How Do I know God’s Will? How Do I Make Decisions God’s Way?
Life is full of many decisions, both moral and non-moral ones.
God desires that we follow His will, so how can we figure out what God’s will is?
The biggest mistake that is made in understanding what the Bible says about following God’s will is that the Bible teaches two very different methods for following God’s will. It teaches one method for following God’s will in moral areas of our lives and another method for following God’s will in non-moral areas of our lives.
I. How does the Bible tell us to make decisions in moral areas of our lives?
The Bible clearly teaches that we are to discover God’s moral will and follow it.
God’s moral will is anything that is clearly revealed in Scripture that God tells us to believe or do.
This revelation can be about doctrinal issues such as the doctrine of the Trinity and true identity of Jesus Christ; it can be about personal issues such as avoiding particular kinds of sin and loving others according to 1 Cor.13; it can be about practical issues such as the roles in marriage, ministry in the church, and the like.
For God’s moral will, the method of following it is simple. We are to discover what God has revealed in the Bible and obey it.
Jesus demonstrates this when he said in Jn.14:21 “He that has my commandments and keeps them, he is the one who loves me…”
The Lord is simply saying the one who says that he or she loves Him will be the one who keeps or follows His commandments as the commitment of his or her life. He is not talking about perfectly, no one can do that, but as the regular pattern and commitment of his or her life.
This is the method we use when we are dealing with God’s will in moral areas. We are to discover it in the Bible and follow it.
But this is not what the Bible says about following God’s will in non-moral areas.
Non-moral areas refer to areas of our lives where we need to make decisions that the Bible doesn’t reveal. It could be deciding on a job, a college, a career, buying a car, changing careers, making an investment, choosing a mate, and a whole host of other decisions.
The Bible does not reveal to us specifically God’s will for these areas of our lives except in giving us moral boundaries and some wise principles in making decisions. But it doesn’t tell us what God wants or what we should specifically do.
Therefore, when we attempt to use the same method as we are using for God’s moral will we run into a major obstacle. God’s will for those areas is not revealed specifically in the Scriptures.
This is why there is so much confusion. How can we “discover God’s will and follow it” if we don’t know what it is? In fact, we can’t and God does not expect us to use this method.
The Bible reveals a completely different method to use in the non-moral areas of our lives.
When referring to the non-moral areas of our lives, the question, “How do I know God’s Will?” is the wrong question. The better question is “How does the Bible tell us to make decisions in non-moral areas of our lives?” This question is far different than the one first one.
The answer lies in first understanding what God’s defines as his will in the Scriptures.
How the Bible defines God’s will
1. The Bible clearly defines that God has a moral will. He has a moral standard that he desires that we follow. God has a will for the kind of characteristics that we are to have in our lives.
We have already seen this above. The whole Bible speaks to his moral will and has many passages dealing with all kinds of moral issues that confront us.
2. The Bible also says that God has a sovereign will. His sovereign will is what he has already decided to do in the lives of the angels, his human creatures, both believers and unbelievers, and the whole universe.
Eph.1: 9-11 reveals this. It says,
“Having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he has purposed in himself, that in the administration of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth in him. In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will.”
Look at the last clause, “who works all things after the counsel of his own will.”
God works all things after the counsel (plan - what he has decided to do) of his will. This refers to God’s sovereign will.
The point: God has a sovereign will in which he has already decided what to do.
Within God’s sovereign will is a certain amount of free choice humans have.
God will give us as humans a certain amount of free choice to make decisions and then he will work out what he wants to accomplish in, through, and around our free decisions.
We will see far more on this later.
The issue for us is God’s sovereign will in regard to the details of our own personal lives.
God has allowed each of us a certain amount of free choice within a universe run by him as its ruler. He has allowed us to make decisions to sin or not to sin. He has allowed us to make decisions regarding what kind of car we want to drive, where we want to live, etc. as we shall see.
At times, God may prevent us from doing things, and He does work in, through and around us, but God does not reveal his sovereign will for us in the details of our lives on a regular basis so we can follow it.
Our names and our lives are not detailed in Scripture. Therefore, we cannot discover the details of God’s sovereign will for our lives in the Bible beyond what it says regarding the salvation of all believers and the like.
God has not chosen to reveal to us His sovereign will for the details of our lives.
So, the question “How do I discover God’s will for me in non-moral areas?” is an improper question to ask because it is not revealed to us.
