Discerning God’s Will: A Practice…Not a Puzzle

My experience with Christian High School and College aged students is that they place a tremendous amount of stress on themselves in trying to discover “God’s will for their lives.” For example, trying to discover God’s will when it comes to their future career, or spouse. Rather than enjoying High School, college or the person they spend their time with, they are consumed by what the future is supposed to look like and end up missing out on the present.

I think it is a noble thing to seek God’s will. In fact, Paul tells us that by “[being] transformed by the renewal of [our] mind,” and “that by testing [we] may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2b ESV). The desire to know God’s will is not a bad thing. However, it is often a misunderstood thing. And when it is placed in the wrong context, it can create a lot of unnecessary stress in our life and relationship with God.

So what is the remedy to such a seemingly complicated problem? A very simple truth that Jesus spoke to His disciples. Three times He said to them (concerning their futures): “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious” (Matthew 6:25a, 31a, 34a). And He gave them this promise to hold on to:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

It has become apparent to me that we have made our walk with Christ, and even our considerations regarding the future, far more complicated than it needs to be. Note that I did not say harder; I said more complicated. Our walk with Christ is indeed hard at times (see John 16:33, Romans 5:3, James 1:2 and 1 Peter 1:6), but it does not need to be complicated. God’s will for our lives is actually quite simple: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”

It becomes complicated when we attempt to figure out God’s process and anticipate the path on which He intends to lead us. We find ourselves taking everything we see as “a sign,” everything that happens as “God speaking,” and everyone we encounter as a potential “prophet.” We no longer read the scriptures as a means of His grace and truth, but scour them for an answer to our present quandary.

I too have struggled with trying to differentiate God’s will from His process. I have equated where to serve, what to buy or not to buy, whether or not to go back to school, etc., with God’s will. But maybe His will is the process itself – the waiting, the not knowing – and then finally we drop to our knees.

When it comes to 99% of our lives, His will is laid out plainly in His Word. Even down to the simple reminder, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:37-40).

In just loving the Lord, we obey His will for our lives.

This promise from God – “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness… all these things will be added to [me]” – has freed me from such great anxiety. Today is not about tomorrow, tomorrow is about today. If I will seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness today, I will be set up for tomorrow. He has promised to orchestrate everything that is coming ahead of me as I simply focus on those two things.

I would like to add a few scriptures that have strengthened this promise in my heart and mind:

Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

He has good plans for me. I do not need to make them for myself. My job is not to chart out my life, but rather to obey Him day by day, moment by moment.

Philippians 1:6 – And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

God is not a quitter. He will get me to where He is bringing me which, as I have been laying out in this article, is ultimately to Himself. As someone once said to me, “Shaun, if your desire is to be in God’s will, you’ll never miss it.” If my heart is truly to see Him complete the good work He started, He will, plain and simple.

Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

I am going to make mistakes along the way. I am going to make poor decisions, and I am going to go against His will throughout the sanctification process. Yet, mystery of mysteries, He still incorporates all of that into His marvelous plan for my life!

Just as I need to remind myself often to simply focus on obeying Christ today and trusting Him for tomorrow, let us remind our teens of the same. As Jesus said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” We can help our teens to not add to today’s trouble by not worrying about tomorrow ourselves. If we will seek His kingdom and His righteousness today, He will line up everything else for tomorrow and the day after that.

For a thorough dealing with this topic get Michael Horton’s book Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World. He uncovers the real problem the American Dream has caused in the lives of so many Christians and helps us get back to the main thing – godliness with contentment.

Join us for Rooted 2016, an intimate youth ministry conference, where we will explore the good news that God’s grace is sufficient for our relationships: with ourselves, with others, with the world, and with God. Jesus is our reconciliation yesterday, today, and forever.

To learn more about gospel centered youth ministry, check out more articles and podcasts from Rooted’s youth ministry blog.

Shaun McDonald has been serving as youth pastor at Open Arms Church in upstate New York since 2008, and has been involved in youth ministry since 2004.  He has a passion to see Christ take root in the hearts and lives of youth and their families.  Coming from a tumultuous and rebellious background, Shaun can think of no greater privilege than sharing the greatest hope of Jesus Christ.  Shaun received an Associates Degree in Pastoral Ministry from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Bachelor degree in Religion from Liberty University, and is working on his Master of Divinity in Discipleship and Family Ministry through The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Shaun, his wife and their three children live in Rotterdam, N.Y. You can read his devotional blog at www.shaunrmcdonald.com

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