The Will of God
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 16 July 2010; Revised 7 March 2018
Sources: Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from Messianic Jewish Family Bible: Tree of Life Version, © 2014 by Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Hebraic and Jewish nature of Scripture and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Torah (Law), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
Note: This article draws from the basic critique of the traditional view of God's will and wisdom principles for decision-making found in Garry Friesen, Decision-Making and the Will of God (Multnomah Press, 1980), as a framework for offering my own analysis on this subject.
What does the expression "God's will" mean?
Those who believe in and seek to follow Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah (Christ) often speak of knowing God's will, seeking God's will, being in the center of God's will or doing God's will. Just what does this expression mean? Simply put "God's will" refers to what God wants or desires in contrast to our own desires. The concept of God's will is clearly expressed in three different ways in Scripture. (See the chart at the end of the article for a complete listing of passages.)
God's sovereign will is His masterful omnipotent control of events and people to work everything for our good and His glory (Acts 17:26-28; Rom 8:27-28). This same power holds the universe together and subjects all things to immutable laws (Dan 4:35; Rom 1:20; Col 1:17; Heb 1:3).
God's lifestyle will consists of His commands and instructions for worship and service to God and living in a manner pleasing to God. God's lifestyle will is expressed in both Old Covenant and New Covenant Scriptures (Deut 10:12-13; Matt 5:17-19; 7:21; 1Cor 7:19).
God's personal will is His supernaturally revealed guidance to certain individuals in biblical history (Gen 12:1-3; Ex 3:10; Isa 6:8; Matt 4:18-19; Acts 8:26-29; 9:2-15; 13:2), especially in cases of calls to divine service.
To these three I would add God's mission will that consists of His instructions to take the good news of the Messiah to the ends of the earth, and to make disciples who will obey the commands of Yeshua. There is also God's discretionary will which refers to the freedom God has given all people to make decisions in non-moral areas.
What about God's will for me?
Many believers assume that God has a detailed plan for their lives. It only needs to be discovered. The belief in a detailed plan for each person's life is grounded in simple theology. If God has a design for the planets would He not do the same for us? In addition, history abounds with godly leaders who have witnessed to a personal plan. The Bible describes many people who received specific guidance from God. So, if it was true for them, is it not true for us? Moreover, Scripture says, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (Ps 139:16 NIV). Did David mean that God had a will, a plan, for every day of his life? The answer to the question is not simple, since people are not robots to God. We have the power of choice for good or bad, and God also has a choice in how He acts. God can and does act unilaterally to give life and take life, to make prosperous and to make poor (1Sam 2:6-7).
How can I discover "God's individual will?"
A variety of "signs" are suggested to determine God's individual will. The first sign is the Bible. Many people testify to searching the Bible and a verse seems to stand out giving specific instruction for a decision that needed to be made. Some may do what I did in my youth of simply opening the Bible at random and putting my finger in to determine God's will. The second sign is the presence of open or closed doors. The apostle Paul prayed for open doors and took advantage of those opportunities as they occurred. The third sign is the inner witness of Holy Spirit. Yeshua promised that the the Spirit would dwell in our hearts and apostles affirmed the reality of being led by the Spirit (John 14:16; 16:13-14; Rom 8:14).
The fourth sign is mature godly counsel. There is safety in an abundance of counselors (Prov 24:6). Seeking wisdom from those more experienced is both prudent and biblical. The fifth sign is one's personal desires (cf. Psalm 37:4; Php 2:13). The thing you want to do may in fact be God's will for you. The last sign is supernatural guidance, which may be received through an audible voice, an angel, a vision, a trance, a dream, a prophecy or a miracle. Many believers dispute that supernatural guidance occurs today, either declaring that the completion of the biblical canon makes supernatural guidance unnecessary or that it is so rare as to be irrelevant as a method to rely on. Yet some believers do testify to hearing God's voice, seeing visions that offer guidance or receiving "words of knowledge" by supernatural impression.
How can I know God's will for sure in a specific situation?
