By Simon Presland
“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. 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.” —Romans 12:1, 2
Few things are more sought after—or seemingly more elusive—than understanding God’s will for our lives. As committed Christ followers, we want to please our Lord. Our desire is to be like Jesus who said, “My food . . . is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34).
However, even though we take many avenues—prayer, fasting, counsel, just to name a few—we can easily be confused when it comes to determining God’s specific will for our lives. It seems that others know what he has called them to do—what ministry to be part of, whom to marry, what job to take—but we can feel like we are groping around in a spiritual vacuum. This begs the question: Can we really determine God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will?
Offering our bodies as a living sacrifice is foundational to understanding God’s will. The word bodies refers to more than our physical presence; it encompasses our body, soul, and spirit. To understand God’s will, we must first offer our entire being to him.
Paul said that our bodies are “the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16). Our soul—which includes our mind, will, and emotions—must be submitted to God so that we can say “your will be done” as Jesus did (Matthew 26:42). Paul also said to be “filled with the spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) so that our spirits are saturated with God’s Spirit.
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This Scripture tells us how deep and how marvelous God’s mercy and grace are toward us. The more we grasp the meaning of this verse, the greater our desire will be to offer our bodies in true and proper worship.
Universal and General Will
God’s universal will includes an aspect that applies to all people everywhere and an aspect specific to Christians. God desires that all people come to a saving knowledge of his Son, Jesus (John 3:15, 16; Ephesians 2:8-10). When we do, God desires that we become disciples: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
Becoming a disciple is central to God’s general will for all Christians. Discipleship is focused on having a relationship with him. He is more than someone we acknowledge on Sundays and at mealtimes. Our relationship with our Creator grows as we spend time daily with him. When we obey his teaching, he leads and guides us according to his will. As his disciples, God’s will is that we walk with him moment-by-moment, day-by-day.
God’s general will for Christians also includes:
• Having faith and trusting that he will accomplish his purposes in our lives (Proverbs 3:5, 6; Philippians 1:6)
• Seeking first God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33)
• Pursuing godly knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 2:6)
• Being mindful of who we are (Romans 12:3)
What job does God want me to take? Where should I live? Whom should I marry? What ministry should I serve in? Questions such as these pertain to God’s specific will for our lives. But how do we discern the answers? Psalm 37:4 is a reminder: “Take delight in the Lord; and he will give you the desires of your heart.” If we submit our lives to God’s general will, he will place in our hearts desires that reflect his specific will.
God may speak to us directly through a Bible passage or a sermon or teaching; he may communicate through a “still, small voice” or a prompting for us to heed a warning or go in a certain direction.
“He will give you the desires of your heart” can have a double meaning. It tells us that God can actually place a desire within us. For example, we desire a particular job and suddenly we have a yearning to apply at a specific place of employment. Or we desire to live in a certain city. While driving down a street, we see a house for sale and a sudden urge to buy it overcomes us. We say to ourselves, That’s where God wants me to live. In similar ways to these, God speaks directly to our hearts.
The same phrase can mean that God has already placed his desires in our hearts. How can we be sure of this? “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). Consider what God told Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). How does this apply to us? Before we were born, God created us in our mother’s womb. He placed within us our unique temperament, gifts, callings, and love languages; in fact he created us with everything we need to line up our desires to his!
Our temperament governs how we interact with others. It determines our likes and dislikes, our learning styles, our strengths and weaknesses. When seeking God’s will for our educational needs or career path, our temperaments greatly affect our desires.
When we contemplate a relationship, our love language (the way we give and receive love) can be a determining factor. When we find someone with the same love language as ours, we feel a special bond with that person.
When it comes to ministry, it seems the opportunities are endless! Some people feel that if a ministry has a need for help, then God must be calling. While this may be true in the short-term, in order to find fulfillment in long-term service in God’s kingdom, it is good to consider the spiritual gifts God has given us. “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
There are three lists of spiritual gifts recorded in the Bible (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; and 1 Corinthians 12:28-31). However the key to all gifts is found in 1 Corinthians 12:7: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” God is a selfless God; everything he does is for our good and benefit. Then it stands to reason that our desire to use a particular gift should be governed by how we can best benefit others.
A Final Decision
In order to confirm God’s will for our lives, we should consider the following:
Have I received wise counsel? Proverbs 11:14 tells us there is safety in a multitude of counselors. While it is up to us to make final decisions, those who have been there can offer insight, understanding, revelation, and clarity on our options. It is a humble person who seeks wisdom from others, and God gives grace to those with a humble heart.
Do I have all the facts? Sometimes it is easy to attribute how we feel to God’s leading. However facts are a more objective measuring stick. When Peter drew his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, his words and actions were governed by his feelings—not by a true assessment of the situation or by what he knew of the character of Jesus. It is always good to dig deeper in order to be sure of what we know. Making a decision on verifiable facts—including what we know about who God is—instead of on what we feel is always a good choice to make.
The greatest fulfillment we can have in life is to find and do the will of God—his good, pleasing, and perfect will. Following God’s will leads to fulfillment on earth and to hearing “well done good and faithful servant” when we stand before God in Heaven.
Simon Presland is a freelance writer in Clinton Township, Michigan.
How Americans Seek Purpose
• “Today’s workforce has decided for itself that making a living is not enough if that living lacks purpose, meaning, and impact . . . nearly six out of 10 say they want to make a difference in the world . . . [But] less than one in five adults say they’re extremely satisfied with their current work, prompting many to get creative in finding work that truly matters” (Barna.org: “Three Trends on Faith, Work and Calling”).
• “Active Millennial Christians are more than twice as likely to say their church helped them learn ‘about how Christians can positively contribute to society’ . . . Actives are also nearly four times more likely to say they ‘better understand my purpose in life through church’” (Barna.org: “5 Ways to Connect with Millennials”).