Knowing God’s Will

“What is God’s will for my life?”

No question is either more poignant nor more misguided on the lips of a Christian. It cuts particularly deep because it is most often spoken by the young or by those who feel they have lost their way. It is misguided because it makes a large number of false assumptions about the nature of our relationship with God as well as false assumptions about our human capacity to know what God wants. It is a question that has been created by a culture of Christian pietism within the context of a secular culture that expects absurd decisions on the part of individuals.

The Culture of Pietism

Classical Protestantism, rooted in the thought of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, had very definite things to say about the authority of Scripture and the nature of our salvation. However, none of them were particularly keen on individual experience or private revelations. Their most immediate followers tended to systematize their thought into very rigid doctrinal expressions. It was designed for creating catechisms and training people in “sound doctrine.” That training was not unlike learning the multiplication tables. It produced good Lutherans, Calvinists and Zwinglians.

But it also produced a reaction. Coming from various directions, the reaction was a rejection of “dry” dogma and the promotion of a “religion of the heart.” What mattered was emotional devotion to Christ – religious experience. This “Pietist Movement” had examples throughout the Protestant world, and even examples within Catholicism. In time, it became the basis of the modern Evangelical Movement (as well as Pentecostalism, Charismatic, and various modern “Renewals”).

One deep aspect of individual pious experience was “doing the will of God.” The freedoms that accompanied the breakdown of the Medieval world, particularly in the vast opportunities of America, heightened the sense of private direction from God. The success of many, in wealth and inventiveness, and in other aspects of life, served to suggest that some had been more properly guided than others.

The great revivals in America created a “success” model within Christianity itself. Larger crowds, larger Churches, popular influence were all seen not as unique, but as products of guidance and obedience. “If you do the right thing, good things will come.”

There are certainly stories within the Scriptures of individuals being guided by God. Most often, these are prophets with specific missions and tasks given to them by God. Other times, they are rulers with the need for specific things. The New Testament (particularly in the Book of Acts) gives examples of God’s intervention. He speaks to individuals and sends them places, even telling them what to expect and do. These isolated examples were universalized in the teaching of Pietism.

It is not that Christians haven’t always made decisions or wanted Divine guidance in the process. Wesley (as I recall) admitted to have used the method of randomly opening the Bible and pointing to a verse for guidance (he was not proud of it). Such practices can sometimes be little more than a fetish.

What Is the Will of God?

But should an individual expect to know the “will of God?” The answer is both yes and no. The Scripture actually tells us what the will of God is:

In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1Th 5:18)

Some will be disappointed by this revelation. Popular Christian culture has subscribed to many of the myths of our times. Those surrounding success and happiness are among the deepest. We are taught in various places that by choosing the right path (job, marriage, vocation) and pursuing it with commitment (education, patience) will be rewarded with success and good outcomes. We are told, “What could be better than making a living doing something you like?”

But this is tragically flawed. Imagine saying to a child, “What could be a better Christmas present than getting a toy you like?” And then, as we all learn, every toy becomes dull in time. Likewise, all jobs become work.

It doesn’t mean that all jobs are equal or that we would not rather do some forms of work rather than others, but happiness is not the product of our choices and their rewards.

The underlying message of modern pietism in its various forms (including Orthodox) is that there is nothing wrong with us that the right choices and right rewards will not fix. All that is needed is right information.

But this is not the teaching of the Christian faith. This brings me to the harder word of this article: we generally do not “know the will of God” because we are sinful, broken, full of pride, anger and the other passions. We do not know the will of God because we do not know God Himself. And that knowledge, in whatever measure, comes as the fruit of repentance (meekness, humility, self-emptying).

Some seek to get around this spiritual disability by getting a word from someone “holy.” Thus the guidance of an “elder” is sought, much like our pagan ancestors turned to oracles. The sure word of an elder can indeed work wonders in our lives – but not as information (we are not saved by information). The word of an elder may very well set in motion the cascade of life events that works to our salvation. If it does this, it has done well. If it has not done this, then our lives have received no benefit. For our salvation is the will of God.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification [being made holy]:  (1Th 4:3 NKJ)

There are, of course, many decisions in life for which we seek guidance. “Should I marry this person?” “Where should I go to school?” “What should I major in?”

