How do I know God's will? Discerning God's will through decisions involves prayer, Scripture, godly counsel, and courage to act and "Pray it Forward."

How to discern God’s will: a 7-step process anyone can use

Almost two years ago, in the middle of a family dinner, my twenty-something son popped a question. “Mom, how do you know the difference between faith-based trust and stupidity?”

My son loves the shock-factor. He’s a master at getting your attention. This was his way of opening up a discussion about understanding God’s will. He and his new wife had many different forks in their road. There was one they wanted to take, but they wanted assurance it wasn’t a “stupid” move.

At the time, my husband and I were trying to make major decisions and find God’s will for our path as well. We had been reading and listening to sermons until all the theologians had become one talking head in our heads. We still didn’t have a full answer for him, but we talked it through and applied Scripture to what we did know.

Fast forward. During the last two years, all six of us have navigated more forks than I can count and made multiple life-altering changes. It seems like each month (sometimes each week) we are talking to one of our kids about the choices that have come up in someone’s life.

My husband and I are regularly discussing all the new decisions that accompany having just moved. I’ve been at a crossroads personally.

  • Do I go back to work as a marketing professional and shut down this blog?
  • Do I expand it, trusting God will provide for this ministry as well as our financial needs?
  • Is that presuming on God’s grace?
  • (And that’s just the two ends of the spectrum; I can’t even describe what’s all in the middle.)

Discerning God’s will “in the 10%”

We’ve been around the block and back with this “Discerning God’s will” thing. The majority of the preachers my husband and I follow are insistent on getting this major point across:

If you are not following through on
God’s revealed will for your character,
stop trying to figure out
his specific purpose for your choices.

One article put it this way:

“90 percent of God’s will for my life is the same as 90 percent of God’s will for your life. (Actual results may vary.)
… We’re all supposed to do the Bible stuff. And there’s a lot of it.
…once we start doing the 90 percent, it usually opens us up to seeing the 10 percent more clearly.”
(Source)

So true. So foundational. So important.

And yet, so NOT helpful if you have been seeking after him in the 90 percent.

For those who are trying to walk in the light, confessing and repenting of known sin, bathing life with worship and the Word, you likely desire input on how to discern that remaining “10 percent.”

Seek godly counsel

Godly counsel is a key factor in navigating life’s twists and turns. Just as my husband and I give it to our children, so we seek it from our own parents and spiritually mature friends we trust.

I hope you have people in your life who talk things through with you in light of Scripture and tell you the truth.

But this beautiful thing called the Internet also allows us to find out what others outside our circle are doing and see if there’s anything we can learn from their journey with God.

I love talking with friends about how God is working in their lives. I realize it’s not a prescription for how he will work in mine, but it gives me insight and hope. It reminds me he does work. He does speak. He does guide. He’s not playing a game of hide-and-seek with me.

So in case hearing how God has worked in my journey is helpful to you, here’s the process I’ve been developing over the years. It’s a seven-step outline for discerning and sorting through the options and priorities in front of me. It’s followed by some key takeaways my family has learned to embrace.

 


My 7-step process

It’s not a formula. It doesn’t always flow like this exactly. And we could fill this post with a list of disclaimers. With all that said, here it is.

1-Identify desires of the heart and take them before the Lord via journaling and prayer.

2-Study relevant concepts in Scripture, asking the Spirit to intercede and direct.

3-Record related godly instruction (from trusted sources) that speaks to the subject (sermons, Bible studies, podcasts, books, and articles).
Reflect on past experiences and lessons learned.
Consider God’s unique equipping, passion, and priorities he’s revealed for my life thus far.

4-Watch to see how 1-3 correlate. (This may take time, but I always begin to see threads and themes.)
Talk it out with my husband or someone else I trust to tell me the truth if it sounds like I’m trying to knit threads that weren’t meant to be crocheted. ~wink.

5-Outline ideas, options, and possible steps — rearranging, sorting, and refining as I pray. (Some would call this a “brain dump.”) 
Seek God’s timing and godly counsel.
Hold it all loosely until it begins to take shape.
Continue with steps 2 and 3.

6-Create a specific plan with a timeframe for changing course if necessary.
(i.e., Don’t quit the plan and make a new one until a certain amount of time has passed.)

7-Pray it forward as I act in confidence, implementing the outlined plan.
Choose to trust that God is big enough to redirect if I’m moving in a direction he disapproves.

