When a major decision comes our way — whether in choosing a school, career, or life partner — we often look for guidance to make the right choice. For many of us, we have heard that God has a will for our lives, and we wish to make our decisions according to that will. However, we may find God’s will unclear, and this brings us to the question: “How do I know what God’s will for my life is?” I remember asking this question many times in my younger days, often with the fear that I had missed a clue from God about how to make an important decision. Over the years, I have come to realise that to understand God’s will for me, I need first to understand the nature of God’s will. And once I understand this, what He wants for my life is no longer so mysterious.
I HAVE COME TO REALISE THAT TO UNDERSTAND GOD’S WILL FOR ME, I NEED FIRST TO UNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF GOD’S WILL.
One way we can understand God’s will is to recognise that there are three categories of His will. The first is God’s sovereign will, which is His plan from the beginning of time to the end of time. It involves His design to save people from sin through Jesus Christ (John 3:14; Eph 1:3–10). Most of God’s sovereign will has been revealed in history and recorded in the Bible, but some parts of it remain hidden until the end of time.
The second category is God’s moral will. This is God’s expectation for those He has saved to live godly lives and enjoy freedom from sin’s bondage and consequences, whilst being salt and light in a dark world (Gal 5:13–26; 1 Pet 2). God’s moral will has been clearly revealed in the Bible to teach us how to live as believers.
The last category is God’s will for individuals. This is what many of us feel is most immediate to our concerns in decision-making and perhaps the most difficult to figure out. Before I go on to explore God’s will for individuals, let me mention three crucial points. First, God’s will for individuals is never contrary to His sovereign will and moral will. Second, some people, like Samuel (1 Sam 3:1–21) and Paul (Acts 9:1–30), may have a special experience that reveals God’s will for them. Third, some people will never have such an experience, but this doesn’t mean that God’s will for them is any less significant. With these thoughts in mind, we can look into how we can make the right decisions according to God’s will for us as individuals.
Since God’s will for us as individuals never goes against His sovereign and moral will, we should check that we are living according to these two aspects of His will before even asking the question of His will for us as individuals. In a sense, the two aspects of His will that are already revealed in the Bible are prerequisites to our understanding His will for us in other major decisions.
Once we are living according to these aspects of His will, we actually have a lot of freedom in making decisions. Some of us may be under the misimpression that our lives are like a maze in which every choice is critical to lead us down the right path and achieve the right outcome. Contrary to this, a metaphor that is closer to the Bible is that of a ship on an open sea with many paths for navigation to any number of safe harbours, though there are general principles to avoid dangerous waters and to wisely ride out storms. There will be times when we need to make mid-course corrections or look for new paths.
The metaphor of a ship uses a ‘wisdom perspective’ to understand God’s will for individuals. So, instead of making decisions by looking for a sign from God, it looks at what is already available for making good decisions within the revealed will of God as well as our surroundings.
To apply a ‘wisdom perspective’ in our lives, we should know that choices for schools and careers are often determined by our natural abilities and situational opportunities. With what God has already provided and where He has placed us, we make wise decisions by making the most of these resources according to godly principles. In the Parable of the Talents, for example, Jesus praises the servant who made the most of the resources given by the master (Matt 25:14–30).
When it comes to choosing whom to date and marry, both attraction and compatibility will draw us to people who could be good matches for us. There are many social and moral considerations that will typically guide our decision to finally tie the knot. In the Bible, the emphasis falls less on whom to date or marry, and more on sexual purity (1 Cor 6:18–7:7) and godly spousal responsibilities (Eph 5:21–33). Indeed, these principles are more important for a good relationship than the initial choice of a partner.
SOMETIMES IT IS NOT WHAT WE CHOOSE, BUT HOW WE ACT IN OUR CHOICES AND WHOM WE ARE LIVING FOR.
A ‘wisdom perspective’ also helps us see that some criteria for decision-making may be obvious in our existing circumstances. Even though supernatural answers are possible, they are not necessary to understanding God’s will. Paying attention to obvious cues and using godly principles as guides are also an important part of God’s will. A list of questions below provides general guidelines to help us make godly and wise decisions:
• Does my choice fit who I am and where I am in life?
• Should I consider a path less travelled?
• Do the people who know me best and whom I respect agree with this decision?
• Is there anything in my choice that seems to go against God’s sovereign and moral will in the Bible?
• Have I prayed and asked God about this decision?
Remember: sometimes it is not what we choose, but how we act in our choices and whom we are living for. The Christian responsibility to live uprightly, speak truthfully and graciously, and, in all manners, to love God and others as Jesus has commanded us (Matt 22:37–39) is the core of God’s will for us in all that we do and wherever we are. With these principles guiding your sails, may you venture into the open sea with God at the helm of your ship!