How to Discern God's Will for Your Life

For a couple of weeks a few summers ago, I spent my lunch breaks in the car. Of course in Oklahoma the summers are usually a bit warm, so I would turn the ignition on my Dodge Boat and move it beneath a great oak tree that shaded a few parking spots at the tech school.

Tonystl (CC)

But even in the shade and with the windows rolled down, sweat would bead on my skin, and by the 60 minute mark I’d be ready to pass out. Occasionally I’d turn the car on for a few minutes of manufactured cold.

I let the fake breeze hit me then shut the car back off.

But the heat was worth the cost of what it bought me those August days: peace. I sought in vain for some quiet place indoors. A place where I could be still without distraction. A place without interruption. But failing in that endeavor, I retreated to my vehicle.

What was the point of peace I so dearly cherished?

My goal was to spend lunch praying. Just being quiet. Petitioning, yes, but also trying desperately to listen to my Lord. Straining my heart’s ears for just a whisper of a word from God.

I had several items on my list. Things for which I wanted answers.

In essence, they are the same questions I’ve had for years, ever since God began a transformation in my life and in Katie’s when we agreed to accept two young boys into our home as foster children—an earthquake of a decision that has sent aftershocks of consequences (both ecstatic and trying) our way:

How can I be a better dad?
A better husband?
How can I find time to write? What should I write? When? Why?

But all of these fell under the umbrella of one supreme inquisition:

What is God’s will for my life?

After days and more melty days, I had about given up. I wasn’t hearing much. When I tried to listen to God, my mind instead wandered down trivial paths. And when I talked to God, I felt as if I were whining, babbling like a pagan.

But in stubborn resolve, I persisted. And in one instant I heard a word.


It sounded more like the beginning of joke, than a word from God. So I assumed my mind was playing tricks on me. But as I was contemplating that very possibility, God interrupted my train of thought:


I expected a dissertation, a roadmap for the next five years of my life. Who to ask for help, which job to pursue, which books to read. Instead I got one word.


Five Guidelines for Listening to God

Sometimes I wish there was an easy formula for discovering God’s will for your life. Like a 12-step guide or a 3-day conference.

And I’m fully aware that even attempting to write a blog post detailing how to discover that will is brazen, naive, impossible. Yet my own experience and words from scripture have some nuggets that make the task slightly less daunting.

1. The basics (AKA the obviouses)
Yes, I know obviouses is not a word. But here they are: pray and study the Word. Saying these two are obvious is not to trivialize them in any way. Sometimes I feel like a broken typewriter, typing the same blog posts week after week: pray and read your Bible. But these two tasks are cornerstones in your life as a Christian.

2. Fasting
Denying yourself physical needs helps you become more in tune with the spiritual realm.

3. Obedience
Discerning God’s will requires obedience. If there is habitual sin in your life, confess it. Ask for forgiveness. Ask God to work on your heart. You can’t be in His will and be in sin. Sin is anathema to God. And no, God will not call you to commit sin.

4. Go the Romans 12 route
Romans 12:1-2 says:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Lots of useful stuff here, but the quick and dirty:

Be selfless. God’s will doesn’t involve selfishness.
Worship the creator in everything you do.
Don’t be like the world. Conventional human wisdom doesn’t compare with God’s wisdom. Filter culture through God’s word, not the other way around.
As you cleave to God He will renew your mind. Let that renewal transform you—a metamorphosis that moves you away from the flesh and towards God.

5. Walk with an open ear, an open mind
God speaks to us in varied, often subtle ways. Look at the burning bush. Maybe something on fire isn’t so subtle, but notice that God didn’t put it right in Moses’s path. It was off to the side.

Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” Exodus 3:3

Moses had to turn aside. Had he blinders on, he may have passed the bush on by.

What God Was Trying to Tell Me

Even hearing that one word, it has taken me years to understand its meaning. God has unraveled it as he saw fit to such an undiscerning person as myself.

He was telling me to be proactive. I needed to stop waiting around for Him to open the doors and instead start banging on them until they opened. I was passive, and I shrouded it in holiness. God was reminding me what he says in his word:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Matthew 7:7

If I really wanted what I said I wanted, I had to start bloodying my knuckles with some good old fashioned knocking.

Two Verses to Help in Your Pursuit

In many ways these five things are just the start. But desiring to know the will of God is a noble wish. Jesus said that those who hunger for righteousness will be filled (Matt. 5:6).

Like so many things in life, consistency is key; diligently pursue God on a regular basis.

Last, I’ll leave you with an important verse. If you want to get serious about discovering God’s will, memorize it.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

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