- Love and Liberty
Walking With God
Does God map out a perfectly detailed plan for our lives? Some Christians that have the “perfect plan” worldview claim that God planned every detail of their lives at the beginning of creation, including who they would marry, what their vocation would be, and also any tragedies or triumphs they would encounter. Perhaps this idea sounds good to many on the surface, but it becomes unintelligible when held up to the light of the Bible and reality. This is not to say that God has never intervened and never called some of his followers to certain tasks, but God does not speak to his followers directly as he once did now that we have his completed revelation, so I believe it is more correct to say that God has a purpose for our lives, but not a detailed plan. Determinists believe that we are always in God’s perfect will for our lives, because no matter what happens, good or bad, it is God’s will. Those who view reality in this way, cannot escape the conclusion that the evil that humans commit toward one another and the resulting suffering are somehow a part of God’s perfect plan for the world. Not only that, they are able to avoid the responsibility of any evil (though many would not make this claim, instead they will tout the doctrine of compatibilism - that free-will is compatible with determinism - which does not make sense) they have committed themselves, because it was a part of God’s plan for them. So evil then becomes not really evil, but good. But the Word of God says: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” These conclusions fit nicely into certain strands of theology, but they contradict the totality of scriptural teaching. The Bible is clear that many people resist the will of God, and this disappoints God. Determinists cannot explain (without relying on absurdities to do so) how God can be truly disappointed about ungodliness and suffering if he “planned” for it all to happen.
Even many “non-determinists” are under the impression that God has a blueprint for their lives, and that they are responsible for finding out what it is. They think they can miss God’s perfect will and then they will have to settle for less because they made a bad decision at some point. This can lead to many doubts and discouragement on the part of seeking Christians, because they become fixated on finding out what God's "perfect plan" is, rather than going forward and serving God in freedom. One of the reasons people have this view is because of the fact the Bible records God giving specific instructions to certain people such as Moses, Jeremiah, or John the Baptist. This is also true when it comes to the Lord’s comments about choosing the disciples as opposed to them choosing him. Was he referring to their conversion? Or was this concerning his specific will to send these disciples, that had been his closest companions, into the world to proclaim his message? He obviously was not referring to their conversion, for the gospel call is to everyone, and we are reminded of Joshua’s words that we must “choose whom we will serve.” Some agree that this is not about conversion, but rather it is about a specific vocation in God’s Kingdom work, or that only some of us receive a special call to serve him in the ministry. Anyone can become a Christian, they reason, but not everyone can serve God in the ministry. Have you ever wondered what this special call to the ministry involves? It can be different depending on who you ask, but it is often described as a certain “sense” or “feeling” that a person gets that God is calling them into the ministry. What they mean is, they feel that God is calling them to a specific full-time vocational ministry, such as being a pastor, evangelist, missionary, etc. Interestingly, many who are not biblically qualified have stated that they also “feel” this calling, and who can argue with them? When subjective “feelings” are the basis for this special calling, how can one person say that others are wrong when they experience the same “feeling?” Some would then jump in and proclaim that certain biblical qualifications are necessary, which is true, but this does not specifically have to do with the “special call to ministry” that people claim they experience. What do we make of this?
First, it should be made clear that every true Christian is a servant of God, a minister of God, and has a “calling” to a specific purpose. That purpose is to love God with all your heart, your neighbor as yourself, and to (to quote John Wesley) “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” But how do we know “specifically” what God wants us to do as individuals? The Bible speaks of pastors and teachers, evangelists, administrators, deacons, etc. Did God plan for you to be a pastor when he created the world? Did he plan for you to be a missionary to China? Some may say yes, but many Christians would say no. Many of us would say that when we yield our lives to God, he moves with us as we live our lives, he takes our personalities into account, he gifts us in certain ways, he works in and through our circumstances, and he wants us to use our abilities in our service to him and others. Will God “call” someone to be a pastor, for example, that does not meet the qualifications stated in the scriptures? According to some the answer is yes, or they claim the qualifications are misunderstood. For example, even though the Bible clearly forbids women from being pastors, there are women who say they “felt” God call them to this vocation. What they felt is a desire to do this, whatever their motivation, but they disregarded God’s Word on the matter. Are good intentions enough? A man once had good intentions when he put his hand up to steady the Ark of the Covenant when he thought it might fall, but he lost his life because God said the Ark was not to be touched. Certainly, he had good intentions, and one can argue that the circumstances leading up to this point were not his doing, but God’s Word was disobeyed, nonetheless. But if serving in a certain capacity is based on the subjective “sense” or “feeling” that people say is God’s “call” to a certain work, there is no absolute way of correcting someone who is in error. It is more helpful to deal with the issue of serving God in a certain capacity by determining one’s gifts and examining one’s life in the light of the biblical qualifications that Paul, under God’s guidance, gave to Timothy.
