One of the perennial concerns many Christians have involves knowing God’s will. In Colossians 1, this very issue comes up as Paul tells the believers in Colossae what he prays for them. In part, he says, “we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will” (1:9). What exactly is Paul praying for?
Often when we think of knowing God’s will, we tend to think of guidance given in specific situations about specific things. For example, we will say things like, ‘I’m seeking God’s will to know which job I should take” or “whom I will marry?” or “should I go on that mission trip?” Those questions aren’t bad to ask. But if we only think in those categories when we think about God’s will, then we miss the point. If we read the Bible closely, it becomes clear that God’s will doesn’t have to do so much with geography as it does morality. It’s not about where we are as much as who we are. In Romans 8, we are told that God’s will, in the ultimate sense, is that we be conformed to the image of his son, Jesus Christ (8:29). Thus, John White is surely right when he says, “Whether the process of making what he wants of you involves travel, money, joy, pain, or whatever is secondary. His goal is to make you holy, and the kind of guidance he will give you will reflect this” (The Fight, 156).
I think this is what Paul has in mind. Not so much specific decisions to be made by God’s will. Rather, he is praying that have a deep, all-pervasive understanding of God and his ways. Paul’s pray is much bigger than what I will eat for breakfast. It’s about how I will live in any given situation; how I will live according to God’s plans and purposes as opposed to my own or the world’s. He asking for the hard-drive of Colossians’ minds to be over-written by divine programming so that all of their decision, opinions, loves, and actions reflect God’s will.
Paul says he prays for the Colossians to be filled by God with a knowledge of his will. And he tells us what that knowledge consist of. Two things, he says: it’s a “knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (1:9). At one level, this means that knowledge of God’s will is about more than doctrine. Certainly, it’s not anything less than knowing doctrine. But it’s got to be more than that too. After all, doesn’t James say that even demons believe right things about God (2:19)? Paul says knowing God’s will means knowing right doctrine and applying it to how we live. This is the essence of spiritual wisdom and understanding. It’s taking what we know of God and his ways and understanding how to apply it to any situation in our daily lives. So that, how we live isn’t based on the values and norms of any culture around us, but on the desires of God himself.
Now, where is Paul getting this from? Why is he praying this for the Colossians? I think it’s because this is how Jesus lived. Do you remember Isaiah 11? It’s a prophecy about the coming Messiah. Listen to how Isaiah describes the ministry of Jesus: “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (11:2). Think about the implications of this because it’s encouraging for us if we’re going to try to live up to the expectations Paul has here for Christians. The same Spirit who anointed the Lord Jesus Christ and empowered him with wisdom and understanding and knowledge has also anointed us who have put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 1:21-22). Thus the knowledge of God’s will and the spiritual wisdom and understanding that Paul prays for us to have isn’t some far off goal. It can be a present reality because God has given his Spirit to his people!
Practically speaking, though, how does it come to us? How do we grow in this wisdom and understanding? Well, first, we pray for it like Paul did. We ask God for the very things that Paul asks for. But more than that, we pick up the Word and read it. Reading the Bible doesn’t guarantee that we have spiritual wisdom and understanding. On the other hand, it’s never going to come to us if we don’t read the Bible.
Recent surveys have revealed that nine out of ten American homes have a Bible in them. Think about that for a minute: nine out of ten! But what’s the problem? They don’t read it. And when they do read it, they handle it like an Ouija board or a deck of Tarots cards or even slip or paper in a fortune cookie. They pick out something, devoid of context or any systematic reading, hoping to gain some quick insight for living. The results are not just a lack of spiritual wisdom but no real knowledge of the Bible. Whatever they do read, it’s often not understood at all.
Sadly, this is true of some Christians as well. More than once, in varying public contexts—like sitting in a coffee shop or waiting in line at the store—I’ve overheard Christians talking to each other about their problems and decisions that need to be made. And I’m always amazing at the complete gobbledygook I hear from them! Their whole thinking process is a mishmash of pop psychology, advice from friends, song lyrics, and a few Bible verses throw in for good measure. And the conversation ends with one of them saying they are praying for guidance. How in the world should we expect to get guidance when we can’t even pick up the Book and read to think God’s thoughts after him?
If we’re going to be filled with God’s Spirit, growing in our knowledge of God’s will, more and more living as we should before him, then we will have to increasingly become as C. H. Spurgeon described the puritan John Bunyan—a man whose very blood was bibline. So full of the God’s word was he, said Spurgeon, that you if pricked him anywhere, he would bleed the Bible. May it be so of us!