I was recently asked the question: “Is there a will of God?” My immediate response to this was “Of course”. However, the question is not that simple. Does God have a specific will for each person or does he simply want us to become Christlike? Is there a specific place that God wants you to live, a specific person to marry, a specific job etc.? How far does the will of God extend? Does it extend to what you eat for breakfast and how many cups of coffee you should drink in the day? Here is my exploration of that question.
God’s Purpose for Humanity
We are accustomed in our culture to the idea that each individual has a story and that story is different to that of others and therefore unique. However, the biblical picture begins with a radically different idea. The story of each person is actually contained within the story that God has told about the world and about humanity. God has a purpose for his creation not just for us as individuals. “[H]e made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:9-11). God works out everything in conformity to his will and his will is bound up in his Son. The purpose of God is to have Jesus Christ as the centre of all things. And again in Rom 8:29, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Whatever God’s will is for us as individuals, his overall purpose is always the same. Whatever experiences happen in your life, your story is always subsumed (included) under the story of Jesus. His story is our story because God’s purpose is that we become like him.
Paul farewelled the Ephesian elders by assuring them that he had “not hesitated to proclaim to” them “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). This was surely not a series of instructions about the individual will of God for each of them, but rather the whole will of God spelled out for us in the gospel. In accordance with God’s purpose to make Jesus Christ the centre of all things, the most basic will of God is that people would have faith in Jesus Christ. The people asked Jesus, “‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’” (John 6:28-29). “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:40). Before any person can know the specific will of God for him or her, trust in Jesus Christ must come first. Faith in Christ is not a one off activity that comes at the beginning of the Christian life. It is an ongoing activity that takes place moment by moment. We might even say that it is the basic goal of the Christian life. We please God by faith in Jesus (compare Heb 11:6).
The Will of God for Jesus
Since our story is subsumed (included) under the story of Jesus, we need to begin with the will of God for him. The Old Testament as a whole testifies to Jesus (John 5:39). Jesus came to fulfil the Law and the Prophets (Matt 5:17). Consequently the will of God for Jesus is spelled out in the Scriptures. He often refers to this fact. Jesus refused to call upon angels to prevent his arrest because “how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matt 26:54) “Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.’” (Luke 18:31). “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfilment’” (Luke 22:37). “He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms’” (Luke 24:44). “Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty’” (John 19:28). These passages indicate that Jesus understood what the Scriptures said about him and actively did what was prophesied about him. He did the will of God because he knew what it was; the will of God for Jesus was written down.
Jesus clearly believed that there was a will of God for him. This is what he came to do. “‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work’” (John 4:34). “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). The writers of the New Testament also thought that there was a particular will of God for Jesus (Acts 2:23; 4:28). Although the will of God for the Messiah is written down in the Bible (e.g., Isa 9:6; 53:10), there appears to be no particular order to these events and no indication of what the Messiah must do on any given day. Yet Jesus acted in confidence about where he should go and what he should do. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’ Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’ So he travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons” (Mark 1:35-39). Jesus seems to have received instructions about God’s will while praying.
How is the will of God for Jesus connected to the will of God for the rest of humanity? When we are found “in Christ” our lives are inextricably (unavoidably) linked to his. What God desires for Jesus he desires for his people. Jesus is the archetype and we become like him. So there are similarities between the will of God for Jesus and the will of God for Christians. First of all we find the will of God written in the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit directs the people of God through the Scriptures to obedience. But there are some differences. Jesus is the Messiah who came to save humanity from sin. This does not apply to Christians. We participate in the work of God in the world through Christ, but we do not save the world. Our task is to point people to the one who is Saviour. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). Therefore, whatever the particular will of God for believers, it is a participation in the particular will of God for Jesus. In other words, the particular will of God for you and me is not disconnected from Christ, but always part of God’s will for Jesus, since Jesus is the head of his body, the church. We are not mavericks, but people who are “in Christ” all the time, whatever we do and whatever we are called to do. With this in mind let us consider the will of God for believers further.
