How do we determine the will of God for our lives?
When I was younger, this question would stress me out. It felt like my inner-person was constantly battling with herself over wanting to please God, worrying about how other people viewed me, and simply craving my own way. I was about 25 years old when someone (a trusted friend) told me that I was like “a house divided that would not stand” (Matt. 12:25) and I can remember getting so mad that they would dare say this about me, even though it was absolutely true. At the time, I honestly didn’t have the eyes to see this about myself; I didn’t have the objectivity or the spiritual maturity. But I sure as heck was experiencing the affects of living from a divided heart.
Now, 10 years later, I have compassion for who I was back then because I know how long life can be…how the days stretch out to years and how our interaction with God is very much a journey. His mercies are new and available for us every morning and thank the Lord for that because I made so many poor decisions back then. Decisions made out of fear (“Will there be enough?”), out of selfishness (“But this will make me happy right now!”), out of rebellion (“I know what is right but I’m choosing this instead…”), and out of pain (“I am protecting myself.”) And I still mess up, every single day! But this only further proves the steadfast love of the Lord for me, for my family, and for you. He is faithful, friend. He is kind. He knows we are but dust and is patient with our childlike growth. He wants to walk the long road of this life with us.
If you haven’t noticed already, our culture rewards successful stories and obvious markers of achievement and it loves perfection. You better work your life and have it whipped into shape and show everyone how smart/rich/pretty/cool you are…and oh yeah, these things must happen before you turn 30! But the striving to craft an exterior of perfection (or success or fill-in-the-blank whatever personal kingdom you are tempted to build for yourself) only leaves us with a sick heart- one that is cracking and crumbling with the weight of a counterfeit world we’ve devised. God has created us by his love (and for his love) but he has also given us the free will to rule over our own lives, to seat ourselves high on the throne of our hearts, asserting our will with every breath. He gives us this choice, but it is miserably lonely up on that throne.
And so, when we ask this question about discerning the will of God for our lives, it is good to remember that we are learning how to walk, daily and incrementally, with the Lord as our Shepherd. We are coming down off the throne of our hearts and asking for his perfect leadership for our lives. We are learning how to recognize his voice and learning how to choose obedience. We are learning how to submit within our heart and learning how to ask for a renewal of mind. These things don’t come out of my own strength but are prompted and made alive to me by the Holy Spirit. It is good to remember that the whole point of this thing is precisely to have “just a closer walk with thee.”
How does this actually work out in real life? What are the practical steps? As much as I’d like to give you TEN EASY STEPS TO DETERMINING THE WILL OF GOD FOR YOUR LIFE (whew, that was a lot of caps) I can’t because it isn’t a reformation program. We cannot make ourselves good enough or spiritual enough by our strength, discipline, or mere efforts.
If we desire to know the will of God, we must start in prayer. In learning how to pray. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”We must learn how to partner with the deep desire and work of the Lord; we must come alongside what he is already doing. If we humble ourselves and ask him about what he wants, what he is doing, the good news is that the Lord is so generous and welcoming of his people! It is an absolute joy for God to partner with his people, his bride, to bring renewal and redemption to this world. But it is for our own good to trust that he knows the best way to do this, not us.
Ultimately, the Lord is after our love– all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength. We can give a lot of attention to the loving of our neighbor (the doing, the obvious, the serving) but without our hearts given over to the loving kindness of the Father, what is the point of all of that serving? Let’s keep the first things first. Let’s humble ourselves, ask for the Lord to teach us these things, and then trust him as he leads. He will give us our daily bread- he will sustain us. And the kingdom of heaven will grow from this tiny, but mighty, seed.