Overview: Understanding God’s will is not as difficult as you may think. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 provides the answer for any situation!
Do you wonder what God’s will is for you right now? How do you determine what His wishes are for you on any given day or in any situation? Do you think your circumstances will give you the answer, or your feelings, or someone else’s advice?
Answer: none of the above.
Understanding God’s will for your current situation — no matter what it is — is not difficult at all. And there’s no way to get it wrong!
No, I am not trying to minimize your pain or the stress of whatever decision you’re trying to make. I know the feelings of being burdened by even justified emotions or paralyzed by fear of taking the wrong path.
But God’s Word is clear that no matter what situation we find ourselves in, His will is not hard to determine. In fact, understanding God’s will is the easy part — it’s DOING it that we sometimes struggle with. (But more on the doing later.)
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
It’s so clear; I’m almost ashamed to read it. I don’t need to question God’s will for me on any given day or in any situation. This one verse provides the answer, no matter what’s going on.
In this verse, God says that every day, in all times and places, I am to rejoice. I am to pray. And I am to give thanks. These three things are His will for me AT ALL TIMES.
Do you feel like this is an oversimplification? “But Ann,” you say, “you don’t understand what I’m going through. My circumstances are overwhelming, and I don’t know what to DO, and you’re telling me all I need is to plaster a smile on my face and everything will be hunky-dory. It’s much more complicated than that!”
To which I would reply: In some ways it may seem much more complicated — but in the most important ways, it really is just that simple.
Remember that our everyday circumstances are not what God wants us to focus on. He tells us in Matthew 6 not to worry about the temporal things, that He will take care of them.
So whatever the situation is — no matter how sticky — He’s got the circumstances themselves covered. He will work it all out for our best interests (Romans 8:28) no matter which decision we make or how scary everything is.
In the meantime, though, He is more concerned about our hearts, our sanctification, our worship of Him.
And that’s where this verse comes in — it tells us how to focus our eyes on God. Which, my friends, is ALWAYS His will for us, no matter what the situation.
We don’t need to get bogged down in the details — He’s got our backs! We don’t need to wallow in despair or fear — that shows a lack of trust in His care.
The way to avoid these temptations is by obeying what the verse tells us to do: 1) Rejoice. 2) Pray. 3) Give thanks.
If I am not doing these things, I need to repent and deliberately change my thought patterns — perhaps repeatedly. When I find myself dwelling on my negative emotions, I am to ask God to forgive me, I am to set them aside — the thoughts AND the emotions — and I am to choose to rejoice. I am to reach out to God in prayer. And I am to find something to thank God for.
This is the part that’s not always that easy. Sometimes our circumstances are incredibly difficult. It can be very hard to choose to rejoice or to feel thankful in the midst of the struggles of our lives, both big and small.
Let’s take a closer look at these commands one at a time. Maybe that will help.
Rejoicing is easiest for me when I think about God’s character. His character is so stupendous, so magnificent, that I cannot NOT rejoice about it — it is always worthy of being joyous about, no matter what my own situation is.
If I need reminding, I can look up some verses in Psalms about who He is. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, full of lovingkindness, gracious, merciful — the list goes on. Even the worst of my circumstances can’t diminish His greatness when I take the time to ponder Him.
Another thing to rejoice in is Christ’s work on the cross. That “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). My sin has been washed away, and I am clothed in Christ’s righteousness, even though I am so undeserving. My current anxieties don’t change that.
If we are truly God’s children, there is an element of joy in our lives that can’t be dimmed by whatever we’re going through. It’s fueled by the knowledge of His character and of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. Don’t stop reminding yourself of these things! Rejoice ALWAYS!
Pray without ceasing
For me, when I am feeling overwhelmed, it usually helps to pray for someone else. This removes my focus from ME. It reminds me that my circumstances are really not that bad. And it helps the other person, which is always a morale-booster.
When I pray about my own situation, I can often be further tempted to feel even more sorry for myself (true confessions!). But I also think there is great value in laying it before God as many times as it takes for me to truly give it to Him. To get to that place of submission to His plans that says, “not my will, but Thine, be done.” It’s not always an easy spot to get to, but it’s a necessary one.
Another way is to pray from Scripture. I will often pray through a Psalm, or Colossians 1:9-12 (for me or someone else) or Romans 8. And there are so many more passages where praying the Word, word-for-word, can reset my mind from “poor me” to “praise God.”
In everything give thanks
Being thankful can be more difficult. It’s probably a large enough topic for a separate article! This is where the rubber meets the road — will we THANK God for what He has allowed in our lives?
I’ve been going through a trial recently that I have NOT wanted to thank Him for. And for a long time, I thought I didn’t have to thank Him for the trial itself, but that I could “give thanks” for other things that were not related at all, and that would be sufficient.
For instance, I once read a book in which the author thanked God for the socks that she was matching out of the laundry basket — because having to match little socks meant that there were little feet to go in them. I love this; it is a reminder that all of our tasks can take on meaning when we remember who we are doing them for and be thankful. And YES, this type of thanksgiving is good.
But I’ve learned recently that we can indeed thank God FOR the trial, the struggle, the complicated situation.
This “strange trial” you are experiencing is God’s hand upon your life to cause you to grow closer to Him and to become more like Christ. Do we really believe we want to avoid the trial if that means we stay complacently further away from the God who made us, stuck in our sin? While our emotions scream, “Yes! I can’t stand this situation! I never asked for it!”, yet in our heart of hearts we know that we love Him above all things. And we will accept whatever it takes to know Him better and become conformed to the image of His Son.
Thus we are able to give thanks IN ALL THINGS — even in and for our scary situations, because we know they are “producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17) and are growing and proving our faith, which is “more precious than gold” (1 Peter 1:7). Even if sometimes we don’t FEEL these realities, they are true nonetheless.
Understanding God’s will is really so simple!
Rejoice, pray, give thanks — no matter what our circumstances are or what decisions we have to make.
And when we start obeying God’s will with these three actions, focusing our hearts and minds on Him, then often the circumstances or the decisions begin to resolve themselves, as we begin to see things with God’s priority structure and allow Him to handle the details. Our path ahead becomes clearer — or at the very least we are given strength to endure until it does.
If you want to apply this information about understanding God’s will in your life TODAY, I’ve made a printable worksheet with the verse at the top and questions to answer. You can print it out as often as you want and use it over and over again! If you keep it each time, you’ll have a record of God’s work in your heart.
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Whatever you are facing, try to rejoice, give thanks, and pray! This is God’s will for everyone at all times. And He will be glorified! HUGS!