You say, then how do we make decisions in these non-moral areas and be assured that we are trusting and submitting to the Lord and will have the blessing of God in them?
The Bible answers this question not by posing it and then giving the answer, but by simply providing all kinds of passages that talk about how we are to make decisions in non-moral areas.
This brings us back to our first question.
II. How does the Bible tell us to make decisions in non-moral areas of our lives?
The first principle is this.
A. Realize that in non-moral areas, we as believers have freedom of choice with the responsibility of exercising wisdom.
As long as we stay within the moral limits God has set in the Scriptures, and exercise wisdom, we should trust the Lord to bless us or turn us away from that choice if the Lord has chosen to work in another way in our lives.
In many areas, God allows us to simply do what we deem wise, but providentially there are times that God desires for us to be in a particular time or place or touch a particular person. When we make our free choice with wisdom, he will work and turn us in another direction if he chooses.
Let’s start with the first part of this principle.
We are free to choose whatever we desire as long as we stay within the moral limits set by God in His Word and we take responsibility to exercise wisdom.
This is, in fact, what the Bible teaches and exhibits all throughout the pages of Scriptures when dealing with non-moral areas (or areas where God is not giving direct revelation concerning His sovereign will to his prophets and apostles and other special representatives to accomplish his redemptive plan).
Let’s look at Genesis and see how God dealt with Adam and Eve in setting up moral boundaries and then giving them freedom to make decisions within those boundaries.
God sets a pattern in Genesis of how He will generally deal with human beings for all of human history and in all societies.
In Gen.1 God gave instructions to Adam and Eve regarding their daily lives and their relationship with him.
Gen.1:26-28 God told them to subdue the earth and rule over it.
“To subdue the earth and rule over it” means that they and their descendents were to create communities and use the land to develop and live in these communities. They could use trees to build houses and domesticate animals to help them.
Notice, God does not give them a long instruction list detailing specifically how they were to do that. He just says to do it. God created them with intelligence so they would be quite capable of making these decisions.
Right away they are given freedom to decide the specifics in following God’s general commands. Freedom of choice!
Gen.1:29 God tells them what he created for them to eat. Again, he gives a general instruction. They were to eat fruit, vegetables and plants only.
Also, God does not tell them they are to eat 1/2 fruit, 1/2 vegetables, and don’t forget the spinach. The specifics are left up to them to decide. Freedom of choice!
Gen.2:15 It is implied that God told them to take care of the garden. Again, there are no specifics. By the way, the ground was not cursed so caring for the garden would have been a blessing, rather than a curse.
Then God gives them a moral limit.
Gen.2:16 They were not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Again God gives them a lot of freedom to make choices. He says, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden except one.”
So we see that God gave Adam and Eve a moral limit and instructions for the basics of living and then said go live together and freely choose what you want to do in regard to following these instructions and living within the moral limit he had given them.
And they had a lot of freedom of choice!
If Adam had gone back to the Lord and asked, “but Lord what would you want me to eat for dinner, which fruit?” The Lord would probably have said, I already told you, eat whatever you want, but stay away from the one moral limit I gave you – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
If Adam had asked, “Lord, how shall I take care of the garden? Shall I make this tool or that tool, shall I rake in the morning or evening?” The Lord would have said, “My will is for you to decide.”
God did not have a specific choice or will for the areas of freedom that he gave Adam. He told Adam his will was for Adam to choose.
Genesis shows us that God did not create Adam and Eve or us to be robots where he decides for us everything that we are to do. He created us to have freedom to make decisions.
God does not have a “will” for everything we do. He does not follow us around trying to guide us into following some choice he has made for us already. If he did we would be practically robots. If God took all the free choice away from us by making every decision in advance for us and then try to get us to figure out what he wants and then do it, we would not be human beings created in the image of God.
He created us to have a certain amount of free choice so we could freely love him and so we could enjoy the freedom of choice. He gives us moral limits and then as we shall see tells us to live wisely.
How God dealt with Adam and Eve is the basis for how laws are written in society.
Gary Freissen says in his book, Decision-making and the Will of God, writes,
“The principle of choice within revealed limits was clearly part of the Creator’s design from the very beginning. And it is a principle that continues to be applied routinely in everyday situations. For instance, on public beaches it is not uncommon to find posted regulations for swimmers. These signs inform every one of the restrictions that must be observed for the sake of safety. Each swimmer rightly assumes that he may do anything else not forbidden. He may build a sandcastle, fill a pail of water, splash a friend, do the sidestroke, and so on. He does not have to ask the lifeguard for permission to do things that are not on the list. Freedom of activity within the declared limits is assumed by all.” (p.167)
In fact, our whole lives in society are built around the freedom of choice within declared limits.
