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Finding and Doing God's Will

In North and South Africa God is doing amazing things. For instance, On the Crest Of the Wave by Peter Wagner reports the beginning of the Apostolic Faith Mission Church. It is the largest Pentecostal church in South Africa with two million members, and the story of how the church started is awesome.

It started through a missionary named John G. Lake. Just after the turn of the century, Lake was touched by God in the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles and called to be a missionary to South Africa. He obeyed God, went to South Africa, and began preaching the gospel. But no one attended his meetings. He became deeply discouraged. He began a prolonged period of fasting and prayer.

On the twenty-first day of his fast, he was walking down one of the main streets of Johannesburg when a horse pulling a carriage stumbled and broke its leg. It was thrashing around in the street and a crowd gathered. The policeman had a conference with the owner and they decided that the horse should be shot and put out of its misery. Just as the policeman aimed his gun, John G. Lake felt inspired by God. He walked up to the policeman and said, “Don’t shoot that horse. God has told me that He wants to heal him.”

The bystanders were aghast. Lake stretched out his hand and began to pray for the horse’s broken leg. Soon the horse calmed down, and then got to its feet. The leg was healed and the horse pulled the carriage down the street.

The people came to Lake’s meetings that night! And they kept coming. From that point over the next five years, John G. Lake saw a new church planted in South Africa on the average of every three days!—Peter C. Wagner, On the Crest of the Wave, Regal Books, 1983, pp. 140-141.

That really is an amazing story. The question I want to ask is, "How did he know to pray for that horse? How did he know that was God’s will and not just a foolish thought going through his mind? I’m sure at one time or another we all have wondered if the impressions or thoughts we had were God’s will or "bad pizza." How can we know for sure? When should we pray for our neighbor? How do we know what our life’s work is to be? How can we discover the specific gifts God has given to us?

These and many more questions flood our minds concerning God’s will. Someone has said, "Finding God’s will should be easy because it’s never been lost." The way some of us are looking for it, however, it certainly appears to be hiding.

In this session we want to clear up some of the fog that often surrounds the subject of God’s will. We'll start with some key principles from Romans which will give us the foundation stones for understanding and doing the will of God.

Principle: Meaningful ministry is preceded by our understanding and application of the mercy and grace of God to our individual lives—Romans 1:1-12:2. If we read this passage, we will discover:

  1. Ministry begins with being, not doing.
  2. Doctrine precedes duty.
  3. Content comes before conduct. We need to view and apply God’s mercy before we "do" anything.

Principle: Doing the will of God begins with a total dedication of our bodies and minds—Rom. 12:1-2. The call of God is to do two things: to offer our bodies to God, and to offer Him our minds and thus be renewed. The believer has two options: to be a conformer or to be a transformer. The choice is ours. With that in mind, the next principle gives us motivation for the first two.

Principle: A view of God’s attributes and our sinfulness compels us to offer our bodies and our minds to Him—Rom. 11:33-36. That leads to the central principle. With the above three in mind, we should be able to generally discern God’s will for our lives. The question persists, however, "When do we know we should pray for the injured horse?"

Principle: God’s will is known and approved through our active testing and joyful surrender. Notice the action and the surrender called for in Rom. 12:1-2—"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but 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."

These verses reveal that God’s will is discovered in our action and surrender. Our actions are viewing, offering, worshipping, renewing, testing, and approving. Our surrender is to be living sacrifices.

The plan of God is active.

It is very active. Romans 12:2 says: "Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." A good question is, How do we test and approve what God’s will is? Let’s take some time to look at a few of the key tests necessary for us to discern and approve God’s will for our lives. This may not be a complete list, but the central ones are included. We’ll call them:


The Seven Action Tests

These are not necessarily in any order of importance because they are all helpful. As you will see, they are very common actions in the church. They seem so obvious that I am tempted not to even mention them. But there is a rule of Bible teaching that I am beginning to understand more and more, and that is "Never assume the obvious." Let’s start with an obvious test in determining God’s will:


Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer models for us the necessity of praying for God’s will to be done in our lives: "Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven"—Matt. 6:10. That must be the active and sincere prayer of our hearts if we are ever going to fully know God’s will for our lives. Pray it often. I don’t believe God’s will can be clearly seen apart from prayer—all kinds of prayer.

