Chandra was 39, she left a lucrative job in banking to pursue
a counseling career. Long motivated to make this change, she
chose to move forward when a psychologist friend promised her
a position with the counseling center he directed once Chandra
completed her training. Spurred on by this excellent offer of
employment, she enrolled in a masters program full-time,
living off savings for the two years needed to complete her
friend indeed hired her once she graduated. But a short time
later, he left the practice due to health problems. Without
his leadership, the center foundered, other counselors
resigned, and within a year it folded.
lacked the clients and momentum to launch an independent
practice, and was unable to find work with another agency in
the Boston area where she lived. Since her savings were
depleted, she returned to banking, leaving her counseling
dream on indefinite hold.
Chandra shared her experience with me recently, she said she
was certain God had taught her a lesson through the
frustrating circumstances that unfolded. He had shown her she
had missed his will in attempting to become a counselor. She
spoke repeatedly of having made a ďbad decision.Ē As I
probed a bit, it became clear that her ruminating wasnít
just cathartic ventilation or an exercise in self-pity. She
was strongly convinced she had made an unfortunate mistake,
and had never questioned this assumption since the doors
closed at the counseling center several years ago. Her
conviction she had failed added greatly to her discouragement,
and dampened her zeal to risk a dream again.
was understandably surprised when I shared my own observation.
I felt that her decision to enter the counseling profession
hadnít been a bad one at all, and that she shouldnít be
worrying about having missed Godís will. She had based her
choice on the best information she had at the time: She had
obvious ability and long-standing motivation to become a
counselor, plus an exceptional offer of employment. And she
was taking a step that would increase her potential to
contribute meaningfully to life and to the needs of others.
Especially important, she was a serious Christian who
earnestly wanted Godís will and had prayed seriously about
of us, I thought, faced with her circumstances, would have
course, had Chandra known how events would transpire, she
never would have left banking for counseling. But thatís
exactly the point. God seldom tips his hand about our future,
and guides us as much by information he withholds from us as
by information he gives us.
allows us to develop dreams and expectations, and uses them to
move us ahead. In some cases, he fulfills them more-less as we
envision them. In other cases his intent isnít to fulfill
them but to use them to draw us to a point where, with the new
insight weíve gained, we can now see clearly to take a new
direction. Through this whole process he nurtures us, giving
us experience we never would have gained if we had known the
future, for then we wouldnít have taken our venture of
faith. But the education we gain through lifeís unexpectedly
bumpy paths is critical to our development, and God integrates
it into our further experience in remarkable ways.
obviously donít know Godís intentions for Chandraís
future. She may re-enter the counseling field at some point.
Whether or not she does, Iím certain that God will use her
training and her experiences with the counseling center in
ways that enhance her ministry for Christ and are deeply
gratifying to her--if she stays pliable and open to him.
six years ago a friend of mine left the computer field to
become a pastor. Denominational factors made it difficult for
him to minister, however. This past summer he left church
ministry and, with some chagrin, took a job with a computer
manufacturing firm once again. Yet soon he was granted
permission to hold a weekly Bible study at that company, which
many are already attending. His pastoral background is opening
doors for ministry there that would have been closed to him
before. His is an inspiring example of how God uses the total
mix of experiences in our life--the successes and the
disappointments--to make us each uniquely effective.
a dream we follow backfires, itís only human to question our
decision to pursue it, and to wonder if our mind was on
vacation then. Many are unduly hard on themselves at such a
time--even if they had based their choice on the best
information they could possibly have had, and the
circumstances that derailed their dream were impossible to
foresee. Yet we Christians are more prone to berate ourselves
over past decisions than anyone. Not only do we question our
judgment, but we get caught up in torturous questions about
Godís will. The fact that we encounter any problems at all
in a major pursuit can make us fear weíve missed Godís
will, and this concern deepens our sense of failure.
with failed expectations is difficult enough. Any of us who
has experienced a setback as crushing as Chandraís needs
time to grieve our loss and to work through our feelings of
disappointment. Yet add to this discouragement the conviction
that our original decision was unsound, and our regret can be
overwhelming. It can make us doubt that we have the competence
now to turn our life around. And the guilt we feel over
missing Godís will can keep us locked in place, fearing we
lack the potential to follow his guidance successfully.
should make a keen effort at such a time to imagine ourselves
back in the context when we made our first choice. What were
our circumstances then? What were the facts as we had them?
Were we open to Godís will, and did we make a reasonable
effort to seek it? If in fact our decision was the best it
could have been under the circumstances, we should be gentle
and affirming with ourselves now. We should strive to think as
positively as we possibly can about that past decision. Rather
than suppose it was a bungled choice, we should regard it as a
wise, competent decision--that in time may even prove to have
been brilliant and enlightened.
should strive also to appreciate the dynamic nature of Godís
guidance, and how he brings us to important points in our
lifeís journey most often by a circuitous route. In time,
weíll likely look back on our current crisis as a vital
turning point, that God has used to open up welcome new
horizons for us. Such faith-inspired thinking will help us
greatly to break the spell of regret, and to better recognize
Godís new directions for us now.