As a priest people come to me with such questions from time to time. I tremble. Who am I to know the answers to such things? But I often think, “If you need a word from God to know whether to marry a person, then you’re not ready to get married.” It would be a better situation if you needed a word from God not to marry someone.

Should I become a monk? Do you like doing what monks do? If you don’t like it even a little, then I would think not. But there is a reason that the monastic life doesn’t begin with vows. Unlike marriage, you get a trial period.

Should I become a priest? Does anyone else think it would be a good idea? If you want to do it in order to make a living, then do something else.

Most people throughout most of history have done with their lives as they have, because they had very few choices. The diversity of modern economies creates a range of choices never imagined in human history. It also “works” because it can ignore those who “choose badly” and provide them with welfare or minimum wage. The messiness and inefficiency of the modern system is paid for by the failures of those who do not succeed. The guy flipping hamburgers helped buy your middle class happiness. He was cast in the role of a bit-player in the drama of the modern economy.

Some mistakenly say that the New Testament supports slavery. It does not. But it recognized the nature of the economy in which it lived. And St. Paul’s comments are quite applicable to us today:

Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave. (1Co 7:21-22)

St. Paul doesn’t endorse slavery, but he recognizes that many will have no choice. If you have a choice, “Use it!” he says. But for many who will have no choice, he suggests something else: “Do not be concerned about it.” For we are “Christ’s freedman.”

All of which brings us back to God’s will for our lives. What is God’s will? To keep the commandments and to give thanks for all things. Do these things and you will be changed from glory to glory into the image of Christ. Some slaves were so transfigured. And some rich men weep and howl to this day (James 5:1).

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.


37 responses to “Knowing God’s Will”

  1. Fr. Marty Watt Avatar

    Sometimes I think that “discerning God’s will” is code for a couple of different things. The most innocuous is simply being unsure and making up one’s mind. I’m reminded of the word of the elders: Pray and do as you will.

    The other, however, is a bit more dodgy. Sometimes I think people are not attempting to live, here and now, but in the future. The efforts to discern God’s will are really a pseudo-fortune telling effort, attempting to predict which course of action will cause the greatest comfort and the least pain.

    At least, that’s what I meant when I said it. Now I know differently – God’s will is that we fellowship and commune with Him, at all times and in all places and circumstances.

    Thanks for the good word, Father.

  2. davidp Avatar

    Quote from above: Popular Christian culture has subscribed to many of the myths of our times. Those surrounding success and happiness are among the deepest. We are taught in various places that by choosing the right path (job, marriage, vocation) and pursuing it with commitment (education, patience) will be rewarded with success and good outcomes. We are told, “What could be better than making a living doing something you like?” Unquote.

    I grew up with this and it was in my mind for decades and decades until I came to the place in scripture to love God with all our heart and mind. Things started to change where the focus was put on believing and practicing scripture for every day practicality.

  3. Margaret Avatar

    It seems like sometimes people use the “God’s Will” as a way to avoid taking responsibility for their own lives. It can get a little fuzzy around the idea of suffering, though, which you’ve covered before – the idea of wondering how God can love us, but allow us to suffer… again, the response of humility and repentance come into play. Thanks for the post!

  4. Jim Myers Avatar
    Jim Myers

    Thank you Father for this article, it is making me think quite a bit about how I pray.

  5. Gene B Avatar
    Gene B

    Father Stephen, perhaps you can better articulate your position for some of us struggling to make ends meet and figuring out what to do. In my case, I am in my forties and already have had nine jobs since I graduated college as an engineer. It has been a force of will to stay employed and provide for my family. Each job change is a walk into the unknown. I have no pension and only a small fund for retirement. I ask God for help and I give thanks often, and I feel I do receive it when I ask. Life is so uncertain for so many and the choices are also so many, is there not room to ask God for guidance? Many of our Saints (and many believers) speak as if God helped them through these changes and challenges – is there not room here to ask God for such help and guidance? And when we feel we have personally received such help, shouldn’t we give thanks and tell others about the experience? Shouldn’t we expect to be helped if we ask? Isn’t this the basics of faith? Shouldn’t we ask God to know his will for us when placed in such difficult circumstances? Where is the line between real faith and delusion?

