Probably the most pressing question of an ardent seeker is – What does God want me to do? This question probes to the heart of our human actions. More precisely put the questions asks – Do my actions correspond to God’s plan for me? Desperately craving to know the answer, we pray for wisdom to discern God’s will when it comes to our choices – be it big or small. But, how do we recognize concretely that we are doing God’s will? To start, Saint Augustine points us in the right direction. He had a famous motto: “Love God and [then] do what you will.” In other words, if you truly love God and His will, then doing what you will, will, in fact, be doing what God wills.
With Augustine’s logic, we see how one’s love of God crafts their reason in discerning His will. Jesus teaches this principle to the Pharisees. They were asking how they could interpret His words, and He gave them the first principle Biblical interpretation: “If your will were to do the will of my Father, you would understand my teaching” (John 7:17). Here, Jesus is alluding to a close-knit relationship between grasping God’s teaching and doing God’s will. In short, if you love God, His teaching, and wholly want to succumb to God’s will, eventually, God’s desire is going to become obvious. The key hinge to this spiritual formula is reducing our wants and whims to instead fixate on what God wants. Yet, before you can grasp what God wants it would first behoove you to know and serve Him. You can’t first comprehend what someone wants until you get to know who they are. After fourteen years of marriage, I can assuredly know what my wife wants. But to get to this stage, I had to go through a period of courtship to listen to her, to be with her, to talk to her. After I spent ample quality time with her, I could practically predict in advance what she wanted. This same concept applies with God only on a much larger scale. Therefore, on a practical level, before you can contemplate God’s will, you must be present with Him in adoration, get to know Him in Scripture and in prayer. And finally, immerse Him into you through the Sacraments. Then, after faithfully repeating these acts, you’ll inevitably know God’s will for you.
Okay, next question. Once you know God’s will, the next step is will you do it? Here lies the great conundrum of man – he knows the good, but fails to freely choose to do the good. Such is the dilemma described by St. Paul when he asserted, “For the good that I would I do not do; but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:19). Paul is referring to man’s primary predicament in a fallen world in that he does the things his intellect tells him not to do, and the things that he knows he should do, he doesn’t do. Here, there remains a great chasm as the intellect knows the good, yet the will is too weak to do the good. How this gap is bonded closer together remains the key to the spiritual life. Catholic theology teaches that in Baptism the Holy Spirit begins to nudge us to move the intellect and will closer together so we can know the good and be moved to do the good. But, the Holy Spirit doesn’t merely do all the work on His own. No, in Catholicism we are “partakers of the Divine nature” and use the Holy Spirit precisely so we can become the person God created us to be.
St. Thomas Aquinas indicates that developing the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, faith, hope, and love is the only way to move from knowing God’s will to choose to do God’s will. With the virtues, the intellect and the will forge a worthy partnership that stirs one into a dignified life. To be sure, this is not an “easy peasy” process for it involves a trial full of ups and downs calling to mind Jesus’s encouragement to “pick up your cross daily.” Yet, by cultivating the virtues doing God’s will becomes one’s primary calling. After a while, your actions will become congruent to God’s desire. However, without virtue, it is practically impossible to both know and do God’s will. Sadly, developing virtue has become a lost art in our lazy, pleasure-seeking world. Faced with the bombardment of rotten ideas from the culture one can lose his focus on the Holy Spirit which, in turn, makes him incapable to muster up any advancement in virtue. Society has created a debasing picture in which the good and beautiful are masked while the grotesque becomes front and center. Faced with this reality man resembles that line in Proverbs – as a dog returns to its vomit, so too do people turn back to their vices (Proverbs 26:11). Therefore, it is crucial to sharpen one’s spiritual senses in the midst of this chaotic world for the virtuous life to get off the ground.
Another indication we can have in doing God’s will is St. Paul’s advice in Galatians (5:22-24). Here, he tells us to examine the fruits of the Holy Spirit. And the effects of the Spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. In short, when one is doing God’s will, he’ll experience a calm contentment all the while the world around him is bursting with a restless rage. Pressed with this difference, we must ask if our interior disposition resembles being at ease (even with the knowledge of the destitute state of the world), or is our inside inflamed with the fury of a disgruntled bully. If the former, then you are likely on the right track of God’s will. If the latter, chances are you are not doing God’s will.
We are accustomed to getting a direct answer quickly in our modern times. Yet, knowing God’s will involves a strenuous effort that exerts your mind and calls you to act in the opposite direction of our fallen nature. There is no quick and easy response in contemplating Divine matters.
While it’s difficult for one to fathom God’s will at all times, these nuggets of wisdom from the saints undoubtedly provide us simple yet profound answers to this vital question.