For years I was told to seek God’s will for my life. What career God wants for me. What school God wants me to go to. What woman God wants me to marry. That if I don’t do these things I am acting outside of the will of God and at best missing out on blessings or at worse sinning.
I was told that if I made right choices, I’d feel the peace of God that passes all understand. But if the wrong choices I’d have nothing but problems.
For me, these sorts of words led to worry. “What if God wanted me to be a missionary?”, I thought with fear as I picked my college. Quickly followed by “what if by going to that school I had missed out on the girl God wanted me to marry?”
Let me break down my thinking which I think accords more with Scripture.
First I have to see what God doesn’t want. The explicit stuff.
He doesn’t want us to disobey him. We read that he doesn’t want sacrifices and offerings (Psalm 51:16; 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalm 40:6). That is to say that he doesn’t want yes men that give an external appearance of fulfilling his desires. Because disobedience (Genesis 3 shows us) is sin and the consequences of sin is death.
More, God doesn’t want anyone to die. (2 Peter 3:9)
And yet people do sin. And people do die. And God allows it to happen.
Second: I have to see what God wants from what he doesn’t want. If people are dying and he doesn’t want them to die then he wanted Something Greater. He wanted obedience—as all those verses say (Psalm 51:16; 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalm 40:6) he didn’t want sacrifices, he wanted obedience. As such he had to make opportunities for obedience. He commanded. He cajoled. He promised.
And people chose to act against him.
But does this mean they acted against his will for specific individuals or against his moral will? Well, repeatedly in the Scripture the problem isn’t that people acted out of accordance to some plan God had for their lives; it is rather that they acted against God’s nature. They disobeyed in the moral realm.
So God had to deal with that.
His will is that all men be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4) and that none should perish, but not everyone is saved and many do perish. And those who are saved aren’t saved because of something they did because as far back as Isaiah, God’s will is tied to paying for sin. God’s will is tied to Christ’s suffering (Isaiah 53:10) (Heb 10:5-10) who he struck in payment for sin.
So God’s will is expressed in how he deals with sin and his will for an individual is tied up to the cross. He wanted Christ to die. He wanted Christ to suffer. He wanted Christ to be numbered about the transgressors so that Christ would become victor. So that Christ would conquer. So that Christ would rescue people. So that Christ, as Lord, would become the very way that disobedient people can become obedient.
Three: God’s explicit will doesn’t really deal with the individual details of my life. Where I should live, which job I should apply at, how many kids should I have—none of this is addressed in Scripture. Rather it tells me that God’s desire was so great that it cost the very highest price. My Eternal Lover was so concerned with my entire self that he sought to pay for my disobedience, once and for all, on the cross.
I now live in a state of no condemnation says Romans 8:1. A state where I am seated in heavenly places says Colossians 3. And yet a state where I struggle with sin says Romans 7. I wrestle. I fight. I struggle.
This struggle isn’t about where I should live. Or what job I should apply to. It about how I act where I live in light of this good news. How I act in the situation I’m in. How I function as a husband. As an employee. As an American. As a voter.
Four: Scripture tells me that God’s will for me is that I follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). God’s will is my sanctification (1 Thes 4:3). That God’s will is sometimes perfected through struggle and pain(Romans 5). That God wants His will be done (Matt 6:10) and this will is masterfully tied to the Gospel. God’s will is tied to being a living sacrifice (A Gospel incentive) wherever I am as an act of worship (Romans 12:1-2).
It isn’t tied to which car I buy. Or which house I live in. Or which job I apply at. Or if I sell my house or not. Or if I go live with my in-laws or not.
Repeatedly God’s will for me in Scripture is tied to how I act with a clear conscience before God in obedience to God.
Five: Paul’s Argument in 1 Corinthians 7 speaks into this situation. Should I get married? Paul says “maybe”. Should I stay single? Paul says “maybe”. Should I remain a slave? Paul says maybe. But in whatever the situation I’m to act with a moral responsibility to the Lord. The Lord doesn’t tell me if I should live with my in-laws. He doesn’t tell me if I should apply in New York exclusively or apply as far as Alaska.
And I shouldn’t expect him to.
He doesn’t tell me what I should have for breakfast. Or what route to take to get home. Or what pants I should wear in the morning. But he does explicitly tell me how I should be acting in all those things. Do I glorify God in the pants I wear? Do I give thanks to God for the food I eat? Do I acknowledge God’s sovereignty over everything I do?
I find myself seeing that God’s action in history is explicitly tied to freedom. He’s not this divine micromanager constantly ready to swat me if I pick the wrong thing when there is no moral dimension tied to it—that is, as long as the moral dimension isn’t in the form of choosing out of selfishness.
Six: I need to grow up and act wisely. God is seeking to make me a grown up son, someone who is taking over this portion of the family business. He wants me to walk in wisdom. So he’ll say that the Proverbs are for gaining wisdom and instruction for doing what is right and just and fair, for fearing the Lord. But then he’d encourage me to study ant hills and how they function. Or look at the lazy man and the rich man and how they function. Planning. Weighing options. Making sure I’m acting morally. Praying that God does what he wishes and that all plans are predicated on his allowance. Then acting with conviction and bearing the full weight of the decision.
This wouldn’t have been possible if God hadn’t done the work first. It wouldn’t have been possible if I were still in a perpetual state of enmity against God. But now, that I am freed, God notes that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Now let his word be a lamp moral lamp onto my feet; rely on God as I walk on a path long known by him; but make decisions, grown up decisions, in an often confusing world.
It’s not guess work. It’s not an inner peace or a small still voice. It’s what he wants us to do.