“If God wants us to be in His will and to do His will, then why is knowing His will so difficult?”
This question was posed to me in an email recently. And since that email three weeks ago, I have received six more just like it, asking about how we can know God’s will for our lives.
Of all the things people ask me, questions around knowing God’s will, doing God’s will or being in God’s will top the list. This question is related all kinds of things: choosing a college, selecting a job, marrying a spouse, pursuing a career, moving to a new place. The list goes on.
While questions about God’s will are good, and should be asked, there may be a better way of asking. Often, our questions about God’s will are rooted in two things.
First is our desire for a secure future. We believe if we are in God’s will, then our life ahead promises rather smooth sailing. Second, we hope to please God. We believe if we are in God’s will, He will be pleased with us and we can avoid any unnecessary punishment.
Viewing God and His will like this is little more than fatalism. Just knowing God’s plan for us seems impossible, but we hope we can find it someway, somehow. We convince ourselves God has a determined plan for us, and it is far beyond our ability to control.
This belief suggests God is a deterministic deity who has planned out every single step we are supposed to take, the order in which we are to take them and the time we are to take them. Many of us have spent countless hours praying about and seeking out these steps. Deep inside, we worry about choosing what is not God’s will; believing if we miss it God will be upset with us.
This way of thinking breaks down quickly. Because there are times when things don’t go according to plan, and moments when horrible circumstances rise against us. What happens then? What do we say to someone who believes they are in God’s will and everything falls apart? In times like these, we are left with few options.
One option is to blame ourselves, believing we are out of God’s will. As hard as we tried, we did not follow His plan for us. As a result, God is lashing out to get us back in line. This makes God into nothing more than a punitive deity.
Another option is to blame God, believing He has willed pain and suffering. We followed what we believed to be God’s will, and now have to come to grips with why He caused pain and suffering. This makes God into nothing more than a twisted deity.
One of my good friends wrestled between these two options for years after his divorce. He and his wife met just after college. They quickly began dating, their relationship got serious and one night he told her of his intent to marry her. He told several of us he believed it was God’s will he marry her. Within two years of meeting they were married. Within four years of getting married they were divorced.
When he told me the news, it was heartbreaking. He told me how hellish the last year of their marriage had been, and he said, “I don’t understand, I really believed it was God’s will.” He struggled, on the one hand, asking, “How I could be so sure this was God’s will when it clearly wasn’t?” This led to shame, self-doubt and guilt. On the other hand, he asked, “If it was God’s will, how could God allow this?” This led to anger and resentment toward God.
And my friend is not alone in feeling this way. How many of us have made a decision believing it to be God’s will, only to have the wheels come off sometime down the road? This struggle suggests God is not very good at showing us His will, but He is really good at punishing us so we know what His will is not.
Thankfully, there is a third option.
God’s will, or what God wants, is the reconciliation of all things on earth or and in heaven. God’s will, what God desires, is that all men and women would be saved, and that none would suffer. God’s deep desire is the redemption, renewal and restoration of all things. He wants this so badly that Jesus shed his blood and gave his life so that He could restore peace and wholeness to our broken world. The biblical writers call this good news.
The amazing thing is not only does God want this, but he invites us to join with Him in His work in this world. Simply put: God’s will for us is that we join with Him in His redemptive work in this world. Which reframes our question about knowing and doing God’s will.
Knowing, doing and being in God’s will begins with looking at our lives and asking, “Are there places where we see ourselves joining with God in his redemptive work in this world?” We can ask this question in the many important decisions that face us in life—whether that be colleges, jobs, spouses, relocating or careers.
We do not have to grope about blindly in prayer hoping we hit some cosmic bullseye called God’s will. We are freed to ask, “Will this decision allow me to participate more fully in God’s redemptive work in this world?” This lends tremendous freedom when it comes to making choices and doing God’s will.
God has not made His will hard to know. His will is the renewal of all things. What’s really difficult is choosing to participate in God’s will, and spend our lives joining God in His redemptive work in this world of ours that so desperately needs it.