God's Will As a Way of Life
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“How can I discover God’s will for my life?”
“How can I be sure of God’s guidance in my decisions?”
“God, what do you want me to do?”
Practically all followers of Jesus have asked questions like these. Most of us ask them not so much on a daily basis, but at an important crossroads in our lives. But is that really the best view of discerning God’s will: something we do at the “crisis” points in life?
I believe Scripture points to a different view: discerning God’s will is a process, a way of life, centering not on some special, all-purpose technique or program, but on our relationship with God.
Maybe you’ve noticed the Bible has much to say about cultivating intimacy with God — drawing near to Him, walking in step with His Spirit, leaning on His understanding — but says little about methods of determining His will. Scripture also emphasizes who we are over what we do. This is not because our actions are unimportant, but because they’re an overflow from who we are (; ). If we concentrate on intimacy with Christ, our actions and decisions will naturally be shaped by that growing relationship.
Knowing God’s will centers on a relationship isn’t enough, though; we need to be clear about the nature of this relationship. In some earthly relationships, we simply want to be told what to do, or we want to get approval for our predetermined plans. A good analogy for discerning God’s will in a decision is that of a joint decision reached by a married couple who enjoy an intimate relationship of mutual concern, respect, and trust. In this case, both are involved in the decisions reached, and it is sometimes impossible to distinguish the part each played in the process. Similarly, the will of God is a divine/human process, not solely divine or solely human. Furthermore, His will is not an end so much as a means to the end of knowing Him better and becoming more like Christ.
God’s primary will has already been revealed to us in His Word: to form and forge a Christlike character in us (). The more closely we’re walking with Him, the better we will align with His will on an ongoing basis.
A deliberate acknowledgment of the presence of God during decision-making moments will carry us far in making God’s will a way of life rather than something we seek during a crisis experience. The fabric of our lives is woven out of the threads of minor choices, so it is wise to form the habit of being conscious of God while making them. This habit of taking God seriously in small decisions will make major decisions less traumatic.
Practical Principles for Discerning God’s Direction
Even with a biblical model of discerning God’s will, we’ll still face some decisions about which we’re uncertain, or in which the path forward is not obvious. In these cases, some guidelines are helpful. Here are seven principles—listed generally in order of how significant a part they should play in our decision-making.
COMMUNICATION: What do the Scriptures say? (; )
God will never lead us to do anything contrary to His Word. And we need to be as committed to the content of His Word as to obeying it (whatever it says).
CONSCIENCE: How does this decision affect my love for God and others? ()
God has implanted within us an intuitive sense of right and wrong. As we grow in Him, our conscience becomes more sensitive, more attuned to his desires.
COMMON SENSE: Does this decision reflect good judgment? ()
Outside the above framework, common sense may lead us astray; yet, those committed to God and willing to comply wherever He leads may still be uncertain about a decision. God gave us minds that we’re to use to evaluate consequences of actions (recognizing that He may occasionally lead us against “good judgment”).
CIRCUMSTANCES: How does my state of affairs relate to this decision? ()
Never the only criterion, circumstances are easily misinterpreted; nevertheless, our current situations should be taken into account—for example, our finances, aptitudes, education, experience, family, spiritual gifts, and occupation.
COUNSEL: What do wise and godly friends say about this decision? (; ; )
The perspective of mature and godly people can be instructive and corrective. Even the wisest people are finite and biased, though, and we ultimately bear the responsibility for our decisions.
COMPULSION: What are my own desires? (; )
God works in believers to give us the desire to do the things that are pleasing to him. Though we can easily become victims of sinful desires and inclinations, a burden or desire can be God’s leading and should be considered in context with the counsel of His Word.
CONTENTMENT AND CONFIRMATION: Do I have a sense of peace and assurance about this decision? ()
If an option passes the test of the other principles but fails to provide peace, the wisest course of action is to wait (if the decision can be deferred). The option may be right, but the timing may be wrong.
For more on God’s guidance, download Ken Boa’s free booklet Discerning the Will of God.
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