I was sitting at Starbucks a month ago, on a fine fall day with a young man about to graduate from college in the spring. He and I had met a number of times before when he was going through a crisis’ of faith over the death of a friend, but today he had a completely different dilemma.
“I want to know what God’s will is for my life. Is there any way I can know that with certainty?”
“Yes, there is I said.” But, what I was about to tell him, wasn’t what he wanted to hear.
American Christians are obsessed with trying to determine the future. Not just about when Jesus will return, but specifically what we really want to know is whether or not God has a script for my life and is it possible for me to get a peek at it ahead of time so I can make better decisions that align with his will? What job does God want me to take, college to attend, house to live in – big things like that. What Christian wouldn’t want to know the will of God?
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books written on the subject of finding God’s will for your life in those areas. This week and next I’m going to give you the Cliff Notes of my best explanation of the will of God and how you can find it. But, here’s a hint at where I’m going with this.
The heroes of the faith I read about in scripture, Old and New Testament, were characterized almost exclusively as men and women who did the will of God and didn’t seem to spend all that much time looking for it.
Obviously, in order to do the will of God, we’ll need to pray for wisdom and seriously study scripture to discover exactly what he expects of us. But, we do so for God’s sake to find out what he wants of us, not to satisfy our own personal curiosity about our future direction.
May thy will be done
When Jesus instructed his disciples to pray, “May your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” it wasn’t just wishful thinking on Jesus’ part about his future kingdom. He actually expects his followers, his brothers and sisters, to bring the wisdom of God and the will of God to bear in this life, in their world – your world. And the primary way God’s will gets done on earth in our life, is by obeying the clear commands of scripture – all day, every day – whether we like them or not.
I once met with a Christian guy who divorced his wife, who is also a believer, because in his words “they had grown apart and were fighting all the time.” No unfaithfulness, no abuse, just boredom and frustration. He decided to move on. “It wasn’t good for the kids.” So, he called me to ask my advice on how to determine the will of God for who he should marry next so he wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
“Has the wife you divorced, remarried yet, or has she died?” “No, neither one,” he replied. “Well, that makes it a lot easier for you to figure out the will of God. The Bible says, you can’t get remarried, at least until one of those things happen.” (Matt. 19:1-12; Ro. 7:1-13) He was incredulous! “You mean it’s the will of God that I’m supposed to remain single until then?” “And celibate also”, I said. “Actually, it’s the will of God that you go back to your wife and be a godly husband to her.” He looked at me like I was Amish.
Now, I don’t want to get into a debate over all the issues surrounding divorce and remarriage. The point of the story is that this guy first violated a clear teaching of scripture by divorcing his wife, without biblical grounds and then was contemplating a second decision, to get remarried, which also was a clear violation of scripture, and then was looking to me to help him find the will of God for his next wife. He really didn’t want God’s will to be done. He wanted his own will to be done.
To be sure, that’s an extreme example, but in far more subtitle ways, Christians do this all the time. I guarantee you that some Christian somewhere, is praying whether or not she should marry Sam, while she’s sleeping with him. I’m sure a pastor right now is praying about accepting a position at a new church, primarily because money or climate is better. It’s amazing how often I meet young guys who say want God’s will for a future wife, but they end up choosing the one with great legs. God’s will is supposed to come first!
Finding the will of God by doing it
So when someone says to me, “I just don’t know what the will of God is for my life,” I tell them that “I do”. He wants the singular goal of your life to be loving him, obeying all Jesus commands and introducing others to him. He wants you constantly looking for ways to make life better for others. Don’t lust, lie, or gossip. Forgive everyone who’s hurt you. He’s made you to worship, pray, be kind and generous and I could go on and on. Do that and you’ll be in the will of God for all your days on earth.
That’s not the answer they wanted, but it’s one we all need to hear. Doing what God wants done first is a pre-condition for getting further direction from God. Ironically, if we let intentional, habitual obedience to that will of God, be our faith practice, it will shape our lives, often giving us the very direction we started out looking for when we began asking the “What’s God’s will for my life?” question.
The men and women I’ve known whose lives are characterized by child-like obedience, end up making career, college, ministry and marriage choices with far less angst, precisely because they’ve trained themselves to seek God’s will first, then the rest comes surprisingly naturally.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33
Back to the original question: “Is it possible to know the will of God for marriage, career, college and other decisions?”
Next week we’ll talk about that and eight critical questions we ought to ask ourselves which will guide us to making better decisions.