Knowing God's Will

Jesus told us to pray to the father "thy will be done". What do you mean when you pray that? Since God's decreed will is done regardless, and we know Jesus did not ask us to pray for something meaningless, then why pray this? James 5:16 says in part, "...The prayer o a righteous man is powerful and effective." (NIV) Since Ephesians 1:11 says things already conform with the purpose of God's will, how is James 5:16 true?

This paper discusses the distinct facets of God's will, then the revealed and secret aspects, the concepts of providence and concurrence, and finally our response. The last half of this page, entitled "Knowing God's Will for You", discusses finding specifically what god wants for you.

Four Facts of God's Will

A will is that which chooses to do, desire, or permit something. The word "will" has multiple facets, as shown by the following true story. During the American Revolution, George Washington had a friend who was guilty of spying for the British. Now Washington loved his friend, but Washington chose not to try to intervene with the justice of the military court, and his friend was executed by hanging. So, was it Washington's will that his friend die or not?

Washington had a desire to free his friend. However, he also wished his friend was not a spy. Washington had a greater desire to se4e justice done, and Washington's permissive will let the hanging occur. Actually there are four distinct facets of God's will.

DECREED WILL: God is Almighty, and His decrees are a means to accomplish His plan.
All God decrees happens. Isa 14:24,27;43:13;55:11; Jn 10:26-28. God is sovereign over all. Isa 6:5; Ps 103:14
God does as He pleases. Mt 20:15; Ps 115:3; Ps 135:6; Rom 9:20
Nothing is too hard for God. Gen 18:14; Job 42:2; Jer 32:17; Mt 19:26
None can thwart God's decrees. Isa 43:13; Rom11:29
The only things God cannot do are: deny Himself. (2 Tim 2:13), lie (Heb 6:18; 1 Sam 15:29), or be tempted by evil. (James 1:13)

ULTIMATE WILL: An ultimate goal God has is raising children who will glorify Him and live forever with Him in Heaven. God uses His decrees, expresses His commands, and word behind the scenes to accomplish His plan. Many people combine God's decreed will and ultimate will, which is fine, because both are actually "Decreed". However, decreed and ultimate will are distinguished in this paper to highlight that God both decrees the means and the ends. Furthermore, His ultimate will is what God desires, including secrete as well as revealed desires.
Everything that occurs, good and bad, is woven together as part of God's plan. Eph 1:11; Rom 8:28
Every "decision of the lot" is from God. Prov 16:4,33
All things come from God, are through God, and exist through God. Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 8:6; Rev 4:11

DESIRED WILL: God desires good things, and God allows things that break His heart. This is superset of God's commanded will, God commands what He desires, even if the desire is solely to satisfy the demands of justice.
We have the freedom to do many things outside of God's desired will. Ezek 8; Mt 23:37-39
God does not delight in the death of the wicked, but rather desires that they turn form their wickedness and live. Ezek 18:23,32; 33:11; 2 Pet 3:9; 1 Tim 2:4-5

PERMISSIVE WILL: Within limits, and for a period of time, God allows people to do tings He does not desire. God allows people who reject Him to suffer the eternal consequences in Hell. One can also call this concept allowed will, or "delegated sovereignty".
God knows all; the end from the beginning, and who the elect were before any were born. 1 Jn 3:20; Isa 46:10; Ps 139:16; Rom 9:10-23; 8:29; Eph 1:4; Pr 15:3
Nothing occurs beside what God allows. Job 1:12; 2:6; James 4:15
Many succeed in resisting God's commanded/desired will. Acts 7:39,51; 4:11; 13:46; 14:2; 2 Cor 6:1
Some, such as the Pharisees in Lk 7:13; rejected God's purpose for themselves.
We sometimes act on our own initiative. 2 Cor 8:17
Some people did things, like infant sacrifices, that did not enter [originate in] God's mind. Jer 19:5 32:35

While the vast majority of Christians believe in God's permissive will, a few Calvinists deny this. However, other Calvinists, such as the late Charles Hodge of Princeton Theological Seminary agrees with most Christians: "God never decrees to do, or to cause others to do what He forbids. He may, as we see He does, decree to permit what He forbids. He permits men to sin, although sin is forbidden." (Charles Hodge quote in Curt Daniel's Dissertation p.230). Thus, since God did not desire evil, and God did not decree evil, but only decreed to permit evil, then His desired will and decreed will, is distinct from His permitted will.

