Here’s a wonderful post on decision making and the will of God posted on Neil’s blog. Neil links to another post where someone is trying to figure out what God wants him to do.
Really short version: Aside from direct and clear personal revelation from God, you don’t have access to his sovereign will when making decisions. Therefore you must look at other factors. If it isn’t moral, don’t do it. If it is moral but not wise, don’t do it. If it is moral and wise, then use your personal preferences.
Using this model you can end up with a wise and biblical decision, but you have avoided the traps of the “God told me to ____” routine. People who run around saying that God told them this and that convey a super-spirituality that can leave less mature believers wondering if they really have a relationship with God (i.e., “God doesn’t tell me every little thing to do, so maybe I don’t really know him.”).
He has a helpful picture posted as well:
This is actually a very important topic for me, because I like making plans and making good decisions. I like being the quarterback or squad leader of my own life. I like to pick objectives and then make plans to achieve them. (Nothing too exotic, just simple stuff like saving money or reading more books)
Actually, I really oppose the idea that God has a magical fairy tale will for each person that will make them happy and fulfilled. For me, life isn’t like that. I don’t expect God to lead me along like a child at a scavenger hunt. I expect to survey the battlefield where I am and then do something to make a difference. There are lots of things you can do that will please God. Should you focus on your career and sponsor apologetics conferences? Or should you use your spare time preparing Sunday school lessons? There are lots of good things you could do to please God. Your job is to pick the one that will be the most effective. It doesn’t matter if it makes you happy, it only matters if it’s effective and if you are good at it.
Who is Rifleman Dodd?
A while back, I was busily working my way through the U.S. Marine Corps Official Reading List, and I came across a book by C.S. Forester called Rifleman Dodd, or alternatively titled Death to the French. It’s a work of historical fiction that takes place during the Napoleonic wars. The story is about a British marksman named Dodd, who is cut off from his own lines during a withdrawal maneuver. He is subsequently left to fend for himself behind enemy lines. An ordinary man might be full of despair and forget about his mission entirely. But Dodd is no ordinary man. Not only does he find a way to survive by finding food to eat, water to drink and places to sleep, but he also tries to remember his orders and to think about what he can do to advance the cause of his General, the Duke of Wellington.
Here’s an excerpt from a gritty book review:
It’s about a green-coated British infantry rifleman in the Napoleonic Wars, an age when rifles were a novelty and most of the army was red-coated and carried muskets. Private Matthew Dodd gets separated from his regiment during a retreat and finds himself stranded behind enemy (French) lines in Portugal. With the occasional aid of some natives, but mostly on his own, he harasses the French with his rifle and tries to prevent them from building a bridge across the Tagus River. It’s a remarkable tale of survival and solitary achievement, of a rank-and-file soldier who lives by his wits and slowly learns to make plans without orders, and shows leadership qualities and a knowledge of warfare.
I think we’re in the same situation as Dodd.
There is no point in us looking for breadcrumb trails to happiness at this point. That’s not the point of Christianity. The point of Christianity is friendship with God, imitation of Christ, honoring moral obligations, self-sacrificial love for your neighbor (and even your enemies!), and dedication to the truth – whether anyone else likes you or not. It’s not supposed to make you happy, and it’s not necessarily going to be a normal life like everyone else has. Things may not work out the way you’d like them to.
We seem to be making such a big deal about compassion and forgiveness in the Christian life these days – such a big emphasis on our feelings. Almost like we have forgotten that we have obligations to our friend – and his objectives. A relationship doesn’t mean that one person completely disregards the character and goals of the other person and then is automatically granted forgiveness whenever they want it. That’s not a friendship – that’s using someone else for your own ends. Maybe it’s time to remember what this is all about.
If you think the Rifleman Dodd story sounds good to you, you should definitely buy the “Horatio Hornblower” DVDs and watch them. It’s like Band of Brothers only with twice the morality and wisdom. There’s a neat scene in there where Horatio has to suffer to protect someone who rebelled against him. We need to remember to be like that. Those are our orders.
5 thoughts on “How can you figure out what God wants you to do?”
Super post! I love it. :)
But I disagree with this:
“It’s not supposed to make you happy”
Oh yes it *is* supposed to make you happy! Just not in a superficial, temporary sense, but in a deep, lasting sense. It’s supposed to make you far happier than anything else on this planet, beyond your wildest dreams.
“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is not part of the Christian faith.
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
– C. S. Lewis in “The Weight of Glory”
Wintery, I am going to hound you on this until you get it. Because it’s biblical and get it you must!
And didn’t Lewis also say, “Joy is the serious business of Heaven” ?
Garry Friessen’s “Decision Making and the Will of God” is an excellect treatment of this issue. I whole heartedly agree and share your opinion on this issue. I cannot tell you (you probably know anyway) how many Christians get so very offended when this topic comes up and I take this position.
The biggest aid to the misuse of Scripture for decyphering God’s plan? Chapter breaks and verse numbers. I think Christians are the biggest culprits when it comes to taking verses out of context.
I have the Gary Friesen book and I highly recommend it. I think it’s especially good for men to survey their battlefield and think carefully about what they will do with their lives. Will they study physics and research the fine-tuning argument? Will they study organic chemistry and study protein sequencing? Will they study the historical Jesus and write papers and books? Will they marry and give personal attention to their wife and children? Will they start a business and sponsor academic debates featuring scholars on both sides? So many wonderful things to do.
Thanks for the link! This is such a hugely important topic. I love teaching this lesson. It steers people away from sloppy “God talk” and towards clear thinking and good decision making.