As a pastor of a young church (most members in college or 20’s) a question that comes up a lot is “How do I know God’s Will for my life?”
The big 3 they are looking for is usually:
- What job/career?
- Where should I live?
- Who should I marry?
I’ve seen many people over the years have much anxiety over these questions and agonize over the answer. For whatever reason, personally I have not really struggled with these. The direction God wanted me to go always seemed pretty clear. I’m thankful for that and hope that my story can be helpful for you some of you in discerning your future direction as well.
A helpful Scripture in discerning God’s will is Romans 12:1–2
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Let’s take this text backwards… Paul writes that there is a way we can “test and approve” God’s will. We can know His will. How so? Here are a few ways that have helped me…
1. Know God’s Word.
First, we must be transformed by the the renewing of our minds, instead of being conformed by the thoughts of this world. We must be in the Word of God, reading it, meditating on it, studying it, listening to it preached. How does knowing God’s Word help us to know God’s will? Because it is thru the Word of God that His revelation is clearest. We know God because He has chosen to reveal Himself, to make Himself known. In the Bible, we see the history of God’s actions. A person’s actions, their accomplishments, their achievements tell us a lot about the character of a person. It reveals what’s important to that person, what is a priority, and what they dislike as well. God reveals to His creative nature, His wisdom and power thru mighty acts, His mercy and patience with God’s people, and even anger and justice towards sin. All of these stories are revealing to us what He is like.
Then of course there are the actual spoken words of God as well. All Scripture is God-breathed says 2 Tim 3:16, meaning all the words have come from God as the ultimate source. They are the words He intended to speak to us. I like to see the Bible as also a collection of love letters from a parent or spouse. He reveals to us His heart and who He is thru the teachings of Jesus, thru the prophets, thru the apostles and other divinely inspired authors.
But how does knowing God’s word reveal his will for MY life you ask?
The better you know God’s word, the better you can guess what God would do in your situation.
Have you ever been to a restaurant with a close friend or relative and you already knew what they were going to order? How did you know that? Because you know your friend so well, and that’s what they ALWAYS order! Knowing God’s word is the main way we grow closer in our relationship to God. You know Him more intimately, His heart, His mind, and what He would be pleased with.
Key point: God’s cares more about Who You Are, than What You Do!
As I read God’s word more, what has He revealed to me? There’s actually not a lot of scriptures talking about what job to do, or where to live or who to marry. Instead what I find is a lot of talk about what kind of person you are. In other words, the Bible talks an awful lot more about character (Christ-likness, Fruit of the Spirit etc) than it does about competency (job skills, academics etc). Some people take that and say “See the Bible is irrelevant! It’s not answering my questions! I need to choose a major not how to be more humble!” On the other hand, I believe, the Bible is trying to teach us something very important. It is teaching us that we’re asking the wrong questions. By focusing so much more about character and godliness, God is teaching us that those are the questions we should be asking the most. How can I be a better friend? How can I be more like Christ? How can I be a better husband/wife?
So what this tells me is that more important than what job I will do, God wants me to focus on what kind of person I am becoming. Yes, it is still important to pick a future job and career, but it is secondary to the greater question of character. Also, if you focus on character it will benefit you in your job search as well. How so? Because character skills translate well across ANY job industry or field. We live in an age where 40 year careers in one job are becoming almost extinct. They say we will have to keep learning, keep adapting to the changes of technology and society. AI and robots may even replace most of our jobs in our lifetimes. So your programming skills may quickly become obsolete but being a humble team player will never be obsolete. Your restaurant or business may be replaced by an online business, but being a person of integrity that can be trusted will always be valuable. Character skills will also travel well even if you change jobs. If you build up skills of godliness (hardworking, kind, encouraging attitude, teachable, selfless, servant-hearted) no matter what career you choose these skills will help you thrive in that environment.
2. Throw a dart
I remember as a seminary student listening to a lecture in the perspectives missions class. The speaker told of how a young person said “I don’t know where to go as a missionary, there are so many countries that have needs…” The speaker responded by saying “Throw a dart.” He then explained that it really doesn’t matter where you go, they are all important, so stop wasting time, just pick a place and go! That’s how I’ve approached not just missions but most of my big decisions. More than picking the perfect option, I believed the important thing was committing to whichever option I chose. Each time I’ve done this I have not been disappointed.
