Acorns, Caverns, and Me

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A bright-smiled young man explained to a group of us CollegePlus students and alumni about how his education experience was like a tree. He explained his tendency to want things to happen all at once, for the giant oak to just appear out of nowhere. “And then an acorn dropped on my head,” he laughed. That acorn reminded him that life is a process, not an immediate arrival.

It’s funny how something like that will stick with you.

I like to always have myself together. Forget the journey—I want to be at the destination now. I want the oak to spring into existence in front of me. Majestic live oaks sprawl across the Southern US. Branches tower and dip, stretched out like eternal arms and crooked low to create a bench. The solidity of these trees is astounding. Their girth is broad and deep and gnarled with experience.

But, in the awe of their expanse, it is hard to forget their age. Their bulk screams solidity, power, art, beauty—and also years and years of living.

I think it may be impossible to finger the knotted bark of a live oak and not vicariously experience the cut of the barbed wire half-grown into the side of the tree, the lightning that scorched one black branch, the gallons of raindrops that have washed in rivulets down the leaves, through the canyons of bark, all the way down to the roots.

When you look at a tree, you cannot help but see experience. Time. A process.

Then, somehow, I expect to roll out of bed and be sanctified, fully-grown, and perfectly stable in about 5 minutes.

“My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.”

– James 1:2-4, CEB –

I expect that I’ll be grown-up, and pain won’t hurt anymore. Trials won’t surprise anymore. Joy won’t ache anymore.

In other words, I expect to get an oak tree overnight. 

When I think about that young man’s story about the acorn, I realize that I’m much closer to the acorn end of things than I am to the sprawling live oak tree. I am small, weak, unimpressive—and filled with unutterable energy, potential, and room for growth.

Near our home in the mountains is the most beautiful cave I’ve ever visited. Deep below the surface, winding trails are filled with incredible cave decorations: canopies and columns, soda-straw stalactites, channels and coral reefs of extruded rocks.

This cave was not carved out of rock overnight. Time, again, did the beautifying. In a complex pattern of yielding and standing strong against external pressures, the cave gradually took on the shape it is in today.

The slow work of rain. Dirt moving. Stretching up, hollowing out, yielding to change. Standing through lightning crashes or the roll of an earthquake. This is how a tree grows, or a cave begins.

Sometimes we think we have to get it right, right now. Life becomes more about understanding than waiting.

But that’s just not how it is.

When life hurts, I don’t have to be okay. I don’t have to quiet my tears, or hold back my feelings of loss, or try to wrestle my pain into subjection.

All I have to do is rejoice in belief.

People talk about the stages of grief because healing and growth are not instant things. God most often chooses to work through natural processes to do His work–and often, that means waiting. It means I do not become whole in a moment. It means you have to hold on to God’s promises and let Him work out the healing or growing on His timeline.

Rejoicing in belief means that I trust God with my process. It means that I learn to rest in the middle of inner turmoil. It means that, in my deepest places, I believe God with all my heart, even if my emotions are up and down. Rejoicing in belief means I choose to say “Your will be done,” I am glad that it will be done, and I hold on for when it will be done in full.

When you are stuck “in process,” remember that your Savior became a man and felt these same tensions and lived the same body-soul wrestling that we live. He knows, and He cares. And, best of all, He is able to make us stand strong in the uncertain growing.

Remember, little acorns, that you are not oaks yet, but you are becoming mighty and wise.

Remember, little caves, that the deep places of the earth were not carved in a night.

Remember, sweet sisters, that your heart is on a journey, and Jesus is walking the path with us, seeing His perfect work all the way to the end.

We’re works in progress. Believe, and let Him grow you strong and deep and sure. He is able to do it.


“Remember He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted—i.e., keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk—don’t keep on looking at it.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis –

These Subtle Weavings

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“This is what the past is for!  Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.”
– Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place


The apostle Paul called our earthly life a dark glass for a reason (1 Cor. 13:12). We can only see pinpricks of light, shadows of a reality to come.

Although our Present moments are often chaotic and the Future is murky, the Past is one direction that God seems to shed a little more light on than others.

Past.

What does that word stir in you? Thoughts of childhood? Joy? Bitterness? Thankfulness….or regret? Embarrassment? Or, perhaps, a mixture of these things?

Unlike other points in time, the past is unchangeable, something our plans and intentions can never influence. The Past can be a Tormentor or a Teacher.

If I stop to think about it a moment, the Past can assault me with all the ridiculous things I’ve done. It doesn’t take long for one embarrassing episode after another to pop into my mind, making me groan. “How could I have thought that was a good idea?”

