Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings (p. 42). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.
One of the oldest and still the most relevant questions for a Christian is “How do I know God’s will for my life?” Let me first say that I included the Tolkien quote above because I believe that advice of this sort is, indeed, a dangerous thing. What may be true for me may not necessarily translate to your life in the specifics. It is impossible to know how one’s own bias affects his advice to another person.
This article, therefore, is not designed to be a comprehensive theological study of the topic. It is my own convictions and observations on how to practically understand God’s will for your life based on my own study.
I issue this disclaimer because there are many in the church who believe that such matters ought to be left to the experts – i.e., pastors, theologians, and biblical counselors – and that laymen should, by and large, stay out of the discussion. While I understand the concerns, I disagree with the conclusions.
For one thing, you alone are responsible and accountable before God for your decisions. I think each of us should know and understand the issue for ourselves. For another, the information in some of these books on God’s will – and I’ve read many of them – can sometimes contain immense and often complex information.
My goal was to break it down into some bite-sized pieces. So here are 10 points. They are cumulative and build upon each other. But I think if you follow them it will get you on the right path to knowing God’s will for your life.
1. Wisdom is from God, Not Men
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)
The first step to knowing God’s will for your life is to seek wisdom. Wisdom is different than intelligence or knowledge. And I think it’s fundamental to establish that.
Our world is full of experts. And while many of these experts have a high level of understanding in their particular field, we need to establish two very important principles with regards to their advice.
First, expertise in one area does not necessarily translate to expertise in other areas. For example, as COVID-19 swept over the world, medical professionals gave advice pertaining to politics, entertainment, and the economy. They based their advice on what was best medically but did not adequately address unintended consequences. Of course, the best way to truly stop a pandemic is to isolate everyone individually and equip each person who must go out with specialized hazmat suits. But what is practical, doable, and moral? On this point, a medical expert may have no more insight than your average Joe.
Second, knowledge is separate from wisdom. Some of the great despots in history were intelligent and articulate. Wisdom, however, begins with the fear of the Lord.
2. We Can Know God by Reading His Word
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,2 Timothy 3:16
If you want to know God’s will for your life, a big part of that is reading the Bible and understanding what it says. The Bible isn’t just a list of rules and regulations, it’s God’s will for his people.
Christians often ignore this basic truth. We go to worldly-wise counselors and psychologists, or we rely on our feelings and our experiences. We buy into statements such as “your truth” and “my truth” as though they contain the power of good decision-making.
But how would you feel if someone said that they knew your will on an issue but had never taken the time to talk to you or to know you in any meaningful way? I think that is what we do when we try to understand God’s will for our lives without first going to Scripture.
3. God Won’t Call You to Sin
Sometimes it’s helpful to eliminate the wrong possibilities first. So start with an obvious one: God will never ask you to do something that violates His Word. God will never “call” a married man to have an affair with another man’s wife. It’s not His will that you take vengeance on your neighbor by murdering him.
Those seem like silly examples because they’re obvious, but they illustrate the truth. If you are leaning towards a course of action that would cause you to sin against God and violate His word, then you can rest assured that that is not God’s will for your life.
4. God Won’t Call You to do Something that Prohibits You from doing Right
The Bible isn’t just a list of don’ts. In fact, when Jesus was asked what the most important command was He responded with two do’s: love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:29-31). These commands summarize the law of God.
It will never be God’s will to put you in a position where you can’t love Him and love others.
I work in the Bakken oilfield in Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota. Prior to 2020, when overtime was still available, you’d see guys putting in an insane amount of hours. In fact, when I first interviewed for a field tech position, the guy interviewing me said that the biggest negative of the job was that I’d be home every evening and on weekends – the implication is that there wasn’t a lot of overtime available.
But there was another side to that.
I read many posts by “oilfield wives” who felt that their husbands were married first to the oilfield while they got the leftovers. I’m not going to judge another man’s situation that I know nothing about. There are often good reasons for working long hours. But in general, I don’t believe this lifestyle is in God’s will if it prohibits you from fulfilling your role as a Christian father and husband.
If you’re faced with the decision that will cause you to be unable to fulfill some of your biblical responsibilities then you have great cause to question whether you are truly seeking God’s will for your life.
