One of the questions that Christians commonly ask is “What is God’s will for my life?” or “How can I know God’s will?”
In actuality, Scripture is very clear on God’s general will for the believer’s life: He wants us to love Him with all our heart, strength, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Luke 10:27). He wants us to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, deny ourselves, and take up our cross to follow Him (Matt. 16:24-25). He wants us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:18-20). And so on.
These things, in a very real way, are also God’s specific will for each believer, and we need to honestly assess whether we are being obedient to His will in these ways. But usually when someone asks what God’s will is, they’re looking for more concrete and direct answers, instructions on what specifically they should do or where they should go.
Two promises the Scriptures make regarding the Holy Spirit guiding us are Isaiah 30:21 and John 16:13:
“Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left” (Is. 30:21).
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:13).
But while we are promised this guidance from the Holy Spirit, does that even include things like what type of degree we should get, who we should marry, where we should live, and things like that?
Sometimes, but not always.
Having said that, there is one way we can know if we are living in God’s will or not, and if what we want to do out of our myriads of options is in His will. We can test it by Colossians 3:12-17.
“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
With verses 12-16 as an important background, we can ask “with what I’m doing or with what I want to do, can I honestly do it in the name of the Master Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father?”
Obviously this question would then exclude all and any sinful actions. And this questions requires that we not just think about what we do, but why we do it too. To examine our motives. It means we need to be intentional about what we do and don’t do, so that whatever we do in word and deed can be done in the name of the Lord Jesus.
If we live this way, with let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and let the word of God richly dwell within you, we will be living in God’s will. No, we still won’t have clear directions on who to marry or where to work, but the more our actions and lives please God and line up with His will as revealed in Scripture, then the more easily will we be able to discern His specific will for those types of things (and I think we’ll find that He’s really quite permissible. With a lot of the choices we have in life He’s more concerned with the why and how of what we do than the what itself, to a degree).
Of course, doing this doesn’t replace the need to pray for wisdom (James 1:5-8), to seek the filling of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), and to seek godly counsel (Proverbs 19:20), but it both enhances them and ensures that we are living lives pleasing to God (which also makes us more receptive of hearing God’s voice!).
This passage, Colossians 3:12-17, is especially important for those who lead in churches, in any capacity. Do we do it intentionally and with right motives? Can we say everything we do and don’t do, every decision and action we make as leaders, and why we make them, is in the name of our King Jesus?
Just as for individuals, God will guide us and those we lead as we frame our decisions with this in mind: “whatever you do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”