How Do We Know God’s Will?

How Do We Know God’s Will?

Many people after discovering the faith soon realize that it is sometimes difficult to discern God’s will in a given situation.  Most people think that knowing God’s will is impossible.  After all, He gave us our natural capacity to reason and He has revealed Himself to us – so the rest is up to us.  There is some truth to this, especially at the beginning of the spiritual life.  But anyone who tries to make progress in our pilgrimage of faith this way is soon discouraged.  Following Christ often requires us to act in ways far beyond what common sense would dictate.  This is why St. Paul urges, “calling to mind the mercy of God, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship.  Do not conform yourselves to this age, but live a transformed life by the renewal of your minds – so that you may discern what is God’s will — what is good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).

As long as we try to live like everybody else, as long as we think like everyone else, our ability to know God’s will is severely impeded.   The mercy of God revealed by Christ crucified gives us a different standard.  The pathway to knowing the will of God is found in loving imitation of the Lord who laid down His life for His friends.  God’s will is found in the Cross.

We can find the Cross first of all through loving sacrifice no matter how small or insignificant or hidden from the world.  In fact, the more hidden the better.  In the old days, this was called “offering it up.”  Whatever is the least desired, least comfortable, least understood – God’s will is hidden there waiting to be discovered.    Whenever we renounce anything out of love and devotion to the Lord, whenever we bear a trial for His glory, whenever we offer up our internal pain and continue out of faithfulness to Him – this action opens up space in our hearts and minds, space for God’s will to flow into our will. Paradoxically, this never overthrows our freedom but expands it, liberating us from selfishness and anything else that prevents us from loving to the full.MotherTeresaofCalcutaportraitpaintingbyRobertPerezPalou

The Cross of Christ is also found whenever we are moved to do something beautiful for God.  It was in her effort to do something beautiful for God that Blessed Teresa of Calcutta heard the ZurbaranStJohnoftheCrossLord call her to be His light.  She discovered in her efforts to do something beautiful for God new facets of His Holy Will that would have otherwise remained hidden.   St. John of the Cross lived by this same wisdom and marveled at the immense horizon of love and freedom God’s will contains.  He came to counsel those who were seeking the Will of God, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.”

Editor’s Note: For more of Anthony’s insights on prayer, don’t miss his book, Hidden Mountain Secret Garden, an experience like no other. Anthony has an unusually profound understanding of mystical theology and lives a life of deep prayer. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute.

Art: The Crucified Christ, Peter Paul Rubens, between 1610 and 1611, PD-US; Mother Teresa of Calcuta [sic], portrait painting by Robert Pérez Paulou, 1 January 1994, CC;  St. John of the Cross, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1656, PD-US; Wikimedia Commons.

About Anthony Lilles

Anthony Lilles, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, completed his graduate and post-graduate studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas. He and his lovely wife, Agnes, are blessed with three children and live in California, where he is the Academic Dean, and Associate Professor of Theology, St. John’s Seminary, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Academic Advisor at Juan Diego House, House of Formation for Seminarians. For over twenty years, Dr. Lilles worked for the Denver Archdiocese directing parish religious education, R.C.I.A. and youth ministry, as well as serving as Director of the Office of Liturgy for the Archdiocese and as Coordinator of Spiritual Formation for the permanent diaconate. In 1999, he became a founding faculty member of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary where he was Academic Dean for nine years and Associate Professor of Theology. He is a Board Member for the Society of Catholic Liturgy.

Dr. Lilles has provided graduate level courses on a variety of topics including the Eucharist, the Sacraments of Healing, Church History, Spiritual Theology, Spiritual Direction and on various classics of Catholic Spirituality. His expertise is in the spiritual doctrine of Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelite Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In 2012, Discerning Hearts published his book “Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer,” a compilation of discussions with seminarians, students and contemplatives about the spiritual life. He collaborated with Dan Burke on the book “30 Days with Teresa of Avila”. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute. He blogs at

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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