Within what God has willed to permit, He decrees commands, and acts to accomplish His ultimate plan.

Two Aspects of God's Will

We must humbly remember, God has not told us everything about His will. In particular, God's will has:

A REVEALED ASPECT: God has told us some things He has decreed, and He has told us what pleases Him.
We do not know all about infinite God, but we proclaim what He has revealed. Ecc 3:11; 11:5; Dt 29:29; Rom 10:14-15; 11:33-34; 15:14; 1 Cor 2:9-16; Job 38:42:6; Eph 1:9; 1 John 5:20
God is responsive; His revealed will, actions, feelings and love toward people may change when their will and actions change. Ezek 33:12-20; Gen 20:3-7,22; Acts 27:10,24
While the secret things belong to God, God has given the revealed things to us. Dt 29:29

SECRET ASPECT: God knows in advance everyone who will be saved and lost (Rom 9:22-23; Pr 16:4). God knows in advance every day of our lives (Psalm 139). About the only thing we can say for certain about God's secret will, also called hidden will, is that it does not contradict what God has revealed.

These two complementary ways of viewing God's will are neither scriptural nor against scripture. Rather, they are simply a convenient, simplified way to see some aspects of God's will. Some people confuse the aspects of God's will, combining the secret with the decreed/ultimate, the revealed with the desired, and denying the permissive. However, this is not valid, as God has told us some of His decrees, so those are not secret. Furthermore, God may have certain things He desires of a person that they will not see until the time is right. It is right to speak of God's revealed and secret aspects of His will. However, when one leaves out the fact that God permits things that break His heart (permissive will), then one is left with God having two wills, and one working contrary to the other, as the Calvinist A.W. Pink unfortunately does in The Sovereignty of God p.245 and other places.

Scripture gives many examples of two ways of God's will working that we do not have simple natural terms for, so theologians have invented two terms as succinct descriptors for these two concepts: providence and concurrence.

PROVIDENCE is the word to describe the concept that God orchestrates everything that occurs as part of His plan. Providence can be defined in two ways, though both definitions are equivalent.

Everything that happens, good and evil, is allowed by God, and is worked together as a part of His plan.

Nothing happens, good or evil, beyond what God will permit, or that God cannot ultimately use for His glory.

CONCURRENCE is the word to describe that someone may do something for a reason, even an evil purpose, and God specifically used this event for a good purpose. Joseph told his brothers that they meant his enslavement for evil, but God meant it for good. Pharaoh's evil choices were his responsibility, yet God raised up Pharaoh ultimately to bring glory to Him by bringing the Israelites out of Egypt.

Resting Secure in God's Providence

Romans 8:28 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible: "For we know that in all things, God works together for good for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose."

When Christians realize, in our inner being, that God will not let a single thing happen to us, except what He both allows, and know He will work together for good, we can see how foolish our fears and insecurities are. When God says He is our rock, He is not joking around.

There is no reason to hold back in your service to God. There is no reason to give Him any less than your best, so do not give God less than your best (Mt 6:33; 2 Cor 13:9,11; 1 Cor 9:24; 15:58; Php 3:12-16)

We do not need to worry about the results, we need to be concerned about our faithful, consistent obedience. 2 Peter 1:5-8 shows that obedient believers can be confident and content that they will be effective doing God's will.