  6. Sophia Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen. I was interested to hear about the influences of Protestantism in various forms on what are common place attempts at piety. I admit I’m a little confused, however. Do we not pray especially or discern consciously about major decisions, such as marriage, vocation, perhaps a move to a new place? And do we not hope that somewhere in that prayer we might receive some sense of guidance, e.g. peace and joy, or else unease and a heaviness of spirit? To go even one step further, do we not turn also to pray in order to discern between anxiety about something new, e.g. starting a new job, which may nonetheless be life-giving, versus the times anxiety and heaviness of spirit signal when we are heading down a path which will be filled with difficulty?

    I appreciate the reminder that we can not ask for divine ‘guarantees’ for the future, or pass responsibility for our own choices onto God. I also appreciate the reminder that our consumeristic culture always wants to know what the perfect ‘formula’ is to avoid suffering and advance our aims. I can see how that influences my own thinking.

  7. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Fr. Watt says:

    Sometimes I think that “discerning God’s will” is code for a couple of different things. The most innocuous is simply being unsure and making up one’s mind. I’m reminded of the word of the elders: Pray and do as you will.

    The other, however, is a bit more dodgy. Sometimes I think people are not attempting to live, here and now, but in the future. The efforts to discern God’s will are really a pseudo-fortune telling effort, attempting to predict which course of action will cause the greatest comfort and the least pain.


    I spent far too much time trying to “discern God’s will for my life” rather than living for God where He had already placed me (not that I do it very well now). However, once I stopped dithering, I found blessings galore all around me.

    My life has not gotten any easier, in fact in some ways it has gotten more difficult–more responsibility, more sharing of my life required, etc. My finances have not improved, yet I have more joy and I am less dyspeptic about life and I am no longer looking somewhere else for greener pastures.

    I have come to the conclusion that God’s will is that I love Him to the best of my ability in and through all that I do. If I am able to accomplish that in any sort of fashion then I will be following Him.

  8. Anastasios Avatar

    There is a name for the practice mentioned in the article to have been used by John Wesley: Sortes Sanctorum (or Sortes Biblicae). Apparently it was quite common in the Western (Latin) world prior to 1075 or so.

  9. Dino Avatar

    There is so much hidden wisdom in this article!

    Indeed, to be thankful in any situation is the road to all blessings, even to becoming such adherers of the will of God that we could be worthily called eternal sons and daughters of His, brothers and sisters if Christ.

    Saint Macarius says these fabulous words on the trials that befall man and try to take him outside of this blessed trusting gratitude:

    What is written’of Job is not without significance, how
    Satan desired him. The adversary was not able to do anything of
    himself, without leave. What does the devil say to the
    Lord ? ” Give him into my hands : surely he will curse Thee
    to Thy face.”
    But it is the same Job in every believer to-day,
    and God is the same, and the devil is the same.
    As long as a man finds the help of God, and is zealous and fervent in grace, Satan desires to tempt him, and says to the Lord, “Because Thou succourest him, and helpest him, he serves Thee : let him
    go, and deliver him to me, and then surely he will curse Thee to Thy
    So, as the soul is comforted, grace withdraws, and the soul is gradually delivered to temptations. The devil comes, bringing ten thousand evils, to bear despair, despondency, wicked thoughts afflicting the soul, to loosen it and estrange it from hope of God.

    But the prudent soul, when in miseries and affliction,
    never despairs, but holds what it holds, and whatever the enemy
    may bring to bear, it endures amidst ten thousand temptations, saying,
    “If I die for it, I will not let Him go.”
    Then, if the man endures to the end, the Lord begins to argue
    with Satan, “Thou seest how many miseries and afflictions
    thou hast brought to bear upon him; and he has not
    listened to thee, but serves Me, and fears Me.”
    Then the devil is ashamed, and has nothing more to say. In Job’s
    case, if he had known that in spite of falling into temptations Job would persevere and not be worsted, he would never have desired to tempt him, for fear of being ashamed. So it is still with those who endure afflictions and temptations ; Satan is ashamed and sorry, [to the credit of the tempted man] because he has got nowhere by it. The Lord begins to reason with him, “Behold, I gave thee permission ; behold, I suffered thee to tempt him. Wast thou able to do anything ? Did he listen to thee at all ? “

  10. Henry Avatar

    This is a subject I can not leave alone. I have thought about it for over 40 years. It is one of those areas where I think we Protestants have problems.

