Many people turn to God when they are indecisive about what to do with their lives. As a high school student I wondered what I should do after I graduated. As a college student I wondered what I should do after I graduated. As a graduate student I wondered what I should do after I graduated. As a working adult I wondered if I should go back to school. Who would I marry? Where would I live? I had a lot of questions, the answers to which would affect my whole life. As a Christian I asked, “What is the will of God for my life?” In this post I want to look at two books in the BAC library which examine the will of God and how it works in relation to his children. Both are written by popular, well respected authors and are found under 248.4.
J. Oswald Sanders, Every Life is a Plan of God: Discovering His Will for Your Life. Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1992. 0929239547. 248.4 SAN.
Bruce K. Waltke, Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002. 0802839746, 1553610105. First published in 1995 by Vision House Publishing, Greshem, Or. 248.4 WAL
As the title of Sander’s book indicates he advocates that “every life is a plan of God.” However, he does not view this plan as detailed and exhaustive. “If there is a divine plan for our lives, and I believe there is, we should not expect it to be like an architect’s blueprint. Or like a travel agent’s itinerary, all complete with dates, places, and times. We are not automatons controlled by a heavenly computer! Divine guidance concerns people who have been endowed with the awesome power of free choice” (10-11). The purpose of God’s guidance is to “lead us into a wholesome maturity and a growing likeness to Christ” (11). Sanders does believe that God directly guides us at times, such as through dreams but this is quite unusual. He dispels a number of myths that people have about divine guidance such as every open door being the will of God and every closed door being his prohibition.
The bulk of the book concerns the methods that God uses to guide us. The primary method is through the instruction laid out in the Bible. If something is clearly commanded in the Bible God will never command us to act contrary to that revelation. God may speak to us in prayer but will also use who we naturally are (after all he created us!). He uses our gifts and abilities and our temperament to show us where to go and what to do. If God has given us musical ability he will show us how to use that, not require we give it up and become a sculptor. He devotes an entire chapter to the missionary call and lists eighteen things that should take place before one confirms that they are called to be a missionary. He suggests it can take ten years for the process to be completed (127-129). These steps include personal preparation through education and experience and confirmation from others such as our pastor.
The title of Waltke’s book demonstrates his determination to prevent people from seeking the will of God in a superstitious manner. He begins the book with a number of examples in which Christians seek God’s will through coincidence or impressions. Waltke’s basic stance is that “God is not a magic genie. The use of promise boxes, or flipping open your Bible and pointing your finger, or relying on the first thought to enter your mind after a prayer are unwarranted forms of Christian divination” (12). Waltke agrees with Sanders that God equips people with gifts to match their calling and other Christians will affirm the person in that calling. Our calling is revealed through our relationship with God rather than through any special signs or “hunches” that he might provide.
Waltke has specific chapters on the basic ways in which God guides us: through obedience to the Bible, through matching our desires with scriptural principles, through wise counsel, through God’s providence in the world in line with his recorded will in scripture, and through rational sound judgment based on scripture, ability, giftedness, overall strategy and circumstances. He concludes with a chapter on divine intervention in which he focuses on “our getting to know [God] through his word and letting him shape our character, our hearts, and our desires. Then as we know the mind of God we can live out His will. He expects us to first draw close to Him, then allows for seeking wise counsel as confirmation, or taking our circumstances into consideration and using our own sound judgment to make a decision” (168-69).
Both of the above books are really saying the same thing. God does provide guidance to his children but it comes primarily through natural rather than supernatural means and we should not expect God to speak to us about specifics in response to our demands for divine acts or dreams. Superstitious practices are for pagans rather than Christians who are called to know God personally and then live out of that reality as we make decisions. Both authors emphasise that we should start with God’s word to us in scripture and then make decisions is the light of that based on our God given abilities and inclinations. This process needs to be backed up by the wise counsel of other Christians.