I’m going to wade into a thorny issue here and spout my own opinion. However, wiser minds than mine have grappled with this and they would disagree with me. So, for what it is worth, here is a non-theologian, practical, version for us common folks.
How do we know if God’s will is being done in our life or if we are just out there doing our own thing and fooling ourself by thinking it is God’s will? Or, once we become children of God, do we lose all say in our own life and just live out a future set in stone by God?
I’ve discussed this issue with my 15 year old and he came up with a great metaphor: When we become Christians, God equips us with a map and all the tools to embark on a journey toward becoming more like Christ. God puts His Holy Spirit within us to act as a guide and to do the actual work of transforming us into the image of Christ.
Now, this map has many possible routes to get to our final destination. Some are straight and uncomplicated. Others have many detours, twists, turns, and mud bogs to fall into. But they all ultimately lead to God’s will and our place in heaven. Our free will comes in when we choose the path we take.
Submitting to the work of the Holy Spirit, delighting ourselves in the Lord and being humble enough to accept His correction will move us along a much straighter and quicker path toward becoming more Christ-like. Holding on to our grudges, selfishness, anger, pride, and all those other, self-indulgent sins, sends us on a long and winding rabbit trail farther from God’s will and closer to the dark forests and murky quicksands of life. A quick side note, I am NOT saying that a life fully submitted to and in right relationship to the Lord, will be free from trouble, tragedy and temptations. For more on that subject click here.
So how do we get to the straighter path, the one that shelters under God’s wings and abounds with His peace, where His will is clear? By delighting our self in Him. To delight in the Lord means to seek a closer relationship with Him. It means our heart is longing for Him and our attention is turned toward Him more than anything else in our day. I’m still learning to move in this direction more and more each day myself so I don’t pretend to have this perfected. It is all part of the journey, gradually growing better at living in our relationship to God more than in our relationship to the world.
But, it is because of that relationship that we can be sure we are living in alignment with God’s will. We don’t even actually do His will, the Holy Spirit does the doing through us. Our job is to trust Him. That’s all. The ability to trust grows in any relation over time and experience with the other person. The more we get to know them, watch their actions, hear their words and connect with their heart, the more we trust them.
God’s will becomes our own and He carries it out in our life when we make Him our whole life, not just a part of our Sunday morning.