There is a lot of confusion about knowing God’s will, His plans for us and finding guidance in life. But clear thinking (that thing we ought to do more of) stimulated by sound, biblical writing will help (if you can spare 10-15 minutes!!).
Dr. J. I. Packer writes in the acclaimed Christian classic Knowing God…
God Has a Plan
Belief that divine guidance is real rests upon two foundation facts: first the reality of God’s plan for us; second, the ability of God to communicate with us. On both these facts the Bible has much to say. Has God a plan for individuals? Indeed he has. He has formed an “eternal purpose” (literally, a “plan of the ages”), “a plan for the fulness of time,” in accordance with which he “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 3:11; 1:10–11 RSV). He had a plan for the redemption of his people from Egyptian bondage, when he guided them through the sea and the desert by means of a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. He had a plan for the return of his people from Babylonian exile, where he guided by setting Cyrus on the throne and stirring up his spirit (Ezra 1:1) to send the Jews home to build their temple. He had a plan for Jesus (see Lk 18:31; 22:22 and so on); Jesus’ whole business on earth was to do his Father’s will (Jn 4:34; Heb 10:7 ,9). God had a plan for Paul (see Acts 21:14; 22:14; 26:16–19; 1 Tim 1:16); in five of his letters Paul announces himself as an apostle “by the will of God.” God has a plan for each of his children.
But can God communicate his plan to us? Indeed he can. As man is a communicative animal, so his Maker is a communicative God. He made known his will to and through the Old Testament prophets. He guided Jesus and Paul. Acts records several instances of detailed guidance (Philip being sent to the desert to meet the Ethiopian eunuch, 8:26, 29; Peter being told to accept the invitation of Cornelius, 10:19–20; the church Antioch being charged to send Paul and Barnabas as missionaries, 13:2; Paul and Silas being called into Europe, 16:6–10; Paul being instructed to press on with his Corinthian ministry, 18:9–10). And though guidance by dreams, visions and direct verbal messages must be judged exceptional and not normal, even for the apostles and their contemporaries, yet these events do at least show that God has no difficulty in making his will known to his servants.
Moreover, Scripture contains explicit promises of divine guidance, whereby we may know God’s plan for our action. “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you,” says God to David (Ps 32:8 RSV). Isaiah 58:11 contains the assurance that if the people repent and obey, “the Lord will guide you always.” Guidance is a main theme in Psalm 25, where we read, “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. . . . Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him” (vv. 8–9,12). So in Proverbs 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
In the New Testament, the same expectation of guidance appears. Paul’s prayer that the Colossians might be filled “with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding,” and Epaphras’s prayer that they might “stand firm in all the will of God” (Col 1:9; 4:12), clearly assume that God is ready and willing to make his will known. Wisdom in Scripture always means knowledge of the course of action that will please God and secure life, so that the promise of James 1:5—if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him” (RSV)—is in effect a promise of guidance. “Let your minds be remade and your whole nature thus transformed,” counsels Paul. “Then you will be able to discern the will of God, and to know what is good, acceptable, and perfect” (Rom 12:2 NEB).
Other lines of biblical truth come in here to confirm this confidence that God will guide. First, Christians are God’s sons; and if human parents have a responsibility to give their children guidance in matters where ignorance and incapacity would spell danger, we should not doubt that in the family of God the same applies. “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:11).
Again, Scripture is God’s Word, “profitable” (we read) “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16–17 RSV). “Teaching” means comprehensive instruction in doctrine and ethics, the work and will of God; “reproof,” “correction” and “training in righteousness” signify the applying of this instruction to our disordered lives; “equipped [ready] for every good work”—that is, a life set to go God’s way—is the promised result.
Again, Christians have an indwelling Instructor, the Holy Spirit. “You have been anointed by the Holy One. . . . The anointing which you received from him abides in you, . . . his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie” (1 Jn 2:20, 27 RSV). Doubt as to the availability of guidance would be a slur on the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit to his ministry. It is notable that in Acts 8:29; 10:19; 13:2; 16:6 and most strikingly in the decree of the Jerusalem council—“it has seemed to the Holy Spirit and to us” (15:28)—the giving of guidance is specifically ascribed to the Spirit.
Again, God seeks his glory in our lives, and he is glorified in us only when we obey his will. It follows that, as a means to his own end, he must be ready to teach us his way, so that we may walk in it. Confidence in God’s readiness to teach those who desire to obey underlies all Psalm 119. In Psalm 23:3 David proclaims the reality of God giving guidance for his own glory—“he guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
So we might go on, but the point is sufficiently established. It is impossible to doubt that guidance is a reality intended for, and promised to, every child of God. Christians who miss it thereby show only that they did not seek it as they should. It is right, therefore, to be concerned about one’s own receptiveness to guidance, and to study how to seek it.
— J.I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 231–233.
Hope & trust in the Lord,