The One Thing You Must Do to Know God’s Will

photo by Ben White at

I once heard an interview with a famous writer who had left her husband. She said that she woke up in the middle of the night and knew that it was “God’s will for her to leave him.” The interviewer praised her for having the courage to follow God’s will and “her truth” by abandoning her marriage.

Discerning God’s will is one of the most important practices that Christians can develop. It’s especially important for With God Leaders because your discernment of God’s will affects the people who you lead.

Paul writes, “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” (Rom. 12:2).

Discerning God’s will is essential on two levels. First, you can learn God’s general will — His desires for all of humanity. You find this throughout Scripture.

It is God’s will for you not to murder (Exo. 20:13).

It is God’s will for you to abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thes. 4:3).

It is God’s will that all humanity be saved (1 Tim. 2:4).

But you may also discover God’s will in a second sense. You can discern God’s specific will — His desires for you in a specific situation. You see this when Jesus prays for the Father’s will to be done in His crucifixion (Matt. 26:39). It is not God’s general will that every person be crucified. But it was the Father’s specific will for the Son.

It is God’s general will that all people live a Great Commission lifestyle (Matt. 28:18–20). But it was God’s specific will for Paul to go to Rome (Acts 19:21). It is not necessarily His specific will that you go to Uzbekistan.

When you say that you want to know God’s will, most of the time you probably mean that you want to know His specific will. But there is a key to discerning His specific will:

You can only discern God’s specific will if:

(1) you understand His general will;

(2) you are familiar with His story; and

(3) you know what His voice sounds like.

The key to all three of these is that you familiarize yourself with the Bible.

1. The Bible helps you understand God’s general will.

God’s specific will never contradict His general will. The more you familiarize yourself with the Bible, the better chance you have to understand His specific will.

The Bible won’t tell you specifically whether you should take the new job offer. But it will help you know:

  • Why God created the world and humanity
  • That work was cursed, even though God created it as a good part of His plan; and
  • That God desires to redeem every square inch of creation.

You need to understand the general will of God as a foundation for understanding His specific will for you.

2. The Bible helps you know God’s story.

The Bible is filled with stories. But the Bible isn’t simply a collection of stories. It is one grand story (sometimes called a meta-narrative).

And you are a character in God’s story!

Stories help you make sense of life. When someone tells you a story, you can relate to it and “see yourself” in the story. God’s story is a huge story. The more you understand it, the more you find yourself in the story. And the more you will be able to discern His will in your story.

3. The Bible helps you know what God’s voice sounds like.

One of the biggest challenges to discerning God’s will is knowing what His voice sounds like. But the Bible gives loads of examples of how God speaks and how people discerned His voice.

The more you familiarize yourself with the Bible, the better you will recognize God’s voice to you in everyday life.

If you want to discern God’s will in everyday life, you need to become familiar with Scripture. This is a lifelong pursuit. But you don’t have to become a Bible expert. You don’t need to go to seminary. You don’t have to read countless books.

These actions can help. But they are not necessary. Even a few minutes a day in Scripture can help you become more familiar.

If you would like a jump start in becoming familiar with the Bible, I recommend two resources:

1. The Drama of Scripture by Bartholomew and Goheen.

This book gives a great overview of the whole Bible’s narrative. It also goes through each book to show how that book advances the plotline of God’s story. It is not easy reading. But it is digestible.

2. Overview of the Bible in 16 minutes.

My co-workers and I at Grace Fellowship recently wrote this 16-minute overview of the Bible. We had whiteboard drawings of it made. It distils the plotline of the whole Bible into 16 minutes.

(A huge shout out to OLLYDAVE at who custom-made the video!)

In order to discern God’s specific will for you, you must understand His general will. To do this, you need to familiarize yourself with the Bible.

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Question: What step can you take to help you become more familiar with God’s voice in the Bible?