Compassion International is an organization that seeks to help children all around the world who are in living in poverty. A few years ago, they made a video where they asked some of these children, “If you could ask God one question, what would it be?” I want to share that video with you this morning. It will make you think, make you smile, and will probably make you shed a tear, so a word of warning, you might want to have a Kleenex handy.
So, what about you. If you could ask God one question, what would it be? Over the past 40 years of ministry, I’ve heard a lot of people ask a lot of questions about God. But I think there’s one question that I have been asked more than any other, at least by Christians. And it can be worded in a lot of different ways but basically it boils down to this – “How do I know what God’s will is for my life?”
And, as Christians, God’s will is important to all of us. In every decision we make, we want to follow the will of God. We pray for God’s will to be done. Just as Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, we often utter those words, “Not my will, but thine be done.” (Luke 22:42)
But most of us have a problem. Because we’re not sure how to actually recognize what God’s will is for our lives. In Ephesians 5:17, Paul said, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” But so often, we feel like we don’t understand what his will is.
And, as a result, we have a lot of questions. If God has a will for my life, then why is it so hard for me to figure out what it is? And why is it that some people seem to be able to figure out what God’s will is and I have so much trouble? How do I know whether a choice I make is really God’s will for me or just something I want to do?
And how specific is God’s will? Does God have one person in mind for me to marry, or one job for me to take, or one place for me to live? And what happens if I choose something that wasn’t God’s will for my life?
These are not just abstract questions that theologians sit around and argue about. Throughout your life, you have to make choices. In fact, you have to make a lot of choices. And I think we have more decisions to make in our day than ever before.
People used to have arranged marriages. You didn’t have to choose; your parents did it for you. Now we decide whether we want to get married or not, and if so, we decide who we’re going to marry. Boys used to automatically follow their father’s profession, and girls grew up to be homemakers. Now we have to decide what we’re going to with our lives. Throughout history, people generally lived and died in the same village where they were born. Now we have to choose where we’re going to live.
We face what one researcher has called “choice fatigue”. He calculated that the average person makes about 70 conscious decisions every day. That’s 25,550 decisions every year. Over the course of 70 years, that’s 1,788,500 decisions that we have to make.
And those choices shape your life. Those choices create your destiny. Albert Camus once said, “Life is a sum of all your choices.” You put all those 1,788,500 choices together, and that’s who you are.
And so, anytime we’re faced with a decision, and especially when we’re faced with a major decision, we struggle with that question — What is God’s will for my life?
• Maybe it’s a question about transition. People today are changing jobs, companies, and careers more than ever before. I heard one statistic that young adults will hold an average of 29 different jobs over the course of their lifetime. That’s a lot of decisions to make. So, maybe you’re wondering — should I stick it out with the job I’ve got here in Fayetteville, or is it God’s will that I take another job offer and move to Idaho?
• Maybe it’s a question about relationships. How do I know who I should marry, or should I just remain single? Maybe you always thought that when you found your soul mate, you would “just know. ” But the truth is, you don’t know. What if you marry this person and then you meet your real soul mate at the wedding reception. That would be embarrassing. What’s God’s will for my life?
• How many children should I have — two, five, or maybe none at all? What’s God’s will?
• Or maybe you’re a student trying to decide which school to go to or what your major should be. Should I go on to grad school and further my education or should I take a good job offer and step out into the business world right now?
• And if I do take a job right now, should I take a job that pays well with good security, or do I look for a job that helps people? How do I even know what kind of work I should go into? Is it God’s will for me that I be a preacher, or an engineer, or an encyclopedia salesman?
• Or maybe you’re facing an empty nest. You have freedom and time and possibilities that haven’t been available to you for decades, but you’re not quite sure what to do with them. What’s God’s will?
• Or maybe you’re retiring, but you know the word “retire” isn’t in the Bible, and you’re not ready for death or shuffleboard. So what does God have in mind for you next? What’s his will?
And it doesn’t help when people quote Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV), and this is a favorite verse for a lot of people. God said, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
And so, we get it in our heads that God has a specific plan for my life, and I need to follow that plan. And the truth is, God does have a plan for you. But that doesn’t mean that God wants to make all your decisions for you. He wants you to decide. Which leads us to the question –If God’s will for my life is so important, then why doesn’t he make it clearer to me?
I want to try to work toward an answer to that question this morning, but let me begin with a very important statement. This quote comes from John Ortberg. He wrote, “God’s primary will for your life is not the circumstances you inhabit; it’s the person you become.” Let me say that again — “God’s primary will for your life is not the circumstances you inhabit; it’s the person you become.”
And I think that was Paul’s point in I Corinthians 7 when he said, “Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.” (I Corinthians 7:18-20)
Paul is saying, “Don’t be so concerned about what your circumstances are. Be more concerned about who you are.”
