All of us will have to make decisions in 2017. At some point, we will ask, “What is God’s will in this situation?” Or, “What does God want me to do in this circumstance?” In addition, we will have to provide counsel to others (e.g., spouse, children, co-workers). In light of this, we need to know how to discern and follow God’s will.
Principles for Knowing and Doing God’s Will
— Seek to grow in your relationship with the Lord (e.g., seek to know His way of thinking, His divine character, what pleases Him). We come to know God intimately by spending time with Him in prayer, worship and Scripture reading. As you come to know God better, you’ll be better able to recognize what He wants you to do in a specific situation.
— Follow Scripture’s teaching. God shows His will most clearly in Scripture. God will never lead you to violate Scripture.
— Seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance. The Holy Spirit is God’s empowering presence within believers to guide them in His truth (John 14:26; 1 Cor 2:10-13). The Holy Spirit will never lead a Christian to disobey God’s word.
— Be honest and realistic with who you are and how you are “wired.” In other words, consider your abilities, desires, values and inclinations. Don’t apply for a job as a taxi driver if you are terrible with directions. Don’t seek to work in a hospital as a nurse if the sight of blood disturbs you. Don’t take a high paying job thousands of miles away from your family if you know you’ll miss your family.
— Seek counsel from godly believers who know and love you.
— Seek counsel from the church (corporate confirmation).
— Don’t be ruled by emotions (emotions are not bad, however).
— Don’t be overly influenced by others (e.g., strong personality, charismatic individual, authority figure).
— Check your motives (e.g., easy path, personal financial gain). Remember that even believers struggle with sin and sinful motives.
— Keep in mind that opportunities in a given circumstance are not necessarily an indication of God’s will. In other words, just because an “open door” is put before you does not necessarily mean that God wants you to walk through it.
— Write out the pros and cons tied to the decision.
— Use common sense.
— Get as much information as possible about the decision.
— Consider how your decision will affect a larger goal or plan. For example, getting a college education may be a larger goal that you are currently pursuing. If you are faced with the decision of using your money for books or going on a cruise, you’ll need to recognize that using your money for books rather than a cruise will help you fulfill your larger goal.
— Recognize that believers have freedom in matters not specifically discussed in Scripture. The following saying is helpful: “Where God commands, we must obey. Where there is no command, God gives us freedom (and responsibility) to choose.”
— If you are counseling others who are trying to make a decision, be honest with them.
— If you are counseling others who are trying to make a decision, encourage them to seek God’s kingdom (Matt 6:33).
— What about dreams, visions or impressions? God does use these things, as Scripture reveals. However, we must show great caution because: 1) they are not Scripture (they don’t carry the same authority as Scripture, 2) we are sinners with (at times) distorted perspectives and 3) they can be subjectively interpreted to say what we want. I would acknowledge them yet not base my decision on them.
After the Decision
— Trust God. When we have chosen what is consistent with Scripture, we must trust our sovereign God to work in the situation for His glory and our good. Our Father is loving, wise and all-knowing.
— Don’t conclude that you made the wrong decision if you encounter difficulty, hardship or suffering. Moses, Paul and Jesus all did God’s will, yet they suffered (e.g., compare Acts 9:15-16 and 2 Cor 11:23-28).
— If you know that you made a sinful decision (e.g., did what you knew in the very beginning was sinful), seek the Lord’s forgiveness and restoration. Then do what you can to obey Him. Remember what John tells us about the Lord in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
— Put your decision in perspective. A wise perspective recognizes that our decision is one point in our Christian journey. Always look to the end—the day when God renews all things and establishes His kingdom (e.g., Rev 21:1-5).
Helpful Books on Knowing and Doing God’s Will
–Garry Friesen with Robin Maxson. Decision Making and the Will of God, 2nd
— Douglas Huffman, ed. How Then Should We Choose? Three Views on God’s Will and Decision Making.
— Gerald Sittser. The Will of God as a Way of Life: How to Make Every Decision with Confidence and Peace, Revised edition.