Discerning, Accepting, and Obeying God's Will
In 2011, my wife and I went through one of the most difficult times of our life when our young son passed away. He had first become ill in 2006. At that time, we took him to the hospital after one of his lungs collapsed, and while preparing to transfer him to a hospital for critically ill children, his heart stopped. God spared him at that time, though his health was up and down until his passing six years later. It was a deeply painful time, but God’s comfort sustained us.
It was not easy to accept God’s will in that situation. We did not want to lose our son, nor did we understand why God had allowed his death. However, with God’s help we were able to surrender our desires to Him and trust that His plans are good even when we cannot understand them. We know God loved our son too, but sometimes He must allow painful events in order to accomplish His greater good. Through that experience, my wife and I learned more of what it means to accept God’s will.
When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, the model prayer He gave them included the phrase, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). From this we can draw at least three truths: first, that there is such a thing as God’s will for us—God in Heaven has a plan that He desires to see come to pass in our lives. Second, God's will for us is good; if it were not, Jesus would not have told us to pray for it to be done. Third, God’s perfect will for us may not happen. If it were guaranteed, there would be no need to pray for it.
These three principles point to three responsibilities for us: to find out what God’s will for us is, to accept that His will is best, and to do our part to ensure it is accomplished in our lives. Even in the difficulty of losing our son, my wife and I had to consider what God would have us do next, then decide whether we would accept that, and then actually do it. In the end, we found that God is glorified in our lives when we embrace His will.
Let us now consider more closely these three responsibilities related to God’s will.
Discerning God’s will
If we want to know God’s will, the place to begin is in His Word. The entire Bible is a revelation from God of sound doctrines, teachings, and instruction, and it is His will for us to obey all of it.
God’s will revealed in Bible promises. There are many universal promises in God’s Word that we know are His will for everyone to receive. The starting point must be salvation, the experience which reconciles us to God. It is the beginning of our relationship with Him, and for those who are not yet saved, God would have them repent and be saved as soon as possible (see 2 Peter 3:9).
We can also see in Scripture that it is God’s will for every saved individual to be sanctified wholly (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Salvation accomplishes the forgiveness of sins, enabling one to stand before God justified. Yet, the underlying condition of the heart that caused the individual to commit sin in the first place remains until he comes to God again—this time not confessing his sin, but consecrating his life. When he offers God his whole life, God will sanctify his soul, eradicating the sinful nature that led him to sin. The sanctified heart is holy, with pure desires and motives, and God wants every person to live in that state.
It is also God’s will for everyone who has been saved and sanctified to be baptized with the Holy Ghost. When the disciples in the Upper Room first received this experience, the Spirit of God came down as a rushing mighty wind, and they spoke in other languages as the Spirit gave them utterance (see Acts 2). They were endued with power from on high so they could work for God more effectively, and God wants everyone to receive that experience (Acts 2:39).
Beyond these three fundamental Christian experiences, there are many other promises given to all: it is God’s will for us to live with Him eternally in Heaven (John 14:2-3); to comfort us (John 14:18); to give us wisdom (James 1:5); and much more. When we find promises like these in the Bible, we can rejoice to know that it is God’s will to fulfill them in our lives, and He will fulfill them when we live in obedience to Him.
God’s will revealed in Bible instructions. God’s Word is replete with instruction about how God wants us to conduct our lives. For example, the Book of Ephesians teaches that it is God’s will for husbands to love their wives, children to obey their parents, and wives to submit to their husbands. We read in 1 Peter that believers are to be subject to each other, and in Romans 13 that all are to submit to the authority God has established. The only exception is when someone of authority tells us to do something contrary to God’s Word. In that case, the Bible teaches that we should obey God rather than any person.
We could continue through the whole Bible finding more information about God’s will for our conduct. So if we want to know God’s will, it is of utmost importance to read and meditate upon Scripture, and to attend church services and Bible studies. We can also benefit from the many resources published by our church headquarters free of charge—curriculum series, testimonies, tracts, daily devotionals, sermons, and more.
If we truly want to understand God’s will, we must be wise and take His Word seriously.
Once we have learned a principle of the Bible, we must take God at His word. Ephesians 5:17 says, “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” We cannot expect that God will reconfirm each lesson apart from the revelation that is already given to us. For instance, there is no need to ask God if we should pay our tithes, because we already know that the requirement to do so is stated in His Word. Neither will we ask God if we should forgive those who offend us when Jesus made it clear that we are to forgive everyone (Matthew 6:14). If we truly want to understand God’s will, we must be wise and take His Word seriously.
God’s will revealed outside of Scripture. When we study Scripture, it is the Spirit of God who enlightens our hearts to understand the meaning, and the same Spirit can speak to us in other ways too.
Consider the experience of salvation. Though the Bible explains that sin separates people from God and that sinners are condemned before God, many people never read that in the Bible before they are saved. Yet, the Spirit of God reveals it to their hearts in some way.
I came to the Gospel after observing the life of a faithful Christian woman, which convinced me that Christianity was real. Formerly, I had criticized people who talked to me about Christianity, and had not wanted to join any church. However, as I observed that godly woman’s life, God impressed upon me that I was not living right, and that if I died, I would go to Hell. Though no one was preaching to me, God’s Spirit revealed His will to me through another person’s life and through my own conscience, letting me know that I needed to make a change. He led me to receive the experience of salvation described in His Word.