The Bible Spells Out the Will of God for Believers
First, we find the will of God is spelled out in the Scripture. This is first given in the Law (Rom 2:18), and other books of the Old Testament exhort people to return to obeying God’s Law (e.g., Ezra 10:11). The New Testament gives us many statements about the general will of God. We are exhorted to “understand what the Lord’s will is” (Eph 5:17) and this is explained to us in the verses which follow. It is also explicit elsewhere. “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality” (1 Thess 4:3). “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:18). “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people” (1 Pet 2:15). In these instances the will of God is quite general. It applies to every person who is a believer. Of course most of what God tells his people to do does not contain the words “the will of God”. The Bible is plainly the first place for us to look in order to discover the will of God. But the Bible does not spell out the individual will of God for you. This needs to be found by other means.
Before we consider if there is a specific will of God or a specific call of God on an individual we must remember that God has a call on the believer that is always true for every person. Christians are first of all called to belong to Jesus Christ (Rom 1:6) and second of all called to be holy (Rom 1:7). “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Thess 4:7). “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Tim 1:9). Instead of living life according to the evil desires of the world, we are called to live according to the will of God (1 Pet 4:2; 1 John 2:17). Our lives are to be worthy of the God who calls us into his kingdom and glory (1 Thess 2:12; see also Eph 4:1). In doing so we are called to repay evil with blessing, because we are called to inherit a blessing (1 Pet 3:9).
The Specific Will of God
The general will of God is the same for every person. God desires each one to believe in Jesus, to have the same character qualities and to be holy in actions. However, there are differences in gifts and ministries. This is explicitly stated in several places. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (Rom 12:6a). “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Cor 12:4-6; see also Heb 2:4). Not only do Christians have different gifts and different ministries, but God works different things in each. For example, faith is given by God in different measures (Rom 12:3). The gifts and ministries are different, but the purpose of them is singular. “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pet 4:10). Since every person is given a ministry, the exhortation to Archippus in Col 4:17 might be applied to every Christian: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.” Yet the different gifts and ministries are all subsumed (included) under Christ, since whatever gifting or whatever ministry we are given is there to continue the work of Christ.
In accordance with the general statement of the epistles that there are different gifts, different ministries and different workings in each, we find in the Bible that many people have a specific calling to do things that cannot be generalised to every person. In other words, there is a specific will of God recorded in the Bible for certain people.
The Old Testament records the call of God on several different people. Noah was told to build an ark to escape the flood. Abraham was called to go to a new place and that he would become the father of many. Joseph was used by God to save Israel from famine by being sold into slavery in Egypt and finally becoming the Prime Minister. Moses was called to lead Israel out of Egypt. Joshua was called to lead Israel in conquering the Promised Land. David (and his descendants) was called to be king over Israel. There were prophets called by God to speak his words to the nation of Israel and to other nations around (e.g., Jer 1:7, 17). For these people there was clearly a will a God which cannot be applied to people in general.
Other people are also listed as being raised up by God to do particular tasks and these tasks cannot be generalised to apply to all people. Priests were to serve God in the temple, but only a narrow group of people (male descendents of Aaron between 30 and 50 years old without physical defects) were given this task. God chose various individuals to be judges to save Israel from her enemies (e.g., Judges 2:16). “The LORD will raise up for himself a king over Israel who will cut off the family of Jeroboam” (1 Kings 14:14). Only one person was given this task. Pharaoh was chosen to display the glory of God by having a hard heart and refusing to let Israel go (Exod 9:16). Cyrus the Persian was chosen to send the exiles back to Judah and rebuild the temple (Isa 45:13). “‘I also raised up prophets from among your sons and Nazirites from among your young men. Is this not true, people of Israel?’ declares the LORD” (Amos 2:11). The fact that only certain individuals could perform these roles implies that there is a specific will of God at least for some people.
The New Testament provides us with other examples. John the Baptist had a specific will of God for his life. “This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him”’” (Matt 3:3). Jesus called specific people to follow him. “Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him” (Matt 4:21-22). It is true that Jesus called many people to follow him and the call to follow Jesus may be generalised. But he gave authority to the twelve disciples that he did not give to others (Matt 10:1).
