First, a few preliminary considerations.

If you want to know what God wants, you have to want what God wants. I once heard the mother of a teenager say to a friend, “I just don’t tell him what to do anymore. He won’t do it anyway.” I suspect God may feel that way sometimes. God, the Bible tells us, sees us “not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

If you’re in fellowship with God and living the Christian life by God’s grace, then it is safe to assume you’re already in the will of God. Because God doesn’t try to keep his will from us, if he wants us to do something different than what we’re doing, he is perfectly capable of telling us.

If you’re in fellowship with God and living the Christian life by God’s grace, then it is safe to assume you’re already in the will of God.

There are two ways of looking at the issue of God's plan, calling or will. The first is a passive sitting back and doing nothing but waiting on God. The second is taking action while seeking God's will. While both sides present truth based on Scripture, I personally lean more toward action. In fact, my life motto is "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might… " (Ecclesiastes 9:10). It may be that, based on his or her personality, an individual will be drawn in one direction, the other direction or somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.

To determine God's will for one's life, I believe there are five basic areas that need to be examined.

1. Scripture.

It is the only absolute guide to what ought to be the direction of our lives. The Bible is very clear on God’s revealed will. It is God’s will for us to share our faith in Christ. It is God’s will for us to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We know exactly how God feels about adultery, murder, stealing, racism and anger. The Bible defines love and what it should do in our lives. This, by the way, is the reason it’s so important that we read God’s Word.

2. Prayer.

When in doubt, ask. Prayer puts us in the proper position for guidance—submission. Prayer makes us open to God’s will. Prayer puts us in contact with the only One who knows for sure what should be done. In the quietness of prayer, God often speaks in the “still small voice,” making clear what he wills.

3. Circumstances.

Where we are is where we're supposed to be, and what we're doing is what we're supposed to be doing, unless God—who is perfectly capable of letting us know—tells us otherwise. The Bible says, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4). This means that under circumstances, we ought to list God-given abilities. This ought to include our feelings (God isn’t out to make us miserable); but on the other hand, we shouldn’t use our feelings as an excuse to do nothing (sometimes God wants us to do things that we would not do given our choice).

4. Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

They love us enough to tell us the truth. Others usually are able to see our individual gifts better than we can. For that reason, we should be open to their input. We, as Christians, weren’t meant to do this thing on our own. In fellowship with other Christians, God has given us the corrective that is needed in discerning his will. One caution: this doesn’t mean you have to be obedient to everything said by other Christians. A Christian should have enough wisdom to be open to what other Christians say…but also enough discernment to know when to be closed. But our brothers and sisters in Christ can provide a solid place of understanding, correction and advice.

We, as Christians, weren’t meant to do this thing on our own.

5. God's Direct Leading.

This is rare, but it does happen. Because most of the time God doesn’t lead us, as Christians, this way, be very careful about the brother or sister who gives the impression that he or she has a special hotline to God that God often uses in giving specific instructions. God’s will is usually communicated in one or all of the prior ways.

As you make decisions, apply common sense, seek out the guidance of mature Christians, especially from one's pastor, and check one's heart. In other words, ask and answer the question, "If God told me clearly what he wants me to do, would I do it?" Often it's not an issue of God's will being a specific. If one is able to answer that question with a "yes," then go ahead and act.

Ultimately and most important, God's will is found in the teaching of 1 Thessalonians 4:3, "It is God's will that you should be sanctified…" It is God's will for you to be "set apart unto him." God can change your circumstances at any time, but the important issue is your relationship with him.

Time to Draw Away

Read Psalm 139 & Jeremiah 29:11

Do you struggle with knowing God’s will for your life? If God is truly sovereign and your loving Father (and he is), then he can be trusted to work out his purposes and plan for your life—past, present and future. So feel free to rest in his grace.