Discerning God's Will
Do I need to discern God's will for my life? Yes, but likely not in the way you think.
by Stephen Yuille on February 20, 2020
Imagine the following scenario. I’m considering a job offer, working nights at a factory. I’ve been out of work for six months. This has caused a great deal of strain because I have a wife, three children, and a mortgage. The job pays well, and it seems to make sense for me to take it – besides, I have no other prospects on the horizon. But I’m struggling to discern God’s will because He hasn’t given me peace about working nights. I’ve prayed about it, and I just don’t feel right about accepting the job offer. By the way, this is how I usually make decisions: I commit the matter to God, and wait for Him to guide me by imparting an overwhelming sense of peace. I’m just not feeling it in this case.
I’ve heard a similar line of reasoning on countless occasions as I’ve interacted with people trying to discern God’s will for their lives. Should I take that job? Should I go to that school? Should I marry that person? And on it goes. Many of us assume we’re supposed to discern God’s will for us in each and every circumstance of life. This kind of thinking is so engrained in us that my guess is that many will be absolutely shocked by what I’m about to say. Here it is: we don’t need to figure out God’s will for our lives. Let me explain what I mean in six points.
First, God’s will is twofold. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). And so, when we speak of God's will, we must make a distinction. (1) There’s God’s secret will: His decrees. (2) There’s God’s revealed will: His precepts and promises as found in His Word.
Second, God’s secret will is called secret for a reason. Can you guess what it is? Yes, it’s called secret because it’s secret! God never commands us, or even encourages us, to attempt to figure out His secret will.
Third, God’s revealed will is for us. “He has told you. O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8). All we need to know concerning God’s will is found in His Word. We aren’t called to figure out God’s secret will in each and every circumstance, but follow His revealed will (as found in His Word) in each and every circumstance. Let me put this in very practical terms: I'm troubled by the number of Christians, trying to figure out God’s will for their lives, who are incapable of reciting the Ten Commandments (i.e., God’s will for their lives).
Fourth, God doesn’t have an extra “will” that we’re called to discern on the basis of our feelings. If we’re looking for some kind of recipe for making decisions, then we’re looking for the wrong thing. The idea that God reveals His plans and purposes to us by means of some sort of identifiable gust of emotion is a subtle form of Gnosticism, not biblical Christianity.
Fifth, God expects us to make decisions by exercising (good-old-fashioned) wisdom. He has commanded us how we’re to live and think. As we do, we exercise wisdom – the ability to discern between good and bad. Should I take that job? Should I go to that school? Should I marry that person? God doesn’t call us to figure out His will in each of these scenarios; rather, He commands us to make wise decisions based on our knowledge of His Word. “Is this good?” That’s what we ask. We don't need to pray to discern God’s will, but to discern between good and bad.
Sixth, God cultivates wisdom in us as we submit to His revealed will. This is why Paul prays: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” (Col. 1:9–10).