3 ways to ‘find’ God’s will

Adapted from Should a Christian Wear Purple Sweat Socks?

Are you wondering what God has in store for your life?

    What classes should I take?

    Should I marry? Whom should I marry?

    Should I get a job and move out of my parent’s basement?

    What job should I go after?

    Now that I’m unemployed, what job should I go after?

    Should I buy a new car or fix up the 1980 Pinto?

    Should I move into assisted living or move in with my son in Peoria?

    Should we pull the plug on Grandpa?

It would be great if God was still in the business of talking verbally to His kids. God talked with Adam and Eve in “the cool of the day.” He spoke to Moses from a burning bush and Mount Sinai. He talked directly to His prophets.

So, we sometimes feel we’re left in the dark.

I began my search for “God will” in third grade.

My Sunday school teacher told the story of Moses and the burning bush. So, I spent the whole afternoon sitting on the back steps waiting for the spirea bush to burst into flames and a booming voice to say, “James Norman Watkins! Yea and verily I sayeth unto thee, take off thine sneakers for thou art standing on holy ground—ground—ground”!

The next week, she told the story of God speaking to the entire Hebrew nation from the smoke and fire of Mount Sinai. So I spent one night staring into a trash burner, but the only I thing I got was sick from smoke inhalation.

And to make my search more frustrating, little old ladies with their hair in big buns would stand up in prayer meeting and say, “The Lord spoke to me. . . .” And so I would sit on the on edge of bed in the dorm and pray fervently, “God, I need to know Your will! I need to know what subjects to take next semester!”

And what happened? Probably same thing that happened to you: Nothing! Zip, zero, nada! Did these little old ladies have their hair pulled too tight?

As I got older, I tried the ever-popular “fleece.” It comes from the story of Gideon when he used an actual sheep fleece to test God. “God, if the fleece is wet and the ground is dry tomorrow morning, I’ll know you want me to serve you.” So God does just that. “Okay, just to be sure, God if the fleece is dry and the ground is wet tomorrow. . . .”

So, a fleece is the reason I’m in the ministry today. I was driving a girl home from a date: a full moon, “The Carpenters” playing on the radio, and she nuzzled up and whispered in my ear.



“Jim . . . I think you’d make a great minister.”

Fortunately, I was able to regain control of the car! So that night, I prayed, “God, is Sandy completely out of her mind or does she have some inside information from You? Please, I need a sign.”

I flipped open my New Testament using the “Columbus Bible Study Method:” discover and land on. It’s not the best way to discern God’s will There’s an old joke about a man who used this method. He closed his eyes, opened his Bible, plopped his finger down on Matthew 27:5: “And Judas went out and hanged himself”

Hmmm? he thought. I probably need a second opinion. This time he landed on Luke 10:37: “Go, thou, and do likewise.

Third times a charm. John 13:27: “What thou do, do quickly.” He didn’t try that again!

I had just a bit better luck: 1 Timothy 3:1:

    This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be a minister, he desires an honorable position.”

I thought This is too way too weird. “Okay, God, there’s a traffic light I always get red on the way to college. If that light is green Monday morning, l’ll go into the ministry.” This is safe, I’ve never gotten it green.

As I approached the light that Monday, my heart was going “Thump! Thump! Thump!” It turned green—THUMP!—and stayed green for two weeks So that’s why I’m in the ministry today.

Jesus warns that a “perverse” generation seeks signs, so fleeces are not a good strategy. The Columbus Bible Study is down right dangerous. And apparently God doesn’t speak verbally any more. So, how do we know what God wants to do in our lives?

I discovered the secret riding home from a Bible study with my friend Dave Dyer. He was driving a ’67 Volkswagen Beetle and it began to sleet. Unfortunately, the defroster was broken, so my job was to venture out into the freezing rain and slush and scrape off the windshield . . . every other block. I figured we were going to spend the rest of our sophomore year and Capital Avenue.

Well “sophomore” means “wise fool” and so, I noticed there was a spot on my side that was actually defrosting. So, these wise fools decided that I would peer out the spot and steer from the passenger side while Dave ran the gas and brakes.

“Okay, Dave, the light just turned green, let’s go!”

