Is it possible that what we're really after is not God's will at all, but only His good gifts?
I have a confession to make: There have been times when I have lived like Indiana Jones. I don't own a whip or a fedora, and I'm still on the lookout for my first priceless relic, so my confession may need some explanation.
When I say I live like Indy, I actually have one particular Indiana Jones scene in mind. It’s from Raiders of the Lost Ark — that now famous and heavily parodied opening sequence. Indiana Jones and his guide make their way through the Peruvian jungle to a forbidden temple in search of a golden idol — only the place is booby-trapped. Guarded by huge spiders, deadly spikes, a seemingly bottomless pit, and a giant boulder that will crush anyone trying to escape, no treasure hunter has ever made it out alive.
After narrowly evading a series of these deadly traps, Dr. Jones reaches the idol chamber, but it's quiet ... too quiet. And that's when he notices the intricate stone tiles on the floor. He pauses and then carefully presses down on a tile to test his theory. A razor-sharp spear whizzes across the screen to confirm: One misstep, and Indy will be pierced through. Armed with this knowledge, he steps forward, carefully avoiding the suspect stones. And, of course, he survives. (After all, the hero can't die in the first 10 minutes of the movie!) There was a specific path to take, certain steps to be avoided, and no room for error.
Not One Misstep
For many years, I lived this way, walking through life very carefully, trying not to make a misstep. I grew up believing pastors and youth leaders who said, "God has a perfect plan for your life." I presumed it was my job to figure out what that plan was and then step into it with boldness.
When I was a teenager, I began to worry that if I deviated from God's path, I'd be out of His perfect will — out on my own. The problem was I often felt uncertain about many of the particular steps I was supposed to take. My major in college, jobs I should accept, where I should live — these decisions never came with a blinking neon arrow illuminating the divinely chosen path I should take.
The Bible says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take" (Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT). But what if I haven't sought His will in everything I do? And what if He shows me the path, but I’m looking the wrong way? At times, I would look back and wonder, What if I've missed it?
Over the years, I have discovered that I'm not alone. When there's a big decision to make, a friend will say something like, "I just want to make sure this is all in God's plan," or "I'm really seeking God's will for my life in this area." Maybe you've found yourself saying the same things. Sometimes the longing to know God's will is paralyzing, leaving us to look for a sign or divine confirmation for every choice we make. And while it's certainly not wrong to seek God's will, it's a dangerous thing to seek a divine path instead of God himself.
A God Who Walks With Us
These days, I don't worry as much about big choices or accidentally stepping off God's path for my life. But I don't think it's because I'm seeking the Lord any less. In fact, I think it's just the opposite.
There is no figure in the Bible who received full instructions for his life's choices, no one for whom the future wasn't a mystery. Patriarchs, prophets and priests, monarchs, martyrs and magi — they all had to walk in close step with God. While it was God's prerogative to specially reveal a bit of His will for a person's life, no one got the whole script.
Godly men and women had to trust God and stay close to Him. This meant seeking wisdom, talking with (and listening to) God in prayer, and looking to see where He was already at work in the world. It also meant obeying God's Word, even when doing so was costly. The faithful who have gone before us were no different than you or me. And the same keys to living life in step with God are available to us today.
This kind of life is dangerous, though. It requires yielding to God, day in and day out. It requires giving up a check-the-boxes, seven-easy-steps-to-a-better-life approach to religion. It requires giving up control. It requires a relationship.
Some may tell you that this relationship never leads to anything difficult or painful. But that's not true. The biblical heroes who walked with God before us did not stroll down a path of pure blessing, without trial or struggle. Think about Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Or consider the apostle Paul and the tremendous suffering he endured, walking in close step with the Holy Spirit to spread the Gospel across the Mediterranean. Chained. Whipped. Beaten. Imprisoned. Shipwrecked. And beaten some more.
