Choose Your Own Adventure
I hope your week is going well. I have been praying for you over the last few days, that God would enable you to be rooted and established in his love, so that the winds of change in our country and our culture would not cause anxiety, trepidation, or worry.
During the summer of 1983, my little sister (who’s two years my junior and was in fourth grade at the time) broke a school record by reading more than five hundred books between June and September. During that same period I, on the other hand, finished one book and got about half way through another. I was too busy racing my bike around the neighborhood and playing tackle football in the street to sit down and read (which would explain, I guess, why my sister still regularly annihilates me at Trivial Pursuit).
Despite my preoccupation with sports, though, there was one set of books that I could really get into as a sixth grader: The Choose Your Own Adventure series. These cleverly written paperbacks allowed the reader to mark his or her own path and then to reap the rewards (or suffer the consequences) of each decision.
More than three decades later, I’ve come to realize (after eventually reading quite a few books!) that God’s will for our lives is very much like my once-favorite book series. Sure, God has a sovereign will, which theologians refer to as “God’s secret plan that governs everything that happens in the world” (see Ephesians 1:11, Isaiah 46:9-11). And yes, God has a moral will, comprised of all his revealed commands in the Bible that teach how men and women ought to believe and live. But in lieu of a specific detailed life-plan that we’re supposed to seek out (often referred to as God’s individual will), God has given us freedom in non-moral areas to chart our own course.
I know it sounds more pious to say, “I want God to make that decision for me,” or, “I’m waiting for God to reveal his perfect will for my life,” but Scripture never presents God’s will as something that we wait for or find, but instead something that we understand and do. “Be joyful … pray … and give thanks,” the Apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5, “for this is God’s will for you.” (The passages in the Psalter, by the way, which talk about “waiting on God” have to do with trusting in God for deliverance, not passively waiting for special guidance.)
Perhaps, then, instead of looking at God’s will as a mysterious path that we need to find, it is better to view God’s will as a backyard, filled with numerous options. There are certainly boundaries that we cannot cross (a la God’s moral commands, pictured perhaps best by a high protective fence), but within the yard, so to speak, there’s a great deal of freedom.
Does this mean that God has left us to fend for ourselves in this uneven world? Certainly not. God has given us his Word, which serves as “a lamp unto our feet,” his Spirit, who comforts us and persuades us of the truth of Scripture, and he has also given us each other to provide mutual encouragement and advice along our journey. But a biblical view of God’s will recognizes that we have all we need to live successful and God-honoring lives.
I realize that a one-page article on such a misunderstood topic may cause more confusion than clarity, but I think a theology of God’s will can be summed up in a couple of imperatives: 1) Do what God says, and 2) Prayerfully exercise wisdom and love in the areas of freedom.
Now, let’s apply this Choose Your Own Adventure paradigm to discerning God’s will in a real scenario. Here goes: Imagine you have an important decision to make. How will you respond? Try this:
Page 1: Life has thrown you a curve. You’re not sure what to do. The first question to ask: Is this decision covered by a clear command in Scripture? (For example: “do not lie” (Colossians 3:9); “avoid sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:13); “do not get drunk” (Ephesians 5:18). If “yes,” go to page 2; if unsure, go to page 3; if “no,” proceed to page 4.
Page 2: Obey the command. This is God’s will for you.
Page 3: Study for clarification; seek biblical counsel; pray for wisdom.
If, upon further review, the decision is covered by clear command, go to page 2; if not, go to page 4.
Page 4: Process data through a biblical worldview (consider things like: your human obligation, motives, the importance of prayer, expert advice, counsel of informed friends, personal giftedness and desires, financial constraints, and kingdom benefit). Having done so, go to page 5.
Page 5: Plot a course of action and periodically evaluate. This is God’s will for you.
I understand that approach doesn’t answer every question, but I think that’s the point. God wants us to obey him and trust that he has our good and his glory in mind.
Pastor and author, Kevin DeYoung, writes: “Too often God’s people tinker around with churches, jobs, and relationships, worrying that they haven’t found God’s perfect will for their lives. Or—even worse—they do absolutely nothing, stuck in a frustrated state of paralyzed indecision. But God doesn’t need to tell us what to do at each fork in the road. He’s already revealed His plan for our lives: to love Him with our whole hearts, to obey His word, and after that to do what we like.”
To that, I offer a hearty, “Amen.”
For his glory,