Do you know God’s will for your life? How do you find out? A lot people wonder. In this post we are fact-checking Christian ideas about God’s will. There are a lot of thoughts out there about God’s will. And unfortunately there is much confusion too. Here are the ideas that we are going to be looking at:
- God doesn’t choose the equipped, he equips the chosen.
- You’re never safer than when you are in God’s will.
- When God closes a door, he opens a window.
- All in God’s timing.
Have you heard any of these? Have you found yourself thinking them or maybe saying them? Let’s take a deeper look at them. We’re starting with:
As I read that one a couple times while preparing for this sermon, even though it was a phrase that I have heard many times before, I thought to myself, “That is a confusing phrase.” I love these kinds of phrases, where you move words around in a sentence and it gives you a different meaning. They’re super creative and fun, and often times they can be very helpful.
Like John F. Kennedy’s famous line: “Ask not what your country can do for you…” how does it finish? I bet you know.
“…Ask what you can do for your country.”
I did not know this, but there is a term for this kind of literary device.
Antimetabole! It is from the Greek meaning “turning about” and it is defined as “repeating a phrase in reverse order.”
But sometimes antimetabole is just plain old confusing or illogical. So let’s fact check this phrase we Christians so often say: “God doesn’t choose the equipped, he equips the chosen.” It is a fun phrase to say, but we have to break it down into pieces and see how its ideas and assumptions compare or contrast with biblical teaching.
This phrase has a couple features that we need to look at:
- The idea of God choosing people. Does God choose some people and not others? And choose them for what? To be saved and go to heaven? Or to just serve him? Does God choose some people for certain roles, like becoming a pastor or missionary, but not other roles? There are lots of questions about the idea of God’s choosing.
- The idea of people being equipped. Are certain people equipped, but not others? Does God look around the earth, surveying people and concluding, “Aha! You are equipped to be a pastor, so I choose you.” Does he do that? Or does he randomly choose some people, and say, “I choose you, and now I am going to equip you to be a missionary.” And what about the other roles and responsibilities in his Kingdom beyond just being pastors and missionaries?
There are so many questions! Let’s see if we can answer some.
First of all, does God choose people?
In the Old Testament we saw in our Deuteronomy series that God chose the nation of Israel to be his people. He chose a whole family that became a nation. So he did choose, but each Israelite had to respond by also choosing him back, a choice they showed they made by keeping the terms of the covenant that they had with God. In other words, they had to obey him, and to be faithful to him. Sadly, many did not choose to do this throughout their history, and they broke their covenant with God. In fact, the whole nation many hundreds of years later was so rebellious that God allowed them to be invaded and exiled. God choose them corporately, but his choosing did not guarantee that they would be saved no matter what. They had to choose him back. Additionally, when he chose them, he gave them a mission to be a blessing to the whole world, as he told them that he wanted them to reach the world. There is a sense in which God chose not only Israel, but through Israel’s mission, God also chose the whole world. Yet Israel didn’t do so well with this mission.
God through Jesus, then, entered into a new covenant, choosing corporately again, that anyone who would respond in faith as Jesus’ disciples would be part of his new family, as we saw in the previous post. We saw that God desires all to be saved. Again, God chose not individual people, but he choose corporately all who are in Christ. That means each individual, just like the individual Israelite in the Old Testament, has to choose God back to be part of this new covenant, this new corporate choosing.
My conclusion is that we should not see God as choosing some people to be saved, for whatever random reason, and not choosing others. God wants all to be saved. Not all will be saved, of course, because some will not choose God back.
What I have been talking about so far is God’s choice for us to be a part of his family.
There is also another way of looking at God’s choosing, and this, I think, is what the phrase we are fact-checking, is talking about. Does God choose people for special roles or tasks in his Kingdom mission?
In the Bible, we can read about times when he definitely did this. The most amazing example, I think, is that of the Apostle Paul in Acts 9. Paul was a Pharisee who was bent on eliminating the brand new fledgling Christian church. He thought the early church and its apostles were a cult. God supernaturally broke into Paul’s life and said “Stop it, Paul! I, Jesus, am the real deal, and I want you to start serving me now.” How many of us have thought in our lives, “Lord, I want you to speak audibly and unmistakably to me like you did to Paul!”??? Well, it changed Paul’s life, as you can imagine it would. Paul went from persecuting Christians to being the most ardent Christian missionary.
For the rest of Christian history, up until the present day, we have a Christian idea that God still supernaturally chooses some people to be his ministers. I believe God does still do this choosing. We have a term for it. “Calling.” Are you called, we say? Many people have felt that God has called them into ministry.