As I reminisce, I think of my more recent escapades, especially a not-long-ago phone call that could have resulted in disaster. “What possessed me!” I think. Then I remember that this particular “bright idea” was barely six months ago. Forget bewailing my indiscretions as a five-year-old! At twenty-one, I’m still keeping up with the blonde stereotype quite nicely, thank you.

What a Tormentor, with the memories of friendships broken, things that were and things that will never be! They can haunt and hound me, nipping at every day’s heels. The Past, sometimes, seems like a merciless enemy, intent on sucking us in and trapping us between the re-living of nightmares and the impossibility of beloved things lost.

But, it can be gentle too, the Past as wise and insistent as a gray-headed teacher, commanding our gaze, pulling us again and again from the Future’s window. God so often commands us to “Remember” and that is what the Past is truly for. Although a redeemed Past does not hide us from the ugliness of our committed sins, with the right way of seeing, a journey into the Past can be a path to hope.

“How,” you may wonder, “can all my mistakes and foibles and sins and wanderings be hopeful?”

Because, my sweet sisters, the very Past that has the power to torture us is the same Past that God has in His hand. No horrible rebellion, no hopeless destruction, no fathomless pit, no dark forest, can make us so lost and so unreachable that God cannot reach into it and bring us out safely. While not diminishing His disgust of sin, our God can take a lost soul–like you and I were–and dress that soul in His own white holiness, purchased at the price of the very life of God Incarnate.

“The very Past that has the power to torture us is the same Past that God has in His hand.”

But it is not only the death of Jesus that brings hope to our Past. It is the LIFE of Jesus! If He had remained in that tomb, we would still be hopeless ( 1 Cor. 15:12-58). But His rising showed that His death-price was accepted by the Father, freeing us from the chains of the past:

“It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 3:12-14, CEB

 In Christ, we can move beyond our sins and failings into joy. When we look back to the Past, the Tormentor no longer has any power. Why?

Because God is not just in the business of redeeming our Present, or our Future. He is not limited to our approval ratings or our acknowledgement of His sovereignty. He told Moses His great name I Am, illustrating His perfect, eternal, unmarred control of Everything–my self-destructing Past included.

His touch is all over the places we’ve gone, the days we’ve lived and forgotten, the moments we wish we could hold onto forever, the times we wish we could sink into the ground and disappear. He was–IS–there, in our Past as much as any other time. Though history is inaccessible to us, God stands outside our limits and oversees it all, according to a plan we can not imagine for its sheer glory. God is not only the Master of storytelling. He also has a penchant for the surprising, the unlikely, the irredeemable and the unbelievable. In the way only He can, He molds scarred history into Redemption, a Messiah who takes the shame, becoming the Thing that must, above all, be believed.

Paraphrasing Romans 8:18-21, scholar and pastor J.B. Phillips wrote:

“In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!”

This glory is not wholly left to the future. Have you ever seen a Sparkler on the 4th of July? It darts and dances in the air, shimmering with combustion, warmth, power. Sometimes, we can look back and see a sparkle of God’s light in the places we’ve walked.

It is hard to see when we’re passing through. Often, we have nothing to go on but faith in the darkness, but looking back, the spidery fingers of glory still trail behind us. The lights flash dimly through this dark, foggy glass. But, for a moment, we can look over our shoulders and see, kindled for an instant of recognition, a sight that teaches us to hope. It is His shadow, the impression of His feet as God moved, unseen, in the dark places of our Past.

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Bend in the Road

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 “God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows”

– Timothy Keller –


This week is the final week of our study on God’s will, as well as the second part of our Q&A. May the love of Christ dwell in you richly!


Q: “Does God reveal His will to an individual, but not to their authority? If so, how does one approach a situation where there is a disagreement with an authority on what God’s will is?”

A: There are several reasons why it is vital to pay close attention the advice and warnings of authorities, especially as young people. First of all, parents have a God-granted place of honor that is not optional (Eph. 6:1-3). Obedience to authorities (unless they command you to sin) is God’s will–no subjectivity there. For adult children out of the home, parents’ advice should be respected, even if the final decision is up to the grown child. In most situations–even for adult children–listening to those authorities is the wisest course of action.

