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How to Know God's Will for Your Life (#WCSK)

Updated on July 18, 2016
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Dr. Sadaphal proclaims intelligent faith that provides clarity and meaningful answers to those who seek maturity in Christ. #WCSK

What is God’s will?

Ephesians 5:17b says, “So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

If the author of this text implores us to understand the will of The Lord, then it is clear that knowledge of that will is accessible to us. So, where is it? How can someone find it, and where do they seek for it? How can I know God’s will for my life?

Well, what most people may not realize is that God’s expressed will is staring them in the face, and that expressed will most certainly clarifies God’s intent for your life. Of course, no one will be able to know all of God’s will, but the will that is revealed provides a wealth of guidance in day-to-day affairs. Specifically speaking, there are three different flavors of God’s will.

Our understanding of God’s will comes from the two Greek words for “will” that are used in the New Testament.

The words for "will" in the New Testament
The words for "will" in the New Testament

What is God’s will? (cont’d)

So, how the Bible uses these two words directs our attention to the fact that there are three distinct types of God’s will. By understanding what these types are, you will be equipped to discern God’s will for you life and obtain many meaningful answers. The following graphic should help you to visualize what follows.

The three distinct types of God's will
The three distinct types of God's will

God’s will: Efficacious (hidden) will

The first type of God’s will is His efficacious will. This is the deepest part of God’s will that is not always revealed and that also contains all those things that are a “secret” (Deuteronomy 29:29) and known only by God. God’s efficacious will is what informs our personal guidance. Of course, by prayer, God makes it clear that He is willing to reveal more of Himself. The only thing we have to do is ask: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

Within God’s efficacious will, you find answers to everything, including the who, what, when, where, why, and how. Here, if God determines that something shall happen, then it happens—nothing can stop His efficacious will because God is sovereign. Consider, for example, when Jesus commanded a crippled man to “pick up your pallet and walk” (John 5:8). Instantaneously, the man got up and walked. Nothing the man could think, say or do would have prevented him from picking up his pallet (mat) and walking. Here, because there is never a difference between what God wills and what happens, all human beings are passive as things come to pass.

Moses with the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt
Moses with the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt

God’s will: Preceptive (revealed) will

The second type of God’s will is His preceptive will. This part of His will is much more transparent than His efficacious will, and this will is always clear and fully revealed. Examples of His preceptive will are seen in His explicit rules and His laws (like the Ten Commandments). So, when God commands us all to not covet someone else’s things (Exodus 20:17), it is very clear that God wills that everyone avoid yearning after the possessions of others. An important point to make here is that people reject God’s perceptive will all the time: They are indifferent to His rules and disobey His laws. This is where free will comes into play, because at the end of the day, human beings are active and responsible when it comes to God’s preceptive will.

God’s will vs. my free will

Does my free will negate God’s sovereignty? Of course not. His sovereignty does not cancel out our freedom—His sovereignty defines the contours of individual freedom. So, within the boundaries that God has drawn, I am free to function, and when we pray, many of the things within our boundaries can change.

God’s will: Dispositional (revealed) will

The third type of God’s will is His dispositional will. This revealed will relates to God’s character, and from this character flows knowledge about what is either agreeable or disagreeable to Him. This is how studying God helps us to navigate modern life: because there will be many situations where God will not reveal His secret will to us, and there will not always be a specific law or commandment to tell us what to do. But if we know God, and therefore know His character, we then know what He finds acceptable. So, for example, nowhere in the Bible will you find an explicit instruction on whether or not spending the whole day watching TV is good or bad. But, we do know from all of God’s sovereign works in creation (e.g., nature) that it is agreeable to Him to be productive (II Corinthians 9:6) and to build nurturing environments for others (Ephesians 4:29; II Timothy 3:16-17). We also know that it is agreeable to God that people live faithful lives (Hebrews 10:23). It is disagreeable to God if people live lives characterized by sloth (see Proverbs 12:24, 13:4). So, in answering the question at hand, the response becomes very clear by understanding God’s character and thus His dispositional will. Take note that a very large gap may exist between God’s dispositional will and what people actually do.

Learn what the apostle Paul did when he didn't know God's will for his life in this sermon

Are you ready to know God’s will?

This question, “How can I know God’s will for my life?” is timeless, but have you ever considered another question: “If God does reveal His explicit will to you, are you ready and willing to accept the answer?” Consider the example of Jesus in Luke 22:39-46. There, before He is crucified, He prays to the Father and asks, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

Here, God (Jesus) asks God (the Father) to stop something from happening. What is the Father’s response? The crucifixion is still going to happen. And, on top of that, even though Jesus is so stressed that He sweats blood (verse 44), God sends an angel to strengthen Jesus so that He can go through the thing He just asked to stop.

