A common question asked by men and women of faith is “How can I know God’s will for my life?”
Every day we are faced with situations and issues that demand a decision be made. From simple to complex, consciously and subconsciously, the brain is constantly processing information, deciding and implementing a response to the information we feed into it. But the response is not always clear, and can be extremely frustrating when we find ourselves stuck in a rut, clueless as to our next move, and God seems to be away from the phone. How quickly we learn that having “the mind of Christ” Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 2:16 is not the see all, solve all, cure all virtue we may have heard someone say it was.
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
— Deuteronomy 29:29
Secret (hidden) things and revealed things. That is, things known only to God and things God has made known to all. Things you can know, and things you cannot know.
Now, should you be looking for insight into God’s plans for your life and future, that verse is to you both good news and not so good. Not so good (it may seem) when you’re anxious and God says, “that’s not for you to know right now”. But good in that you’re not left completely in the dark. God has given his children a flashlight, and a compass: his Word and his Spirit. Psalm 119:105 tells us the Word of God is a lamp to our feet and a light for the path we walk along. And in John 16:13, we find we are given the Holy Spirit, who is ever present to keep us moving in the right direction — our faithful guide.
Dear reader, sometimes to gain God’s perspective on a matter, to find his direction and know his will, is to pray, spend time in his Word, and tune in to the voice of the Holy Spirit. It is applying the divine directive to “ask, seek and knock”, in faith, believing you will receive what you ask, find that for which you look and have the door to your need opened when you knock (see Matthew 7:7).
Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.
— Proverbs 3:5–6 NLT
The majority of things that we do throughout the day are spontaneous or spur-of-the-moment decisions. What will we have for breakfast? What clothes will we wear to work? Will we have one or seven pieces of pizza? Most of the decisions that end up laying the foundation for our day are decisions that we don’t really put too much effort into making. Even if we stop and pray about these decisions, it is not likely that we can discern, in that moment, the exact will of God for the question that we are asking.
What about the other small percentage of decisions that seem massive? The life-altering decisions that may shape the rest of our lives? Should I change jobs? Who should I marry? How much money should I give? Which college should I go to? God must be clear on these situations, right?
The answer is, sometimes, no. But why? Because he is God, and he is in control. We are humans, and we are not in control.
It is the glory of God to conceal things…
— Proverbs 25:2
We are not capable of understanding or knowing all of the things that go into being God, and sometimes he prefers to carry out his will in a way that surprises and humbles us. But, still, why?
One reason that God does not give us specific answers or guidance to our difficult questions in life is that, often, he is more concerned about the transformation of our hearts. He wants us to be more focused on being Christ-like than finding answers to our questions.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
— Romans 12:2
This means that, often, the actual motives of our hearts, the renewal of our minds, is more clearly revealed through the difficulty in navigating through tough decisions. God knows that if his specific will were delivered to us every time we asked, we would become more consumed with what we do, rather than by what we love. We would begin to love God for his results, rather than just loving him. Donald Miller refers to this type of relationship with God as a “slot machine” God. When we need an answer to a tough question, we go pull the lever on the machine and wait for our answer.
God wants your heart, and he will get it by any means necessary, because he loves you that much.
But rest in this, God reveals to us everything we need to live godly lives (see 2 Peter 1:3). He is seeking worshippers over workers. And the more we pursue who Jesus is, the more our hearts’ desires will align with the desires of our Father.
Do you ever think it’s weird you’re so religious? You’re so devoted, in fact, you immediately started saying, “I’m not religious, I have a relationship!” (Non-churchy people don’t think in those terms, BTW). Not to mention the fact that you care enough to have Bible devotions emailed to you daily, just saying. You’re that person. It’s OK.
I’m a pastor, and I still have to accept the truth about myself: I am one of those Jesus people. I don’t know why I feel weird about this fact. Everyone knows this about me. I guess the truth is that when I think about who it is I want to be, “Jesus Freak” is not at the top of the list.
When I think about who I want to be, I look to “successful” people, not godly people. My Kindle is full of books from people that have achieved the success I desire. Individuals who are known for how much money they have, or their leadership abilities, or their list of accomplishments. Even the religious books I read, I don’t read them because these people are godly, but because they are the Pastor du jour and are famous or successful in something, whether it’s being an incredible preacher or being the senior pastor of a mega-church. I’m going to say it: bad preachers from small churches aren’t getting their books published, regardless of how valuable the information is.
Let me be super-vulnerable here. I model my life after these successful people because those things are valued by other people, and because pursuing stuff is not only easier to define, but easier to accomplish. Why spend time being godly when I can be rich?
It’s a constant source of contention for me because I don’t want to suffer. I know that becoming like Christ (which for me is true greatness) requires that I die to myself and live for him more and more every day. It’s painful, sometimes embarrassing, and sometimes lonely. It means that what I want is not the most important thing. It means that I have to live my life for something greater than myself.
