How Can I Discern God’s Will for My Life?

René Malgo

In everyday life or when making difficult choices, how can we identify whether something aligns with God’s will? Different pastors have taken different principles from God’s Word, which will help us ask ourselves seven questions when faced with a decision.

The New Testament teaches us that the children of God allow themselves to be guided by God’s Spirit (Rom 8:14). If they lack wisdom to make a decision, they should ask God for it in faith and without doubting. God will give it to them, since He “giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not” (Jas 1:5).

That should put the matter to rest, but it’s not always that simple in our everyday life. We don’t want to be caught in a trap, disappoint God, fall for the enemy’s whispers, or let our own deceitful hearts fool us…There are so many things that can go wrong when we stop and think about it! Our whole life can become paralyzed when we get caught in a web of questions, worries, doubts, and objections.

Thank God, His Word doesn’t fail us. There are many cues to point us to the unsearchable riches of Christ, but I’d like to single out seven questions we can ask ourselves in order to make the right choices in life. I’ve taken these questions from various Bible scholars and pastors, and they’ve also been a great help to me.

1. Does my decision align with God’s Word?
This simplest of questions is the foundation of decision making. The teaching of our Lord and His Apostles explicitly commands and forbids certain things. G. K. Chesterton compared the divine commandments and prohibitions to a fence surrounding a playground high atop a mountain. The children can play happily and freely if they remain within the fence. But if they were to climb over it to see what fun there is to be had outside the playground, things become dangerous.

It’s the same in the Christian life. God’s Spirit will never lead us to do anything that opposes God’s will as it has been revealed in Scripture and His Church. That would harm us and our neighbors. No matter how strongly you may feel about it, God will never call you to an extramarital affair, to neglect your spouse or children, to cheat your employer, to provoke your neighbor, or to do anything wicked.

2. Does my decision foster love?
Love for God and man is God’s highest commandment. What is love? One apt definition says it is wanting the good of the other person. So in this case, love isn’t warm fuzzy feelings but a heart attitude, a choice.

This means when we’re considering a life question from the perspective of God’s will, we must ask ourselves honestly: In choosing this path, am I increasing my love for God and people? Will choosing this path let me love better in word, deed, and truth? Or will my love lessen as a result?

When taken seriously, this principle of love has kept me from falling into idol worship or doing irrational things. For example, Paul writes, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tim 5:8).

If I feel obligated to do something that would make me unable to care for my family or fulfill the work I’m being paid to do, then I can assume that it isn’t God’s will. It would violate the principle of love. This is also crucial when it comes to things that appear righteous. We should note that our Lord Jesus always equates love of neighbor with love of God when mentioning the highest commandment, because our neighbor bears the image of God. As John writes, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20).

No matter how devout an action may seem, it cannot be God’s will if it causes me to neglect my obligations and duties, or harm my neighbor. Of course, we can’t see the future, nor are we perfect. But if we’re honestly asking ourselves the question of love and acting prayerfully, the Holy Spirit (who is a Spirit of love) will also grant us the correct impulses.

3. Will my decision help me grow in sanctification?
“For this is the will of God,” writes Paul, “even your sanctification” (1 Thess 4:3a).

When we’re faced with a decision or a fork in the road and don’t know what God wants, the question of love can lead us to the question: Will my decision help me grow in sanctification? Or will this path hinder my sanctification? Does it attest to my soul’s salvation, or put it in danger? Am I becoming more or less holy?

In the same vein, love asks: Am I promoting the salvation of the relatives entrusted to me, and the neighbors whom God has put in my path? Will my choice draw me and my neighbors closer to God, or push us further away?

Again, we can’t see the future, and are often not saints in practice. But if this concern is on our hearts, then we are in harmony with the Holy Spirit within us, who intercedes before the Father on our behalf “with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom 8:26). Then we are inhabiting the attitude that constitutes the essence of the Holy Spirit. He is, after all, a holy Spirit.

Holiness, like love, is not an abstract emotion but a choice. Just as I choose to want what is good for someone else, I can also choose to do everything with the goal of becoming more like my Lord Jesus and drawing closer to Him. That’s what sanctification is. It’s not about our own perfection, but about what we desire in our hearts and reach out for in our weakness.

4. Does this choice align with the way of life that God has already called me to?
Paul says, “But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk” (1 Cor 7:17); and, “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called” (v. 20).

God calls us through circumstances, through neighbors He sends our way, through our own character, our strengths and weaknesses, our talents, our marital status, and our general life circumstances. This doesn’t mean that spectacular changes aren’t possible in our lives, but our God isn’t a God of disorder. He won’t lead us in a way that contradicts everything that previously governed our life as Christians. To put it bluntly, God doesn’t suddenly ask a father of seven to become a lonely recluse. Yes, we can trust God to do the impossible; with God, all things are possible. But the principle remains that we can’t ignore where God has already led us through years of life with Him, and the place in life He has assigned us. That’s wisdom.

