What is God’s will for my life?
The question is an important, if not all-important one. If God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives, as that old evangelistic tract puts it, then we need to know what His plan is. We don’t want to miss out on the wonderfulness, after all.
And yet, some Christians experience anxiety when it comes to God’s will. This seems to arise from two sources: First, the belief that God’s will is hard to find. Second, the belief that God’s will is easy to fall out of and difficult to get back into.
If God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives, however, I doubt anxiety is the emotion Christians are supposed to feel. In fact, I know it’s not.
Our anxiety arises from false beliefs. The first step toward relieving anxiety so we can do God’s will is to correct those beliefs. One passage that has helped me do that in my own life is Micah 6:6–8:
With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
We learn five things about God’s will from these verses: God’s will is (1) known, (2) not religious activity, (3) doing the right thing, (4) doing the right thing when wronged, and (5) sticking close to God.
Let’s look at each in turn
First and foremost, God’s will is known because God has made it known. As Micah 6:8 puts it, “He has shown you.” God’s will is not a riddle to be solved, then, but a revelation that already can be seen.
So, when people share with me their worries about finding God’s will, I ask them why. Inevitably, it involves making a difficult decision, and they believe God hasn’t revealed which way He leans, even after their long and earnest prayers. But this implies that God is coy, as if He has a preference but isn’t telling, even though He still expects obedience.
That’s just bad theology. If God wants you to do something, He tells you what it is. He reveals it in the Bible, which is “God-breathed and useful” so that we can be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Or he gives a word of wisdom, knowledge, or prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:8, 10) to show you what He wants you to do.
If neither Scripture nor spiritual gifts reveal what God wants you to do in a specific situation, then perhaps what God wants is for you yourself to make a choice. I cannot help but wonder whether some people seek God’s will as a way to avoid the burden of responsible decision-making.
Not Religious Activity
So, God’s will is known. And based on Micah 6:6–7, we know that God’s will is not religious activity as an end in itself.
Notice Micah’s three rhetorical questions: (1) “Shall I come before [God] with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?”(2) “Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?” (3) “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
The sacrificial system was the preeminent form of religious activity in the Old Testament. It occurred at the Temple under the close supervision of priests and Levites. The three questions involve an escalation of sacrifice, culminating in child sacrifice —which the Bible actually condemns (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2, 4). When religious activity becomes an end in itself, it always becomes extreme.
But notice that the implied answer to all three questions is “No!” God’s will is not more sacrifice, not more religious activity.
Why? For two reasons: First, religious activity that doesn’t result in moral transformation is worthless. In Hosea 6:6, Micah’s contemporary says this on God’s behalf, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” Jesus says the same thing in Matthew 9:13.
Second, Christ has offered a once-for-all sacrifice for sins. Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” If Christ’s sacrifice accomplishes God’s plan, we don’t need to continue offering sacrifices, for that implies Christ hasn’t done His job.
In a lifetime of involvement with church, I’ve come across people who seem to think that they’ll experience the wonderfulness God has planned for them as long as they do all the religious things: read their Bible and pray daily, attend church weekly, tithe regularly, put a Jesus bumper sticker on their car, or whatever.
Such things can be useful as a means to an end, but they’re not the end themselves. And if they don’t result in “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), they’re worthless, and you might as well stop them.
So, God’s will is known, and it is not religious activity as an end in itself. What is it, then?
Doing the Right Thing
Micah 6:8 reveals God’s will, and the first item on the list is “act justly.”
Justice means more than not harming someone. You don’t have to do anything at all to not harm someone. That’s passivity, not justice.
I like this note on Amos 5:7 from the ESV Study Bible as an explanation of biblical justice:
Justice (Hb. mishpat) is much more than legal equity; it refers to the entire scope of God’s government of his world. Thus, to “do justice” involves, on the part of government, a fair and just use of power and proper functioning of a fair judicial system, especially to protect the weak from the strong. On the part of individuals, “justice” involves honest and fair business dealings and faithfulness to keep one’s word, as well as not taking advantage of the poor or those with less power or protection.
In other words, justice means being proactive, taking responsibility to do the right thing.
Years ago, I preached a sermon on helping the poor, and can I say — as a preacher — that I knocked it out of the park? I held people in rapt attention, I received good feedback from the audience, and everyone left talking about what I’d said.
And then a homeless twenty-something came up afterward and said he needed a place to stay. Now, although I lived in town, I was a guest preacher at that church. I had a birthday party to attend with my then girlfriend. And the church’s pastors had quickly left to go to the same party. It was just me, the youth, and the janitor who was waiting for us to leave so he could lock up.
It’s easy to preach the right thing, but harder to do it. God wants the doing more than the preaching, however. So, I took the homeless guy to the party (Go ahead, invite me to yours!), let him sleep on my couch that night, and put him on a bus home the next morning.
I didn’t have to pray about finding God’s will in that situation. I just had to do the right thing in front of me. That’s always God’s will.
Doing the Right Thing When Wronged
Next, Micah 6:8 says God’s will is, “love mercy.” More than justice, mercy pushes us close to the heart of God. In Hebrew, the word for mercy is hesed. Hesed gets translated many ways: “mercy,” “lovingkindness,” “steadfast love.”
Hesed is often used to describe God’s relationship to the righteous. But it is most powerful when it is used to describe his relationship with the unrighteous. Consider, for example, Psalm 51:1–2, David’s prayer after Nathan pointed out his adultery with Bathsheba:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love [hesed]; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
If God shows mercy to sinners, which means to us, shouldn’t we be merciful to people who wrong us?
Hesed is more than something we do, however. It is a personal attribute of God. One of the foundational theological texts of the Old Testament is Exodus 34:6–7:
The LORD passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.
We often get caught up on that last verse, describing God’s punishment to “the third and fourth generation.” It’s a hard verse, but our sins have consequences that outlive us. Notice the most important thing, however: God’s mercy extends to “thousands,” but His judgment stays in the one-digit figures. “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
If mercy is a personal attribute of God, it must be an attribute of God’s people, too. I think that’s why Micah says “lovemercy,” not “do mercy.” It’s not enough to have mercy on someone. We must want to have mercy on them as well. Like God, our being must be merciful.
Sticking Close to God
Finally, according to Micah 6:8, God’s will is “to walk humbly with your God.”
To me, Micah’s order of presentation — justice then mercy then humility — is intentional. It moves from outward expression to inward motivation, from effect to cause. In other words, you cannot “act justly” and “love mercy” unless you “walk humbly” with God.
Humility is a much-maligned virtue, both in biblical times and today. We live in a celebrity culture that is endlessly self-promoting. And if you’re endlessly self-promoting, you’ve got to have an incredibly high view of the self you’re promoting.
I think part of the reason for this is that we have a mistaken view of what humility is. Humility does not mean that you have a low view of yourself. It simply means that you have a higher view of God.
Specifically, it means that you approach God from the point of need. You need grace, you need guidance, you need help, you need healing, you need life, you need love. You need that wonderful plan for your life.
God has all these things. So walk with Him, humbly.
To “walk humbly” requires hearing from God and speaking with Him. That’s why private and public worship are so important. They put us in communion with God on a daily basis.
If you prioritize anything in your life, then, prioritize your relationship with God. It’s the wellspring of everything else you’ll do.
So what is God’s will? You know it. God has shown it. It’s not religious activity as an end in itself, but it is justice, mercy, and humility.
Do the right thing. Do the right thing when wronged. Stick close to God.
That’s what God requires of us all.
P.S. I wrote this article for InfluenceMagazine.com. It is posted here with permission.