By Dr. Stephen Kim
It’s one of the most frequent questions posed to pastors: “How can I know God’s will?”
Suppose, you’re a guy and you have two very similar girls in front of you. Both are Christians. Both are musically gifted (something you prefer in a girl). Both wish to go out to the mission field with you. Let’s say that one is named Jane and the other is Jill. Sure, they have their differences and each has her own unique pro’s and con’s; but nothing glaringly puts one ahead of the other in your mind.
Now, here’s the BIG question: “Does God have a specific girl that He has already CHOSEN for your life?” Is there a specific “God’s will” for your life regarding marriage that you must diligently seek God for and discover? My answer is, “Yes, there is.”
Consider Acts 1:24, for example. After Judas’ death, the disciples needed a replacement. They had two equally qualified men: Justus and Matthias (see verses 21-22 for the qualifications). So what did they do? Did the apostle Peter just choose whomever pleased him because it was not a “sin issue?” No, he did not. Instead, here’s what they did:
And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen. (Acts 1:24)
Evidently, before the foundation of the world, God had the best man already picked out (i.e., chosen) for the job. The apostles humbly sought God and asked Him to reveal His will. We too, ought to seek the Lord prior to making big decisions in our lives. God loves to direct the lives of His children.
[This article will not deal with the needed distinctions between God’s will of decree and God’s will of command.]
Going back to Jane and Jill, how do you know which one to marry? How do you know which country to go for missions? How do you know what job to take or which career to go into? What is God’s will for my life?
Now, before I give you my 8 considerations for discerning God’s will, I want to remind you that these are 8 considerations–not 8 magic steps for knowing God’s will. Even after taking these 8 considerations, a person could still get God’s will wrong. I would also like to say that it’s usually a confluence of these 8 considerations that will allow you to move ahead firmly knowing that you’re in the will of God.
EIGHT CONSIDERATIONS FOR DISCERNING GOD’S WILL
- Are you saved?
First and foremost, are you saved? Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord God and Savior?
“The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” (Psalm 37:23)
We are not looking for fortune-tellers and crystal balls. To desire to know God’s will without living underneath His Lordship is deceit and hypocrisy against God. To try to gain God’s favor without having a relationship with Him is to treat God as a cosmic genie–existing only for your own pleasures. First and foremost, determine whether or not Jesus is your Shepherd.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23)
When it comes to knowing God’s good will for you life, you must first have Him as God over your life. Unless you’re saved and God is your Shepherd, you have no assurances that you are being led to green pastures, still waters, and paths of righteousness.
- Are you living in holiness?
Don’t expect God to hear your request and reveal His will for your life if you’re living in sin:
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).
For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace (Psalm 37:9-11).
It is always unbelievable to see people that are living in outright sin pray for God’s guidance. God does not reward the disobedient Christian, but rather, Scripture informs us that God disciplines sinning Christians. In fact, for those living in sin, their delusion in thinking that they’re within God’s will is part of God’s plan to destroy them (e.g., ever met a lustful young man ignore Scripture and marry an unbeliever because he personally knew that “it was God’s will” for him to do so?):
And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the LORD had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring harm upon Absalom. (2 Sam 17:14)
On the other hand, God delights in guiding His obedient children. When we obey His revealed commands as found in Scripture, we demonstrate to God that we look forward to His guidance on those things that are not revealed in Scripture and guess what? God delights in leading us to paths of peace:
And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. (Isaiah 32:17)
The LORD says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. (Psalm 32:8)
- Are you praying and fasting?
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. (Proverbs 3:5-7)
Prayer is our way of acknowledging God. We need and depend upon God and so we pray. In fact, when we do not pray, we implicitly declare that we do not want God’s guidance. Seek God through fasting and prayer, and God will make your path clear and straight. Remeber, even when the disciples wanted to know God’s specific will, they prayed:
And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen (Acts 1:24).
Prayer is a key component to determining God’s will. In one form or another, God most certainly will direct and guide those who diligently seek Him in prayer. In fact, God actually delights in and rewards those that pray and seek Him through prayer:
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Heb 11:6).
- Are you reading the Bible?
Often times, during Scripture reading, God will powerfully direct your path through His Word. (Be careful however, about using random Bible verses to make life decisions under the banner of “God’s will.”)
And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD. (1 Sam 3:21)
There will be times, that through the Holy Spirit’s power, certain passages of Scripture will speak powerfully and directly into your life scenario. The Bible is a powerful way to determine God’s will for your life.
