reason for living

What does God want me to do?

A study in “how to discern the will of God”.
For Christians

Relevant Bible passages

The following table makes a few simple assertions that are supported by scripture.  The will of God will become clearer to the person who does these things.

What you need to do Scriptural support or related articles
Fear God Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom (Proverbs 1:7).  Fear of the Lord is the beginning of understanding (Proverbs 9:10).  Fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom (Proverbs 15:33).
Obey in the little things.  He who can be trusted with little can be trusted with much. Parable of the “talents”, Matthew 25.
Do not do what is clearly forbidden See list of simple commands for Christians
Do what is clearly commanded See list of simple commands for Christians
Desire, more than anything else, to know and to do the will of God; make it your strongest desire. Psalm 40 and Hebrews 10:9.  Hebrews 10:36, 1 John 5:14, Psalm 143.
Be committed to obeying God regardless of the cost.  Obeying includes starting AND finishing.  The job isn't done until its done! Haggai

Suppress every self-centred claim to your resources, such as your time, skills and money.  Everything you have came from God and whatever you give, you are only returning.

Also, anyone who has been saved from sin was saved because he or she was redeemed (ie purchased) and therefore that person, and everything that they possess, now belong to God.

Romans 11:35-36  “Who has ever given to God that God should repay him?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.”

Job 41:11

See also the article “learning about money”

Spend time with God in prayer and bible reading.  We have been called to relationship not religion.  You cannot understand God unless you know God.  You cannot trust a promise that you do not know. Acts 4:13  “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and took note that these men had been with Jesus.”

Acts 17:11  “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Also cf “meditate” on God's word in OT, especially in Psalms, Joshua 1.

Do not attempt to leave the world before the time that God has appointed.  Christians are called live in the world and to be “salt and light” to it.  We are not called to be physically or emotionally removed from humanity. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11  Association with the people of the world  (who are unsaved) is unavoidable.
Trust that God knows best.  Trust God's promises. Romans 11:33-36.  Job 38:4.  Proverbs 3:19.  Proverbs 104.
Do not attempt to tell God how he should run the universe.  His reply is liable to be scathing and you will end up feeling very silly. Book of Job.
Test yourself, your actions and motives against 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered.  Love does not keep a record of wrongs, does not delight in evil.  Love does rejoice with the truth.  Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.
Test your general conduct against Galatians 5:22-23 The fruit of the spirit is love joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the spirit, let us keep in step with the spirit.  Let us not become conceited — provoking and envying one another.
Do not attempt to tell God how you will serve him as this is invariably a bad idea and often has terrible consequences for the offender. Remember the examples of Cain (Genesis 4), Abihnu & Nabad.  See Leviticus 10:1, Numbers 3, Numbers 26, 1st Chronicles 24 regarding deformed sacrifices.
Do not offend weaker Christians 1 Corinthians 10:23, Romans 14



When trying to discern the will of God, it is important to realise that a very large part of God's will has already been revealed to us and, if only we would pay attention and think about it, is already known to us.  It may be that from time to time God does have very specific plans for individuals but there is very little scripture to suggest that God wants to determine every tiny step of our lives.  Rather, scripture tends to suggest that God has a particular direction that he wants us to go in.  What we do along the way, the precise route we take, and our mode of transport is left for us to decide.  It may be helpful to keep in mind two points about our relationship with God and the consequent implications for our lives.  First, God is our father, second we are growing from spiritual babies into fully competent spiritual adults.  Let us examine a few aspects of this relationship:

When we, as humans, train our children we begin by showing them what to do, then by telling them what to do, later by advising them and eventually by leaving them to find out for themselves.  This latter stage does not arise through parental apathy or negligence but because we know that they have to “find their own feet” and “learn from their own mistakes”.  For a child to become a mature adult it must eventually be pushed out into the world and left to make decisions, good or bad, for itself.  Now if this is how we who are made in the image and likeness of God train our children, how might we expect God to train his children — namely ourselves.

Scripture lays a heavy emphasis on obedience, possibly more so than we would like it to.  There is no point asking for advanced instruction if we have failed to implement the elementary lessons.  Obedience is an unavoidable prerequisite to spiritual maturity.  There is no point praying for guidance when we already know what to do and are simply refusing to do it.  There is no point pleading with God for help when we have ignored the instructions.  If it is any consolation to us, even a man like Moses got into trouble in this way:

When the Israelites were camped at the Red / Reed sea shore with the Egyptian army closing in behind them, Moses began praying to God and explaining their difficult situation to him.  God's terse response was “Moses why do you cry out to me?  Tell the children of Israel to march on.”  God had already told Moses what the Israelites were to do — they were to march into the sea.  All they had to do now was obey the order and when, eventually, they stopped complaining to God about what an unpleasant order it was and did as they had been told they found that actually God did know what he was doing after all because the waters parted and they walked through on dry ground.