Then I read things like this:
…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
— Romans 5:3–5
I know. Struggles make me better.
Here is the truth: when people can’t have real greatness, they glorify the unexceptional.
They tell you sex is better than relationships. It’s not, it’s just that having a real relationship is hard. Sex is easy.
They tell you that money is better than significance, when the truth is real lasting significance is not something you can buy, it’s something you earn from the strength of your will, and the sweat of your brow to make a real and lasting difference to the people around you.
The world will glorify drinking and partying trying to convince you that it is the same as experiencing life, when the truth is that to experience the world requires presence and mindfulness, things that are not possible for a mind that isn’t sober.
I believe that if I choose to be godly, if I want true greatness, I will not be put to shame. I will not be disappointed. I wake up believing that every day is hard, but I trust God, because God is not a liar.
Recently, I have run across quite a few Christians who are obsessed with discerning God’s will for their lives in specific areas. Some worry that the person they are engaged to may not be the one God has chosen for them. Others feel absolutely stuck, baffled as to which career path God wants for them. I have noticed that a cloud of anxiety surrounds these people. They fear that they might make the wrong choice, and that this will lead to devastating life consequences.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this manifestation of anxiety, and I have come to wonder if perhaps these well-meaning Christians have bought into a very tricky idea. It goes something like this: If I choose the right direction, I will be safe, because God will protect me. But if I choose the wrong direction, I open myself up to heartache, rejection and regret.
It’s easy to see where Christians might get this idea. God told the Israelite people way back in Deuteronomy 28 that he would bless them if they obeyed him, and would curse them if they disobeyed him.
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.
— Proverbs 3:5
We all want straight paths, right? Of course we do. But here’s the tricky part: While obedience to God does bring good, it can also bring struggle and pain. How do I know this? Jesus himself endured unthinkable physical and emotional pain because of his obedience to the Father when he “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2: 7–8).
If our Savior endured heartache, rejection, abandonment and shame because he was obedient, then it stands to reason that following God does not guarantee that we will be safe from these things. In fact, Jesus pretty much guaranteed the opposite: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). He told his disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you… If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you… They hated me without a cause” (John 15:18, 20, 25).
In this world, following and obeying God does not keep anyone safe.
What’s the point then? If I can’t keep myself safe by trying to discern God’s will for every choice in my life, why would I even care what God says? It’s because he also promises us something far greater than safety. He promises us himself.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
— John 15:9–11
Our joy is not born in safety. Our joy is born in Christ. Today, let that be enough. To be loved, truly loved, deeply loved, is so much better than to be safe. We live in a world broken by sin. But we have a Savior whose love prompted him to give up his very own life for us. By God’s grace, through faith in Christ, we are becoming who he has set us apart to be. The do fades in light of this. By God’s grace, through faith in Christ, we are a people motivated by his love. The what fades in comparison to this incomparable why. Today, that is enough. Tomorrow, that is enough. Forever, that is enough.
Through middle and high school, I was heavily involved in music, playing trumpet in the band and, senior year, joining my high school a capella and show choirs. Music taught me plenty of things — namely making me better at singing loudly in my car each morning — but what it taught me most was that it can’t ever be mastered.
There is no perfect way to play any piece of music or sing any song. While music has concrete details, such as the notes, time signature and key, the way in which we perceive the quality of a piece’s performance is almost entirely abstract. As such, it can’t really be perfected, no matter if it’s me or Luciano Pavarotti doing the singing.
This is the aspect of the Christian faith that I find myself most interested in as well. From the moment we come to believe in the life and death of Jesus Christ to the moment we pass on to his kingdom, we never conquer or perfect following him.
I’m not sure about you, but that really excites me, both as an impeccably average former musician, and as a growing Christian.
The work God continually does in our lives is always sanctifying us. And it’s sanctifying us from our former lives, before we came to know his glory. I think this is an important distinction to make. It should be clear to us that we didn’t become better people when we came to know Christ and began to follow his Word, we became entirely different people.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
— 2 Corinthians 5:17
The nature of Christ is continually renewing. Because our sins and past transgressions were wiped clean, we’re commanded to focus on the present and keep our eyes on our heavenly future. For us, this should come as a relief! We may no longer concern ourselves with our past actions, decision and thoughts. We are liberated from any wrongdoing and only have Jesus, the author and foundation of our faith, to look to.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
— Romans 6:1–5
For Christians, we have the liberation from sin and the undeniable joy that comes with giving glory to God.
And don’t forget, this joy is also for those who have not yet placed their trust in Jesus — his freedom is available to all. There’s no sin too great, no chasm too wide, no soul too far from God that could ever be out of the reach of his love.
The invitation is there, both to continue the renewing and rejuvenation of our new souls, and to embrace the love of our heavenly Father for the first time, a decision that would radically change your life and cement your future. My prayer for each of us would be to encounter God for the first time, and to then see him and embrace him each and every day after, allowing his healing hands to sanctify us.