The Will of God


Once a person becomes a Christian a desire rises up within their hearts to do the will of God. Before coming to faith people seldom think about the will of God. They go through life concerned about what they want – what their will is. If they are in love they may think about what their loved one’s will is. If they are a parent they will consider the will of their children, though children often want things that are not good for them. When a person finds the pearl of great price everything changes. The pearl, Christ, becomes the great desire of a person’s heart. The will of God becomes something of great interest to that person. Show me a person who does not care about the will of God and I will show you a person who is not in a right relationship with God.


As God’s people we can get caught up in the daily grind of life. As we try to meet the necessities of life, as well as fulfilling our own desires, the will of God can be forgotten. Yet, if we have been born from above, deep within us is a desire for God’s will, especially as it applies to our own life. We are creatures of self-interest. That does not change. Christians want to know God’s will for their lives. Knowing God’s will for your life also has to do with God’s leading. God’s leading is into His will.


Our Scripture reading this morning is Joshua 9:1-15. 


Note that in verse 14 the Israelites failed to ask the Lord about what to do about the Gibeonites. They just went ahead and did what they thought was right. They leaned on their own understanding.  This caused great problems for them later. It would even be the inaugurating factor that would lead to David murdering seven of Saul’s descendants (2 Sam 21:1-14). They failed to seek the Lord’s will! Knowing God’s will is important for our own benefit!


Before we examine how to know God’s will it is good to distinguish two kinds of God’s will. There is what some call his revealed will. As the name implies, it is the will of God as revealed in Scripture. This has also been called his moral will. A more technical name for this is his prescriptive will. An example of this is found in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.


            For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; (I Thes 4:3)


There is also his secret will. This is something that is not usually revealed in Scripture. I say “usually” because God does make exceptions. God has a plan or a purpose and he reveals this sometimes through prophecy. He will open the door and allow us to peer into what the future holds. But he does this rarely. This is also called his non-moral will; although there is sometimes a moral dimension to his hidden will, godly behavior is not what primarily characterizes it.  A more technical name to this is his decretive will. An example of this is found in Paul’s introduction in his letter to the Corinthians.


            Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

(1 Corinthians 1:1 ESV)


God decreed that Paul was to be an apostle before he was even born (Gal 1:15). But until Paul was called by God no one knew that he was going to be an apostle. It was part of God’s hidden plan.


To make this easier to grasp, just remember that there is God’s moral will and his non-moral will, or his plans. The former is revealed and his plans are, most often, not known until after they happen.


Many Christians want to know both. They desire to know God’s moral directives, especially as they apply to their own lives, and they want to know what God’s plans are for them. They want to make the choices in life that line up with God’s will, God’s plans, because they know that God’s will is best. They want to live where God wants them to live. They want to work where God wants them to work. They want to marry who God wants them to marry. Maybe most of the time. Maybe they don’t want to live on the same street as their mother-in-law even if God wants them to. Maybe they don’t want to do hard labor even though God wants them to. Maybe they don’t want to marry the person their parents counsel them to marry even though God wants them to. Still, in general, genuine Christians desire to be in God’s will.


This morning I want to give you one assurance, one necessity, and then tell you how you can know God’s will for your decisions.


[I.] The one assurance. Some Christians go through life paying little attention to God’s will. They avoid the big sins because they know they are supposed to. But they have little or no concern for God’s guidance. This is not the way the people of God lived in the Bible. Others experience anxiety because they are fearful that they may not discern God’s will in key areas of their life and they will miss the blessing.


Both of these pathways are wrong. It is a grave error to seldom or never seek God’s guidance, but it is also unhealthy to think that one may miss God’s guidance because we did not seek it hard enough or well enough.


Let me give you an assurance. When it comes to your own life, guidance is God’s responsibility, not yours. God himself takes the initiative in guiding the person who is open to being directed by him. The Bible shows us that the Lord takes the responsibility to guide us in spite of our confusion and ignorance.


Many times, God intervenes unexpectedly and gives a person guidance even when no request has been made for it! God goes out of his way to make sure a person has the knowledge of his will so that they can be in the best position to accomplish it.


