How do I know what God’s will is?

It’s a questions often asked by Christians, and not often answered in what seems like a concrete way. I know the feeling of wishing that God would just leave me a note on the kitchen table. But if He did, would I recognize His handwriting? If the note were too challenging or didn’t make sense to me, would I then ask if this note was really from God after all?

In truth, I think the difficulty for most of us lies not so much in discerning God’s will as in the fact that reaching this point takes real and sustained effort. We much prefer easy solutions, a formula to follow that guarantees success. It wouldn’t be a difficult thing for God to leave us a physical note with specific instructions. In fact, He’s left us much more than a note – a whole book. But we want the executive summary, the Cliff’s notes – preferably already highlighted for us. We want a shortcut to the end of the maze. And if God cared nothing for our growth and well-being, He might give it to us.

Reality check: you can’t expect to enter post-doctoral studies if you haven’t finished elementary school. Many of us who have been believers for many years are still not well-schooled in Scripture. We rationalize it in many ways, but the bottom line is that we want to get the diploma without doing all the course work. We often make wrong assumptions and decisions because of it.

“You are in error,” Jesus told the Sadducees, “because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Matt 22:29) The Sadducees were the aristocrats of Jewish society, wealthy and powerful members of the ruling religious council of Jesus’ day. They distained being taught by Jesus, sure they were already knowledgeable and wise. They didn’t recognize God’s Word made flesh because they didn’t know God’s Word.

So, one of the reasons we may not know God’s will is that we don’t know God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. The nature and character of God is unfolded there from the first page to the last, and God’s will is never opposed to His nature or character. If we won’t spend the time and effort to know Him, we can’t expect to know His will with any degree of certainty. At best, we’ll be making an uneducated guess; at worst, a decision based solely on our own faulty assumptions.

A second reason we may not know God’s will is that we often don’t understand what is meant by a relationship with God. We can mistake making a statement of faith or joining a church as constituting a relationship with God. Just because we knocked on a door and introduced ourselves doesn’t mean we have a relationship with the owner of the house. We can attend some neighborhood parties there, but unless we spend one-on-one time over a long period, we won’t ever get to really know him.

Sometimes we tend to think of spiritual communication in a very narrow sense: I ask for what I want, and God either gives it to me or not. Even when we take our input further and ask God for wisdom or guidance, we may not have a sense that we will recognize what that looks like. We may search for signs, and if we don’t see what we’re expecting, we feel lost.

The truth isn’t complicated: a relationship with God is based on much the same principles as our human ones. If we want to know God, we will spend meaningful time with Him. He already knows everything about us; He’s kept His part of the bargain in advance.

Real relationships operate on two-way communication. We need to talk to God, but we also need to train ourselves to listen. And if we’re going to listen, we have to believe that God will speak to us, even if it’s not audible. This is outside our normal experience and can make us feel weird to even think about. At times when I’ve had occasion to talk about personally hearing from God, I’ve had more than one person look at me strangely and edge away. Yet I believe I have heard from God many times, and not because I’m in any way unique, or always hear perfectly.

One thing I can say with complete confidence is this: God wants to speak with you. He wants you to know His will. How that happens and what it may look like are not one-line or one-page explanations. The way God is leading me right now is to lay some groundwork and continue the discussion in (hopefully) digestible portions.

So, this is the first Inkling on how we can learn to hear God’s voice and know His will. I pray it will help us to read and think about the following passages:

Deuteronomy 8:3; 11:18-23

Psalm 119: 9-1, 25-35, 65-66, 97-105, 130

John 15:7

Acts 17:11

Colossians 3:15-17

2 Timothy 3: 14-17

Hebrews 4:12