The Road Not Taken
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
“Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
“And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
– Robert Frost –
Robert Frost and I both have wondered about which road to take. How about you?
Agonizing over decisions–past, present, or future decisions–knowing that choices have consequences and wanting with all our hearts to choose a path we won’t regret. As Christians, you and I have an even greater concern–doing what God would have us to do.
Finding God’s will is daunting in a complicated world–paralyzing even. With alternatives that “pile up sky-high” and well-meaning advice in abundance, it’s often easier to just stay put instead of risking making the wrong decision.
Recently, I noticed that a lot of my friends–men and women alike–are struggling with finding God’s will. I started to ask around and read a few books–and I made a discovery!
I discovered that most of us suffer from a misunderstanding of what God’s will really is.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to explain the problems with the modern–and quite prevalent–view of God’s will, present a more Biblical option, and explain how we can apply this better view to making decisions. Sound exciting? I think it will be!
As we get going, I hope you will comment, sharing your experiences and questions about God’s will. If all of you send in enough questions, I might even do a Q&A post featuring YOUR questions about finding God’s will for your life!! Comment away!
“How do I know whether something is what God wants me to do—or just what I want to do? What if I feel like it is God’s will to do something that my authority disagrees with? I thought this job was God’s will, but now I’m not so sure. What do I do now?”
This seems to be the crucial moment for many of us. Our entire futures hinge on the paths we choose in the next few years. What college major? What job? What ministry, new town, person to marry, church to attend? Well-intentioned neighbors start asking, “What are your plans?” It can get overwhelming, especially when clear direction doesn’t seem to be falling from heaven when we need it.
My goal is to give you some hope. There is a way out of all this frustration. As I’ve examined the facts, I am convinced that there is a way to get free of the confusion and doubt and guilt. We don’t have to have writing in the clouds, wet fleeces, gut feelings, signs from heaven, or anything like that in order to make choices that please God.
“Yes, God has a specific plan for our lives. And yes, we can be assured that He works things for our good in Christ Jesus….But while we are free to ask God for wisdom, He does not burden us with the task of divining His will for our lives ahead of time…. I’m not saying God doesn’t care about your future. I’m not saying God isn’t directing your path and in control amidst the chaos of your life. I believe in providence with all my heart. What I am saying is that we should stop thinking of God’s will like a corn maze, or a tightrope, or a bull’s eye, or a choose-your-own-adventure novel.”
Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something, pages 24-25
As I prepared for this post, three books shaped my opinion on God’s will: Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen and J. Robin Maxson, Found: God’s Will by John MacArthur, and Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. I am indebted to these theologians for the content you are about to hear. Check out the bottom of the post if you’re interested in learning more about these resources!
Why NOT the Modern View?
This might surprise you: there are actually three kinds of Gods’ will that theologians discuss.
God’s sovereign will is His secret plan for history that no one knows until it happens. This is unchangeable–everything that has happened, happens today, and will ever happen. God has it all in His hands. What comes to pass is His will, His sovereign will.
Another kind of God’s will is God’s moral will. This is how He wants us to live, revealed in Biblical commands. We have many commands as Christians—be thankful, pray without ceasing, live at peace, be diligent, be generous, take suffering patiently. Simply, God’s moral will is how He wishes us to act—which can be summed up in Love, loving God and loving others. Colossians 1:9 is just one example of this kind of God’s will:
“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding…” (NASB, emphasis added)
For centuries, these were the only two kinds of God’s will that Christians considered. However, over the last several generations, people have become concerned about a “individual will” of God that each person has to somehow decode. This “individual will of God” concept is so dominant today that most of us grew up with the idea. On closer examination, the modern view is actually full of inconsistencies, encourages guilt, doubt, and frustration, can be distracting, and has little Biblical support.
First, what is this Modern View? It is that God has a perfect plan for our lives that He expects us to figure out in order to have success. This individual will of God can, according to proponents, be found through circumstances, counsel, impressions, feelings of peace, signs, and sometimes even casting lots!
“In the conventional view of God’s will…we get the impression that He not only hides His will from us, but He then expects us to find it. So we obsess over God’s will of directions, eventually getting frustrated with God for not showing us what He wants. We end up disappointed with ourselves or angry with God because we can’t seem to figure out how to find God’s will for our lives…..
“The way many Christians treat God’s will is no different than you might treat a horoscope. We come to God and we want to know, ‘Is the job market good for Kevin today? Will I find my true love? Should I live in states that start with the letter A?’”
Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something, pages 46-47
Let’s start with what the Bible has to say about this idea.
First, there’s a hefty amount of good teaching in the Modern View.
It’s not totally wrong, and it’s not outside the realm of Christian thought. We aren’t heretics if we believe this way. God does have a beautiful plan for each of us, down to every detail, like the number of hairs on our heads. But there’s also an assumption there—that we have to decode this mystery path in advance, or at least in advance of each step.
Does the Bible suggest that this should be done? What about faith? What about trusting God for what we can’t see?
Read through Paul’s epistles and look at the context of “knowing God’s will.” Each time, the emphasis is on good works—not finding an individual guidance system, but on doing the moral will of God. Proponents of the Wisdom View, the alternative to our modern view, have examined these verses and others, demonstrating that when the Bible speaks of God’s will, the context points to sovereign will and moral will rather than an individual will (see Decision Making and the Will of God for a thorough theological analysis.)
Another problem with this modern idea of God’s will is that it can be terribly distracting!
Ironically, a concept meant to ensure obedience to God has turned into a roadblock to doing what God wants of us. Instead of getting things done, many Christians—especially Christian young adults—are waiting around hoping for God to beam down an answer to their every directional query. God expects us to roll up our sleeves and love others—but we’re often too busy waiting around to discover who and where and when we’re supposed to love. Our top priority should be doing what we already know we’re supposed to do from reading the Bible.
Also, many people have become discouraged with trying to discern the next step in God’s will.
They agonize over decisions that God doesn’t address directly—no Bible verses to be found that say, “Thou shalt marry Bob” or “Thou shalt move to Maine” or even “Thou shalt take Calculus II.” (Although I’m sure most of us are glad about that last one not being in the Bible!) It is sad that something that is supposed to be so joy-filled and free as following Christ has become such a heavy burden–surely an indication that we are adding unnecessary regulations to decision-making! This is a sure-fire way to feel guilty and full of doubt for the rest of your existence, as you second-guess your way through decisions, wondering why God hasn’t revealed to you the next move. This miserable path is definitely not how God wants us to live!
Finally, this Modern View is just plain inconsistent.
Think about it. So, you’re supposed to find out before any decision—without a shadow of doubt—just what God wants you to do. Do you limit this to only big decisions? How do you know what is a big decision? What if what appeared to be an inconsequential choice turns out to be a life-changing event?
Do you see the problem? To be consistent with this view, you’d have to decipher everything—and I mean EVERY thing! What grocery store to shop in, what color of shirt to buy, what pair of shoes to wear each morning, how many bites of breakfast to take…where would it end? Does God really want to micromanage these aspects of your life—aspects that He has given no specific command about?
At this point, I’m hoping that you are all feeling the relief I experienced. A great burden is lifted! We don’t have to scout for a subjective word from heaven! We don’t have to agonize over equal options! There is freedom!
So…if the modern approach is lacking, how DO we make God-glorifying decisions?
I’m glad you asked. Tune back in next week and we’ll talk about it! 😀
If you want to get ahead of the game, here are the books that helped me as I studied God’s Will: