- a google search produced 27,300,000 results in .17 seconds...
- a search for books on amazon.com produced 2,096 paperback books and 692 hardcover books...
- a survey on the street will likely produce at least half as many answers as people you ask (in other words a lot of variety with some overlap)
Should discerning God's will be this confusing? Does God intend for it to be confusing at all? Is all the confusion associated with our culture, or is it universal (i.e., do people in other parts of the world struggle as much with it as we seem to struggle?)? Is all the confusion about God's will a recent development, or has it been a constant throughout history?
Perhaps a reason why there is so much confusion about God's will is because a popular belief I often hear is God "knows the plans He has for you...plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future..." (cf. Jeremiah 29:11 - NIV). Well there we have it; God has plans for you (and "me"). And if God has "plans for you" then that must be His will - right? (We can add "everything happens for a reason" to this discussion...but that will likely be done next time.) Before we leave the Jeremiah passage alone I simply ask you to read at least verse 10 along with verse 11 (God may indeed have hopes for you, but to whom was this text initially addressed?).
I am going to humbly suggest something. Is it possible a reason there is so much confusion concerning "God's Will" is because we confuse God's desired response with His will? What exactly do I mean by that?
God always wants faithfulness from His people - period. I know we could say God wants us to "do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with" our God (cf. Micah 6:8). We could also say God wants us to love Him with all we have and our neighbor as ourself (cf. Matthew 22:36-40). Yet those responses fall under the umbrella of faithfulness to God.
So, God desires faithfulness - nothing more, nothing less. And this is why we confuse God's desired response with His will. E.g., "family A" suffers the loss of a child due to a tragic auto accident, but the remaining family members turn to God and their faith grows. As a result they are not only closer as a family but a neighboring family comes to know Jesus because of the marvelous way in which the tragedy was handled. Wow!! That must have been "God's Will" - right?
Let us consider another example. Here "family B" also suffers the loss of a child due to a tragic auto accident, but instead of turning to God the family turns their back on Him. The family also breaks down and goes their separate ways; a neighboring family sees this and wants nothing to do with God, etc. Wow!! That must have been "God's Will" again, right! Right? Wrong.
God desires faithfulness. Due to this Scriptural truth it is easy to confuse the response of "family A" with God's Will. But again, what about the response of "family B"? God's Will was for a family to turn their back on Him, be fragmented, and negatively influence neighbors for the Kingdom? Really?!? There is no doubt God can be glorified as a result of any life situation (e.g., Romans 8:28). Yet this happens when people respond in faith to God. Indeed, that is light years away from saying God causes all life situations to happen (note "causes" and not "allows").
The reality is, a lot of "stuff" happens because we live in a world impacted by sin (cf. Genesis 3; Romans 8:19-22). So when thinking about "God's Will" allow the beautiful portrait Scripture paints to inform your thinking and not merely isolated verses and popular sayings in our culture.
Hmmm...maybe here is where part of the problem lies. After all, it is a lot easier to be, with good intentions, searching for God's Will (praying, hoping, trying things - which if it does not go how we wanted it to then it must not have been God's Will) than it is to be sexually pure (1 Thessalonians 4:3) and to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). By the way, both of those areas are "God's Will" according to Paul.
As you can see this is  - of how many I do not yet know...