    Before we set our goals, I think we should check in with the God of the universe and attempt to determine what is in our best interests. If our desire is to live in harmony with the universe, with what is good, and true, and right, then I believe that asking God in prayer for direction in our life is a good place to start. I believe that if I persevere with patience, eventually a path will become visible in this confusion we call life.

    I am very uncomfortable with the term “The Will of God” as I have heard it taught in many of the churches I have attended. In my mind, it is a term that is front loaded with all sorts of unpleasant emotional baggage. I have heard over and over, that God has this wonderful plan for my life and if I am not utterly obedient, I will miss the mark and my life will lie in ruins. Those of you who are old enough might remember the television show, Let’s Make a Deal with Monty Hall. On this show the contestants would win really nice prizes, like a new color TV. Then Monty would give them the opportunity to trade what they have for what might be contained in a large box or hidden behind a curtain. Everyone knew that sometimes the prize behind the curtain might be an expensive new car or it might be a pet goat. Sometimes preachers have made me feel like God is Monty Hall, playing a cosmic game of Let’s Make a Deal with my life.

    Years ago I realized the will of God doesn’t quite work that way. Consider your own relationship with those you truly love. You want what is best for them. You want to bless them. You want to share your life with them. If you really understand love, you don’t want to control them. You know they are free to find their own path. You might wish that your son would major in physics rather than get a job painting skulls on custom motorcycles, but no matter what path he chooses, in your heart you know your job is to bless him and be a part of his life.

    As you make important decisions, where to go to school, what major to study, who to marry, ask God for guidance, but be confident that God is not Monty Hall. If you miss “God’s Perfect Will for My Life,” even if there is such a thing, God will not take away your new car and punish you with a pet goat.

  11. Bohdan Melnychenko Avatar
    Bohdan Melnychenko

    If we are not trying to discern God’s will why do we pray St. Philaret’s prayer?

    St Philaret’s Prayer for daily guidance

    O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace.
    Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will.
    In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me.
    Bless my dealings with all those who surround me.
    Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout this day with peace of soul and the firm conviction that Your will governs all.
    In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings.
    In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by Thee.
    Teach me to act firmly and wisely without embittering or embarrassing others.
    Give me the strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring.
    Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray Thou Thyself in me.

  12. Dino Avatar

    to discern the perfect will of God in the numerous tricky situations that often befall man and require a discerning decision on our part (whether directly or through a spiritual guide), one needs to have reached that perfection (where their will coincides with God’s perfect will) that can actually carry God’s perfect will out.
    As Father Stephen said:

    we generally do not “know the will of God” because we are sinful, broken, full of pride, anger and the other passions. We do not know the will of God because we do not know God Himself. And that knowledge, in whatever measure, comes as the fruit of repentance (meekness, humility, self-emptying).

  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    The prayer says, “rely on God’s will” which means to trust that God’s will is at work in us and in all things around us. This does not mean that we will or should know God’s will in all things.

  14. RandyP Avatar

    @Bohdan – Perhaps or is the difference between knowing God’s well for the present circumstance, vs knowing His will for the future?

    I’m reminded of the old (by American standards!) hymn, “Trust and Obey”.

  15. RandyP Avatar

    Oh look much better responses to Bohdan than mine. Go with Dino and Fr. Stephen.

  16. Bohdan Melnychenko Avatar
    Bohdan Melnychenko

    To Fr. Stephan – the prayer also says:

    In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me.


    Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray Thou Thyself in me.

  17. Dino Avatar

    “Direct my will”

    concerns the transformation of our perverted will.

    “reveal Your will to me”

    can entail the revelation of God’s secret providence working for good (He fights Amalek with a secret hand) to my darkened mind. [Without claiming that there are no times when we need the guidance of an elder for certain dilemmas – in order to avoid sinning or putting others off with behaviour we mistake for ‘christian’]

  18. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes. But I do not think of this as “show me which way to go.” Rather “reveal your will” is the perception, the greater perception, of how God is working in the world about me. It is thus part of the giving of thanks. The other, Protestant approach, becomes rather neurotic or self-centered.

  19. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    A welcome article on a pertinent topic.

    One of the problems, I think, with the concept of “the will of God”, as the term is so often used, is that it assumes that God WANTS or DESIRES things in the way that we want and desire them.

