I think the first thing we need to do when we talk about God’s Will is to define it. When we say, “God’s Will,” I think there are actually three different things that we are referring to: God’s desires, God’s plans, and what actually happens. If you said, “It’s God’s Will that I moved to Denver,” it could be that you think it’s what God desired for you, or that it’s what He preplanned for you, or that it was God’s Will because God always does what He wants, so if a move to Denver worked out then it must have been God’s Will. You know, the whole “Whatever happens is what God wanted because God always does what He wants” argument.
And we add to the confusion when we believe that since God is all-powerful, He’ll always do whatever He wants to do, His plans are fixed. And we respond to this belief in one of two ways:
I think it causes a lot of confusion when we lump them all together as “God’s Will,” because they are all different things. So, what is it? Is His Will best understood as His desires (what He wants to have happen), His plans (what He has planned to have happen), or what actually happens? And does He cause what happens or just allow what happens?
1. We go through life doing “whatever” and falling through whatever “open doors” are there because God always does what He wants or plans, regardless of us. Right? Or . . .
2. We stress ourselves out over finding His Will because we believe that He planned one particular, “right” path for us. And we have to find it. Or else!
The first way causes us, I think, to be lazy in our spiritual disciplines, in seeking righteousness, in obedience, and in prayer, because we don’t believe that we have an effect on God’s Will. (Been there!) And the second way causes us to freeze up and panic about making decisions, because we believe that we have to find the path that He wants us to take or we will be out of “His Will.” (Definitely been there!)
This thinking also causes pain and heartache when we face tragedies, like a death or natural disaster or illness. Whatever God plans, happens. Right? And so, whatever happens is because God planned it. (And if God planned it and caused it, then there is no such thing as free-will. We are just puppets on a string, acting out our prewritten roles. Right?) We know that God could’ve stopped the tragedies if He wanted to, so He either didn’t care, He wanted this to happen, He isn’t all-powerful, or our prayers didn’t matter.
So did He plan it? Was it “His Will”? Does He always do whatever He wants? Do our prayers make any difference at all? Or is our understanding of God’s Will off? And do we have more of a role in and responsibility for God’s Will than we realize?
In order to better understand “God’s Will,” we need to first define it. Desires? Plans? Or everything that happens? Personally, I think that “His Will” is most accurately defined as what He desires. It’s what He desires for us (the choices He wants us to make and the path He wants us to take, etc.), and it’s what He desires from us (living God-glorifying lives and being obedient, etc.).
His Will isn’t about a pre-set path. It’s about how He wants us to live - abiding in Him and in daily obedience to Him and His Word. We make problems for ourselves when we confuse seeking His Will with seeking His “pre-set plans” for us. Because He does not (usually) reveal His plans for us ahead of time. And, for the most part, I do not think that there are pre-set plans for us. Yes, I think that in His love and wisdom, He has “best plans” for us. But I do not think that His paths and plans are pre-set and unchangeable. They hinge on us. Our behavior, choices, and obedience to Him and His Word have a major effect on if His best plans for us happen or not.
In the Old Testament, we get an idea of how God works with people. And generally, He clearly lays out two paths: the blessing path and the curse path. And the people decide which path they take by their obedience or rebellion. Yes, God has some long-term, overarching plans that He is working out over the course of history (salvation and restoration), and we can’t change those. (Thank God!) But He leaves it up to us which path we take in our individual lives to get to that end.
I do not think that God always does whatever He desires or that He forces His plans on us. I do not think that everything that happens is because God wanted it or planned it to happen. We have responsibilities and an effect on life, and we are responsible for many of the consequences. And this is just how He has set up life. Not everything that happens is “God’s Will.” And finding His Will is not about finding “the next step.” (Sometimes, it is – like when it is time for Him to reveal the next step.)
And this is where I got hung up. I was needlessly exhausting myself in search of His future plans, when I should have been searching for His Will today - for how He wants me to live in my daily life, as revealed in His Word and in prayer. And as long as I was doing that, the next step would become clear to me as I went along, abiding in Him and living in daily obedience to Him and His Word. That is where my focus should’ve been, not on finding “the path.”
