FirstLife Blog

Day 34: How to Know the Will of God

Posted by Brent McDougal on

(7 minute read)

“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 (Romans 12:2, ESV).” 

About ten years ago, I attended a retreat that focused on hearing God’s voice through the story of one’s life. It was called a Narrative Leadership Retreat. It came at a time when I was searching for God’s will. I had finished a doctorate in Political Science and wondered what God’s journey forward might look like. 

Through scripture reading, storytelling, and other creative elements, I believe I heard from God that weekend. Strangely, one of the most impactful moments happened when a poem was introduced in one of the sessions. The Journey by Mary Oliver (1935-2019) has since become a kind of home base for me when I think about vocation. 

One day, you finally knew what you had to do,

 and began-

 though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice

 though the whole whole began to tremble

 and you felt the old tug at your ankles.

 “Mend my life!” each voice cried.

 But you didn’t stop — you knew what you had to do,

 though the wind pried with its stiff fingers

 at the very foundations

 though their melancholy was terrible.

 It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones

 But little by little,

 as you left their voice behind,

 the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds

 and you heard a new voice

 one that you slowly recognized as your own

 that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world determined to do the only thing that you could do —

 determined to save the only life you could save. 

This poem spoke deeply to me. I thought about the voice in my head — the whisper of God — and the way that much of my life was causing me to resist that voice. I felt empowered to take a bold step of faith after that weekend, believing that I better understood God’s will for my life. 

Every one of us has a journey that we’re walking out. The truth is that no one knows you like you know you. The deeper truth is that God knows you better than you know you. 

The journey is not always easy. There are times where you may feel like you know what you have to do. But there are other times when you may wonder: God, how are you leading me? What is your will?

God can speak in a thousand ways. God spoke to me through the poem. God has spoken to me through other people. God can use animals, nature, newspapers, even television, and commercials to get a point across. I heard of a man whose life was changed by a billboard message. I know a woman who read a book that changed the course of her life. 

The most reliable, trusted, and available source of hearing God’s voice is the Bible. That’s why it’s called The Word of God. 

Like a radio frequency, to hear God’s voice, you need to be attuned to God’s voice. The Word of God helps you do that. It can guide your prayers, make your heart tender, open your eyes to truth, and teach you about God’s character. God’s word, along with a humble heart and teachable spirit, can help you know God’s will. 

George Müller’s success in work and life came from his capacity to know God’s will and then do God’s will. 

You and I can do the same. We can know the plans God has for us. God’s plans for us are always better than our plans for us. 

In Müller’s Narrative (the journal of his life, no relation to my retreat), he lays out six steps for ascertaining God’s will. 

First, Müller said, “I seek at the beginning to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in regard to a given matter. Nine-tenths of the trouble with people generally is just here. Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord’s will, whatever that may be. When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is.”

Whether you and I know it or not, we often bring before the Lord not only a request for guidance but also a pretty good idea about what we think the outcome should be. Seeking God’s will first involves emptying ourselves of God’s will. We need our minds renewed so that we'll have the mind of God. 

Second, “having done this, I do not leave the result to feeling or simple impression. If so, I make myself liable to great delusions.”

There’s nothing wrong with impressions, feelings, or other emotions. Our hearts matter as much as our minds. Müller counsels to keep these in the proper place, however. We all know how easily we can be misled or mistaken about God’s best for our lives.

Third, “I seek the will of the Spirit of God through, or in connection with, the Word of God. The Spirit and the Word must be combined. If I look to the Spirit alone without the Word, I lay myself open to great delusions also. If the Holy Ghost guides us at all, He will do it according to the Scriptures and never contrary to them.”

Müller was known to read the Bible through four times each year. He grounded every decision in God’s Word.

Jen and I have been reading the Moravian text for almost four years now. This Bible plan helps us to read through the Bible every two years. We have found that spending time in God’s Word provides a strong foundation for making good decisions. 

Fourth, Müller noted that he takes into account providential circumstances. “These often plainly indicate God’s will in connection with His Word and Spirit.” 

I think of this as a kind of sacred echo. How do the teachings of scripture, the impressions I have in prayer, and the workings of my day-to-day life suggest where God wants me to go?

Fifth, Müller says, “I ask God in prayer to reveal His will to me aright.”

That’s a bold prayer. But we can expect a God who wants us to do God’s will to reveal God’s will. I had a professor who often said, “God doesn’t play ‘hide the ball’ with us. God will show us what God wants us to do if we listen and are willing to obey.”

“Thus, through prayer to God, the study of the Word, and reflection,” Müller states, “I come to a deliberate judgment according to the best of my ability and knowledge; and if my mind is thus at peace, and continues so after two or three more petitions, I proceed accordingly. In trivial matters, and in transactions involving the most important issues, I have found this method always effective.”

Note that Müller continued to pray even when he believed that he had heard God’s voice. He moved forward deliberately from there. This applied to small decisions and big decisions.

How often did he find this method effective?

Always.

Have you ever considered that there could be a deliberate, Bible-centered, proven process for determining God’s will for your life? 

God has an amazing journey for your life. It’s the best journey you can take. 

With the next decision you need to make, try to implement such a process. If you’re not reading the Bible every day, begin there. Practice emptying yourself of your plans, your expected outcomes, and your ego. 

Let God renew your mind. Then you’ll know what to do — what is good and acceptable and perfect. 

Prayer Principle #34: God’s plans for you are always better than your plans for you.

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