Joshua also found himself in this situation at an early stage in his leadership:  In Joshua chapter one, God promises the land over the Jordan to Joshua but instructs him “Only be strong and very courageous, that you will be careful to act according to all the law that Moses my servant instructed you.  Do not deviate from it, to the right or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go.  This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth; and you shall meditate upon it day and night, that you may be careful to act according to all that is written therein; for then you shall have good success in your ways, and then you shall prosper.  ...”  When Joshua later complains to God (Joshua 7:6-13) that things are not going well, the reply he receives is rather terse: “Stand-up!  What are you doing down on your face?”  The implication is that if Joshua had believed what God had said (Joshua 1:6-8, as shown above) then he should already know why things are now going so badly.

Jesus has promised to be with us always until the end of the age so we have nothing to fear from obedience.  The demands of Jesus may seem severe but, because they are backed by the promises of God, they are risk free.  We are told not to store-up treasure on earth, we are told to give to the poor, we are told to do dozens of things that most of us somehow never quite get around to doing.  Now why is this?  Why is it that we seem to think that the commands do not apply to us?

When we follow the simple commands that have already been given to us we will find that many of the situations that we wanted God's advice about will have ceased to exist.  In other cases we will find that once we are free from the choking weeds of worldly worries we will find that it is much easier to see clearly what the real priorities are.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  ...  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  ...”  Matthew 7:26, NIV.

And James found it necessary to write: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.

Acting wisely and avoiding procrastination.
There is a time for dedicated prayer and there is a time for decisions and action.  If we want to know which “door” we should go through we could try opening some of them and seeing what is on the other side.  In some cases it will be obvious that we should not enter.  In other cases it will be obvious that the room contains work that we could usefully be getting on with.  For the remaining cases where we feel truly unable to make a sensible, fully informed decision we could either find something else to do while we put the question back to God or we could make a decision anyway and see where it leads us.  Any decision — even a bad decision — is far superior to procrastination which is never productive.  “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask of God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”  James 1:5-8Attention  James' words apply to requests for wisdom and it is wisdom that “will be given him”; there is nothing to indicate that James' words may be applied to requests for anything else.
Following Jesus 

Jesus told us to make disciples of all nations.  A disciple is a person who learns from and follows the pattern of his or her master.  Jesus' frequent call was “follow me.  It is not possible to follow anyone if we insist on going our own way, or going at our own pace.  We are not called to be “converted”, we are not called to be “Christians”, we are not called to be “churchgoers”, we are not called to be “religious”.  We are called to be disciples — to learn from our master and to put into practise what he has taught.  It is true that Jesus is our brother; it is true that he is our saviour; it is true that he is our friend.  However he is also our LORD — the one who must be obeyed.

If we really want to do the will of God then we must be prepared to follow Jesus.  He has set a pattern for our lives which will help us to see what our attitudes should be.  However to be a good follower we must, more than anything else, be prepared to go where the leader goes.  Jesus leads us to Calvary: the place where the old attitudes and old desires must die.  Many Christians have exactly the same attitudes as their unbelieving neighbours.  The faith of these Christians is nothing more than materialism dressed up with scripture.  Jesus calls us to a life of self-denial, to a life that unbelievers will think foolish.


The word “Worship” has changed in meaning over the years and is presently used in a rather vague sense to mean singing to God.  However, the word really means something more broad along the lines of “giving a person the honour due to them”.  Thus in years gone by their was nothing blasphemous in the English marriage ceremony when the bride and groom promised one another “with my body I thee worship”.

Knowing the full and proper meaning of the word allows us to see that true worship of God consists in bringing glory to God in order to give him the honour due to him.  This might take many forms; the simplest perhaps being a basic acknowledgement of who and what God is.  Paul defines it as “not conforming any longer to the pattern of the world.  It is also said “Be Holy for without holiness nobody will see the Lord”, and it follows that if they do not see him then they will not even acknowledge him — the most basic form of worship.  The idea that worship consists solely in gathering together in a building, apart from the rest of the world, and singing songs is not biblical.  How is God glorified when his people sing songs and those who are not yet his people do not hear the good news that they can be set free from their sins and they are left in their miserable lives, without comfort, without hope, and without even a warning of the doom that awaits them?  Jesus left heaven to tell us.  Most of us (the writer included) cannot even manage to tell the person next door.  We glorify God by doing what he has intended and created us to do.

Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:1-2 (1139 NIV). 

Psalm 25 contains a request to know the ways of God, but also states the terms on which God makes known his ways.

