Faithful Christians diligently seek to do God’s will. This desire raises many questions. What does God want us to do with our lives? How can we know who He wants us to marry, what career path we should take or what other courses of action we should pursue to fulfill what He wants for us in our time on earth? For many of us—and our religious neighbors—God’s will is somewhat elusive and almost mysterious.
In its most popular sense, it seems that attempting to determine God’s will is almost analogous to predicting the future. The issue is complicated by the fact that some mistakenly believe that God has one course of action planned for our lives and that any deviation from that script means that we have failed to live up to His standards. A common example—particularly among the nominally religious—is the question, “Who does God want me to marry?” Behind the question lies the conviction that marriage is an important and lifelong institution, and one not be taken lightly. However, it also assumes that God possesses a private screenplay cloaked in a veil that we must penetrate if we truly are to do what He desires.
When looking at the future, James tells us that we ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15). In all that we do or plan, we must remind ourselves that we cannot determine what will happen in the future. Until we reach it, the future continues to be God’s domain. As the benevolent and omniscient Creator and Sustainer of the universe, we should have confidence that He will work things out to His glory. As James indicates, this trust must be demonstrated in our lives on a daily basis.
Our task is to follow the teachings of scripture and leave the future in God’s hands. This answer will not satisfy everyone, as many want more specificity about what it is they should do, but is this desire born out of a genuine thirst for righteousness? We have to be sure that it is not a way for us to be relieved of a measure of accountability or to guarantee us a life free of regret. Human beings like to have control, and we may be tempted to think that knowing God’s plans will enable us to shape the best possible future for ourselves. This kind of concern with the future is condemned not only by James (4:13-16), but by Christ (Luke 12:16-21).
While we submit to God’s plans for the future, we live in the here and now according to the principle He has already established. All of us need to be reminded from time to time that God revealed His will long ago. Over two thousand years ago, the prophet Micah said that what the Lord requires of mankind is “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Mic. 6:8). Jesus would later say that the law could be reduced to two basic principles: love your God and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31).
Paul tells the church in Ephesus that God revealed His will in Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:9-10). According to the apostle, God’s will is no longer a mystery. It is that humanity should be reconciled to Him through His Son. His desire is that we will worship Him and that we will be humble enough to take pleasure in His blessings and accept admonishment for wrongdoing. More than anything, His desire is that we live holy lives (1 Pet. 1:15-16), modeled upon the example given by Jesus.
The lone question that remains is, “Are we going to do the will of the Lord?” There exists no better example of submission to God’s will than that of Christ on the night of His betrayal. Facing crucifixion was fearsome enough indeed—the Roman orator Cicero once claimed that the dreadful act defied description by human language—but even more terrifying for Jesus was knowing that, for the one and only time in all eternity, He would be shunned by the Father due to the weight of the sins He bore. While certainly experiencing the full weight of the impending horror He would face only a few hours from that point, nevertheless He bowed to the will of His Father.
The approach of the New Year means we will begin thinking about new promises and resolutions. Are we prepared to include the will of the Lord in our deliberations? If we are, then we already know that we must approach the future with an attitude of confident reliance upon God and His power. If not, we must take a closer look at what He revealed in the past. Christianity is unique in this respect: we gain insight for the future by looking backward instead of forward.