God's Will or God's Way

Southern Alaska glacier

Southern Alaska glacier

If the telephone rang right now it would scare him to death, so intent is he on his thoughts. God knows what I should do He knows everything. His will is perfect. But how do I know what His will is? Silently he prays, God, what do you want me to do? Tell me, please.


The vaulted doors of heaven seem locked and double-bolted, impenetrable. “Please,” he mutters at his desk. “I desperately want to know. I need to know.”

He can almost hear God saying, “Nope. Not today. Not going to do it. I know and have my plans for you, but that information is unavailable.”

So he searches his Sunday School memories and quiet time insights for a scripture. Something to enlighten him—something to appropriate and use as leverage on the Almighty, believing that God may not honor him with an answer, but He has to honor His Word. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

“Ah, yes. Yes. I’ve got it,” he declares. In barely audible muttering, he recounts, “There was a fellow in the Bible who ran out of bread to make midnight sandwiches for his house guests. Desperate, he went to his friend’s place to bum a few slices. He eventually got the bread, but only because he persisted long enough to wear his sleepy buddy down.”

Leveraging fresh resolve from Scripture, and increasing impatience, he forges ahead. His neck is bowed and his jaw is set on finding God’s will. None of this permissive will versus divine will, he thinks. I won’t settle for anything short of God’s divine will.

Days pass and the decision-making deadline approaches. Whereas initially his intensity was fueled with frustration, now there is another factor. Fear. What am I going to do? I don’t want to miss God’s will, he thinks. “And what will my fate be if I mess up?” he blurts out, thinking of the misfortune that will be his if he misses God’s best.

Reverting to saner rationale—or is it rationalization—he contemplates, But how am I supposed to know what God wants me to do if He won’t tell me? “Lord God, can’t you just give me a simple yes or no?” He had long since dispensed with anything other than close-ended questions for his evasive deity. “I know you have the answer. Why don’t you give me your thumbs up or down so I can get on with my life? It’s going to reflect poorly on both of us if I make a mistake.” That felt manipulative, but given what was at stake it also felt justified.  

Nothing. Not a word. Not a sign. Not a sound.           

“You know, God, even a whisper would be okay. That’s the way you spoke to Elijah.” But it was in a gentle breeze, he recalled from Sunday School, and so promptly moved his quiet time outside to the patio. Now I’m in the right place. It was a location issue. Surely. How could I miss that? Such a simple oversight. Okay, God. I’m ready for the breeze bearing your will.

And time ticks on. Hours pass into days as he tries varied and sundry methods for prying God’s will loose. Prying? Probably not the best word, he ruminates. But it’s getting close to that, he confides to himself. He ponders his level of frustration. He retraces his steps: Every door is closed. Every window of heaven barred. The closest thing I’ve got to peace is an acid stomach. Maybe Chuck could help, he realizes, and grabs his phone.

“Hey, Chuck. How you doing?” He doesn’t belabor the call with small talk. “Listen, I need some counsel. The decision deadline on that project I told you about is close. Really close, but nothing from God on what I’m supposed to do. How am I supposed to discover—or even discern—God’s will on this decision? I’ve tried everything. It’s like God’s gone to Mars for sabbatical. I’ve asked Him for an answer so many different ways that I’m fresh out of methods. I’ve read the Word and see that I am supposed to be persistent. I’ve looked for open doors, but everything is closed up tight. I’ve asked for a revelation, but at this point I’d settle for a hint. I’m really frustrated. Got any ideas?”

“Wow! You’ve really been putting your time in on this,” Chuck notes. There is empathy in his voice. “Given all you’ve done, as bad as I hate to say it, there’s only one thing left to conclude: There must be unconfessed sin in your life. Think about it. Before you can get God to tell you what His will is you’ve got to get rid of the sin in your life. The channel between you and God is clogged. It’s time to clean house buddy.”

“Thanks, Chuck. I appreciate your honesty. I’ll consider what you’ve suggested. See you around, and thanks again. Bye.”

Sin? You’ve got to be kidding me. Jeepers! Like I haven’t asked the Lord about that a gazillion times already. There’s got to be something I’m overlooking.

He changed shoes, leashed the dog, and headed into the neighborhood for his nightly walk. Carrying the dog’s poop bag in his hand, he made the turn for home. Watching the sidewalk, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, I need insight. The ball’s in your court. I don’t know what else to do.” He didn’t even say Amen—and didn’t notice that he had failed to properly conclude his prayer of resignation. It was the second shortest prayer he had ever prayed. The first was uttered three weeks ago: “Lord, I need help!”