As parents, our relationship with our children is the same. We don’t regulate everything they do. We don’t follow them around telling them what to do or not to do in every situation they encounter. We set limits and tell them to stay within them. We give them some rules of behavior so they care for each other and don’t hurt each other. God does the same for His children. We got this from Him.
This gives to us a tremendous amount of freedom as Christians to make choices within the moral limits that God has set as long as we exercise wisdom!
As we exercise freedom of choice with wisdom we need to trust the Lord to bless us or turn us away from that choice if the Lord has chosen to work in another way in our lives.
This is how Paul the apostle made all his decisions except for the few times the Lord appeared to him to tell him what to do.
Look at 1 Thess. 2:17 - 3:1-2 below. Paul says,
“But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. Wherefore we would have come to you, even I Paul, more than once; but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For you are our glory and joy. Wherefore when we could no longer endure, we thought it best to be left at Athens alone; and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellowlaborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith…”
Paul had to leave Thessalonica after a short ministry there (Acts 17: 1-10). He was very concerned about the believers there who were young in the Lord and under intense persecution.
Paul, Silas, and Timothy tried to go back several times, but Satan prevented him, most likely through persecution and circumstances. Finally in 3:1 Paul decided that it would be better to at least send Timothy to Thessalonica even though he had wanted all three of them to go.
See how he explains their decision with the words, “we thought it best” That means we thought this decision was the best (wisest) thing to do. He doesn’t say, the Lord told us to do it, we felt peace about it and then did it, we received an impression from the Lord that this was good.
He simply says, we thought this would be the best way to go, the wisest thing to do under the circumstances. Paul had the freedom to make a choice and the responsibility to be wise.
This letter to the Thessalonians occurred earlier in Paul’s ministry.
In his letter to the Philippians which is later in his ministry, Paul was still making the choices with wisdom.
In Phil.2:25-26 Paul uses a similar statement, “I thought it necessary,” as he explains his decision to send Epaphraditus back to them.”
Did Paul pray to the Lord for wisdom, absolutely? Did Paul pray for guidance, absolutely?
Did Paul pray that the Lord would impress him with his will or choice in this matters so that he could know it was definitely the Lord’s will. No. Paul never mentions anything like that. Then Paul would have said, “the Lord thought it necessary.” Paul had to make the choice himself, not seek to discover a choice the Lord already had made.
Paul assumed that if he made the best decision he could, he would let the Lord turn him off that course and onto another.
We apply this by submitting ourselves to the Lord’s will by making our plans in accordance with the way the Lord has told us to which is to stay within the bounds of God’s moral will.
We then submit those plans to the Lord and ask him to guide us to that goal only if it is within his will.
I like the phrase “if it is within his will” as a general phrase which sharpens the focus toward the fact that many times either way we go in a decision may be within his will.
Either way we do the same thing, make the best decision we can.
Look at Jas.4:13-16
James is dealing with those who claim to be Christians, but never take into account what is the Lord’s will in their lives.
They made plans, but did not care about staying within the Lord’s limits (trust and submission) nor take into account the possibility the Lord might have chosen to move toward something else.
v. 15 “Instead you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”
“If it is the Lord’s will our plans will work out, if not we might not even be alive tomorrow.”
This is an acknowledgement of trust and submission that the Lord is in control of the universe and may have some other purposes whenh we make decisions.
You say, “Lord, this is the best decision that I can make, and I lay it in your hands to lead me toward that goal or not depending on whether it is a matter of just my choice or you have something else in mind.”
The second principle is this.
B. Commit yourself to discovering God's revealed moral will in His Word and follow it.
Commit yourself to turning away from sin and staying within the moral boundaries that God has set. This is the commitment you must have in your life before you can properly exercise wisdom in making decisions
As we said above, God has revealed this in His word.
If you have not made this decision, then no matter what you do or how much you pray you are not in submission to the Lord’s will and never will be until you make this commitment.
The primary concern of God is not moving you from place to place, etc., it is the kind of person you are, the kind of husband and wife you are, the character and quality of your life.
The whole Bible is written toward that end.
Look at Ps.37:3-4
v.3 "Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture."
This means we are to trust in the Lord and do good (follow what He says is good). This is the OT equivalent to living by the Spirit.
