You may have heard someone tell you “It must have been God’s will” after something bad happened. While this may have been an attempt to encourage you or point you to stronger faith in the Lord, this is probably not the best thing to say after someone gets cancer or loses a loved one. Saying that something bad “must have been God’s will” paints God as an uncaring, unloving, spiteful person whose will only involves what is best for Him. Does that really describe who our God is?
Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about God’s will.
- What was God’s will originally?
Before we can look at how things are now, let’s look at what God’s will was from the beginning. This should show us something about God and what He truly desires.
a. God’s wanted mankind to live in a perfect world (Gen. 1:28, 31).
When God created the world and everything in it, he kept saying that it was good. “And God saw that it was good.” Then when He had created Adam and Eve, He put them in charge of the earth. They lived in a perfect world where “everything that He had made… was very good.” How wonderful that God’s will was for them to live in and to enjoy such a beautiful place.
b. God’s wanted mankind to be ignorant of evil (Gen. 2:16-17).
God knew that this paradise on earth would only stay good if man was ignorant about evil. So, he commanded them not to eat from the tree that would give them this knowledge. God’s will was for mankind to be ignorant of evil. He did this to protect them.
c. God’s wanted mankind to know and please Him (Gen. 3:8; Col. 1:16; Rev. 4:11).
While the Bible never says that God was lonely and created mankind for companionship, we do know that He created us for a purpose. In Genesis 3:8, the Lord was walking in the garden. It seems like He was there to walk and talk with Adam and Eve. God created us for Himself (Col. 1:16) and receives glory from us (Rev. 4:11), but He also wants to know us and for us to know Him. This is beyond my comprehension, but it seems to be what He originally intended.
So, was it God’s will that we live in a sin-cursed world full of pain, sadness, and death? The answer is no. God had a better desire for us. But much of God’s original will for mankind did not happen because of the influence of the serpent and the choice of Adam and Eve to sin. Their disobedience let to God’s original will being fulfilled for mankind.
Please don’t get the idea that God had to come up with a Plan B. The Bible says that God had planned for our sin at the beginning. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). This shows us that God already had things in place to deal with our rejection of His original plan. God had already planned for what He knew would take place.
God’s original will was rejected by mankind. Instead of living in a perfect, uncursed world, we experience hardships, sickness, and death. And yet the same loving God whose will was rejected by Adam and Eve still wants the best for us. He still has a will that includes us today. Let us take a look at that.
- What is God’s general will now?
God has certain parts of His will that are generally applicable to all people or all believers. We could say that “in general” God desires these things. This is different than God’s specific will for individuals because these are broader in scope. So think of these statements as something that God desires for people in general.
a. God’s will is for people to repent (2 Pet. 3:9).
This statement in 2 Peter 3:9, shows us the heart of God. While some scoff at Jesus’ promised return because it has been so long, God has a reason for not sending Jesus back just yet. Peter tells us that God is being patient so that people will repent and not perish.
God’s general will is that people would repent of their sins, trust in Jesus, and escape the lake of fire. “The words not wanting anyone to perish do not express a decree, as if God has willed everyone to be saved. … Instead those words describe God’s wishes or desires; He longs that all would saved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4) but knows that many reject Him” (Gangel 876).
1 Timothy 2:4 – “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
It is not my purpose to talk about predestination, God’s sovereignty, and man’s responsibility at this point. My point is to show you that God’s will, His desire, is that sinful people understand the truth, repent of their sins, and be saved. This is His will and, sadly, there are many who do not want His will for their lives.
Take a moment to think about how this should affect your life. When someone dies without repenting, should we say, “It must have been God’s will”? I don’t think this is a good way to respond. Since God’s will is that people repent of their sins, we should be motivated to help in accomplishing His will. We must tell people what God thinks about their sin so that they know to repent and trust in Christ. Otherwise, they may never know what God’s will is.
b. God’s will is for believers to be set apart (1 Thess. 4:3-7).