The conventional wisdom among believers is that the best way to know God's individual will is agreement of the signs, especially the three main signs of Scripture, inner witness of the Holy Spirit and circumstances. The other signs add support, but are not necessary. When there is agreement between the signs then acceptance and doing God's will brings peace and blessing. God may also close a door clearly and firmly and save us from disaster. Persistent prayer for the issue is very important. God will make it clear that the prayer is answered "yes" or "no." Praying once is not sufficient. Communion with God is also vital to certainty since God speaks to those who are faithful to Him (John 10:27). By themselves these "signs" can have great value, but we also must exercise prudence in how we "read" those signs.
Analysis of the Belief in an Individual Plan
Misunderstanding God. The fact that God has a will for the planets does not prove He has an individual plan for every decision in my life. In reality God does not have an individual will for each of the planets; they all operate according to the laws of His sovereign will. Of course, there are exceptions. For example, the planet Uranus rotates on its axis in the opposite direction of the rest of the planets, and of the 31 planetary satellites ("moons") in the solar system, eleven have orbits that move in the opposite direction to the others. But even these exceptions exist according to His sovereign creation. God created man in His image, not the image of a planet or the animals. What would a child think if his father was silent about what he wanted from the child and expected the child to ask him first? Or, does the good father teach his child wisdom principles that will help him make good decisions on his own?
Misrepresenting Reality. A person's view that God has an individual will for every detail of a his life may rely on believing certain man-made myths instead of Scripture. Many young people expect to find the one mate in the whole world divinely selected for them and they will live happily ever after. They will also find a vocation that will provide a purposeful and prosperous life and, in short, have a perfect life. Unfortunately, life is never like that. After disappointments and heartaches many believers end up questioning whether they had actually found God's will and even doubting God's care for them.
Mistaking Success. Many think that finding God's perfect individual plan will assure success and that success is proof of having found God's will. Those in the ministry can easily fall prey to this circular reasoning. If the minister is successful in his "calling," then God's individual will seems to be confirmed. Scripture does promise success in life, but to the one who will obey God's lifestyle standards. For Joshua the promise of success was not based on following a predetermined life plan, but obeying God's commandments.
"Only be very strong, and resolute to observe diligently the Torah which Moses, My servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so you may be successful wherever you go. 8 This book of the Torah should not depart from your mouth—you are to meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. For then you will make your ways prosperous and then you will be successful." (Josh 1:7-8)
Misreading Biblical Stories. Examples from Scripture have to be handled with care. Many events in the Bible are recorded because they are unique occurrences or at least highly unusual. What must be determined is whether the example or behavior was intended to illustrate normative behavior for God's people. For example, should ministers go around naked for three years like Isaiah?
Basic Hermeneutic Principles
Examine the stories. The Bible does not have stories of the average man seeking God's personal will. In the cases of the special people in the Bible, like prophets and apostles, God usually came to them first to give them guidance and that was by supernatural revelation. It is interesting that the first decision the apostles made after Yeshua ascended to heaven was done by casting lots, the normal practice for determining the rotation for priests in the temple. Never do you read about the apostles asking God, "well, what do we do now?"
Examine the grammar. Proverbs 3:5-6 is a good example where the translation makes the difference. The KJV is especially used to support the viewpoint of the individual plan, because it says "He will direct your paths." However, the Hebrew means "make your paths straight, or smooth or successful. Proverbs 11:5 makes it clear that it is righteousness that will make one's path smooth. The proverb also begins with the basic requirement to trust God and the context of chapter three indicates that trusting and obeying God is necessary to make one's paths smooth. Proverbs 3:5-6 has nothing to say about individual guidance.
Examine the context. The verses that precede and follow the passage make it clear that the will of God is either God's lifestyle will or His sovereign will. In the passages where Paul talks about God's will, he means God's will for one's character and manner of life, not personal guidance for specific decisions.
"Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (Rom 12:1-2 NASB)
The description of "good, acceptable and perfect" refers to the Torah, the instruction of God given to Israel. (cf. Rom 7:12; Col 1:9)
Examine the intent. Paul's goal was to "present every person complete in Messiah" (Col 1:28). Paul (or any of the other apostles) did not provide ten easy steps to find a personal road map for all your decisions. You can find hundreds of self-help books, but Paul was concerned about the development of character that would imitate the Messiah.
The Plague of Doubt
The Elusiveness of Certainty. A lot of believers are unsure of God's individual will before making decisions. But, it's not something we like to talk about. When someone claims to have found God's will the rest of us generally feel good for that person, although in some instances we may be a bit suspicious. When godly teachers say that God always reveals His will to the sincere seeker, we assume they know what they are talking about. The truth is that an ideal individual will is not necessary for making good decisions. In fact, many believers have largely abandoned the traditional methods since the effort is so often like searching for the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The problem is that believers want certainty and there just isn't any, barring an angelic visitation. And, even then one may not be certain. Remember Zechariah (Luke 1:20)?
Ordinary Decisions. It is understandable for one to expect that God has a perfect will for every single decision of your life. Yet, if you tried to follow the standard process for the hundreds of daily decisions, you would find it impossibly impractical. So, in practice people relegate finding God's will to the really big decisions, such as finding a spouse, selecting a school, selecting a vocation, determining where to live, finding a worshipping fellowship and some lesser decisions. For the ordinary, day-to-day, decisions of life believers typically opt for what seems best to do at the time (cf. Heb 12:10). The sheer impracticality for the small decisions should make the whole system suspect even for the big decisions.
Equal Options. Insistence upon only one correct choice generates anxiety over missing God's will rather than gratitude for more than one good opportunity. The believer may even elect the less desirable of the two choices because of false humility. Surely it would be presumptuous for a spiritual person to pursue what he really wants.
Immaturity. In some instances, the logic of the tried-and-true methods tends to promote immature approaches to decision-making. When a young person announces some sudden direction from God, an experienced person may know that not enough thought went into the decision or there is a lack of spiritual readiness for the choice, but it's hard for mature believers to "argue with God." However, the lesson of Scripture is that God typically announced His plans long before He did anything to bring them to pass. Biblical heroes had to learn to wait.
The Problem of Subjectivity. People can follow the sign-testing process and still end up with widely differing convictions or make decisions where there is no uniformity. The conventional process relies far too much on subjectivity to make decisions. The only objective source of information for God's will is Scripture and supernatural revelation.
The Prejudice of Impressions. Many believers rely on impressions to be the final arbiter of God's will in a matter. An inner impression to accomplish something of a spiritual nature may be of God, but inner impressions are generally not a form of divine revelation and the Bible does not grant any authority to inner impressions. Impressions must be tested (1Jn 4:1), because you can't know for certain where they come from. Impressions can come from the devil, but they mostly come from your own mind and reflect your innate problem-solving ability. Impressions could be generated by guilt, by insomnia, by hormonal imbalance, by anxiety, medication or an upset stomach. They could come from a persuasive speaker, preacher or evangelist, which is actually a mild form of hypnosis. Ministers often don't fully appreciate the power of their own words. Feelings cannot be a biblical basis for making decisions. Most of the time impressions are not of divine origin.
The Pragmatism of Peace. One of the tests for knowing God's individual will is having "peace." If you feel at peace over a decision, then you must have made the right choice. More likely, it could be simply relief that you finally made a decision. However, the biblical word for peace does not mean an inner tranquility or an absence of anxiety. Biblical peace is the absence of hostility between you and God or you and another person. The lack of emotional peace may not mean anything or, like impressions, come from a variety of sources.
The Proxy of Advice. Seeking counseling has become an American pastime and many people go to counselors to save themselves the pain of facing the truth and making biblical decisions. Unfortunately, too many believers and faith-based counselors are unlearned in biblical standards of righteousness, biblical standards of justice and biblical principles for decision-making. Too many believers don't even believe the commandments of Scripture are binding on them to obey. David said he was wiser than all his teachers and the aged because he followed God's commandments (Ps 119:99).
