Written by Jerry Sittser · Published by Zondervan, 2009
It’s the question I asked when I was terrified about the choice I had made to move to Bangkok, sight unseen, on my own at 25 and the question I’m asking again at 35, now almost 5 years into marriage. What is God’s will for my life? What is God’s will for our lives? Where should we go? What should I do? What should Worchihan do? How will we make money? How will we survive?!?
I ask this question, as I’m sure many people do, because I want to do what God wants me to do, because I want to live a faithful, obedient life. However, when I ask this question, I am probably freaking out, worried that I won’t figure out what God wants me to do. But isn’t that silly? Is God trying to hide what He wants ME to do FROM me??
Nope, says Jerry Sittser, a professor emeritus of theology at Whitworth University in Washington state. And this is one of the problems of the conventional approach to God’s will. Here’s what Sittser has to say about what many of us believe about the will of God:
Convention teaches us that the will of God consists of a specific pathway we should follow into the future. God knows what this pathway is, and he has laid it out for us to follow. Our responsibility is to discover this pathway—God’s plan for our lives. Unfortunately, it is not always obvious. If anything, it is often ambiguous. We must figure out which of the many pathways we could follow is the one we should follow, the one God has planned for us. If and when we make the right choice, we will receive his favor, fulfill our divine destiny, and succeed in life.
Right? Haven’t you thought of God’s will like this? Where did we learn this? And who can I blame for all the anxiety this view has caused me?
Sittser identifies three problems with this approach:
1 It narrows our focus to what we believe are important decisions, decisions that are actually not as important as our everyday choices. In his own search for God’s will, Sittser “finally concluded that the choice of medicine or ministry was beside the point, for if I was not attentive to the little choices I made every day—to be a diligent student, a kind husband, a disciplined Christian—then whichever path I chose would never lead to the kind of fruitfulness I really desired for my life.”
2 It supports a false and negative view of God — the idea that He makes us look for His will, as I mentioned above.
3 It illustrates our desire to know and control our future. Sittser writes that if we knew our future, “we would be too overcome with utter surprise or terror (or both) to respond wisely and make the most of it.”
This is where Sittser comes out with it, with the main idea of the book, but not before citing several verses, including James 4:13-17, Matthew 6:33-34 and Luke 16:10-12. The verses from Luke aren’t the obvious ones to include here, but I was struck by their relevance:
If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?
Sittser cites these verses to make the point that our everyday tasks and responsibilities are just as important as the few big decisions we have to make in life.
Sittser goes on to say that as long as we’re obeying Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:33, we don’t need to worry about “finding” God’s will:
If we seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, which is the will of God for our lives, then whatever choices we make concerning the future become the will of God for our lives. There are many pathways we could follow, many options we could pursue. As long as we are seeking God, all of them can be God’s will for our lives, although only one—the path we choose—actually becomes his will.
What do you think of that idea? It makes a lot of sense to me, although I’m not 100% sure about the “…whatever choices we make concerning the future become the will of God for our lives” part. Seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness first seems like the best place to start, though, and if Sittser is correct, which I think he might be, I can be free of my fear of making the wrong choice, of picking the wrong path.
So how do we determine what choices we should make? Sittser says this: We will discover [God’s] plan [for our lives] by simply doing the will of God we already know in the present moment. This reminds me of Luke 16, of being faithful in small things so that we will be able to be faithful in big things.
Sittser then cautions, before reassuring:
Choice implies risk, even when we choose wisely. I have made my fair share of “right” choices over the last twenty-five years. I seem to have chosen the “right” profession, taken the “right” jobs, married the “right” woman, made the “right” friends, and brought the “right” houses. But my choices have not always turned out well, even when I made them in good faith. I have suffered along the way, too. Sometimes I deserved it; sometimes I did not. But the very idea of “deserving” is beside the point. What counts most is that God is working in my life, writing a redemptive story. I can trust him and do his will wherever I am, whether or not I made the “right” choices, whether or not those “right” choices had a good outcome.
What hope we have! Even when my decisions don’t lead to the results I hoped, God is working in my life. Even when I make a bad decision, God is working in my life. God, my father who loves me, is always working in my life, always looking out for me and always leading me so that I will be able to continue on to heaven, my ultimate destination.
What will stick with me most from this book is an anecdote about Sittser’s children. He writes that to celebrate special occasions, like Father’s Day, his children ask him what special thing he wants them to do for him. But he doesn’t want anything special. Instead, he wants them to make their bed, to empty the dishwasher, to fold the laundry. Here’s what he says:
Too often we behave like children. We want to know what extraordinary deed we can perform for God sometime in the future—the ephemeral “will of God” that we seek to discover. But it is not the big things we want to do with such bravura but the little things we do every day that constitute his true will. God wants us to practice daily obedience. Such obedience requires attentiveness to God in our present circumstances.
This is the picture that will stick with me. What do you want me to do, God? Be faithful. Where do you want me to go, God? Be faithful. Who should I marry, God? Be faithful. When should I have kids, God? Be faithful. Should I take this job, God? Be faithful.
What do you think? Have you also always believed in the conventional approach to God’s will? Has your thinking on God’s will shifted? Post your thoughts below.
NOTE: My dad read Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen in college and, after reading this post, suggested that I read it. I just bought the Kindle version and at $6.99, it might be the most expensive Kindle book I’ve bought. Thanks, Dad.