This next part of God’s general will involves believers. This isn’t to say that God doesn’t want all people to be holy. But that won’t happen until they have been born again. So, this part of God’s general will applies only to believers.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3, we see another part of God’s general will. This one involves the sanctification of believers. This is a word which is not commonly used outside of the church. It “can mean a state of being set apart from sin to God, or the process of becoming more dedicated to God. … He probably had in mind the progressive sanctification of his readers by which they were conformed to the image of Christ in daily experiences by proper responses to the Word and the Spirit of God” (Constable 701).
What we learn here is that God wants us to stick out as different from the world. We who have been born again, should live holy lives that reflect the change God has made in us. That is His will. Paul’s focus in this statement is that God wants us to abstain from sexual immorality. With all the immorality being promoted in the world, believers are definitely set apart as different when they don’t practice the same lustful actions as the world. We don’t respond with “everybody is doing it” or “as long as they are both consenting.” Instead, we agree with the Scripture that God wants us to abstain from sexual immorality.
Are you set apart for the Lord? Or are you still giving in to your sinful desires? As a Christian, you should be aware of God’s will in this matter. If you are interested in obeying God’s will for you, you will need to make some decisions. Choose to say no to sinful desires in thought, conversation, or actions and instead set yourself apart to be holy for Him.
c. God’s will is for believers to love and obey Him (Mark 12:30; John 14:15).
The third part of God’s general will involves our love and obedience to Him. In Mark 12:30, Jesus was answering a question from one of the Jewish scribes. The scribe had asked him which of God’s commands was of primary importance. Jesus pointed him to his need to love the Lord with his whole being. This is God’s will for us today. We ought to love God. And if we love Him, we ought to also obey Him.
What would you think of someone who claimed to love God but continue to live in sin? I have heard people refer to so-and-so as someone who “loves the Lord.” What they mean is that the person has a strong emotional connection with God. They surely must be a Christian because they talk about God. Here we see that someone who loves God will show it by obeying Him.
Do you love the Lord, today? Then show it by obeying His commands. As you obey Him, your actions will speak louder than your words to God and to the world.
In the above comments, we have seen that God has a general will that should affect all of our lives. God wants people to repent. God wants believers to be set apart from sin. And God wants believers to love and obey Him. None of these are a surprise to any of us. We know these things. However, there are some things about God’s specific will for us that we don’t know.
- What is God’s specific will?
If you regularly read your Bible, you are well aware of God’s general will for your life. But there are some things that are not covered by general statements of God’s will in the Bible. Whom should I marry? Which car should I buy? Should I invest in crypto currency? Should I take this job offer?
During my first year of college, I was seeking the Lord’s will about what I should do with my life. I was studying graphic design but was often studying my Bible and praying to God. He was making a big difference in my life at the time. But then one day as I was reading my Bible, God used a passage of Scripture to make clear to me what I was to do. It was then that the Lord directed me to work in children’s ministries. And for over twenty years, the Lord used me in various ministries to children.
When it comes to God’s specific will, there is some ambiguity. God doesn’t always give a Bible verse to answer your prayer. Sometimes, he uses a combination of Scripture, life experiences, and advice from godly people. But there are several principles which should be considered when thinking about God’s specific will for you.
a. God’s specific will is based on His general will.
This is an important point. If you are seeking God’s specific will for your life, you should keep in mind that His specific will not conflict with His general will. As you read the Scriptures, you will find certain things that God commands and principles that are not an option. We can’t overlook something God has commanded in general and think that His specific will be something different.
For instance, when a young person is considering God’s specific will about marriage, there is a general principle in the New Testament that believers should not be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Cor. 7:39). This is God’s general will. It doesn’t give you your future spouse’s name, but it does tell you not to marry an unbeliever. If a young person were to ask for God’s specific will about marrying someone, an unbeliever should not be part of the question, because God’s will is already known about this.
So, as you seek God’s specific will about something, be sure that you are not butting against God’s general will. If you already know God’s general will, then seek to obey that before asking Him to overrule what He has already made clear.
b. God’s specific will is usually revealed to obedient believers (James 5:16b).