The person in the New Testament who most commonly speaks about a specific call of God on his life is the apostle Paul. After Paul first met Jesus on the road to Damascus, a disciple named Ananias told him, “The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth” (Acts 22:14). Paul had seen the risen Jesus. This cannot be generalised to all believers. Paul tells his readers five times that he is “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Eph 1:1; Col 1:1, 2 Tim 1:1). He was “called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom 1:1). Unlike the character qualities which Christians are exhorted to display, the call to be an apostle cannot be generalised to many. Only a very few, specific people can make that claim. The will of God is very plainly different in Paul’s life than it is in mine.
Specific Direction of the Holy Spirit
Sometimes the will of God spelled out in Scripture simply does not cover the situation. There are several times in Paul’s life when he did not know the will of God about where he would be able to go. When Paul preached in the synagogue in Ephesus, the Jews wanted him to come back. He promised them “I will come back if it is God’s will” (Acts 18:19-21). He wanted to go to Rome and prayed that “by God’s will the way may be opened” for him to go there (Rom 1:10; see also 15:32). Paul clearly desired to go to these places and he believed that God had a specific will about whether he should go there. It was necessary to pray for God’s will to enable these things to happen.
On the other hand, sometimes the leading of the Holy Spirit prevents people going to a place. “Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:6-10). The Scripture tells us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15), “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). It would not have been inherently wrong to go into Asia and preach, but that was not the will of God. The will of God was not made known here by the Scripture alone, but by the Spirit.
How Specific Is the Will of God?
Having come this far in the study, it is not that difficult to see that there is a will of God. There is a clear general will of God for believers spelled out in the Bible and sometimes a specific will of God for individuals. This involves a particular ministry and sometimes particular direction of the Spirit. However, the question is: how specific is the will of God? Does is it extend to the ordinary details of life? How much freedom does a Christian have without violating the will of God for his/her life? So to decide this I am going to explore several different aspects of life and see how specific the will of God is in each case.
There are restrictions on marriage given in both Old Testament and New Testament (e.g., Gen 28:1; Lev 21:7; Deut 25:5; 1 Cor 7:39; 1 Tim 5:14). These are general regulations about who to marry or not marry and are applicable to every person. Getting married is quite ordinary and should not be forbidden (1 Tim 4:3). In general Christians are free to marry anyone as long as the marriage partner is also a believer (1 Cor 7:39). However, there are situations in which God has a specific will regarding a marriage partner. When Abraham sent his servant to get a wife for Isaac, the LORD led him to a particular woman, who fulfilled the criteria set out in the servant’s prayer (Gen 24). God told the prophet Jeremiah, “You must not marry and have sons or daughters in this place” (Jer 16:2). There was a specific will of God regarding marriage for Jeremiah. Hosea was also commanded to marry a specific kind of wife (Hos 1:2), although even this instruction leaves room for some choice.
There are regulations in the Old Testament regarding food. Certain foods were not to be eaten. The New Testament tells us that all foods can be eaten (Mark 7:19; 1 Tim 4:3-4). In the ancient world, meat was offered to idols and then sold in the market place. Some Christians had concerns about this, but Paul tells the Corinthians that they are free to eat with unbelievers without asking where the meal came from, but refrain if they tell you it has been offered in sacrifice to idols (1 Cor 10:25-31). However, eating with others must involve consideration of the other person’s conscience (Rom 14:13-18). We could conclude from this that there is no specific will of God for eating. However, occasionally there is a specific will of God regarding eating. Ezekiel was given instructions about eating rationed food and water and even how to cook it (Ezek 4). This prophetic action was a very specific will of God.
James warns people who fail to take the will of God into account when planning their lives. “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (Jas 4:13-17). The main problem here is not that the business plans of these people were outside the will of God, but rather that they were arrogantly assuming that they had control over their own lives. Who knows whether death is just around the corner? People die unexpectedly. It is okay to make plans, but not to make arrogant assumptions. There is a will of God for your life in terms of how long you will live. We might interpret this passage to mean that there is a will of God for conducting your business or your employment.