We must not be idle or lazy. 1 Th 5:14; 2 Th 3:6-12; Pr 6:6-11; 12:24,27; 15:19; Ecc 11:6; Tt 3:14. Knowing that God has everything in His hands is no excuse for us to be lazy. Rather, knowing that God uses our work as a means to His ultimate ends gives eternal significance to what we do. Be careful how you spend your time. Work hard for the Lord. (Eph 5:15-16; Php 2:20-21)

Nevertheless, all of our plans, without God, are only as sandcastles the ocean waves sweep away. All of our plans are contingent on God's will. James 4:13-16; Pr 27:1; Pr 16:9; Lk 12:15-21

Many mysterious aspects of God's will are still mysteries to us. However, the aspects revealed to us, are more certain about than anything else we can discover. We can be more certain, not because of our ability, but because of God's ability to communicate with us.

God promises He will guide, correct, and comfort us (1 Th 4:8; Jn 14:15-18; 25-26; 16:12-15; Rom 8:9-16). How are we to listen to specifically God's guidance? That is the subject of the next paper.

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Knowing God's Will For you

Whom should I marry? What job should I have? Where should I go on the mission field? Can I rest assured that God will never let me make a wrong choice? These questions boil down to one important question many Christians ask: "how can I know God's will for me?"

The paper "Knowing God's Will" discussed the will of God in general. However, Christians want to know how to discover God's specific will for their life. While we cannot hope to tell you personally, this paper gives some help on how to find out what God wants you to know.


To know God's will, you have to know God. If you do not have a daily walk with Him, then discovering God's will is easy: have fellowship with Him daily, and then He will tell you additional things to do.

Instead of "seeking God's will", we are commanded to do a very similar thing: "find out what pleases the Lord." Instead of seeking for God to fulfill His promised responsibility of guiding us, we should first seek to fulfill our responsibility of seeking God. In the Bible, we see God, seemingly out of nowhere, guiding those in constant fellowship with Him. God said, "set apart for me Barnabas and Saul" in Acts 13:2.

Verses that tell us our goal is to please God include Heb 11:5-6; 13:16,21; Eph 5:10; Col 1:10; Hag 1:8; Isa 65:12; Rom 2:29; 8:8; P{hp 4:18; 1 Jn 3:22; Prov 16:10.

Many times we have to choose whether to please God or man, and we should be God-pleasers first, according to Gal 1:10; Jn 12:43; and 1 Th 2:4.


God probably wants to tell us His will more than we want to know His will. However, His priorities are not always our priorities. It is very curious that the situation of seeking God's specific will is not often encountered in the Bible. When choosing one to fill Judas' place in Acts 1:21-26 prior to Pentecost, the apostles sought God's will, but many Christians think their method, of casting lots, was a good one.

Some Verses to Help With God's Will

Many decision should be easy for believers to make, because God has already spoken clearly on the topic.

2 Cor 6:14 Do not be yoked with unbelievers

This applies to many things, including marriage, dating, and business partnerships. It does not apply to employees serving a non-Christian enterprise, as the Bible's examples of Joseph and Daniel show.

1 Thess 5:22: Avoid every form of evil. The Greek word for form eidos, can also mean appearance, fashion, shape, or sight. It comes form the word for "view".

James 4:17: Whoever knows what is good and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

Rom 14:23: for whatever is not of faith is sin

Col 3:17: And whatsoever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him

1 Cor 6:18-20: glorify God in your body

Isa 2:5 Walk in the light of the Lord, and in God's ancient way (Jer 6:16)

Isa 30:21: "And your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, "This is the way, walk in it, when you turn to the right or the left"

1 Cor 10:24: Do not seek your own good, but the good of others.

Php 2:3 Everyone should consider others as better [more important] than themselves

1 Cor 8:1 Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up

The Science of Human Decision-making

There is a small scientific discipline that studies how humans actually make decisions. Here is one example: see how you would decide.

You have two options: the first is that you make $1,000, no matter what. Option 2 is that you have a 100% change of making $10,000, and a 90% chance of making nothing. Which would you take?

Here is a second situation: Option 1 is you lose $1,000 no matter what. Option 2 is that you have a 10% change of losing $10,000, and a 90% chance of losing nothing. Which would you take?

If you answered differently on both, then how you make the same decision can be influenced on whether it is presented to you as a possible gain, or an avoiding loss.