“Woe, slow down for the curve up ahead!”

“Red light!”

Obviously, we arrived alive or there would be a different byline on this article. But lying in bed after our excellent adventure my mind turned to Proverbs 3:5-6:

    Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
    in all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will direct your paths

There it is! That’s God will in black and white! Let me show you how.

To discover God’s will, first:

Give God the “steering wheel” of your life

Only a person with an extremely low brain cell count is going to try to drive a car when they can’t see where they’re going! And, yet, none of us has the ability to stare through the iced-up windshield of time Still, so many go driving blindly through life crashing into people and situations! A danger to themselves and others. So, if God is your co-pilot . . . you’re in the wrong seat!

As a college sophomore, I had not fully trusted the direction of my life to God. Sure, I had given Him the radio, the glove compartment, and the back seat of my life, but I had never willfully turned over the steering wheel. Until I ran into a rough patch—then I’d jump in the back seat and ask God to drive. God was my “co-pilot” but I didn’t trust Him to steer.

I knew Dave. And Dave knew me. We both had a strong instinct for survival. We both had a strong dislike for pain. Neither one of us subscribed to that “no pain, no gain” thing. I believe “No pain, no owies.” So Dave could entrust the steering wheel to me. He knew me!

But, we can’t trust someone you don’t know. In high school, Chuck and I borrowed his parent’s brand new T-bird back when cars were as big as aircraft carriers and used as much fuel. We splashed on half a bottle of British Sterling (“A legend in our own minds”) and headed to a basketball game to meet some girls.

As we approached a traffic light, a car that looked like something Fred Flintstone had traded in seemed stalled in the intersection. It was belching and passing gas, so Chuck swung around the car, squealed the tires, and roared down the street.

Suddenly “Fred” began gaining on us; then pulled beside us. Actually, he looked like Freddie Krueger: like his face had caught fire and somebody put it out with an ax.

“Let’s lose this psycho!” I shouted. Chuck stomped the accelerator, but the faster we sped, the faster Fred sped to keep along side of us. So we were going about 65 mph down a main street when out of the corner of my eye I saw him reach for something chrome-plated.

“He’s got a gun, Chuck!” I tried to pull my friend onto the floor board with me, as he tried to regain control of the speeding car. Then our worst fears were realized. It was a badge! Battle Creek Township Police undercover unit.

That was my second experience with the BCTP. One bright summer day, my brother and I decided to let our guinea pigs see the world outside their cages. “Hamlette” and “Squeaky” were munching on grass and enjoying their new-found freedom. Suddenly, both spied a hole in the base of our cement block garage! Within seconds, our guinea pigs had vanished into the concrete hideout. So, what does a mom do when her five- and eight-year-olds are crying hysterically and two guinea pigs are holded-up in their bunker? She calls the Battle Township Police.

As a second-grader, that black and white car was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. I knew The Lone Ranger and Tonto had arrived to save our pets from certain death.

What was the difference between my two reactions to the local law officers? In one case, I knew help had arrived. In the second, I “knew” Chuck and I were about to be two more “drive-by” fatalities!

I felt the same way about God. He kept pulling up along side of my car and announcing, “I’d like to drive your car, son.” And I kept thinking, No way! I wanted to be a writer. But I just “knew” if I gave Him 100 percent of my life—just to prove my commitment to Him—He would make me to torch my typewriter. Then I discovered Romans 12:1-2:

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Notice that the first part deals with giving God the steering wheel. But once we have done that . . .

    Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

As I began to know God, I slowly began releasing my grip on the steering wheel. I discovered He wanted the steering wheel, not to manipulate or enslave me, but to give me meaningful direction. It wasn’t until I read about#151;and believed in—His unconditional love that I could trust Him with the decisions of my life.

And I’m guessing that why some of you may be having such a hard time trusting God, you don’t know Him intimately. You can trust Him with the steering wheel of your life.

Listen to His instructions

Dave paid close attention to my shouts of “Red light!” “Down shift for this curve,” and “Okay, the light’s green.”

But how do we “hear” God? Think of it as GPS. But not global positioning satellites.

