The apostle Paul says of God, “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways. For who has known the mind of the Lord?” A couple verses later, he says, “You may discern what is the will of God.” He says, It is impossible to grasp or understand the mind of God. Then he says, And you will learn it.
We already know, from elsewhere in Scripture, the biggest, widest dimensions of God’s will for us — what he has revealed in his word. Paul says, “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). His will is for you to become more and more like Christ. And then in the next chapter, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). God’s will is for you to rejoice always, not every now and then, and to pray persistently about everything, and to give thanks in the midst of anything, no matter how hard.
The apostle Peter also says, “This is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15). God’s will for you is to do the kind of good, with his help and strength, that the world cannot deny or shame.
We know more of God’s will than we often realize, but there is so much more — infinitely more — that we do not know yet (his “secret will”), and some things we may never fully grasp. Even heaven will not feel like the end of our journey into his will; it will feel like the sinless, liberated beginning of a never-ending exploration into his mind and heart.
So what do we do with what we do not know now?
Who Has Known?
Paul himself wrestled with finding God’s will. He said, “[I am] asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you” (Romans 1:10). I don’t know what God’s secret will is for me in this situation, but I am praying that he will send me to you. And then he says, “[Pray for me] so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company” (Romans 15:32). I want the joy and refreshment, but I do not know what God’s will is yet.
What are you hoping God’s will is for you? What do you plan or want to do, if he wills?
Knowing what that kind of wondering feels like, Paul says:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36)
In Romans 9–11, Paul has climbed the steepest cliffs of God’s sovereign and mysterious will, specifically in election. And as he looks up, and sees another ridge extending into the clouds, he says — no, he sings out — over all he sees (and does not yet see), Unsearchable! Inscrutable! Supreme! “To him be glory forever!”
Discern the Will of God
In the very next verses, he says,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed 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. (Romans 12:1–2)
When Paul calls us to live as sacrifices, and in doing so to begin to discern the hidden will of God, he’s building a house of worship in the mountains of God’s glory in Romans 9–11.
God’s judgments are unsearchable. His ways are inscrutable. His mind is unknowable. Therefore, live as searchable, accessible, and small sacrifices of praise (Romans 12:1). Lower yourself as his servant in order to lift him up as your treasure. And as you do, God will carry you higher up the mountain. You will search the unsearchable, you will understand the inscrutable, you will know the unknowable. You will begin to “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
Paul goes as deep and high as possible into the mysteries of God to help us trust God in the things we do not know yet — and there will be much we never know and understand fully in this life. But having made the mission of knowing God’s ways and will look impossible, he then invites us to take up the mission, to do the impossible.
As you live for the sake of God’s glory, you will begin to see more of his will for your life.
Transform Your Mind
Does Paul give us any more clues about what it looks like to present ourselves as living sacrifices to God’s beauty and worth? He does: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern . . . ” (Romans 12:2). We break free from the patterns and priorities of this world, and slowly reshape our minds, transforming how we think, what we want, and how we live.
How are we transformed? “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). And how do we behold the glory of the Lord? We listen to God’s voice (in his word) as he reveals to us the way things really are. We search the Scriptures, because they all bear witness to the glory of Christ (John 5:39).
We will be able to grasp and explore more of the infinite mind of God the more we steep in his word, and the more we look like him, by the power of his Spirit, in our lives.
Break Down the Wall
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to understanding more of God’s will for us is our own infatuation, even obsession, with us — with ourselves. In the next verse — right after saying, “ . . . that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” — Paul says, “For by the grace given to me 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” (Romans 12:3). What is the wall between us and God’s will? We are. Our pride. Our thinking of ourselves more highly than we should.
If we wanted to stay conformed to this world, then we should see and evaluate everything, including God himself, through ourselves — based on how he (or she, or it) benefits, affirms, and highlights us. But if we want to resist being conformed to this world, and to renew our minds, adapting our wills instead to God’s will, we will not think so highly of ourselves. We’ll begin to see how small we are, and strive to make our tiny, flawed, forgettable existence highlight the massive, flawless, and eternal glory of God. And we will be happier before his glory than we ever were pursuing our own.
If we want to climb the unclimbable mountains of God’s majesty and begin to discern his will, we must die to our sense of our own grandeur. We must break free from our illusions about the pleasures and acceptance of our small world, and fix the eyes of our hearts on the bigness and beauty of our God.