On finding the will of God

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 12, 2011

By Matt Mitchell
North Hills Christian School Head of School
Over the last two centuries, a popular but troubling theology has emerged in todayís Christian churches. The doctrine of ? Godís perfect will suggests that our Creator has a hidden will for our lives that we must somehow ?find. And, woe unto us if we step outside of His hidden will, for doing so may bring great trepidation upon our lives. I become profoundly unsettled when this troubling understanding of Scripture paralyzes godly believers with fear. As the class of 2011 prepares to graduate and sets out to find the will of God for their lives, I cannot think of a more appropriate time to explore and unravel this fearful understanding of who God is and what He wants for us.
Although theologians look at Godís will from a number of angles, two of them are particularly helpful when it comes to our desire to find Godís will for our lives. First, His ěpreceptiveî will, is that which God desires for the way we live and behave. He has already told us how things work best in the world He made. It is His will, for instance, that we not kill or steal; that we love our enemies; that we worship Him; and that we care for others. These are all biblical precepts, clearly stated in Scripture and in no way hidden from us. The second type of will is his ?decretive? will, that is, what God decrees. The distinction between these two angles of Godís will is a critical one that must be made. To better understand the decretive will of God, it helps to remember that God is all-powerful and all-knowing. At the very least, He sovereignly ěpermitsî(many theologians would argue he ?orchestrates) every event that comes to pass in human history.
An example will help explain these two views of Godís will. Was it His will (preceptive) that the Fall of mankind might take place in the Garden of Eden? No. God never said to man, ěIt is best for you to you choose to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.î Man did it anyway. On the other hand, was the Fall of mankind Godís will in the second (decretive) sense? Absolutely; our Godówho is both all knowing and all powerfulóat the very least permitted, but perhaps even ordained that it would come to pass. It did.
Confusing? The study of theology always reminds me that I am a finite being with limited understanding, and that He is infinite and beyond our understanding. So, I move to the practical application for this mini-lesson in theology.
As a senior in high school, I remember staring my future in the face with an incredible sense of anxiety. Where does God want me to go to college? What does He want me to do with my life? How will I know whom I should marry? Where should I work? As these questions flooded my mind in high school, I would have benefited from a more complete understanding of the theology of Godís will. Since then, I have learned two lessons that may help the class of 2011 sort out their own future.
First, I am increasingly aware that God has already decreed a perfect plan for my life. I donít have to ěfindî it. Rather, it has already been ordained. You may ask, ěWhat if I marry the ëwrongí person?î You wonít. ěWhat if I pursue the ëwrongí career path?î You canít. Here is where the doctrine of the ěperfect willî of God gets it wrong. God does have a plan for your life and, no matter what you do, you cannot thwart it. On the contrary, you can believe in this plan, trust in it, and take it to the bank. It is real.
Not buying it? Then consider the logical implications of the idea that God has a ?perfect will that we must find for our lives by considering an example. If you accept the wrong job offer, for instance, then that means that the person who was supposed to have the job you now occupy is also in the ěwrongî place in life. And, what about the person whose job he took? She is in the wrong place, too. And what about the person who took the job you were ěsupposedî to have? And so the dominoes fall.
You see, if we accept the premise that God has a secret perfect will that we may or may not mystically find, then when we make a miss-step in finding that will, we also cause everyone else in the world to miss it for their lives. Now, thatís pressure! I submit to you that we simply do not have the power to make such a cosmic mess. Our Godís sovereign, decreed will is coming to pass no matter what we do. We must praise Him for that!
The second lesson I learned after high school was that, through Scripture, our God has provided us with principles and precepts that we can (and should) apply to daily Christian living. I like to think of these as ěGodís instructionsî for the way His world works best. The preceptive will of God is comprised of principles that should guide lifeís decisions, both big and small. These precepts are anything but hidden or mysterious, for they are revealed in His Living Word! Our task, then, is to study His Word diligently under the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we might learn more about what He has set forth for us. While you cannot alter His decretive will, you certainly can ignore His preceptive will.
So, what if you do? Trust in His sovereignty, knowing that you will never fall out of His plan for your life. Even if you do make sinful choices that do not align with His precepts, He still has a purpose and a plan for those choices (notice that, in Romans 8:28, Paul says that God ěworksî all things together for the good of those who love Him; this does not mean that everything will ěbeî goodî). When you discover that you have not followed His precepts, repent. When sinful choices cause lasting effects upon your life, learn from them. But, as you learn, rest in the knowledge that this was part of His plan for your life. Our God is sovereign, and you are not beyond His sovereign reach! So, do not be paralyzed in fear. Instead, rest in knowing that whatever happens and whatever decisions you make are part of His grand plan for your life. As Psalm 139:16 puts it, ?All the days were ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.?
So, the sum of the message I share with this yearís graduates (and with our broader Salisbury community) is this: As you consider your future, find Godís will for your life by delighting yourself in Him, and make choices that adhere to His biblical precepts. This requires continuous study of Scripture, as well as wise counsel from godly men and women who thoroughly know His Word. So, do not choose your future spouse based primarily upon your feelings (which are neither consistent nor reliable), but choose him or her based upon the individualís godliness, integrity, and character.
Instead of selecting based upon a ěfeeling,î choose your college and career path by examining your God-given gifts; the integrity of your prospective employer; and the opportunities for you to make a difference in the world for the sake of the Kingdom. There is no mystery here; apply sound biblical principles to your daily life, and watch God work!
In the end, what I want you to know above all is that God does not call us to a quest for some mysterious, elusive will that we must seek to discover. Instead, He provides His Word in full view to guide and direct our lives as the Holy Spirit opens our eyes. Choose to follow this Truth instead of your heartís whims, and you will not be misled. May God bless you ń the class of 2011 ń as you are launched in the world fully equipped, as the mission statement of North Hills Christian School says, ?…to impact the world for Christ.