Or, to put it another way, God’s primary will for your life has nothing to do with which job you ought to take. It’s not primarily the city where you live or whether you get married or what house you ought to live in. God’s primary will for your life is that you become a person in his image, somebody with the character of Jesus Christ. That is God’s will for your life.
And that’s why passages in the Bible that about God’s will for us consistently talk about the kind of person we’re becoming. Like 1 Peter 2:15, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”
So, with that in mind, I want to give you four guidelines this morning for determining God’s will for your life.
1. It is God’s Will That You Be Saved
Jesus said in John 6:40, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.” Jesus said that it’s God’s will that we find salvation in him. Paul said the same thing in I Timothy 2:4, “[God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
That’s the will of God. More than anything else, that’s what God wants – for you to spend an eternity with Him. God is not concerned primarily about everything in our lives going smoothly. God is not concerned about making sure that we never have any problems. He’s not concerned about guaranteeing that we are wealthy and healthy. What God is primarily concerned about is making sure that men and women who have messed up their lives by disobeying God can be made right with God now and for all eternity.
And so, God wants everyone to be saved. If you have never become a child of God, it is His will that you do so. If you have strayed as a child of God and wandered off like the prodigal son, it is God’s will that you come home. It’s God’s will that you be saved.
2. It is God’s Will That You Be Sanctified
In I Thessalonians 4:3, Paul said, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” I realize we don’t use that word a lot, so let me explain what it means. The New Living Translation says, “God’s will is for you to be holy.” And basically, what that means is that God’s will is for us to have a standard of morality that is guided by what God wants for us, which will make us very different from the people in this world who follow a different standard of morality (or immorality, as the case may be).
In fact, if you continue reading this passage, Paul says, “God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor — not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways.” (I Thessalonians 4:3-5, NLT)
You see, the non-Christians in Paul’s day had the same attitude that the world around us does — “If I want to do it, if it feels good, then I’m going to do it and nobody’s going to tell me I can’t.” The will of God is that we avoid that sort of an attitude.
And, as Christians, our lives are sanctified. That word means “set apart”, dedicated to following God and obeying him. And so, our rationale for life is not, “Anything I feel like doing, I’m going to do.” Rather, we live in such a way that shows that we belong to God.
God calls to be holy, and our goal is to become more and more like God. That’s what being holy is all about. It means separating ourselves from anything that’s not pleasing to God.
And so I can tell you, with certainty, that it is God’s will that you don’t commit sexual sin, that you don’t steal, that you don’t lie, that you don’t use your tongue to gossip or tear others down, that you don’t allow anger to take control of your words and your actions.
It is God’s will that we live sanctified lives, lives that have a higher moral standard than the world around us, lives that are guided by God’s moral standard.
3. It is God’s Will That You Serve Him
In Ephesians 2:10, Paul said, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Paul says that we have been saved not just so that we can be separated from the world and avoid doing the things that they do. Sometimes I think we put too much emphasis on avoiding sinful things, and so we think that if I don’t cuss, don’t drink, don’t smoke, then I must be a pretty good Christian
Paul’s response would be “No! It’s not so much about what you’re not doing as it is about what you are doing!” He says that we have been saved so that we can do good works, so that we can serve God and serve others around us. God has blessed you with certain abilities and certain talents, and it is God’s will that you use those gifts to serve him.
And so, it is God’s will that we be saved. It is God’s will that we be sanctified, that we live holy lives set apart for the purpose of being like God and living to His glory. And it is God’s will that we serve him, and — to the very best of our ability — use our gifts to serve God and to serve others around us.
And you’re probably saying to yourself that all that seems obvious, but it doesn’t really help in the decision you’re facing. So, here’s number 4:
4. It is God’s Will for You to Do What You Think is Best
This has to come after the other steps. But, if you are saved, and you are sanctified, and you are serving, then God’s will for your life is for you to choose to do whatever you think is best.
You see, God’s will for us is that we become people of good character and one of the primary tools for building character is decision making. If people never go through the challenge and anxiety and responsibility of making decisions, they won’t grow.
And those of us who are parents understand this. If you’re a parent, you don’t want children for whom you have to make decisions their entire lives. You don’t want to have to constantly be telling them, “Wear these clothes. Take these classes. Go to that school. Apply for this job. Marry that person. Purchase this house.” Do you really want children who want you to make every decision for them for the rest of their lives?
No. Because your main goal for your children is not for them to be little robots who carry out your instructions. Your goal is for them to become people of great character and judgment. And the only way for them to do that is for them to make lots and lots of decisions. But, of course, that means they’ll make a lot of wrong decisions. And that becomes a primary way that they learn.
I don’t think we appreciate the fact that, very often, God’s will for your life is simply for you to make a decision, because decision making is an important part of character formation. And God is primarily in the character-forming business, not in the circumstance-shaping business.