It is important to note that throughout Christ’s prayer in Luke 22, He repeatedly qualifies His petitions by saying, “Father, if you are willing …” Many times in our lives, when we petition God to reveal His will to us, the answer we get may simply be, “Submit to My revealed will” (II Corinthians 12:9-10). In other times, the “silence” of God persuades us to continue waiting (Psalm 27:14, 38:15, 130:5-6), and in the interim, we may have our desires changed, a fresh revelation, or a new assurance of what God’s will is.

Do you know God’s will for your life?

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How can I know God’s will?

The answer is simple: You have to search for it. In order to write this hub, I began with a question: What instruction can I give to Christians that delivers clarity and meaningful answers on the topic of God’s will? How did I proceed? I prayed. I read my Bible. I wrote. I listened to a few lectures from some well-respected theologians and referred to a commentary on Ephesians. I read some more and then wrote some more. During this entire process, I never saw a vision, nor did God reveal Himself to me and say, “Yes, that hub will be on knowing My will. Thus sayeth The Lord!” What I’m trying to say is that I searched, but I did not get a specific answer.

But, I knew that God’s revealed will is that Christians be well equipped and able to communicate sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). I knew that it was God’s revealed will that all Scripture is profitable for teaching (II Timothy 3:16) and that the wisdom contained in the Bible is the light the guides us in our daily lives (Psalms 119:105). I also knew that Christian leaders are to teach correctly and with integrity (Titus 2:7-8). I also knew that the second anyone accepts the responsibility to teach the Bible, they are subjecting themselves to more scrutiny and judgment (James 3:1-2). This means that God demands not just “ok” effort and preparation, but focused and competent preparation with meaningful results. And, the life of Jesus testifies to the fact that He reached people where they were in order to draw them closer to Him.

Why did I go through all that? Because I sought for God to reveal His will to me personally, only to realize that for what I desired, He had already revealed His will through His Word and His character. God’s secret will is always going to be His, so to try and figure that out will end in frustration. So, in order to know God’s will, start with His revealed will. There you will find a wealth of information to guide you in everyday life. What I’m trying to say is that this time when I searched God’s revealed will, I found many specific answers.

Still, many people may feel frustrated if they don’t hear from God personally. The sheer fact of the matter is that in the entire Biblical narrative, hearing a direct word from God was an extremely rare thing to happen. Roughly speaking, over a span of thousands of years in the Bible, less than fifty people heard from The Lord directly, and when they did, that revelation had a very unique purpose: to reveal God’s will in the plan of redemption (how people were going to get saved). So, according to the Bible, when God did speak to people, it was never an instruction to go somewhere or to do something isolated from other people coming closer to God (as an example, see the Book of Jonah).

The timing of God’s will

Another key idea to understand is that knowledge of God’s will for your life has a lot to do with timing. As we grow and mature in Christ, we develop the character and endurance to correctly take ownership of revelations of God’s will. This is validated by the pervasive theme in the Bible of progressive revelation.

Take, for example, the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-44). When Joseph was a young teenager and sought God’s will, if God had actually told Joseph that one day he would be one of the most powerful men on Earth, this revelation might have given Joseph an inflated ego and persuaded him to start acting like a little king. If God also revealed before it was time that Joseph would be sold into slavery by his brothers, he may have never left the house. In reality, what God did reveal to Joseph was a vague dream (37:5-7) that contained a promise. Consequently, as time marched forward, Joseph endured many trials and tribulations, but it was his faith in God and his lack of total knowledge of God’s will that animated his forward progress. Then, as a grown man, Joseph found himself at the top in Egypt, where he was able to assist his entire family. It is at that point that he could look back and make sense of his unique story, aware of the ending that God had written for him.

How to know God’s will: Take-home points

God’s will is far more concerned with how than with when. God is eternal, and He therefore has your eternal destiny with Him in heaven in mind. So, of course things may seem nonsensical now because we don’t have the vantage point of eternity. For God, motive is more important than action, and our heart condition (Galatians 5:22-23) triumphs over anything that we actually do. Jesus is God, so His will is perfectly embodied in Christ. The key is that as long as I walk in His ways, He will lead me in His will (Proverbs 3:5-6, Romans 8:28). So, if you are a teenager wondering where to go to college or a middle-aged adult wondering whether or not to take the offer, the comforting news is that we cannot override His sovereignty, and He is largely more concerned with who we are than what we do or when we do it.

© 2016 CH Elijah Sadaphal

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