Spiritual Discernment | The Journey of Discovering the Will of God

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In a post last week, I made a passing reference to something I called a ‘discernment journal’.

I’ve had a few follow up comments and emails, so I want to elaborate on what I believe is the process whereby one can discover God’s will for his or her own life.

Foundational Beliefs/ Assumptions

1. God works in different ways during different eras or dispensations of history.

I believe we live in a time of history when God shares his will and purpose through the subtlety of life, not in direct visions or revelations.

Our time is like the time of Samuel:

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. 1 Samuel 3:1 (NIV) 

Our time is like the time of Esther who had to discern the will of God:

And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this? Esther 4:14b (NIV)

God may, of course, choose to communicate any way he wishes, but I believe it is primarily through subtlety.

2. God is at work today, and he has character traits, jobs, tasks, and/or assignments which he wants us to complete on his behalf.

I’m not a Deist. I don’t think God set the world in motion and then took a long vacation. He is here. In our midst. Working. Laboring. Bringing up his Good Work for His purposes.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:11–13 (NIV) 

3. Speaking for God or claiming to be acting under God’s direction is a very HEAVY burden and responsibility.

Today people throw around "God told me" statements as frequently as they enjoy a breath of air.

I believe the Biblical precedent is that if you’re going to claim to be speaking for God, then you’d better be very sure that what you are saying is actually from God.

What we see as hesitancy in some of the great leaders of the Bible may simply be reluctance, or it may also come from a hesitancy to claim to speak for God. 

  • Moses tried some five times to squirm out of his call. But when he went, he had no doubt that God was sending him.
  • Gideon kept asking God to reveal his presence in order to confirm his God ordained call.
  • Jesus himself labored in prayer confirming that the cross was indeed the will of God and that there was not other option.

My point is this – if I’m going to say that God called me to xyz, then I’d better be awfully sure that God was at work in the midst of that event – not that I had too much Coke to drink and my stomach was feeling queasy.

How Does One Determine the Will of God?

Through struggle. Through prayer. Through listening. Through reading. Through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Here’s my situation. I’m trying to decided how God wants me to spend the majority of my time. (We typically call that a job.)  I believe life is a gift from our Creator, and we’ve been made to do good work.

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Ephesians 2:10

I’ve been doing my fair share of reading books that help you discover God’s will for your life. It’s sometimes hard to separate the wisdom of God from the wisdom of man.

Here’s the deal. I’ve got a pretty good sense of what I’d enjoy doing. I know what my passion is.

Still, there were a lot of people in the Bible who were called to do something they loathed.

Jonah is the best example. He was called to go to Nineveh.

Moreover, there were a lot of people in the Bible who were called to do something in which they weren’t gifted.

Moses, with his speech impediments and all, was called to be a public speaker.

As a result, I get sort of leery when I’m told my biggest task is to find our what I love and what I’m good at.  I see where that makes sense.  I even introduced Rick Warren’s SHAPE acronym during a class this week.

S – Spiritual Gifts

H – Heart

A – Ability

P – Personality

E – Experience

But there must be more to it, or it’s just human wisdom.  It’s just human discernment, and our desires control us instead of the will of God.

We must remember the following about the Will of God:

  1. It may have something to do with your passions, and it may not!
  2. It may have something to do with your giftedness, and it may not!
  3. It may be something you enjoy, and it may not.

Too much of how we discern the will of God is human centered and not God centered.

The will of God is discovered by finding the fire in your bones that Jeremiah describes.

But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.  Jeremiah 20:9 (NIV)

Jeremiah’s life was probably pretty miserable.

Before this verse, he was expressing some pretty intense complaints. "Nobody likes me. Nobody loves me. And it’s because of this awful, counter cultural, depressing, message you’ve called me to voice."  In my own homemade translations, Jeremiah goes on to say, "But the pain of not speaking for you is greater than the pain of speaking for you."

That’s where we start to discover what God’s will is for us.  What is the fire in your bones?  Not the thing you’re passionate about, but the thing you know you’d be forsaking if you weren’t doing it.  What is the thing that God would shake his head if he saw you avoiding?  What is the work in the Kingdom that you recognize must be done?

Somewhere in the midst of those questions, we’ll be pointed in the right direction of the will of God.



  1. says

    Craig, I’ve read a lot of your posts. This one is in my mind the most profound thing I’ve read here. Probably my favorite post.

    What you’ve presented here flies in the face of almost all of the “will seeking” teaching I hear these days, and things I’ve even said. I have a hard time imagining that God would call me to something I hate and not use me for things I love doing. You always work better when you love what you’re doing, right?

    And I think it’s just for that reason that your post makes me pause and think. Your examples of Jonah and all of the prophets, really, are fantastic reminders that God doesn’t always call us to what we want to do and sometimes asks us to do things we don’t want to do.

    Thank you for challenging my own thoughts on this.


  2. says

    Interesting article,like many others here…

    Altough i think that God made the earth,made us,gave us free will,gave us a choice and salvation, and now He is letting us make a choice,He doesn’t help us with that(or not in a way we can notice).

    It’s just my opinion.

    Oh and about those that speak the word of God,maybe it’s just me but i higly doubt what they say.

    Have a nice day!

  3. Gary says

    Very aptly written, and issues I’ve struggled with. Seeking Gods will is not easy, just like being a Christian is not easy, but the alternative is unthinkable. As hard as finding his will is, not searching and serving Him is not where I want to be.

  4. says

    I have found that if you make a decision that you believe is God’s will. God will surely allow you to see in that process if it was really His will or your own soulish desires that caused you to make the decision. He’s pretty good at U-turns. :) God can restore any situation and any mistake. He is sovereign.

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