In the case of a person conflicting with their authority about a perception of God’s will, you must work from what you know for sure. What do we know for certain that God wants in such a circumstance? Commands to obey and honor are relevant here. Next, what do we NOT know for sure? In the disagreement, are we elevating our subjective experience (an inner feeling or voice, an impression, a circumstance) above what God has already revealed in the Bible? If an authority is trying to prevent you from obeying God, that is one thing. However, if the conflict is over your personal interpretation of how that obedience is supposed to look when lived out, go with what you know for sure. God has put that authority in your life for a reason

Q: “The one thing that I struggle with some times is trying to figure out between my desires and the desires God places on my heart…”

A: Desires themselves are not inherently sinful or harmful. Because we are redeemed sinners, we know we have to be careful of sin creeping into our dreams and wishes, but just because we want something does not  automatically exclude it from God’s will. While God’s primary concern is for our Christ-likeness, not our comfort, He does want us to face life with joy and appreciate His gifts (1 Tim. 6:17; James 1:17).

That said, your question seems to be about motivations. Ask yourself why you want one choice or the other. If you are motivated by fear, anger, jealousy, or another sinful emotion, that is a sign that you need to surrender that area to God–but not necessarily that it is the wrong choice. Confused? Here’s an example.

Suppose my church’s music leader asked me to play piano for the congregation during services. My immediate thought might be, “Oh, I often get a big head when I play in front of people. Since pride is sin, I shouldn’t accept this position.” A better approach would be for me to confess the pride, pray for a right attitude, and take up this service, if that is a wise course of action within my other circumstances and responsibilities.

Another key thought is that our desires are conformed to be more like Christ as we pray and spend time reading the Bible and attending a faithful church. You don’t have to worry about turning up the label on each little desire and seeing if it’s marked “God’s desire” or “my desire.” You can examine a desire by comparing it with Scripture. God desires that you serve and grow in Him through a relationship with His Son, loving Him and those around you–it’s that simple! If you are faced with equally wise options and one would make you happy and the other will make you miserable, go with happy! God is not anti-happy, just anti-sin.


“The will of God isn’t a special direction here or a bit of secret knowledge there. God doesn’t put us in a maze, turn out the lights, and tell us, ‘Get out and good luck.’ In one sense, we trust in the will of God as His sovereign plan for our future. In another sense, we obey the will of God as His good word for our lives. In no sense should we be scrambling around trying to turn to the right page in our personal choose-your-own-adventure novel.

“God’s will for your life and my life is simpler, harder, and easier than that. Simpler, because there are no secrets we must discover. Harder, because denying ourselves, living for others, and obeying God is more difficult than taking a new job and moving to Fargo. Easier, because as Augustine said, God commands what He wills and grants what He commands.

“In other words, God gives His children the will to walk in His ways—not by revealing a series of next steps cloaked in shadows, but by giving us a heart to delight in His law.

“So 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.”

– Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something, p 121-122 –

Getting Our Bearings

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“There is no secret formula–only a life committed to a close walk with God.”
– Dillon Burroughs –


Today and next week, we’ll continue to learn about God’s will with a Q&A. I pray these things will spur you on toward knowing our amazing Savior! Blessings, my sisters!


Q: “I’ve noticed…[some] people trying to figure out God’s will…think they know what God’s will is and then after spending a huge amount of time on it, they realize it wasn’t exactly where God had wanted them to be.”

Often the problem is that people think they’re supposed to find out an exact choice that is stamped with “God’s Will,” when God never promises or even ASKS us to do that. The Bible doesn’t tell us the procedure for interpreting feelings of peace, nor does it give us an index of dream interpretation guidelines. Scripture rarely gives special revelation about an individual’s path, and even “super-Christians” like Luke (Gospel of Luke 1:3) and Paul (1 Thess. 3:1-2; Phil. 2:25-26) appear to have made many decisions based on what seemed like the good or right thing to do at the time, not on a heavenly revelation (see Decision Making and the Will of God, pages 168-169). 

So, if there’s no solid measuring stick of what is supposedly “God’s will” or not (according to the subjectivity of the modern view), people will get confused. They will say, “Here’s God’s will,” and then a few months later say, “No, that’s not it–there it is!” A better thing for us to do as Christians is to say, “I believe this is the wisest decision” or “I think this will be best,” but not put God’s reputation on the line for a decision we make. It’s easy to shift the “blame” for an unpopular choice onto “God’s will,” but, sorry, that’s not a Scripturally-based idea. As long as there’s nothing in the Bible specifically commanding your decision, you’ll have to defend it yourself. I believe it is very dangerous to affix God’s approval to something unless He has signed it Himself.

Fear of “getting it wrong” can hold people back too. But, according to the Wisdom View of God’s will, we can’t just sit around waiting for divine messages. We’ve already been given the Divine Message! We have our marching orders! If the choice is 1) morally right and 2) wise, then we can choose it.