In general there are no instructions about where to live. The Christian is free to choose where to live. Yet in some sense, the choice is made for you. Paul told the Athenians, “From one man he [the true God] made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands” (Acts 17:26). Thus the will of God determines the time in history that you are born and which country you were born into. Occasionally the will of God is for the people of God to move en masse. Israel and Judah both went into exile. This was the will of God in a negative sense, since it was sin which resulted in this move. The early church was forced out of Jerusalem because of persecution (Acts 8:1). This served to also scatter the gospel around the world (8:4) which suggests that it fulfilled the will of God (see 1:8). As with the other things in which Christians have general freedom, it seems that in some instances there is a specific will of God regarding where people live.
Suffering may or may not be the will of God for your life. “For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (1 Pet 3:17). You have no need to determine whether it is God’s will for you to suffer. The only requirements given about this are the way you behave if suffering occurs. “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Pet 4:19).
Prayer about the Will of God
Although the general will of God is specified in Scripture, it is not necessarily easy to remain in the will of God. For this reason prayer is needed to help believers walk in the will of God. “Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (Col 4:12). “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col 1:9). “May the God of peace … equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Heb 13:20a, 21).
The question here is whether these prayers are about the general will of God as specified in Scripture or whether they are about a specific will of God. The answer I believe is both. Prayer that people do the will of God as found in the Scripture is perfectly reasonable. The flesh tends to get in the way of Christians doing the will of God. We must make effort to put off the old person and put on the new. Temptation must be overcome and decisions to be obedient to God in every circumstance are something which Christians require strength and determination for. So prayer regarding the revealed will of God is probably meant in these passages. However, there are reasons to assume that it goes beyond the will of God revealed in Scripture. The expression “all the will of God” suggests the possibility that there is need for prayer in order to walk in the will of God that is specific to the individual. Christians need to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. Again this suggests that it cannot be known by simply reading the Bible. The prayer in Hebrews might be read either way.
Approving the Will of God
In the main, the will of God is given to us in the Bible. First and foremost we must trust in Jesus. Then we are to become like him in our character and actions. However, there appears to be a will of God that is specific to each person, and that is related to the particular gifts and ministries that God has given to each one. How, then, can someone determine what that particular will of God is? The first thing which is needed is a right heart attitude. Perhaps the most well known passage about the will of God is Rom 12:1-2. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom 12:1-2). This passage comes late in Romans. It depends on the fact that God has worked out his purposes for humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus. God’s mercy towards us precedes any desire on our part to do the will of God. This is not a formula for discovering God’s will, but rather the only sensible response to the mercy of God. Since God has shown such incredible mercy to humanity by giving up his own Son for our sakes, then the only reasonable thing to do is to give yourself to him in worship. The living sacrifice includes the body and what we do with it—actions—and the mind and what we think with it—thoughts and decisions. In this way we give over all aspects of ourselves to the God who has given us so much. This has implications with regard to the will of God.
The NIV uses “test and approve” in 12:2, but this is actually only one word in Greek. The word is used three other times in Romans (1:28; 2:18; 14:22). The first passage contrasts with Rom 12:1-2 most markedly. “Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done” (Rom 1:28). Godless people do not approve of the knowledge of God. It is not worthwhile to them. They have no interest in the will of God, but want to be in charge of their own decisions and actions. Rom 12:1-2 is a prescription for approving the will of God. Those who offer their whole selves—body and mind—will do and approve the will of God. Sacrifices are generally put on the altar to die. But the living sacrifice is put on the altar and dies in a different way. The person dies to their own wilfulness, to their own rejection of God’s way, to their own proud thoughts of what is right and wrong, to their decisions to go a particular way. Worship of God in this way is the means to actually becoming alive to the will of God in the sense that the will of God becomes what we most want. It is what we truly approve of, what we truly believe is the best thing we could do. Since our bodies are willing to obey and our minds have been renewed we are able to see that the will of God is good, pleasing and perfect.
Determining the Specific will of God in Your Life
In one sense there is no need to seek out the will of God to determine whether the situation you find yourself in is where you should be. “Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised” (1 Cor 7:17-18). If when you were called to follow Jesus you were married then you don’t need to pray about whether that marriage is the will of God. If you were saved as a single person then you can continue as single. Etc. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. If when you were called you were in a profession which is against the general will of God then do not continue in it, if is it possible to get out of it.
