A lot of Christians like to talk about God's plan for their lives. It's assumed God has a will for each of us, and that it's our duty to discover that will and adhere to it. We easily become paralyzed into inactivity as a result,worried that our choices will be the wrong ones, and sufficient to eject us from whatever path God wants us to follow.
On the surface, this sounds very spiritual. The ability to hear God's voice, or at least respond to His direction, is certainly a skill all of the faithful should cultivate—those who can are thought to be intimate with God in a way many are not. Who would want to be outside God's will? And what better way to know you're in it than to be guided by God Himself?
The Scripture seems to support this attitude. In Judges 6:36-40, the judge Gideon wants to make sure he's in God's plan and so he asks God to confirm it with a fleece set out at night; if God plans to use Gideon, the fleece will be full of dew but the ground will be dry. Wanting to be doubly sure, Gideon then asks that the reverse might happen the next night. God affirms His will both times, and Gideon goes on to drive the Midianites out of the Promised Land.
This is one of the favorite passages of those claiming we need to know God's specific will for our lives. But was Gideon's behavior an example for us to follow? The Book of Judges is an historical narrative: are we allowed to apply the actions of historical saints to our own lives, simply because their deeds are recorded in the Bible?
Of course not. Was it wrong for Gideon to set the fleece before God? No, but that doesn't mean we should follow his lead, at least not in the sense many would have us believe. Gideon wanted assurance of God's word, and because he asked in faith God gave it to Him. In this sense, we should follow Gideon's example, but not by setting out fleeces.
In this era of redemptive history, God no longer speaks directly to individuals. At the end of the Book of Revelation, John says, "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book" (22:18-19).
If God did still give us direct revelation as individuals, whatever He told anyone would have to be part of Scripture, yet the apostle John clearly says the canon of the Bible is sealed. As a result, we don't interact with God quite the same way Old Testament saints did. We no longer ask for signs and wonders, we consult God's written Word (1 Corinthians 1:22-25).
It is in the written Word, the Bible, that God reveals to Christians His will for our lives: "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). And again in Hebrews 12:1-2: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."
The will of God for His people is that we should have faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, and that our faith would work itself out in our lives as sanctification. Beyond this, we don't know what God has planned for us. In fact, Deuteronomy 18:10 clearly tells us we shouldn't have anything to do with those who attempt or claim to predict the future. The future belongs to the Lord, who has ordered all things. We are given only the present.
To be in God's will, then, doesn't mean to know what He wants us to do in the particulars of our lives: what car to buy, which job to apply for, where to eat dinner, how to comb your hair. If we aren't contemplating buying a car we can't afford, combing our hair in such a way that it attracts attention, or applying for an immoral job, we can be assured that we're doing God's will, as long as we're seeking Him above all else.
Jesus Himself said we need not worry about food or clothes as long as we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:25-34). He didn't say we need to wait for God to tell us what to do: we already know what we're to do because God has revealed it in His Word. Instead, we need to pursue Him, and use wisdom to make our decisions.
Does God have a specific plan for each of us? Of course, He's the God of history and holds all things in His omnipotent hands. Can we know this plan beforehand? No. But we can know God's will for our lives because it's the same for every single one of us: to have faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, and to live accordingly.
When it comes to decision-making, everything we need to know to make right choices is in the Word of God. You won't find specific statements like, "Buy red shoes instead of black ones," when you don't need them. All you need to know is what a godly life looks like, and make decisions accordingly. If the Bible is your only guide, you won't have to worry about being outside God's will, and can rest in the finished work of Christ which cleanses us and reconciles us to God the Father Almighty.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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