Real Life Loading...™

How to Know God’s Will

with Shelby Abbott | June 7, 2024
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Ever wonder about what God wants for your life—how to know God's will? Feeling lost or anxious about what's next? Shelby Abbott shares rock-solid wisdom to navigate uncertainties, find direction in work, school, and missions. Whether you're picking a career, sorting out relationships, choosing a major, eyeing mission work, or just facing big changes, Shelby offers guidance to help you discern God's will and steer through life to find real purpose.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Shelby Abbott

    Shelby Abbott is an author, campus minister, and conference speaker on staff with the ministry of Cru. His passion for university students has led him to speak at college campuses all over the United States. Abbott is the author of Jacked and I Am a Tool (To Help with Your Dating Life), Pressure Points: A Guide to Navigating Student Stress and DoubtLess: Because Faith is Hard. He and his wife, Rachael, have two daughters and live in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

Lost or anxious about how to know God’s will? Shelby Abbott helps you steer through uncertainties in work, school, and life choices.

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How to Know God’s Will

With Shelby Abbott
June 07, 2024
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Shelby: Somewhat anxious, always authentic, this is Real Life Loading…

I'm your host, Shelby Abbott, and okay, here's a question: What is God's will for my life? I think that's a question that everyone is constantly trying to figure out. They're wondering, what to major in, who to date, how to spend their time, what job should I shoot for after graduation? So, with big life decisions comes really just speculation about what God wants for them. What does God want for me? Like, how should I proceed?

Along with the question often comes fear, fear of the unknown, and fear of making the wrong decision. But finding out what God wants us to do in life really has to begin with asking the right question, and what is God's will for my life, might simply be the wrong question to ask.

Alright, hang with me here. Since this is where most people start, let me explain what I mean. Let's say you and I were trapped inside a house that was burning down. Okay, God forbid. But let's say that were true, and I looked at you and I asked, “Hey, since it's getting hotter in here, do you think I should remove my jacket?”

Now, okay, the question itself is certainly relevant to the specific fact that there's a fire going on, the temperature's rising in the house, and maybe my jacket should be removed. But, if I asked this question in the context I've just described, it would be idiotic, because I would be missing the more obvious situation at hand.

Who cares about whether or not my jacket should be removed? The house is burning down! In other words, there's a bigger picture happening here. So clearly the question of whether or not I should take off my jacket is not the most important or pressing issue.

Now, similarly, asking about God's will for your life is maybe asking the wrong question. There's an assumption within the question itself, that we want God to bless us with what we want to make us most happy. Because maybe it's all about my wants or my needs or my desires. The question is asked through, a lot of times, asked through an American cultural value system that places control and comfort and prosperity and individualism and maybe even safety above all else.

So truthfully, the more appropriate question should be, “How does my life fit into God's will?” This is really how to ask the question correctly, because it's taking into account the bigger picture of how God is working in the world. It really assumes the plot of the story isn't about me, but about Him. He is the main character. He's the one doing something amazing in the hearts of people. We should want to know how we can be a part of what's already happening as He's moving. Do you see the difference?

When we ask the question from a God-centered perspective, the entire narrative of our lives shifts toward His will and good rule and away from our own personal agenda. When we rest in His kind of control, our fears are really are quieted. They're dampened down. When we see the larger story happening and our eyes begin to open to the fact that we are not the hero of the story, confusion and frustration no longer really have a tendency to hang over our heads.

So, as I've explained this paradigm shift to many people, the inevitable follow up question is, Okay, if it's about how my life fits into God's will, then what is God's will? Often my answer is to simply encourage the person to read the Scriptures. Loads of passages in the Bible directly talk about or even kind of strongly imply what the will of God is. All we need to do is just pay attention when we read. From Genesis to Revelation we see the unfolding of God's will throughout history because in His Word He reveals what's on His heart, what He wants to accomplish, what His values are. If we have steady input from the Bible, we're able to see and understand how our lives can become a part of what God's plans are for humanity. That really can bring peace to our restless hearts.

When I was at the end of my junior year of college, I could see the close of my time at university coming to an end. It was on the horizon. So, I asked the Lord to lead me to some specific places in Scripture to help alleviate the pressure I was experiencing about what I should do after I graduated. And I had a few options, but I wasn't sure about what to do. And that caused a significant amount of anxiety in my heart.

So, I prayed, and I asked God to use the Scriptures to help me. A piece of the gospel of Matthew in my life clearly led me toward full time missions, where I ended up working and have worked for the last twenty-some odd years. It's from Matthew 9:37 and 38, which says this, “Then he said to his disciples, the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly for the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

So being in college, I knew thousands of my peers were lining up to apply for high paying jobs that would advance their careers and help them to achieve the American dream. Few, however, were lining up to work in God's harvest field as a full time missionary.

Even though I knew missionary work wasn't necessarily higher or better than working for the Lord in the secular field, because that's honorable too, that truth from Matthew 9 specifically struck me in a way that's guided my life ever since. When I made the decision to go on staff with Cru®, I wasn't anxious anymore, because I was confident in the Lord's will for my life at that time.

