By Evan Kardaras, Sub-Deacon at St. Mary & St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church, Bexley, Australia.
(Talk given at a Youth Meeting, February 2018)
What is the will of God in my life? This is a question that plagues many young Christians today. What should I study? Who should I marry? Is this the right job for me? And the list goes on. This isn’t isolated only to youth. All Christians at various points of their lives want to know whether a decision they are making is God’s will or not.
The question we then need to explore is how we can determine whether something is the will of God. How can I know for certain that a path I am taking is God’s will and not my own will? Can I know? Are there certain pointers I can use to have some surety about the decision I’m going to make?
Thankfully we are not left in the dark on this matter. Our God is very much alive. And as his children He has unique plans for every single one of us. I’d like to explore today some points that will allow us to grow deeper in our understanding of what God wants from us and how to discern His will. I must stress to begin with me need to be trying to apply all these points. We cannot isolate one point from another, they all form one path to knowing the will of God.
We’ll start now with the first point. If we want to know God’s will for our lives we need to be in a relationship with Him. We need to know God through relationship. This means I need to be spending time with God on a daily basis, reading His Word, the Bible and talking to Him in prayer. A nice analogy to help us understand why we need to be in a relationship with God, is the relationship between a husband and wife when it’s done correctly. The husband and wife know each other so well because they share their experiences with one another, share their feelings, listen to each other, spend as much time together, and love one another.
The more time they spend together, the more years they are in a loving marriage, the greater each partner knows what their spouse wants. They know their dreams, they know their aspirations, they know when they may be upset or going through a tough time, without the partner even communicating this verbally. They’ve learnt to read each other’s cues and respond accordingly.
Now let’s take this analogy and bring it into our relationship with God. God is a spirit. So we can’t see him or relate to Him the same way do with our spouse. But this doesn’t mean we can’t get to know Him, because we aren’t only physical beings, we are also spiritual beings. We have a body, soul and spirit. And because we are also spiritual beings we can also have a relationship with God who is Spirit. To add to that God has given us His Holy Spirit. God is in us and thus we can know God within ourselves through our spirit.
Let’s have a look at the relationship between a person and God when it’s done correctly, to see some parallels from the analogy of the husband and wife. The person knows God so well because he/she shares every experience with Him. He shares his feelings with God, listens to God through reading His Word, spends much time with God throughout the day, spends intimate time in conversation at set times of prayer and also throughout the day, listens to God’s directions and commandments and obeys them. In short this person loves God and is committed in his relationship with Him.
The more time this person and God spend together, the more years they are in this loving relationship, the greater the understanding expands in this individual as to what God desires from them in their lives. The deeper the love, the deeper and more intimate the union between this person and God and thus the ability to know God.
The person understands who God is experientially through communion and union with Him and through His Word, they feel when they have upset God through poor decisions; the Holy Spirit guiding them to see their errors, so even though God may not speak verbally with them they know what He desires from them through their knowing Him, through a committed ongoing loving relationship. They’ve learnt to understand the guiding prompts and direction from God in the Spirit.
This is a mystery but is very real. A person who loves God deeply has begun the journey of having God dwell in them powerfully. A journey of union with the Lord. This is called in our tradition as Theosis. Jesus says in John 14:23 “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” When we obey God and love Him, He comes and dwells in us.
I love Bishop Yousef’s definition of Theosis from the SUSCopts website. I’ve copied parts of it to help us understand what this union with God, Theosis means:
“Theosis or Deification means “union with God” taken from the Greek Theos – God, and the word Enosis – union. Our Lord Jesus Christ asked God the Father “They also may be one in us” (Jn 17:21).
He also gave us the command of Theosis “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Mt 5:48), our goal in life is to accomplish perfect union with God through the grace of the Holy Spirit…
Our full union with God is a union with the “energies”[also known as grace] of God. These energies, while an extension of God, are not to be confused with the “essence” or “substance” of God, which is unknown by humans and is shared only by the Holy Trinity.
