How Can I Know the [Personal] Will of God?

Below is a letter I wrote  after hearing a sermon on “How Can I Know the Will of God?”

Dear Pastor,

Perhaps I’m too logical in my thinking or somewhat of a doubting Thomas and need to mull over new ideas for them to take root in my life.  Such is the case with your recent sermon, “How Can I Know the Will of God?”  Your message was very clear that God has a specific “plan” for each believer and that it’s the believer’s responsibility to find out what that specific plan is.

You referenced Prov 3:5-6, which in your translation says, “And He will direct your path.”  The NIV I have says, “And He will make your paths straight.”  To me, there are substantive differences in these translations and subsequent interpretations to be derived.  You said we shouldn’t depend on our own understanding and yet we also shouldn’t “deny our own smarts.”  And, more than once you said, “You’ve got to trust even when it doesn’t make sense.”  How can one ever have confidence to know they’re doing the will of God if they can’t be sure the decisions being made are what God would want done?  Specifically, you stated, “He will guide you [referring to any number of things including] career, marriage, dating, and college so long as He’s Lord of all.”  I regret that I didn’t hear how it is that we can know when it is that God is guiding us.  In addition, because I didn’t come to Christ until later in life, does that mean I might have married the wrong person, have the wrong job, bought the wrong house, am raising the wrong number of children, etc?  And that makes me wonder, does God also have a specific will for children and teenagers?

I recently found and a book in the church’s library, Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen.  He references three separate aspects of the will of God which include:

  1. The sovereign will of God
  2. The moral will of God
  3. The personal will of God.

From his definitions, it seemed evident that you were referring to the personal will of God in your sermon and to that end, I’d be interested in your take of instances where Paul appears to make decisions without any obvious indication of seeking the Lord’s will:

1 Thess 3:1

Phil 2:25

1 Cor 16:3-4

Acts 6:1-7

Acts 15:24-29

Friesen would say that Paul was exercising wisdom and that in non-moral areas where there isn’t a Biblical command or principle, we’re free (and responsible) to make decisions that we think are best.  Do you agree with this?  Are there other books you’ve found helpful in determining the personal will that God has for a believer?

Certainly throughout the Bible there are instances where God has led individuals.  However, it’s my sense that direct guidance was the exception and not the rule.  To that end, I’m asking if you think Friesen’s  conclusions regarding the “personal” will of God are correct:

  • In moral decisions, Christians are to live in obedience to the stated moral will of God.
  • And, in non-moral decisions, Christians are free and responsible to choose their own course of action.

Most Sincerely,


A Review of Ray Pritchard’s book, Discovering God’s Will for Your Life

ray-pritchardAuthor Ray Pritchard states in his book, Discovering God’s Will for Your Life, “Nothing is more comforting to the child of God than knowing that amid the confusion of everyday life God is slowly leading him or her along the path of his will.  In fact, he (God) is working in and through your decisions (and often in spite of your decisions) to see that his will is actually done in your life.”

Mr. Pritchard, references Proverbs 3:5-6 in chapter five – How to Make a Tough Decision and highlights five words:


To trust in the Lord is to rest your whole weight upon

him – to depend on him completely.


To lean means to rest upon something for partial support

or when you are not strong enough to stand alone.


Understanding refers to mental process by which you

analyze a problem.  Use all your mental powers, but do

not lean on them for total support.  Don’t trust in your

own ability to figure out your life.  Lean instead on the

Lord.  Rest your weight on him.


In all your ways know him deeply and intimately.  It’s

the kind of knowing that comes with personal experience.

It means to know something through and through.


He will make your straight your paths.

So, then, according to Mr. Pritchard (emphasis mine), “Here is God’s message to you from Proverbs 3:5-6.  If you will know God in every area of your life, he will take personal responsibility to make your way smooth and straight.  He will remove the obstacles if they need to be removed.  He will fill in the pot-holes if they need to be filled.  He will redirect the detour so that what seemed to be a dead-end turns out to be the shortest way to reach your destination.”

However, if I look at Proverbs 3:5-6 in the context of the chapter, I come to a different conclusion.  The NIV Topical Bible I use has the third chapter of Proverbs under the heading of “Further Benefits of Wisdom”.  In addition, if I look at the headings of chapters one through four, I see:

Chapter 1:20-33            Warning Against Rejecting Wisdom

Chapter 2:1-22              Moral Benefits of Wisdom

Chapter 3:1-35              Further Benefits of Wisdom

Chapter 4:1-27              Wisdom Is Supreme

Also, Proverbs 3:5-6 are squarely in the middle of a bunch of verses that relate to various aspects of wisdom.  The NIV Topical Bible has a “theme verse” related to Proverbs 3:5 entitled, “Direction” which states:

  • The book of Proverbs offers direction for life by concentrating on those patterns operable in daily life that offer some measure of consistency.  For example, fearing God and shunning evil produces a healthy body.  Hard work brings rewards, whereas laziness courts disaster.  Consistent discipline of a child results in a well-adjusted adult.  Pride and arrogance lead to destruction.  The wicked die young while law-abiding citizens (the righteous) live long.  There may be exceptions to these rules, but generally we can depend on them.

I can only surmise that the people who produced the NIV Topical Bible did not see anything within Proverbs 3:5-6 related to:

  • God taking a personal responsibility
  • God making one’s way smooth and straight
  • God removing obstacles
  • God filling in “pot-holes”
  • God redirecting detours
  • God ensuring that we reach our destinations via the shortest way

In addition, Proverbs 3:1-10 are arranged in pairs i.e. 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, and 9-10.


If you –

Then –


Do not forget my teaching

You’ll live long and prosperous


Let love and faithfulness never leave you

You’ll win favor and a good name


Trust in the Lord with all your heart

He’ll make your paths smooth


Are humble, fear the Lord, and shun evil

You’ll be healthy


Honor the Lord with your wealth

You’ll have plenty

Certainly, we can come up with exceptions to these “rules”.  And that’s the point!  These are not absolute statements!  They’re generalities!  The founder of The Navigators, Dawson Trottman, did not have a long life.  And yet, when I read his bibliography, it’s clear that he didn’t forget the teachings of the Bible.  And certainly his paths weren’t always smooth even though he trusted in the Lord with all his heart.

Mr. Pritchard uses a number of OT references i.e. Ex 13:20-22 and Num 9:15-23 to show how God used supernatural events and did indeed guide people.  The question for me, then, is can one use a singular historical event denoted in Scripture to ascertain a general mode in which God shows His will to all Christians.  Mr. Pritchard goes on to state that the secret of knowing God’s personal and specific will for each believer is to know God better.  For myself, I believe that any decision I make, so long as it is within the moral will of God, is pleasing and acceptable to God.  Perhaps I’ll post another time of my reaction to reading Gary Friesen’s book, Decision Making and the Will of God.