Written by Rev. Dr. David Dean
David Dean PhD teaches Bible exposition and systematic theology at Yan Fook Theological Seminary in Hong Kong. He is the author of five books, including God’s Will, Your Way; Made in Heaven, Lived on Earth; and Science, Scripture, and Common Sense. His previous career was in experimental physics research. He loves to explore and share God’s Word on his YouTube channel, “Reason and Revelation.”
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Do you remember being asked this question when you were a child? I certainly do. My answer to that question seemed to change with each passing day. A cowboy. A fireman. A snake charmer. An astronaut. A soldier. A doctor. A taxi driver. A deep-sea diver.
For a four- or five-year-old child, it is easy to dream about what we want to be someday without really giving the question much serious thought. But those carefree years of childhood eventually pass, and the question remains. When adulthood arrives, trying to answer that question is no longer a matter of dreaming or mere words. Now our decisions have real consequences. That’s why so many of us find ourselves asking questions like these: How can I know God’s will for my life? Am I on the right track? What will happen if I don’t follow His will for me?
You’re Already Ahead of the Game
If you are a follower of Jesus, you’re already on the right road. You know that because of what Jesus did on the cross, your sins are forgiven. You know that when your mortal life ends, you will be welcomed into the presence of your Saviour. You also know that as a follower of Jesus, God wants you to be a blessing to others. To be salt and light. To live with integrity. To participate in the life of a local church, and to seek to develop the character qualities of Jesus in yourself (2 Peter 1:5–11). This much is clear.
But when tough decisions confront you, that question rears its ugly head again. What is God’s will for my life in particular? That is the million-dollar question.
Christians have given basically two answers to this question. I call them the map view and the menu view.
The map view says that it is your duty to discover God’s particular plan for your life, and then once you know it, to follow that plan. Exactly how to discover that plan is much debated. Some believers look for open doors. Some seek signs from God. Some ‘put out a fleece’ like Gideon. Some strain to hear a ‘still, small voice from God’ like Elijah.
Christians who hold to the map view tend to see their lives as a journey that will be a failure if it doesn’t reach a predetermined goal. They picture God’s will for them as being like a map leading to buried treasure, where dangers lurk along the route, and any false step might lead to disaster. They fret about the big decisions, wondering which way God wants them to go. What to study. Where to live. What career to pursue. Whom to marry. When to have children. They rarely fret about the small decisions like which dress to wear, or where to go for lunch, or whether to walk or take the train to work. Yet each of us knows by experience that the most insignificant decisions have the potential to change the entire course of a life.
The menu view approaches life differently. Rather than assuming that God expects us to discern and then follow an individual map laid out for each of us, the menu view recognizes that most of the choices that we face in life aren’t between bad and good. Most are between one good and another good.
Christians who hold the menu view see their decisions as opportunities to invest in building a life that is pleasing to God and a blessing to others, without the fear that a single wrong step could bring down the entire edifice. They welcome the freedom that God placed in our hands when He gave us the ability to make decisions. In the menu view, the goal is a quality of life rather than a particular destination.
Many Christians assume that the map view must be the only choice. But let me encourage you not to make that assumption. Take some time to compare these two views for yourself. Think about biblical examples of decision making. Then consider the matter of practicality—don’t forget that every day, you make hundreds, if not thousands of decisions.
As you consider these views, here are two thoughts for you to ponder:
- If it is our duty to seek God’s will for every decision in life, how does personal responsibility and creativity come into play? Do these still matter?
- If a single bad step can shipwreck a life–is this idea consistent with how the Bible describes our loving Father who works for our good and disciplines us (Romans 8:28, 38-39; Hebrews 12:5-11)?
A Good Place to Start
There is much more to consider regarding how to know and follow God’s will. But as a start, let me suggest two passages from 1 Thessalonians that boldly state God’s will for His children:
“For this is the will of God: your sanctification; that you should abstain from sexual immorality.” (4:3)
“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (5:16-18)
As you seek to make wise decisions, don’t let fear paralyse you, but allow the principles of God’s Word to guide you. Remember that God’s will includes both “don’ts” and “dos.” When you take these commands to heart, you’ll discover that knowing and following just this small part of God’s will for you will bring real blessing to you and everyone around you.