Does God Have a Specific Will for My Life?
I know O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own, that it is not for him to direct his steps.Jeremiah 10:23
I graduated college in May of 2002. By January of that year I knew I was going to move to Chicago.
And I have zero doubt that I can say it this way and not be presumptuous or pious: I knew it was God’s will for my life.
I don’t think I even thought of it in terms of “God’s specific will”. I don’t think I would have said, “If I don’t go to Chicago I will be disobeying.” But I knew it was in some sense the right thing to do. And I was so convinced of this that no other option was even considered.
And I suppose I thought at the time that God worked with everyone similarly. So it was surely a God thing that my first roommate in Chicago was Joshua Crowe, who felt pretty much the opposite as me in his approach to God’s will. He felt that upon graduating college he had choices. He could have moved to Japan or France or up the road a few miles and still been perfectly within God’s plan for his life. He chose Chicago because it was, to him, a wise next step to do an internship in an international city before eventually moving to a different country.
And being the young and passionate guys we were, we argued about it. We discussed specific will vs. general will so much that it soon became a joke and we laugh about it to this day and rib each other subtly via text messages and social media. But I owe it to Josh for helping me think through this biblically and changing my mind about a lot of this topic.
I still, to this day, believe God’s will for my life was Chicago and I would even say it was specific. Any belief about God in my worldview must be backed up by Scripture and I can easily see God in both Old (Jonah 1:1-2) and New Testaments (Acts 20:22) telling people to go somewhere specifically and even on occasion God saying to not go somewhere (Acts 16:6-7). That sounds similar to how God led me to where I have been for the last 15 years.
For discussion’s sake, I would even say this is how God worked in leading me to marriage. While I do not believe for one second that God only has one person for every person, it is crazy to look back on my time as a single person where I could have easily ended up with someone before I met Kayla and things beyond the realm of logic kept it from happening. It was confusing to go through, but now I can see that God wanted me to wait and to marry Kayla. She feels the same, about our marriage and God’s will in general.
Yet, I now understand that God does not deal with everyone this way. Biblically and in my conversations with dozens of Christians, I have seen over and over that God often gives people choices and using wisdom to make decisions is how God operates in their lives. Josh and I eventually came to the conclusion that God is far too complex to work with every person the same way. Some people may be similar to Jonah in that God says, “Go to this place” or Isaac in that God says, “This is whom I want you to marry” and others like Nehemiah see a need somewhere and go to help fix it without some great call of God, or David marrying Abigail simply because she was a woman of God1.
Josh also helped me see issues in this debate that really moved me towards a more reasonable middle ground that I described above and by this point I’ve discovered many wise Christians have experienced the same frustrations when this topic comes up. First, he told me it is maddening to think that there are needs all over the world and that some Christians are so busy waiting on a great sign from God to go that they wait and wait and wait and never go. Mission works struggle and churches go without help because everyone is waiting for God to call them specifically and this becomes a seemingly spiritual yet potentially lame excuse for why people do not go.
Trust me, I get this complaint and find it valid.
Secondly, and equally as relevant, Josh told me that if you see God’s will as something specific, then it become a gigantic point of stress when you have to make a major decision, be it marriage, a college major, job or location. What if you get it wrong?
So these Josh-Gowdy conversations in the early 2000s revolutionized my counsel to young people on this topic. By God’s grace I have had the opportunity to talk with hundreds of young adults in my life on the cusp of making major life decisions. And my advice has been much more balanced, and hence, biblical. I tell them it may be that God calls you to some place or person specifically and if he does it will not be ambiguous. If God works the way he has with me, there will be zero doubt about His will. If he does not and you do not sense any specific leading, you should use wisdom from the Bible and godly counselors to go out and do something that fulfills the biblical mandates of serving, evangelizing and discipling people while in Christian community. I would venture to guess that God far more often works the second way and I recommend a book by Kevin DeYoung called Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will. In either case, knowing God’s will should not be stressful at all. Actually doing it may cause anguish, but knowing it should be simple.
So I will wrap up my thoughts on this with something I learned from Nehemiah 1 this past Spring as I prepared to give devotions to visiting mission groups to my church this summer. Nehemiah saw a need in Jerusalem and he spent time fasting, weeping and praying before he did anything else. When he prayed, his heart was so filled with Scripture it overflowed from him as he prayed. Let me assure anyone reading this: if Christians at any point in their lives are so in tune with the Bible they can pray it naturally and are so moved by the injustice around them that they fast, weep and pray “day and night” (Nehemiah 1:6, see also Luke 18:1-8) for a period of time in response, then knowing God’s will be the easiest thing there is. Knowing God is primary. Being broken over the things that break his heart is a result. God’s will should absolutely come out of that and if it does, I doubt words like “specific” and “general” will matter to any significant level.
So my views on this matter are constantly developing and we at REO welcome feedback so please comment below if you so desire.
- This is somewhat off topic, so I’ll relegate it to a footnote. It is supremely interesting to me how little the Bible says about finding a mate in the matter of specifics. The Bible’s narratives feature cultures so different than ours that trying to glean anything about dating vs courting, or whatever method we may consider to be best, is nearly impossible. The doctrinal parts of the Bible are equally as silent on specifics, as far as I know. So I am incredibly hesitant to endorse any one view on how to find a mate. Whatever you want to call the time of getting to know a person before marriage should be selfless and God-honoring and I am convinced there are many terms we could use to describe it. ↩
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17 thoughts on “Does God Have a Specific Will for My Life?”