It always amazes me how many people we talk to who struggle with the direction of their lives and haven’t prayed about it yet. Some say, "I don’t know how to pray." Well, if you don’t know how to pray, I can tell you what God’s will is for your life: it is God’s will first that you learn to pray. We need to:

  • Pray the first half of the Lord’s Prayer before we pray the second half—Matt. 6:9-10.
  • Pray for the right attitude and motivation—Prov. 15:26; 1 Cor. 4:5.
  • Pray for wisdom—James 1:5-8.
  • Pray for strength and persistence in battle—Eph. 6:10-20.
  • Pray for an extended period of time—Mark 1:35-38.
  • Then pray for direction. Psalm 143:10—"Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your good spirit lead me on the level ground." (See also Rom. 15:30-32.)

Remember the man who prayed for the horse in our opening story? He prayed and fasted for 21 days before he took the bold step to pray for healing for the horse’s broken leg. As we are praying, we are to test and approve God’s will with a second test:


Search the Scriptures. A good portion of God’s will is already stated in God’s Word (e.g., 1 Thess. 4:1-7; 5:16-18; Ps. 119:105). Our task is to stay in the Book on a regular basis. Do you have a plan that enables you to read and study the Bible?

What should we do when we discover this direction?


Do what is already commanded. Be obedient to what you already know is God’s will. That’s good preparation for involvement in the new adventures God has for us! For example, the above Scriptures reveal that the believer is not to sit back and wait for the will of God to take place in his/her life. He must be actively involved in doing the will of God.

As the will of God is generally revealed, we are to do it. Whatever God asks of all His children, that must be our priority action. That gets us going in the general direction of God’s will for our lives. For instance, there is no need to pray about whether you should marry a nonbeliever. God’s will has already been revealed on that matter—2 Cor. 6:14-18. What’s next? In this testing procedure we need to:


Counsel with godly men or women. Prov. 15:22—"Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." See also 1 Thess. 5:21-22; 2 Tim. 3:16-17. During this time of interaction, be open to rebuke and correction—Prov. 15:31-32.

    • Be prepared for good instruction—Prov. 16:23-24; 2 Tim. 3:16-17. Make sure, however, that you test the counsel—1 Thess. 5:21-22; Acts 17:11. Make sure it emits from or does not contradict God’s Word—2 Tim. 2:15,23-26.
    • Be a Berean even with godly people (Acts 17:11).
    • Be open to learn from the mistakes and successes of others—I Cor. 10:6-13; Romans 15:4.

A lot of people have to learn everything the hard way, but there are two ways to learn: one is from our own experience, and the other is from the experience of others. Be smart and learn from others! Listen for statements that start out: "Here’s something I’ve learned about myself or about life. . . "

As things are being clarified in our hearts, here’s what we should do:


Begin serving.

We often need to put feet to our prayers by beginning to be a servant to those around us. Wherever you see a need and it is within your power and resources to meet it, go for it. That service is where you will start to discover God’s will for your life. Don’t worry about initial service being what you like to do, or even that it fits your gifts. Don’t be too concerned if it doesn’t take much training, or if it challenges you. Don’t worry about getting your hands dirty for God. There's a lot going on in service that isn’t apparent to the natural eye or perception.

Besides the character and heart being developed through the process of service, there is one very exciting thing going on. We see throughout Scripture a very important truth: "God directs a moving servant." We will be surprised what God does when we have on the robes of a servant (e.g., Ruth; Prov. 15:19; Acts 6:1-8; 8:4-13).


Watch for open doors—opportunities. These are ways God gives you direction, so keep your spiritual eyes open for them. Often they are unapparent to the natural eye.