    So when we are faced with an important decision, we long to know what God “wants”. As someone else pointed out, while this may be part of a positive intent on our part to please God, more often it is born out of a desire for a guarantee that we are getting it “right” (and therefore won’t regret our decision later).

    I do not believe that God created us as free creatures only to micromanage us. What we do is not nearly as important as how we do it; nor is who we marry (or whether we marry) as important as how lovingly we live.

    The Way (Tao) – as written of in “Christ the Eternal Tao” (Hieromonk Damascene) – helps us see that God’s will or “Way” far transcends an opinion or desire. It is “the Course that all things are to follow”, with Man alone having been given a choice as to whether to comply or pursue his own course.

    It would, I believe, be far more harmonious with the Way for me to have a job mopping floors, living humbly and lovingly, than it would be for me to live a highly ascetic but proud and ill-tempered monastic life. God has no specific “desire” for me to be a floor mopper or a monastic, but His Way is one of humility and love.

    Yet the Way is also Personal. And that is how we can conceive of God having a plan for our lives. It is not as though God just creates humanity with its freedom and then sits back with detachment to watch how it all plays out. Our God is a God who has counted all the hairs on our heads (per Luke 12:7). What could be more personal?

    I believe that, if my heart desires to return to the Way, even in a very incomplete manner, God is ever present and actively inviting me to allow His grace to guide me back to It. He moves in the details of my life (and yours), though most often I do not see it or understand it.

    His movement in those life details (“the plan”) has nothing to do with our experiencing any sort of worldly comfort or success. In fact, it may be just the opposite. In any event, He knows what we need at each stage of our lives – how we are to be taught, disciplined, invited, lovingly drawn back to Him.

    (Sorry this became so long – thank you for stirring so much reflection in me.)

  20. William Avatar

    Based on some of the concerns expressed above, maybe one thing we could say is that when we pray to know God’s will, we must proceed with our lives without expecting to receive particular and recognizable directions or instructions. However, I think we’d be wrong to say that we never or almost never “hear” from God in ways that help to clarify to us what we should do. We cannot presume upon God in anything, but we know he “speaks” to people. We ask for guidance, and we must trust that we are guided even when we cannot see it except in retrospect, when it isn’t obvious. Sometimes, though, we are guided in a relatively direct way, and I think the experience of this is almost universal.

  21. Sophia Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen. I tried to post a comment earlier but think it got lost, which may be just as well since I am not sure it coherently expressed my question. I very much appreciated learning about the influences of certain Protestant strands of thinking on my own ponderings about God’s will for my life. And I certainly resonate with what Henry wrote about having gone through a stage of being so afraid to get God’s will ‘wrong’, that I can see the deep grace and wisdom and freedom that lies behind what Fr. Stephen teaches here–contra any religious neuroticism, or just plain old neuroticism that co-opts religious thought.

    I was a little troubled though, and found myself feeling a bit bereft, because I began to doubt my own experiences of having been guided by God, or ‘called’. Have I misunderstood? Certainly I felt called to the Orthodox Church, against all expectation, though with great joy. And while I understand that we participate in the synergeia of salvation, just this past summer I experienced how piddling the attempts which come from my side are, in contrast to the great grace and love that came–I believe–from God, often through other people, in a very difficult moment in my life. I also felt ‘help’ coming from the Theotokos, again sometimes through other people, but in a way that felt distinct. So, even though I know we can never ‘know’ God’s will in any comprehensive way, can we not still hope for guidance when our own confusion–merited or un-merited–leaves us groping blindly? Even if that guidance is just a shimmer of light which opens up new possibilities to our darkened hearts at just the right moment? And is it not good or possible to pray for guidance when making a big decision such as marriage or discernment of any vocation? Not to guarantee against failure, but to listen for whatever God might be encouraging us towards, or discouraging us from, or helping us to see?

    Thank you, Father!

  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    I very much understand the question. For one, I think that it is ever so much easier to see God’s will in the “rear view mirror.” And I think we all have a sense of the same thing, though we do get even that wrong, occasionally. But, yes, I agree. At the time of my conversion, after a path of some 20 years, the last few months were easily the most difficult, and, in hindsight, were the most obviously littered with the “will of God.” But I was filled with fear, simply because of my own lack of trust. I walked the path, but fearfully.

