How Do We Know God’s Will?

Romans 12:2
Do not conform 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.

How can we know if we’re in God’s will? This is an important question, one of the most important for our day to day living. If we really want to serve God, how do we know what His will is and then do it?

For me, this is a really timely topic. As most of you know, we are in the middle of the adoption of a medically fragile nine-year-old boy from China. He looks amazing. But I also know many, many adoptive parents, and I know the strikes against this being lots of fun. He doesn’t speak English. He might hate our country. He is an older child and we don’t know how he’s been treated all these years. He may not attach to us. He may die. Just like Peter getting out of the boat, sometimes when I take my eyes off Jesus, these waves seem terrifying and I start sinking.

How do I know that God wants us to do this? What if I’m just making this up in my head? What if I just think this boy’s picture is cute or want to feel like a hero and have no idea what I’m getting into? These are real questions. And what if he’s just wonderful and we fall madly in love with him and his surgery isn’t possible or goes badly and then we lose him?

I have three great kids who are healthy and growing up into kind and loving adults. I am married to a wonderful guy and we’re happy. We live in a nice suburban house in one of the richest countries in the world. I would be lying if I told you I hadn’t had the thought, “Why are we messing with this?” Well, because we felt called to it. And because we knew we couldn’t leave this boy where he was. And how does that work? And how do we know if we’re right?

Romans 12:2 tells us not to be conformed the pattern of this world. That means we need to get the world’s version of wisdom out of our heads and be transformed to hear God’s wisdom. The world’s wisdom would tell me I was foolish to mess with the good life I have. That I might harm my other children if this goes badly. That it’s not my problem and there’s no reason for me to step in there. But God’s wisdom is different. God values all people, and He sure doesn’t love me any more than he loves this little boy. Psalm 68:6 says that God sets the lonely in families. If God has given me everything I have, how can I be selfish and tell Him I’m not willing to put it back into His hands? And what if He means all this as a blessing? Why would I say no to that?

Roman’s 12:2 also tells us that we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. How do we let God change our minds? By spending time with Him. Through prayer and listening for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. And, so importantly, by knowing His Word. That is how He talks to us. And God’s Word is transformative – it will change you. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

And then, Roman’s 12:2 gives us the incredible promise that if we do those things, we will be able to know God’s will. That is stunning!

So here are a few things I use to check myself, things I’ve used as a yardstick over the years. I’d love to hear yours too.

1. Repetition. God seems to use this a lot in my life, and in many other believers that I know. God placed a desire on my heart for adoption for many years before we acted on it. But last year I started to hear it from all directions, including from my husband who hadn’t been at all on the same page with me before. That’s when Nathan and I started listening closely for the Lord and doing that together. We prayed about it a lot and felt God confirming it in our spirits. We kept getting Bible verses or running into people who would talk about their adoption. The sermon every week at church seemed to be echoing our thoughts. It came from all sides at once.

2. Does it line up with Scripture? To me, this is the most important one, because when we go on a “feeling,” it’s really easy to talk ourselves into whatever we want. One thing we know for sure is that God will not contradict His own Word. I had a woman tell me once that God was leading her to leave her husband. I asked why, had he been unfaithful or what was leading her to this conclusion? She told me, no, it was nothing like that, but she’d been bored for years. I can say with certainty that God was not leading her there. He will never, never contradict His Word. (And that’s another post, but that would be when I would be praying for God to revive my marriage!) In the example of our adoption, we just kept getting more and more Scripture about orphans and we know that caring for them is absolutely in the heart of God. It lines up.

3. Is it confirmed by prayer? When you pray about this decision, does the Holy Spirit confirm it in your heart? Do you have a peace about it (Phil 4:6-7)? Even in a terrifying decision, we can still have peace. It’s also important to remember that when we seek the Lord and ask him for wisdom, He promises He will give it (James 1:5). Are you following the wisdom He’s giving you in prayer?

4. And lastly, do other believers agree with you? Again, you need wisdom here because I don’t mean that everyone will always agree with you, but do some key believers that you trust agree that this could be God’s will for you? If you’re sharing your plan with solid believers who know you well, and none of them can see it, perhaps you should take it back to the Lord.

Finally, we need to remember that being in God’s will doesn’t always mean things will turn out beautifully immediately. Sometimes we think if we’re in God’s will everything will go well (and by that, we mean painlessly and preferably also to our advantage) and if things go wrong, then we must have missed it and are not actually in His will. But that’s just not true. We can be right in the middle of God’s will and it can still look bad for us. Look at Joseph when he was falsely accused by Potiphar and thrown into prison, or Daniel when he remained faithful to God and got thrown into the lion’s den. But in both of those examples, and countless others, we also see how God brought something much greater out of their pain, and that He had a bigger plan for them. When we’re seeking to follow God’s will for our lives through His Word and prayer and the Holy Spirit, and we do it to the best of our ability, we can be confident that He is always able to carry it out, and do it for our good. (Phil. 1:6, Rom. 8:28)

God’s not trying to trick us. He wants us to know His will and to do it in the world. Are we willing to seek Him, and then step out in faith to do whatever it is He’s giving us to do?

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