The Will of God


One of the reasons that this has, to some extent, become a confusing topic for some believers is the introduction of concepts and outlooks propounded by motivational speakers of this world, but now introduced into churches as well. Those who do not know God (the motivational speakers of this world) are expounding to those who do not know God on how to make their lives successful, how to feel good and positive about themselves, in order to motivate, encourage and inspire them, and to make them feel fulfilled in themselves. They talk about ‘having a dream’, ‘following your dreams’, ‘setting goals’, having ‘a vision’ for your life and ‘discovering the purpose of your life’. I say this not to blame them, for what else can they do? But real problems arise in the minds and lives of Christians today when this kind of unbiblical outlook, language and philosophy is brought into the church.

Though God gave dreams and visions to certain of His people in the Bible, these had nothing to do with the personal aspirations or desires of the person to whom the vision or dream came. They came directly and sovereignly, and almost always unexpectedly from God Himself, to direct His people according to His will, not according to their fancies or ambitions. These dreams and visions could relate to what a person should do, but more often they related to a message that was to be communicated to God’s people for their instruction in His ways. Nowhere in the Bible is anyone told that they must have a dream, or to follow their dreams, or to have a vision for their life, church or city, or to discover their purpose in life. There is not a single verse that speaks in such a way or even intimates such a thing.

Where such ideas are introduced into the minds of God’s people, it can only have the result of not only confusing them about God’s will in their lives, but can actually lead them to missing His will, in general and in particular.

So let us look at what the Scriptures teach about the will of God, for they have much to say that is essential for our understanding of God’s will and its outworking in our lives. We will look at verses that are foundational not only to this subject, but which must also be become the very foundation of our daily lives. Without this foundation, everything else will fail.

So let’s start by looking at some verses that clearly define the will of God for us.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). 

This is foundational. In Christ we are the recipients of a great salvation. Christ shed His blood on Calvary not only to forgive us our sins, but to free us from the power of sin in our lives and to make us clean and holy, separated from everything that could defile us. And He has done this not just for its own sake, as it were, as if to make us a shiny object on a shelf, but in order to fulfil His eternal purpose that we should be brought into intimate fellowship with Him, and to yield our lives to Him, loving Him with all our heart, mind, strength and soul. The will of God is…my sanctification! This does not make me self-centred about my ‘holiness’, but is meant to make me utterly Christ-centred and devoted to Him. Paul expresses like this,

 “…He died for all, that they who live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15).

This is to be the very disposition of our hearts, day by day. Everything is founded on our personal, intimate, daily relationship with the Lord. Our sense or understanding of God’s will for a particular situation comes out of our personal relationship with Him. If this daily, personal and intimate relationship of devotion to God is missing or lacking, then we must not expect to have a clear understanding of His will in either the general or particular sense. (By ‘general’, I mean an understanding of God’s will as it relates to our conduct and daily living, and by ‘particular’, I mean specific guidance in specific situations.)

The danger is to look for the ‘big’ or ‘dramatic’ things, and in so doing we neglect to do the most fundamental and important, neglect to give ourselves to the highest calling of all, which is to know the Father and to know the Son and have fellowship with them on a daily basis, that is, spending time not just in prayer, but in the devotional offering up of our praise and worship and of our own lives to God.

What do I mean by the ‘big’ things? Well, Baruch was Jeremiah’s assistant. It seems that he thought his association with the important prophet Jeremiah would put him into a privileged position, but God came to him and said these wonderful words, which have also helped me and directed me over many years in putting things in the right perspective. God said,

“And do seek you great things for yourself? Seek them not…” (Jeremiah 45:5).

If we keep thinking about what God might be wanting to do with our lives, how He might use us, it will distract us from what He is already doing in our lives. It will be time wasted. He will wait for us until we return to Him and devote ourselves to Him, to walk in step with Him and keep our focus on Him. To be motivated by a desire to ‘be’ something in front of other people or to do something ‘great’ will only lead us astray.

Our understanding of His will for a particular situation issues out of our daily relationship with Him, where we give ourselves to His will in what we are doing today! Without doubt, as our Father, God is at work in our lives today, as Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12). Whether we feel this to be true or not, it is absolutely true, and it is known to those who maintain a personal intimate relationship of devotion to God in their daily walk. Our response to His present working in our lives is essential for our growth in Christ.

If we turn back to our original verse in 1 Thessalonians, we see that God’s word is very specific and practical regarding God’s will for us.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.”