Our union with God will not make us gods but will make us partners in the Divine nature in works not in essence. We will not acquire the unique characteristics of God such as being the Creator, the Omnipotent, the Omnipresent, but it will make us partners with Him in building the Kingdom by our own salvation and by winning the souls of others to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In short Theosis is a union with God through the Holy Spirit, through a total heart felt commitment with God in love, that transforms us and allows us to overcome our fallen nature and sinful ways and allows us to become Christlike in virtue through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. If we have progressed in our journey of Theosis, become partakers of the Divine nature, if we have God living and abiding in us then we can truly know God and His will for us on a very deep level.
An example of this is Baba Kyrillos, who had amazing insight, knowing God’s will for each person, even knowing a person’s thoughts. He was so filled with God that He knew God’s thoughts. He had put on the mind of Christ. He could see the will of God for each person as he had progressed in his journey of Theosis through his amazing love and dedication to God.
I cannot stress the importance of reading the Bible daily on this journey. A Christian who doesn’t know his Bible well is like a person that’s blind folded trying to go about their normal daily activities. They’ll make abundant errors and will be walking around in the darkness. They’ll make countless errors and won’ be able to make it to the end of the day without doing significant damage to themselves and others.
In the exact same way a Christian who doesn’t read the Bible daily is spiritually blind. They don’t know God’s commandments so they can’t obey them. They don’t know how God deals with us, they don’t know Jesus deeply and His words so they live like everyone else in the world. They set up their own gospel and satisfy their own conscience but don’t know the true Gospel as they don’t read it. They’ll make countless errors and won’ be able to make it to the end of their lives without doing significant damage to themselves and others.
These people are also greatly shaken if a persuasive speaker challenges their faith. They aren’t built on a solid foundation so when the storm comes the whole building comes crashing down. Thus we need to really be committed in our study of the Scriptures, daily and as a life commitment, not for a few weeks or so.
We’ve spoken about prayer in the past, so I won’t dwell on it much, but without a committed prayer life it’s extremely difficult for a person to know God’s will. Without a deep payer life it’s impossible to make spiritual progress or even start the process of Theosis. We don’t get to heaven through obeying a code of laws. We get to heaven through knowing and loving Jesus through an intimate relationship, founded on prayer, reading His Word, regular participation in the Holy Mysteries and applying that which we know God wants us to do through His Word. So as we as Christian rookies, babies in our spiritual journey, progress in our journey of becoming Christlike, in our journey of Theosis, we will slowly start to have a clearer understanding of God’s will for us, day by day.
Moving on, the next point is that throughout this relationship, when I know something is the will of God I need to do it. For example God’s will is that I forgive my enemies. He has revealed this clearly through His word. Since I know this is the will of God I must obey it. I can’t say to God, “Lord I want to know who I should marry, reveal this to me, I want to know your will”, while also saying to God “I know it’s your will for me to forgive my enemies, but I don’t want to, I want to do my will.”
Why should God answer my questions and show me His will when it is unknown to me, when I know His will clearly in other areas, but I don’t want to listen obey His will? If we want to know God’s will, then we need to obey and remain faithful to His will when it has been made known to us through Scripture or through other means. This allows us to prove to God that our intention is right and that we will be sincere in obeying His will once he reveals it to us. Obedience to God is important if we want Him to make His will clear to us.
The next point is we need to seek advice from other Godly people. In Proverbs 11:14 we read: “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” This is very true for all of us. Jeremiah 17:9 says: “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”
Because we are all living in a fallen world and we aren’t at the levels of the saints yet, we are beginners on our journey of Theosis, and we don’t love God as much as we can, we cannot simply trust our own judgement, even if we think God has revealed something to us. Of course if it’s something revealed clearly in Scripture then I obey it, like not stealing or lying etc. But if it’s something unclear, like whether a certain person is suitable to be my partner, then I can’t just follow my heart and my own understanding. Our heart is stained by sin so it’s not a reliable guide.
For example a young person may be attracted to another person, they may pray to God to reveal His will, but their attraction is so strong that it blurs the signs God is showing them, making it clear this person isn’t right for them. But if they listen to their heart, they’re going to make a bad decision that can have long lasting consequences and ramifications. This is where it’s great to seek counsel from people that we can see love God and have a relationship with Him.