I wasn't afraid I might be doing the wrong thing, because my decision was totally in line with what the Bible communicated. And as liberating as that confidence in God was, the actual beauty of my decision was coming to the realization that if God's will was distinctly different from what I believed He was leading me toward, He would eventually help me arrive where He wanted me to go. My job simply was to keep my focus on Scripture and remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit. It sounds kind of simple, but it's just actually true.

A good friend of mine and a mentor, his name's Roger Hershey. We just call him Hersh. He travels and teaches college students how to make biblical decisions in light of figuring out their futures. So, whenever he speaks on the topic, he goes through a few, what he calls, subjective means of helping to determine God's will, when it comes to simple decision making.

If you feel you haven't really sensed anything from God, after both reading through Scripture and heartfelt prayer, Hersh offers suggestions on how to ask a few questions as you prayerfully weigh the options that you've got in front of you. He always says these subjective means questions are helpful, but they're not authoritative when you want to decide what to do.

They've been extremely helpful for me too, so I thought it'd be kind of cool to share these with you in light of the fact that you might not be “hearing from God” when you want to make a decision. Here's the first question to consider. It's this, Do I feel as if I have a peace about something?

Maybe you've asked that question before. Do I have a peace about this? You know, I've certainly told a number of people on quite a few occasions that I've had a peace about the choices that I've made in my life. If there was angst in my soul or negative emotions regarding a decision, it was certainly legitimate for me to say that I didn't have a peace about something.

My sanctified mind, will, and emotions consistently influence my thinking, and rightly so. However, I know all too well that my emotions can also go haywire from time to time. The real question to be asking is, Do I have a peace about something because it's just the most convenient or comfortable thing, or is the peace I have God’s peace? It's super important to discern the difference between those two.

The Bible is always the source we should rely on in relation to the search for peace. In other words, if it conflicts with Scripture, it shouldn't matter how I feel, because It's wrong. As Christians, our ultimate authority is and always will be the Word of God, and we should always filter our lives through its Holy Spirit inspired words.
If we don't, the “peace” we think we have will become our authoritative means of decision making, and that's certainly, really, it's just unsteady ground to stand on. If I'm choosing something that clearly goes against what the Bible commands, it's not the correct impression -plain and simple.

It shouldn't matter what my emotions or my urges tell me to do. If they're in direct violation of biblical direction, I need to know that they are wrong. I know testing our impressions of peace against the Word of God should be pretty simple, but as many of us know, people constantly make excuses for why what they feel should be more important than what Scripture says.

From where I stand, this is the number one reason why our modern society is in such confusion about truth. Culture places personal feelings at the highest level of importance, when you're trying to figure out your choices in life. When our feelings outweigh everything else, the bedrock of our decision making will always be shaky.

Feelings are fickle. They just are. They go up and down all the time. Should the compass I put my faith in be a variable with as much instability as the human emotional rollercoaster? Probably not. Emotions are important. Sure. Of course they are, but they should not be the factor I base my life on. Regardless of how much importance our culture places on them.

We also need to test our feelings of peace or even anxiety against the wise counsel of other believers. I really can't overstress this point. During my years growing up as a believer, I've known so many people who have tried to go after a number of different things, whether it be career choices or dating partners or social options, or whatever. They ignore the godly counsel of other people around them. And that really only leads to destruction time and time again.

A close friend of mine named Rob dropped a bomb on me and a few others in our collective friend group when he told us one evening, he was thinking about getting a divorce from his wife after only being married for two years. When he said that, it was really jarring for us, as I was one of his groomsmen in his wedding. So, my other friends and I advised him not to head down the road that he was going down and instead try to work it out with his wife. Sadly, our words kind of fell on deaf ears and he filed for divorce a few months later.

He spent the better part of the last fifteen years or so running away from God in a lifestyle of partying all the time. For many years, nearly every picture I saw that he posted online was characterized, frankly by selfish ambition, drinking a ton, and recklessness. He wasted so much time running away from God and ignoring the godly wisdom of his friends, that he really had no longer any kind of recognizable relationship with Christ.

When we were younger, Rob was the guy I co-led a Bible study with, someone I went on missions trips with, and a person I looked up to spiritually. Dangerous things can happen when we don't surround ourselves with women and men who walk with Jesus and are “annoying enough” to tell us When they see us on a wrong path in life. Our blind spots are by nature blind, and we need someone to lovingly point them out to us.

Sure, we might hate what they have to say in the moment when they call us out. But as we pursue godliness, we will thank them later on for helping us stay on the straight and narrow. Feelings of peace about a decision are great, but we need to test them against number one, Scripture, and number two, the wise counsel of godly input.

The other subjective means question to help determine God's will in decision making is this. Ready? Am I relying on an open door, closed door means of grace? So, Hersh, the guy I mentioned earlier, certainly calls this means of understanding God's will legitimate, and even gives a biblical example of that from Acts 16, when the Spirit of Jesus really stopped Paul from going in a certain direction, and God directed Paul to instead plant a church in Philippi.

