Jesus is clear. In his manifesto (Matthew 5-7), Jesus tells us to pray like this: “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It is all about God and what God wants. My plans and desires should count for nothing.
Much of this comes out of anxiety. I worry too much and don’t trust God. Jesus said “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear.”
Really? Don’t worry. Yes, that is right. When I do what God wants, that is all that matters.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Master wills, we will live and also do this or that.” | James 4:13–15 (NASB)
“If the Lord will” is not just a statement on a believer’s lips: it is the constant attitude of his heart. “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work”. Often in his letters, Paul referred to the will of God as he shared his plans with his friends. Paul did not consider the will of God a chain that shackled him; rather, it was a key that opened doors and set him free.
Everything in this universe operates according to laws. If we cooperate with these laws and obey them, then the universe works with us. But if we fight these laws and disobey them, the universe will work against us. For example, certain laws govern flight. The engineer who obeys those laws in designing and building the plane, and the pilot who obeys those laws in flying the plane, will both have the joy of seeing the great machine operate perfectly. But if they disobey the basic laws that govern flight, the result will be a crash and the loss of life and money.
God’s will for our lives is comparable to the laws He has built within the universe, with this exception: those laws are general, but the will He has planned for our lives is specifically designed for us. No two lives are planned according to the same pattern.
There are some things that must be true of all disciples of Jesus. It is God’s will that we yield ourselves to Him. It is God’s will, for just one example, that we avoid sexual immorality. All disciples should rejoice, pray, and thank God. Every commandment in the Bible addressed to believers is part of the will of God, and must be obeyed. But God does not call each of us to the same work in life, or to exercise the same gifts and ministry. The will of God is “tailor-made” for each of us!
It is important that we have the right attitude toward the will of God. Some people think God’s will is a cold, impersonal machine. God starts it going and it is up to us to keep it functioning smoothly. If we disobey Him in some way, the machine grinds to a halt, and we are out of God’s will for the rest of our lives.
God’s will is not a cold, impersonal machine. You do not determine God’s will in some mechanical way, like getting a soft drink out of a “pop” machine. The will of God is a living relationship between God and the believer. This relationship is not destroyed when the believer disobeys, for the Father still deals with His child, even if He must chasten.
I prefer to see God’s will as a warm, growing, living body. If something goes wrong with my body, I don’t die: the other parts of the body compensate for it until I get that organ working properly again. There is pain; there is also weakness; but there is not necessarily death.
When you and I get out of God’s will, it is not the end of everything. We suffer, to be sure; but when God cannot rule, He overrules. Just as the body compensates for the malfunctioning of one part, so God adjusts things to bring us back into His will. You see this illustrated clearly in the lives of Abraham and Jonah.
The believer’s relationship to the will of God is a growing experience. First, we should know His will. The will of God is not difficult to discover. If we are willing to obey, He is willing to reveal. It has been said that “obedience is the organ of spiritual knowledge.” This is true. God does not reveal His will to the curious or the careless, but to those who are ready and willing to obey Him.
We must not stop with merely knowing some of God’s will. God wants us to be “filled with the knowledge of His will and all wisdom and spiritual understanding”. It is wrong to want to know God’s will about some matters and ignore His will in other matters. Everything in our lives is important to God, and He has a plan for each detail.
God wants us to understand His will. This is where spiritual wisdom comes in. A child can know the will of his father, but he may not understand his will. The child knows the “what” but not the “why.” As the “friends” of Jesus the Messiah, we have the privilege of knowing why God does what He does. “He made known His ways unto Moses, His acts unto the Children of Israel” (Ps. 103:7). The Israelites knew what God was doing, but Moses understood why He was doing it.
We must also prove God’s will. The Greek verb means “to prove by experience.” We learn to determine the will of God by working at it. The more we obey, the easier it is to discover what God wants us to do. It is something like learning to swim or play a musical instrument. You eventually “get the feel” of what you are doing, and it becomes second nature to you.
People who keep asking, “How do I determine God’s will for my life?” may be announcing to everybody that they have never really tried to do God’s will. You start with the thing you know you ought to do, and you do that. Then God opens the way for the next step. You prove by experience what the will of God is. We learn both from successes and failures. “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me” (Matt. 11:29). The yoke suggests doing things together, putting into practice what God has taught you.
We must do God’s will from the heart. Jonah knew the will of God, and (after a spanking) did the will of God; but he did not do it from his heart. Jonah 4 indicates that the angry prophet did not love the Master, nor did he love the people of Nineveh. He merely did God’s will to keep from getting another spanking!
What Paul said about giving can also be applied to living: “not grudgingly, or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Grudgingly means “reluctantly, painfully.” They get absolutely no joy out of doing God’s will. Of necessity means “under compulsion.” These people obey because they have to, not because they want to. Their heart is not in it.
The secret of a happy life is to delight in duty. When duty becomes delight, then burdens become blessings. “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage” (Ps. 119:54). When we love God, then His statutes become songs, and we enjoy serving Him. When we serve God grudgingly, or because we have to, we may accomplish His work but we ourselves will miss the blessing. It will be toil, not ministry. But when we do God’s will from the heart, we are enriched, no matter how difficult the task might have been.
We must never think that a failure in knowing or doing God’s will permanently affects our relationship with the Master Jesus. We can confess we have missed God’s goal (aka sins) and receive His forgiveness. We can learn from the mistakes. The important thing is a heart that loves God and wants sincerely to do His will and glorify His name.
What are the benefits of doing the will of God? For one thing, we enjoy a deeper fellowship with Jesus. We have the privilege of knowing God’s truth and seeing our prayers answered. There is an eternal quality to the life and works of the one who does the will of God. Certainly, there is the expectation of reward at the return of Jesus the Messiah.
The disciple of Jesus who knows, loves, and obeys the will of God will enjoy God’s blessing. His life may not be easier, but it will be holier and happier. His very food will be the will of God; it will be the joy and delight of his heart.
- James 4:13–15 (NASB) —Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Master wills, we will live and also do this or that.”
- Psalm 33:10 —The Master nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples.
- Psalm 20:4 —May He grant you your heart’s desire And fulfill all your counsel!
- Psalm 140:8 — “Do not grant, O Master, the desires of the wicked; Do not promote his evil device, that they not be exalted. Selah.
- Psalm 146:4 —His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish.
- Proverbs 16:1–3 —The plans of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the Master. All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the Master weighs the motives. Commit your works to the Master And your plans will be established.
- Proverbs 16:9 —The mind of man plans his way, But the Master directs his steps.
- Proverbs 19:21 —Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the Master will stand.
- Proverbs 21:30 —There is no wisdom and no understanding And no counsel against the Master.
- Ecclesiastes 9:10 —Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.
- Isaiah 8:10 — “Devise a plan, but it will be thwarted; State a proposal, but it will not stand, For God is with us.”
- Isaiah 19:3 — “Then the spirit of the Egyptians will be demoralized within them; And I will confound their strategy, So that they will resort to idols and ghosts of the dead And to mediums and spiritists.
- Jeremiah 19:7 — “I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place, and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies and by the hand of those who seek their life; and I will give over their carcasses as food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth.
- New American Standard Bible
- Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 372–374). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.