There are circumstances in which we do not need to determine the will of God. We only need to see if the Lord permits. “After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you—for I will be going through Macedonia. Perhaps I will stay with you for a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Cor 16:5-9). Clearly Paul had plans to do certain things. He intended to visit Corinth “if the Lord permits” and was working where God had opened a door for effective work. He simply went where the Lord opened the doors for him. He followed his plan if the Lord permitted him to do so.
Christians are led by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does” (John 5:19-20a). Jesus always did the will of God because he saw what the Father was doing and did that. This was possible because the Father loves him and shows him what he is doing. For believers something similar occurs. “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Rom 8:14). The privilege of being God’s sons is one which comes with being indwelt by God in the person of the Spirit, and this means we are led by him. He loves us and does not leave us to our own devices. The Holy Spirit enables the people of God to see what God is doing so that we can do it with him.
Finally, we must seek what is best, not just what is permissible. Christians have freedom to do many things without going against a written law of God. Although these things may be permissible, “not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor 6:12). If the desire of our hearts is to truly please God then we must go further than simply ruling out that the Bible does not forbid something. This prayer of Paul’s for the Philippians is very instructive. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,” (Phil 1:9-10). He prays that they may discern what is best. There are things which are permissible and things which are best. The goal is not to discern what we can “get away with” but to discern what is best. This can be applied to many areas of life. There may be no specific person to marry, but there are people who would be better to choose than others. There may be no reason why you cannot move to a particular place, but praying about it is still a good idea. There may be no injunctions about a particular job, but discerning what is best is worthwhile. If we choose to discern what is best then we will seek out God’s opinion regularly in prayer. This very action is one which is pleasing to him.
Praying in the Will of God
This leads me to the final matter of praying in the will of God. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15). Is John speaking about a specific will of God? Is he saying that there is a particular way to pray or is he saying that we must know the specific will of God so that we ask for the correct thing in prayer? The first thing to be said in answer to this is that we stand in Christ and Christ is always heard by God. Just before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus prayed, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me” (John 11:41). In John’s Gospel there are many verses telling us that if we ask the Father in Jesus’ name he will hear and answer. “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you” (John 15:16). “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (John 16:23). Thus in the first instance, praying in the will of God starts with being in Christ and approaching the Father through him. This is the way to be heard by God.
Secondly, there are other instructions about prayer in the New Testament which tell us that being heard and answered when we pray requires something from us. Faith that God will answer is necessary (Matt 21:22; Mark 11:24). James tells us that bickering and fighting to get what we want is wrong; we should ask God. However, asking with wrong motives also results in no answer from God (James 4:2-3). These instructions do not refer to a specific will of God as such, but to a relationship with him that causes us to trust him and seek his glory instead of seeking our own glory.
There is, as I have discovered, a particular will of God. If we are to participate in God’s work in the world effectively, then praying in the specific will of God is necessary. Yet how do we pray in this way? There is no natural way to know the will of God in each specific situation. This is no formula for discovering it. Instead, as children of God we have been given the Holy Spirit and he leads us. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (Rom 8:26-27). The Spirit intercedes for us perfectly. We are also told to pray in the Spirit. “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Eph 6:18). “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 1:20). So the Spirit prays for us, and we pray with him and he with us. In this way, we are able to pray according to the will of God.
In answer to the initial question, there is an individual will of God for my life and for yours. But it is important to understand that the individual will of God for you is not separate from the will of God for Jesus. God’s will is that we are joined to Christ by faith and are transformed into his likeness. He mercifully grants us participation in what he is doing in the world. This is all done “in Christ”. Our task is to seek the will of God as written in the Scriptures and offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices, giving over both body and mind to him. God will graciously make known his will to his children. Christians have great freedom in life in regard to what we do, but we must ask God to show us what is best. If there is a specific will of God in a situation then the Holy Spirit who indwells us will make that known. Continue to pray in the Holy Spirit and he will continue to enable prayer that accords with the will of God.