And I guess that’s just another way of saying that God’s ultimate will is that I serve him faithfully. Beyond that, he has no specific will. And so, as long as I am serving God with all my heart, soul, and mind, it is only of minor significance where I am.
Let me give you an example. Was it God’s will that Sueanne and I move to Fayetteville? I spent several months agonizing over where God wanted me to be. And I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was God’s will for Sueanne and me to come here because we’re serving God here.
Now, does that mean that if we had stayed in Tennessee or gone to Florida or to Alaska that I wouldn’t have been doing God’s will because God’s will involved coming to this place and only this place? No, I don’t believe that at all. I believe that if I had decided to go somewhere else, it still would have been God’s will for my life as long as I was serving him faithfully there.
You see, the will of God doesn’t mean that God has planned out all the details and made all the decisions about what we should do with every aspect of our lives. It simply means that God wants us to do whatever will bring him glory.
Maybe you think you ought to remain single, or maybe you think you should get married. Whatever decision you make, it’s God’s will. Because if you’re saved, and you’re sanctified, and you’re serving, then you’re not going to make that decision on the spur of a moment; you’re going to make it against the background of a life that is dedi¬cated to living as close to God as you can.
In other words, God’s basic will for your life is not what you do or where you live or whether you marry or how much you make. It’s who you become. God’s primary will for your life is that you become a person who is shaped in the image of Jesus Christ. And that means that God’s will for your life will often be, “You need to decide.”
Sometimes you will ask God for direction, and God will say, “I don’t care which option you choose.” That doesn’t mean God doesn’t care about you. Rather, it means that God cares more about your character than he cares about anything else.
But sometimes, I think when we ask God to tell us what his will is, it’s because we don’t want the responsibility of making that decision ourselves.
One philosopher has coined the word “decidophobia”. He noticed that human beings are afraid of making decisions. We don’t want the anxiety that accompanies the possibility of being wrong. Decisions wear us out. Making decisions creates stress and anxiety. We don’t want to make the “wrong” choice.
But God wants us to choose because he knows that that will build our character, it will help us to mature. So, if we’re facing a decision, how do we go about making a good decision?
1. Look to God’s Word.
Before we do anything else, we need to ask, “Does God’s Word have anything to say directly about it?” Because, if it does, then there’s no ques¬tion about what God’s will is. Or, maybe there’s nothing in the Bible specifically about my situation, but there are some biblical principles I can apply. The better I know God’s Word, the better I am in a position to be able to make good decisions in my life.
2. Pray for wisdom.
We’re familiar with James 1:5 where James said, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Now I think it’s important to pay attention to what James is saying here, because I think sometimes we have assumed that James is saying something different than what he actually says.
Because sometimes we will pray for wisdom, and we expect God to tell us what we need to do. But wisdom is the ability to make good decisions. God has not promised to tell us exactly what we should do. He has promised to give us wisdom to help us to make a good decision for ourselves. And there’s a big difference between the two.
If you’re trying to decide whether to take this job or that job, don’t pray to God, “Show me which one I need to take.” Because God’s not likely to answer that prayer. He’s going to say, “I want you to make that choice. Now if you want some help, I’ll give the wisdom so that you can make a good choice. But it’s important that you choose, not me.” So pray for wisdom.
3. Seek advice.
Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” When we have an important decision to make, we need to seek the advice of other Christians, especially those who are mature, godly and wise.
Different people will have different information and different perspectives that can give you a broader understanding of your situation.
I love this quote from Art Markman (Smart Thinking): “It is important to know what you know and to know what you don’t know. As it turns out, it is also important to know who knows what you don’t know.”
Be discerning in whose advice you take, and don’t just seek out someone that you think will give you the answer that you want to hear. We sometimes tend to do that. But rather, be willing to receive honest and unbiased advice from someone who has the wisdom to be discerning and the courage to be truthful.
4. Make a decision.
Having done all these things – after studying God’s Word, after praying for wisdom, after asking the advice of wise friends, then make a decision.
Should you stick it out with the job you’ve got now, or is it God’s will that you take another job offer and move to Idaho? Decide what you think is best. How many children should you have — two, five, or maybe none at all? Decide what you think is best. Should you go on to graduate school and further your education or should you take a good job offer and step out into the business world right now? Decide what you think is best. How do you know what kind of work you should go into? Is it God’s will that you be a preach¬er, an engineer, or an encyclopedia salesman? Decide what you think is best.
Because if your decision is made by someone who is saved, who is sanctified and who is serving, then God is going to be so much a part of the way you live, think, and act that whatever choice you make, it’s going to be in accordance with the will of God.
But, in every decision we make, we need to ask ourselves the question, “Is this going to move me closer to God or farther away?”
May we all seek to bring ourselves closer and closer to God, so that we will be able to rejoice with Asaph, who said: “Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with your coun¬sel, and afterward receive me to glory.” (Psalm 73:23-24).