One of the most common questions Christians ask is, what is God’s will for my life? We know God has plans for his people, but we want to know all the details. Which school should I go to? Which job offer should I take? Where should I live? Whom should I marry? Unfortunately, God’s will is often thought of as some hidden, mysterious, and elusive plan which is discerned through an audible voice or a prophetic word. And while God may, in his good pleasure, provide us clear and sure “signs” regarding major life decisions, that’s not how God normally works. The Bible tells us there are “secret things” that “belong to the Lord our God” (Deut 29:29).
But the good news is that we can know God’s will for our lives! There are two places in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians where we are given explicit details about what God requires of his children. So, for those who want to know God’s will, let’s start with what he has told us.
The first instance where God’s will for us is clearly stated involves our personal holiness:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor… For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness (1 Thess 4:3-4, 7).
As those who have been called and set apart for service to God, Christians must reflect the holy and righteous character of God. Regardless of where we live and work, or who our spouse is, God’s will for our lives is that we become sanctified. In this passage Paul directly defines sanctification here as abstaining from all sexual immorality (i.e., premarital or extramarital sex). We must control our bodies in honor, “not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thess 4:5; cf. Rom 1:24-31). Sexual urges should not dictate the believer’s actions. Those ultimately driven by their lustful passions are those who do not have the Spirit’s fruit of self-control growing in them.
Living a life of sexual purity and self-control seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? But how often do we get bogged down trying to discern God’s will for our lives while neglecting this explicit command from our Lord?
Paul goes on to give three commands in rapid-fire succession further defining God’s will for us as a life characterized by thankfulness.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess 5:16-18)
First, the Christian’s default disposition should be one of joy. G.K. Beale writes, “Joy is not primarily an ’emotional high’,” but “an inner, abiding attitude or disposition of taking pleasure in recognizing that whatever one encounters, including trials, is God’s will” (1-2 Thessalonians, 167). Second, our prayer should be frequent, remembering who God is, what he has done, and our constant dependence on him. And finally, as those “in Christ Jesus,” we are to be a thankful people. We give thanks with grateful hearts because God has given Jesus Christ, his Son. In fact, thankfulness is linked to the other two. Our joy and pleasure in God is expressed in thankfulness, and our prayers should be characterized by thankfulness.
What also connects these commands is that they are each continual, ongoing actions. But how do we do them without ceasing? I think the phrase “in all circumstances” helps us. Paul isn’t saying we must literally spend every waking moment of our lives praying and thanking God. Rather, our lives are to be consistently characterized by joy, prayer, and thanksgiving. In other words, we give thanks for the good things we experience and also for the bad things. Remember, the Thessalonians were enduring affliction (1 Thess 1:6)! Regardless of the situations we find ourselves in, how many blessing we have or don’t have, we are to endure all seasons of life with prayer, joy, and thanksgiving (see also, Col 1:9-14; Phil 4:4-7).
We Can Know and Do God’s Will
God’s will is often assumed to be hidden and difficult to discover. And for many decisions we face on a daily basis, this may prove true. Regrettably, this can be a source of frustration for believers. Remember, God is not a magic eight ball. But Christian, take heart: God hasn’t left us in the dark. He has graciously given us his Word, which is a light to our path, and his Spirit, who empowers us to obey and please him. And when we do come to a foggy fork in the road, we can ask God for the wisdom needed (James 1:5).
God may not tell us every detail of his plan for our lives. However, what he has told us is more than enough to keep us busy. Michael Martin writes, “God’s will begins with doing that will which he has already revealed and called us to do daily” (1, 2 Thessalonians, New American Commentary). No matter which job you take, which school you attend, where you live, or which person you marry, may we be characterized by holiness and thankfulness.
Mitch Bedzyk serves as a teacher and worship leader at Elmira Christian Center. He received his Master of Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and works in IT for the NY Office of Mental Health. He and his wife, Sarah, have one son named Oliver Paul and are foster parents. In his spare time he enjoys reading, coffee, guitar, following the Bundesliga and MLS, and playing fantasy soccer. You can follow him @mitchbedzyk