Furthermore, God’s will of command (i.e., the Bible) is revealed definitively through His Word. Most of life’s decisions are easily made without much thought when your mind is largely renewed by those explicit commands of God. Here’s how John Piper put it:
I venture to say that a good 95% of your behavior you do not premeditate. That is, most of your thoughts, attitudes, and actions are spontaneous. They are just spillover from what’s inside. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:34–36).
Why do I call this part of God’s will of command? For one reason. Because God commands things like: Don’t be angry. Don’t be prideful. Don’t covet. Don’t be anxious. Don’t be jealous. Don’t envy. And none of those actions are premeditated. Anger, pride, covetousness, anxiety, jealousy, envy — they all just rise up out of the heart with no conscious reflection or intention. And we are guilty because of them. They break the commandment of God.
Is it not plain therefore that there is one great task of the Christian life: Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. We need new hearts and new minds. Make the tree good and the fruit will be good (Matthew 12:33).
- Do you have the gifts and opportunities?
Did God give you the gifts and opportunities that are necessary to carry out your calling? I might feel that it is God’s will for me to play in the N.B.A., but if God hasn’t given me the skill set nor the opportunity to play at that level; then I can rest assured that it’s not God’s will for my life. The same applies for teaching, medicine, accounting, and even pastoral ministry. You could be a great writer and counselor, but if you can’t preach, then God hasn’t called you to be a preaching pastor. It’s as simple as that. Just like election, God ordains each person’s role in life.
I once met a man at a Bible conference who kept telling me that he was absolutely certain that God had called him to be an ordained minister. Unfortunately, no church would ordain the man. But he insisted that he was a great and gifted preacher. However, as I viewed the man’s life, it seemed apparent that God had kept the door closed upon him. God never gave him the opportunity. If God has called you to something, He will give you both the gifts and the opportunities.
The great preacher, Charles Spurgeon once told a bunch of young seminary students, “Be fit for your work, and you will never be out of it. Do not run about inviting yourselves to preach here and there; be more concerned about your ability than your opportunity, and more earnest about your walk with God than about either.”
In other words, make sure that you’re walking with Christ and the opportunities will come for the use of your talents. After all, it was God who gave you the talents.
- Are you passionate about it?
Psalm 37:4 states that God will give you the “desires of your heart.” This, at a minimum, means that you will have an affection and liking toward your various callings. You simply won’t last long at a job you hate doing. Your marriage will suffer if you have no affections toward your spouse. Passion is required.
For example, pastors should not enter ministry if they’re not passionate about preaching. Charles Spurgeon exhorted those who sought his counsel not to preach if they could help it. “But,” Spurgeon continued, “if he cannot help it, and he must preach or die, then he is the man.” That sense of urgent passion is one of the central marks of an authentic call. Spurgeon said that a man who is truly called to ministry has “an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work.” You gotta be so passionate about it that you would be willing to do it for free, and you would do it well for free.
God has wired you a certain way with certain gifts and life experiences. Nothing is an accident with God. Though at times, God will call you to do things you’re not willing to do (e.g., Jonah the prophet); major life decisions are often wisely made according to your specific God-given talents. You are not accidently made the way you are. You did not go through those life experiences haphazardly. God was in control. God even has a plan to use your tragic life experiences for good. Listen:
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. (2 Cor 1:4)
- Have you consulted godly persons?
Without consultation, plans are frustrated, But with many counselors they succeed (Prov 15:22).
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Church membership is vital for a number of reasons–including the access to godly counsel. Godly brothers and sisters, small group leaders, and pastors are all gifts to you from God to help lead you in the path that you ought to go. Those who truly wish to know and do God’s will often heed godly counsel. On the contrary, those whom God hates, God ordains for them to not heed godly counsel so that they could be destroyed.
If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the LORD to put them to death.
(1 Samuel 2:25).
And remember, not all church members are godly. Seek out godly individuals for counsel pertaining to God’s will for your life.
- Have you prayerfully considered casting lots?
The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD. (Prov 16:33)
Sounds crazy? The apostles did it in Acts chapter 1 and if done with prayer and faith to seek for God’s will, then I believe that it can be a source of God’s guidance. However, the key is to do it with prayer and faith (like the apostles), while recognizing that it is God–not chance–that you’re seeking. It must be done with full faith and the recognition that every decision from lot-casting is from God. And remember, no “best out of 3” funny business. If you’re going to do that, then don’t cast lots at all.