I once heard a young pastor say, "The Bible never speaks of how we can know God's will; it only speaks of doing His will." The pastor was well-intentioned, and he was half right; but the first part of his statement was incorrect. The Bible tells us quite clearly how we can know God's will. But the pastor was onto something: it involves a desire, and a determination, to do His will.
A Christian, like anyone else, has so many important choices to make. "Shall I attend this college, or the other one?" "Should I marry this person, or not?" "Should I move to another city to take a job, or stay here, and continue what I'm doing?" "I feel like God might be calling me to a certain ministry. How can I know for sure?" The questions are endless, and any Christian knows that he or she needs God's wisdom, and God's guidance, to answer them.
This isn't a matter that can be fully explored in a single post on a blog. Books could be written about it, and, in fact, are written about it, on a regular basis. Some of these books are useful; most are a waste of time. But the one Book that has the answers - - - or, rather, tells us how to find the answers - - - is immediately available to all of us.
Not surprisingly, the Bible has certain principles, or guidelines, in this matter of "finding God's will for our lives." The problem is that we all too often ignore what it says.
The starting point, of course, is Romans 12:1: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And 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 (Romans 12:1-2). Until we've done that - - - really given our bodies to God, to do with as He pleases - - - the "will of God" is simply a matter of idle speculation. We can have all the right beliefs, and have an intellectual loyalty to our Saviour; but until He's got our bodies, it's a moot point. It'll be different in Heaven, when we're in a perfected state; but down here on the ground, our beliefs don't determine our actual behaviour unless we've given God our bodies. It's our bodies that walk down the wedding aisle, or enroll in a school, or report for a new job. That's so fundamental that Christians miss it: they often think, "Well, as long as I believe the Bible, and profess the right things, I can pretty much do what I want with my body." That's not only illogical; taken to extremes, it can lead to the kind of body/soul dichotomy that the Gnostics preached.
But most of us aren't going to become Gnostics. We're just trying to live the Christian life. And this matter of the will of God often puzzles us.
We reach a crossroads in our life: should I go this way, or that? The Bible itself is perfect, and tells us exactly what we need to know: but the Bible doesn't tell me whether to live in Pittsburgh or San Diego. It doesn't tell me whether to marry Sharon or Louise, unless Sharon or Louise are unbelievers: it's pretty clear about that! It doesn't tell me whether to buy a new car, or repair the old one. But that doesn't mean that God doesn't care about such decisions, and there's a specific verse that tells us how we can know such things.
Before getting to that verse, however, there are some others that we need to consider. Because God has already told us His will in no uncertain terms; and, if we ignore these instructions, we can hardly expect him to give us guidance on these very specific matters. How are you doing with these things?
For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication (1 Thess. 4:3). There it is, big as life: the will of God for your life. If you're ignoring that verse, don't expect God to tell you about the new car.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thess. 5:18). Are you doing that? Are you thanking God, not just for the blessings, but for the trials and heartbreaks as well? It's not easy sometimes. But if you're not doing it, don't bother asking Him whether you should move to another town.
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men (1 Peter 2:13-15). I know, I know: I don't like it either. But if you're harboring rebellious thoughts, or are engaged in rebellious acts toward the government (tax evasion comes to mind), don't think that God's going to tell you who to marry.
I could list many more such verses, but the point is clear: God has already revealed His will for our lives in some very specific areas. If we ignore those commands, what right have we to ask for guidance on the day-to-day stuff?
Of course, if you've never come to Jesus Christ in the first place, and been born again (John 3:3-5), then God isn't obligated to reveal His will to you in any matter. Because He's already said, The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). If you haven't obeyed God's will that you come to Him for salvation, then that verse is all of His will that He's obligated to reveal to you.
So, what's the verse that promises that we can know His will?
Jesus Christ speaking: If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself (John 7:17). In context, Jesus is explaining the authority by which He speaks: His doctrine, His teachings, were not something He'd made up, but were the teachings of God the Father. But included in the verse is that fascinating promise: If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine .
If you're willing to do His will, He'll make sure that you know what it is. Our problem is that, very often, we wouldn't do His will, even if He made it perfectly clear.
God has a nasty habit, when we're praying, of breaking into our prayers, and changing the subject. A woman prays, "God, my husband is such a loser. It can't possibly be your will for me to be married to such a spiritual weakling!" And God replies, "How are you doing with that gossip problem, child? How about that problem you were having with the credit cards?" And the woman doesn't want to hear that!
A man says, "God, I've been offered a position teaching adult Sunday School. Should I accept?" And God replies, "Son, are you still paying $500 for those season tickets at the university football games? That money might come in handy for some missionary." The man argues with God: "But Lord, that's my alma mater! That's where I make business contacts! And I can even witness for you in that skybox at the stadium! Anyway, that's not what I asked you!" And God remains silent about the Sunday School class.
It's one thing to want God's will in a certain matter. It's another to be willing to do it, whatever it is. And if you're willing, truly willing (no playing games), then He has another promise for you: And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left (Isaiah 30:21).
God wants us to know His will, even more than we want it ourselves. And He's always ready to reveal it to us. But it'll be on His terms, not on ours!