In many churches, this calling is a requirement for ministry. Some people talk about their work as a calling, and many believe that God has called them to do it. My point is that God absolutely can call us supernaturally, and I believe he does. But as we will see, that is not the only way Christians can make decisions about how to live their lives. Imagine if everything we did, every choice we made, we first had to wait until God told us what to do!
On one hand it sounds very spiritual. “God I am depending on you, guide me, and tell me your will, and I will only do what you want me to do.” On the other hand, it would lock down our lives. What outfit should we wear? What should we have for breakfast? Maybe these are all important details!
Well, that is ridiculous, and so some people respond by saying, “Well God allows us freedom to make decisions about the mundane aspects of life, and he only has a special individual will for us in the big areas.” What, then are the big areas? Usually people respond that the big decisions are, “Who to marry, what career to have, whether or not a person should be in ministry, and maybe where to live and anytime they are considering a big purchase.
Here’s the question, though…does the Bible affirm any of this decision-making and will of God logic? No. My conclusion about God choosing is that while he can and does break into our world and guide us, that supernatural act is the exceedingly rare exception to the rule, and thus we can make decisions, even big ones, without having to wait for God to direct us. Because he, in his word, has given us teaching and principles saying that we can make wise decisions on our own, we can have confidence in decision-making based on biblical principles of wisdom.
So, let’s take all of that and apply it to the phrase we’re fact-checking. In so doing, it seems to me that we can affirm the first side of the phrase: God doesn’t choose only certain people who would qualify as “equipped” as if there are special people who God will use.
Consider the analogy of new car purchase. When you buy a car, you learn about all the features that come standard, and the features that are extra. We Christians can wrongly believe the idea that there are standard people and that there are non-standard people, like there are standard cars and cars that come loaded. We can believe there are regular Christians and then there are super-spiritual Christians who are called. Is that how God has created us?
Not at all. Yet, we sometimes think that don’t we?
Here’s the truth, though: God can and does use all of us, even in our weakness. God has created us with unique personality and aptitude, and can use anyone. We all have a role to play. No matter who you are, you have a role to play! I want you to hear that very clearly. You are gifted by God and he wants to use you.
So with that in mind, we can now examine the second half of the phrase.
Does God equip the chosen? Again, that makes it seem like God chooses some and not others. I would reiterate that every Christian is chosen, and there is not some special group of super-spiritual Christians who have a special calling from God. Pastors are not special. Missionaries are not special. We are all important, we are all chosen, and we all have gifts and abilities.
We read about the vitality of every part of a church family in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7,
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”
The writer of this passage, the apostle Paul, goes on to use the illustration of a body. He says in verse 18: “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” Further in verses 20-22 Paul writes, “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” So he concludes in verses 25-27, “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
Just as all parts of a body are important and needed and must work together, all the people in a church are gifted and have a role to play. Therefore we can say that the second half of the phrase is true, but only in the sense that all are called by God, and all are equipped by God to serve him and the mission of his Kingdom!
Hear that, Christian. You are all called by God to serve his Kingdom using the unique gifts and abilities and bodies and minds that he has given you. Whether you are young or old, male or female, you are vitally important. God gives his Spirit to all Christians.
And that brings us to our next phrase.
We’ve seen that we are all gifted by God, but clearly Israel was not always following God’s will. Just because you are a Christian who is chosen corporately in Christ and who is gifted to serve him, that doesn’t mean that you will always choose God. That means we need to talk about following God’s will. And this phrase comes up: “You’re never safer than when you are in God’s will.”
It gives the idea that there is some particular will of God, and if you just choose to do that special will of God, your life will be great! We need to fact check that idea.
What does this mean when it says “safe”? Bodily safety? Physical safety? Emotional? Financial?
In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, from The Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis writes about Aslan, which is the lion who is a figure for God in the story. Lewis says that Aslan or God is not safe, but he is good.
There are plenty of times when people in the biblical stories were totally in line with God’s will, but they were far from safe. There are plenty of times when you, too, are following God and you are not safe. In some places around the world, being faithful to God means that you will be persecuted.
In Matthew 10:28 Jesus taught: “don’t worry about the body, be concerned about the soul.” There is no guarantee that following Jesus means you will have a guarantee of physical safety.
But look at the phrase more closely. It talks about God’s will. What does this mean by God’s will? We’ve been discussing it throughout this post, but now I want to consider it more closely.