It’s a combination of doing and purposing, while continually seeking and praying. I’ve seen it work on each end of the time spectrum:

  • Sometimes it’s the “long game,” as I wait patiently with deliberate intention for the Lord to answer and give me confidence and courage to act.
  • However, it’s also the groundwork that sets me up to act quickly when I believe he is answering through an opportunity. (See: That time I DIDN’T need to stop and pray about it)

Books we recommend

My husband and/or I have read the following books during our times of searching.

{This post contains affiliate links for your convenience and to support this blog. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.}

all the places to goFound-God's WillA praying lifeKingdom ManFervantLife Interrupted

 

 

 

 


Key takeaways from my family

In the going, you learn more about how to go

As I prepared to write this post, I surveyed my family again.

My daughter said the advice that has had the greatest impact on her is the wisdom shared from studying Nehemiah. Nehemiah’s life was bathed in prayer, but he rarely ONLY prayed. Prayer was usually accompanied by action.

As we have helped her navigate choices, we first talk through road blocks or red flags. Once we determine there aren’t any worth stopping for, we’ve encouraged her to move forward, praying as she goes.

I say, “Pray it forward. In the going, you learn more about how to go.”

Her dad adds this, “God doesn’t confirm what you think; he confirms what you do.”

Clarity is not the goal

Here’s something our family has come to agree on: we rarely get clarity before we act. Clarity is a grace and a gift when God gives it, but it cannot be a determining factor for acting or not acting.

During our time of study on this subject, we heard a preacher tell a story:

A young man spent time serving in Calcutta, during which he had the opportunity to visit with Mother Teresa. He asked her to pray that he would have clarity about his direction.
She said,
“I will not do that. Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.”
The man questioned her, assuming she herself had gained clarity through her years of serving God as she served the poor. She laughed at the idea:
“I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust.”

I don’t know about you, but this hit home with us. We finally leaned into this idea:

Clarity may be what we want,
but faith is what we need.

So we stopped praying for clarity and asked God to grow our trust — and with it, our confidence and courage to act. And through that, we’ve discovered that sometimes clarity comes after we’ve taken a few steps.

Ease is not the determining factor

We also do not expect God’s will to line up with the easiest decision. Although (as mentioned), we assess road blocks and red flags as part of acting wisely, they don’t get the role of “determining factor.” In fact, we’ve learned firsthand that moving in his plan often means hardship ahead.

If we allow “easy” to dictate the choice, then when it’s no longer easy, we will second-guess the decision. That’s never helpful and rarely Spirit-inspired. In fact, in my experience — when the road becomes difficult and I want to give in — it’s usually the enemy who is whispering in my ear.

(See: 5-part Strategy for Christians questioning their Calling)

Timing is everything

Last year, my husband listened to a sermon where the preacher concluded with this statement:

To God ~
time is nothing.
~ But ~
TIMING is everything.

He shared that with me and then we shared it with our children. It stuck. Those nine words have informed our thinking and invaded our conversations more times than I can count. We have a group texting chain that is often full of memes and gifs and quips related to this idea.

We love Princess Bride quotes, so you might even hear one of us tell another: “Timing. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The truth is — it means way more than we can even comprehend. We are learning to act in our time and trust in God’s timing. I imagine this will be a lifelong process.

(See: How to embrace the tension between our time and God’s timing)

Point your compass North and just keep stepping

For all of the above insight to apply, you must already be pointed in the right direction. God’s written Word about his will for life and godliness is our “North star.” (His will for you will never contradict his Word.)

If you’re not pointing North seeking God in obedience to Scripture, you won’t discover the right direction for your life. But if you’re pointing North, then step forward and keep stepping.


Resources:

Here are a few verses that have guided my thoughts. Each opens in Bible Hub, where you can view various versions and even click on related Scripture for further study.

5-day Jumpstart Prayer Challenge

This free 5-day set of emails is offered to help you focus and gain perspective, leading you through a specific prayer each day. Click to sign up. or click the image below for more information.

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Encouraging YOU as YOU Inspire Others,

Christi
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ChristiHow to discern God’s will: a 7-step process anyone can use

Comments 2

  1. Anonymous

    Thank you so much…. I have always been praying for clarity and wondering where to go with my life but this post I accidentally stumbled upon has given me some direction. God bless you.

  2. Linda

    Christi, this is an inspired post. The is sooo much in it that I love! I hope every reader keeps your 7 points for reference. This will eye-openeing for many, and a great source of encouragement for all. Thank you so much for sharing what you have learned. Hugs from over the seas.

You have something worth saying!