How Do You Know God’s Will?

{By Katrina Britton}

Decisions, decisions.  Life is full of them.

Big ones and little ones.  What should I eat for breakfast today?  What extra-curricular activities should I pursue in school this year?  What should I do after graduation?  Should I go to college?  If so, where?  What should I study?  Should I look into other higher-education alternatives?  Should I go on a missions trip?  What about marriage?  How will I know when the right guy (or girl) comes along?  In the meantime, should I get a job?  What about ministry?

I think it’s safe to assume that those of you reading this blog want to live according to the will of God and make the right decisions in your life…as in decisions that are pleasing to the Lord and in accord with His plan.  But of course, the big question is, “How do I know the will of God…for me?”  After all, while there are commandments in the Bible to obey and principles around which to structure our lives in a general sense, there’s no book of II Decisions in which it says, “Thou shalt pursue a degree in social work via correspondence after which point thou shalt minister in Cambodia amongst AIDS victims.”  Sometimes I think we all wish there was such a book in Scripture! :)

Obviously, God’s plan for each individual’s life is as unique as the person.  (Ephesians 2:10)

The question thus remains, how do we find out that plan and live accordingly?

Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers nor do I have a 3-step process for discovering the will of God for your life.  But I have learned some helpful practices and principles over the past decade that I would like to pass on in hopes that they might serve as a guide for you when it comes to making wise decisions in the pursuit of God’s will for your lives.

First of all, let’s lay some groundwork for this discussion.

Ephesians 5:17 says, “Be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.”  Please note, that is not a suggestion, but a command we are given to obey.  Thus we can draw the conclusion that it is possible to know God’s will, or He would not have commanded us to do so!

If you do a concordance search of the phrase, ‘the will of God,’ in Scripture, this is what you will find His will includes for all believers:

  • Our deliverance from sin and this present evil world through Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:4)
  • Our sanctification and abstinence from immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
  • That we would give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  • Our submission to earthly authorities (thus putting to silence the ignorance of foolish men – 1 Peter 2:13-15)
  • Our suffering for well-doing versus evil-doing (1 Peter 3:17)

I like to call these The Will of God Basics.  And of course, there are many more!  Anytime we read an instruction or a command in the Bible, we know it’s the will of God.  But what about the will of God specifics?  Like decisions about college, degrees, ministries, and marriage? Colossians 1:9 contains a very big clue.  Paul said, “[We] do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding…”

Did you catch that?

I know it’s probably not earth-shattering news, but a key to understanding God’s specific will is prayer.

Remember Jesus’ words?  “Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.  For everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)  These are promises we can depend on!

The Bible makes it clear in many, many places that when we seek the Lord, He will reveal Himself!  When we lack wisdom and ask it of Him, He will give it!  When we desire to know His will, He will show us!

Let me say it again: Prayer is foundational.

So, let’s say you’re approaching the completion of your degree.  In a few short weeks, you’ll hold a BA in English.  You’re excited to be done with your studies, but you’re wondering what should come next?  You’ve started praying about it.  You’re asking God for His leading.  But most of the time, God doesn’t write the answer in the sky.  So now what?  How do you know when He’s actually answering your prayer?

This is where I would like to introduce what I call my “Decision Making Filter.”

Whenever I am faced with a major decision or in pursuit of the next step of God’s plan for my life (which is often, considering that He usually only leads me 6-9 months at a time!), I run the decision I need to make through this filter.  It has saved me from rash and impulsive decisions, provided protection through checks and balances, and helped me time and again to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Keeping in mind that prayer is the foundation, here is my decision making filter:

The Word of God

            The Holy Spirit

                        Authorities (and/or a Multitude of Counsel)

                                    Confirming Circumstances

Let me explain.

Usually to even start passing through the filter, the decision to be made is triggered by a desire, an interest, or an opportunity.  For example, when I graduated from high school, I had the desire to experience life on the foreign mission field.  A couple months later, I read a prayer letter from a missionary family in Peru that our church supported asking for a young lady to come live with them to assist with the homeschooling of their children as well as other ministries they were involved with.  As I began praying about this opportunity that seemed to fit with my goals and desires so closely, I also began to seek direction from God’s Word.  Verses that He gave me in connection to this decision were written down in my journal.  “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”  (Psalm 119:105)

I also asked for peace from the Holy Spirit to know if this was truly His will.  The Holy Spirit works in conjunction with our spirit in different ways.  Sometimes it’s through a gut instinct, an inward red flag that can’t be ignored, an unsettled feeling, a deep sense of peace, or words He actually speaks into your thoughts.  “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)

