You don’t need handwriting in the sky in order to discover God’s will for your life. Today, Barry Cooper helps us to distinguish between the revealed and hidden will of God and what we can know about both.
How can you discover God’s will for your life?
On my website once, I posted a spoof news item which was taken from a satirical website. The headline was “Man, 91, Dies Waiting for Will of God.”
It was meant to be a joke poking fun at the way many Christians think that we need to pray and pray and pray for God to supernaturally and unmistakably reveal His will for our life before we can actually do anything.
However, something strange happened. Some visitors to my blog didn’t realize it was a joke. They thought it was true.
Take this comment, left by a Christian man called Evan: “Oh man, this hit me hard. . . . Dang if I didn’t have to get up and walk around in the middle of reading this tragic post. . . . [It] made me cry.”
I did feel a bit guilty about making Evan cry, but actually, that is an entirely appropriate response to this idea that we somehow can’t make decisions about who to date, who to marry, where to live, and where to work unless God gives us some kind of clear supernatural “nudge” or inward “impression.”
So how can we know God’s will for our lives in any given situation?
Biblically speaking, God’s will is spoken of in two ways. There’s what theologians call “the revealed will of God,” and there’s also what’s known as “the hidden will of God.” You see both referred to in Deuteronomy chapter 29, verse 29, which says: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
“The things that are revealed”—this is what theologians mean when they talk about “the revealed will of God.” God has revealed His will for our lives by giving us His law, His commandments.
What is His will for your life? That you should obey His commands. As long as you are obeying His commands as you make your decisions, you have great freedom in the specific options you can choose.
Search for the phrase “God’s will” in the New Testament, and you’ll find passages such as 1 Thessalonians 4:3, which tells us: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.” The overwhelming testimony of Scripture is not that we lose sleep desperately looking inside ourselves for God’s mysterious “prompting,” but rather that we look to His Word for guidance as to how we should live.
One writer summed it up like this: “What is the will [of God]? Is it some specific, secret plan God has for us and wants us to spend days, weeks, even years discovering? Not at all. Rather it consists of a sober life, living in the power of the Holy Spirit, and offering praise and gratitude to God for his goodness.”
So that’s the revealed will of God. But there’s also the hidden will of God.
And it’s true: God does have a secret will for your life. As it says in Deuteronomy 29:29, there are “The secret things [that] belong to the Lord”—this is what theologians are referring to when they talk about the hidden will of God.
But the thing about the hidden will of God is that it is hidden. These “secret things” belong to the Lord, and God does not intend for us to know them, no matter how hard we might pray that He would reveal them to us. John Calvin said that when God “closes his holy mouth, let us also stop the way, that we may not go farther.”
God’s will is that we put aside both passivity and perfectionism where it comes to decision-making, seek guidance in His Word (supplemented by the wisdom of wise Christians around us), and then, when all is said and done, trust Him.
You don’t need handwriting in the sky to be able to “remain in God’s will.”
So, for example, what is God’s will for you regarding something like marriage? His will—as revealed in His Word—is that if you’re a guy, you should date only Christian women. If you find one you like and she likes you too, and the wise Christian people around you don’t see any red flags, then feel free to marry without fretting that you are somehow outside of God’s will.
For your job, if you find a profession you enjoy, that you are competent at, that meets your needs, and is lawful according to God’s will, feel free to take the job.
In all things, ask the Lord for wisdom and then apply the principles of God’s Word when choosing between options. If you make your choice according to wisdom and aren’t sinning in making the choice, you need not worry. You don’t need a sign from heaven to know God’s will.
As long as you are seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, enjoy the freedom you have in Christ.