An Unexpected Way to Know God’s Will for Your Life

By Mark D. Roberts

October 1, 2019

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

Ephesians 5:17

When I was a parish pastor, I was often asked, “How can I know God’s will for my life?” I still get this question from folks I serve through my work at the De Pree Center—sometimes in personal conversations, sometimes through email. I understand this question and the urgency we can feel about it. I’ve asked this same question many times in my own life. As people who honor God’s wisdom and sovereignty, we want to know what God wants us to do with our lives, in order both to honor God and to choose the best course for ourselves.

A little boy on a ladder reaching into the cloudsEphesians 5:17 encourages us to answer the question “How can I know God’s will for my life?” in a way that may sound a bit odd at first. But please hear me out. Here is my odd answer: You can know God’s will for your life if you first understand what the Lord’s will is. You can be in a better place to discern God’s will for your particular life if you first grasp God’s will for all things, things in heaven and things on earth (see Ephesians 1:10).

When we want to know God’s will for our life, often we’re dealing with very specific issues: where to live, what job to take, whom to marry, where to go to school, and so on. We want to know what God wants us to do in a particular situation, and, often, we want to know right away. Surely there are times when God makes his will known without question and in the amount of detail we prefer. But most of the time God doesn’t work this way. Rather, discerning God’s specific will for our lives takes time and patience. It is a prayerful process of discovering how God’s general will ought to be worked out in our specific lives.

What we need, therefore, is to understand what the Lord’s will is, not just in our own lives or in a particular situation, but in the whole cosmos. “Understanding” in this way is more than superficial recognition. It’s knowing the fundamental will of God and building our lives on this foundation. For example, from Ephesians 1 we know that God’s ultimate purpose is to unite all things in Christ. You and I can easily repeat this truth, but does really fill our minds and shape our hearts? Does it enlarge our vision? Does it move us? Does this truth begin to give order to everything else we think and do?

The more we understand, deeply understand God’s will for all things, the more we be prepared to discern God’s will for our individual lives. The more we deeply understand God’s will for all things, the more we will grasp his will for the church. Our story will be shaped by God’s own story, our purpose by God’s own purpose, our heart by God’s own heart.

Something to Think About:

How have you discerned God’s specific will for your life in the past?

To what extent has God’s larger will shaped your sense of his plans for your own life?

What helps you to understand in a deep way the will of God?

Something to Do:

Talk with a friend or with your small group about how your sense of God’s will for your life right now is connected (or not connected) to God’s will for all things (see Ephesians 1:9-10).


Gracious God, thank you for making your will known to us. Thank you for your revelation in Scripture. Thank you for sharing with us the wonder of the gospel. Thank you for showing us yourself and your purpose in Jesus Christ. Thank you for your plan “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”

Help me, Lord, to understand your will for all things. May my understanding be more than superficial, more than an ability to rattle off a few Bible verses. May I understand you and your will deeply, as your Word takes up residence in my inner being, as your Spirit enlightens me, as the community of your people teaches me. May your will for all things shape my sense of your will for my life. Amen.

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online
Introduction to Ephesians

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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