Moses was tending sheep for his father-in-law when God called him to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 3). Saul was looking for lost donkeys when he thought that a “man of God” might be able to tell him where they were. He finds Samuel and Samuel anoints him as king over Israel. Gideon was beating wheat on his father’s farm when an angel came to him and commissioned him to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Midianites.


God desires to guide. This is profoundly seen in John 10.


            “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

            So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

(John 10:1-10 ESV)


Verse 3: “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” The shepherd speaks first. Then the sheep hear the voice. He leads them. Sheep are some of the dumbest animals. A friend of mine had a few sheep that his parents kept penned up in a spacious, fenced in area. They also had a Doberman that did not like the sheep. Whenever any of the sheep would back up to the fence he would bite them, usually getting a fair amount of wool for his efforts. But they were so stupid that they never learned not to back up to the fence. They kept doing it and kept getting bitten. My friend simply marveled at their stupidity. That is the way we are. We, in some respects, are like stupid sheep. We keep getting bitten but we haven’t learned to stop backing into the fence.


Verse 4: “…he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” Jesus goes before us! Then we follow him.


Verse 9: “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” The context in these passages is eternal life, but there is more here than just that. The phrase “going in and out and finding pasture” is a Jewish expression of the time, meaning a life that was secure and safe. It means that we, the sheep, enjoy both freedom and security.


What is a shepherd? A shepherd is one who guides the sheep to food and shelter.


Christ not only guides us in spite of our confusion about his will, but also guides us in spite of our waywardness. Sheep are also wayward animals.


We have an assurance. God himself takes the initiative in guiding the person who is open to being directed by him. And that leads us to a necessity.


[II.] A necessity. We must be open to being directed by him. We must be willing to do God’s will in any decision that confronts us. Apart from such a willingness we will either not discover his will, not understand his will, or not be able to fulfill it if we tried.


In seeking God’s guidance we may think our main goal is to figure out what God’s will is. We should try. But our main problem is our will, not our mind. We must be ready and willing to do his will. If we really don’t, God is probably not going to show us.


Throughout the Bible, when people were called to a task, they were already doing God’s will when the call came. Then, after God reveals his will, they go and do it. Jonah is the exception to the pattern.


This necessity is further confirmed in Paul’s appeal to the Romans:


            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.

(Romans 12:1-2 ESV)


First, we present our bodies as a living sacrifice. Then we discern what the will of God is.


Our necessity is to be willing to submit our will to his.


[III.] If we have an assurance that God will guide us and we are willing to do what he reveals, how then do we learn what God’s will is?


I am going to give you four steps, drawn from Scripture, that will be very helpful in receiving God’s guidance.


[1.] Ask for it. Prayer plays a vital role in guidance. We should ask for the revelation of God’s will for us. But, more than this, we should ask for the willingness. Our problem will be more with our heart than with our head. This is why I listed the necessity of being willing first. But we can fool ourselves! We can think that we are ready to do God’s will but we really are not. Our own desires are sometimes so strong that we may not be as willing to do God’s will as we think we are.


There was an old Scottish woman who went from home to home across the countryside selling thread, buttons, and shoestrings. When she came to an unmarked crossroad, she would toss a stick into the air and go in the direction the stick pointed when it landed. 

One day, however, she was seen tossing the stick up several times. "Why do you toss the stick more than once?" someone asked. "Because," replied the woman, "it keeps pointing to the left, and I want to take the road on the right." She then dutifully kept throwing the stick into the air until it pointed the way she wanted to go! 


We might be more like that old woman than we suspect. We ought to pray that we are willing to do God’s will. Sometimes God will give us the desire of our heart. But sometimes he will lead us in another way.


We must also ask to know God’s will. C.S. Lewis said that God could have chosen to do his work on earth in any fashion that he wanted. But he has chosen to do it in great measure in response to prayer.


We saw in Joshua 9 how the Israelites failure to ask God for guidance led to their being deceived and to further problems for Saul and David both.


Paul Little recalls being at an evangelistic conference in 1948 and the speaker asked at one of the sessions, “How many of you spend 5 minutes a day asking God to show you his will?” As soon as he heard that he was convicted because he wasn’t. We should ask. There is no need to make long prayers about it. Simply ask. Remember, there were many men and women of God who were called to do something in the midst of mundane affairs. It is God’s responsibility to show you what to do. But, it is good to ask.