    God’s Word and Spirit
    Providential situations
    Spirit-filled people

God’s Word and Spirit Probably 90 percent of what we need to know of God’s will is in His Word. It doesn’t require a lot of spiritual perspiration to know adultery and stealing are not His will, loving our neighbor is His will, sharing our faith is His will.

In the written word you’ll find all kinds of direct statements of God’s will from money, sex, power; love, marriage, parenting; even how to take care of your ox. It’s all there!

And, for the last two thousand years, we have something that few had through biblical history: God’s Spirit. John 16:13 promises, “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

So, back to sitting on the edge of the dorm bed, how does the Spirit “speak”?

Let’s go back to Romans 12:1-2:

    . . . be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

God doesn’t speak with that Charlton Heston voice from the Ten Commandments or even in KJV with lots of reverb “James Norman Watkins! Yea and verily I sayeth unto thee. . . .” God sounds like Jim Watkins and you! He speak to us through our transformed minds.

But John Wesley warns:

    Do not hastily attribute things to God. Do not easily believe that dreams, voices, impressions, visions, or revelations are from God. They may be from him. They may be from nature. They may be from the devil. Therefore, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” [1 John 4:1] . . . which is from the apostle John.

So, how do we know what thoughts are His, ours, the devil’s, or the pizza we ate at midnight?

The Spirit will always be in agreement with His written Word. I can’t tell you how many teens I’ve counseled whom God has told that premarital sex is okay since they’re engaged and are married in the site of God. And just about every serial killer from “Son of Sam” to the “Beltway Sniper” believe God has told them to do this.

And, second, God will brings a sense of peace. So here’s something you may want to try. Go ahead and make a decision—doesn’t matter how you decide—just make a decision. But then, don’t act on it until you either feel a peaceful affirmation or that sense that, “Hmmm? Something’s not right.” Those little old ladies used to call that “being checked by the Spirit.”

Now, of course, our minds are devious little things so don’t act entirely on feelings, but I do believe they are a part of the entire equation.

So, the number one guide is God’s Word and Spirit. That’s the G in GPS. The P is . . .

Providential situations. I first learned the word “providential” as a sophomore in college when I was youth leader at First Wesleyan in Battle Creek. God had been doing some amazing things, I believe, particularly from a student-led prayer time before Sunday school each Sunday. Spontaneous revival broke out with confession and repentance. No preaching for two weeks! “It was a great service. There was no preaching” (Why is it always “great” when there’s no preaching?) People were being called to the ministry and the youth group grew from 15 to 150.

And one of the parts of that revival was printing of an “underground” paper—which were very “groovy” in the 70s—which we handed out on street corners.

That’s the back story. So my pastor, Vaughn Drummond, came back from a meeting in Marion and told me “We had a ‘providential’ meeting with Bob Zuhl. He’s the head of the youth department and he wants you to come and work for him on the denomination’s teen newspaper.

My two questions were, “What’s providential?” and “How much does it pay?”

Providential events are those “just happened to” events. They “just happened” to run into Bob Zuhl. They “just happened” to talk about what God was doing. They “just happened” to mention I was writing and producing an evangelistic newspaper. So, I just happened to transfer to Marion College to work at Wesleyan headquarters, and that led to a whole lot of other providential events. In fact, my whole ministerial career has “just happened.”

And, although, providence seems to “just happen,” it is all part of God’s plan for our lives. Throughout Scripture we see that things don’t just happen but are providentially orchestrated. We see “providence” through Scripture:

    All the days ordained for me
    were written in your book
    before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16)

I’m not exactly sure what that means for a Wesleyan-Arminian, but it is reassuring that God also has a Calvinist streak: His plans will succeed! Apparently, with or without our cooperation.

    Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord purpose that prevails (Proverbs 19:21).

    There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord (Proverbs 21:3).

    “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

So, providence, is a good indicator of God’s will, which is why when is come to sovereignty and freewill I tend to be a Cal-Minian. God has absolute sovereignty, but humans have absolute freewill. I put that in the same file as: Jesus is 100 percent Man, 100 percent God; God is three; God is one; God has providence; people have choice. Finally, God “speaks” through . . .

