The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. —Proverbs 12:15
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. —Psalms 37:4
He has showed you, O man, what is good.And what does the Lord require of you?To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. —Micah 6:8
Who among us has not wondered what God has in store for our lives? Should I ask her out on a date? If she says yes, is she the one (though this may be a bit presumptuous)? What career should I pursue? Where should I live? Should I buy this car? Does God want me to go overseas and be a missionary?
These are only a handful of the questions we ask. Some seem pretty black and white, while others are extremely complex and challenging. So how do we know God's will for our lives?1 Is there some formula that we can memorize and then plug the appropriate data into? Unfortunately, there isn't. If someone had this magic formula, they would be richer than Google. (Has anyone else but me noticed that they're taking over the world?) Discovering God's will is more of an organic and dynamic process. It's kind of like learning to dance. God leads and then you take a step. God leads and then you take another step. But how do you know which step to take? Since there is no formula for discovering God's will for your life, I want to suggest some principles that will aid you in discerning what God would have you do as you travel through life. My list is not exhaustive, but Christians from all walks of life have found these in particular to be helpful. I won't be able to develop each principle fully here, but there will be more than enough to get you thinking in some different ways about discovering God's will (more details can be found in the books I suggest at the end).
Principle 1: Consult the Word of God
If you want to know God's will for your life, start with the Bible. Spend time learning what God desires you to do and then, by the power of the Holy Spirit and enabled by grace, seek to obey. Charles Swindoll, one of my heroes of the faith, observes, "The better you get to know the Word of God, the less confusing is the will of God. Those who struggle the least with the will of God are those who know the Word of God best."2
Paul encouraged Timothy to continue growing in his understanding of God's Word: "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:14-17; cf. Psalms 119). After only a little time and effort, you will discover that God's general will for your life as a Christian is not mysterious. Here are a few examples:
1. Flee sexual immorality and impurity (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).
2. Maintain a posture of prayer and be thankful in all things (1 Thess.
3. Obey your parents (Ephesians 6:1).
4. Proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
5. Be generous with your money (2 Corinthians 9:7).
6. Be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16).
7. Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).3
This little list is enough to keep us busy for quite a while! One more thing, God's leading in your life will never contradict His Word. Simply having a strong emotion about something doesn't trump what God has clearly revealed in Scripture. It is not as though someone can say, "Well I prayed about it, and I think God is telling me to leave my spouse for another woman because, after all, God wants me to be happy." (Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical example. Some people actually use this!) Now sometimes God's Word doesn't unilaterally condemn or endorse a certain activity (e.g., drinking alcohol).4 If you find yourself facing a decision concerning matters of conscience and personal conviction, consult the principles found in Romans 12:14 and 1 Corinthians 8:10. Then pray about it.
Principle 2: Cultivate a Heart for God
This principle is an extension of being transformed by God's Word. Do you find yourself increasingly desiring the things God desires? As you watch Jesus in action in the Gospels, are you beginning to see a little more of Him in your life? Seek to cultivate the virtues you observe in the life of Christ (practicing spiritual disciplines is one way to begin doing this). Pray with the psalmist: "Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name" (Psalms 86:11). Here is the bottom line: when you delight yourself in the Lord, He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalms 37:4). This occurs because your heart has conformed to His heart; and as we mature in Christ, we can begin to follow our hearts with more confidence.
Principle 3: Pray for God's Wisdom and Leading
If you are unsure what God's will is for your life . . . ask Him! There are numerous examples of prayers for wisdom in the Bible. The following are two of them. James says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him" (1:5). One of the passages that has been especially meaningful to me is Psalms 143:8-10: "Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul . . . Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground." It is so easy for us to forget to ask God for wisdom in making decisions; prayer is absolutely essential to this process.
Principle 4: Seek Good Advice and Wise Counsel
In America, we are infected with the lone ranger mentality: "I can do it on my own. After all, who knows what I need to do with my life better than me?" Let me be honest with you; this is a foolish way to go through life. We have too many blind spots! Others can often see things we can't because we are simply too close to a situation to have a healthy perspective on it. The book of Proverbs is full of passages encouraging us to bring wise counsel into the process of seeking God's will. For example: "Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise" (Proverbs 19:20). Here's another: "The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice" (Proverbs 12:15).
Haddon Robinson suggests three kinds of counsel.5
1. Biblical counsel. Who is someone in my life saturated with the Word of God who can help me discover what the Bible says about my situation?
2. Experienced counsel. Who is someone who has been in this same situation?
3. Best available counsel. Who has special expertise in the area where I need advice? Suppose I am considering pursuing a job in the music industry. Before I act on this, it would be wise for me to set up a meeting with a leading representative in that field. Although it is tempting, don't go it alone—you will regret it. Take the risk of being told something you may not want to hear, but need to hear.
Posted April 25, 2008
Read Part II of this article here.
1. While all Christians do not agree, I think the New Testament strongly suggests that God has an individual will for our lives. This can be inferred from passages like Romans 12:1-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-7; Ephesians 2:10; and 1 Peter 4:10. God has created a work for us to do and has gifted us to function in unique ways in the body of Christ. There is both freedom in decision-making and God's leading in specific areas. See M. Blaine Smith, Knowing God's Will: Finding Guidance for Personal Decisions, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 228-39. For an overview of this debate, see Garry Friesen and J. Robin Maxson, Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View (Portland: Multnomah, 1980).
2. Charles R. Swindoll, The Mystery of God's Will: What Does He Want for Me? (Nashville: Word, 1999), 30.
3. Swindoll has a list of other clear instances of God's will in ibid., 29-30.
4. Be sure to read chapter 40 in this book, "A Christian View of Alcohol," so that you don't misunderstand what I am saying about a conviction.
5. Haddon W. Robinson, Decision-Making by the Book: How to Choose Wisely in an Age of Options (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1991), 126-27.
Excerpted from Welcome to College: A Christ-follower's Guide to the Journey by Jonathan Morrow (Kregel Publications). Copyright 2008 by Jonathan Morrow. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
Jonathan Morrow spent his college years at a large state school. In between classes and hanging out with friends, he ministered to fraternities and sororities and served in Campus Crusade for Christ. Jonathan recently completed graduate work at Biola University in Los Angeles. His considerable experience interacting with students prepared him to equip students for what they will encounter in their formative undergraduate year. Jonathan lives with his wife and son in Tennessee.