Discerning God’s Will
It’s that time of year when college students are facing big decisions again. Things like: where should I live this summer? Should I stay on campus or go back home for a few months? Take an internship or return to a tried-and-true job in my hometown? Travel or save every penny? Break up or try out a long-distance relationship? These questions alone seem endless–not to mention decisions in the near future involving choosing (or changing) a major, a career path or a life partner. In fact, young adulthood is arguably the most decision-filled season of life!
So how do we make these ever-pressing decisions? Go with our gut? Play “Eenie, meenie, miney mo?” Ask for advice and go with the majority ruling? I must sheepishly confess to you: I have made decisions in each of these ways before, with varied results.
Seek Him. As believers we are have rightly been taught to pray for wisdom when we’re faced with tough choices, and to then pause, listen and watch how God might direct our steps before setting off impulsively towards whatever seems right to us (James 1:5; Prov. 3:5,6). When we are seeking Him in intimate, personal relationship it is possible for Him to speak to us through His Word, a wise person, or even through circumstances to guide us and give us a clear and specific sense of direction. I have experienced this as well, and it’s awesome when we sense God’s voice nudging us towards a particular path He has for us.
Simplify! AND YET, that is not always how God works! As believers, we tend to over-complicate God’s will, making it a mysterious, hidden treasure to be sought out, as if there is only one way to get it right and all else is a less desirable route for our lives.
Much of what God expects of and desires for us is already spelled out in His Word. Basic directives like loving Him and loving others (Matt. 22:37). The phrase “God’s will” only appears in scripture a handful of times and is linked to commandments like “give thanks in all circumstances” and “be sanctified…avoid sexual immorality (I Thess. 5:18, 4:3).” These things are the stated will of God for the life of every believer.
Never in the Bible are we told to seek out or pray about “God’s will for our life.” We are told to seek Him, and to “call out for insight and…understanding” (Lam. 3:25; Prov. 2:3) but there is little mention of God revealing the future to his people. In his excellent book, “Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will,” author Kevin DeYoung says, “We should stop thinking of God’s will like a corn maze, or a tightrope, or a bull’s eye…” DeYoung differentiates between God guiding us in decision-making and God expecting us to discover His plan for our lives. While he does guide us, He does not have a hidden, tricky “One Right Answer” for our life He’s hoping we will somehow land upon. “We should spend more time trying to figure out how to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God (as instructed in Micah 6:8) as a doctor or lawyer and less time worrying about whether God wants us to be a doctor or lawyer.”
Surrender Fear. Does this mean I should not even bother asking God what He wants me to do this coming summer? Or whom He wants me to date? Or what jobs I should apply for? Absolutely not! He is concerned with every detail of our lives and is a Father who delights to have His children come to Him with every need and emotion. As our Father, He delights to give His children good gifts (Matt. 10:30; James 1:17).
However, we do not need to be so scared of mis-stepping that we become terrified to take a risk or make any decision at all. Bob Goff, in “Everybody, Always,” says wisely, “The difference between a prudent pause and a persistent paralysis is worth knowing. Recognize when your beautiful ambitions are getting stuck inside your head. You don’t have to take all the steps, just the next one.”
Some of us are “look before you leap” personalities and may look so long at all of the options that we miss amazing opportunities right in front of us! Others of us need the reminder to pause and think and pray and seek God before we act. It’s important to see our natural tendencies and work to grow in this when it comes to decision-making.
Our primary concern needs to be our heart towards Jesus. Are we truly desiring His will above our own? Are you sincerely seeking His plans? Are we walking in obedience to the things He has shown us in His word? If we can answer yes to these questions, then we can rest in confidence that God’s got us and will guide our steps. Even if we unintentionally make a mistake or fail, there is nothing His grace cannot redirect or restore.
Kevin DeYoung summarizes it best when he says, “The end of the matter is this: Live for God. Obey the Scriptures. Think of others before yourself. Be holy. Love Jesus. And as you do these things, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, wherever you like, and you’ll be walking in the will of God.”