“I know God’s will for your life.” When I tell this to my students, they sometimes think this means that I’ve received a prophetic word from God, and that perhaps I’m about to let them in on the person they will marry, the vocation they will have, or the graduate school they will attend. Their eyes often show a bit of disappointment when I tell him what I really mean by this declaration. When I tell them “God’s will for your life is that you be holy,” (1 Thess 4:3; 1 Peter 1:15-16) they usually give me that “I-should-have-known-you-were-going-to-say-something-like-that” look. They were hoping for specific details, not character traits. While I believe the Bible teaches that God has a detailed plan for our lives, that we should seek his guidance every step of the way, I also believe the Bible calls us to primarily focus on who we are becoming in the midst of the details. God's focus is on our characters; while we’re often consumed with our day-timers. While we seem to be increasingly self and details focused, the Bible challenges us to be God, other, and world focused; to seek God’s Kingdom first, and allow God to provide for us and work out the details of our lives (Matt 6:33-34). We can be sure that God always leads us in the direction of holy living that will bring him the greatest glory. As David declares, “he leads me in paths of righteousness for his name sake" (Ps 23:3).
The Holy Spirit is alive and powerfully active in our lives (Acts 15:28). However, the way he normatively guides us is through the Bible that he inspired and illuminates (2 Tim 3:16-17). Waiting for supernatural signs from God to find his will tends toward Pagan divination rather than Bible-focused, Spirit led guidance. God’s Word clearly shows us his revealed will for our lives--that we should be holy, obedient, loving, thankful, patient, pure, good, honest, Christ-like, God honoring people. When we become more like Christ, and develop a heart for God, his will in the details of life becomes more evident to us. We are primarily dependent on this Bible based, relational guidance from God, for he wants us to be daily realizing our utter dependence on him and his Word, and that he cares more about our sanctification than our ideas of security or success.
Assuming we are in close relationship with God, growing in Christ-likeness, and seeking the glory of God and the good of others, there are other important steps we can take to discern what God would have us do in particular situations. We should seek wise counsel from godly people who know us and God well (Prov 12:15). We should also consider the way God has, and is, providentially working in our lives. Has he provided opportunities experiences, gifts, abilities and circumstances that we should seek to build on with our decisions? We should also seek to use the minds he has given us to decide whether a decision is wise. We need to be careful here though, because sometimes what makes sense from God’s perspective is considered foolishness by the world (Gen 22; 1 Cor 1:18-31).
When we make decisions as God’s children who are in close obedient fellowship with him, we can act on those decisions with patient confidence, sure that the God we call Father is infinitely powerful, loving, wise and good, and will be with us no matter where the path we take leads. God wants us to want to know him even more than we want to know his will for our lives.
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Rom 12:1-2, ESV)
For further study, I recommend the following resources:
J.I. Packer, God’s Plan for You, Crossway Books, 2001; and Finding God’s Will, InterVarsity, 1985;
Bruce Waltke, Knowing the Will of God for the Decisions of Life, Harvest House, 1998.