“Ask a Priest: God’s will in my life…”

Want to rate this?

Q: What would be a good way to determine whether an impulse is from God and not your own selfish desire masking itself? I struggle with knowing whether I am following God’s will, in the present moment, or a selfish desire masking as inspiration. -M.A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: This question surfaces repeatedly in the life of a believer — and it is one of the hardest to answer correctly all the time. We are complex beings with a mix of emotions and hidden motivations, and trying to distinguish selfish desires from God’s will requires great care.

A few suggestions might help. Let’s start out with the easy part. First, God always wills the good for us. He will never inspire us to do evil, to go against the Ten Commandments or against what the Church teaches us. This is because God is Truth itself, and he cannot contradict himself. So we can be sure that, if we feel the urge to cheat on our taxes or steal a neighbor’s SUV, that inspiration is not coming from the Holy Spirit.

Nor will God inspire us to do something inappropriate for our state of life. He won’t, for instance, inspire a Midwest dad to abandon his family in order to pursue a surfing career in Hawaii.

But what about in-between cases? What about cases that involve neither objectively sinful matter nor options that contradict one’s state in life?

For example, you have a job offer that would involve uprooting the family and moving across the country. Do you take the job on the grounds that it might be a grace of God that will let you support your family better? Or does the new job have appeal because it would let you buy that long-desired Porsche? Is the job offer “God’s will” or your selfishness masquerading as opportunity for the family?

Here, the first thing to do is take your situation to prayer. Try to be honest before God. Examine your motives, which can vary greatly. Often a mix of motives will overlap. Yes, the new job might enable to pay for a better education for your children, and yes, it could also put a Porsche in the garage.

If necessary, talk it over with the people whose lives will be affected by your decision — a spouse, your children, a business partner.

If helpful, talk with a wise friend or spiritual director or trusted priest. Be honest and open. An extra step would be to list the pros and cons of a given decision. Assign a number (on a scale of 1 to 10) to each of the reasons you can think of, giving a higher number to the weightier aspects. For instance, the new job would let you live in a warmer climate and let you play golf more often (maybe that is worth a 2). But maybe the move would put a lot of emotional stress on your teenage children (that is worth a 9). Then, add up the numbers and see which side has the higher tally. If the cons outweigh the pros, or vice versa, then take that tally to prayer and see where the Spirit leads you. Another criterion: Does your decision give you a sense of peace? If so, you could be on the right path.

Of course, not all decisions are that dramatic. Day-to-day options test our wisdom as well as our virtue. Am I volunteering at the parish in order to serve my community — or to ingratiate myself with the pastor? This kind of case requires self-knowledge and honesty. You might ask yourself what is the more discreet or humbler thing to do in this case. Whenever we decide in favor of a virtue, it is easier to live with purity of intention.

A book that could help you is In the School of the Holy Spirit, by Jacques Philippe. May all your decisions be for the glory of God.

Average Rating

What did you think?

Share your review! Just log in or create your free account.

One Comment
  1. Will taking a job 3,000 miles away to advance one’s career . . . be God’s will? As Father said, it will bring in more income, will MORE ‘stuff’ or even private education K thru 12 and into college make for a HAPPIER family life in the here and now. While one should plan for the future, NO ONE BUT GOD is omniscient, aka ‘all knowing.’ As Father said, there needs to be better reasons to uprooting the kids or teens than one’s career advancement and better wages. (especially in these days when more wages means more tax dollars paid to a government, greater cost of living, more STRESS to give ‘the good life.’ (the good life being a home near to both sets of grandparents, perhaps… who can provide a WEALTH of education to their young grandchildren)

    When discerning anything that involves BUT IT WILL MAKE ME RICHER… such idea does not come from God’s will for his human creatures. If discerning a simple change of job, to better serve neighbor (the customers of a business) OR for better training . . . discern where one is ‘at the present moment’ . . . if the better job ended… could another job be had because of SOLID SKILLS already there? Or is this better job, simply a ‘hope’ that a subjective company is going to give those new skills. (there’s no way around skills but EDUCATION by ‘schooling’ (first) / trade school or 2 or 4 year college WITH the academic ability in high school. If one wasn’t paying attention in high school, college won’t PROVIDE education. The intellectual strengthening (GOD) provides the ability to learn. (aka discipline) If there is a natural vocational skill there, auto mechanics, electrician, plumber . . . hair stylist, sales . . . then find a solid company WHO WILL HONE that discipline AND STICK WITH THEM. (Those who work, will have) Those who respect the work given to do, stay a long time in ‘a company.’ Those who skip around looking for an employer to give what they give to themselves by WORK, STUDY, CONTINUING EDUCATION, and MORAL VIRTUE via RELIGIOUS worship, putting God first … will always be disappointed.

    How to know what to do? God’s HONOR and GLORY first (so go to pew every Sunday and say THANK YOU)
    If any idea is putting SELF before GOD, it will never end up GOOD… might take awhile but IT WILL NEVER END WELL.

Leave a Reply

Get the Answers!

Get notified of future Ask a Priest answers via email

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Skip to content