Question: "What is God's perfect will?"


We often want God to give us specifics about His will for our lives—where to work, where to live, whom to marry, what car to buy, etc. These decisions are important and need to be made with godly wisdom and prayer, and some worry that, if they make a wrong decision in such matters, they will miss God’s “perfect will” for their lives. God reveals a different approach to determining His “perfect will.”

While God does have specific, intentional plans for each person (Jeremiah 1:5), His perfect will is really the same for all people. God’s perfect will includes His desire for “all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3–4). Also, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5). Doing good as a result of our faith is also God’s will for us (1 Peter 2:15–16). And we have 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which also reveals God’s perfect will: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” God has made His “perfect will” clear to us.

What about other, less “spiritual” decisions that need to be made? Does God have a perfect will for specifics in our lives like what to study or whom to marry or where to go for lunch? God knows all things, yet He has also given us the ability to make choices. Making decisions is more about committing our ways to the Lord (Proverbs 16:3) and glorifying Him in everything we do (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17) than about finding that “one thing” He wants us to do. Ordering brisket for lunch instead of fried chicken is not going to mess up God’s perfect will for a person.

Proverbs 16:1–9 describes the heart’s intention to make plans and the Lord’s sovereignty over that planning. The Lord has a purpose for everything He created (1 Timothy 4:4). Seeking the Lord and reverently committing one’s ways to God is the wisest way to make plans. A person can plan out every aspect of his life, yet God is the One who ultimately decides the outcome. Paul (Romans 9:20–21) and James (James 4:13–15) reinforce this idea. Nothing we intend can override God’s sovereign will (Psalm 33:10; Job 42:2). That does not mean planning is wrong, but what we plan must be prepared in a spirit of humility and obedience. Keeping that spirit, we need not fear missing God’s perfect will.

At the same time, there is a sense in which someone can miss God’s perfect will; that is, he or she can fail to benefit from the best God has to offer. When we make an ungodly, unwise, or sinful decision, we must deal with the consequences. Making a decision apart from considering what God wants can lead to missing God’s perfect will in a situation. King Jehoash seems to have missed God’s best for him: because of his incomplete obedience, he was only able to defeat the enemy three times instead of five or six (2 Kings 13:18–19). Moses seems to have missed God’s “perfect will” when he struck the rock and failed to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 20:10–13). Godly King Jehoshaphat seemingly missed God’s perfect will when he allied himself with wicked King Ahaziah to make ships to go to Tarshish, and the Lord destroyed the fleet (2 Chronicles 20:35–37).

These examples reveal that our sinful actions can indeed cause us to miss God’s perfect will, or God’s best, for us. At the same time, the Bible tells us that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Even through “the sufferings of the present time” (Romans 8:18), God is working in everything to sanctify us for our good and His glory (1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Peter 1:2–4). This is true even when our troubles are a consequence of our sinful, foolish actions.

What do we do when we miss God’s perfect will? We must do the next right thing. Proverbs 24:16 says, “For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.” When we’ve messed up and seem to have missed God’s perfect will, we should trust God and do the following:

1. Confess all known sin, knowing that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
2. Ask God to show us where went wrong and to reveal what was in our hearts. As Psalm 139:23–24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
3. If our actions involved a sin against someone else, seek forgiveness and make restitution. Zacchaeus, in repenting of his sin, promised the Lord, “If I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8). This is part of the “fruit in keeping with repentance” that John preached (Luke 3:9).
4. Return to the Lord and seek to glorify Him in all we do (1 Corinthians 10:31).
5. Rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to guide us (John 14:26; 16:13).

God is omniscient, and He knows what He will accomplish in and through us. He has made clear His perfect will for our lives. God’s plans and purposes for every believer are for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28). We may not have every little detail in advance, but we always have enough information to obey the Lord. When we sin, God calls us to return to Him (Jeremiah 15:19; Zechariah 1:3). Even if we have “messed up” what we perceive as God’s plan for us, we can be forgiven. We can still know and follow the truth as we live in obedience from that point on.