A lot of you who've been in fundamentalist, authoritarian churches and religious systems, as well as a lot of people like me from somewhat mainstream, or even "fundie-lite", backgrounds, have and still do suffer from various religious addictions. Among those is an obsessive pursuit of "God's will" as if it's some mystical element which we can only obtain if we climb the highest of spiritual mountains, pray until we're spent, and read the bible until our eyes bleed. We'll wring our hands until they're calloused, and we'll lose sleep over the worry of being "out" of God's will.
I don't think God ever intended it to be so complicated.
People like Bill Gothard, with his endless lists of principles (which feed and nourish religious addictions), movements like Peripheral-Vision Forum, who make non-essentials the entirety of their focus, and authoritarian groups like the IFB and the Shepherding movement have championed the confusion on the issue of "God's will", but even many of our mainstream churches have joined in.
Until just a couple of years ago, upon every major decision, my own attitude was usually "Well, I'll pray about it, then I'll see what the bible says about it." Religious addiction. That was a sign of the insecurity that religious addiction breeds, making you conform to a "Christian" mold and certain pattern of doing things without realizing it. I knew, and still know, what the bible says about pretty much everything. I've read it cover to cover numerous times, reading it so meticulously in the past that I often slept with 2 or 3 different translations in the bed with me, as I'd read, study, and compare until I feel asleep. The thing is, it's pretty much impossible to be addicted without insecurity, and the "search" for God's will would take me back to the bible to make sure of what I was reading.
While I still value the books within the bible, I believe it's healthy for Christians to come to the understanding that the bible isn't an instruction manual for life, that "bible" doesn't stand for "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth", that the bible isn't a "love letter from God", as many like to say and think. That's just silly. There is an enormous amount of wisdom to be gleaned from the books of the bible, but when the bible becomes more than a supplement to our faith it has become the object of our faith. When "the bible says" or "God's word says" become nothing more than thought-stoppers, our "faith" has become unhealthy and cultic.
Yes, I still want to be "in the will of God". It's just taken on an entirely different meaning, and I have a totally different understanding of the concept than I did a few years ago. A better understanding? I think so. Certainly a healthier understanding. You may disagree.
The understanding of God's will is now very basic and simple for me. I've written before about my own base beliefs of life and faith - love God, love my neighbor, always tell the truth, and do the right thing by others even when it costs me. Those things are the foundation of ALL things for me. Regarding the first two, Jesus said that they were the basis for ALL of the law and the words of the prophets. If you're curious how I apply these things to determining God's will...
If I have a choice to make, and have two options, one of which fits well within these foundational beliefs, and the other which goes against them, there's really no need for me to search the fine print of the bible to determine God's will in the matter. If I have to be less than truthful, if I have to be less than decent and just, if I purposefully gain from the wrongful loss of others, I can be pretty certain that whatever I'm considering isn't God's will. It isn't that difficult.
"But what about gray areas? What about when you have several options, and several of them fit within that criteria?"
This is where the hand-wringing becomes needless, and where religious addictions can kick in. If you have several options, none of which would lead you against loving God, loving your neighbor, telling the truth, and doing right by others, I don't think God will be displeased with your choice of ANY of them. ALL of them are "God's will". It's up to YOU to choose the one you consider best for YOU, using your own brain, examining the evidence, considering all factors. Sure, ask God for guidance, for wisdom. I'm all for that. Just don't spiritualize something that doesn't need spiritualization, but rather just needs a common sense decision. Waiting around to "hear from God" is another symptom of religious addiction, and often a paralyzing one. If you know right from wrong, you've already "heard from God", so choose right - or, choose any one of your right options.
I firmly believe decisions need to be made from a basis of right and wrong, and I think those two things can usually be determined rather easily. When we know the difference, we should act upon it. When we don't, we should make every personal effort to learn the difference while asking God for guidance, not expecting God to make everything magically delicious without any effort on our part. When we have multiple "right" options, we need to just make an informed, common sense choice, confident that God isn't displeased with our choice - because He isn't.
Life is difficult enough without making "God's will" into a monster.