ita was in a dead-end relationship and very
confused about Godís will. She phoned me one evening,
anxious for my advice.
had been through two previous dating relationships where her
hopes had been seriously disappointed, she explained. Finally,
she had taken a step to keep the pattern from repeating. She
told the Lord that she wouldnít date another man unless her
mom was confident he was the one she should marry, and she
prayed that her momís approval would be the indication that
she had found Godís choice. She was bound and determined not
to make a mistake about Godís will again.
making her resolution, Tom asked Rita out. Her mom felt that
Tom would make an excellent husband for her, so Rita accepted,
eagerly hoping she had finally found the man God wanted her to
marry. The time with Tom was enjoyable and only intensified
her hope. Yet unfortunately six months had now passed, and she
hadnít heard from him again.
not only felt rejected, but perplexed about Godís will. How
could her mother have been so confident that Tom was right for
her, yet Tom not be following through? Should she simply
assume that Tom was Godís choice and continue to wait?
told Rita that I admired her respect for her motherís
opinion. Our parentsí counsel can be so beneficial in our
big decisions. Yet to expect her mom to know the mind of God
unerringly in this matter was to lay a burden on her too great
for any human to bear. Rita would ultimately need to make her
own decision, weighing her momís advice along with other
didnít dispute what I said, but in frustration replied,
ďHow, then can I know for certain?Ē If her momís
advice were not an infallible sign of Godís will, in other
words, what would be? Here we came to the heart of
her dilemma. Rita assumed she could have certainty about
Godís will for her marriage choice in advance --
apart from discovering it in the step-by-step process of
building a relationship. Rather than seeing Godís will as
something to be discerned through her experience, she assumed
it could be found in some external way beforehand.
for Unmistakable Guidance
belief that God will give advance certainty of his will is
held by many Christians, not only regarding the marriage
choice, but about other major decisions as well. Itís
assumed that if youíre spiritually mature enough and
properly alert to God, heíll give you a ďcallĒ to do
something--even before youíve made any effort to move in
that direction. And this call may be independent of what your
experience or logical judgment would otherwise indicate you
should do. This notion is often held with the most reverent
intentions, to be sure, and I believed it strongly myself as a
unfortunate result of this assumption is immobility. You can
wait indefinitely for a clear signal from God and fail to take
the very steps that will broaden your experience and give you
a basis for understanding what he wants you to do. Or you can
get locked into an unfruitful situation. Although Ritaís
relationship with Tom was going nowhere, she thought in all
sincerity that God may have laid a mandate on her to wait for
Tom to come to his senses. This made it difficult for her to
let go of her hope and take steps toward building other
desire for advance certainty of Godís will is only too
understandable, and on one level itís commendable. Our
greatest concern should be to know Godís will and do it.
There was much about Ritaís attitude to be respected.
though, gives us little reason to expect that we will find
Godís will for our personal choices apart from going through
the normal and often challenging process of decision making.
This isnít to say that God doesnít guide us or doesnít
have a will for our personal decisions--he most certainly
does! Yet his guidance typically comes in a subtle, not
dramatic fashion. He guides our thinking, as we
prayerfully take responsibility to work through decisions.
From our standpoint, we may not feel that anything mystical or
supernatural is occurring, and it may just seem that weíre
going through a normal decision-making process. Yet if we have
sincerely asked God for direction and want his will, then he
is influencing our decision process, and in time his guiding
hand in our life often becomes evident.
give us unbending certainty of his will in advance, or a
dramatic call to do something, to be sure, and on rare
occasions he may guide in this way. Scripture, though, never
teaches that we should expect this sort of guidance
from God or seek it. Rather, we should give our
attention to prayerfully making responsible decisions.
in Paulís Life
the experience of Paul, around whom so much of the New
Testament centers. In spite of his remarkable spiritual
maturity, his experiences of direct supernatural guidance were
very few. Most of his major decisions were made in a
practical, step-by-step manner. He rarely had certainty of
Godís will for his future, but only enough insight for the
steps right in front of him.
