God doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. This 7-step process for discerning God’s will is the most popular post on this blog. It’s not a prescription, but it’s what I use and I’m sharing it with you.
Almost two years ago, in the middle of a family dinner, my twenty-something son popped a question. “Mom, how do you know the difference between faith-based trust and stupidity?”
My son loves the shock-factor. He’s a master at getting your attention. This was his way of opening up a discussion about how to discern God’s will. He and his new wife had many different forks in their road. There was one they wanted to take, but they wanted assurance it wasn’t a “stupid” move.
At the time, my husband and I were trying to make major decisions and discerning God’s will for our path as well. We had been reading and listening to sermons until all the theologians had become one talking head in our heads. We still didn’t have a full answer for him, but we talked it through and applied Scripture to what we did know.
During the last two years, all six of us have maneuvered more forks than I can count and made multiple life-altering changes.
Having recently navigated another crossroad, I decided to write about my process in case it’s helpful to you.
It’s a seven-step outline for sorting through the options and priorities in front of me.
But first, a few “ground rules.”
Discerning God’s Will:
1-Understand the 90/10 percentage principle
The majority of preachers my husband and I follow are insistent on getting this major point across when it comes to how to discern God’s will. In essence, they say:
If you are not following through on
God’s revealed will for your character,
stop trying to figure out
his specific purpose for your choices.
One article put it this way:
… We’re all supposed to do the Bible stuff. And there’s a lot of it.
…once we start doing the 90 percent, it usually opens us up to seeing the 10 percent more clearly.”
So true. So foundational. So important.
And yet, so NOT helpful if you have been seeking after him in the 90 percent.
For those who are trying to walk in the light, confessing and repenting of known sin, bathing life with worship and the Word, you likely desire input on how to discern that remaining “10 percent.”
But the teaching about lining up the other 90% of your walk is foundational and worth noting.
2-Understand the limitations of a blog post
Godly counsel is a key factor in navigating life’s twists and turns.
Just as my husband and I give it to our children, so we seek it from our own parents and spiritually mature friends we trust.
I love talking with friends about how God is working in their lives. I realize it’s not a prescription for how he will work in mine — but it gives me insight and hope.
This is one reason I write: to share stories of God’s faithfulness and remind you that you’re not alone.
But blog posts and podcasts or whatever other medium are not a substitute for the Church, the Scriptures, and godly counsel. I hope you have people in your life who talk things through with you in light of Scripture and tell you the truth.
As I share my journey and my process, it’s important to note:
It’s not a formula or a prescription.
It doesn’t even always work like this for me.
With all that said, here it is.
My 7-step process
Identify desires of the heart and take them before the Lord via journaling and prayer.
This simple advice about journaling and recording prayers and thoughts has been given to me and given by me numerous times.
It’s mission-critical in my process and I often hear back from those I’ve counseled about how powerful this one step was in bringing clarity to their jumbled thoughts.
Study relevant concepts in Scripture, asking the Spirit to intercede and direct.
Sometimes a pre-printed study may speak to the particular situation, but often I need to go beyond being spoon-fed by someone else and diving into God’s Word for myself.
If you need help knowing where to start in studying the Bible on a specific topic, I’ve highlighted a favorite resource on this page (in the sidebar on desktop or farther down the page on mobile).
Record related godly instruction (from trusted sources) that speaks to the subject (sermons, Bible studies, podcasts, books, and articles).
I end up with notes on my phone, laptop, a spiral in my Bible, and even a mini-spiral in my purse when I’m in the deep middle of trying to make a decision with God’s guidance.
Alongside these notes, I reflect on how what I’m hearing and seeing from biblically-based sources correlates to my past experiences and lessons learned. I consider God’s unique equipping, passion, and priorities he’s revealed for my life thus far.
Watch to see how 1-3 correlate.
(This may take time, but I always begin to see threads and themes.)
I talk it out with my husband or someone else I trust to tell me the truth if it sounds like I’m trying to knit threads that weren’t meant to be crocheted. ~wink.
Outline ideas, options, and possible steps — rearranging, sorting, and refining as I pray.
(Some would call this a “brain dump.”)
I still have whiteboards left over from our homeschooling days. They’ve followed me from Texas to Virginia to Pennsylvania. I can’t do life without whiteboards.
Your “brain dumping” may not be on whiteboards, but the concept of sketching, moving, erasing, and positioning ideas and steps until they have aligned into something resembling an outline is the same.
The idea is to put it out there, but hold it all loosely until it begins to take shape in tandem with continuing steps 2 and 3. Continue to seek God’s timing and guidance through prayer and be open to godly counsel.
Create a specific plan with a timeframe for changing course if necessary.
(i.e., Don’t quit the plan and make a new one until a certain amount of time has passed.)
At some point, you have to decide on something worth sticking with. Many times the only reason I’ve continued on a path is because it was part of “the plan.”
Just because we act after seeking God’s direction doesn’t mean it will be easy. In fact, it might mean it’s harder than ever.
This is why when you finally do move forward, you need both an outline for the steps and a commitment to continue through to some threshold (either determined by time, milestones, highest sacrifice, etc.).
7-Pray it forward
Pray it forward as I act in confidence, implementing the outlined plan.
Here’s where I choose to trust that God is big enough to redirect if I’m moving in a direction he disapproves.
It’s a combination of doing and purposing, while continually seeking and praying. I’ve seen it work on each end of the time spectrum:
- Sometimes it’s the “long game,” as I wait patiently with deliberate intention for the Lord to answer and give me confidence and courage to act.
- However, it’s also the groundwork that sets me up to act quickly when I believe he is answering through an opportunity.
(See: Praying & acting in confidence)
As mentioned, moving forward (even with a clear direction from God) doesn’t ensure the path will be easy. In fact, if your calling has any kingdom potential, you can trust the enemy will throw temptations and trials your way. (This is discussed more in part two ~ see below.)
As I prepared to write this post, I surveyed my family again. There were four key takeaways from that discussion.
It’s interesting to hear how your children have deciphered and implemented your counsel. These are discussed in part two. Click to read:
At the end of that post (as well as this one), there’s a link to an index page of other articles I’ve written on discerning God’s will and trusting his timing.
Friend, this is not easy and the enemy would like to convince us we are on our own with this thing called life.
But that’s a lie.
Our God is a faithful Father who cares, but he hasn’t promised us a spotlight into the future, only a lamp unto our feet.
Which means sometimes
we only get instructions
for one step at a time.
Here are a few verses that have guided my thoughts. Each opens in Bible Hub, where you can view various versions and even click on related Scripture for further study.
Jumpstart Prayer Challenge
As you read above, prayer is an important part of working through this process.
If you could use help restarting your prayer life,
I’ve developed a free 5-day prayer challenge that will guide you in that.
Revive your Prayer Life!:
Revival: 6 Steps to Reviving Your Heart and Rebuilding Your Prayer Life
will lead you through a step-by-step Scripture-based plan.
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More Posts on Discerning God’s Will & Trusting his Timing
This powerful list of articles includes
biblically-based guidance for you in seeking God’s will and trusting His timing.