Spirit-filled people Between my sophomore and junior years at college, I complained to my pastor’s wife, Elsie Drummond, “I just haven’t found the right girl at college.”

“Jim, I feel like God is telling me that the first girl you meet when you return to Marion College will become your wife.”

Yah, yah, I thought as I arrived on campus that fall. Still, I returned with fear and trembling. I just know Freddie Krueger’s sister will be waiting for me! So, I hid out in Williams Hall until a friend invited to a concert.

“I’ll meet you at the drive outside of Shatford Hall.” Before I could object “That’s a women’s dorm,” he had hung up.

As I sat on a bench outside the hall, I heard footsteps. My heart pounded—Thump. Thump. Thump—as I stared at the ground. I could hear them coming closer. Please, not Freddie’s sister! THUMP! Those feet belonged to a beautiful brunette named Lois Farra, and two years later she changed her name to Lois Watkins.

Some would label this meeting as simply a coincidence. That’s possible. But as I have tried to trust in the Lord and get to know him better, the number of “coincidences” of “just happened’s” has dramatically increased!

So, I’ve become convinced that God also speaks through other Spirit-filled Christians: pastors, Sunday school teachers and spirit-filled friends. That’s why Scripture warns:

    Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice (Proverbs 13:10).

    Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22).

Set your GPS on God’s Word and Spirit, providential situations and Spirit-filled people


Give God the steering wheel of your life

Listen to His instructions and . . .

Yada yada yada

If you watch Seinfeld reruns, you already know the Hebrew word for “know” On the show. It was shorthand for “you know.” “We went out and saw a movie and yada, yada, yada,”

It’s the same Hebrew word used in the KJV translation “Adam knew his wife.” Throughout Scripture God uses the sexual union as a symbol of the kind of intimacy He wants to have with us. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:31-32:

    “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32).

And it’s the same word used in Proverbs 3:5-6: “in all your ways acknowledge him”! But it’s not simply to acknowledge. You acknowledge people in the hallway:


“Good to see you.”

But it’s not yada!

We probably know very few people in a deep, intimate manner. It’s an intimate knowledge of God without which we can’t “know” God’s Word or His will. You can’t trust someone you don’t know. You won’t listen to someone you don’t know.

And He will direct your paths

Finally, let me suggest that “God’s will” is not always a narrow, specific, one-and-only-one path. As I said earlier: God’s will is clearly laid out in Proverbs 3:5-6:

    Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
    in all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will direct your paths.

Notice that it’s paths, not path!

His will is that we trust Him completely; that we depend on His wisdom; and that we get to know Him in a real way.

God gave us His Word, not so we could know it, but that we could know Him. But I got all hung up on “finding” God specific path when it wasn’t “lost” at all

God’s will is that I yada Him and nothing more!

So, there may not be one—and only one—person for you to marry. (Eventually, you’ll need to narrow it down to one. And God is very clear He only wants believers marrying believers.) But, if you’re trusting Him, listening to Him, and getting to know Him, He may direct your paths to two or three choices and any of them are His will.

There’s no one job God has picked out for you and you’re going to be miserable until you find it. But, if you’re trusting Him, listening to Him, getting to know Him, He will use you wherever you clock in.

And God will’s is not something you’ll discover five or 10 years from now. If you’re trusting Him second by second, listening to Him moment, getting to know Him day by day, you are living in God’s will!

So where are you?

Have you given God the steering wheel? Do you trust Him? The distrust may come from not knowing who God really is. Is He a dominating, manipulating, distant being? No way, Yaweh! He loves You unconditionally and wants to give your life meaningful direction.

Are you listening to His instructions? Do you need to “recalculate” your GPS to God’s Word and Spirit, providential situations—the divine “just happens”—and Spirit-filled people?

Yada yada yada! Are you taking advantage of the opportunities of Bible study, prayer and fellowship with other believers to get to really know God? If you’re tired of running off life’s road, of going down the wrong paths, of crashing into dead-ends, you may want to pray this prayer:

    Lord, I want to trust You.
    I want to learn from You
    and I want to truly, deeply know You.

Then you’ll be living in the center of “God’s will.”

Copyright © James N. Watkins
Photo: MorgueFile.com


Author and speaker

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