Have you ever wished that you could know God’s will? I know I have.
For many of us, life can often feel like one big mystery. We don’t know which way to turn or which path to choose. We’re uncertain about the future and how to get there. And although we know God must have a direction he wants us to go, we struggle to figure out what it is. If only we could open the Bible and find the place where it says definitively, “This is the will of God for you.”
Well, guess what. We can.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” This three-fold exhortation seems pretty mundane, right? For those who have sat through their fair share of sermons and Bible studies, this is nothing earth-shattering or unexpected. But what comes next might throw you for a loop: “For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Let that sink in for a moment. The will of God. Clearly stated. In language we can understand. Preserved for generations in God’s own inspired word.
You would think that these verses would be underlined in our Bibles. And highlighted. And memorized. And anything else we do with verses. (Made into pretty digital graphics?)
But be honest: When was the last time you faced a difficult choice in life and made your decision by turning to these verses? “Is it God’s will for me to take this new job or not? Oh, the uncertainty! But wait! Look here! It says in 1 Thessalonians that God’s will for me is to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. Mystery solved! Now I know what to do!”
I’ve never experienced that scenario, and I doubt many others have either.
The point is that this statement of God’s will strikes us as a little underwhelming, because it doesn’t exactly answer our questions. It doesn’t tell a teenager which college to choose. It doesn’t tell a young lady whether or not she should entertain the romantic overtures of a zealous would-be-suitor. It doesn’t tell a home buyer whether to place an offer on the 4-bedroom house with a small backyard or the cute little ranch out in the country. To find out that God’s will is to rejoice, pray, and give thanks is like watching the series finale of Lostand finding out that very little has actually been resolved. (For the record, I gave up on Lost in season 3, although I have it on good authority that the ending was a huge disappointment.)
But the problem here isn’t with these verses (obviously). The problem is with what we’re trying to get out of them.
If you’re like me, the questions you ask about God’s will are mostly “what” questions. What should I do in this situation? What direction should I go? But these verses help us by redirecting our questions altogether. They show us that we’re actually asking the wrong thing.
You see, God’s will isn’t nearly as concerned with the “what” as it is the “how.” It isn’t nearly as concerned with the destination as it is the journey. It isn’t nearly as concerned with the outcome of our decisions as it is the manner in which we make them.
So, let’s say you’ve been offered a promotion at work. Should you take it or not? Well, you’ll seek the Bible in vain for a hidden insight into God’s will that will give you that answer. But what you can know is this: God’s will for how you should make the decision is clear. He wants you to rejoice in the position in which you find yourself, to pray fervently as you weigh the options, and to give thanks for God’s provision, regardless of the path you choose. Does this mean you’ll take the job? Who knows. But if you do these things, you can be confident that you’re squarely within the will of God whichever route you go.
So the next time you’re standing at a fork in the road, consider what you know about “the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” It’s not about right or left. It’s about how you walk. So walk joyfully. Walk prayerfully. Walk thankfully. And in doing these things you’ll be carrying out God’s will.