He doesn’t promise to reveal His path and plans for me because I’m desperately searching for them. He holds the future, and doesn’t let us in on that ahead of time. But He does promise to guide me (one step at a time) and care for me when I am doing His Will as revealed in the Bible - living in humility, fearing Him, seeking wisdom, living righteously, praying, and obeying, among others. As shown in the Bible, these things are His Will for me.
Psalm 25:9, 12: “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. . . . Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.”
Proverbs 2:1-2, 9, 11: “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding . . . Then you will understand what is right and just and fair - every good path . . . Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.”
Proverbs 11:3: “The integrity of the upright guides them . . .”
Isaiah 33: 15, 16: “He who walks righteously and speaks what is right . . . this is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress. His bread will be supplied, and water will not fail him.”
Jeremiah 6:16: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’“ (Italics are mine.)
Humility, wisdom, integrity, righteousness, seeking “the good way,” and obeying are what will take us down the good, restful path. But that path is not pre-set and fixed. Because we can refuse to look for or go down that path. We can refuse to include Him in our choices. We can disobey. His plans for our individual lives don’t just happen apart from our effort and obedience. But how much time and energy do we waste worrying and fretting and wavering, all because we are searching for His plan while neglecting His Will?
And so the sobering thought is . . . we have a choice in whether or not we fulfill “His Will.” His Will (at least what He desires from us) is not a mystery; it’s all there in His Word. But do we take the time to discover it? Do we abide in Him? Do we put aside our own selfish desires and plans in obedience to Him instead? Or do we just want to know what “the next step” for our lives is?
Since His Will is about how we live our lives and our obedience to what He calls us to do, I think that His Will goes undone many, many times. When we don’t seek to know what He expects out of us in His Word, when we don’t obey the Spirit’s nudges, when we don’t pray, when we ignore needs that we see, when we do not do the good that we know we should do, when we violate one of His commands, etc., His Will doesn’t get done.
Our problem is that we would much rather seek His plans than seek Him with our whole hearts. We would much rather believe that His Will has to do with finding out His plans or the next step on the path than it does with reforming our life. We want a quick open door, not a makeover of our spiritual lives and disciplines. We want the blessings without any work or responsibility on our parts. And we want to believe that everything happens because He made it happen, not because it was some consequence of our own doing.
But we do have responsibilities and we do create consequences. His best plans for us don’t always happen because we can choose to obey or disobey, and we can choose to pray or not. He allows us to do that. And He allows us the consequences. He honors our free-will and our choices and allows us to have an influence over what happens in life, for good or for bad. We have a hand in (and a responsibility in) making His Will happen and in reaping “blessings or curses.” By obedience, righteous living, and prayer.
Yes, God is all-powerful and He does indeed know what is best. And whatever He does is best. But just because He knows what’s best and wants what’s best doesn’t mean that He always causes those things to happen, apart from man’s cooperation. I believe that He voluntarily limits His use of power in causing things to happen. He does not always use His power to force things. He doesn’t always do “His Will,” regardless of us. Ofentimes, He hinges it on us.
Now, I’m sure that this has brought up more questions than it has answered. So I want to look at some of the questions that you might want to ask right now. (Some were so long that I broke them up into parts.) And I want to fill in the answers in more depth and with the Scripture that supports it. Now, I hate to be redundant, I really do. I hate being redundant, saying the same thing over and over again, kicking a dead horse, repeating myself. But in the name of being clear and thorough, I will repeat much of what I’ve already said. And I know it’s all a bit jumbled and messy because there is a lot to say. So please, bear with me.
Posts in this "Understanding God's Will" series:
9c: Verses 9d: Idolatry 9e: Unanswered 9f: Not Listening 9g: More Verses 9h: Effective Prayer 9i: Still Waiting 10: Bad Things Happen 11a: Happens For A Reason? 11b: Marriage Trouble 11c: Deliberate Ignorance 11d: Bad Things Beyond Us 12: God Works Good 13: Limiting God? 14/15: God Forcing Things? 16: Change God's Mind? 17: But God Can't Change? 18: Our Responsibilities