Recently I’ve been wrestling over how to know God’s will in major life decisions, like where to live, whom to marry, and what job to take.
There’s a lot of advice out there, ranging from people saying that you need to hear a direct word from God, to others saying that you can’t expect direct guidance, but have to make a decision based on wisdom and the information you have.
It’s confusing. To find personal clarity, I’ve gone straight to the source, God’s word itself.
A couple of passages have spoken to me:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. (Proverbs 3:5-7)
Some principles that I have derived from these passages:
The first step is to trust that God will guide us. He has promised to give wisdom generously and without reproach to all who ask. That means we can pray with confidence, and rest in his promise, knowing that he will provide. Often we get tossed around while making decisions because we don’t trust he’ll give us what we need. We are the double-minded, doubting person that James talks about.
A prerequisite for receiving wisdom is admitting that we lack it, and that we need God to guide us. Our culture tells us to look within and “follow your heart”. Scripture tells us that we must not rely on our own understanding, but seek God’s.
3. Recognition of our proneness to being deceived
We are fallible, fallen human creatures, prone to being deceived by sin, Satan, our own desires, and limited information.
That’s why we sometimes experience “God speaking” to us, only for it to be proven later that it was not God. Our feelings, tainted by self-will, are not a reliable guide.
We must surrender our desires to God. This is not a manipulative attempt to have them fulfilled. It’s an open-handed giving of ourselves and our decision to God, saying, “Your will be done.” It’s believing that he knows far better (perfectly, in fact) what is best for us. It’s letting go of our desired outcome, and being willing for it to be the opposite of what we want, because we truly want God’s will more than our own.
We can ask God to open or close doors, based on his perfect, unlimited knowledge of people and situations that we lack.
5. Turn away from evil
We can’t be guided by God if we’re holding on to sin. Likewise, God will never guide us into sin.
We sometimes hear of people doing things like leaving their spouses for someone else, because “they heard from God”. No, they did not. That was the voice of their flesh, seeking approval from God to do something he has clearly forbidden. When you’re considering a course of action, search the Scriptures. God will not contradict what he’s already said. If something is wrong according to clear Biblical teaching, we do not need “special guidance” about it.
6. Pay attention to reality
Often people want something so much that they seek a “word from God” to confirm it, despite clear warning signs. They think that hearing from God will magically make it OK. That’s not how God works. We must be careful that we are not deceiving ourselves.
Consider the reality of the situation. If that job won’t meet the needs of your family, it’s not wise to take it. If that person you love has serious character issues, don’t assume they will change after marriage. If friends are warning you that what you’re about to do is foolish, don’t ignore it. God doesn’t magically override reality. He gives grace, but we will suffer for foolish choices.
Proverbs 22:3 says: “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.”
Once through God’s word, his Spirit, the application of wisdom, and the counsel of others, we are convinced of the right course of action, we must follow it. We can’t disobey what we know, and continue to fruitlessly ask God for guidance.
We usually want to know the answer to a major problem right away. We hate living in uncertainty. But sometimes we may need to be prepared to wait, continuing to seek God and trusting that he will give us what we need when we need it. We should not act out of an anxious, fleshly desire to resolve the tension. God’s timing is not ours.
9. Don’t fear
In the end, if we are humbly and honestly seeking God’s will, praying for wisdom and guidance, searching Scripture, and heeding wise counsel, we can trust that God will show us what to do, however he chooses to do that. We can leave the outcome to him in confidence that as he promised, all things will work out for our good (Romans 8:28). We mustn’t fear that a “wrong” decision will doom us (except, of course, a sinful choice). We can trust that he will continue to be with us, working in and through the resulting circumstances. This doesn’t mean there will never be suffering or difficulty—following God’s will brought Jesus to the cross. But he has promised his peace and presence with us always, and grace to help us in our time of need.