God has a perfect will and he’s not afraid to use it.
I was sitting in the chair transfixed. Muscles tensed. Fingers gnarled scratching into the rough fabric covering the dingy red chair.
The evangelist was preaching with, what we liked to call, “unction.” Focused. Gestures on point. Methodically delivering his sermon. The cadence was familiar. Evangelists in the circles I grew up in must take the same sermon delivery class. Vocally you had booming highs and deadly serious lows. It was all in a day’s work.
He had just finished reading a passage that was extremely important for us to understand (or so he said). His head titled forward. His eyes staring over the top of his glasses. The pause must have lasted for 10 seconds or more. He then took his glass off folding them and placing them back on his Bible. He commenced explaining how God had a perfect will and permissive will.
“You see,” he said, “God has a perfect plan for your life. You must find that perfect will.”
His description of God’s perfect will sounded a lot like his personal convictions and preferences were God’s perfect will. Moses must not have been the only person God spoke to face to face.
Then we were solemnly warned, “If you don’t find God’s perfect will, you’ll be put on the shelf.”
You might be wondering what the shelf is. You see the shelf is where God places Christians who don’t find his perfect will. Some analogies I heard frequently were from the lives of Moses and King David. You see Moses did a lot of great stuff with his staff but one day God told Moses to speak to a rock so water would come out. Because Moses was angry with Israel, he struck the rock with his staff instead of speaking to it. God was angry with Moses and put him on the shelf. After being put on the shelf, Moses still did some stuff but God couldn’t use him for the really big stuff.
Another one was King David. He did a lot of great stuff. You know “David killed his ten thousands,” giant killing, Philistine foreskins, and on and on it goes. Well as the shelf story goes after David committed adultery with Bathsheba God put David on the shelf. Sure he used David but not for the really big stuff.
I’m gonna give this guy the benefit of the doubt now and assume he was serious about Scripture and wanted people to love God. But this is all law and no gospel. He was constraining consciences with his personal convictions and preference not Scripture.
Sola Scriptura: Finding God’s Will is Simple
Don’t get me wrong. God is sovereign. He has a sovereign will which he executes unfailingly but we don’t know that sovereign will. And we’re never required, recommended, or encouraged to find it out. As a matter of fact, God’s ways are so far above our ways we couldn’t handle the truth.
Finding God’s will for yourself is simple. Read his word. Anything explicitly or by good and necessary consequence that is taught in Scripture obey. But here’s the rub. In every other area, you’re free to choose. Gary Chapman in Sacred Search makes an important point: when we make the choice between two jobs, three houses, a spouse, or anything which Scripture doesn’t directly address we’re not choosing between right or wrong we’re choosing between “wise and unwise.”
Let me flesh this out for you. Let’s say you’re a dude dating this amazing girl. She’s beautiful, funny, smart. Her parents are awesome. You love her. She loves you. You guys just have that chemistry. You’re deciding whether to take this to the next level by asking her to marry you. You’re not sure if it’s God’s will.
First, you should ask yourself what does Scripture say about marriage for believers? Proverbs talks about finding someone who has inner virtue. Song of Solomon has a lot to say about appreciating the beauty of your lover. Paul talks about being unequally yoked with unbelievers.
You cringe at that point because this girl isn’t a Christian. Scripture speaks directly to your situation. You should obey ending the relationship. An oversimplification but I hope you get the point.
One more example. You have a family and you’re looking for your first home. You’ve studied your budget and have an exact figure in mind you know you shouldn’t go over or you might cripple your family financially. As you’re searching for your home, you find two homes you love. One you really love and the other you just plain old love. The really love home is about $10,000 over your prescribed budget. The plain old love fits nicely under your budget.
First (again) you should ask what does Scripture say about buying a home. Not much. Nothing directly. But by good and necessary consequences we can apply principles about money, seeking first, and debt apply these principles to the situation. This scenario then is a choice between wise and unwise. Maybe you give your budget a once over one last time and free up another $300 a month you could throw at the higher mortgage without crippling your family and you go with the house you really love. That allows you to have an extra room and a larger living room which you can use to be hospitable and serve others in need. Maybe you decide even though you could free up the money you’d rather take the lower house so that you have more flexibility to give financially and serve the church on mission trips.
Here’s my point. Don’t become a slave to finding God’s “perfect” will (at least the way I described it at the start). That’s mystical rubbish. Unless God speaks to you face to face you won’t know whether he wants you to eat a hamburger or hotdog for dinner. Or whether he wants you to marry Edward or Jacob (both Christians, both leaders, both equally handsome at least in this story). You have freedom in Christ to choose.
Guidelines for Making Important Decisions
Here are a few guidelines I use when making important decisions (for example, buying big budget items, getting married, dating someone, taking jobs/promotions, etc).
1. Examine Scripture and Pray
Your first priority is to examine Scripture and see if it speaks directly to your situation. In any way that it does, obey it. Simple. No excuses. No questions. Obey. These should be the easiest decisions to make. As you sit down to examine Scripture, you should also be speaking with God through prayer. Ask him for wisdom and discernment. Ask him for guidance through Scripture and for the entire process.
2. Seek Counsel
After examining Scripture, seek counsel from people you trust (and don’t just seek counsel from people your own age). You might have missed something in Scripture. Or they might have life experience that you don’t have in the wise/unwise category. Also, for married folk, seek the counsel of your spouse. Don’t make any decision without seriously considering your spouse’s counsel (unless the counsel directly contradicts Scripture). They offer a perspective and opinion that is invaluable. If you’re making big decisions against your spouse’s better judgement then you should reevaluate the decision.
3. Weigh the Wise and Unwise
If step one brings nothing directly to your situation, and you’ve gathered all the facts and counsel you can get, sit down and weigh the wise and unwise. You could call it pro’s and con’s if you want. Let me give you an example. I accepted a new position at work this fall which fell right into this wise and unwise category. Scripture didn’t tell me whether I should stay in my old position or go into this new position. However, as I understand my role as father and husband, I’m required to be actively involved in my family’s life. I was concerned the new position might require me to work unfavorable hours. After further research and much discussion with my wife, we found out the schedule wouldn’t be that much different and she encouraged me to take the position. I did. No looking back. We weighed the wise and unwise.
4. Make a Choice
Let’s say you’ve done all of the above and you’re stuck. Pray and just make a choice. Everything above should be lathered in prayer. Ask God for wisdom and discernment when making all decisions (and all means all!). If you’ve examined Scripture, weighed the wise and unwise, and lathered the whole process in prayer, just make a choice. You have freedom in Christ to do that.
5. Rejoice in Your Freedom in Christ
After all is said and done, rejoice in Christ. You aren’t a slave to finding some mystical, secret will of God. You have God’s very words in Scripture and it’s enough for your life. Once you know what’s He has said and what he hasn’t said, don’t bind your conscience by any other word. Rejoice you’re free to serve Christ in a thousand different ways.