Another article discussed what factors made a risk of hazardous chemicals acceptable to a community, vs. unacceptable. They found over twenty factors, such as familiarity, time the plant was in the community, etc. that had nothing whatsoever to do with the actual risk.

One of the conclusions of the science of decision-making is that humans are essentially irrational creatures, with a thin outside veneer of rationality.

It is good to study this, and know some of the traps of human decision-making. However, then can be so many taps, that it does not give us much hope that we can make good decisions. This may be one of many reasons why humility is important for us. Like sheep, we are not too good at making decision. Perhaps one reason God does not want us to judge others, is that we would not be very good at it anyway.

In conclusion, without God's help, even believers can end up making simply horrible decisions.

God Sometimes Wants Us to Make Decisions

Nevertheless, as crazy as it may sound, God sometimes wants us to make decisions. In the Bible, by God's grace, many people made decisions, choosing God in Josh 24:22 (not just 24:14,15), Jn 7:17; Isa 56:4; Ps 119:30,173l Dt 30:19.

One time, when I was going to college for an engineering degree, and working during the summer, I had the opportunity to leave my job as a plumber's apprentice, where I shared the gospel frequently, and work for a large semi-conductor company. Give this break, I prayed to God about this, and waited on God for an answer. I believe the Lord spoke to me and gave me a definitive answer: "you decide". Since it was up to me, I left the plumbing job and worked at the semi-conductor manufacturer. The rest of the summer, I had a job I did not like very much, and no opportunity whatsoever to share the Gospel. The next year I worked at the same company, and I had many opportunities to do interesting things, and I also shared the Gospel many times. In retrospect, I believe I decided wrong, because I only looked at career opportunities.

God let me make that mistake to train me. While life on earth is a test, and it is also an opportunity to help others, it is also training, both for this life, and perhaps for the life to come. God can even use our mistakes, as he used Joshua's mistake with the Gibeonites in Josh 9.

In conclusion, even when we are walking with God, God sometimes let's us make wrong decisions. However, when we are trying to please God, God will protect us from making decisions so wrong that the results can never please Him.

Characteristics of Godly Decisions

People today have many more decisions to make than in ancient times. Our parents do not typically tell us whom to marry. We have many more choices available for a career. We can go to college, we can invest money in various ways, and there are many things we can buy.

Fortunately, the art of decision-making has progressed some since ancient times, too. But how does godly decision-making differ from regular decision-making. I believe it differs in three ways.

Humility: We realize that on our own we are not any better than others who have made very foolish decisions.

Asking: Seeing our need drives us to ask God to help us make decisions, that we would arrive at a decision that pleases God, sometimes even in spite of ourselves.

Priorities and Factors: In addition to common decision-criteria we share with non-Christians, we have additional factors of sharing the Gospel, not giving the appearance of evil, and ultimately pleasing God and glorifying Him. Before we make any major decision, we should first ask, "What would Jesus do?"

In addition, there are certain factors we should never consider, such as how to get revenge, how to hurt someone, or how to exalt yourself and feed your pride.

How to Find God's Specific Will

1. Read God's Word. Has God already spoken plainly about this? For example, if our body is a temple, we are to preserve it, then smoking cigarettes and doing drugs are never God's desired will for us.

2. Check your priorities. Do you ask the right questions?

3. Pray to ask God for help.

4. Seek the counsel of mature believers

5. Seek the counsel of parents, even non-Christian ones

6. Do not be paralyzed, decide. Some tools for decision-making are a decision-matrix, a tree diagram, and prudence in seeing the decision form all perspectives.


What if you already made some big decisions, and you already messed up? God has a special promise for you in Eph 1:11 and Romans 8:28. God works all things according to His will, and He is mighty enough to work all things together for good for those who love Him.

1 Peter 4:2 tells us we should live for God's will. We know that we are supposed to please God in our actions, words, and thoughts. Choose to have your decision-making be another area to please Him.

For more info please contact Christian Debater™ P.O. Box 144441 Austin, TX 78714

by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.