5. Is there validation of my decision?
We can’t assume that external success is confirmation of the correct decision. If that were the case, then prosperity gospel televangelists and religious charlatans could be said to always be aligned with God’s will. Jesus would have to assume that His crucifixion meant He had failed. But both are far from true!

It’s not a matter of receiving spectacular signs like Gideon’s fleece, even if that were to really happen! No; confirmation means, to some degree, what Paul experienced. We read in Acts 16 of how the Holy Spirit prevented him from preaching in certain areas, and how he was instead led elsewhere to preach. Paul’s desire was always a good one: to preach the Gospel. But by means of circumstances, obstacles, or open doors, Paul received divine rejection or validation of his decisions.

There is no shame in fulfilling every spiritual principle, trying something, and still not receiving confirmation because God has a better plan. Paul experienced this and was redirected.

Confirmation can be subtle, and is often unnoticed by anyone else. For example, Paul was given a dream. It isn’t that everything goes smoothly or everyone agrees with you. No, good and worthwhile decisions especially are often accompanied by difficult challenges.

6. Do I have God’s peace in my decision?
God is a God of peace, not a God of disorder, chaos or unrest. There is peace where God rules. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink,” writes Paul, “but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom 14:17).

Peace is a fruit of the Spirit. When we’re faced with a decision and are asking whether a conclusion is God’s will, we would do well to also pay attention to whether God’s peace settles the matter. 

Paul writes, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).

In the context of our topic, this means that of course we are praying fervently if we want to know God’s will in a matter. And when in prayer, if our hearts are filled with joy and the peace “which passeth all understanding,” we can take this as a good sign.

The connection between prayer and peace is important, since prayer is the lived expression of our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Without prayer, we can fabricate a natural peace that is temporary but could even have fatal consequences, depending on the circumstances. This could happen on one hand through meditation and emptying of the mind, or on the other through constant distraction with pleasure. But if we instead stand before God in prayer, seeking fellowship with Him, then we will receive supernatural peace regardless of the circumstances, as we will be in harmony with His will.

Let’s say I have something on my mind, or a decision to make. I pray and plead with God, asking for wisdom and His Spirit’s guidance. I receive inner joy, peace, and tranquility every time I pray for this cause. If this is the case, I can assume in faith that it’s truly God’s Spirit urging me and not the spirit of the adversary. This is because the devil, demons, and our own pride are unable to bring us peace. Conversely, if I’m praying about something and remain restless every time, possibly grumbling or even angry, then I have to assume that I’m not receiving the urging of God’s Spirit.

In practice, however, it’s critical to distinguish prayer from the rest of our inner workings. Our emotions can be a roller coaster—at times completely at peace, and other times completely falling apart—sometimes over the same issue! That’s why regular prayer is so important. Jesus promises that our Heavenly Father gives the Holy Spirit to all “that ask him” (Luke 11:13). But we do have to ask for it.

7. What does my heart say about my decision?
Let’s assume that there are two potential paths ahead of us. When we pray about it, lo and behold, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding rules our hearts for either choice. Why? Because in this case, either way is good. What now?

Paul writes, “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Gal 5:13-14).

You’re free! Augustine once said, “Love and do what you will.” And it’s really true. The Christian life is a life of freedom. There isn’t just one way and if you stumble or make a tiny mistake, you’re caught in a dead end and have missed your destiny forever. No, the psalmist promises, “Delight thyself also in the LORD: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Ps 37:4).

Taking the first six questions to heart—especially the first three—is “delight in the Lord” put into practice. And here is the wonderful highlight, the liberating thing for us as believers: Under these circumstances, you’ll receive what your heart desires. Your heart is stretching out according to the will, love, holiness, and peace of the Holy Spirit. That’s why your heart will also desire what is right for you.

This doesn’t mean that we won’t be wrong, that we won’t ever stumble and have to get back up again; that we’ll never have difficulties, or that our life will be a walk in the park. But it does mean that as Christians, we truly don’t have to live in fear and panic. God is for us, not against us. Even in the midst of unpleasant and difficult things, He gives us the will and the fulfillment (Phil 2:13). We just have to ask sincerely for His will. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is joy and peace (Gal 5:22). And so, if we can answer the first six questions in the affirmative, our heart’s yes to a certain plan of action isn’t a pitfall but an affirmation!

The devil wants to whisper to us that God is the big spoilsport, a sadist who torments us and a tyrant who orders us around. The one who is never pleased; the one who hides His will from us, and then reproaches us when we’re wrong or fail. But God isn’t like that.

God’s will isn’t just for insiders, those who are particularly enlightened, or those who have already achieved perfection. For the sake of His name, He wants to lead all of His children—even the weakest—on the right track, gladly and without reproach. The seven questions are no guarantee that we’ll never make another mistake. Even without these questions, we can be certain that in communion with Christ, we will never be separated from God’s love. And with these questions, based on God’s Word, we have help at hand to put into practice the wisdom that God wants to grant us.

Midnight Call - 12/2021

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