How to Discern God’s Will

| Time: 8 Minutes

You strive to live a good life, but you are faced with a dilemma. You have to decide between two options. So you draw up a list of pros and cons, good outcomes and bad outcomes, but the balance is the same. You want to do what is right, but what do you choose?

Yet, like myself, you feel stuck. Heaven feels silent, while friends, neighbors, your banker, and your brother shout sincere opinions at you. You have to decide, because the decision won’t solve itself.

You may have heard people talk about “God’s will.” You may wonder, “What is it? How do I find it?” Let’s explore this together.

The Famous “Will of God” Passage

Romans 12:1-2 is a famous “will of God” Bible passage among those who read the Bible. Like every other book in the Bible, God inspired one of his servants to write it. The Apostle Paul to wrote this letter to the Romans because God anticipated your paralyzing onslaught of unmade choices, and he kindly moved Paul to write his instructions to you too.

Here’s the game plan for how to discern God’s will. We have to start by remembering God’s mercy. Then, fueled by the favor God has shown us, we go hard at whatever he has given us to do, one day at a time. In time, as we wait on God, he will make us increasingly able to discern what decision pleases him.

Let’s look at each step in this process.

1. Remember God’s Mercy

If you truly want to seek God’s will, you have to start by letting go of your agenda and asking God for his. At the outset of any decision, you’ve got to be okay with whatever outcome God leads you to.

If you’re like me, that’s impossible. My sense of deserving creeps in. I frame my own feelings as God’s will, thinking, “God probably wants what I want.” Or, I cling to my schemes, seeking God for an approval stamp, thinking, “I’ve clearly thought through the wisest course of action.” Both tendencies come from entitlement.

We think we have a right to our desires and personal plans—that God ought to accept our feelings as factors in his strategies. But if we truly understand mercy, we won’t make such silly assumptions.

Why mercy? Look at how Paul appeals to his readers—how God appeals to us:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God… (Romans 12:1 ESV)

Everything else in this passage hinges on our understanding of God’s mercy. Mercy means that God did not give you what you deserve. Here’s what God’s mercy looks like, outlined by Paul earlier in Romans:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23 ESV)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 ESV)

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 ESV)

Discerning God’s will begins with believing that you are a sinner before God, and that apart from God intervening in your life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you would be dead in your sins. It starts with saying:

“I’m at the mercy of God. I deserve nothing from him. Apart from him, I’d be hopeless, and hell bound. But instead, God has welcomed me to bring my decisions to him as my holy, heavenly friend and Father, who changed my destination from hell to heaven at the high price of his Son’s life.”

God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) … God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. (Ephesians 2:4, 5; Ephesians 2:8 NLT)

God doesn’t live to serve you; he served you in a way you did not deserve so that you might live to love and serve him.

So let go of your plans and ask God for his. Surrender your will and seek God’s.

2. Get to Work

Now when we seek God for his will, what do we ask for? Clarity. An Answer.

But God doesn’t give us a blueprint to cosign. God doesn’t ask to see an outline of our plans, nor does he give us an outline of his.

He commands that we hand over our entire person and get moving:

…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world… (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

God wants our bodily, living sacrifice.

While you seek God for his will, God just wants you to live for him. Read his Word, the Bible. There you will find what honors God, so you will know how to use your body in ways that honor him. And in reality, what we are called to do is quite ordinary. You’ll find instructions like these—

  • “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless” (Psalm 101:3 NIV).
  • “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others” (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 NLT).
  • “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from telling lies” (Psalm 34:13 NIV).
  • “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers (Proverbs 4:14 NIV).
  • “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13 NIV).
  • “’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “’Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:36-39 NIV).


Don’t follow the world; obey God’s Word. Love God with your whole embodied self.

God wants us to stop wringing our hands about his plan, and get to work as we wait, because he is busy at work.

3. Let God Work on You

When we give ourselves to God, he starts working within us.

…be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 ESV)

We are told to “be transformed.” Grammar nerds will tell you that the verb here is passive, meaning the action of transformation is being done to you; you are not doing the transforming. God is transforming you.

A wonderful benediction in the Bible sums up this sweet process.

Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21 NKJV)

Now that statement “be transformed” is also an imperative—a command. In other words, we must let God work on us. One way we do that is by renewing our minds.

We need to think about what is good, acceptable, and perfect in God’s sight. And we find such things by opening our Bibles.

As we work with our bodies and get to know God with our minds, God works on our souls, sharpening our ability to discern what decisions are good and pleasing to him.

Bringing all of these thoughts together, another English translation of this Bible passage puts it this way:

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. (Romans 12:1-2 NLT)

So What’s God’s Will?

Does God want choice A or B? Friend, God wants you to worship him, living and working in a way that shows you understand all he has done for you in Jesus Christ. And the more you worship him, the more you will understand how to walk with him.

You’ll know what steps will grieve your holy heavenly Father. You’ll know what actions will please him. God offers you something much better than a veto or thumbs-up. He offers you a close walk beside him, and the chance to get to know him.

God is a Wonderful Counselor. He doesn’t want you just submitting plans to him, he wants you committed to him, knowing he will ultimately lead you in the ways you should go.

He is directing your ways and your heart behind the scenes according to his great mercy. For he says,

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. (Psalm 32:8 NIV)

So get up from reading this article and use your body to pick up your Bible and get to know God. Stop worrying about the decision and start worshiping. Go to work or get to work, because God is working on you.

Thank God for his mercy and expect his loving clarity as he conforms you to his character.

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Romans 8:28
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."