I would love to have listened in on those iron vs. iron debates….
I also suggest Decision Making and the Will of God.
We were both so stubborn and had a lot to learn. But the good news is those discussions deepened our friendship and we learned that if you can argue one minute and then sit and eat Chinese food while watching Seinfeld the next, you will probably be friends for life.
Read the Bible and it will tell you his will for all people of earth ! It is the same for all ! For more info………….JW.ORG
Thank you for your comment. I believe God’s will can be known I great part thru our Bible, which we believe teaches that Jesus is our God, the second Person of the Trinity.
Plus, indeed it seems that the Bible is much less interested in how spouses are chosen than in how they are treated.
That’s a great point. Similarly, and this I cut from the article to keep the word count down…after Josh married Alicia he told me that I was right, that God’s will for him and marriage was specific. He didn’t mean it in the strictest sense, but that when you are married you have to view it that way. Beforehand you don’t and in the wrong hands, the specific will thing can be dangerous. But afterwards, he felt it wise to see it as “This is who God wanted me to marry” because thinking differently can lead down dangerous roads as well. I owe so much to Josh.
Most of these kind of debates have a both/and answer rather than an either/or approach.
100% agree with Allan’s wisdom about the Bible’s emphasis on treatment of spouses. On that note, the Proverbs often lament the marital predicament of a man who has chosen a wife poorly!
Looking back I feel so dumb for not knowing – or at least not considering – “both/and” at 24 years old. We were young but we both were raised well and were educated at a fine school (so we can’t blame anyone but ourselves). It’s so counterintuitive to think that things outside of our experience and knowledge are not absolutes and the “right way” or the “best way”. I still struggle with this today, just not as much because people like Josh and others help me to challenge my biases and preconceptions. But the struggle is real and seems to contribute to everything from worship wars to silly roommate arguments.
Solid points. Nehemiah is a great example of tuning your heart to God’s (by prayer and fasting) so that you care about what he cares about. For the record, Nehemiah didn’t care about the wall because it was a man historical landmark. He cared about the wall because it protected the people of God. So at least one way to fulfill God’s will, from Nehemiah, is to care for the people of God. Granted, that is vague, but you get the point I hope.
So once you care about the things God cares about, use your position (Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king) to leverage the work that needs to be done. As Chicagoans would say, I got a guy. Use your position to further the work of the kingdom of God. I could go on with Nehemiah, but I won’t.
But what about a calling? Does God call you to a specific job? Because it seems to me that people use that way too much to just do whatever they want. I heard J Vernon McGee say that in Scripture God’s calling NEVER refers to a vocation. I have no reason to doubt him, but it still warrants a deeper look, I think.
Those are my thoughts. Unedited, for what they’re worth.
They’re well stated. They resonate with my goal I writing this and add to it nicely.
There are a number of approaches to the subject, and your treatment of it is most welcome. Thanks for the time and effort you put into it.
Thank you so much Steve.
Good times, Gowdy. My views have been challenged as of late and my perspective has evolved over time.
You are a humble man Josh Crowe.
I just saw this!
I agree with what you’ve written. God has directed my life in very specific ways. I am where I am because this is the specific place that God directed me to come. God didn’t direct me to my wife as much as direct me NOT to make a decision that would have prevented me from meeting my wife. At the same time, I do agree with the “open” aspect of God’s will as well. The way I tend to see it is like this. When there is a direct specific thing God wants me to do, He shows me. In the absence of direct specific guidance, I am open to choose any number of things that fall in line within the boundaries of His will. If that makes sense. I also kind of wonder if it could be an issue of “according to your faith…”? Those who expect specific direct guidance receive it, and those who don’t don’t.
I agree and resonate with pretty much all of that. I definitely think the “according to your faith” thing is real. Thanks, Stacyjam.
Truly, we know in part as scripture records and we should be willing to listen to other brethren and learn. I struggled with knowing what God’s Will for me was in specific areas of my life. I wanted to please God in everything and at all times too. However, it was very discouraging to keep praying and waiting without the expected answers, especially for decisions that had to be made in very limited time. My understanding was that God should always lead me by some sort of revelation and specific to the case to. When such was not forthcoming with several cases, I began to get very disturbed and dissatisfied.
It was quite tormenting at times to let go of certain opportunities because I felt that I did not hear from God the way I expected to. On another hand, guilt was always lurking around the corner whenever I decided to make a decision myself after not “hearing” from the Lord. My knowledge in this area was not working for me.
Thankfully, I came across a book through which a higher and more glorious, practicable knowledge of the Will of God was revealed to me. God works in diverse ways. We do not deny that He sometimes supernaturally leads us into His Will. At other times, (which I believe is most often the case) God wants us to make decisions in wisdom within the boundaries that He has revealed to us in His Word and through our knowledge of Him. This knowledge made me free from the ‘bondage’ I previously found myself.
You may want to check out this book (and it was free at that) titled “Rethinking the Will of God” by Frank Viola.
I pray that God reveals Himself to us more and help us to be teachable always.
Lots of Peace to you Gowdy.