Perhaps, when it comes to our choices in life, our indecision does not come from a place of piety, but rather from a desire to avoid pain. In my own life, if I don't check myself, I will automatically assume that the "right" choice is the one that yields the biggest windfall of personal blessing. But it may be that submitting to the Lord will mean choosing the road with more struggling and heartache.
If we're honest with ourselves, we have to ask: Is it possible that what we're really after is not God's will at all, but only His good gifts? Do we consider that God's calling on our lives may, in fact, lead us down a path that looks a lot like Paul's?
A God Who Is Good
What if we yield all of the intersections in our life to God — and we end up in some third-world country, far away from family and friends and fast food and hot water, to live in a hut and eat bugs and preach the Gospel to people completely unlike us? What if our worst fears are true, and giving our life over to Jesus means that it winds up nothing like our dreams? What if we're miserable?
Now maybe your dream is the missionary life. So for you, the fear might be God calling you to a nine-to-five job with little opportunity to travel or share Jesus directly. The apprehension is the same though: What if God's plans don't mesh with our dreams?
Though it's a daily surrender, I continually strive to give my heart's desires over to Jesus. And sometimes the path He leads me down is a difficult one. A few years ago, I lost a great job because I took a stand for the Gospel. On more than one occasion, I've had to say goodbye to dear friends in order to follow God to a different part of the country. And I have been led out of my comfort zone too many times to count.
But Jesus is good. He never disappoints. He is always so much better than any fleeting pleasure or selfish choice we can make. When it comes to our dreams, it helps to remember that every good and beautiful dream we have in this life came from Him in the first place. Though He doesn’t always give us the desires of our heart the way we might expect, He knows what lies at the core of those desires and He knows what's best for us. The Bible says that in God's presence, there is "fullness of joy" and "pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11, ESV). God is not holding out on us. He is good — so good — and He can be trusted.
When it comes to choices, we needn't be paralyzed when the big ones come our way. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and like any good shepherd, He leads His sheep to good pasture. But He doesn't direct His sheep to specific blades of grass, demanding that they eat this one, but leave that one. In the same way, though we must use wisdom and discernment, there are many times in life where God gives us options that are all good. The difference between an anxiety-filled life and one full of joy is humble trust. Submit to Him, and then go ahead and eat — He won't let you down!
A God Who Is Bigger Than Our Mistakes
But what about those times when we feel we've let God down? We may feel we've wandered off the path — maybe through our own sin or the sin of someone close to us. Think of Joseph, rotting away in prison month after month, year after year. His brothers' sin had brought him to this lowly place. He must have been tempted to believe he was far off the path God had laid out for him. Or once again, consider Paul — a man who persecuted the church and who had stood by watching as Stephen was murdered. Surely, if anyone's sin disqualified him from God's perfect plan, it was his.
But God is bigger than all that. He is bigger than our choices, bigger than the sins we commit, and bigger than the sins committed against us. Joseph rose to become the No. 2 official in all of Egypt, and God used him to save countless families, including his own. And Paul? God sent him all over the known world of his day, preaching the Gospel and planting churches. His life as a Pharisee — as the self-proclaimed "worst of sinners" (1 Timothy 1:16, NIV) — gave him an understanding of mercy and grace few can fathom, but all can know through the pages of his New Testament writings. Sin carries consequences, but in the grand scheme, it is no great obstacle to God's good and perfect plan. Though we may not always see, in this life, how God works all things for good (Romans 8:28-29) we can know that He is at work, even in our failures and our disappointments.
I believe that God has a perfect plan for my life — I do. And I believe He has a different, but no less perfect, plan for yours as well. I think the pastors and youth leaders I heard as a kid were right. God knows the end from the beginning, and He is sovereign over all creation (Isaiah 46:10). He created, provides for and directs every one of our paths. But He has not left us to find the path on our own, if only we follow the clues and avoid the traps. The only way to walk God's path is to walk it with Him.
Copyright 2013 John Greco. All rights reserved.