Trust in the Lord and do that which God says is good.
God has revealed in the Scriptures what is good and what is not.
If you want to follow the Lord’s will in decision-making, you must submit to what he has already clearly revealed is his will (good) and stay within the boundaries that he has set.
This is where submission to the Lord’s will comes in. Submission in decision-making in non-moral areas is not “Lord, show me your will, and I will submit to it,” but rather “Lord, I am submitting to your revealed moral will, lead as I go through this decision-making process.”
The regular pattern of your life is to be one of trust and submission to do good
The third principle is this.
C. Turn your attention to the Lord to rejoice in him and be thankful to him as your first priority, then lay your desires before him in trust and submission so that he might accomplish your desires as he sovereignly wills.
Look at Ps.37:4 again.
v.4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
“Delight in” means to “rejoice in”
It means to turn your attention and focus toward God, His nature and blessings as your Father and toward Jesus Christ, His nature and blessings as your Savior which allows the Spirit to produce His joy in your hearts on a regular basis.
It involves having a thankful heart and regularly thanking. Thankful to the Lord for all of his blessings, seeing your situation as one the Lord is working through.
Christians should be characterized by a life of focusing on the nature of God and his blessings and being thankful for that.
If you are doing this regularly in your life, the Lord will give you the desires of your heart.
v. 4 “and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
That means if you seek the Lord and delight in Him, he will actively work to give you the desires that are in your heart and will help you fulfill them.
These desires can be desires for anything, but will always be mediated by the boundaries that God has set in his Word.
Those boundaries are God’s moral standard and His sovereign will.
But this is a general statement that God cares about our desires and His sovereign will targets fulfilling these desires as long as we have our priorities straight.
We are just like this as parents. I want to fulfill the desires my kids have as long as they are not unwise or detrimental to them or I have some other plan for them. Many times I fulfill them. We get that attitude from God.
Satan wants us to believe that God wants to crush our desires on the altar of sacrifice. And if we want something, it can’t be God’s will. That is not true.
There is a huge difference between self and selfish. “Self” means I have desires because I am a human being that God created to have desires. “Selfish” means that I am going to fulfill those desires and nobody better get in my way.
Now God fulfilling our desires is also tempered by whether we have the ability and knowledge to do it. When I was a kid I wanted to be a major league pitcher, but I had only three pitches, slow, slower, and slowest. All the prayers in the world weren’t going to get me to the majors short of having surgery and getting a bionic arm. So, the Lord did not answer that prayer, however, the Lord did give me major league verbal skills and gifts and I have developed a career using those. Some might say a bionic mouth.
When Christians center their lives in Christ, they don’t lose all desire for a car, or particular kind of job, rather it tempers their desires so that they are in their proper place in their lives. Our desires are good and valid and can be pursued, but not as the number one priority of our lives, but as a priority under Christ as first in our lives.
Christians who are joyful in the Lord and His blessings and thankful for them make balanced and wise decisions based on their desires. Many a rash decision has been made from a grumbling heart or anger.
Then David says in Ps.37:
v. 5 “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this; He will make your righteousness shine…”
Commit your way to the Lord means to lay your desires before the Lord in prayer. Trust and submit them to him and His sovereign will.
This is exactly what Jabez did in 1 Chron.4: 9-10.
Jabez took his desires for enlarging his territory and brought them to the Lord and prayed that the Lord would do it if it was within God’s sovereign will.
Jabez is remembered as an example of taking his desires before the Lord and requesting God to work to help him accomplish his desires.
Look at Ps.20:4 and Ps.21:2 for other verses about God blessing by fulfilling our desires.
Desire is a big factor in decision-making. So if you are loving the Lord, and you have some desires to do something and it does not violate Scripture and it is wise, then make that a major part of your decision-making.
Look at Prov. 16:3 which says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”
We need to realize that God cares about the desires of our hearts. God’s sovereign plan for us involves giving us the desires of our hearts if it is within his moral will and is not detrimental to us and he has not planned for something else.
But we must put the Lord and delighting in him and being thankful to him as first priority in our lives. That’s what it means to be a Christian.
If we do this, then we can make the fulfillment of our desires a major factor in our decision-making as long as we temper our desires with wisdom.
This is our fourth principle.
D. Pray for wisdom and guidance and then make a plan for a decision based on wisdom.
A plan is when you think through a decision you want to make and lay out either mentally or on paper what you are going to do. I use the word “plan” because that is how the Scriptures talk about making decisions.