Our first stop, after praying, is our confession father. We can reveal that we believe God has made His will clear this person and that we want to proceed in our relationship with them. The confession father can see clearer without the blurring emotions and can thus give a better judgement on the matter. Other godly servants can also be approached if we ever have questions or need guidance. We are not alone, we are part of a Church and we should seek guidance through the Church to ensure we are making the right choices in seeking the will of God.
Another point to consider when seeking for God’s will in our lives is to consider what unique talents God has given us. For example if your 5 foot tall it may not be a realistic goal to aim for a professional career as a centre in the NBA. In 1 Peter 4:10 we read: “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” God has given us unique gifts for us to fulfil His will in our lives.
For example I may be a really great listener, have a lot of empathy and people may feel comfortable telling me their problems as they feel consolation when they do so. God has given me the opportunity to have these gifts and thus in my pursuit to find God’s will for my life, I can explore how to use these talents in a positive way to help and serve others. I may choose to be a psychologist, a counsellor, a social worker.
On the other hand I may be an introvert. I may be socially uncomfortable and prefer a few close friends. I may be great with numbers, love mathematics, and be brilliant at problem solving. I can then explore roles where I can utilise these talents. I wouldn’t seek a career as an actor in this case. I could be a great Data analyst or other similar roles.
God has given us all unique talents. If we prayerfully explore these talents we can open up paths to use them and serve God and our neighbour. Always alongside this approach we are developing a deep relationship with God so we are open to his guidance and direction.
Moving on to the next point we need to keep a keen eye out for doors that open and close in our lives. For example I may be looking for a particular job, be praying for God’s guidance and will to be done, and also be doing all the above, being a committed servant of the Lord, loving Him with all my being. But I’m really keen to get into this industry or particular line of work.
I then notice that several other servants or friends from Church saying that I’d be better suited for another type of role. I may not agree with them, but see that I’m constantly unsuccessful in applying for these roles. I apply over and over again, without success. On the other hand others, along with my spiritual father say I really would suite another role. I’m still not convinced; I have my heart set on this role.
I then receive an email from a friend that has a link for an advertised role that everyone has told me I’d be great at. Could this be a door God wants me to explore? Will I ignore it completely and tell everyone to mind their own business? Or will I put it to prayer. I bring it to God, I explain to Him that I would prefer the original role I wanted to start off with, but that if this new role is from Him, if it’s His will, to allow everything to go smoothly and keep this door open. I then apply for the role and end up getting the job. I then find this role is perfect for me and I am really grateful to the Lord.
We need to see which doors are opened and closed to us. We need to prayerfully explore all options and see if God is gently pushing us in a certain direction.
Okay so we’ve covered several points. I need to have a deep and committed relationship with God. This relationship includes daily Bible Reading, Daily Prayer and regular participation in the Holy Mysteries. If I do this with a deep love for God, God comes and dwells in me powerfully, I start the journey of Theosis and through this union with God’s grace, through the Holy Spirit, I can know the mind of the Lord and what He wants from me.
If I know something is God’s will, I need to obey it. It’s pointless to seek God’s will in a matter that is unclear, when I know His will in another area clearly revealed in Scripture but I wilfully disobey it. We need to seek counsel and not trust our own heart. We’re beginners in our spiritual journey, so even if we have made some progress we are weak and sinful and thus can’t trust our own heart. We seek advice from people more experienced than us in our spiritual lives and take this advice on board, prayerfully.
We take into account the unique gifts or talents God has given us before making a decision. We try and seek God’s will while utilising the gifts he has given us and not vice versa. While doing all the above I need to really keep my eyes and ears open to see any doors God may be opening and closing in my life. God may be trying to tell me something but I’m not listening.
Someone might say to me, Evan that’s great, but what happens if I have a pressing decision to make and need to know God’s will now. Well, hopefully before getting to this point of making this decision you have taken your relationship with God seriously and have been doing all the above, if so you will have the tools necessary to seek the will of God, using all the above mentioned methods and will have an answer.
If not and we haven’t been taking our relationship with God seriously, then it’s time to start. Start doing all the above, pray hard, seek counsel, repent, love God, give Him your heart and life and be patient. God always answers. But we need to do our part in the relationship to hear Him.