you aren’t patient.
In fact, apparent delays could mean that rather than you picking an option, God’s will is coming to you special delivery. You just need to stay where you are and watch what happens. God could be saying, “Stay right there. I’m going to change everything without you doing anything.”
“Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Colossians 3:23). But while you’re waiting patiently for new directions, continue to do the work at hand with all your heart. Many fail to fulfill the present will of God for their lives because they are too busy longing for something different.
Tally the Evidence
“In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1). When you first turn on a GPS device, it can’t tell you immediately your location or which way you need to go. You need to wait a moment as the device begins to acquire satellites. But you’ll notice that it will often say “awaiting more satellites” or “awaiting better accuracy” even though it has already given you a path to go. As it picks up another satellite, it will give you more accurate directions because it has “triangulated” your position.
It should work that way when you are trying to discover God’s will. We’ve looked at a number of biblical criteria of how you can determine the will of God in any aspect of your life. Sometimes you are going to need a number of these criteria to overlap, to “triangulate,” before you can truly see where God is pointing you.
Make a list. Ask yourself, “What does God’s Word say.” If the answer isn’t as obvious as you think you need, ask, “What do my counselors say?” and “Which one of my choices truly glorifies God?” Keep tallying the results until you have a decision you can stand on firmly.
The Perfect Will of God
Romans 12:2 says, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Many otherwise faithful Christians are finding themselves doing the imperfect will of God. They are restless and unhappy. As a result, they aren’t being the consistent witness God knows they could be.
Even though we’re separated from God because of sin, He has given us a way to discover His will — and the power to do it. Eventually, everyone in heaven will be doing the perfect will of God. If we want to be there, we must start practicing right now!
Is your life off track? Are you struggling to make the right decision? Are you afraid of where God might lead you — out of your comfort zone and into a strange land? Remember always that God doesn’t want what’s worst for you; He wants what’s best for you. You’ve got to trust Him that in the end, you’ll always be happier being in the middle of His will. Be pliable clay in the Potter’s hands and keep calibrating. Not only will you have joy in heaven; you’ll have it right here on earth.
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