Many Christians are at a loss when faced with decisions. “Does God have a specific will regarding this choice?” “What happens if I miss His will?” “Does God care about little things like what color my toothbrush is? If not, how detailed is God’s will for my life?” Christians struggle with questions similar to these every day.
God does have an individual, personal will for each of us, which He desires to reveal to us. It is not a “secret” will, to be found only through unconscious guidance. It does not involve special revelation. In the Bible, there is much emphasis placed on seeking the Lord’s guidance. This does not refer to “putting out fleeces” – Gideon is certainly not the best example of a man who followed the Lord’s clear leading. Nor should we look for “signs” or subjective feelings about what God wants. Nevertheless, there are means by which God actively directs Christians. These may be listed as a series of questions Christians should ask to determine God’s leading. If a decision passes these “tests,” a Christian may be assured that it is God’s will for him.
1. Is the proposed decision in accordance with God’s revealed Word?
1 Thessalonians 5:18 commands us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (emphasis mine). In other words, it is God’s will for you to behave in a certain way (be thankful). There are many other passages in the Bible which communicate expectations and directions to Christians. This is God’s moral will, and it is the primary way in which God communicates His specific will to us. God’s specific will never conflicts with His revealed will; He will never lead you to do something that is in disagreement with the Bible.
2. Have you prayed about the decision you are about to make?
James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Wisdom may be defined as supernatural skill for making life decisions. We should pray for wisdom in making choices that please God: that we will have a clear understanding of applicable Scriptures through the Holy Spirit and a clear understanding of how a particular decision will affect our lives for the glory of God. That does not mean that we should expect an emotional “peace” regarding a decision. However, when we pray about a decision, God will help us understand what the best choice is. In addition, prayer will help orient your heart toward submission to God’s Word and seeking His will.
3. What guidance have your God-ordained authorities or spiritual mentors given?
Not only is it God’s will, revealed in Scripture, for you to obey authorities, but God often gives those who are responsible for our well-being special wisdom in understanding the decisions that we face. In His sovereign dealings, God often makes His will known through the influences that He places in our lives. Thus, we should pay attention what those people say, and allow God to lead us through them.
4. What do the circumstances God has placed in your life indicate?
One of the primary ways in which God leads is through open or closed doors. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were prevented from going to Asia Minor, but an open door was given to them in Macedonia. God still intervenes in our lives, and often we can discern His will by the opportunities He places before us.
5. What desires and gifts has the Lord given you?
1 Timothy 3:1 describes the man who desires the office of an overseer in the church and the gifts and requirements that he must have. The essence, therefore, of a call to the ministry is a God-given desire for the work of the Lord coupled with the gifts and qualifications necessary for the office. In the same way, God calls or leads us by putting desires in our hearts. Psalm 37:4 encourages, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” When we follow the Lord with our whole hearts, our desires will be in line with what God wants for us. If you’re submitted to the Lord, it’s ok to do what you want to do!
6. Are you willing to step out in faith and trust the Lord to lead?
In my experience, one of the key struggles the younger generations has faced is difficulty taking risks. God doesn’t want us to be foolish, but based on the leading that He has given us, He wants us to take bold steps of faith. You can be assured that as long as you are seeking His will, he will not let you accidentally “miss” His will. A wise, elderly saint once remarked, “God doesn’t steer parked cars,” and “A car’s headlights don’t shine all the way to your destination, but they illuminate enough of the road at a time for you to get there. “ If you have followed the previous five steps, you should just do something, trusting the Lord to “direct your steps” (Proverbs 3:6).
Perhaps an analogy will best serve to illustrate this approach to finding the will of God. Imagine that you are orienteering in the wilderness. You are dropped off in the middle of thick woods, with only a map. You are expected to navigate to a point 5 miles away, but you have no compass, trail, or knowledge of the area. You must simply strike out, hoping that you will figure out where you are at some point.
Imagine how different it would be if you had a compass and trail blazes to follow. You would use the compass to determine what direction to go, and you would find trail markers every so often indicating that you are going the right direction.
Using this analogy, the map can be compared to the Bible (moral will of God). The compass is the Holy Spirit, who guides you in interpreting the Bible by giving you supernatural understanding of how it applies to life decisions. The trail blazes are circumstances, advice, desires, etc. that God places in your life to nudge you in the direction of His personal will for your life.
This approach to determining God’s will attempts to find the middle ground between too much subjectivity (“God told me to do this”) and too much emphasis on leaning on our own understanding. Determining God’s will should not be a mystical experience nor should it merely a “textbook” approach to the Christian life, ignoring the importance of a Christian’s personal relationship with an immanent God.