Providence, Prayer, Wisdom and God’s Will
In my previous blog post on how to find God’s will, I made the case that the Scriptures reveal there to be only two aspects of God’s will: (1) God’s sovereign will (i.e., His sovereign plan and purpose for the ages, which always gets fulfilled down to the very smallest detail); and (2) God’s moral will (which is revealed in Scripture, summarized in the ten commandments, and which is often resisted and violated by sinful human beings).
I also sought to make the case that the common view out there in popular Christianity which teaches that God has an individual, tailor-made “personal” will for our lives, distinct from His sovereign will and His moral will, and which Christians are duty-bound to search for lest they lose “God’s best” for their lives and miss living in “the center of God’s will”, is an unbiblical view. While God certainly does have a personal plan for each of our lives, it falls under the category of His sovereign will, ultimately has in view our salvation or judgment, and belongs to “the secret things of the LORD” which we are forbidden by Scripture to pry into (see Deuteronomy 29:29).
So, what is God’s will for your life? Basically, God’s revealed will for your life is that you be holy. That means He calls you to believe the gospel of Christ, repent of your sins, and seek to live a life of obedience to His moral law out of gratitude for His gift of salvation.
When it comes decisions in life where you are presented with a number of ethically-upright, God-honoring options (for example, making the choice between two morally-honorable job opportunities), God gives you the liberty and the personal responsibility to use your brain and make a decision of your choice based on the options His providence sets before you. You don’t have to wait around for a “sign”, “put out a fleece”, search your heart for impressions or a sense of inner peace, or read the tea leaves (or any other kind of occult-like activity). Simply weigh your options prayerfully, seek wise, godly counsel from others, and make the best choice based upon all the information you have. And then relax, don’t worry that you might have missed “God’s best.”
Now, if you have been raised with the idea that God has a personal, tailor-made will for your life distinct from His sovereign and His moral will, the understanding of God’s will that I am advocating in this and my previous blog articles may shock and perhaps even disturb you. A number of objections are likely to come to your mind. (As someone who used to hold to the “personal will of God” view, believe me, I can relate.)
One possible objection may be stated as follows: “If what you are saying is true, that makes God seem so impersonal, so distant, so uninvolved in my life. But the God revealed in the Bible is a personal, loving God who cares about every detail in our lives!”
First of all, let me make it clear that I wholeheartedly agree that the God we Christians worship is indeed a loving, personal, caring God. Jesus taught that our heavenly Father even notices when a sparrow falls to the ground and has numbered the hairs on our head; and since we are of much more value than sparrows, God will certainly take notice of and care for us (see Matthew 10:29-31). But the problem with this objection is that it assumes God does not relate to us as a personal, caring God unless He is giving us fresh, new, individually-tailored direct revelation in order to guide us in our life decisions. In other words, it assumes the insufficiency of Scripture. That is to say, it assumes that God’s moral will revealed in the Bible is insufficient to guide and direct us in our personal decisions. But Scripture testifies of itself that it is sufficient to “thoroughly equip” God’s people for every good work (for example, see Second Timothy 3:16-17; also Psalm 119).
The Bible is not an impersonal “dead letter”, but a very personal, “living, active word” which, blessed by the Holy Spirit, has great power in the lives of believers (see Hebrews 4:12-13). In the Scriptures God the Holy Spirit speaks very powerfully and very personally to those who by God-given faith receive the guidance and instruction provided by the Word of God.
Another possible objection might be stated in these words: “If what you are teaching is true, it seems to imply that God doesn’t care about decisions I have to make that are not directly revealed in the Bible. For example, whom should I marry, what career should I pursue, where should I live, what should I do with my life, etc.”
Again, this potential objection also assumes the insufficiency of Scripture. It assumes that if God doesn’t tell me through some kind of mystical direct revelation (such as inward “impressions,” dreams, visions, or a “sense of peace”), or through some kind of obvious “sign”, who I am to marry, what job I am to take, or what pair of socks I am to put on in the morning, then obviously God doesn’t care about those kinds of decisions, and thus God must not really care about me. But this whole line of thought is a gross misunderstanding of biblical teaching on how God personally guides us as believers.
First of all, God does indeed care about these kinds of life decisions, even the “small” decisions (for example, what we choose to wear). And in the Scriptures God does provide us with guidance in these kinds of questions. But God also expects us to study the Scriptures prayerfully, use our brains, take into account the providential circumstances of our lives, and seek wise counsel when it comes to important decisions in life. And ultimately God providence limits our choices and options.
Let’s take the example of marriage. You might ask the question, “Whom should I marry?” Does God’s Word provide believers with guidance on the question of whom they are to marry? Abolutely, yes! Passages like First Corinthians chapter 7 are full of guidance for the believer considering marriage. For example, Scripture makes it very clear that a believer may only marry someone who is a professing believer (i.e., believers are only to marry “in the Lord” – 1 Cor. 7:39). In the Scriptures God repeatedly and solemnly warns His people not to marry those who are outside of the faith. So from these biblical teachings we may infer that, if you are a Christian, it is not God’s will for you to marry a non-Christian (no matter how moral or nice or “compatible” or how much he/she might seem like a “soul mate”). As a Christian you may only marry someone who is spiritually compatible, someone who is professing believer.
So the Scriptures provide believers with ample guidance when it comes to the question of whom to pursue as a potential marriage partner. But God does not give direct, personal guidance to Johnny to pursue marriage with Sally and not with Susan or Sarah. If Sally, Susan and Sarah are all spiritually-compatible Christians, then Johnny is free to decide which one he wishes to pursue with a view to marriage. But here’s where providence kicks in. Maybe Johnny’s initial choice is Sally, who is one of his good friends; therefore he seeks to court her. But Sally is only interested in Johnny as a friend, and wants their relationship to remain platonic. So she says “no, thanks” to Johnny. There is an example of God’s providence shutting a door.
What should Johnny do at this point? Well, he can pray for God’s wisdom as he seeks a life partner in marriage and for God’s providence to direct his steps. He can ask himself important questions (“Am I really ready yet for marriage?” “Would I make a good husband?” “Am I able to support a wife and family?” “Am I ready to be a good, self-denying, servant leader to any future wife God in His providence may choose to bless me with?” Etc.). And he can seek out godly wisdom from his pastor and other mature believers God has brought into his life. (After all, “there is wisdom in many counselors”.)
So where do you find God’s will for your life? You find it in the Bible, God’s Word, which is totally sufficient to guide you into the paths of righteousness.
And how do you discover how God’s Word applies to your own specific situation? First of all, study Scripture prayerfully, and in the fellowship of the church. Pray for God to help you understand the Word and to give you the wisdom to apply that Word to your specific life circumstances (James 1:5-8). Assess your life circumstances, and look at your options. (I.E., look at your current providential circumstances.) And, when it comes to life decisions you need to make which are not directly addressed in Scripture, pray for God to give you wisdom in making your decision, avoid making decisions that would compromise your faith or integrity, and seek wise advice from others. Make an informed decision based on all the information available to you. And then, relax! Trust in God’s providence to guide your way into the future, and realize, believer, that no matter what happens in the future, God will cause all things (even the bad things) to work out for your ultimate good and for His ultimate glory (Romans 8:28).