“I’m thinking of doing something different vocationally. I’ve had a job that’s been OK, but I’m bored and there’s not much room for advancement. But, I just don’t know what the will of God is for my next job. And I just don’t want to make the wrong move.”
Every Christian I know has sought an answer from God for any number of issues, from what college to attend, who to marry, serving in ministry – the list is probably endless. Here’s what we really want to know: Is it possible to know the sovereign will of God for our specific lives, before we make a decision? Is it possible to get a “peek at the script” for our lives with enough certainty to act on it?
Here’s my short answer: God may Very well have a specific will for these areas of your life. However, I’m not certain you can know it ahead of time, with enough absolute clarity to act on it.
You don’t like that do you? We want direction for our lives and want to believe God gives it and now you think I’m telling you he doesn’t. I’m not actually saying that. Please allow me to explain. When thinking about the will of God, it’s helpful to think of his will in three separate, but related spheres.
God’s sovereign will
God has what theologians have called, his sovereign will. God has a specific plan for his world, humans, each of us individually and the future. What he wants done, will happen and nobody can keep that from happening. In the Bible, he’s let us in on many of the most significant parts of that plan. However, he hasn’t made clear in the Bible exactly how he’s working out his sovereign will in the lives of every individual, family, or church, day by day, or year by year. The good news is that God will never hold us responsible for not obeying or disobeying anything he’s not made clear to us. It’s something God does in us and through us, perhaps even against our will.
God’s moral will
However, God has another kind of will, or desire for humans. Theologians have called this, God’s moral will. God, primarily through scripture, but also in our consciences clearly instructs humans how he wants us to live in relationship to him, each other and with his created world.
So, he’s given us the Ten Commandments, the wisdom of Proverbs, the teachings of Jesus and Paul, just to name a few. For the most part, God’s moral will is very clear and unambiguous and that’s why we are morally responsible to obey it. When we do, we can say with confidence we are “in God’s will”.
God’s permissive will
God permits Christians the freedom to make many significant decisions in life – who we can marry, what job to take, etc. He loves us and trusts us that much! My wife and I truly didn’t care if our children became teachers, sales people or carpenters, if it made them happy and as long as they used the spiritual and natural gifts God had given them, and their occupation didn’t violate any teachings of scripture. Some jobs are off limits to Christians. I can say with absolute certainty it’s not the will of God for them to be thieves, prostitutes or swindlers or take jobs primarily for the money or the power it offers. So, we don’t have complete freedom. God’s moral laws both limit and inform our “freewill” in these areas.
EIGHT CRITICAL QUESTIONS
The following are important questions I ask myself and others who are seeking wisdom regarding permissive will decisions.
1. What are my true motives for this decision and do they align with what I know about God, as best as I can determine?
2. Will my decision violate any clear biblical teaching or are they inconsistent with any teaching of the Bible?
3. Will my decision affect my spouse and children negatively, or make it less likely I can care for my parents as they age?
4. Will this decision encourage me to be a more serious follower of Jesus?
5. What has been the counsel of the three people I most respect spiritually?
6. Does it make good use of my spiritual and natural gifts?
7. Have I prayed and fasted for wisdom over this decision?
8. In the area of marriage, does my future spouse truly love God and me more than they love themselves?
Who should I marry?
So, if you’re a Christian woman contemplating who you should marry and you really like two guys, and if they’re both born again, they both love God deeply, treat you and others with kindness and generosity and your parents approve – marry the guy you love the most. You’ll be in both the moral and permissive will of God.
“But, I’ve always heard that God has exactly the right man (or woman) chosen for me to marry. Are you telling me he doesn’t?” No, I’m not. He may very well have a specific person planned for you. But, unless it says in Hezekiah 12:14, or some other place, “Thou shalt marry Chad and him only shalt thou marry,” I’m not certain that you can ever know that with certainty, so use the criteria that God has revealed to you already (his moral will) and leave the rest to him. If he does actually have a person appointed for you, he’ll orchestrate both your life and heart to make it happen (his sovereign will). But, you don’t have to worry about that. You’re only responsible for making sure that your future spouse meets God’s requirements for a believing spouse.
Likewise, what job should you take? I’ve met with men who are tempted to move their family away from a great Christian community and friends they love, against the wishes of his family, primarily because it’s a great opportunity for advancement. That may be both wrong, or unwise to do. If your motives are reasonably pure and it’s not just about the money, and you truly believe this move will help your family flourish, and you’ve asked the questions above and your conscience is clear – take the job you want. I’m not sure God cares whether you sell cars or insurance, grow wheat or corn, have two children or three, and if he does, then trust him to make that happen, but you don’t have to fear about being out of the will of God – lighten up and enjoy God’s freedom.
Using new language
When I make significant decisions, I rarely say anymore, “I believe it’s the will of God for me to…”, unless it clearly is the will of God in scripture. I now say, “It seems wise to me that…”, or “I think I’ve sensed God leading me to do…” That way I don’t try to sanctify my decision by invoking the “will of God” declaration, in areas, I can’t be absolutely certain, is the will of God.
I’ve met too many people, who have married someone, or gone off to the mission field, or taken a job, who had declared it was God’s will and it turned out badly. Now, they’re confused and disillusioned with God and like a rabbit in the road, are afraid to make any decisions, since in their mind, they “misread the will of God”.
But you say, “I’ve seen God’s hand in decisions I’ve made in the past and therefore I know that it was the will of God for me.” Sometimes what appears to be the will of God, is easier to see in the rear view mirror, but even that’s not certain. If you’ll live the way the Bible prescribes, you’ll never have to be afraid of being out of the will of God again!
My questions for you: Agree or disagree? What other questions would you ask to make more wise decisions?