    I think that the whole matter requires that we trust, and trust that even when we “get it wrong,” God makes it right. After all, everything that is now salvation is after Adam and Eve’s wrong.

  23. Dino Avatar

    Father Zacharias once said that to stay firmly on the path of the perfect will of God, a total repentance, an absolute trust and a ardent readiness for sacrifice and self-aversion is required, or else God’s word [usually delivered through one’s Spiritual Father] might seem a “hard saying” (John 6:60) indeed, one that “will grind him to powder”(Matt 21:44)…
    Therefore, the fact that “we are sinful, broken, full of pride, anger and the other passions” [as Father Stephen articulated] is the reason for our blindness to God’s will in all its various understandings

  24. Sophia Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen. I really treasure the reminder to trust not only in God’s will but also in God’s redemption of our wrongs! Neuroticism dies hard, sometimes, and your last paragraph lifted a burden off my heart! (which, interestingly enough, sometimes makes is possible to ‘see’ much more clearly about certain things)

    Thank you again for this post. I am slowly taking it in and it’s teaching me a lot.

  25. William Gautsch Avatar

    Preach on Steve. Good word.

  26. Dino Avatar

    Young Man,
    God revealed to us the exact opposite to what the Buddha speculated: there is nothing in Him that is not personal; and the eastern notion of freedom from “I am”, is (as Elder Sophrony used to say [you really should check him out]), “suicide on the spiritual plane”…

  27. fatherstephen Avatar

    Young man,
    Fake email addresses, when detected, will get you deleted and blocked eventually.

  28. Brian Avatar

    We do not need to know (nor, I suspect, would we even want to know) God’s will in terms of exactly what the future holds for each of us personally. If we actually needed to know some aspect of what the future holds He would show us, as sometimes He does. But knowing the future consequences of every decision we are called to make would do violence to our freedom. It would make us slaves to ‘destiny’ rather than willing servants of the Most High who live by faith in Him. Since we are not slaves to ‘destiny,’ the idea of needing to seek out “God’s perfect will for or lives” lest we make a wrong decision about education, career choice, marriage, etc., which would destroy any chance of being in His will is just silly. God did not create us to be slaves. He gave us dignity and freedom – far more, I think, than we realize.

    But with regard to Bohdan’s comment, we do need to know how to live in this adventure (and tremendous honor) of freedom that He has given us. And so we pray…

    Blessed art Thou, O Lord. Teach me Thy statutes.
    Blessed art Thou, O Master. Make me to understand Thy commandments.
    Blessed art Thou, O Holy One. Enlighten me with Thy precepts.

    We ask God to “Direct our lives ACCORDING TO THY COMMANDMENTS” in order to keep us from self-willed, foolish (in terms of our salvation) paths – not to give us a perfect, pain-free life. Thus, it seems to me (and please correct me, Father, if I am mistaken), that there is indeed a personal aspect to praying, “In every hour of every day reveal Thy will to me.” However, this revelation of His will is not normally a vision of the future plans of God (although in rare instances it can be). It has primarily to do with asking God to make us like Him in all things, to enlighten us with the experiential knowledge of His commandments, to “keep” within us that which He has already revealed lest we become forgetful or neglectful. This “keeping” of His commandments includes, but far exceeds, mere obedience. It is a keeping of them (and ultimately Him) in our hearts, in our desires, in our meditation, and in our prayers as well as our obedience. And though His commandments are so simple that a little child can understand them, it requires constant repentance to “know” them/Him in the depths of our being.

    “Let my cry come near before Thee, O LORD:
    give me understanding according to thy word.
    Let my supplication come before Thee:
    deliver me according to Thy word.
    My lips shall utter praise,
    when thou hast taught me Thy statutes.
    My tongue shall speak of Thy word:
    for all Thy commandments are righteousness.
    Let Thine hand help me;
    for I have chosen thy precepts.
    I have longed for Thy salvation, O LORD;
    and Thy law is my delight.
    Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee;
    and let Thy judgments help me.
    I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant;
    for I do not forget Thy commandments.”

    The knowledge of His will is in keeping His commandments, and keeping is His commandments is the knowledge of His will.

  29. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    I agree with you, Brian. If I knew in advance that even a single choice I made was “God’s will”, without a doubt, it would no longer seem like my decision – for I would then feel compelled to make the choice.