Of course, my parents were very much involved in this decision.  I greatly value their counsel and wisdom when it comes to understanding the will of God for my life, and while they do not make decisions for me, their blessing or lack thereof holds great weight for me.  As we prayed about this opportunity in Peru, my parents sent many questions to the missionary family, sought counsel from trusted advisors, and eventually gave me their stamp of approval.  “Honor thy father and mother which is the first commandment with promise.” (Ephesians 6:2) “In the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14)

In the example of this decision about the opportunity in Peru, as the decision was passed through this filter, all the lights proved to be green.  God had given me verses in His Word providing direction, there was peace from the Holy Spirit, and my authorities had given their blessing.  When all the lights are green like this, I then ask the Lord for circumstances that confirm His will.  Depending on the situation, these might be financial provisions, job applications that are accepted, open or closed doors, etc.  He has always been faithful to give this confirmation!

It’s a simple process really.  What does God’s Word say?  What does the Holy Spirit say?  What do my authorities say?  Are the circumstances favorable?

By way of another example, a couple of years ago, I learned of a staff opening at the crisis pregnancy center where I had been volunteering for several years.  My mom was actually the one who asked me if I had thought about applying for the position.  I told her no and shared my reasons with her.  When she mentioned that she thought I’d be perfect for the job, it got me thinking that perhaps my reasons weren’t show-stoppers after all and that I should at least pray about it.  It was a big decision since my commitment there would be for at least a year.  Once again, the decision making filter proved invaluable!

  • The Word of God (check)
  • The Holy Spirit’s leading (check)
  • Authorities (check)
  • Confirming Circumstances (check – my application was accepted and I got the job!)
On the flip side, this decision making filter saved me from marriage to the wrong man!

According to the clear leading of the Lord, I had enrolled in missionary language school for a year to study Spanish full time and prepare for future mission work in Latin America.  On day three of my new life on campus I was completely swept off my feet by a Godly, dashing young man from Ecuador.  As we began to get to know one another, we really felt like God was leading us together.  We prayed and fasted and sought His will.  I believed I received verses from God’s Word, initially there was peace, and our authorities were all in approval, albeit my parents had some initial misgivings.  But then, things started to change.  The Holy Spirit led me to see major concerns and red flags that initially I did not recognize.  Trusted friends called me with concerns of their own and as I sought further counsel, every person I spoke with had legitimate issues to point out and reasons for believing that this relationship was not the best.  In the end, we recognized that we just weren’t compatible for marriage and that it was best to call things off.

My friends, God is so faithful!  When we earnestly desire to know and do His will, He is not going to hide it from us!  He will honor the one who seeks Him.

Sometimes, I think we overcomplicate God’s will

….or succumb to fears that we might miss it, such that it handicaps us from doing anything!  That’s why I love the passage in Acts 16:6-7.  Speaking of Paul and his band of merry men, it says, “Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach in Asia, after that they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not.”  Paul didn’t passively sit around waiting for visions all the time to know where to go and what to do.  He took initiative traveling from city to city preaching the Gospel.  Occasionally, there were times when the Holy Spirit needed to forbid him to preach in certain places or closed the doors when necessary in order to direct Paul’s steps as He saw fit.

So don’t be afraid to take some initiative and “knock” on some doors to see if they might lead to God’s will!  God can always stop you from going in a certain direction if He needs to.

Back to our hypothetical example of you getting ready to complete your degree and wondering what to do next.  My first piece of advice is: examine your interests, desires, and/or the opportunities God has set before you.  You were created to do specific good works which God has before ordained!  And I personally believe He often tailors these good works to the person He has created you to be.

Do you want to teach English as a second language in China?  Design a class for homeschoolers?  Pursue a master’s degree?  Get a job and sponsor an orphan child in a foreign country?  Gain experience in a certain field?  Minister to children or widows or orphans or families?

Once you figure out your desires or recognize some open doors that might be before you, run your decisions through this handy filter.

  • What does God’s Word say?
  • What does the Holy Spirit say?
  • What do your parents or authorities say?
  • What circumstances do you see as confirming this next step?

Of course, pray, pray, pray!  God is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him!

I know this article has grown long, but perhaps you’ll allow me to share one more thought in closing.  As exciting as it is to receive answers to our prayers and to have God’s specific will for our lives revealed to us, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be easy to obey.  I know it was God’s will for me to be in Bolivia ministering to children at an orphanage for several months.  But when I signed up for this job, I had no idea it would include so many hardships, homesickness, and even Hepatitis A.  Many times, God’s will includes suffering or refining for purposes much higher than our own.

In everything, though, He is faithful and His will is worth pursuing!


“The world passeth away and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” 

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