God’s salvation doesn’t just cleanse us from sin and defilement (Gal. 1:4; Titus 2:14), but makes provision for us to live pure, holy lives. (1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Peter 1:16; 2 Peter 1:4). If I am looking at impure images from whatever source, then obviously I am way out of His will and exposing myself to an influence that will make my imagination a slave to those images and destroy my spiritual life before God. This verse makes it clear that we are to avoid anything and everything that would entice us and lead us to actual sexual immorality. To avoid and to abstain from such things is the will of God, permanently and continuously, for each one of us. “Flee also youthful lusts: but pursue righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22). This is God’s will for each one of us.

In connection with this thought, it would be useful to look at a verse in the Hebrew letter:

“For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” (Hebrews 10:36).

This verse refers us to a vital element in our walk with God and an important aspect of fulfilling His will. At certain times in our lives, patience will be particularly required on our part, before we receive what God has prepared for us. God tests our faith in Him and the deepest motivation of our hearts by the ‘seeming’ delays that occur in our lives. Knowing and fulfilling God’s will in particular areas of our life is something that not infrequently we have to wait on Him for! A young person (or anyone for that matter!) can rush into a relationship or even into marriage, led or even driven by such thoughts as, “If you don’t strike now, you will miss the boat! Grasp the opportunity while you have the chance!” Our own personal desire for fulfilment (however legitimate), our impatience with God’s timing, can expose us, and does expose us to the temptation of the enemy of our souls, who always seeks to drive us to act pre-emptively concerning God’s will, and to take a shortcut to personal fulfilment. In effect, in the garden of Eden, the devil was saying to Eve, “Eat of this good-looking fruit now. It is a shortcut to becoming God!” Of course, this kind of temptation, or testing, can relate to any area of our lives (for example calling and ministry) where patience may not only be needed, but actually designed by God for us to purify our deepest motivations and our trust in Him, in order that He can pour out on us all the fullness of His rich blessing in His time, and at a time that is safe for us!

Particularly in such situations, the two following verses are foundational to walking with the Lord and knowing His will,

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Commit your way unto the LORD; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass.” (Psalm 37:5).

There will be times in our lives when we don’t understand a situation or what is happening, and might be tempted to act ‘pre-emptively’. These verses guide and help us to maintain a close walk with God and not to do ‘our own thing’ out of our own ingenuity or lack of patience. We will not lose out in discovering God’s will by patiently waiting on Him and committing our lives completely to Him. On the contrary, this is the way to discover His will – or to put it in a better way, for Him to reveal His will to us in His time.

Let us now look at another verse that specifically directs us to will of God. It is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: 

“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

Concerning you, and concerning me, this is the will of God for every day.

You will know that this is not just some kind of ‘technique’ to employ, a ‘rule’ to follow. It’s a matter of the state of our hearts, and how we relate to God in the things that happen and that we pass through. We can’t genuinely do this unless our hearts are ‘in tune’ with God, unless we offer up our deepest responses to Him, acknowledging that He is over all, sovereign in all things, that He is for us and loves us and ‘makes all things work together for good’. Giving thanks from the heart is not a superficial thing, but an act of worship and praise and of the offering up of our lives to Him – it is an expression of the depth of our relationship to Him and of our total trust in Him. And it also bring glory to Him!

And this is to extend to every area of our lives, as the apostle Paul says in Colossians 3:17:

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father by Him.”

Our very daily living is to be an act of worship and thanks to God. It is a terrible mistake to think that the value of our Christian lives before God consists of what we do in church or in public ministry, or in the kind of job we have or don’t have. This would be a total misconception that would lead us to miss the will of God for our lives in general, and in particular. That kind of thinking takes our eyes off the Lord and off the precious things that He’s actually doing in our lives. It makes us lose sight of the the most wonderful thing that God has brought us into, namely, into a relationship with himself! There is nothing greater or of greater value than your relationship with God. That is what is to be nurtured and valued. Whoever we are, and whatever we might be doing, whether it is having a so-called ‘normal’ job or working at home looking after the children, or living alone or whatever, we are all given the opportunity to fully live to the glory of God. Every act that we do is sanctified at made precious to God by the fact that we are doing it to Him with a grateful heart! This is what glorifies Him and what will make us to shine with His glory in that final day of resurrection when the true value of things shall be revealed!

Much of what has been just said above is tied together and confirmed by a passage in Colossians. Paul is writing to the Colossians and tells them that he has ceaselessly been praying this one thing for them:

“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: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father…”. (Colossians 1:9-12).