The Pretense of Fleeces. Believers are not above resorting to the use of fleeces, which really is contrary to walking by faith. Gideon is held forth as the example, but Gideon's fleece amounted to asking God for a creation miracle after God had already spoken by an angel. The fact that God provided the miracle twice is testament to His mercy, not His approval. Yeshua lamented that His countrymen insisted on more and more signs to believe Him and yet in the face of supernatural signs they persisted in their unbelief (John 4:48).
Biblical Experience. In the Scriptures supernatural guidance is commonplace and in biblical times God spoke in many and various ways (Heb 1:1), whether through angels, visions, dreams, and the direct voice of God, including the Holy Spirit. The apostles experienced all these means, and yet they cautioned early believers to carefully evaluate any message claimed to be direct from God (1Cor 14:29; Col 2:18; 1Jn 4:1). Supernatural guidance must be viewed with caution, because the source may not be God (2Cor 11:14; 2Th 2:2). It is a dangerous thing to claim that God has spoken to you, because God knows the truth of the matter. He does not take kindly to lying and using His name falsely.
Ministry of the Holy Spirit. Everyone assumes that the job of the Holy Spirit is to give constant personal guidance to every believer, as if He had nothing else better to do. The Scriptures identify a variety of areas of the Holy Spirit's supernatural ministry. The Spirit inspired the Scriptures (Acts 28:25; 1Cor 2:10; 2Pet 1:21), He convicts of sin (Heb 3:7), He enables understanding of Scripture (John 14:26; 16:13), He intercedes in our prayers (Rom 8:26f), He helps disciples to testify for Yeshua (Matt 10:20), He inspires prophesying (John 16:13; Acts 2:18), He gives direction for evangelism (Acts 8:29; 10:19; 11:12), He speaks to the congregation about its ministry and character (Acts 13:2; 15:28; Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22), He testifies of one's suffering or death (Luke 2:25-26; Acts 20:23) and He regenerates and sanctifies believers to produce godly character that conforms to the Torah of God (John 6:63; Acts 1:8; Rom 7:6; 8:13f; 1Cor 6:11; Gal 5:22; 2Th 2:13).
Voice of the Spirit. There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit still speaks to God's people. Describing how the Spirit speaks, though, is difficult. People may refer to the Spirit's voice as the still small voice, an inner voice or inner impression. There are anecdotes in Acts in which the "Spirit said" (Acts 8:29; 10:19; 11:12, 28; 13:2, 4; 15:28; 16:6f; 21:11), but no further description is offered as to the means of communication or just how people knew it was the Holy Spirit. There are three tests that may be applied to any perceived message from the Spirit. First, a message from the Spirit will be consistent with God's will revealed in Scripture (John 16:13). Second, a message from the Spirit can be confirmed by its acceptance by other believers (Acts 13:1-3; 15:28; 20:23). Ask yourself: "if I were to post my message from the Spirit on the congregation's bulletin board how would people react?" Third, a message from the Holy Spirit has the purpose of fulfilling a spiritual goal or advancing the work of God's kingdom.
God's Discretionary Will
Non-moral decisions. Perhaps too little considered by advocates of the traditional view is that in Scripture God gives individuals freedom to make their own plans within the boundaries of His lifestyle will. In other words, in those areas where the Bible gives no specific command, the believer is free and responsible to choose his own course of action. Any decision made within the lifestyle will of God is acceptable to God (Gen 2:16-17; Lev 22:18; Deut 18:6-7; 23:21-23; Matt 20:13-15; 1Cor 7:39). For example, Adam was free to eat from any tree of the Garden, except one. For their daily meal planning Eve didn't need to ask God what to prepare.
