And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 ESV)
How do we decide what to do? This is a question that scores of writers have devoted books to answering.
Of course, we all like to say that we try to follow God’s will for our lives (and there’s scores of books on that subject too!).
How often, though, we often make decisions based on our feelings, experiences, desires, basically our own will, and then assume our will is God’s will because we are Christians or because we are seeking God’s will or because the thing in question is a “good thing” to do or because or because we are sure God would bless it or… well, you get the idea. We are all looking to follow a “trail of candy” that we are sure that God has laid out for us.
Unfortunately, contemporary Christian thought is just full of this philosophy. Although I like John Eldredge and he writes some good stuff, take a gander at this quote from Wild at Heart:
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
Follow the trail of candy, follow what makes you “come alive.” Now, in fairness, there is some wisdom in this quote. It’s true that a lot of people get into trouble because they plunge into something just because they decide it’s a need. And it’s true there are a lot of people walking around “dead”— not plunging themselves into any kind of risk for the glory of God. And it’s true that as you do God’s will, God sometimes is gracious and gives you a feedback loop of joy and fulfillment. I think that Eldredge is sincerely trying to lead people in the right direction, and I don’t think that he is personally looking only for self-fulfillment in his life.
BUT— using “what makes you come alive” or any such measure of personal desire or will or fulfillment as a guide to making decisions has several major problems:
- It assumes our personal wills are in perfect tune with God’s will, or at least in the same general direction. Well, duh, if Jesus had to pray “not as I will” we certainly can’t trust our much more falliable feelings.
- Sometimes God’s will is not personally fulfilling or even attractive to us. As the old Don Francisco song goes, “Jesus didn’t die for you because it was fun.”
- Finally, as I alluded to above, choosing what to do because of its personal fulfillment is putting the cart before the horse. God never intended for us to use the hope of immediate personal fulfillment as the guide for our wills. There will be rewards and God does love to give us gifts, but he doesn’t lay out a trail of candy for us to follow step by step through this life.
As a contrast, let me provide the steps George Mueller used to help him make decisions:
- I seek to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in a given matter. When we are ready to do the Lord’s will—whatever it may be—nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome.
- Having done this, I do not leave the result to feeling or simple impression. If I do so, I make myself liable to great delusions.
- I seek the will of the Spirit of God through, or in connection with, God’s Word. The Spirit and the Word must be combined. If I look to the Spirit alone without the Word, I lay myself open to great delusions also. If the Holy Spirit guides us, He will do it according to the Scriptures, never contrary to them.
- Next I take into account providential circumstances. These often plainly indicate God’s will in connection with His Word and Spirit.
- I ask God in prayer to reveal His will to me.
- Thus, through prayer, the study of the Word and reflection, I come to a deliberate judgment according to the best of my ability and knowledge. If my mind is thus at peace and continues so after two or three more petitions, I proceed accordingly. I have found this method always effective in trivial or important issues.