A final misconception is relevant to this situation: the idea that problems are an indication that you aren’t in God’s will. Really? Is that what the Bible says? God never promises that things will go well if you’re doing His will, at least not in this present world! In fact, Jesus says the opposite:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NKJV).

Q: So is the Wisdom View just about logic? It doesn’t sound very spiritual.

A: No, not at all! God does call us to be logical, using what Donald Gee calls  “sanctified common sense,” but making God-glorifying decisions–wielding that wisdom–is absolutely dependent on spiritual matters. Here are several helpful responses that can help us make the best decisions:

Six Actions of a Godly Decision-Maker

1. Be indwelled by the Holy Spirit

Only a Christian can make decisions that please God! If you want to do God’s will, the first order of business is to be His child, yielded to His plans.

“Do you know what the Spirit-filled life is? It is living every moment as though you are standing in the presence of Jesus Christ!… It is being saturated with the things of Christ with His Word, His Person.”

– John MacArthur, Found: God’s Will, page 26, 27-28 –

2. Read the Bible

First, find out if there is a command for your situation. If not, what is the wisest thing to do?

3. Pray

Just because God will most likely not speak to you in an audible voice doesn’t mean He doesn’t care about your decision. As you walk more closely with Him, you will grow in wisdom. Since you (hopefully) aren’t praying for writing in the clouds, what should you pray about? There are so many things: ask God for wisdom to choose well (James 1:5-8),  pray that God would be glorified by your decision, pray for God’s working in your heart and in the hearts of others.

“Yes, it’s proper for Christians to pray to God and seek wisdom from God when we face decisions, even nonethical decisions. That’s not a bad idea. What is a bad idea is treating nonethical decisions as weightier than they really are because you think that there is One Right Answer that you must discover.”

Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something, page 64

4. Consider the circumstances

“Since circumstances provide the context in which a decision is made, they are a key source of wisdom for the decision maker. They must be evaluated, not to determine some clue from God, but to help decide the advisability of a course of action….Wisdom recognizes that every option has its advantages.”

Garry Friesen, Decision Making and the Will of God, page 262

5. Get Counsel

“Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). Wise advice, especially from spiritual authorities or strong Christian friends, is key! Conferring with parents, leaders, and mentors is a great way to keep yourself accountable for your decisions.

6. Consider personal desires

It’s okay to be happy. Really. 🙂

I know that sometimes we think if we want to do it, it must not be God’s will. But that just isn’t true. Yes, sometimes God brings things into our lives that are not comfortable or fun or what we particularly wanted at the moment. But at the same time, we should not routinely choose the less-desirable option. God’s not out to make us miserable—He’s out to make us like Jesus. (For more about desires, stay tuned for next week’s continuation of our Q&A)

“You see, the will of God is not primarily a place. The will of God is not, first of all, for you to go there or work here. The will of God concerns you as a person. If you are the right you, you can follow your desires and you will fulfill His will.”

John MacArthur, Found: God’s Will, page 60


 Q&A to be continued next week…

Does Not Wisdom Call?

 

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“Doing the will of God leaves me no time for disputing about His plans.”

– George MacDonald –


Well! You’re back! That’s wonderful 😀

Last week I left you with a bit of a cliffhanger, didn’t I? We discussed the problems with the way most people view God’s will, but we didn’t learn much about another option, a more Biblical option.

This week we’ll look at this option, and next week we’ll talk about practical decision-making using this Biblical pattern.


Instead of looking to the subjectivity of the signs and impressions to discern God’s path, there is an alternative: the Wisdom View.

Instead of saying that we have to figure out what God wants for each step, the Wisdom View teaches something quite different–and maybe a bit startling! The following four principles summarize the Wisdom View of God’s Will (see Decision Making and the Will of God, page 116):

If God tells us to do something, we should do it.

If God has not commanded us not to do something, we are free to do it.

If the Bible doesn’t say anything about it, God “gives us wisdom to choose.”

If our choice is wise and within God’s commands, we have to make a decision and trust God for the results.

If the Bible said, “Cars are evil inventions that no child of God must own,” then we would be out of God’s will to buy a car. But since it doesn’t, we are free to go out and purchase a vehicle to help us function in our God-assigned roles.