Sin and Freedom. Sin is breaking God's commandments (1Jn 3:4), whether done intentionally or unintentionally. If His lifestyle will has not been violated, there has been no sin (Rom 4:15; 5:13). If there has been no sin, there should be no guilt. In decisions where God's commandments do not restrict one's conduct, the believer has freedom to decide. The failure to understand the privilege of discretion may result in false guilt on the assumption that one has missed God's individual will. For example, Scripture says nothing about where a student should go to college, so that a choice of a school cannot in itself be sinful. Believers are also free to marry whom they will as long as the mate meets the biblical requirements of gender (Gen 2:22-24; Matt 19:4; Rom 7:2), consanguinity (Lev 18), consent (1Cor 7:39), and relationship with the Lord (1Cor 7:39; 2Cor 6:14).
Law and Freedom. Many people think that freedom means being no longer under God's laws. Obeying God's commandments is not legalism. In the Besekh legalism is using God's Torah in an unlawful manner (1Tim 1:8). For example, some Pharisees used the Torah unlawfully by pitting one commandment against another, by looking for loopholes around commandments and by giving their own rules equal authority to God's commandments (cf. Matt 15:1-6; 22:37-40; 23:23; Luke 6:1-10; 18:11; John 15:10; Rom 14:1-10; Php 3:6; Col 2:20-22; Jas 2:10-13). The New Covenant does not release believers from obedience to God's commandments given to Noah, the patriarchs and Israel, except in those areas specifically changed by Yeshua and the apostles (Eph 2:20). (See my article Under the Law.)
Decision Making Principles
There is no normative pattern in Scripture of people believing in or seeking an "individual will." Instead Bible personalities lived by wisdom principles as exemplified in the book of Proverbs.
Principle of Obedience
Definition. In those areas specifically addressed by Scripture, the revealed commands of God (His lifestyle will) are to be obeyed (1Cor 7:19). God's lifestyle will is the expression in behavioral terms of God's character. It touches every aspect and moment of life: goals, attitudes and means (why, how, what). It is fully revealed in the Bible. It is able to equip believers for every good work. Obedience to God's lifestyle will is impossible without knowledge. Thus, the disciple must regularly read and consider the words of Scripture, which is the Word of God. Obedience must also follow when the Holy Spirit clearly and unequivocally speaks, just as the apostles immediately responded when the Spirit said "go."
Principle of Spiritual Expediency
Definition. In discretionary decisions, the objective is to make wise decisions on the basis of spiritual expediency. Spiritual means that the ends in view, as well as the means to those ends, are governed by a desire to glorify and please God and do not violate biblical standards. Expediency refers to the quality of being appropriate to the goal of the decision. Thus, spiritual expediency means what works best to accomplish the goal within God's lifestyle will, as well as to accomplish God's mission will. The apostle Paul illustrates spiritual expediency.
"All things are lawful, but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but that of his neighbor…. Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Hebraic Jews or to Hellenistic Jews or to the congregation of God." (1Cor 10:23-24, 31-32 Mine)
In all situations the Holy Spirit can and will give the seeking disciple the knowledge of what is spiritually expedient.
• Priority – 2Corinthians 2:12-13, "a door was opened… but taking my leave of them, I went" (postponing evangelism for a pressing situation).
• Practicality – 1Thessalonians 3:1-2, "we thought it best" (to wait alone); 1Corinthians 16:3-4 "if it is fitting for me" (to help deliver a gift).
• Necessity – Philippians 2:25-26, "I thought it necessary" (to send Epaphroditus).
• Desirability – Acts 6:2-4, "It is not desirable" (to give up prayer in order to organize food distribution).
Principle of Humility
Definition. The phrase, "if God wills" is generally used in reference to making plans for the future. In all decisions, then, the disciple of Yeshua should humbly submit, in advance, to the outworking of God's sovereign will as it touches each decision.
God's Sovereignty. Humility recognizes that God is in control. The sovereign almighty God is at work in the world and in the lives of His people to accomplish those things that are for our good and His glory. God's sovereignty does not operate just in the "macro," i.e., the significant events of history involved in the great plan of salvation, but in what He wants to accomplish through each of His children. See John 15:5; Romans 8:27-28; 1Peter 4:19; Galatians 5:22: Philippians 2:13; and Hebrews 13:20-21.