There is a long-held point of view that in the many areas of life for which we have questions, that God has a very specific will that he wants to us to discover. This is the bull’s eye view. That if you want an awesome safe life, you can discover and follow God’s will.
It seems like Paul in Romans 12:1-2 talks about this:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
But Paul is not talking about a bull’s eye approach. He is talking about being obedient to God. He talks about it in the sense of offering our bodies as sacrifices to God. This is not a comfortable, easy life, but a death to self, just as Jesus said his disciples would do: “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” That means you give everything in your life to him, and when you do that, Paul says, in Romans 12:1-2, you will not be conforming to the pattern of the world, and you will be transformed through the renewal of your mind, and you’ll be able to see clearly what it means to obey God. We should not understand Paul as talking here about specific bull’s eye decisions God has for each person, whether the big decisions I mentioned above, or the multitude of small decisions we face every day.
Instead, Paul is talking about living a life of commitment to the way of God’s Kingdom, the way of Jesus, to live like he did, which was first and foremost sacrificial, a giving away of one’s own life, like Jesus did.
So in life we will find that there are plenty of excellent options that we can choose. Who to marry? There is not one soul mate. What career to follow? God might not call you to a specific job. He might not give you specific instructions about where to live. Instead, God wants us to use our wisdom when we make choices. Base your decisions on biblical teaching, base them on wise godly input, and definitely pray. Ask God for wisdom, as James teaches us in James 1. But don’t expect God to guide you supernaturally. He might. He can! But he never promises to do so every time. In fact, it would be the rare exception. That means you don’t have to wait in agony over which choice to make. If you’re choosing between a number of excellent options, you can choose, and know that God supports you.
But sometimes our choices end up falling through. And that leads us to our next phrase.
Is this true? Maybe? What is this phrase talking about? It is a situation in life where we are going down a road that we think is the right way. Could be a major life decision like who to marry, what career path to follow, where to go to college, or a major purchase like a house or car. Could be ways to serve in the church or community. But the pathway closes. We realize that the direction that we are going becomes an impossibility. And we are shocked and confused. At that moment, this phrase suggests, God opens a new option for us to follow. We say, “Oh, I see why he closed the door, because he wanted me to go in this other direction.”
God sometimes does this. We already talked about how God broke into the Apostle Paul’s life and changed his direction radically. But what about the many times this doesn’t happen? What about the times when we have five choices and all seem equally good? How do we choose?
Wait for God to direct supernaturally? No.
As we have seen already, God’s supernatural direction is best seen as the exception. Not the rule. There may be times, perhaps even most times, when a door will close, and there will seem to be no other options, where it seems that God has not opened another option. Or there may be five options and it seems impossible to choose between them.
Let me reiterate. In those moments, God wants us to make a choice based on biblical principles and wisdom. Here are some principles:
- Ask for wisdom from the Spirit – James 1
- Discern between sin and not sin
- Seek first the Kingdom – Matthew 6:33
- Evaluate how God made you uniquely you and how you could best fit in serving him.
- Ask the people around you who know you best and love you to give you advice.
- Then choose! And know that God supports the decision because you have used his principles for making a wise decision.
Finally, the last phrase that we are fact-checking relates to why we so often have to wait in life. Or when we are trying to resolve difficulties. Or find direction. And what do we hear from people?
It seems like it can be a good phrase to encourage patience. We live in a society of urgency and getting what we want now…or yesterday.
This phrase can also have a really good aspect of learning contentment. In Philippians 4, Paul remarks, “I have learned the secret of being content,” and that is quite important for us to learn too. Patience is hard. It is a very human tendency to think about the future, and to want the next thing, rather than be content with where we are.
But I have some concerns with this phrase, “All in God’s timing.” How will we know when it is God’s timing? This one is very much related to the previous phrase.
We can totally misinterpret God’s timing. Or maybe assume that God has timing, but he actually doesn’t. The phrase “all in God’s timing” makes it seems like we are puppets on a string, and God is just not ready to pull a string and make us move. He is just letting us hang there. But is that how life works? Is it how God works? Where God is actually making all the choices for us? And our free will is actually a mirage?
No. We believe that the Bible teaches we have true freedom.
The result of true freedom is that we can make a choice, and it can turn out quite different from what we thought. We can feel awful about that. It can be hard to be patient and content when life isn’t turning out how we thought it would. But we need patience. We also need grace, God is gracious and we need to be gracious to one another in the difficulty of waiting.
Let us be a people of patience and grace as week seek to grow contentment.