In this passage, James is addressing the need to seek God when suffering, cheerful, and needing God’s forgiveness. He uses Elijah as an example of someone whose prayers were answered in a specific way. Elijah prayed fervently for God to bring rain after several years of drought. God answered Elijah’s prayer because he was a righteous man. God listens to the prayer of a believer who is living a righteous life. Why is this? Well, this goes back to one of the statements about God’s general will. If you love God, you will obey Him. If you love Him, you will set yourself apart from sin.
Doesn’t this make sense? God, who knows our hearts, wants each of us to first show our love for Him by being obedient. Then, when He has our heart, He will lead us to the next step. Perhaps this is why you are struggling to find God’s specific will for your life. You are not following His general will and so are unable to see anything specific He has for your life. May I suggest that you take some time to look into your own life. If there is sin that you are clinging to, repent of that before expecting God to give your further direction.
c. God’s specific will may include difficulties (1 Pet. 5:10; 2 Tim. 3:12).
There are times when God’s specific will may include things that trouble us. In both of these Scripture passages, we see that suffering and persecution can be part of God’s will for your life. While we look forward to eternal life with the Lord apart from sin, sickness, and sadness someday, that isn’t God’s will for you today.
Many of the original disciples faced extreme persecution. After Stephen was stoned to death, “a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). Later, James was killed by Herod (Acts 12:1-2) and Peter was imprisoned (12:5). But they didn’t shrink back from fulfilling God’s will for them. They kept speaking the gospel to as many people as they could. God’s will for them included suffering while they accomplished His specific will for their lives.
While this may make you feel uncomfortable, consider what God’s purpose is for allowing troubles into your life. In 1 Peter 5:10, Peter tells us that suffering often perfects, establishes, strengthens, and settles us. In this we see a bit of God’s perfect will for each of us. While we may not enjoy suffering, God often uses those troubling experiences to make us stronger.
Have you ever thought that you were out of God’s will because of the negative results that came from doing what you thought was His will? Maybe you spoke the gospel (God’s general will) to an individual (God’s specific will) whom you felt the Holy Spirit was leading you to talk to. But when you spoke to him or her, the result was not good. They became angry and rejected the truth. Was that experience evidence that God did not lead you to talk to that individual? Not necessarily. We are to expect persecution and suffering if we live godly lives and follow God’s commands.
Now that I have written these statements about God’s specific will, I see that they are actually general statements. (1) God’s specific will will not conflict with his general will. (2) God will reveal His specific will to those who are obedient to His general will. (3) God’s specific will may include difficulties. With these statements in mind, let us consider how to find and respond to God’s specific will for your life.
- How should we seek and respond to God’s specific will?
Most people would rather dispense with all of the principles about God’s will and get to the answer they desire. “Pastor, can you stop talking about principles and just tell me how to know what God wants me to do in my situation?” I understand. But let’s not forget the process. God has a general will and a specific will. We need to seek both.
In this section, I would like to give your three principles about finding God’s specific will. We will also look at examples in the Bible of people who sought God’s specific will and found it.
a. Search for God’s specific will.
In the Old Testament, there are at least two examples of people who wanted to know God’s specific will and who found it.
The first example is Abraham’s servant (Gen. 24:12-14). Abraham sent his servant back to his home country to find a suitable wife for Isaac. He made the servant promise that he wouldn’t choose a Canaanite bride. When the servant arrived, he asked the Lord to guide him to the right woman for Isaac. He asked God to make it clear by having the right woman offer him water for his camels. As you may recall, God listened to his request and had Rebekah speak this way to him. The rest is history.
The second example is Gideon (Jud. 6:36-40). Gideon was somewhat timid when the angel of the Lord told him he would save Israel from the Midianites. His current circumstances didn’t lead him to believe that God was with Israel. But when he finally started gathering soldiers for the army, he wanted to know if this was really God’s will. So, he asked God for a sign. First, he asked that the fleece be wet and the ground dry. But after God did this, he asked for the opposite. In both cases, God answered his request and convinced Gideon that he would use him to deliver Israel.
There are times when we ridicule Gideon and people who ask for signs. But is that really fair? Abraham’s servant and Gideon both had a difficult task and went to the Lord for help in knowing what to do. They are good examples of believers who sought God’s specific will.
