In part 1, we saw that the ways Christians “find God’s will” are sort of a mixed bag; some may work, but others may not. In part 2, we saw that the New Testament never imagines that we really need to find God’s will anyway; God's will is about big-picture things that we already know about, like salvation and holiness.
In one sense, it's a huge relief that we don't have to agonize over God's will! It's so comforting to know that God has told us most of what we need to know already; we know God's will for our lives. But that doesn't change the reality that we face major life decisions. What do we do when we have to make major (or minor) life choices?
I don’t have a simple, one-size-fits-all answer for that question. But let me suggest a few questions that you can ask yourself when you face a decision; taken together, these steps have helped me tremendously in making life decisions that I believe please God.
1. Am I trying to let God guide me in this choice? Many of us typically assume that we have to figure out God’s will, and if we’re not trying really hard then we’ll miss out on it. But the New Testament assumes that Christians are in God's will. Christians have accepted the lordship of Jesus and are guided by the Holy Spirit, so they are already doing God's will. The will of God is that we each lead lives that are faithful to him; if you're making an earnest effort to live the Christian life as best you can, then the scriptures assume that you're doing God's will. Isn’t that liberating? Just prayerfully examine your life, and ask God to help you determine if you’re being deliberately sinful or obstinate toward God. If you’re not, you probably don’t need to worry about missing God's will; I don't think anyone innocently misses the will of God.
2. Does the decision that I am considering lead me toward greater maturity in Christ? If God's will is for you to be a healthy and growing Christian, as the New Testament says, then make life decisions that achieve that. Consciously seek out situations that allow you a greater and greater possibility to act like Jesus would act. For example, you might move back to your hometown because it allows you to lovingly care for your aging parents; you know that this caregiving process will be long and taxing, but you believe it is an opportunity for you to both show love and grow in your compassion. Or you might choose to go to a social event because you know that you’ll be able to spend time with a number of non-Christians that you’re building a relationship with—sounds like something Jesus would do to me!
3. Is the decision that I am considering responsible? You'll find that many of life's decisions aren't directly related to being a good Christian. You’ll face choices where there doesn’t seem to be a “right” path, or where the right choice isn’t clear. In this case, I would suggest that either path can be the right one. In fact, when teaching about how to make right choices Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that there are an infinite number of responsible decisions in our lives. As long as a choice does not take us away from Christ, Bonhoeffer thought it was a great choice.
If there are lots of right choices, what we’re left with, then, is using our brains to make a smart choice. For example, imagine that you have two job offers, one in Georgia and one in South Carolina. You could live a holy life in Georgia or South Carolina. Which one is God’s will? Does it really matter which job you take? Make the decision that you think is most responsible and most appropriate for you. If the Georgia job offers better health insurance and better pay, you should probably take that one. If you know that there's a church in South Carolina that you would really like to be a part of, then maybe you should take that job. The point is that either is probably a fine decision and in line with God’s will for you. I would suggest that God has left it up to you to make the most responsible decision for yourself and your family. God intends for you to use the intelligence and wisdom that he gave you to make the best decision that you can.
4. Am I willing to seriously consider all the choices before me, even the ones that are difficult? When facing decisions, it’s easy to use the “smart decision” or the “responsible decision” to dodge courses of action that may be difficult. But sometimes, the difficult choice might be the right choice. The Apostle Paul encountered tremendous hardship in his ministry (2 Cor 11:23-28), and even though it might have seemed “smart” and “responsible” for him to quit he never did so. So we, too, must be willing to choose the difficult path if it allows us to become a more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Doing what's responsible doesn't always mean doing what is easy.
For example, suppose you have a job offer that does not pay as much as you would like, but you can still survive on the salary; but at this job, you have a greater opportunity to make a difference and be a positive influence. You might decide that accepting this position is the best choice, because it gives you a greater opportunity toward greater unity with Christ in your professional career. That's not an easy choice, but it may be the most faithful and responsible choice.
That’s it—those are the four questions that I ask myself when I face life decisions. They may seem a little scary to you, and they’re much less clear-cut than some of the ways of "finding God's will" that we examined in part 1. The purpose of these four questions is NOT to lead us to make decisions on our own without God's guidance, but neither do they deny the responsibility that we each have for our own choices. The four questions ask us to become partners with God in the decision-making process; if we cultivate a lifestyle that looks to God and is dependent on God—if we don't make decisions by leaning on our own understanding—then we can use our minds and our experience with God to make the decision that we believe that God wants. We aren't just waiting on God to come down from on high and tell us what to do—we are actively trying to make a decision that we believe God would be pleased with.
Those questions are ambiguous, but I would suggest that this very ambiguity is the final reason that we should be making our decisions in this way. It’s very easy to assume that “a door was closed” and so that was not God’s will for us; it’s easy to avoid a decision because we haven’t seen a clear sign from God yet. It takes much more maturity to try to follow Christ even when the path isn’t clear—to step out on faith, when we aren’t entirely sure where we are going—because we are trying to grow into people who know what it means to follow God. I believe that God wants us to be people of maturity who know for ourselves what it means to follow Christ, not spiritual infants who have to wait for God to tell us what to do.
Though it may be scary to think of God’s will like this, I’m convinced that making our life choices in this way is God’s will for us—it’s one way that Christ builds us up, so that we one day develop the full measure and maturity of Christ himself (Eph 4:13).
What do you think? Is this a helpful way for you to make decisions that please God, or do you see things differently? Let me know in the comments below, or let's talk about it in person sometime! Whether we agree or disagree, blessings on you as you seek to fully and faithfully follow God's will.