A friend smiled across the dinner table. “So, you’re moving to another state? Exciting! How did God reveal his will to you?”
My wife and I glanced at each other knowingly, scrambling to answer honestly without making our friend feel awkward. As far as we knew God hadn’t said anything about our move. No specific direction, no goosebumps in prayer, no timely Bible verses about sojourning to a far-off land.
We had done our best to honor God in this move—praying together, seeking advice from friends and mentors, planning and saving for years. Yet whenever the topic came up, what people really wanted to know was how God spoke to us to reveal his will.
People seemed to assume God always provides tangible, individualized counsel for life’s big decisions. Admittedly, the thought of receiving a custom message from the Lord, transmitted just for the Andersons, is exciting. And I don’t dismiss that longing, given the glorious hope of communicating with God face to face in ways unimaginable now (Matt. 5:8; 1 Cor. 13:12; Rev. 22:3–4).
Maybe you’ve been there too, facing a significant decision and wondering how to discern what God wants you to do. Life’s weighty decisions—where to attend college, whom to marry, whether to take that job—make us crave divine direction. But is it realistic, or biblical, to expect an audible “go for it” (or tangible equivalent) from God before making every major decision?
What Do We Mean By ‘God’s Will’?
Clear language matters. Unfortunately the way we define the will of God is often quite unclear in the church. Kevin DeYoung explains the confusion:
The “will of God” is one of the most confusing phrases in the Christian vocabulary. Sometimes we speak of all things happening according to God’s will. Other times we talk about being obedient and doing the will of God. And still other times we talk about finding the will of God.
Let’s turn briefly to Scripture for clarity. Theologians commonly speak of two aspects of God’s will: his will of decree and his will of desire (often called God’s secret and revealed will, respectively).
1. God’s (Secret) Will of Decree
God’s will of decree means he sovereignly ordains all things. He totally controls the goings-on of the world. This soaring truth is seen in passages like Ephesians 1:11: “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”
Nothing can hinder God’s plans. History, as well as our individual lives, are moving toward the destination God intends. This is good news because God’s heart for us, and the world, is to redeem, purify, and make whole (Rev. 21:1–5).
2. God’s (Revealed) Will of Desire
God’s will of desire refers to his biblical commands: how he wants us to live. As moderns we tend to resist imperatives, but for believers they’re the gift of a good Father who lights our path rather than leaving us to stumble blindly (Ps. 119:105).
Jesus masterfully summarizes the will of the Father in two clear commands: love God and love neighbor (Matt. 22:37–40). If you’re looking for get-to-the-point theology about God’s will, there it is.
God’s will of desire means we know what he expects of us. Instead of grasping for an individualized plan for our lives, Scripture universalizes his will for all believers: everything boils down to loving God and neighbor.
Love God and love neighbor. If you’re looking for get-to-the-point theology about God’s will, there it is.
God’s Will of Direction
Still, some wonder if God reveals his will for everyday decisions not directly addressed in Scripture. In addition to his will of decree and desire, people seek his will of direction.
You’re at a fork in the road, poised between option A and B. Which way, Lord, should I go?
The issue isn’t in the question; we should seek God for wisdom (James 1:5). The problem is how we expect God to answer. The popular conception is that God, through some obvious means, will answer us. Perhaps it’s option A vanishing, or a feeling we get in prayer, or a Bible verse that seems to nudge us in one direction, or . . . fill in the blank.
But what if much of the time God simply invites us to choose? What if option A or B fall equally within his will, in ways we can’t explain or comprehend? What if, instead of option A versus option B, God is actually interested in how we walk the road, not which road we take?
Again, DeYoung is helpful:
God is not a Magic 8-Ball we shake up and peer into whenever we have a decision to make. He is a good God who gives us brains, shows us the way of obedience, and invites us to take risks for him. We know God has a plan for our lives. That’s wonderful. The problem is we think he’s going to tell us the wonderful plan before it unfolds. We feel like we can know—and need to know—what God wants every step of the way. But such preoccupation with finding God’s will, as well-intentioned as the desire may be, is more folly than freedom.
Along those lines, a friend once shared this principle in a sermon: “God’s will is a compass, not a road map.”
We’re often preoccupied with the destination—where God wants to take us. But maybe he’s most interested in who he’s shaping along the way. The point is not to disparage well-meaning Christians from wholeheartedly seeking God’s will for their lives. It’s just that . . . maybe he’s already told us!
God’s will is a compass, not a road map.
For too long faithful saints have been told that God’s will, like a divine Siri, will call out step-by-step directions at every juncture. When God doesn’t direct in this way, a plethora of false narratives about him are born. In the perceived silence, some contrive answers, putting words in God’s mouth. Some feel abandoned by God, like he’s left them in a lurch. Others feel guilt, assuming God is being dismissive because they lack faith or have sinned in some unforgivable way. And still others become paralyzed, frozen in indecision until the desired answer comes, if it ever does.
Ultimately, the expectation for God to reveal every decision for us is unsustainable. There’s a better way.
Freedom of God’s Will
It’s been about six months since my wife and I moved; and, for multiple reasons, we’ve now moved back home. Here’s the new question we’re getting these days: “So, do you regret moving away in the first place?”
Our answer is a resounding no. Moving out of state wasn’t a step out of God’s will. Things didn’t turn out how we thought they might, but the beauty of God’s will is that returning to square one isn’t a bad thing. God’s resets are progress, even when they shatter our paradigms of advancement and success.
God’s resets are progress, even when they shatter our paradigms of advancement and success.
What was God’s will for us in this move? I don’t fully know, but what I can say confidently is that my wife and I have drawn closer to Jesus in these past six months. We’ve stared into the gaping holes in our faith, asked for forgiveness, and tried to learn how to fulfill Jesus’s words to love him and neighbor with everything we have. We know that, regardless of which city we’re in, this is his will for us.
Do you see the freedom in this view?
Since God’s sovereign hand can’t be thwarted, ditch your fear of wandering irrevocably off the path of his will. Stop fretting that you’ve rabbit-trailed beyond the bounds of providence. Plan, obey biblical principles, seek the counsel of others, bathe it in prayer, then make a decision! Don’t worry if God isn’t calling out turn-by-turn directions along the way. Just love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength—that’s your true north.