5. God Designed You for a Reason
After I lost my job at a family run business in 2008, the housing bubble collapsed and I was forced to find work wherever I could. My only connection at that time led me to the insurance industry. I became a personal lines customer service representative for a small independent agency in Tennessee. Two years later, I used my experience in the agency to get a job as an underwriter at a large insurance company that had a regional office close to where I lived.
I was very thankful to God at the time for providing me with an income. Even though I didn’t really enjoy the job, it allowed me to support my family without any assistance. As time passed, however, I began to ask myself the question: was this where God wanted me long-term?
The traditional thinking on the issue of God’s will is that we’re on earth to witness to people. The reality, however, is that we can witness to people no matter what job we have. So does God create and design His people with abilities, gifts, desires, tendencies, personalities, strengths, and weaknesses…for no reason?
An Unhealthy View of God’s Will
I began to ask myself the following question: why do I believe that the insurance industry is God’s will for my life? The only answer I could come up with was that I disliked it. So much of Christianity is about suppressing your desires and passions. It’s about self-control. And while that’s good, it can also be taken the wrong way when it comes to God’s will. We almost develop a mindset as Christians to be suspicious of anything that we want. Immediately, the red flags go up, and we are warned of the “prosperity gospel.”
But if you take this view too far, which I did, you will develop the unhealthy opinion that the only way to know God’s will is by doing something you don’t like. Because if you don’t like it, then you’ve eliminated the possibility that you’re just following your passions. That may seem crazy and messed up, but that’s where I was at. I had started to believe that the only way to be sure that my sinful heart wasn’t getting in the way was to do things that I didn’t want to do.
When I finally asked myself the question “what did God design me for?” I was forced to answer the question in a positive way.
Personality and Design
I took a personality test as part of a work profile. When I saw the results, I was blown away by its accuracy. My personality type was simply not designed for conflict, lots of interaction with people, talking on the phone all day, and legal contracts. That was basically my job description! My work station was a cubicle in a wide-open space, I was on the phone most of the day, the interactions with agents that I worked with was a lot of conflict and negotiation, and much of my day was spent trying to understand legal insurance policies.
Until I took that test, I felt extremely guilty about being miserable. Was I just being ungrateful to God? Was I just a whiny Christian who didn’t appreciate the bounty that God had given me? I felt constant never-ending guilt for six years that I couldn’t find a way to enjoy my workplace.
Getting the results of the personality profile was a turning point in my life. It helped me understand why I felt the way I did about my job. It became clear that I was doing something that was at odds with the way God designed me.
A Healthy View of God’s Will
The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you:Exodus 31:1-6 (ESV)
I began to think of God’s will in a different way. If God designed me a certain way, then it stood to reason that He had a purpose in mind. Why would you make a hammer and then use it as a measuring rod? Or why would you make a Phillips head screwdriver and then tell the person to use it as a whisk? I think that the proper way to view God’s will with regard to how He designed is that He designed us with the tools, the personality, and the qualities that would put us where He wants us.
This idea is not new, but it was a sort of revelation for me. When Paul says in I Corinthians that the body of Christ is made up of many members, I think this is part of what he’s getting at. God designs us differently and uniquely. We’re designed to fill different roles and tasks within the church. Why shouldn’t that also be true outside of the church?
My conclusion was that God’s will was not for me to be at my job in the insurance industry indefinitely. I gained many friendships through that experience, I learned a lot, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. But once I came to the understanding that I did not believe that God’s will for my life was the insurance industry, I saw that many of my struggles were actually recognizable signs that God was closing the door in that industry.
6. Keep Your Eye on the Prize
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.Matthew 6:19-20 (ESV)
Step back and take a macro view of your situation. Who are you? You are a Christian. Where is your citizenship? It’s in heaven with Christ your Savior. What’s your mission on earth? To glorify God and testify that Jesus died on the cross for your sins. That is to testify and be a witness of the hope we have of heaven. In conjunction with the last point, I believe God designed us and gives us different desires and strengths in order to put us in a position to achieve these overarching goals.
That is why I do not have an ounce of jealousy for those who are rich. When I was a kid, I wanted to play in the NBA. But I’m not jealous of NBA players for their success. Those who have been called by God in the NBA have the opportunity to witness to NBA players. I do not. I have another call, another area in which an NBA athlete may not have the ability to witness or testify.
