This might be the most frequently asked question by Christians in our culture today. It’s asked by believers in all stages of life. Unfortunately, to answer this question, we often employ methods that are more superstitious than biblical.
Whether it is randomly opening the Bible and reading the first passage we come across, or trying to find a miracle that can be applied to our life situation, we will try anything to get resolve. We will ask for signs, look for open doors, or connive in order to produce a result that seems plausible. We use these methods to discover God’s will, but we often end up dissatisfied with the results. We need a change of perspective.
What if God’s will was never intended to be found? What if God isn’t hiding it from us? What if we are not on some cosmic Easter egg hunt where God is saying, “You are getting warmer and warmer, or colder and colder?” What if God actually wants us to know and understand His will more than we even want to know and understand His will? What if the whole notion of trying to find God’s will is more pagan than it is Christian?
You do not need to try and find God’s will for your life because God’s will is not lost. There’s a much better way to accomplish God’s will: As we walk with God, He directs the details of our lives for the accomplishment of His will and the spread of His worship in the world. We see this principle play out in Acts 15–16, an account that defies any human attempt to discern ahead of time all the specific steps God had in store for the apostle Paul’s missionary efforts.
An Unexpected Mission
At the end of Acts 15, we see the separation of Paul and Barnabas. As a result, Paul and Silas set out to strengthen churches that Paul had already planted. Along the way in Lystra, Paul met a young teenager named Timothy who joined the journey. Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy set out to the small province of Asia, but the Spirit prevented them. In other words, God kept them from going north with the gospel. They ended up heading towards Troas. They got to Macedonia, and the gospel spread towards Europe into Rome.
In Philippi, for example, a few Jewish women gathered every Sabbath. Paul shared the gospel and a lady named Lydia believed. She was baptized and a church was planted (Acts 16:14–15). Shortly thereafter Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned. In prison, they sang praise to God and the earth quaked. The jailer and his household trusted in Christ (Acts 16:25–34), and Paul and Silas were released from prison the next day. Amid great mystery and uncertain circumstances, it was evident that God directed the details of their lives as they faithfully proclaimed Christ.
Focusing on What We Know
While there are many things we don’t (and can’t) know about God’s will, there are many things we can know based on His Word. It is God’s will for you to be in Him with prayer, to abide with Him in His Word, to flee from sin, and to love your neighbor as yourself. We do not need to sit back and wait on God’s will for our lives. We must walk with Him in obedience to His Word. This is the essence of Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
God wants His will to be accomplished in your life more than you do. And, to accomplish His will, He has put His very Spirit in you.
Remember, this is all about the accomplishment of God’s will, not ours. Paul probably had good plans for his second missionary journey, yet over and over again God “messed them up.” Has God ever messed up your plans in ways that were not easy? God directed the details of Paul’s life all the way to prison and persecution. We say things today like, “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.” But the reality is that being at the center of God’s may be the most dangerous place you can be.
One thing we know about God’s will is that He desires the spread of His worship around the world. Things did not go as expected for Paul, and they will most likely not go as expected in your life. We can learn from Paul and Silas. As they were faced with the prospect of persecution and imprisonment, they praised God. They did not draw it up that way, but through an unlikely series of events a thriving church was planted.
When we grasp what Acts 16 is teaching us, we realize it is often unnecessary to ask what God’s will is for our lives. Instead, we should ask what God’s will is in the world and how we can align our lives with it. And we can trust that He will direct our steps for the accomplishment of His will and the spread of His worship in ways far beyond what we could have planned or imagined.