God will open doors for your work—1 Cor. 16:9. A closed door is often an indication that God has something else in mind for you to do—Acts 16:6-7. (See special study, Watch For Open Doors and Closed Doors.)


Listen to the inner witness of the Spirit. There are three ways this witness is revealed:

Listen to your godly desires—Psalm 37:4. "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." Follow the instructions of the entire Psalm, but notice specifically that as you are delighting yourself in the Lord, focusing on Him, desiring His will above all things; He will then give you the desires that come into your heart. He’s promised to speak to you, so...

Listen to your Shepherd’s voice. John 10:2-4—"The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3] The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4] When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice." Remember, He’s present to speak to us—Matt. 28:20b.

Listen to the voice of the Spirit—Acts 10:19; 11:12; 15:28; 21:11. The Holy Spirit can speak to us in a variety of ways, so tune your ears to hear Him. We need to have an ear to that encouragement from within and without. The Holy Spirit will also show us the fruit of His presence—Gal. 5:22-23. If the fruit of the Spirit starts showing up, that is an indication of God’s presence, i.e., love, joy, peace, etc.

A small evangelical church called Principe de Pax was located in Santa Rosa. The believers... had a special prayer meeting to ask God for wisdom, since they... were being destroyed by the drought. The Holy Spirit’s power began to operate in their midst during the prayer meeting, and they received a prophecy directly from God. It said, "You are to dig a well in the pastor’s backyard."

If their faith had not been strong they would not have accepted it as a legitimate prophecy. It made no sense because the pastor’s house was on top of a hill. Everyone knew that the last place to dig a well was on the top of a hill. But they launched out in faith and began digging the well.

The unbelievers gathered around and mocked them. They thought the evangelicals had lost their minds. After a few days of digging they struck a huge boulder, and they were discouraged. They wondered if they had interpreted the prophecy correctly. Some of the believers quit, but others kept working on the boulder. Eventually they were able to move it, and as soon as they did a strong stream of pure water gushed forth. They had struck an artesian well, and the village was saved!

From that point on, everyone in the village had to go to the pastor’s house for water. There was always a deacon there to welcome the people and to say to them, "He who drinks of this water shall thirst again, but he who drinks of the water that Christ gives shall never thirst again." It was the beginning of a great harvest. Hundreds were saved that year...The Principe de Paz Church has one thousand members, and water is still coming out of the well—Peter C. Wagner, Ibid, pp. 138-139.

Here we see that during prayer, the Spirit gave a special witness. Do you think the Spirit could speak in a similar way to our culture? Our church? We need to be open to the inner witness of the Spirit, and also what the Spirit might say to us as a church corporately.

Caution: As you receive insight that you believe is from the Spirit, pray for wisdom on the timing and the execution of His will. Eph. 1:17—"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better."

As we keep these seven tests in mind, we will begin to get in touch with God’s will. But let me share four more guidelines that are really helpful:

The Safeguard of Confirmation

I want you to see there is real safety if we will use as many of these seven tests as we can.

  1. We should be careful not to rush into the future with only one or two of these tests completed. We need the discipline of confirmation
  2. We will be kept safe from presumption and the effects of bad pizza if we are patient and wait for a clear direction from these tests.
  3. We need the balance of all seven.

The Sanctified Preference Guide

God’s will calls for sanctified preference as our guide. In other words, because our minds have been sanctified and our hearts purified, we can choose the course of action that we desire to do!

Principle: Any decision we make within the boundaries of the commands of God is acceptable to God.

That’s so freeing!

If we are making a good attempt to use the seven tests, we don’t need to agonize over all the details of our lives. If we are already walking in the general direction of God’s will, any specific choice we make will be complementary to God’s will. The will of God is not so much a small dot as it is a circle with many possibilities to choose from. We may have more than one fine opportunity. Don’t let many good possibilities cause you anxiety—choose the one you want.


