“What is God’s will for my life? Ask a first-century Christian, and I think the answer would be ‘Follow Jesus.’ ”
Whether I am talking to my college students or to seasoned Christians, teenagers or older adults, I’ve noticed that many Christians experience angst concerning God’s will. They brood over questions such as “What is God’s will for my life?” and “Am I currently in God’s will?”
Instead of overthinking such questions, perhaps we ought to focus less on whether we’re in the exact place God wants us to be and more on what we’re doing where we are. To address this concern, I turn to Augustine’s well-known axiom, “Love, and do what you will.” I believe this thought can be liberating for those who believe that our lives require macro and micro insight from God.
When I consider God’s will, I like to think of scriptural metaphors for God. Each of these images is incomplete on its own, but taken together they form a larger portrait of God. Here are three examples:
First, if God is our Father, what kind of father is He? If He is indeed a loving and nurturing father, in the same manner as the best example of earthly parents, then I believe God wants us to grow, mature and thrive. He wants us to appreciate and to follow His values. As our Father, God wants the best for us, His children, and grants us wonderful latitude to find fulfilment. This metaphor resonates with my desires for my own children. I want them to follow Christ, develop meaningful relationships, and lead productive lives in the service of others.
Second, if God is our King, what kind of king is He? When we imagine an exemplary monarch, we think of a ruler who provides peace, stability and justice for their people. The king who invests in the best for his people and desires mutual contribution produces a flourishing kingdom. God, our great King, promises His people a life of fulfilling service and joy in the security of His rule and so deserves our worship, our service, and our loyalty.
Thirdly, if God is our Shepherd, what kind of shepherd is He? We know that a good shepherd watches over and protects his sheep. In Psalm 23, David reminds us that the Lord, who is our Shepherd, guides, protects and nourishes His sheep. As God’s sheep, we live in the vast pastures He has created for His and our good pleasure, and indeed we “shall not be in want.”
So how should these images affect our daily decisions? What is God’s will for my life? Ask a first-century Christian, and I think the answer would be “Follow Jesus”—nothing more and nothing less; nothing more demanding and nothing less liberating. A follower of Jesus will model her life according to Jesus’ life and teaching revealed in the Gospels and in Scripture’s larger teachings.
Jesus gives no specific instruction about finding an exact spouse (should you choose marriage), where you ought to live, or your specific career. Instead, God desires that a wife and husband love and submit to each other, seek individual and collective growth, raise a godly family (should they have children), and pursue the common good of God’s people and our society.
Similarly, I suggest we be less concerned with the angst of a career path and more focused on service to one another. Wouldn’t God our Father want His children to offer their gifts and talents with enthusiasm and liberty?
What if we understood God’s will for our lives this way? If you desire to teach, educate your students to love God with their entire heart, soul, strength and mind by the way you teach. If you practise medicine, serve as God's agent of healing. If you farm, partner with God to provide God’s people with their daily bread. As a father, I take great delight in watching my children explore, prepare for, and engage in their respective pursuits. I imagine a God who shares a similar pleasure.
Should I not be less concerned with where I work—am I in the right job?—and more concerned with how I work? Do I serve my colleagues and clients? Do I treat people with dignity and respect? Do I live with authenticity and conviction? (For guidance on these questions, I recommend a short sermon by Jesus titled the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7.)
Finally, I want to be careful not to dismiss God’s special revelation. A primary element of Pentecostal theology and practice includes God’s direct revelation, often through supernatural means. God’s call through audible voices, prophetic words and miraculous direction are a hallmark of Pentecostal testimony, and we celebrate these stories. God still speaks in these ways to people today. However, many of us will never hear God’s audible voice. Most of us who choose to marry, find a job, and buy a home or a car do not receive a prophetic word in advance of those decisions. We pray, seek wise counsel, weigh pros and cons, and make our choices. In so doing, whether we receive God’s special revelation or not, we often look back and recall God’s hand upon our lives in our regular and mundane day-to-day activities.
I’m grateful for my wife and children. I’m grateful for the work of God’s people, those in the church and the marketplace, and for their contributions to my well-being. I’m grateful for opportunities to contribute to the comfort and growth of my family, my students and my church. I’m grateful for the mutual contributions of these various communities to our society, both at home and around the world. I’m also grateful that I’ve given up the anxiety of my youth.
Augustine advanced his liberating statement, “Love, and do what you will,” with the following words: “Let the root of love be in you: nothing can spring from it but good.” Jesus summed up the Law and the Prophets with “Love God” and “Love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:37-40).
I’m happy to worry less about finding God’s will by simply loving God wholeheartedly and partnering with Him.
Martin Mittelstadt grew up in Winnipeg, Man., and currently serves as professor of New Testament at Evangel University in Springfield, MO. In his spare time, Marty hunts for rare books and enjoys hockey, bird watching, and photography. Check out his publications at https://web.evangel.edu/Directory/bios/index.asp?username=MittelstadtM.
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This article appears in the January/February 2016 Issue of testimony.
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