    It would also mean that there would be no risk in the choosing. And without risk, there is no real love. I do not have to give of myself with fear and trembling (and give anyway) if I KNOW that everything will be all right in the end. To live faithfully and lovingly is to risk.

    I can certainly struggle as much as the next person with the human impatience that wants a clearer sense of direction at times. Yet, in reality, much of the joy – even awe – in life comes from seeing how God makes things work together for the good in such unexpected ways.

    My mind and heart now are way too small to comprehend God’s will. But I can strive to keep His commandments and, with His grace, follow the Way of love.

  30. fatherstephen Avatar

    My beloved wife and I used to have this argument when we were first getting married. She was very comfortable saying that she thought it was God’s will. I was not, because to say it felt like it impinged on my freedom (which seemed a much bigger deal to me then). Over the years, and in hindsight, I can say it was not only God’s will, but that His will for me was much better than I would have willed for myself. But I am at a stage of life where very few decisions are made. I already know what I will have been when I grow up. Keeping the commandments seems so much more important to me now. I don’t even get to decide what I want to wear anymore.

    In truth, the older I get, the more life seems to be a matter of obedience – of saying “yes” to each day and each moment and letting my life unfold before me. And this seems like God’s will. I genuinely prefer not to have to make choices (other than to say “yes”).

  31. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for your comment of 10:33 PM.

    For me there is a vast difference between saying that I sense that I am acting in accordance with God’s will than saying that I KNOW what God’s will is. The latter is fraught with problems, perhaps the greatest being my lack of humility.

    How many evils have been perpetrated by people who claimed to know God’s will? Even aside from that, it returns us to the notion of the micro-managing God who has a very specific choice He wants me to make, resulting in disapproval if I don’t make it. Not the God I believe in.

    I too have relatively few major decisions to make at this stage of life – or so it seems. Yet I see God’s will in all of the invitations that are interwoven in my day-to-day life.

    Was it “God’s will” that I stumbled upon and read this blog two years ago when I was searching an image from a meditation? (I believe that it was part of God’s movement in the details of my life.) Would I have been disobedient to His will had I not stopped to read? (I wouldn’t think of it that way; I think God would have sent me more invitations to draw closer to Him.)

    God wants my heart (and yours). He is actively sending me invitations to grow closer, to know Him and love Him and serve Him – in the people I meet, the places I work, the things I read, etc. His invitations are so abundant I couldn’t possible accept them all.

    But if, as you said, Fr. Stephen, the choice of my heart is to say “yes” to Him, the details of life will keep moving me toward Him – in both the big decisions and the small.

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    young man: “To be or not to be…” even Hamlet came to the conclusion that he did have that choice unto himself:

    “If it be now, ’tis not to come, if it is not to come, it will be now, if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.”

    So it is with God’s will: the difference between Zechariah and the Theotokos. Our freedom comes in the form of obedience–everything else is slavery.

    His commandments: “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself.”

    “All things work for good to those who love God.”

    It becomes quickly apparent that anything we do out of love of God (mixed though our motives will always be) will bear Godly fruit because it partakes of His will.

    Occasionally, He gives us an unmistakable nudge in a certain direction or lifts us up out of the pit through others or more directly.

    Ultimately, God’s will is that we all return to Him. If you seek the truth and union with God out of love everything will be made new.

  33. Anthony Avatar

    Fr. Stephen:

    Thank-you for this post – it has come to me at a most helpful time. I sincerely appreciate your work on this blog over the years.

  34. Ronald Drummond Avatar
    Ronald Drummond

    There is a wonderful chapter on this very matter in Phillip Cary ‘s book “Good News for Anxious Christians”. He writes as a protestant, arguing against the “new evangelical theology,” which has a number of anxiety – inducing features, one of which is “finding the will of God.” He basically says that when it comes to those decisions of a personal or vocational nature, we ought to use God-given wisdom to make wise choices as responsible Christian persons. Too often, the obsession with “finding the will of God” is little more than pious avoidance of the hard work of growing and maturing in wisdom through the daily practice of life in Christ. I believe Cary is an evangelical Anglican, but surely on this point he would find agreement from the Orthodox tradition?

  35. Allen Long Avatar

    These are healing words for me. Thank you, Fr. Stephen.

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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