So sure, when God closes a door, maybe He opens other doors for us. And we should pay attention to that. But when we rely on just those means completely as authoritative, it can also be problematic. For example, there might be multiple doors to pursue in certain situations. So, how do I know which one to go through? Or, maybe, more importantly, how do I know that a certain closed door might be an opportunity for God to show up and bring glory to His name in an incredible way?

Moses, standing in front of the Red Sea, looked like a pretty big, closed door, right? Lazarus dying was a fairly definitive closed door. Joseph, sitting in a prison cell after his brothers sold him into slavery, that felt like a huge, closed door. And Christ on the cross, as defeated and done, probably looked like a gigantic, closed door to the disciples. But what were all of those in reality? They were opportunities for God to bring glory to Himself in ways nobody could have ever imagined.

So, subjective means of determining God's will for our lives are helpful. Yes, they are, but they should not be authoritative. When we are mentally and emotionally pressed to try to figure out the Lord's will for our lives, it can be extremely stressful. It really can. I get it. Stress can lead us to unsteady ground, if we aren't careful and intentional about how we step forward in life.

But as each of us mentally Google the question, what does God want me to do? Or what's God's will for my life? Let's not forget we are part of His bigger story. And in light of that grace filled fact, we need to view ourselves in the proper perspective. He is God, and we are not. It's His story, it's not ours.

Alright, decision time. Making choices can create significant pressure for many of us. Especially when we're highly aware of the countless options to choose from in the various streams of life. Like this stuff that's right in front of us and stuff that we know is like really far ahead of us in life. And technology has seen to it that we are hyper aware of the millions of decisions available to us, because technology thrives on the ability for people to have options. That's what the internet has really done for us, social media in particular.

The freedom to choose and customize our lives is great when it comes to smartphones and selling smartphones. But it can be a significant catalyst for stress and anxiety when someone has trouble wading through the ocean of choices technology throws at us.

I know in the past I've asked God to simply like ping me in some mystical way and let me know what I'm supposed to do to avoid the inevitable pressure that comes with important decision making. But it's not about God pinging me with some supernatural clairvoyance so I can coast through life without burdens.

Your time on this earth was never about sitting around and waiting for God to ping you and tell you what to do. We really shouldn't give in to the sinful desire to be passive, because passivity requires no faith. When we're intentional, however, we move out in faith, and trust God will lead us as we use the mind He has given us to make decisions with initiative.

Faith is not waiting around until you're one hundred percent sure about what you're supposed to do. There's no faith in that, right? It just doesn't make sense. When we trust Him and believe He will lead us, however, there's risk involved. But living in faith is always the sweet spot of life for a Christian.

Now, you might ask, what if I fail? Or what if I make a wrong decision? What happens then? Well, just as we take steps of faith and trust God that He'll lead us, we really have to have faith that He's big enough to cover over our mistakes when we make them. Not if we make them, when we make them.

Remember when Peter cut off the ear of that guy named Malchus, the High Priest’s servant, who was coming to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? What happened when Peter pulled out his sword and made that mistake, when he cut off that guy's ear? Do you remember? Jesus reached out and touched the servant's ear and healed him. You can find this story in Luke 22.

So yes. I think God can cover over quite well all of your mistakes. If I'm honest, I've lopped off a lot of ears in my days of ministry. Metaphorically of course. I haven't been stabbing people. But I've screwed up a lot. I've made a ton of mistakes. But Jesus can correct and use us even in the midst of our poor decision making.

For another example, look at Jonah. This prophet, this guy who's supposed to be the mouthpiece of God, wasn't even following the Lord's will. And God still used him. In the midst of Jonah's rebellion by going to Tarshish instead of Nineveh, God used Jonah to lead a group of pagan sailors to Himself. And then, he swallowed Jonah up, through the fish, and spit him back out in the right direction. And He could do the same for you.

Your job is to take steps of faith and start to move. Even in the midst of stress or confusion, your confidence isn't necessarily in yourself and what you're capable of doing, but in God who loves you and wants you to flourish where He leads you to go, and He leads you to grow. Trust in him in this process.

When you ask that question, How does my life fit into God's will? Trust that He's going to lead you and make just honest, frankly maybe even stupid decisions as you move forward. He's going to lead you. Just ask Him to go with you along in the process. And know that He's walking alongside of you every step of the way. You can trust Him in that process because He's with you, not because you need to make the “right decision.”

If you liked this episode of Real life Loading… or thought it was helpful, I'd love for you to share today's podcast with a friend. Wherever you get your podcasts, it can really advance what we're doing with Real life Loading…, if you'd rate and review us. It's way easy to find us on our social channels. Just search for Real life Loading or look for our link tree in the show notes.

I want to thank everybody on the Real life Loading team. You guys are just awesome. I'm Shelby Abbott, and I'll see you back next time on Real life Loading...

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