It must have been a significant prayer if it was continually on his heart. It must relate to something of fundamental importance to our Christian life. We can recognise from the wording that the ‘will of God’ he is talking about here does not particularly relate to some specific guidance or providence, but to an understanding of how we are to conduct ourselves in our daily lives so that it makes everything we do pleasing to God. It causes us to increase in the knowledge of God and to bear fruit to God. To this end he prays that we might be strengthened with all of God’s power. To what end and for what purpose? That we might have an effective and powerful public ministry? No. It is to help us to have patience and endure the things we pass through with joy, giving thanks to our God!

It is not so much that we are to look about searching for the will of God in our lives, but rather                we are to be an expression of God’s will each day in all that we say and do, and in the way we react to our circumstances, and how we conduct ourselves before people. We are to be a reflection of the life of Christ before God, and unto men and women (2 Cor. 2:14-16). There is no greater calling or ministry than this.

Let us not cast about looking for the will of God in our lives if we harbour bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness, hardness of heart, envy and jealousy or impure behaviour. We have already put ourselves outside the will of God if we harbour and do such things. In our daily living, we are to ‘put on Christ’ and leave completely our former mode of thinking, living and reacting. God’s great salvation contains the provision through His abundant grace to live the kind of life He has called us to, because it is Christ who lives within us by His spirit.

People may say wrong things about us and treat us in a wrong way, but word and will of God is clear in such situations – we are to be “strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father.” And the apostle Peter puts it like this, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people… For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.” (1 Peter 2:15; 3:17).

There are times that we pass through that are difficult, and sometimes difficutl because of what people say or do. Our reaction to such times is to be directed and determined by the word of God. Those who walk with the Lord find the following verse to be true: “Great peace have they which love your law: and nothing shall offend them.” (Psalm 119:165). This is the life of Christ within us! The things that happen to us are in this sense not ‘against us’, but to bring us into a deeper knowledge of God and into a deeper relationship with the Lord. That is why Paul says, “Not only that, but we glory / rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance…” (Romans 5:3…). The kind of ‘suffering’ that these verses talk about are actually meant to produce (Christ-like) fruit in our lives!

It is good to understand that very difficult times are just as much a part of the will of God as other times. Otherwise we will start complaining about this and that, start blaming him and her, as though these things are uninvited nuisances and intrusions to upset the comfortable equilibrium of our lives! It is not the actual problem that is the problem, but my reaction to it. Without understanding this, we will misunderstand the will of God or us, we will actually miss out on the deep blessing that God has designed for us through this very ‘crisis’. His will is not that we are pounded, crushed and depressed by these events, but that these very events are the ones that bring forth in us, in a far greater and deeper way, the life of Christ and the knowledge of His love and grace – which all works to the glory of His great Name!

Much, if not all of what has been written above is clearly, briefly and wonderfully summed up for us in two verses that we find in Romans 12. These verses are foundational for our lives as Christians and to the topic we are considering.

“I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (or “which is your spiritual ministry”). And don’t be conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2). 

These are verses to live by – daily. Here is the basis, or secret to knowing God and His will, not just regarding specific guidance, but for our day to day living. This, in a way, brings us back to the verse with which we began this study – “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”. We all have a ministry; we all have a daily service to perform. It is a spiritual ministry that we are all to carry out before God and unto God. It is not something extraordinary as though it were for apostles and prophets only; it is not an extra to be tagged on to other things; it is to be our normal service to God by those that He has redeemed; one that is reasonable, foundational and to be expected in view of all that God has done for us and in view of all that He is. These verses also highlight what has been mentioned a number of times in this study, namely, that an understanding of God’s will issues out of the daily devotional sacrifice of our lives to Him, where we have separated ourselves in our hearts and minds from that which is worldly, unholy and unprofitable, so that God’s Spirit can minister to us his truth and make us see things differently – see them as He sees them, and for us to make choices based on that renewed understanding!  

If we live like this, we will avoid periods of ‘head scratching’, wondering what God’s will is for our lives. Gifts, callings and directive guidance all arise from our personal, intimate relationship and fellowship that we have with God. It may come suddenly because God has progressively been preparing us for it, or it might emerge gradually but definitely according to God’s working in our lives and according to His timing. There is no stress, there is no feverish pursuit, there is no chafing at the bit because nothing seems to be happening in my life – and there is no frustration, no ‘doing your own thing’. These verses also do away with the unbiblical notions and activities of ‘having and following your dreams’; of ‘having a vision for your future’, or of ‘discovering what your purpose of gifting’ is.

