How do I know what God wants for my life? How do I determine His will for me?
I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked this question. I’m sure there are plenty of pastoral answers that one could receive, and most of them are good. Let me break down a few simple rules that may help you get started. The bottom line is this: determining God’s will is a very personal process in which we draw near to God.
Those who do not have faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior have a definite starting point.
Some people are Christians, some people aren’t. Some say they are, but they really aren’t. See my post about ontological truth earlier on this blog.
The plain Biblical truth is that every person who has ever lived has to make a decision whether or not they will live in faith and trust in God as Savior, and Lord. When we say “Savior” we mean the ultimate Judge and Redeemer of humanity for all of eternity. When we trust Jesus to remove the stain of sin from our lives, we trust that God Himself will welcome us into eternal life with Him. When we say “Lord,” we mean that we submit to God in the here and now, and for all eternity, as the supreme leader and director of our lives.
Those without faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord can be sure that God’s ultimate will for their lives, the way He is trying to direct them, starts with such faith. So if a non-believer asks me the question, “What does God want for my life?” The answer is simple, “He wants all of it. He wants to redeem it, protect it, and guide it for all of eternity. God wants you to come to a place of faith in Him.”
Believers have freedom in Christ.
It is important to note that while God directs our path, He is not constrained by our sin or hard headedness. There is nothing that we can do to thwart God’s ultimate plan. Those who have fought hard against God, even those people of faith, wind up playing right into His hand. Ultimately, we are free to obey, or not. Surely discipline follows disobedience (for God loves us), but we cannot manipulate God in a bid to control our futures. This is really good news for those Christians who constantly question their own motives, or find themselves in a constant feedback loop of thinking without acting.
This is not to say that we don’t have input. Far from it. God loves our input, and there is plenty of Biblical evidence of someone pleading with God, and God granting a request. Moses on Mount Saini is a good example, David in the caves, Solomon at the temple, and the Apostles in Acts: all tell the story of human input changing God’s immediate courses of action. There are plenty of stories wherein God does not grant a request though, because He knows everything and knows it is not a good idea. Most famously, God denies Jesus’ request to escape crucifixion. He denies Paul’s pleading to remove his “thorn,” whatever it was. Hebrews 11 tells of people who never lost faith though torn in pieces, utterly destitute, and never delivered by God.
And all of this rests on the foundational principle that God runs the entire universe, and cares so much about you and I that He carefully directs our every step: God can be trusted. If God can be trusted, we surely can live a life of freedom. We don’t have to fear that some of our actions, if completed with a desire to serve and obey, are not exactly what God wants.
Starting in a direction is a sure way forward.
Using our freedom in Christ to get going in a direction is a great way to start determining God’s will for your life. Start serving somewhere: at a shelter, in your church, a small group, coaching, or whatever. Just go for it. Sometimes you find that some service is better suited to you, or perhaps you find out that you have a passion you were unaware of.
As I started to “just go for it” I found myself doing all kinds of things. Mostly, I found myself serving in whatever local church I was attending. I used to be in the military, so I moved around a lot. I always found myself serving in a local church in some way. I helped run a junior high ministry, I led worship, I taught bible studies, and I taught Sunday school. I did all kinds of things. The ones that really stuck with me, and I was most passionate about always revolved around teaching.
Over time, I became aware of various patterns that emerged. I was always drawn to small congregations, I loved getting to know people, I loved engaging in Scriptural studies and teaching. Also, I found out that I not only loved it, I was good at it. This time when I was in the military, just trying to determine what God wanted with my life, developed my realization of a pastoral calling.
One more example: my buddy is a great administrator, and is passionate about high level strategy. He just started serving in various capacities wherever he felt the urge. He just went for it. After serving for a while ministering to international students through a church program, he found himself being approached by a non-profit organization that wanted to do social development in third world countries. He went for it. He knows that God is not calling him to be a pastor serving a small congregation, and he also knows that he is using his gifts, talents, and passions to serve in a capacity that the Kingdom of God desperately needs. It is challenging and fulfilling for him.
