By Bob Perry
It is not uncommon to hear fellow Christians, as they ponder a difficult life decision, agonizing out loud about their sincere desire to find God’s will for their lives. Their consternation is understandable, especially in an environment where seeking God’s will has become the standard method of decision making within the Christian culture.
The process can be confusing and terrifying. After all, what if they make the wrong choice by picking the wrong place to live, the wrong job, or, most dauntingly, the wrong spouse? If they marry the wrong person, that means their spouse should have married someone else, who in turn also married the wrong person. The string of wrongly chosen spouses multiplies exponentially.
Something must be awry in a view that allows the possibility that one wrong decision could lead to consequences of such catastrophic proportions. How do we prevent the calamity and avoid the uncertainty? Is decision making really supposed to be this daunting?
Making decisions is hard enough. We certainly do not need to add to it the burden of evaluating our options against a false understanding of whether or not we have properly uncovered the divine plan. The simple fact is that any of us can assess our alignment to God’s will with clear assurance. To understand why this is so, we need only evaluate this commonly accepted way of thinking against a biblical understanding of the nature of God’s will.
A Hidden Blueprint
The contemporary model of Christian decision making amounts to something like a treasure hunt. It sees God’s will as a secret blueprint that has been hidden from plain sight and can only be accessed by imploring God to reveal it to us in doses small enough to protect us from misusing it. Through quietly whispered revelation and guidance, God assures us that we are following the right path.
Under this method, God’s “plan for our life” is a road map we must decipher by painstaking deliberation. The pressure is on the believer to uncover this plan correctly or risk straying from the course God has mapped out. Within this kind of model, our distress is understandable. The pressure to conform to the right plan is enormous because the treasure we are seeking is not just some worldly, material payoff; it is the very purpose of our life.
There are two problems with this model. The first is that it becomes an exercise in trying to see the future—a futile errand (Ecclesiastes 7:14; 8:7) for those who are not ordained prophets endowed with all the authority and responsibility that comes with that position. The second is that this decision making model is nowhere to be found in the Bible.
God’s Two Wills
God has a Sovereign Will. It was planned before the beginning of the universe, placed in motion at the moment of creation, and it will play out exactly as the Creator intended. We can be sure of that. We can also be sure that we cannot know what it is ahead of time and that there is nothing we can do to change it.
This sovereign will is described in biblical passages about God’s foreknowledge, purposes, and predestination. We can see evidence of each of these, but not by looking forward. The fact is that there is only one way to recognize God’s sovereign will—by looking backward at the amazing “coincidences” we have experienced and the ways in which our lives have worked out to bring us to where we are in the present.
There are times when we do not appreciate this aspect of God’s will. We want to know how things are going to turn out. Our motives for this desire may be good ones. We sincerely want to stay aligned with God’s purposes, circumvent pain and hardship, and avoid hurting others. But the fact remains that this desire, no matter how well motivated, amounts to an unwarranted preoccupation with the future.
There is a second aspect of God’s will that is also crystal clear: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). This is God’s Moral Will and it is the ongoing project, not to decipher the future he has in store for us, but to conform to his likeness. Theologians refer to this process as sanctification. It is the transformation that begins with the renewing of our minds and continues to mold our will to align with “his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). It is a life that manifests the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). God’s moral will is that we reflect the character of Christ.
The Wisdom Model
Taking these two aspects of God’s will into account, the biblical model of decision making is simple and direct. When it comes to making decisions about our lives, we must recognize that God’s sovereign purposes will always be carried out. Along the way, any life choices we consider must be consistent with God’s moral will. In other words, God’s desire is not about the specifics of where we go or what we do; it is about who we are. It is about the person we are becoming. If the decisions we make are in accordance with God’s moral standards, we are free to do whatever we want to do. Our motivation should not be to receive directions, but to develop wisdom.
This is not to deny that God can speak to anyone at any time. God is God, after all. But the biblical precedent for his doing so shows no evidence that the standard practice of his followers was to await personal messages from God after groveling for his guidance. Quite the opposite. As apologist Greg Koukl puts it, an examination of the record shows that personalized guidance in the Bible is not only rare but an intrusion into the lives of those who receive it. It is most certainly not an answer they obtain after pleading and then waiting quietly for direction. God’s voice is supernatural and therefore unmistakable, even to an unregenerate persecutor of the church like Paul on the road to Damascus. In short, if and when God speaks to us, there will be no doubt who is talking, or what he is saying.
The way we approach decisions about our lives need not be disconcerting or overwhelming. As long as the options we consider do not violate God’s moral boundaries, the biblical decision making model trusts the wisdom of godly believers to pursue Christlike aspirations. Once we understand this concept, decision making becomes a joyous process we learn to pursue with confident humility. Instead of approaching difficult decisions with fear and trembling, we do so in pursuit of a God-centered lifestyle in which we will “Rejoice always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for [us] in Christ Jesus”
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
C. Robert Perry is a freelance writer in West Chester, Ohio.
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“If there really is a perfect will of God we are meant to discover, in which we will find tremendous freedom and fulfillment, why does it seem that everyone looking for God’s will is in such bondage and confusion?”
~ Kevin DeYoung
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“This idea of guidance is actually a novelty among orthodox evangelicals [that] does not go back further than the last century . . . . It has led people to so much foolish action on the one hand, and so much foolish inaction on the other . . . that it has to be seen as discredited.”
~ J. I. Packer
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“We should spend more time trying to figure out how to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8) as a doctor or lawyer and less time worrying about whether God wants us to be a doctor or lawyer.”
~ Kevin DeYoung
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“We find God’s will for our lives by obeying his commandments, including his commandment to seek wisdom. For he is a good father, and he does not want his children to grow up to be fools.”
~ Phillip Cary
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