By any standards, the apostle Paul’s calling was exceptional (Acts 9:15; 26:16-18). Paul was told that through his ministry people would be delivered from the power of darkness and that Paul himself would witness before kings! But (some ten) years later, in Acts chapter 13, we find him rooted in a local church, functioning as a teacher and a prophet. He hadn’t fallen into disobedience! On the contrary, unlike many, he had submitted himself to the discipline and guidance of the Holy Spirit in his personal life, without chafing at the bit, not yielding to the temptation to exalt himself and launch his own ministry on the basis of what God had spoken to him earlier on.

But what do we read that Paul and others were doing when the specific call ‘to go’ came? Was Paul just ‘hanging around’, trying to ‘fill in time’ until the big call camen? Not at all! We read this: “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2). Absolutely wonderful! They weren’t just ‘filling in time’ with other things ‘waiting for the call’ but were in engaged in the greatest ministry of all. Here is the same principle at work that we read about in Romans chapter 12. All true public ministry simply issues out of the ministry we render to the Lord in prayer, in the secret place of our private lives, out of the devotional offering up of our lives to Him on a daily basis, out of the intimacy of the personal fellowship we have with God. God was still preparing Paul, and Paul had to submit to the providence and dealings of God in his life.

Yes, there is a place for getting alongside a young person to encourage them in the ministry, but unfortunately, in many cases today, the leadership of a church may spot the budding gifting and zeal for the Lord of a young person, and instead of letting them grow under the disciplines of the Holy Spirit in their life, where their calling and character can develop in the right way, the leadership of the church artificially steps in – in the name of ‘training up’ future leaders! This untimely intervention simply has the result of stunting that person’s growth and calling by taking them out of the providential dealings of God in their private lives, which at that time is the best setting for their growth in Christ, without being put into the distraction of some ‘training’ course.

If we are talking about knowing the will of God in our lives, then we need to pick up on truth we just read about in Acts, where it says, “As they ministered to the Lord…”. What we have been saying about what applies to our lives, very much applied to the life of Jesus as well. At various times the disciples found Jesus praying, and as we read the Gospels we notice that Jesus was a man of prayer. Though He was the Son of God on earth, yet He often spent much time in prayer to His Father. And in Luke chapter 6 we read that before choosing the 12 apostles he spent the whole night in prayer. This prayer and fellowship with His Father was something foundational to his life on earth – and so it should be for us. Can it be said of you and me that we are often found in prayer? It cannot be said too much that the most important thing in our lives is our personal relationship to God. Whether we stand before a big decision or not, prayer and fellowship with God represents the lifeblood of Christian living. The following is one dictionary definition of ‘lifeblood’: ‘the indispensable factor or influence that gives something its strength and vitality.’ In a way, what we read in Romans chapter 12 was reflected in the life of Jesus.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father do: for whatsoever things he does, these also does the Son likewise….I speak that which I have seen with my Father:..” (John 5:19; John 8:38).

If nothing else, these verses show the deliberate dependency of the Son on the Father for the things that he ministered to men and women. He didn’t do his own thing, but maintained close fellowship with His Father in order to fulfil His Father’s will, which was paramount to Him – in fact it was his very sustenance! (I trust the truth and principle is clear, because I wouldn’t want anyone to get the idea that we have to spend much time in prayer before we open our mouths or decide to tie our shoelaces! However, if we spend much time in prayer and fellowship with the Father, then what does come out of our mouth is far more likely to be profitable and edifying for others!)

The utter centrality of doing God’s will in Jesus’ life is revealed in His following statements:

“Jesus said unto them, My food is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work… I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father who has sent me… And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.” (John 4:34; John 5:30; John 8:29).

Jesus spent time with His father, praying, and having fellowship with Him. It was out of this communion with His father that Jesus understood what was in the father’s heart – and it was Jesus’ delight to do His father’s will. Above all else, it was God’s will that mattered. And so it should be for us.

The verses above are instructive as well as remarkable statements. Again we see that God’s will in our lives doesn’t just relate to His specific guidance in the important decisions we have to make on certain specific occasions, but God’s will is to be incorporated into all we do and say in our daily living.

“Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”

Our original verse said, ““For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”. And Jesus tells us in John 17:17 one of the fundamental ways in which we are sanctified: “Sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth.” We are sanctified by the operation an outworking of God’s word in our lives. (Fundamental to the meaning of being ‘sanctified’ is to be set apart and made fit for Gods’ use.)

The will of God is that we should live by the word of God! This is our spiritual sustenance and empowering for daily living from which all else flows.