The Spiritual Expedience Guide

As you are choosing what you like, let that choice be guided by one more test question: what is the best way to get the job done? In other words, use your head. Look at the options after they have been run by the seven tests, and choose the course of action that you believe will work best. Does that sound unspiritual? Listen to how men of Scripture chose what to do:

1.I Thess. 3:1-2—"...we thought it best..."

2.Phil. 2:25-26—"...I thought it necessary..."

3.I Cor. 16:3-4—"If it is fitting..."

4.Acts 6:2—"It would not be right..."

5.Acts 15:28-29—"It seemed good..."

These people were choosing spiritually expedient courses of action.


The Sign of Increasing Burden and Intensity

Often when we are doing the will of God or moving into it, our burden will increase in intensity as we go along. There will be a sense of being compelled or driven by the Spirit—Acts 20:22; Matt. 4:1. On the other hand, if our burden begins to wane even as we are walking in the Spirit, it may be an indication that our original vision or purpose needs to be adjusted or was focused in the wrong direction. In major life changes, look for your thoughts, prayers, and conversations to be dominated by a particular direction before you head that way.

That’s as practical as I can be in showing you the active side of finding God’s will, but let me give the other side of the process.

The plan of God also calls for joyful surrender.

As you are doing the action that seems appropriate and best, keep an ear towards a sovereign adjustment from God.

We must joyfully surrender to His sovereign adjustment.

That’s what being a living sacrifice implies—Rom. 12:1-2. We usually love the active testing, but we often resist being a sacrifice surrendered to God. It is possible that God may arbitrarily intersect your life and lead you in a direction different from what you have chosen. He might even halt your action altogether. Why would He do that? There are two basic reasons that seem so obvious but must be mentioned.

He knows more than we do. We should make plans, but should never forget we don’t always have all the information needed, nor can we know all the long-term consequences that God has in mind. God has a different view than we do because He knows what has, is, and will happen in this life and the life to come. With our best testing efforts, we may still miss God’s best:

  1. We may have the right plan but the wrong time.
  2. We may have the wrong plan and the right time.
  3. We may have the wrong place and the wrong time.

If Satan can’t get you to do the wrong thing, he may tempt you to do the right thing at the wrong time. We need, therefore, to keep a watchful eye on any adjustment God might choose to make to our plans or choices. Does this mean we should never make plans until we absolutely hear a message from God? No! It simply means that we should make plans by means of the seven tests, but preface them with the precondition described in James 4:13-16.

James 4:13-16—"Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' 14] Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15] Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord’s will we will live and do this or that.' 16] As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil."

Here are more examples of the attitude we need to have:

  • 1 Cor. 4:19—"But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have." (See Romans 15:22-33. Notice Paul’s plans and how he was still looking to God’s adjustment—v. 32.)
  • Luke 22:42—Jesus prayed for a way other than the cross, but His final surrender was: "...not my will but your will be done..."
  • 1 Cor. 16:7—"...I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits."
  • Acts 16:6-10 (epecially vv. 9-10); 20:22-23. Paul was always being readjusted in his service.

Therefore, when we are beginning to understand the will of God, we should commit it to Him and let Him bring it to pass.

Psalm 37:5—"Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this."

Prov. 16:3-4a—"Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. 4] The Lord works out everything for his own ends..."

Prov. 16:9—"In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps."

If God adjusts our way, He’ll make it obvious to us—John 10:1-6. We should make plans, but also be open to continuing in what we are doing with contentment, if God doesn’t open the doors immediately for our plans. If He doesn’t make an obvious adjustment in our lives when we’re generally walking in His will, we should assume we are to keep doing what we’re doing and not be uptight if we don’t have something new to do. If God doesn’t adjust our path, He may be teaching us more about contentment than how to follow Him into a specific task. Learning contentment may be His will for our lives—Phil. 4:10-13.