In the New Testament, we are told to take our requests to the Lord instead of being anxious. In Philippians 4:6-7, we are told not to be anxious. Instead, we are to pray, make supplication, and thank God when we bring our requests to Him. Do you think that includes asking God about His specific will in our life circumstances? I think so. And when we do this, He will give us peace about our situation.
b. Talk to God about His specific will.
In most cases, we taught our children to listen and obey without backtalk. It seems best to have that same attitude when listening to God’s will. However, there are two instances where godly men asked God to change His will about something.
The first example is Abraham (Gen. 18:16-33) when God had announced the coming judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham never doubted God’s justice. He knew that these cities were filled with wicked people. Earlier, when he had rescued Lot from the invading armies, he refused to accept any reward from the king of Sodom. He probably wanted nothing to do with these wicked people. But when Abraham perceived that God was going to destroy the city in which his nephew lives, he asked God to change His mind. He reasoned with God that righteous people would be destroyed along with the wicked. As you may recall, God listened to Abraham and promised not to destroy the city if there were 10 righteous people in it.
The second example is Moses (Ex. 32:7-14). Remember when the Israelites made and worshiped a golden calf instead of the Lord. God was so angry that He said, “let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.” With the nation’s destruction close at hand, Moses pleaded with the Lord to change His mind. He reasoned with God that the Egyptians would think He was a vindictive God for rescuing them from Egypt to kill them in the wilderness. The Lord listened to Moses and did not destroy the Israelites.
In both situations, a godly believer knew what God’s specific will was but tried to change His mind. That seems like something you shouldn’t do, but they did it. And God was not angry with them for trying to change His mind. I think that God gave these examples to us so that we will talk with Him. He wants us to share our thoughts, plead with Him, and talk with Him. He wants to know how we are thinking about things. And despite the fact that He knows what is best, He stoops to listen to us. We should take advantage of that. Talk to the Lord about His specific will for you.
c. Trust His specific will.
The final thought about this is that we must eventually come to the place where we trust in God’s specific will for us. After seeking and talking with Him about it, we need to submit to His will.
The first example is Habakkuk (Hab. 3:17-19). Habakkuk was a prophet who lives during a time where there was no justice. When he prayed to the Lord about it, he was probably expecting God to send a deliverer to remove the wicked and restore justice in the land. But God’s specific will about this situation was not what he expected. God told him that He would be sending a foreign army to destroy the nation. This bothered Habakkuk. How could a holy God use a wicked nation to punish Judah? God told Habakkuk that the just must live by faith. The prophet finally came to the point where he trusted the Lord despite what was going to happen.
The second example is the Lord Jesus (Matt. 26:39). Have you ever considered that Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross? His prayer in the garden shows us how difficult his task was going to be. He wanted the Father to remove the responsibility from Him. But even so, He desired the Father’s will more than His own. He said, “not as I will, but as You will.” This was His way of saying, “I will trust that Your will is best.”
In both situations, God’s will was something that was not desirable. Habakkuk’s country would be overrun by a brutal, invading army. Jesus’ body would be beaten and crucified, and He would take the punishment for the sins of the world. In neither situation were the participants enjoying what God had planned for them. But they both came to the place where they submitted to God’s will. They knew that He knew what was best and was doing what was best.
Are you currently seeking God’s will about a decision that is needing to be made? Are you struggling with what you already know to be God’s will? I imagine that all of us have been in both situations. But in the end we must all come to the same conclusion. God’s will is best. It might not always be what we want. It might not always be enjoyable. But His will is always best.
There are questions you may have about God’s will in your life right now. And those questions may never be answered in this lifetime. But let me ask you this question. Whatever may happen, can you trust what God does in your life? We won’t always understand. We won’t always know why. But we know that, in the end, God is good and will one day make all things right. We just need to trust Him.
Constable, Thomas A., “1 Thessalonians” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publication, 1983, p. 701.
Gangel, Kenneth O., “2 Peter” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publication, 1983, p. 876.
“Why did God create us?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=1739 on 2/4/2023.