It can be as simple as a quick mental assessment of the situation and then the decision or it could be an elaborate plan for accomplishing a goal.
The key to a plan is that you have thought the decision through. This plan or decision must be based on wisdom.
Wisdom means that one is able to discern what is the best and highest goal in any particular situation and then discern how to best obtain it. The discernment is based on seeing things from a Biblical perspective.
Wisdom in decision-making is the ability to discern issues, situations, people, and anticipate consequences involved in the decision according to the Scriptures, then to choose the most suitable course of action according to the Scriptures.
God is a God of wisdom and not a God of foolishness, and God loves wisdom.
How do we apply wisdom to our decision-making?
1) We need to pray for wisdom in making decisions Jas.1: 5
2) Seek to make a wise decision. Prov.19:8 tells us to be wise in our decisions.
3) Seek counsel from those who have wisdom Prov.20: 18 Make plans by seeking advice Prov.15: 22 Plans succeed with many counselors.
4) Make a decision based on wisdom and trust the Lord to direct your steps. Prov. 16: 9
You go to a music store and see a CD you want to buy. You weigh the “pros and cons.”
1. I like it 2. I can afford it.
You make a decision, “No I’m not going to buy that CD because I like it, but I can’t afford it. I just bought five CD’s yesterday.” OR “Yes. I am going to buy that CD. I have the money and can afford it. It does not violate the Scriptures as to its content. I will enjoy it.”
A plan means that you have thought through the decision which can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few months. The decision was not done on impulse.
You ask yourself, “What would be the best decision in this situation?”
Now this would not apply to every single decision we make, but the ones that are important enough that require some thought.
We make a plan and submit it to the Lord and then the Lord directs our steps as we move toward to implementing it
I trust that the Lord will work it out unless he has other plans which he will steer me toward.
How does the Lord direct your steps? Two major ways.
1. Providing or shutting off opportunities to implement your plan or part of it
As we move the Lord will provide an opportunity to implement your plan or part of it, or he will shut off an opportunity to implement your plan or part of it, or he will provide an opportunity to change your plan or part of it.
How will I know?
First of all, an opportunity or a lack of one is not a sign from the Lord that needs to be read. It is an opportunity or lack thereof that must be factored into your decision.
Your decision is based on a variety of factors. It is like a bunch of Lego pieces that must be fit together. You pick them up and put them together and make something, a plan. Now you have another Lego piece, an opportunity or lack of one.
You may change your decision, not based on this being a sign, but based on the new opportunities or lack thereof.
Paul talks about this very thing in 1 Thess.2: 17-21 and 3:1-2.
Circumstances out of his control did not allow Paul to go to Thessalonica, so he added this piece to the puzzle. Instead of deciding that this was a sign from the Lord that he should not go, he made a new decision to send Timothy.
If the Lord wants to say “no” you will know it because it will be impossible to do it.
2. By bringing additional information or advice into your life that will cause you to continue your plan or reexamine your plan.
God will bring people into your life that will give you new information or advice that will cause you to continue to implement your plan, not implement your plan, or change your plan.
How will you know?
First of all, it is not a sign from the Lord that needs to be read. It is advice that needs to be added to the factors that have contributed to your original decision.
What about if I make a plan for a decision and I’m ready to go, but I don’t have peace or joy.
Again, a lack of peace or joy is not a sign, but a factor in the decision that may cause you to change your mind.
Ask yourself “Why am I not at peace or joyful?” “What is bothering me about it?” Be as specific as possible and then factor that into your decisions. You may possibly change your decision or continue on in it.
We often have fears that seem general, but there is usually a specific reason or cause.
E. Seek to fulfill your plan or decisions, waiting patiently for the Lord to direct your steps according to the time frame that is necessitated by wisdom and circumstances.
Once the plan has been made, go and accomplish it. Trust the Lord and pray that the Lord would accomplish your plan within His sovereign will.
Ps.37:7 speaks to this.
“Be still” – that means – don’t be anxious that things won’t work out. Lay it before the Lord and rest in his power and love. He will work all things out for your good.
If being wise requires that you take your time in accomplishing your decision, then wait patiently for God to work.
If circumstances require that you wait, then wait patiently for the Lord to work.
In the end, once you make the decision, you need to trust the Lord according to Rom.8:28 that He will work all things out for your good.
May you exercise wisdom as you strive to make decisions in your daily life! This will bring God’s blessing to your decisions!
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