Recently, while teaching Lesson 9 of Perspectives, a young lady came and asked me: "you talked about seeking the purpose of God. How can you know what God's will for you really is?' Briefly, what I told her: it depends. The more specific you get, the harder it is to know if something is "the will of God."
When someone is asking how to know the will of God, the first thing I ask is--what do you mean? How specific are you getting? The specificity of what we are asking about lends to the complexity of the answer on this issue. For example, which outfit does God want me to wear? Which route should I take to work? Should I take this job or that job? This college course, or that one? What should I do with my life? Should I date this person, marry that person? Should I marry at all?
These questions and many more like them represent different levels of granularity about our life - some micro decisions, some macro decisions. And to be honest, different people have different answers as to "how involved is God in our life?" Does He care which shirt I wear?
A "macro" perspective on the Will of God, for example: be kind, generous and charitable to your neighbors.
A "micro" perspective: bake cookies and take them to the neighbor next door.
There is a paradox here: we do tend to want to know the specific, micro, day-by-day will of God - generally - until we don't want to know it, mainly when it gets hard.
Most people asking about the will of God or the call of God related to missions typically mean: (a) does God want me to be a missionary? (b) where does he want me to go? (c) who does he want me to go with? I don't have an easy answer for how to know that - some people say you need a calling, and others say you don't. Here are a few things I am sure of:
- No matter what you are thinking about the will of God, you aren't going to discover it apart from Scriptures and prayer. You can know the 'macro' will of God from Scripture (e.g. "love your neighbors"), but knowing the day-to-day application or micro will of God requires both Scripture and prayer.
- No one ever went hugely wrong by doing things that were inside the macro will of God regardless of whether they heard a "word from the Lord" to do it or not. Loving your neighbors, being generous to others, disciple-making, healing the sick, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, standing up for the oppressed, and so on - you're not going to "get in trouble" with God for doing these things.
- God tells us "as you are going into the world, make disciples" - so it doesn't seem to me to require a specific commission to do that. Not "hearing" a call from the Lord isn't an excuse to stay home--but it certainly doesn't hurt to spend time in Scriptures, prayer, and exploration to see if God has a specific place and people in mind for you. (That seems a little paradoxical; I think there's a tension of balance here.)
- If you think God might be leading you to do something, and it's not opposed to his will as revealed in Scripture, then I'd just take the risk and go with it.
Most important: just because you are "in the will of God" (either his macro/revealed will or what you believe he's telling you to do on a micro level) doesn't mean there won't be challenges, difficulties, obstacles, pain, heartache or danger. Most of the time, I find there are more pains, heartaches, and dangers within the will of God than outside it: sin and the Enemy are most comfortable when unopposed. Running toward the will of God means running into a battle with spiritual darkness. If you are "waiting to hear the will of God" as a way to avoid problems and pains, you're getting it wrong. So you might as well do what God reveals his will to be in Scripture regardless of pain or problem.