Remember the three kinds of God’s will that theologians talk about? God’s Sovereign Will is usually not in question, even by proponents of the alternate views. As the authors of Decision Making and the Will of God say,

“Would you like to know God’s sovereign will for next Tuesday? Wait until next Wednesday. Only God knows what will happen in advance, and He’s not telling.” – page 190

Most theologians recognize that God’s secret plan is not something to be discovered in advance–that’s just not our job as creatures. When Peter spoke to the crowd at Pentecost, he gave an example of God’s Sovereign Will:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” (Acts 2:22-24, NKJV, emphasis added)

So–that leaves Moral Will (Luke 7:30; John 9:31; Romans 12:2; Colossians 1:9; 1 Thess. 4:3-5) and Individual Will. The gist of the Wisdom View is that there is NO Individual Will of God, in the sense of  something God wants us to find out ahead of time. While God cares for us deeply, personally, and individually, He does not dictate every movement to us. That’s where His Moral Will and wisdom enter the scene.

This is such a relief! I don’t have to worry about God’s sovereign plan. He’s got that covered. I don’t have to worry about a fictitious individual route to be deciphered. All I have to do is “follow hard after God” (Psalm 63:8) through the saving work of Jesus, seeking to please Him by doing the things He does make clear in the Bible.

“God certainly cares about these decisions insofar as He cares for us and every detail of our lives. But in another sense, and this was the point I was trying to make, these are not the most important issues in God’s book. The most important issues for God are moral purity, theological fidelity, compassion, joy, our witness, faithfulness, hospitality love, worship, and faith. These are His big concerns. The problem is that we tend to focus most of our attention on everything else. We obsess over the things God has not mentioned and may never mentions while, by contrast, we spend little time on all the things God has already revealed to us in the Bible.”

– Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something, pages 44-45 –

The key to the Wisdom View is that we don’t have to jump through spiritual hoops–or sit around waiting for a vision from heaven–to please God. We just seek Him. That is His will.

And, as the name of the view implies, the rest of the decisions are left to wisdom. Does God forbid it? If not, the next question is, “Is it wise?”

“Now therefore, O sons, listen to me,
For blessed are they who keep my ways.
“Heed instruction and be wise,
And do not neglect it.
“Blessed is the man who listens to me,
Watching daily at my gates,
Waiting at my doorposts.
“For he who finds me finds life
And obtains favor from the Lord.
“But he who sins against me injures himself;
All those who hate me love death.”

– Proverbs 8:32-36, NASB –

Well-known theologian A.W. Tozer says this about the Christian’s decision-making process:

     “Now, a happy truth too often overlooked in our anxious search for the will of God is that in the majority of decisions touching our earthly lives God expresses no choice, but leaves everything to our own preference. Some Christians walk under a cloud of uncertainty, worrying about which profession they should enter, which car they should drive, which school they should attend, where they should live and a dozen or score of other such matters, when their Lord has set them free to follow their own personal bent, guided only by their love for Him and for their fellow men.

“On the surface it appears more spiritual to seek God’s leading than just to go ahead and do the obvious thing. But it is not. If God gave you a watch would you honor Him more by asking Him for the time of day or by consulting the watch? If God gave a sailor a compass would the sailor please God more by kneeling in a frenzy of prayer to persuade God to show him which way to go or by steering according to the compass?

“Except for those things that are specifically commanded or forbidden, it is God’s will that we be free to exercise our own intelligent choice. The shepherd will lead the sheep but he does not wish to decide which tuft of grass the sheep shall nibble each moment of the day. In almost everything touching our common life on earth God is pleased when we are pleased. He wills that we be as free as birds to soar and sing our Maker’s praise without anxiety. God’s choice for us may not be one but any one of a score of possible choices. The man or woman who is wholly and joyously surrendered to Christ cannot make a wrong choice. Any choice will be the right one.

– A.W. Tozer, from “How the Lord Leads,” emphasis added –

Based on the Wisdom View, our top priority is to do the things God commands. After that, we have a huge area of freedom to choose. Are you excited yet? I am! This is a beautiful balance: acknowledging God’s authority and control, while taking responsibility for our actions.

What do you think?

Don’t take my word for it–search the Scriptures to see if what I’ve said is true (Acts 17:11)! Read up on the subject from both perspectives. (From the Wisdom View side, I’d highly recommend the books I mentioned in last week’s post.) Respect your conscience and be fully convinced before you act on what you’ve learned (Romans 14:5,23).

Through this series on God’s will, I pray that you will truly “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10). This is my desire for you, my sisters.

It is my hope that you be freed by this wisdom-based perspective, embracing the future as an adventure to serve our great God!


Stay tuned for next week’s Q&A on practical decision-making!

The Road Taken…Or Not

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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.

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“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.

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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?

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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:

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