Conversely, humility does not presume on God fulfilling what we believe is His will. God may have other plans. The apostle Paul always submitted his plans to God's sovereign will (Acts 18:21; Rom 1:10; 15:32; 1Cor 4:19).
Human Lifespan. Humility doesn't presume on one's lifetime. "If" is the motto of the humble. Even if you believe it's God's will to begin a plan, there is no guarantee that you will live to see its completion. A number of passages illustrate the uncertainty of life (Ps 31:15; 139:16; Prov 19:21; 27:1; Heb 9:27; Jas 4:13-15).
Human Ability. Humility recognizes one's limitations. Our competence to do anything, whether spiritual or common, comes from God (Deut 8:18; Jer 13:23; Acts 17:6; John 15:5; 2Cor 3:5; 2Pet 1:3).
Principle of Trusting Faithfulness
Definition. "For we walk by faith, not by sight" (2Cor 5:7). The Hebrew concept of faith is not a creed or believing certain facts, but trusting God. In all decisions the believer must have confidence in God's sovereign care and remain faithful no matter what the outcome of the decision-making.
Trust and Testing. If you make your decisions within the framework of His sovereign will, His lifestyle will and His discretionary will, there is no need to test God with fleeces and expectations of signs to direct our paths (Deut 6:16; Matt 4:7). To walk by sight would be to require perceptible proof of God's presence and direct communication before believing or taking action. Relying on impressions, dreams, visions, "fleeces," and other tests of God are contrary to walking by faith. The modern use of "fleeces" could be considered a form of divination.
Trust and Wisdom. If you want God's wisdom to help in decision-making, you have to ask for it (Jas 1:5). Jacob's assurance is not promising that God will grant you omniscience. Real life is not like television where hopelessly complex problems are resolved after one hour and ten commercials. God's wisdom will be given in appropriate measure (Matt 7:7-8; Jas 1:5-6; 4:2-3).
Trust and Patience. Walking by faith means waiting and keeping confidence in the goodness of God. To walk by faith is to trust in the sovereign care and love of the Father and to remain faithful to Him during the waiting period (Ps 27:13-14; Jer 29:11; Rom 4:20; Heb 11:6).
A Reality Check on God's Sovereign Will
Perspective. God's sovereign will cannot always be deduced from immediate circumstances, but only in the course of months, sometimes years. Be careful about using the phrase "the Lord led me." Apart from direct supernatural revelation the raw data of circumstances is mysterious to say the least. Job's friends were clearly wrong (Job 42:7). The early Messianic leaders were wrong when they assumed the good news wasn't for the Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18). The natives who saw Paul bitten by a snake were wrong in thinking he was a murderer (Acts 28:4). We are not as smart or as wise as God.
Potential. God's sovereignty does open and shut doors. "Open door" is a natural term for access or opportunity. Yeshua is the "door" of the sheep (John 10:7). In the Besekh the concept of the "open door" is used to refer to opportunities to spread the good news of the Messiah (Acts 14:27; 1Cor 16:8-9; 2Cor 2:12; Col 4:3; Rev 3:8). On the other hand, just because you have an opportunity to do something does not mean that it is a sign that it is God's individual will for you. All open doors must be tested by biblical principles of wisdom. An open door may be an opportunity for service, but it does not necessarily constitute specific guidance requiring one to enter now (cf. 2Cor 9:12-13). Also, an open door does not mean there won't be problems.
Prayer. God's sovereignty does not lessen the importance of prayer. Scripture offers many principles for prayer.
• Pray specifically. The example of Scripture is to tell God specifically what you wish Him to do. On more than one occasion Yeshua asked people, "what do you want me to do for you." You have to teach people to be open enough to state specifically what their prayer needs are. There may be a place for the "unspoken request" but if we want God to show Himself in power, then we must pray specifically.
