When it comes to God’s will there are four different wills of God. There are four aspects to God’s will you need to be aware of if you are going to understand God’s will and follow it.

God’s Prevailing Will

First, there is God’s prevailing will. God’s prevailing will deals with His sovereign will. God’s prevailing will, will happen no matter what. Nothing or no one can stop God’s prevailing will. You see this in places like Revelation 4:11 which says, “You [God] have created all things, and because of Your will they exist and were created” (HCSB). When God decided to create everything, nothing was going to stop it. He would create what He wanted, how He wanted it, and when He wanted it. That is a prevailing will of God. You see God’s prevailing will in things like the creation, the birth of Jesus, the crucifixion of Jesus, future events like the Lord’s return and the rapture. Nothing can stop God’s prevailing will. It will happen. There is nothing you can pray or do to stop it.

God’s Private Will

Second, there is God’s private will. This is sometimes called God’s secret will. These are things that God had decided to keep hidden. For whatever reason, you don’t need to know it, or you don’t need to know it yet. Let me give you some examples.

 Moses said in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law” (HCSB). Those things that God has revealed are so we can obey Him, but there are some things God has decided to keep secret. His private will.

 After Joseph was thrown into a well, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, placed in prison, forgotten about in prison but eventually was placed in the second highest command underneath the pharaoh he confronted his brothers and said in Genesis 50:20, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result – the survival of many people” (HCSB). While Joseph was going through all the horrible things God’s will was hidden or private, but later God’s hidden will was revealed. Joseph was able to look back and see what was really happening behind the scenes of his life.

God has something in motion, He is carrying out plans that we may or may not ever know or understand. That is God’s private will.

God’s Permissive Will

A third aspect of God’s will is God’s permissive will. Here is where God says, “Here is My will for you, but I give you permission to choose it or not.” God says, “I’m going to tell you what My will is for you. I going to tell you what is the right and best thing for you to do, but I give you the freedom to obey or disobey Me. I’m not going to make you do this.” Let me give you some examples.

Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4, “For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (v.3, HCSB). God’s will for you is to be sexually pure, but you have a choice whether you will follow that will.

Paul also wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5, “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (v.18, HCSB). God’s will for us is that we be thankful people and grateful people. However, you can be unthankful and ungrateful if you want. You have a choice in this. It is God’s permissive will.

Ephesians 5 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Eph. 5:25, HCSB). God’s will for you as a husband is to sacrificially lead and love your wife. God will let you choose whether you do that or not. It’s God’s permissive will.

Ephesians 5 says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22, HCSB). God’s will for you as a wife is to humbly follow your husband’s leadership. God will let you choose whether you do that or not.

1 Peter 5 says to pastors like me, “Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-4, HCSB). Because of God’s permissive will, I can choose to obey or disobey God as one of His shepherds.

The concept of God’s permissive will is seen in Deuteronomy 30 when Moses addressed the people as God’s spokesman saying, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live” (v.19, HCSB). God’s permissive will is what’s best for you, but God has given you a free will to choose whether are not to obey. So, when God gives us a command or direction in the Bible we can obey it or not, but we have to remember that our obedience produces life and blessing and our disobedience produces death and hurt in some way. There are sowing and reaping principles in effect here.

God’s Personal Will

A final aspect of God’s will is God’s personal will. God’s personal will deals with you personally. The things we just looked at about husbands, wives, sexual purity, and thankfulness is God’s general will for everyone. However, God has a will for each one of us that is unique. God has a personal will, a personal plan for your life that is different from anyone else’s. God’s personal will for my life is different than God’s personal will for your life. God’s will for Pam was to marry me, not you. God’s will for you is to work where you work, not me. God’s will for me was to be the pastor of this church, not you or my friends that are pastors. God’s personal will deals with what job you take, what college you go to, whether you should go to college or not, who you should marry, whether you should get married or not, what ministry you should be a part of, what church you should connect with, etc. Let me show God’s personal will from the Bible.

Here is where Mark 14 comes in.

Jesus went to the garden, this is right before Judas was to show up with a small army to capture Jesus. This is right before the trials, the mocking, the beating, the crucifixion, and Jesus being separated from the Heavenly Father and paying for our sins. In Mark 14:36 we are told Jesus fell face down on the ground and prayed, Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” There was only one person who could drink the cup of the cross for our salvation and that was Jesus. The Heavenly Father’s personal will for Jesus was to live a sinless life and become the sacrifice for our sins on the cross. The Son of God had to do that, not you or me.

Later Jesus raises from the dead, ascends to the Father as the resurrected Lord. People became followers of Jesus. The early church begins to grow. There are some who don’t like that. One of them was a man named Saul. He began to persecute the church and its leaders. One day on the road to Damascus to arrest more Christians he had a unique encounter with Jesus. At that moment Saul became a follower of Jesus. Eventually became known as the Apostle Paul who God would use to write nearly half of the New Testament. Listen to what Paul says about himself in becoming an apostle in Ephesians 1:1, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will” (HCSB). God had a personal will – a personal plan for Paul. It was unique to Paul. Not everyone could be an apostle, but for Paul that was God’s personal will for him.

Listen to what we are told in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (HCSB). God had some good things that He wanted someone to do.

Out of God’s prevailing will, He created you. He made you male or female, gave you a personality, allowed you to go through some experiences (good and bad), gave you some abilities, and gave you a spiritual gift as one of His followers. God prepared ahead of time some good things that needed to be done, so He created someone who could do them. That someone is you.

Out of God’s private will, He planned some good things for you to do. You don’t know all of them. They will be revealed to you as you go through life.

Out of God’s permissive will, He has given you some principle and truth to follow; like be kind, be loving, be patient, be gracious, and the like. You can choose to obey them or not.

Out of God’s personal will, He will guide you specifically. He will tell you how to respond to your spouse, your boss, what job to take, what to do with an aging parent or a rebellious child. He will tell you who to bless, to speak to, and what He wants you to do. Those good things that God designed you to do, that is God’s personal will for you.

This is where you follow Jesus and say, “Not my will, but your will be done.”


Let me sum it up this way.

  • God’s prevailing will: you thank Him
  • God’s private will: you trust Him
  • God’s permissive will: you obey Him
  • God’s personal will: you follow Him