Paul did.         And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,

(Colossians 1:9 ESV)


The first step, then, is to pray both to be willing to do God’s will and that the Lord would guide us.


[2.] Search the Scriptures. Most of the guidance that we will need will be found in the Scriptures. Why is this so? Because most of God’s will has already been revealed and that is his will for your living in accordance with the moral principles that he has laid out. Our problem is that we are not familiar enough with the word of God to allow it to guide us sufficiently.


Even the non-moral decisions that we must make (what job to take, where to live, who to marry) are affected by biblical principles to some degree. When I say search the Scriptures I do not mean praying, then opening your Bible and picking out a random verse. One might call this the Dartboard Method.


There was a young man who was seeing a young lady named Grace. He wanted to know if God wanted him to marry her. So, he prayed for guidance. He then closed his eyes, opened his Bible, and put his finger on a verse. It was 2 Corinthians 12:9.

He opened his eyes and read, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” So, he went ahead and married her. Wrong way to choose a lifelong partner!!


We study the Scriptures to discover God’s moral directives, his principles of living, to deepen our consciousness of God, to contact God, and there can be times when a verse or a passage of Scripture will give us an answer we seek. But, it will not be random and unrelated to what is written (as it was for the man courting Grace), but it will be directly related to our own situation. In other words, we may discover God’s guidance or direction  for someone in the Bible that is in a very similar situation that we find ourselves in. God’s word can provide answers for us in that respect.


We need wisdom. The Scriptures provide it. The second step is to search the Scriptures.


[3.] Listen for the unusual ways that God speaks. God has spoken in unusual ways and these ways are recorded in the Bible. I am purposely going to say little about this because these ways are not normative. They occur. But none of these ways should be expected or even sought simply because these are not the ways that God uses very often to communicate his will. There have even been great men of God who have done marvelous works for God far exceeding what any of us have done or even what anyone we have known has done, yet have never heard from God in any of these ways.


There is also the danger that, if we do not hear from God by these means, we may think that we are not spiritual enough or that we are a lesser kind of Christian. False! As I said, there are great people of God who have not heard from God in these ways. However, these way are in the Bible and God is still communicating by these means on rare occasions. They are:


  • the voice of God. (this includes the still, small voice or “thin silence;” see the Sermon “A God Who Hides Himself” from August 14, 2016 for more on this)
  • A dream
  • A vision
  • A prophet
  • Lots


(And, I purposely left one out because of its controversial nature.)


It is possible that God may communicate to you in one of these ways. But do not expect it. Merely be open.


[4.] The normative way that we are to make decisions and receive God’s guidance is by exercising wisdom. This is why James tells us to ask for wisdom if we lack it. The primary way we should be making decisions is by thinking things through. That is, by being informed of what God’s revealed will is (by familiarity with his word) and then exercising logic and reason to make a decision.


We see the apostle Paul doing this, observing his circumstances and then using reason to come to a decision. Paul seems to do this more often that receiving some kind of supernatural guidance. We do not have time to review all of the passages that show this. But you may wish to read them later: Romans 15:18-24; I Corinthians 16:5-9; 2 Corinthians 2;12-13; Acts 18:19; I Tim 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9. Jesus himself used logic when reasoning with his antagonists.


The counsel of a wise man or woman of God could be considered a fifth step in receiving God’s guidance. Yet, it is really just this same step only by another person who cares about you. If you receive counsel from a wise person, they are wise because they know the Scriptures, know you, and know something about the situation. Maybe they have gone through it before themselves. It is someone else thinking things through for you. It is still guidance through wisdom.


[IV. Conclusion] The will of God is precious. His will is the best will. It is good for us!


  • Be assured that he wants us to know his will and he takes the initiative to let us know. There is no need to worry.
  • We ought to pray both for a yieldedness to his will and to know what it is. Even if it is only a 2-minute prayer, ask!
  • Search the Scriptures
  • Be aware that there are unusual ways that God may communicate his will, but neither seek nor expect him to use those.
  • Use wisdom to make your decisions. If you use wisdom, you will find God’s guidance.


“Lord, help us to desire thy will and help us to know thy will. Then give us the strength to do thy will. We ask this in the name of Jesus.”