In the pilgrimage of our lives, we are oftentimes required to make decisions. Indeed, hardly a day passes in which we do not make a choice, or express our wills and desires. But what guides us in all of life’s decision-making? When we walk along life’s pathway, what determines if we should take a left at the fork, or keep on going?
The title of this article assumes that we, as Christians, desire to know the will of God for us, and to order our lives according to that will. As fallen, depraved creatures, our own wills are by nature wicked and selfish. We are drawn to that which is carnal and earthly, that which profits only our flesh. God’s will on the other hand, is perfect and only good. And so by God’s grace, we confess like Christ, “…My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” (John 4:34) We conclude our prayers as our Lord did in the garden of Gethsemane, “…nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39) It is the will of God therefore, that must rule and regulate the whole of our lives. But how do we discern this will of God? How do we know what is it that God would have us do?
The Will of God
In desiring that the will of God be done, we must first understand what is meant by the will of God. In Scripture, the “will of God” is used in different ways to reflect various aspects of this one will. There is first of all, the will of God’s decree. This refers to the eternal counsel of God and what God has planned to happen. It includes predestination (Ephesians 1:5) and providence (James 4:13-15). Then there is also the will of God’s command. This is God’s requirement for how we ought to live and conduct ourselves. It includes the laws and commandments that God has laid out for us (Matthew 7:21ff). While not entirely distinct, we may also consider a third aspect, that is, God’s will for us in our day to day callings. This includes what He would have us do in our station of life and the decisions that we have to make. While there may not be specific commands that address these issues, we nevertheless endeavour to perform the will of God in such circumstances (e.g. John 4:34).
Though we have considered these different aspects of God’s will, His will is only one, in which there is no conflict or contradiction. Our lives may not violate any of these aspects of God’s will but must seek to be aligned with them.
Discerning the Will of God
How then do we know what the will of God is? There are a number of ways in which God makes known His will, but the most important and fundamental way of all is through the Bible. The Holy Scriptures “fully contain the will of God” and “whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein” (Belgic Confession Art. 7). Through the written word, God has revealed to us all that is necessary for our faith and obedience. Doubtless then, the Bible ought to be our guide in life, the basis for decisions we make, the map and compass of our sojourning.
What should I do when my classmates and colleagues engage in gossip? The 9th commandment (Exodus 20:16) and Ephesians 4:29,31 give us instruction. Whom should I seek to date and marry? Take a look at 1 Corinthians 6:14-17, Amos 3:3, Proverbs 31 and other like passages. They lay down significant principles. What job should I consider? Matthew 6:33, Romans 12:1, Exodus 20:8-11 etc. make plain our goals and boundaries. For all of life’s circumstances, the Bible contains pertinent commands and principles for us to abide by.
Yet, we recognise that even with Scripture, it is often difficult to know for sure what God would have us do. This could be due in part to our lack of wisdom, and an inability to apply what is declared in the Bible. Hence, let us take heed to the exhortation of Solomon who wrote “Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.” (Proverbs 19:20), for “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14) Older saints, especially, with their wealth of knowledge and experience have an important role to play in this regard (Titus 2:2ff). And let us not neglect to seek wisdom from on high (James 1:5), in prayer imploring our Father to show us His way.
At times, (and I say this cautiously) we may use circumstances around us to learn of God’s will. This is certainly true when we speak of God’s decree. We do not know the details of God’s plans for the future, but as we live our lives daily, we are witnesses of the will of God unfolding before us. Take a moment to consider your current station. The fact that you are in a certain school, or in a particular job, or a mother, or enduring a trial— are not these all part of the Lord’s good plan? We may also look back in history and see the workings of providence; confessing that the fall of Adam was ordained, that the World Wars were part of God’s counsel, that my education route was in His decree from the beginning. So in the midst of all of life’s uncertainties, we may speak as taught in James 4:13ff “… If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that”.
Circumstances, in the form of opportunities, may at times indicate what our path of action should be. More than once, the apostle Paul describes this with the analogy of an open door – “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.” (1 Corinthians 16:9) and “Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 2:12).
However, using circumstances alone as the sign of God’s will can be ruinous. Elimelech, looking at the famine around him, perceived that circumstances were unfavourable and left the Promised Land to dwell in Moab (Ruth 1). A family considering its financial woes may deem it necessary that the mother goes out to work, whilst her young children are taken care of by their grandparents. A woman evaluating her gifts of leadership and teaching could suppose herself fit for seminary and the ministry. It is obvious then, that circumstances by themselves cannot dictate our path of life. Circumstances must be evaluated in light of Scripture and a proper response made to the situation.
Response to God’s Will
When the will of God has been made plain to us, we must respond in a fitting manner. This comprises obedience, submission and rejoicing. If action is required, we must be swift to obey. The Heidelberg Catechism’s explanation of the Lord’s Prayer petition “Thy will be done” includes “grant that we and all men may renounce our own will, and without murmuring obey Thy will” (LD 49, Q&A 124). Our prayer is that we deny our own wills and desires, and perform that which is the will of God. Without murmuring! We do it not grudgingly as one forced against his will, but let every man “attend to and perform the duties of his station and calling as willingly and faithfully as the angels do in heaven” (LD 49, Q&A 124). And this is possible because of the new man in us which acknowledges that all things are in the hand of our Heavenly Father, without whose will not a hair can fall from our heads, and who works all things unto our salvation (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1, Q&A 1). If all things are for our profit, will we not always rejoice (Philippians 4:4), and will we not be thankful for all things (Ephesians 5:20)?
Even when we are unable to discern the will of God, we pray for the grace to submit when it is revealed and we draw comfort and contentment from the Lord even in uncertainty. David himself prayed fervently for the life of his son, but when God took him away, David submitted himself to the perfect will of God (2 Samuel 12).
May God arm us with the mind of Christ, who Himself humbly submitted to the will of His Father, suffering for us in the flesh. And let us diligently seek to know and perform the will of God, renouncing our own wills.
- Lanning, Andy (2015). Thy Will be Done, sermon on Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 49.
- Russel, Dykstra (2014). A Prayer for The Execution of God’s Will, sermon on Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 49.
Written by: Cheryl Lim | Issue 36