Of course, it needs to be said, both of these examples never would have happened if we were not jumping into service (even in places that we didn’t really like). If you want to know what God’s will for you is, start in a direction with faith that God will guide you.
God calls us to people, not to institutions.
You may think at this point, “Well great. I have to find some institution that I can serve at.” True, but not really. While you probably will find yourself in an existing organization, the care of the organization is not the primary call. You and I are called to people, real people. So sometimes we have to find ourselves in an institution; like a church, or the YMCA, or whatever; but God always calls us to serve people.
And so our helpful organizations do not solely hold the key to you finding out God’s will for your life. Sometimes He will just give you a family, or a person, or a group of people, and say, “Care for them.” And many times that’s how it all gets started. Mother Theresa is a good example. She found God’s will for her by falling in love with destitute people that God wanted her to care for.
So let me give you a litmus test for God’s will for your life: is it about caring for people? If yes, then you are in the right direction. If no, then you have to think about changing up your attitude about what God wants from you.
One caveat here: some people find there service helps in an indirect way. I know a guy who loves to clean things. You turn him loose on a bathroom, and he will make it shine. But his pleasure is in caring for people by cleaning up messes. That is awesome. He would not fail the litmus test. But if he ever got to a place where he was cursing people for messing up his clean bathroom; I’d say it’s time for an attitude adjustment.
God calls us to people. One more hint; it’s usually by name. Usually God gives us individuals to care about, not just “humanity” in general.
Hard heartedness is different than vice.
So, how free of sin do you have to be to enjoy hearing God’s voice? Well, it’s a trick question, as you might have guessed from the section title. Struggling against sin does not prohibit you from hearing God’s voice, or allowing Him to speak into your life. There is a sin that seems to drown God’s voice out, but it’s not because He refuses to speak, but we refuse to listen. We call it “hard heartedness.” It’s when you hear God, but don’t care. You actually know what He is saying, but you refuse to obey.
Now, we need a word here on addiction. Most people struggle with an addictive sin in their life. It’s that thing you do that you don’t want to do, but wind up doing anyway. You seem powerless against it, even though you know God wants you to stop. Addiction can oftentimes be linked to hard heartedness, but not always.
Here’s my recommendation. If you want to know what God wants from you, and how you fit into His plan; but you struggle with an addiction that you know God wants you to stop—try practicing soft heartedness. That’s when you admit your failings to God, and ask for Him to help you in your fight against sin; and admit your disobedience in the matter. It might sound like this:
“God, I can’t put this sin down. You have told me not to do it, and I hear you, but I feel like I can’t obey. Please help me. Please give me the power over sin that I need. Please speak to me and give me some ways to practice obedience to You.”
You don’t have to be free of sin to hear God, but you do have to be ready and willing submit yourself to His Spirit.
Community is key.
Anyone who has been human for very long can tell you that other people seem to know stuff about an individual that the individual seems totally blind to. It’s just a fact. You can also see things that are true about someone else that they probably can’t see themselves.
Jesus says that the hypocrite tries to remove the speck from the brother’s eye, without paying attention to the log in their own eye. He’s right. And we can use this very concept to our advantage. The book of Proverbs calls it the rebuke of a friend, and tells us that we are to cherish such rebuke.
Gathering the people who care about you, and inviting them to speak truth to you about what God may be calling you to will have great benefits: even though they will probably tell you what you don’t want to hear.
A friend of mine was absolutely convinced God was calling them to be a pastor. They thought highly of their own pastoring ideas, and their ability to preach (in particular). This person never asked any of those who cared about them, never said, “Hey guys, what do you think?” Had they, we would have affirmed that God was indeed calling them to something, but it sure wasn’t being a pastor. It would probably have given offense, but if heeded, would also surely have saved that person from terrible suffering, and a future string of congregations a lot of suffering too.
When trying to tease out the possibilities that God might have tailored for you; a community is an essential sounding board.