In these confusing days of the pandemic, job losses, and perhaps scrambling to find new ways to make a living, many are asking, “What do I do now?” For people of faith, the question becomes more specific. Those who love and try to follow God ask this question anyway, even in more normal times, “What is the will of God for me?” But, upended in this uncertainty, we may wonder, with anxiety, “What is the plan God has now? I thought I knew God’s will for my life. Everything is shifting.”
What is Meant by “God’s Will for My Life?”
The simplest definition of the “will of God” is that it is what God wishes us to do. We are “in the will of God,” when we make choices that fit His desires. There are two Greek words in the New Testament that are used for the “will of God.” One is boulé and the other is theléma. The first means “advise, counsel, will,” and the second means desire, wish, or indicates God’s preferred will.
So, God’s will is that which He desires, wishes, commands, expects, or advises us to do. We could come up with several more terms to explain what His will is, but basically, it is commanded behavior that reflects His heart and character of holiness and goodness. It is what He expects us to do.
Always, God would have us be obedient and act according to His wishes. He does have an overarching eternal plan or will which Jesus explained this way (John 6:38 NIV): “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up on the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
But our hunger is also to securely know what choices God would have us make day to day in specific situations. Who should I marry? Where should I work? And so on. Right? Of course, we want to hear God in these matters too.
Knowing You Are in the Will of God
Let’s dig a little deeper into what we call the “will of God” and how to answer the question, “How can I know what the will of God is for me?” There are two further ways to break down our understanding of God’s will. First, there is a concept called the general will of God.
The general will of God is what He wants at all times from all of us.
God wants us all to carry out certain things. Many of us can think of them immediately. For example, “Love one another” and “Forgive one another” are expectations of God for all of us at all times.
Additionally, we read in verses like Micah 6:8, instructions about the will of God always for every person. This verse says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (NIV)
Another verse that speaks of God’s general or all the time, everywhere will is 1 Thessalonians 4:3 (ESV), “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” God desires for us to grow to be more like Him, holy.
People ask sometimes, “What is the will of God?” and say, “I don’t know what to do or if what I’m doing pleases Him.” The answer to that is, “Are you being kind, forgiving, helping others, praying for others, etc. If you are living like that as the Bible defines those things, you’re in His will.”
The specific will of God is His instruction for particular situations
But, people want to know more than that about God’s will. Often, people want to know, “Should I marry this person? Should I take this job? Move out of state?” and so on. They wonder, “How can I know God’s will for my life in these particular situations?”
The answer to this is twofold:
1. If you are living a life pleasing to God as spoken of above – merciful, just, decent, following biblical guidelines, etc., you are in God’s will. He gives us a certain amount of leeway to then make decisions. Not everything is outlined in the Bible down to the smallest detail as to what moral decisions look like. However, there are a lot of general ideas about marriage, for example. You will have to weigh whether a person you are considering for marriage can really be a good spiritual partner and a wonderful spouse in every other way.
2. Having said that, it is also true, that as we pray and study the Bible, God may put a specific direction in front of us. He can tell us whether we “should or we shouldn’t” in many situations. Consider when David wanted to fight a battle at Keilah. (1 Samuel 23:1-6) He asked God, and God said, “Yes, go and fight the battle.”
An example of receiving God’s specific instructions
One time, I felt very hurt by a ministry team with whom I had been working. I felt they had taken my ministry out of my hands and been disrespectful. However, there was to be a meeting of this team with a ministry partner. I didn’t want to go because my feelings were out of control, fresh and raw. I was praying, asking for the Lord to help me, telling Him I didn’t want to go.
Despite those feelings, the Holy Spirit instructed, “You must go!” I realized I had to go and do all I could to arouse, with His help, a spirit of forgiveness in me. This wasn’t just for them, to be gracious to them. The Holy Spirit was trying to spare me. Grudges and bitterness hurt us. They do not affect those with whom we are upset as much as they affect us, most of the time.
But, the funny thing was, I had the impression that the Holy Spirit also advised, “And, wear this blouse, this vest, and this skirt.” It was a crazy combination of clothes and I was startled by an instruction about what to wear. That didn’t seem “spiritual” to me. Ha! When I wore the outfit, it was striking and I felt an enormous level of self-confidence.
All this is to say, God has a general will for the way Christian people ought to act and what they ought to do. We MAY step out and make decisions, even if we haven’t “heard” any direct guidance from God if we live aligned with that general will. As we study the Bible, we need to live out what we are reading. This keeps us in the will of God. You can and will at times, perhaps often, hear specific instructions. But, as I said, if you are aligned with the general will of God, it is alright to step out and make decisions without hearing a specific word.
What Happens if You Get Outside of God’s Will?
We all make mistakes. By that, I mean, it may be the case that we know very well what God has said through the Bible or we have sensed His directions for us in prayer, yet we go ahead and do the opposite. That is purposeful disobedience. On the other hand, sometimes, we aren’t sure what God wants. We act and then discover our choices have led to bad results, sinful conclusions. What do we do then, in either case?
The way back is so very simple. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NIV). “God’s will for my life” is that life would be lived closely with Him. Like the best father or mother, God wants to guide us and protect us.
More Bible Verses about Finding God’s Will for Your Life
Here are a few more verses about the will of God or the plan of God for our lives. If we are doing these things, we are “in step” with God and have nothing to fear:
“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 ESV)
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV)
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV}
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19 ESV)
“As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.'” (Matthew 10:7-8 NIV)
“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 3:5-6 ESV)
Related articles on this website:
John Ortberg’s “What is God’s Will for My Life?”
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