If God doesn’t adjust our path but allows us to go through suffering, then refinement and character development may be His highest intention for us—1 Pet. 1:3-9; 3:13-17; 4:12-19. If God doesn’t answer our prayer like we want Him to, He may be showing us that His will will be made perfect in our weakness. Paul prayed for the removal of a thorn in the flesh—an affirmity or trial he was facing—but his final surrender was:

2 Cor. 12:9b-10—"I will boast all the more gladly (joyfully) about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me...I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in persecutions, in difficulties, for when I am weak, then I am strong."

Second Corinthians 12:9b-10 is a picture of joyful surrender. God does allow us to be partners with Him in carrying out His will. We are to pray diligently and with faith and to complete as many of the seven tests as possible; however, we must remember that God has the majority vote in the partnership and that my loyalty and faith are ultimately in Him and not in my idea of what He should do. My attitude is joyful surrender.

He always does what is best. We can be sure of the wisdom of God. When we want something built or constructed, altered or repaired, we take it to the craftsman and consult him about it. He may make a suggestion, and then we end up saying, "Well, do what you think best; you’re the expert." Likewise, God is the expert in our lives.

We can trust His will, because He knows more than we do. He will always do what is best.

In Awasa, one of the provincial capitals of southern Ethiopia, a church leader had been arrested by the Communist police. He was interrogated and punished. Then the Communist official said, "Curse the enemies of the revolution and I will let you go." The Christian knew that as he said it he would be expected to raise his left fist in the Communist salute.

"I cannot do it," he responded. "Jesus told us to bless our enemies, not to curse them."

"Then you will grasp this high tension wire!" the Communist said. A bare electrical wire was held in front of him.

The Christian leader said, "In the name of Jesus!" and grabbed the wire with his bare hand. At once the whole town went into a blackout!

The man was unhurt. Instead of his left fist, he raised both hands, smiled at the Communist and said, "Praise the Lord!"

When Scottish Covenanter Richard Cameron was killed, his head and hands were cut off and taken to Edinburgh.

"His father being in prison for the same cause, the enemy carried them to him and asked him if he knew them. Taking his son’s head and hands, which were very fair, he kissed them and said, ‘I know them—I know them. They are my son’s, my own dear son’s. Good is the will of the Lord, who cannot wrong me or mine, but hath made goodness and mercy to follow us all our days.'"

How could he say that? A man can speak like that only when he is quite sure that his times are in the hands of God. He would not have chosen that as his course, nor as the course for his son, but he surrendered because he believed God’s will was good. How can we trust Him so? Romans 8:32 tells us, "He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" We can trust the One who has given us His best—His only Son.


The will of God is active and joyful surrender.

If we keep both of these ends of the spectrum in mind, I believe we will come very close to determining God’s will for us. Remember, He longs for us to know His will, so let’s cooperate with the process by praying, searching the Scriptures, doing what is already commanded, getting counsel, serving, watching for open doors, and listening to the witness of the Spirit.

As we walk in all that, however, let’s keep in mind God is allowing us to share in the process, so choose that which will best get the job done for Him. At the same time, keep your ears and heart open to God’s sovereign direction.

Be willing to let Him direct you as He sees fit. We can trust Him to always do in us and through us what is best.



  1. Have you ever just wished for more direction from God and yet failed to pray?
  2. The third "action test" is to do what is already commanded. Make a list of at least five commands of Scripture that you can be sure are God's will for you.
  3. What is the point of just beginning to serve, regardless of the "fit" or the apparent significance of the task? What will it accomplish in your search for God's will for you?
  4. What does it mean to be open to the witness of the Spirit in your life?
  5. The sanctified preference guide says this, "Any decision we make within the boundaries of the commands of God is acceptable to God." Is this a new concept to you? Reword this principle in another way.
  6. Have you ever had the experience of a ministry burden increasing in intensity as you go along? What happened as a result?
  7. How in a practical way can we make our plans and yet be open to God's adjustment? (Easy to say, maybe more difficult to live out)