Heart at Turning Points
isnít to say that weíre incapable of making bad decisions
as Christians. We find many examples in Scripture where
choices made by otherwise godly people are presented as bad
ones. But in every case the person was either insensitive to
Godís leading, untrusting of him or unfaithful to him, in a
major way. The leaders of Israel were beguiled into making a
treaty of peace with Gibeon, for instance, because they ďdid
not ask direction of the LordĒ (Jos 9:14 RSV).
not aware of any instance in Scripture, however, where someone
made a reasonable effort to understand Godís will and to
make a decision responsibly, and the biblical writer then
judged that choice incompetent because of the results that
took place. There are plenty of instances where individuals
themselves questioned the sanity of decisions that God in fact
had led them to make. Moses was so exasperated at Pharaohís
initial refusal to let the Jews leave Egypt that he thought he
had made the mistake of his life in petitioning the ruler to
let them go. And when the Israelites faced challenges in their
desert march, they concluded they had erred horrendously in
leaving Egypt, even though they were initially ecstatic to
break free of slavery there.
never do we find a biblical writer (or God through that
writer) passing judgment on someoneís good-faith decision
due to problems that arose. The obstacles people encountered
in such cases always had a higher purpose. Sometimes God used
them to strengthen their faith, their trust in him and their
resolve to stay committed to a challenging course of action.
This was clearly his intent with all the difficulties the
Israelites endured en route to Canaan, which never on any
occasion were an indictment on their original decision to
other cases God used hindrances to signal that, however
anointed someoneís initial decision was, he or she should
now take a new direction. We find several instances of Godís
guiding in this manner in Acts 16. Paul is twice hindered from
entering regions where he wants to minister--Asia and Bithynia--then
ends up in Troas briefly, only to be redirected to Macedonia.
He manages initially to ignite a church in Macedonia, but
after a brief time is compelled to leave by unfriendly town
authorities. In each instance Paul interprets obstacles as
Godís sign, not that his evangelism goals are wrong, but
that itís now time to look for greener pastures.
time you or I take a step of faith, then encounter a
significant setback, we face the task of determining Godís
intent. Is he merely testing our faith, not wanting this
problem to deter us from forging ahead toward our goal? Or is
he showing us we should now take a fresh direction? Discerning
Godís will in such a case can be no small challenge. Being
confident our original decision was sound doesnít relieve us
now of the need to pray earnestly and to draw once again on
everything we know about understanding Godís guidance.
how we think about that past decision can make a radical
difference in our ability to hear God now, since the concern
that we blew it can weigh us down to the point of distraction.
Fortunately, we may be freed forever from the fear that a past
decision that we made responsibly with an open heart to
Godís will might now have to be judged misguided. This fact
alone--that we are not compelled to have second thoughts about
that decision--is tremendously liberating in itself. It can
save us from the slippery slope of regret, and allow us the
mental energy to confront our current situation creatively and
optimistically. This is enormously good news for any of us who
are inclined to comb over our past and to condemn ourselves
for what we cannot change.
Badly Can We Miss Godís Will?
issue remains, and it can be a thorny one. The perspective
weíre suggesting on past decisions is encouraging if we
know that we were open to Godís will in a given choice and
that we did our best to make it responsibly. But what if the
opposite was true? We rushed our decision, without regard to
what God wanted? Or we failed to trust him adequately,
following the course of least resistance instead of taking on
challenges that would have been healthy for us? Or we knew
full well that God wanted us to take a certain path but in
rebellion chose another?
what if the decision in question was a pivotal one, which
forever affects our life in a significant way? Have we
irrevocably missed Godís perfect will for the rest of our
life? Are we compelled now to live with his second best?
well-meaning Christians will answer yes. I once read a popular
book on knowing Godís will in which the author spoke with
regret about an early vocational decision that he made. God
called him to be a missionary when he was young, he said, but
he chose instead to become a physician. Now, writing his book
much later in life, he lamented that he had ever since cast
himself out of Godís perfect will by following a medical
career, and that he now could only experience Godís
second-best options for him.
authorís humility in speaking so freely of his own failure
was refreshing. Yet his view of God was tragically small.
Would the all-powerful God whom he served, who loved him so
greatly, really let him get away with a mistake of this
failed profoundly in seeking to have a child by Hagar, and he
and his family suffered consequences thereafter. Yet his sin
didnít deter God from bringing about the most important
aspects of his plan for Abraham: Sarah still bore a child in
her old age, and Abraham still became the father of countless
sinned even more greatly when he sought a tryst with Bathsheba,
then had her husband killed in war. The consequences in this
case were especially severe: God slew Bathshebaís son whom
she bore by David, in spite of Davidís earnest pleas that
God spare the child. That punishment, plus rebuke from the
prophet Nathan, drove David to sincere repentance and deep
sorrow over his lapse. But Scripture never implies that from
this point on David had to put up with Godís second best for
his life. God still fulfilled his major promises for David.
Most interestingly, God even worked Davidís most serious
mistake into his plan: Bathsheba became his wife, and it was
she who gave birth to Solomon, the son who succeeded David on
the throne. ďShe bore a son, and [David] called his name
Solomon. And the LORD loved himĒ (2 Sam 12:24).
might be inclined to view Godís allowing Bathsheba this role
in Davidís life as cheap grace. I suspect that instead
Godís action was extremely humbling to David, an
extraordinary reminder of just how thoroughly God was in
control of his destiny.
unspeakably far-reaching role that God plays in our lives as
believers is best described by Paul, when he notes that God
chose us to follow Christ ďbefore the foundation of the
worldĒ (Eph 1:4). This means that our sin doesnít take him
by surprise, and doesnít fatally broadside his plan for our
life. He knows when and how we will fail before we ever do. He
makes no promise to protect us from the unfortunate results of
our sin. But when we sincerely repent and seek his
forgiveness, we put ourselves in position to experience his
best for our life from then forward. To say we have forever
removed ourselves from Godís perfect will at this point is
to paint too small a picture of God, and to miss the authority
he takes for working out his plan for us.
we know we have truly failed Christ, repentance is exceedingly
important, and we should give it serious attention. Yet, as
time moves on, he doesnít wish us to be sidelined with
regret, but wants us to focus on the future, not the past--and
to take heart that he will work even our most heinous failures
into his perfect plan for our life.
to embrace that hope as a matter of deepest faith is one of
the best decisions we can make.