How to Determine God’s Will

by Jennie Heideman

People say that children don’t have anything to worry about. But I remember worrying a lot as a child. I worried about what would happen if our house caught on fire and which toys I would save; I worried about Friday spelling tests, and the lies I told my parents. But, mostly, I worried about my future. I worried about who I would marry, how I would pay my bills, and whether I could graduate from high school.

Though I had accepted Christ as my Savior at a young age, I didn’t know how to trust Him with my future. And, upon reflection, I think I was ultimately worried that I wouldn’t know how to determine God’s will for my life. 

To be honest, I struggled with this through childhood, into my teenage years, as I applied to colleges, and later when trying to determine if I was marrying the right man. It wasn’t until I was well into my 30s that I began to understand how to follow God’s will for my life. 

I was listening to a Tim Keller sermon on work as I did chores around the house. In his sermon, he explained his answer to a question someone asked at the beginning of his ministry on whether God was calling Tim to New York. His answer astounded me. He said that he wasn’t 100% sure when he moved to New York that God was calling him there, but he did know that he wasn’t supposed to lie, so he gave an honest answer while continuing to pray for God’s will to be done. He went on to talk about how determining God’s will is often much more granular than we think. Instead of trying to understand God’s will for our whole life, we need to trust God one step at a time. 

This was a big “ah-ha” moment for me. I worried about the big picture my whole life while neglecting to ensure that I was doing what God wanted me to do today. And how do we determine what He wants us to do today? Thankfully, Scripture is very clear. Below is an inexhaustive list of what Scripture says about following His will every day. 

1.) Spend time with God by reading His Word

Our God wants to be with us. In fact, He sent His only Son to die a sinner’s death and rise again on the third day so that we could be redeemed and restored to Him. Therefore, we know that God wants us to spend time with Him. We do this through reading our Bible, worship, and prayer. Learning to study God’s Word is key because it can inform how we pray and worship God. 

Furthermore, God’s Word teaches us how we are to live our day-to-day lives. His Word can also lead us as we make bigger decisions as He gives us wisdom that only He can give (Proverbs 2:6-7), knowing that God will never ask us to do something that contradicts His Word. Finally, studying His Word will also increase our faith as Romans 10:17 explains, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (ESV).

2.) Do not worry about tomorrow

In Matthew 6:25, Jesus tells us, “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?” Therefore, I know that I am supposed to cast my anxieties onto the Lord and trust that He will take care of me. This means that though I work heartily unto the Lord, I am trusting Him to be my ultimate provider.

3.) Pray 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus invites and instructs us on how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13). Prayer should be part of our everyday life. However, inevitably, we will have big decisions to make, and you may ask whether God wants you to go this way or that. In those cases, we should seek to glorify God and pray that the Lord creates clear blocks if we are not to go that way. Alternately, if that is the way we are supposed to go, pray that God will break down impossible barriers. I also pray Isaiah 30:21 over my situation, asking that I will hear a command behind me saying: “This is the way. Walk in it.” 

4.) Love and forgive

In Mark 12, Jesus gives us two commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I also know from Matthew 6:14 that I am to forgive others. So as I am going about my day, I am first praying that God will fill me His love and forgiveness to give to others, and I pray that the Holy Spirit will help me when these two things prove to be difficult. Second, I run my actions through the lens of these questions: “Is this loving?” and “Is this an opportunity to forgive?”

Now, my family will be the first to tell you that I do not do this perfectly. However, when answering the question, “What does God want me to do today?” I know that He wants me to love and forgive. 

5.) Live in community 

I am an introvert through and through. I mean, sometimes just being in the same room with my husband feels like too many people. That said, I also know that God calls us to live in community. The author of Hebrews puts it this way, And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). While it is important to gather regularly with other believers to worship, this is also more than Sunday service. This is encouraging each other throughout the week. And while it can be through a church program, it can also mean meeting before school every Monday to pray together, Friday night fellowship around the hearth or kitchen table, getting together with friends to worship, or logging into a Zoom call for the specific purpose of praying Scripture over one another. 

Living in community with other Christians will also allow us to receive wise counsel when big decisions do come. For example, my husband, two boys, and I have been living in an apartment for the last three years. It has been a gift of rest. However, we recently felt the nudging that God may be calling us to move from this apartment. Our first action was to pray for confirmation, and our second was to call upon our brothers and sisters in Christ to receive wise counsel. As I write this, I don’t know how this part of my story will end. But I do know that our contentment is in Christ, no matter what, and that I am not to worry about tomorrow. I also know that I am thankful for a community of believers who pray for us and give us biblical counsel. 

6.) Glorify God is all we do

The Westminster Catchesim puts it this way, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.” This is based on several Scriptures, but the one that comes to mind specifically is 1 Chronicles 16:29, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.” So I know that our days should center around bringing God glory and worshiping Him. This looks like taking time to thank Him for the sun or the rain, it means praising Him for the good work I get to do, and it means working to glorify Him in my actions, knowing that it is the Holy Spirit who enables me to do so and that Christ’s blood covers me in my inadequacies. 

Determining God’s will for your life ultimately involves following His will for today. Focusing on glorifying God today leads to a life of walking in His will as our purpose in life really is to glorify Him. And as Annie Dillard wrote in The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” 

So instead of worrying about His will for your entire life, focus on today and tune your ear to hear God’s voice through His Word, and as you do so, you will be able to look back on a life lived in His will. 

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