The same Spirit who convicted us of our sins and witnessed to our hearts when we were saved will continue to lead and guide us. He troubles our conscience if we have done something wrong or if we are headed down a dangerous path. Isaiah 30:21 says, “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” That voice is the Spirit of God, and He leads us in God’s truth.
Sometimes when we are seeking to know God’s will, it is helpful to ask a trusted Christian friend for advice in the matter. However, we must choose our advisors carefully because believers do not all have the same maturity and understanding. If we want to be led aright, we need to look to those whose lives indicate they are led by the Spirit, and He will help us through their godly insight.
When God speaks, through any means, there will not be confusion but peace, because God is One and His message is singular.
In addition to speaking to us through Scripture, through other people, and through our conscience, God may reveal His will through Creation, a song, a dream, and many other ways. In every case, the message He speaks will be in harmony with His Word because God is One. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are perfectly united as One. There is one way to Heaven and one will of God. We read in 1 Corinthians 14:33, “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” Through whatever means God speaks, there will not be confusion but peace, because God is One and His message is singular.
Accepting God’s will
God orchestrates our lives in amazing ways. There are no accidents or missed details with Him. Sometimes we might think our parents, our peers, or our circumstances are the reason we are where we are today. However, if we look at the bigger picture, it is actually God who placed us into the families in which we were born, as well as all the other people in our circles. Such circumstances are beyond our control, but none are beyond God’s control.
When our son passed, it was not what we wanted to happen, yet we did not wonder if it was God’s will for him to go because that was made clear when God chose to take Him. All we could control was our response to the situation. Would we say God had failed? Would we turn away from God because we did not like His will? Those actions would not bring back our son. Instead, we looked to God to show us the response that was His will for us. In a time of suffering, it is always God’s will for us to find comfort in Him. It is His will for us to trust in Him with all our hearts and lean not unto our own understanding (see Proverbs 3:5). It is His will for us to keep our faith in Him even when He takes away something precious to us.
God’s plan is better than ours, even if we do not understand how that could be. We may never know in this lifetime, but we are confident that we will understand when we get to Heaven.
As we walk with God, we will find that His will for us is good. It is a joy to serve God and He will take us from victory to victory until we reach Heaven. Because we know God loves us, if it is His will to allow us to suffer, we can pray what Christ did just prior to His crucifixion, “Not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). God’s plan is better than ours, even if we do not understand how that could be. We may never know in this lifetime, but we are confident that we will understand when we get to Heaven.
Obeying God’s will
It is one thing to know God’s will, it is another to accept that His will is best, and it is yet another to follow through in obedience to His will. The whole Bible is available to us, as well as our many study tools—more resources than we could exhaust. The question is: Are we ready to do what we have learned is God’s will? It is our choice whether to follow God or go our own way, but on the authority of God’s Word, we know that our lives will be blessed if we follow after God. There will still be challenges, but when we have chosen God’s will, He will be by our side all the way.
Once, I had an issue at work with a former colleague. A project had gone wrong and I ended up inheriting a problem someone else had created. However, it was made to appear as though I was the cause of the problem, so my work in the matter was not seen as good. I knew the truth, and I also knew God would have me treat my co-workers with respect, even in this situation. That was a challenging time, but God helped me, and then in a way that I never would have imagined, God caused the person who was troubling me to leave the company. It was not that I took pleasure in seeing that individual removed; I wished him well then and I still pray for his salvation today. However, when I obeyed what God required of me, He was my Defender, and I have the hope that my testimony during that time helped point my colleague to God.
We have found that the easiest way in life is to be where God wants us to be and do what God wants us to do.
Another time, during the Portland camp meeting in 2017, the ministers from the United Kingdom gathered for a meeting and our district superintendent brought to our attention the need for ministerial support at the Birmingham church. He asked us all to pray about the situation, and as I prayed, I felt a heavy load settle on me. God’s Spirit impressed upon me that our family should leave Manchester and move to Birmingham. That burden did not lift until I told my district superintendent what I felt, and afterward I had such peace. When I spoke to my wife about it she said, “Well, we should be where God wants us to be.” Indeed, we have found that the easiest way in life is to be where God wants us to be and do what God wants us to do.
We chose to follow God in obedience, and He arranged a miraculous transition for us from Manchester to Birmingham. He provided me a new position in my company with a promotion, helped us sell and buy a home at a difficult time in the housing market, and even found a good school for our daughter that she loved immediately. During our first week in Birmingham, a neighbor came to our house and shoveled the snow from our pathway! When we followed God’s will, we found that He had many blessings in store for us, and He worked in ways we never expected.
Proving what is the perfect will of God
Romans 12:1-2 says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” There is a perfect will of God for our lives, and we can prove it by following Him wholeheartedly. When we are confronted with a choice and are not sure what to do, we should seek God’s will until He shows us what to do, then accept it, and choose to obey. Following God will certainly involve personal sacrifice, but our temporal losses will not matter in eternity and living to glorify God will matter. This life is short, but the one to come will last forever, and a crown awaits every Christian who follows God’s way.