God acts to glorify himself and expects his people to do likewise.  The first chapter of the book of Haggai shows that God withholds his blessing and co-operation when his people try to glorify themselves rather than God.  In the second chapter of that book, when the people have decided to glorify God, we find that God himself stirs up their hearts to do the work.

Questions to ask - Knowing God's will in a specific situation
  • Will it harm my relationship with God?
  • Will it cause another Christian to stumble in their own walk with God?
  • Will it discredit or compromise my Christian testimony?
  • What does my conscience have to say about the matter?
  • Are my motives self-centred or selfish?
  • Is the proposed course of action an attempt to trust or rely or depend on somebody or something other than God?
  • Will the proposed course of action encourage me to or tempt me to rely or trust or depend on something or someone other than God?
  • Will it make known and glorify the presence of God?
  • Have I obeyed in everything that I already understand?
  • Am I committed to doing (starting and finishing) God's will in this situation.  (Romans 12:1-2)
  • What is the desire of my heart?  (Psalm 37:4)
  • Has God provided the power and resources needed to accomplish what I desire?  (Philippians 2:13)
  • Has God given me the peace in my heart to follow this route, to work on it, and to make the necessary decisions?  (Isaiah 26:3)

The framework for knowing the will of God

Whether we recognise it or not, every decision we make is made within a certain framework.  Identifying and acknowledging the aspects of this framework is a good starting position from which to know God's will for a situation.  The following questions are good ones to ask and answer:

  • What am I?  Created, human (not a god or some other animal), male or female, saved and justified.
  • What are my circumstances?  Where am I?  Where do I live?  Am I married or single?  What responsibilities (like family or previously made agreements) do I already have?  What tasks can I see around me that I could make a useful contribution towards or that nobody is doing and that need to be done?
  • What ought I to do?  In other words, what do I already clearly know to do but I am not doing?
  • What ought I not to do?  What am I doing that I already clearly and certainly know I should cease doing?
  • What abilities, skills and resources has God already given me?

It is important to realise that answering these questions and then acting on the answers will not by itself tell you what the great plans of God are.  The purpose of this exercise is to bring you to a position from which you can more clearly discern the will of God.  In particular there is a danger that the above questions will cause a person to rely on their own strength and not to seek and expect the supernatural power of God to be used.

Special notes for marriage

On the subjects of marriage and choosing a partner, much of what is said by Christians is unbiblical.  Compared to other topics the bible has very little to say about marriage and the choice of partner.  These are a few of the things that the bible does NOT say:

  • There is one particular person set apart for each of us.  We need to find that person.
  • God chooses partners for us.  There are some biblical cases where this does appear to happen but it is not stated as a general rule.
  • There is a particular age that is appropriate for marriage.
  • Marriage is only valid when announced or entered into in a particular fashion or with a certain form of ceremony.
  • Only marriages conducted in church by a “priest” or “pastor” are real marriages.
  • Marrying for sex is bad.  (Actually the need for sexual release is given in scripture as a good reason for getting married)
  • We should marry for the “right” reasons.
  • A particular period of courtship is required before marriage.
  • We should only marry within our own social group or ethnic group or some other arbitrary grouping.
  • Parental approval is required.

Choosing a marriage partner is certainly a decision requiring careful consideration and it would be sensible to take good advice where it can be found.  However, marriage is not the be-all and end-all of life; no matter what decision we make it is unlikely to actually happen exactly as we envisaged.  Marriage provides us with a means of attaining certain forms of fulfilment (not just sexual), and a scaffold from which to commence other activities.  It also provides some form of structure for our lives and a framework within which we get on with being transformed into the people God intends us to be.  Regardless of who we marry we are still supposed to be discharge the other responsibilities that we have been given.  Marriage is designed to help these processes; it is not an end in itself.

Related articles that you might like to read:

Obedience, a Christian view
Do you feel that God just isn't listening to you?  Maybe you aren't listening to him either!
Self-control, self-discipline and self-denial
Contemporary living does not have much use for these three qualities but they are essential for any Christian who really wants to live in obedience to God.
Simple commands for Christians.
A handy guide to some of the things that God told us to do but we never quite get around to doing.
“Not far” from the Kingdom of God.
Many people think that they are pretty good and that God is really quite pleased with them.  This article shows that being “good”, or even “very good”, is just not good enough.  We need more than our own goodness to please God.
What does it mean to be “born again”?
One life or two?  According to Jesus you'll need a whole new life before you can get close to God.
Submission of Christian wives to their husbands.
Many people consider submission to be demeaning and degrading and a sign of weakness.  In reality submission is a choice that only a strong person can make ... while all around them weak and pathetic people vocally despise a virtue they haven't even understood.
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