Putting the dog’s food down, he finds something to drink, picks up his reading, and settles into his chair, but he’s distracted. He thinks again, All I want is a yes or no, nothing fancy like handwriting on the wall. I guess God has something else in mind. I don’t know though. Just don’t know.

Only time could lay the proper groundwork to this point. Only now is he weaned from his methods, his ideas, his analysis, and his means learned and sophisticated to discover God’s will.

He looked again at his book, a thin work by Tim Hansel. The words catapult off the page: “How do we know if it is the Lord speaking? The only answer I know is to become very familiar with His voice by spending time with Him.”

When he was out of resourcefulness for enticing God, questioning God, and leveraging Him, God spoke. He didn’t exactly feel prepared for the message, but his heart was ready to hear. His thoughts assembled, I’m shortchanging myself and God by limiting our interaction to a black and white, yes or no, mechanical exchange. God wants me to know Him, not know about Him. He wants time. He wants time with me for me to get to know Him.

He thought more deeply. He thought about his friends. For many of us the motivation to search for God’s will is to get the right answers so we don’t make mistakes. If we can just do his will then we won’t have to worry about being in the wrong place, backtracking from a poor decision, suffering failure, or struggling to make the right decisions when every indicator is clouded with ambiguity. He pondered this for a moment. More thoughts bubbled up. If we can just find God’s will we won’t have to fear unpleasant consequences or dread the decision-making process or, sad to say, have to put forth the effort required to build a relationship with God.

He turned the book over in his lap and leaned his chair back. He didn’t like where his thoughts were taking him, but he knew he was on an important path. Understanding God’s will is not a matter of playing my cards right. It’s not like looking something up with the right search terms, saying the right words, or acting just the right way. He thought about this, felt the satisfaction of seeing through the fog that had engulfed him, but felt as well the heaviness of knowing he had missed God trying to query Him. God isn’t a dispensary, he thought. His will is wrapped up in His being. When I communicate with Him, I’ll get to know Him, I’ll know His voice and I’ll know His will.

Yes, there is the biblical story of Gideon laying out the fleece in order to find God’s will. He knew what to do, but what have you gained relationally if all you hold in your hand is a wet fleece? You have an experience to relate, but you don’t know God any better.

Knowing God. Just the idea is intimidating and inviting at the same time. God is all knowing. His will is perfect and indomitable. If the goal is to literally determine God’s exact and perfect will, we should all sit still until we are certain we’ve heard from God. Even though this logic is flawless and reasonable, there remains one problem: This isn’t the way God wants it.

Perhaps the term “God’s will” miscommunicates the heart of God’s desire. Maybe “God’s ways” more accurately conveys what He wants us to know.

As an employer I can make my will known to a new employee within the first hour of their first day. However, it will take that employee considerably longer to know my ways. But once he knows them, he will have great insight into my will.

If I asked you if you know me, you might say, “Why, yes. You’re the eldest of four brothers born to Bill and Anabel Gillham. You are a writer, a guide to organizations and leaders, and a conference speaker. You ride a bike and fly fish and have a garden.”

All of this is true. But these are just informative things about me. There are lots of folks who know about me and what I do. I have acquaintances spanning the globe and a fair number of friends, but I count my confidants and close friends on one hand. These are the people who know me and my ways. They know my hopes and dreams. To them I have bared my soul and opened my heart.

God does not intend to be intimidating. He wants to be called “Father.” Knowing Him is not presumptuous. It is His idea, His invitation.

Discovering God’s will is more profound than doing the right things as a result of hearing God express His wishes. Knowing God’s will is really an invitation from God to discover His ways, discern His heart, listen to His dreams, understand His thoughts, and see through His eyes. If you have sat with God as He bared His soul and revealed His dreams, questions about His will become much less daunting and mysterious because you know Him more deeply than His will can reveal.

Sitting forward in his chair, he put the bookmark back in his book and placed it on the table. He turned off the lamp and reflected: Through time spent—reading, walking, listening, talking, discussing—I will know Father God and recognize His voice, understand His ways, and know His heart. We will form a bond, a bond like close friends enjoy. He pondered this and shaking his head realized, In seeking to know God’s will, I nearly missed Him.