• Pray in trusting faithfulness. Those praying must pray in faith, i.e., trusting faithfulness (Mark 11:24; Heb 11:6). The prayer of faith is not based upon a special revelation. It is praying with a confident trust in the providential care of a loving God (Matt 8:5-10; Mark 5:28, 34). The prayer of faith is expressed in obedience. Many times Yeshua asked people to do some physical act to receive healing (Matt 8:13; Mark 2:11; John 9:6-7, 35-37). The prayer of faith is also grounded in the Word of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:26f; Eph 6:18; Jude 1:20).
• Pray with persistence. By definition the prayer of faith is also persistent prayer, that is, praying until the Lord answers (Matt 15:22-28; Mark 10:47-52).
• Pray in God's will. Some believe that all petitions to God, particularly for healing, should always include the caveat "if God wills," since Yeshua prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Yet not as I will, but as You will" (Matt 26:39). However, Yeshua added the condition to His prayer precisely because He made a proposition directly contrary to the known will of the Father. While the apostles used the caveat in relation to their plans, they always prayed boldly without adding the conditional statement. Plans and prayers are two very different things. The promise of Scripture is that God answers prayers according to His will.
"Now this is the confidence we have before Him—that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have the requests we have asked from Him." (1Jn 5:14-15)
We may well ask just what is God's will to pray for, but we may safely follow the example of Yeshua and the apostles and make the same sorts of petitions to God as they did.
Planning. God's sovereignty does not eliminate responsibility of planning. Paul planned to go to Rome (Rom 1:13) and to Thessalonica (1Th 2:18), but in the sovereign will of God he was prevented. Two contrasting proverbs illustrate the point: "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but the counsel of ADONAI will stand" (Prov 19:21); "Commit whatever you do to ADONAI and your plans will succeed" (Prov 16:3).
While there is no way to substantiate from Scripture that God has a detailed plan for every individual decision, we can make biblically faithful decisions that will honor God.
Power of Love. The disciple's life may be summed up in the two great commandments, to love God and to love one's neighbor (Matt 22:36-39). All our important decisions (and some of the unimportant ones) should reflect these divine imperatives. If we live a life of sacrificial love, we are living in God's will.
Plan of God. We don't often reflect on the fact that God has a vested interest in making our lives fruitful for him. We may want God's will in buying a car, but the Spirit is more concerned about developing godly character in us (Gal 5:22-23). The distribution of spiritual gifts (1Cor 12:4-11) functions as divine calling. What are you doing with your gift? God certainly has a plan, but it's more like a blueprint for the kind of house he wants to make of your life.
Paul's Decision-Making. Paul is a great example of biblical decision-making. He adopted spiritual goals that were based on divine revelation. He then arranged his goals into wise priorities determining what should be done first, second, third, etc. Next he devised plans that gave him a strategy for accomplishing his objectives. Through prayer, he submitted himself and his plans to the sovereign will of God. When providentially hindered from accomplishing his plans, he assumed that the delay was God's sovereign will, which freed him from discouragement. Since the plans were sound, the only thing he adjusted was the timetable. Paul explained his decisions on the basis of God's lifestyle will and his own personal application of wisdom.
Personal Convictions. Disciples need to distinguish between matters of command and matters of freedom (Rom 14:1-15:13). On debatable issues, develop your own convictions: "let each be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom 14:5). Allow your brother the freedom to determine his own convictions – even when they differ from yours. Let your liberty be limited, when necessary, by love so as not to put a stumbling-block before others (Matt 18:6; Mark 9:50; Gal 5:13; 1Cor 8:10).
Perfect Care. There is, of course, no such thing as a perfect life, largely because we have no control over the decisions of others or of God. However, disciples of Yeshua can be assured of the perfect sovereign care of God who "causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28 NASB). Our part is to walk the life of faithfulness in accordance with His lifestyle will and give God the freedom to exercise His sovereign will as He deems best.
The Will of God in Scripture
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