When I see young people, or old people, struggling with indecision and figuring out God’s will for their life, it seems to me their problem is overthinking the situation. Paralysis by analysis… they’re thinking thru every possible scenario, every possible outcome, every possible detail and path. Don’t get me wrong, we need to do our homework to make informed decisions. But the problem is when people never stop analyzing! The research is unending. There’s always another option to consider, another detail to think thru. What they’re really trying to achieve is perfection. They want to come up with the perfect decision, in perfect timing, but the problem with that is you will never achieve perfection in this life time. If you want perfection, then you will be paralyzed in indecision and waste a lot of your time. When people boast to me about how much research they did on a purchase or something else, what comes to my mind is opportunity cost. Some level of research is good, but at some point you have to ask yourself, could that time have been spent better on something else? Some research is helpful but at some point every extra hour of research has diminishing returns. Personally, I’d rather do some research, but then quickly put my time and energy into building and investing instead of never ending research!
Key point: It’s more important to commit long-term to a decision, than to choose the perfect decision.
A college student recently asked me how I made decisions such as being a church planter and then pastoring and even marriage. He would ask “What was your logic and thought process?” I said, I liked the option so I went with it and stuck with it…
The fallacy that most young people have is that there’s only one right decision. When it comes to job, or spouse they are looking for “the one.” That’s why they’re so scared that if they make the wrong choice it will forever ruin the rest of their life! This is a misconception. The truth is there could be many possible “ones” for you in terms of career or spouse. Both my parents got their Ph.D’s, one in Bio-Chem and the other Bio-physics. 30 years later neither of them use their degrees but have had great careers. My dad is in computer science and my mom became a pharmacist.
One reason why I don’t agonize about making the perfect decision is because I believe ultimately what matters more is sticking to whatever decision I make. Think about marriage. Yes you want to know the person well and have good reasons for picking your spouse. However, you can choose the most wonderful person in the world but you will still go thru struggles and fights. Therefore the key to successful marriage is are both people going to be committed long-term and keep their vows? Or will they quit and take the easy way out? At my age, most of my friends are now married. The ones that are not? It’s usually because they are too picky. They over analyze their potential spouse and looking for “the one” that checks off their whole list. It’s good to have high standards for a spouse, but you must be able to recognize when the list has gone from high standards to UNREALISTIC standards. That person doesn’t exist except in the person’s head.
There could be many good options God has for you, but what’s more important is will you invest long-term commitment to the decision you make? Without long-term commitment whatever job, place, or spouse you choose will not work out. The true blessing is commitment, thru thick and thin, that’s what matters more than finding the perfect option. Sometimes the decision I made was the wrong one, but guess what, it became super clear because I had at least attempted it. If I never had taken the step, taken the risk, I never would have known for sure if it was right or not. Which leads to my final point.
3. Test it out
Paul says in Romans that we will be able to “test and approve” His will. One of the ways we can know His will is by putting things to the test.
I once asked a retired bible college professor about knowing God’s will for my life. He told me “God doesn’t direct a parked car. You need to get in gear, step on the gas, and as you are moving He will redirect you.”
Sometimes we cannot fully know God’s will until we start moving! We have to take a chance, take a risk, roll the dice! We have to choose a path to the best of our knowledge and then as we are moving it becomes clearer to us. When God called Abaham He told him to Go! leave your country and your fmaily and all that you know. But God never told him WHERE he was going when he started. He just said that he will show him later. When we start moving, oftentimes either God will affirm us that we should keep going that direction (green light) or he will correct us by making it clear this is the wrong direction (red light, turn here). Another way I’ve heard this said if you want to know God’s will “Go until you get a no.” Make a decision about a path, start moving in that direction and if you get no resistance, then keep going. Some of the clearest indicators of God’s will for me have been times of the utter lack of resistance. It seemed like any excuse or obstacle that would keep me from going down that path God was removing. There was a deafening silence when asking for objections.
Key point: Get clarification from Godly community.
This is one of the main reasons you need to be a committed member of a local church. You need to be in a spiritual family where people know you and you know them. They can see your life from a perspective that you can’t see yourself. We all have blindspots but when we are in community we can help each other see these things.
Whether it comes to job, city or spouse, ask your community if they see this as right for you. Do you see me gifted in this way or am I trying to be something I’m not? Could you see me doing this job? Do you think this person is right for me? A loving godly community can help see more about ourselves than we could on our own.