And if so, how will I know what it is?
And what happens if I mess it up?
For many sincere followers of Christ, especially teenagers and young adults, those questions and others like them produce a lot of anxiety.
Where do these questions come from? What makes us think that God might have such a specific plan for our lives?
For some, it’s what they’ve been taught or at least what they think they’ve been taught by those they respect.
For others, their theology seems to demand it. They think of God’s sovereign will as extending to every minute detail of their lives.
For still others, it’s what they think they have read in Scripture.
But is it really what the Bible teaches?
To my knowledge, the Bible never explicitly says that God has a specific, perfect plan for every person, including details like where you should go to college, what career you should pursue, whom you should marry, and where you should live.
That being the case, let’s focus on what we know the Bible does teach about God’s specific will.
1. The Bible teaches a specific way of life. Jesus said that God’s Law is summed up for us in two commands: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Everything else depends on that. And he demonstrated his love of God and neighbor to the point of sacrificing his life on the cross.
2. The Bible teaches a specific character. Paul taught that we have been delivered from slavery to sin and death into righteousness and life. He taught the Christian’s life will be increasingly characterized by faith, hope, and love, and by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
3. The Bible teaches about specific gifts. Paul said that God has gifted each of us in different ways so that together we form one “body” that reflects His glory and seeks the coming of His kingdom on earth.
4. The Bible tells stories of people who had a specific calling on their lives. Think Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua, Moses, David, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and more. There were many biblical characters to whom God gave a specific job or role. None of them had any question about what God was calling them to do. God made it perfectly clear to them.
5. The Bible doesn’t say that every Christian has a specific calling. The people whose stories are told in the Bible lived at crucial turning points in the timeline of God’s plan of redemption. Even in their lives, the Bible doesn’t suggest that God orchestrated every detail. As far as we know, for example, each of the men listed in number 4 above (with the exception of Isaac) chose the woman (or women) they would marry (or not marry) without specific directions from God.
6. The Bible teaches that God’s plans will be accomplished. But it does not say that God’s plans extend to the minute details of our daily lives. It teaches that he’s interested in the details, and he knows them. But neither Jesus nor Paul nor any other biblical writer taught that God is interested in micromanaging those details. Far from it, actually.
7. The Bible teaches that God wants to empower us. God’s inviting us to become rulers alongside his son, Jesus Christ. In other words, he wants us to develop the ability to make excellent, executive decisions without His direct intervention. He wants us to learn to think the way He thinks, so we can make decisions that approximate the decisions He might make.
So, wherever we might have picked up the idea that God has one specific, detailed plan for every person’s life, I don’t think we picked it up from Jesus, Paul, or anywhere else in the Bible. If this is so, it has no real claim to be a Christian doctrine.
So what are we left with, then, if we no longer have the sometimes comforting sometimes terrifying notion of God’s specific, perfect will for our lives? One last thing.
8. The Bible teaches us to seek wisdom. When we seek and pray for God’s guidance for our lives, we can’t expect simply to download God’s master plan into our brains and then just follow the instructions. What we’re after instead is wisdom.
Wisdom is about making choices that are consistent with loving God and our neighbors, the Christian virtues and fruit of the Spirit, and the gifts with which God has blessed us. Wisdom is the ability to determine how to apply the Christian way of life and character within our immediate, local situations and circumstances. And it means making plans for the future that are consistent with God’s character and mission as well.
So don’t fret; don’t make yourself anxious about whether you are making the one perfect choice that matches “God’s perfect will.”
“Seeking God’s will” means to always prefer the choice or choices that reflect godly character and wisdom.
Seek wisdom, and you will have life.
Then, if God speaks to you, and you’re sure it’s His voice, and He tells you to do something that’s consistent with His character, then you’re probably good to do that too.