How do we know that we are following God’s will and why does that matter?
Thomas Merton—a Trappist monk, theologian, and one of the most influential Catholic authors of the twentieth century—wrote a particularly memorable passage in his book, Thoughts in Solitude, that offers insight into this.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
What I like about this passage is that it tells me that even someone like Thomas Merton—who spent his adult life as a Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky—did not know for certain that he was following God’s will. But he says something very important in this passage—that he believes his desire to please God is pleasing to God, that it counts for something. I also love the complete trust that Merton had in God. He may have felt lost, but he had complete trust in the one who was leading him. He had no fear—even when he faced life’s troubles—because he knew God was with him.
Why is it important to follow God’s will? Matthew 7:21 offers one clue.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
Knowing God’s will is the challenge. That is where prayer comes in. We have to ask for His guidance. But to really hear the answers we seek, we have to be willing to get still enough to listen. And that is where meditation comes in. We have to be willing to sit in the silence and let God reveal to us what the right path is for our life on a daily basis.
Lord, help me to know the path you have in mind for me and my life. Guide my thoughts, words, actions, deeds, and steps. Live in me, so I can follow where you are leading me.