Corinthians 16, for example, he tells the Corinthians that he
longs to enjoy an extended visit with them. ďFor I do not
want to see you now just in passing; I hope to spend some time
with you, if the Lord permitsĒ (v 7 RSV). He goes on to
explain, however, that he cannot come to see them right now
but is obliged to stay in Ephesus: ďBut I will stay in
Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work
has opened to me, and there are many adversariesĒ (vv 8-9
Paul had received a direct revelation from God to stay in
, he surely would have mentioned it here, for he wanted to
give the Corinthians all the evidence he could that he was
following Godís will by not coming immediately to visit
them. He says nothing about receiving dramatic guidance,
however, but simply notes two practical factors that
influenced his decision: he has an exceptional opportunity to
minister (ďa wide door for effective work has opened to
meĒ), and he has significant challenges to meet (ďthere
are many adversariesĒ).
is also interesting that while Paul seems to feel strong
conviction about Godís will for the present--that he should
--he is tentative about Godís will for his future. He
expresses earnest desire to visit the Corinthians, but adds
that heíll do so only ďif the Lord permits.Ē He stops
short of saying that he knows God wants him to go to
or that God has assured him this will happen.
we carefully study Paulís life, we find that in most
situations his conviction about Godís will was similar to
what it is in this passage. He often had strong confidence
about what God wanted him to do in the present. His
understanding of Godís plan for his future, though, was
usually tentative at best. He discovered Godís will one step
at a time, and many times found himself revising his plans as
he moved forward (Acts 16:6-40). This pattern of finding
Godís will step-by-step was so common in Paulís life, that
we may assume it reflects what our own experience with
guidance will likely be.
Much Guidance Could Hurt Us
we stop and think about it, there are many reasons why it
wouldnít normally be healthy for us to have prior certainty
of Godís plans for our life. For one thing, we would miss
the growth that comes from taking responsibility to work
through decisions. Knowing Godís long-range intentions for
us would sap our incentive to develop our ability to think and
make responsible decisions.
addition, we would be deprived of the sense of adventure that
only comes when there is, from the human angle at least, a
sense of risk in what weíre doing. We shouldnít
underestimate the importance of adventure to our health and
well-being. God has created us with a significant need for
adventure. I am certain that when Jesus promised us abundant
life in John 10:10, he was speaking not of a life free from
challenge but of one laden with adventure. We shouldnít
expect that God will guide us in a way that removes the
element of adventure from our decision process.
knowing Godís will for our future could be frightening,
especially if we had reason to fear what is coming up.
most important, advance certainty of Godís will would
diminish our need for trusting Christ. Feeling as though we
had him locked in, we would loose our incentive for obedience
and for depending on him continually for fresh guidance. We
would be inclined to put our faith in our vision, rather than
in Christ himself.
itís by taking steps with our life when our sight is less
than perfect, that we put ourselves in the best position to
develop unshakable faith in Christ.
to Take Initiative
we may find it frustrating to face the limits of our knowledge
about Godís will, thereís a liberating side to what
weíre saying. Itís the fact that itís okay to make a
major personal decision in the face of less than perfect
certainty. We donít have to wait indefinitely for an
unmistakable sign from God before going ahead.
course we should never be foolhardy in making decisions. We
should take care to get the best information we can and to
work through a major decision carefully. We should approach it
with plenty of prayer and with the highest desire for Godís
will. Yet when weíve made a reasonable effort to pray and
think things through, we should feel free to go ahead and make
our best choice, even though some doubts and questions remain.
say it more emphatically, it will be necessary at times
for us to move ahead in the face of some uncertainty if
weíre to realize our potential for Christ. We may even need
to do so in what for many of us is the most challenging
decision we face in life--the marriage choice. While a
decision for marriage should never be rushed, and while we
should make every effort to approach it wisely, if we wait for
unbending certainty, weíre likely to wait forever and never
decide. Our goal should be to have reasonable certainty, but
not perfect certainty.
will need to take similar initiative in other major decision
areas as well, such as career, job choice and church
involvement. Yes, it might seem easier if God would first give
us perfect certainty of his will before we would be expected
to commit ourselves. But the good news is that we donít have
to wait for this level of certainty. We are free to take
responsible steps to improve our life, to solve problems, and
to realize the potential God has given us!
Light to Step Forward
you are facing a major decision, yet are uncertain what God
wants you to do, donít assume that he has abandoned you or
is unconcerned with guiding you. He may have already
given you more guidance than you realize. If you are a child
of his, he has been guiding your whole thought process and
bringing critical information to your attention, through all
of the practical steps that youíve taken to resolve your
decision. You may be closer to resolving your decision than
earnestly that Christ will direct your thinking and give you a
heart that is open to his will. Make a reasonable effort to
work through your decision, and get the most informed counsel
you can. Then weigh the facts as you have them and make your
best decision, knowing that God will throw further light on
your path as you move ahead.
enjoy the remarkable adventure of taking a step of faith with
remember, that faith always involves trusting Christ and
moving forward--even though all the facts are not yet in.