Jesus taught his disciples to pray “Your will be done.”1 But what is God’s will? Here’s what Paul has to say about how we can discover God’s will: “Do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”2 First, I think it is important to understand that God’s will is “good and acceptable (pleasing and satisfying) and perfect.” But we may not recognize God’s will until a few things happen to us and in us. Because, frankly, what God thinks is “good and acceptable and perfect” is often very different from what we think is “good and acceptable and perfect.” 🤪
So, before we are able to “discern what is the will of God,” some things must change in our minds. It’s called a transformation and involves rejecting the ways of the world, which is why Paul tells us clearly: “Do not conform to this world.” Therefore, before we discern what God’s will is we must discern what the ways of the world are. And Paul gives us a very good list.
“Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.”3 That’s it. That’s the list. Oh, Paul goes on a bit about spiritual gifts and love and evil but the gist of the ways of the world is summed up in that simple statement. Here is the whole idea: “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”3 Although at first glance, it seems off topic (What does this have to do with God’s will? 🤔), it actually is the first thing we need to address before we can understand God’s will for our lives.
You see, we naturally think too highly of ourselves—all of us . . . including those who have low self-esteem. How can that be? Well, thinking too highly or too lowly centers on the same problem—thinking too much about ourselves, being self-absorbed. Self-esteem—be it high or low—should never be our concern. But that is the way of the world, to be obsessed with ourselves. And so, Paul says before we can discern our place in the world (God’s will for our lives), we must renew our minds. Our transformation is nothing less than rejecting the world’s view of “Me First.”
This is not easy. The world will never stop telling us how important we are, how we should demand certain things, how we deserve the best, how we should not necessarily forgive others or be patient with others as we travel on our quest for our place in the world. The world applauds us as we do whatever is necessary to achieve whatever we believe we deserve! The world encourages and expects us to live for ourselves. And it is tempting. Because it seems so right. Afterall, we are good people! 🙂 Most of the time. 😒
And yet. God says, No. That is not the plan. And it never was. Here is the plan: “And he died for all that those who live might no longer live for themselves.”4 It is clear: we are not to live for ourselves. And this is where we lose many “candidates” and “recruits” as people consider becoming believers. The idea of giving up ourselves seems narrow-minded, old-fashioned, even primitive and enslaving. But we cannot compromise on this issue. Because living for ourselves—though it sounds delightful!—is never satisfying. Read Ecclesiastes! Solomon, the richest man in the world in his day, tried everything to please himself—and I do mean everything! He concluded that it was all meaningless, vanity, pointless, and futile. Why? Because it was all temporary and without purpose.
God’s design? The exact opposite: eternal and with good purpose. So. Only with our renewed mind will we be able to “discern what is the will of God.” And even then, we may struggle with it. Because his will, which is always “good and acceptable and perfect,” is mostly foreign to us. It simply does not make sense to us that not living for ourselves will be liberating! But it is true. According to Jesus, we find ourselves only when we lose ourselves. He told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”5 We will find the life we were meant to live only when we come to Christ and understand who we are in him.
Our place in the world, God’s will for our lives, can only be discerned as we truly learn “not to think of [ourselves] more highly than [we] ought to think,” but to embrace God as creator. Creator of the universe, yes.
But mostly, creator of . . . us. 😉
1Matthew 6:10 2Romans 12:2 3Romans 12:3 42 Corinthians 5:15 5Matthew 16:24-25