When I graduated from high school, I was often asked what I was doing next. My answer was short, simple, and sarcastic: “I’m going home and making a sandwich.” The follow-up questions and discussions always came back to a much bigger question about the will of God for my life. The problem was that God didn’t drop a completed day planner off at my house that week.
And He still hasn’t. Which means the problem I had then remains a problem I have now. Since you made it past the sandwich line, I think it is a safe assumption you have the same problem. If you pay attention in science, you will learn that the question frames the answer. If we want good answers, we must ask better questions. The first question is not, “What is God’s will for my life?” It is not even, “What is God’s will?”
It is instead, “Who is God?” and more specifically, “What is the character of God?”
Knowing His Character
Anyone’s will, anyone’s desires or intentions, derive from their character. The actions they take and want others to take follow hard after who they are more than anything else. This idea drives most stories. What will Katniss do in the Arena? How will Pip respond to Estella’s actions? Character change underlines the conflicts of many stories as well: the One Ring shows its danger not through its power, but in the fact that it corrupts all, even a gentlehobbit like Frodo.
This points us back to the question of the will of God. If we would know His desires, we need to know His character. That knowledge comes from both study and relationship. First, we need the relationship with God. Genesis 3 shows us humanity was created to have interaction with the true God of the universe. John 1 tells us that God made Himself plain to us by becoming flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:14,18). Acres of paper could be spent on this, but lacking that space, I will sum it up: throughout the Bible, God reveals Himself using relationships with people. From that, we can take the knowledge that He works through relationships with us, because we are people.
Then, to know His character, we study Him. That sounds cold and calculated, but it is the same way we know the character of people around us, is it not? We look at what they do and what they say and how they treat others, forming a picture of their character through study. We do this, often automatically, with everyone we know. With God, though, we make a few changes in the approach. Why? Because God never changes and is always truthful (James 1:17), He reveals Himself perfectly, never saying one thing and doing another, never claiming to do good while secretly plotting to do harm. His perfection contains His power as well, never promising what cannot be delivered.
What About Us?
His representatives, though, do not hold the same traits. Those who speak for God in the here and now sometimes misrepresent Him horribly, like a friend whose gossip about you had just enough truth to hurt you. We must study through people and their misrepresentations to get to the heart of God. Nothing can substitute for learning about God from His Word. People can help, and the wider range of God-honoring people you learn from, the better you will see God through our human imperfections.
So we study the character of God. We learn that He is righteous (Psalm 11:7) and that He is love (1 John 4:8). We see God as just, jealous, holy, merciful, faithful, and so much more as we learn about Him. What each of those words mean is another area of study for another time. You will see these in His Word, in the works of God throughout history, and through your own relationship with God.
Back to God’s Will
God’s will, like anyone’s, derives from His character. As the best example, since God is love, He gave the world Jesus to save us (John 3:16). Other examples resound through Scripture. Since God is faithful, He delivered Israel from bondage (Exodus). Since God is holy and merciful, He brings punishment and salvation (Exodus 12). Since God is relational, He sends His people to help other people know Him (Matthew 28:18-20).
To know the will of God without knowing the character of God is not just difficult, it is impossible. Your first step is not to seek His will. It is to know Him. Seeking the will of God without seeking to know God is like writing a grocery list made up only of the elements of food. You can write down that you need carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, but you’ll never find a good meal that way.
From knowing God’s character, we can learn His will in the content of His Word. We know that all of His people are called to bear witness to Him (Acts 1:8), called to be holy (1 Peter 1:16), and called to love one another (Matthew 22:39). How we do those things develops as we grow in wisdom and ability.
As we grow, our daily companionship with God is the key to understanding His will. We begin to see how He has made us and what He has equipped us to do, which leads us to see how we can do His will with our lives.
And that daily interaction involves working on what we know to be the will of God. How much are you showing love for your neighbor? What are you doing to point people to Jesus as Lord? Every step we take in obeying what we do know helps us follow God into things we do not know.
In short, there will never be a dayplanner left on your doorstep with how each hour should be spent, much less a forty-year calendar. Instead, discovering and doing the will of God is a daily practice of learning God’s character, working in the ways we already know are His ways, and then growing into the next step.
Just as a Boy Scout’s first aid skills give way to a doctor’s steadied hand, so maturity and skill impact how we execute God’s will. Start with what you know, do what you can, and follow where God leads through it.