It is true that when it comes to serving God, he is not concerned with our abilities, but with our availability, because everyone can serve God. There are things to do and we should be doing them. It is not hard to find work to do for God. It is not hard to find people who are suffering and need help. So go. Do not wait for a special calling, so to speak, or for God to write it out for you in the sky. He has told us what to do in his Word. Look for ways to apply his principles and go! He will not be disappointed with you for obeying him and doing good unto others, whatever you do. Do not worry about finding a specifically detailed plan. The free will of other human beings is involved too, and God takes this into account. God is creative and infinitely resourceful and is not limited by a foreordained or foreknown “plan.” Even if you messed up last week or last year, you do not have to worry about not being in God’s perfectly detailed plan. (According to those who hold to determinism or exhaustive definite foreknowledge, God knew what would happen all along anyway, right? So these concerns within the framework of those two views are incoherent.) He is moving along with you in time, loving you, caring for you, influencing you, and making beautiful things out of ruins. But even though God just wants us to be available, this does not mean that God has gifted us all to be able to carry out the same functions with the same effectiveness. I believe our calling is based on our gifts and qualifications, and this calling could take on many different forms, depending on the circumstances. I am not saying that God never has a specific will for your life or mine, I am merely pointing out that God’s words to Jeremiah, Moses, or the 12 disciples cannot be specifically applied to us. Do I believe that when God created the world that he meant for my wife and I to become married? I do not. In fact, I was not even thought of because I did not exist. (Anyone that wants to point to the Lord’s words to Jeremiah that before he formed him in the womb, he knew him, this is easily explained, which I will do in another post.) But I believe that there came a point in time where it was God’s will for us to unite as husband and wife, and once we made the decision and committed to it, it clearly became God’s will that we stay united for life. But if one of us would have not committed to this union, it would not have relegated us to a second-rate plan. God’s plan would have changed, and we could still be in his will at a later point, even if it meant others being involved.
Lastly, we should, in my opinion, avoid the mindset that we have to beg God to reveal his will to us, as if the good and loving God would come up with a plan for our lives and then hide it from us unless we pray hard enough for it. (This also undermines the very foundation of determinism and exhaustive definite foreknowledge if you think about it.) God’s perfect will is his moral will, and it applies to all of us. But God is able to work in our lives and change his plans when he needs to, in order to meet with us in our current situations. The premise of Open Theism holds that God is not limited, in any way, and that in fact, God is limited in the other two systems of thought. God can have new thoughts and create new plans, because he is God.
Do you desire to be a pastor or a missionary? Do you meet God’s qualifications? How have you been gifted? Are you following the principles of God’s Word? Do others see in you a heart for God and people? Then serve God and rely upon him in your journey. While I am on this topic, I would like to point out that some look at a “call” to a certain vocation as irrevocable, and some will use it is a hammer to beat others on the head with. “God called me, therefore you should not disagree with me.” This is obviously problematic, to say the least. Some have asked if it is possible to become “un-called”, but that is not the right question, in my opinion. You can become unqualified and unable. A subjective feeling at some point in time does not result in an unconditional right to a specific office for you or me in the church. What we need is humility and understanding in our churches, along with adherence to the scriptures, but sadly these are largely lacking.
We should pray for God’s will and then do what he tells us to do in his Word and trust him to work in us and through us. There are times when we need to wait upon God, but this does not imply inactivity on our part. We should serve him, without ceasing, and leave the outcomes to him. He can and does work through our abilities and efforts, and even if we cannot see the good that is occurring, we should be faithful and not become weary in well-doing, for God is faithful, and good always comes out of obedience to the Lord, even if we do not receive that reward in this life. As we walk with God, he walks with us, and yesterday's disappointments do not have to define us, nor do yesterday's victories relieve us from the obligation to obey God today. Do not worry about missing a specific plan for your life. Follow Christ and bless him with your obedience. He deserves the rewards of his suffering.