That’s why keeping the macro view is so important to understanding God’s will. If you look at your situation and want to know what God’s will is for your life, are you basing that decision on financial gain or what makes “business sense”? Or are you taking an eternal perspective and looking at the areas God has gifted you and are you wanting to foster and maximize those regardless of what status it puts you in this world?
7. Walk with the Wise
If we walk with the wise we will grow wise ..wo ..wo. If we walk in the light then our path will be bright I know. There’s someone who’s already been where we must go. In the light of what they’ve learned we find that we will grow wise if we walk with the wise.Steven Curtis Chapman
This is from “Walk With The Wise” by Steven Curtis Chapman, one of my favorite Christian music artists from the 90s. It echoes Proverbs 13:20 which says “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (ESV)
One of my favorite jobs growing up was working with my grandpa on my uncle’s farm. During harvest, Grandpa and I drove grain trucks to and from the field. And oftentimes, while we waited for the combine to fill up its hopper with grain, we would talk.
I remember one time he told me the story about his family farm and how he wanted to farm more land and pass it along to his sons. He told me how family issues with his siblings prevented that from happening. And he said that there was a time when he was bitter about that situation and felt betrayed.
But in that time, God reminded him of the story of Joseph. Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt out of jealousy. But later, when Joseph was reconciled to his brothers, he forgives them, saying: ”As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Gen 50:20, ESV).
Grandpa remembered that verse and shared it with me. And when I went through my own difficult experience with family many years later, my grandpa’s words came back to me and I drew a lot of comfort and direction from them. It helped me understand that God’s will can be accomplished even through our suffering.
This, then, is a key part of understanding God’s will. Find wise people and get close to them. Then listen.
8. Pray for Guidance
Our electronic devices all have a “sync” function which keeps them constantly updated with current information from a variety of sources. My Fitbit syncs with my phone to update my step count. My computer syncs with my Microsoft OneDrive account so that all my data is saved to the cloud.
I think prayer is like us syncing our hearts with God’s heart. If you want to know God’s will, then regularly sync your heart with His and ask Him for guidance.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.James 1:5 (ESV)
But beware of sin. Sin is like a bad WiFi connection. It disables that sync function on your heart.
…But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.Isaiah 59:2
Sin can separate us from God. And this is true in our prayer life as well. I think that if you’re trying to find God’s will in your life you should always pray to God that he helps you achieve His will.
Sin keeps us from communion with God. So this is where principle number three comes back into play. If you’re doing something that you know is not right then repent of that mistake so that your prayers are not hindered.
9. Make a Decision
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.Colossians 3:23 (ESV)
If you’re reading God’s Word, you’re praying, you’re repenting of sin, you’re seeking advice from wise people, you’re following how God designed you, you’re not pursuing sin, and you are pursuing righteousness…then ACT.
Jesus gives us a warning in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Before going away on a long trip, a master gave his servants money. When he returned, he called each of them to give an account of how they invested the money. The first two servants doubled their initial investment. The third, however, buried his money. Even though he didn’t lose his master’s investment, he did not use it. The master punished him, and took away his money and gave it to another servant.
I think this parable is a warning for me and other Christians like me. I have often been guilty of the “paralysis of analysis.” I fail to act out of fear of failure or fear of rejection or simply fear of making the wrong choice. But just as the master in the parable gave his servants money, God gives His children gifts and abilities (see point 5). He didn’t give us those gifts so we could hide them in a hole in the ground. He wants us to use them.
10. Trust in God’s Sovereignty
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28 (ESV)
Once you make the decision to act, then be confident that God will use your choice for His ultimate glory. You may fail, you may make mistakes, you may not achieve immediate success – certainly, Joseph’s situation cannot be called a “success” for many years – but you can still rest in God’s sovereignty.
Emmit Smith, one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, used to say that the most important thing a running back could do was to keep his legs moving. Even when you run up against a pile, just keep your legs moving. That’s how he was able to break so many tackles and turn broken plays into long gains. Keep your legs moving.
That’s how we should act in light of God’s sovereignty. Keep moving. Keep plugging away. Stay confident these keys will help you understand God’s will and that He will use your decisions to glorify Himself.