- Put first things first. What is God’s will for your life? First of all, it’s that you love him (Mark 12:29-30). That’s a simple principle, but it took me a long time to learn it. It really came home to me a couple of years ago when I applied for the job that I have now. I actually applied for this job three times before I got it. I was pretty disappointed the first two times that I applied and was rejected, but as I prayed about it, I sensed God say, “Jim, my primary will for your life is simply that you love me. What’s stopping you from doing that?” So I committed myself anew to take time with God, to enjoy him, and fall more in love with him. I’m glad I didn’t get the job the first two times because it helped me to focus on my real job in life.
- Love others. Paul says it so clearly in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. You can have extraordinary abilities and do amazing things for God, but if you don’t love others it amounts to absolutely nothing. Learn to love others joyfully, deeply, sacrificially. It’s a life-long journey, I know. But it’s the only thing that matters in the end. These first two principles cover at least 90% of knowing and living out God’s will for your life. The following 8 principles can address the remaining 10% of it.
- The little-big principle. The little-big principle means that as you are faithful in taking care of small things, God (and others) will entrust you with bigger things to do (Matthew 25:21). God has amazing plans for you. He wants to use you in greater ways than you can imagine (Ephesians 3:20). But you don’t move into the greater things that are in store for you by waiting around and complaining about your current circumstances! You move into them by loving and serving those around you right where you are right now.
- The gain-n-drain principle. God has given you unique gifts, abilities, passions and experiences. When you are operating in those gifts, you fe
el energized. When you are trying to use gifts that you do not have, it is draining. Think over your past. What things have you done—what jobs, projects, etc.—that gave you energy? When were you excited and jazzed and in the groove? On the other hand, what experiences drained you? As you look at two or three times in your life when you were really in your element, note the similarities in those experiences. For example, when I do this exercise I realize that I was most productive and excited when I was working on big, cool projects that involved designing training. And I work best when someone else is the project leader and vision-caster, and when I am working with people who take care of the administrative details that I am not good at. When do you really excel and thrive? Think about it and you will discover important clues to how God will use you in the future.
- The body-life principle. Paul describes Jesus’ church as a body (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12) with many parts that all need one another to fulfill their purposes. This is so true. I’m just one little part of the picture. I have very limited abilities. I have amazing abilities but also tremendous weaknesses. But when I am working with people like you and others who are wired differently than I am, our strengths unite in a spectacular way, just like all the amazing parts of a human body work together. Together we can do unbelievable things that we could never accomplish individually. In the same way, you will never accomplish much unless you are united with others who are very different than you. Team work creates a wonderful synergy. It’s challenging to work with others. It’s easy to misunderstand one another and hurt each other. But when we choose to love each other and realize our need for one another, we can unite to do big things.
- The correction principle. You won’t get far in life unless you discover what your weaknesses and blind spots are. The problem is, you don’t know what your blind spots are! So you need to welcome and embrace the input and correction of others. Proverbs 12:1 says it clearly and bluntly: “It is stupid to hate correction.” Learn to welcome and love correction.
- The no-and-yes principle. You have to say LOTS of “no’s” in order to say “yes” to the really important things that God has for you. All around you are countless needs and unending requests for your help. Say “no” to almost all of them so that you can say “yes” to the most important priorities in your life. If you consistently take time to listen to God, this will be much easier because you will know what you are supposed to do and you will be more able to tune out all the other voices around you. Jesus offers us a really good example of how to do this (Mark 1:35-39). Like you, when Jesus was in an earthly body he faced more needs than he could meet. This meant he had to ignore many needs and voices so he could say “yes” to the most important things. The enemy of the best is the good. Say “no” to lots of good things so you can say “yes” to God’s best for you.
- Journal. I and almost everyone I have ever worked with finding keeping a private spiritual journal extremely helpful. When life or relationships or work are confusing (which is a LOT of the time), writing down your thoughts, prayers and ponderings really helps you tune into God and what is really happening around you. The writers of the Psalms and others like the prophet Jeremiah did this. Try it. I think you will find this immensely helpful.
- The timing principle. When God gives you big dreams and visions for how he will use you, it’s very exciting. I’ve learned, however—as Joseph in the Old Testament did (see Genesis 37 and following)—that there’s often a very significant time lag between when you get the vision and when it will be fulfilled. As someone has said, “God is always on time but never early.” Another thing I have learned is that very often the clearer God makes an instruction, the harder
it will be to carry it out. I initially expected the opposite thinking, “God’s in this and has told me to do this so it will be really easy, and things will just fall into place!” No, that’s not they way it works. God needs to say something clearly and loudly precisely when it will be difficult for you to carry the instructions through. If it’s going to be easy, the certainty and clarity aren’t that needed. What this means is that we need to be persistent, patient and determined. To accomplish big things it’s going to take focus, concentration, faith, learning and determination.
- The fulfillment principle. Fulfillment doesn’t come from accomplishing your dreams or from your job or ministry. It comes only from God. Keep your relationship with him strong and growing. That is where lasting fulfillment and joy comes from. I am going to pursue my dreams with passion and persistence. But I am not going to look to them for fulfillment, or I will be on an emotional roller coaster of ups and downs. Instead, I am looking to God who will not let me down. I am going to take time with him and bring him my gratitude and struggles, my hopes and dreams. I am going to make the effort and take the time to get to know him better and better. He is my source. And he can be yours too.
Which of these principles speaks to you right now? What other insights do you want to share about knowing and living out God’s will?