For additional resources on this topic, see:
- Tim Keller. Your Plans; God’s Plans.
- Kevin DeYoung. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will.
- Derek Rishmawy. False Freedom and the Slavery of Autonomy.
As a career coach, I often talk with people about their vocational decisions. Which job should I take? Where should I move? What’s the best next step for me?
Although we usually discuss the pros and cons of each option, we always end up in the same place—discontentment. When it comes to decision-making, no matter how much research we’ve done, we rarely think we’ve done enough. We want to know everything about the future, and all its possible alternatives, before making a decision.
But this isn’t the way of freedom.
We’re Not Omniscient
When trying to make decisions, our problem is that we’re rarely satisfied with God’s wisdom. We want his omniscience. Even though he has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3), we want more. We want him to tell us everything that is happening right now and everything that might potentially happen in the future, too. As Kevin DeYoung observes:
God is not a magic 8-ball we shake up and peer into whenever we have a decision to make. . . . We know God has a plan for our lives. That’s wonderful. The problem is we think he’s going to tell us the wonderful plan before it unfolds. We feel like we can know—we need to know—what God wants every step of the way. But such preoccupation with finding God’s will, as well-intentioned as the desire may be, is more folly than freedom.
Yes, we ought to research our options and be wise about our choices. But there comes a point when we’re no longer seeking understanding, but omniscience. We want to know every step, every turn, every possibility, and every outcome.
The Way of Freedom
The way of freedom isn’t found in grasping for God’s omniscience, but in grasping for God’s hand. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his followers not to worry about the future—not because we have access to the information we need or because the future isn’t scary, but because he cares for us:
Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matt. 6:25–26)
What should we do instead? “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). God’s will for us is that we live holy lives (1 Thess. 4:3), that we bear fruit and know him better (Col. 1:9), that we rejoice, pray, and give thanks (1 Thess. 5:16–18). As DeYoung summarizes, “God’s will is that you and I get happy and holy in Jesus.”
The Guarantee of Freedom
But Jesus doesn’t just tell us that God cares for us; he shows us. On the cross, Jesus shows us that God cares for us so much that he’ll do anything, even sacrifice his own Son, to make us free (Gal. 5:1)—free from slavery and for righteousness.
This freedom, though, isn’t synonymous with safety. In fact, sometimes it’s risky. For when we grasp his hand and decide to trust him, we don’t know what he’ll do. As Elisabeth Elliot writes:
Our prayers for guidance (or for anything else) really begin here: I trust him. This requires abandonment. We are no longer saying, “If I trust him, he’ll give me such and such,” but, “I trust him. Let him give me or withhold from me what he chooses.”
In our daily lives, God’s providential and sovereign care and our seeking his kingdom and righteousness mean we can “just do something” without overanalyzing every decision.
A Case Study
When Tim Keller first came to Manhattan to start Redeemer Presbyterian Church, people were constantly asking him, “Are you sure God has called you to start this church in New York City?” His answer was always, “No.” Then he’d explain:
I think he did. I see an opportunity. I don’t see anybody else taking the opportunity. I feel an obligation to come. I think it’s a good idea. I think God’s calling me. But I can’t be absolutely sure. I can be sure that I must not lie; it’s in the Bible. I can be sure that I must not bow down to idols; it’s in the Bible. I’m sure of a lot of things that are God’s will. But as far as I know, I won’t be sure that I’m called to plant a church until it happens.
When people would persist, saying, “Didn’t you have a peace about it?” he’d reply:
No, it was too hard of a decision. It was too scary. But I know this: guidance is as much something God does as it is something he gives. Therefore, I knew that by selling my house and moving up here and signing a three-year lease that, if I failed to plant a church, God was preparing me for something I couldn’t envision.
In other words, we are standing in God’s guidance. We’re being navigated even if we can’t see it. God—the only omniscient one in the universe—is always at work in our lives and in our hearts, making us into the kind of people who are guided by him. And it is in trusting him and seeking his kingdom that we can find true freedom in our decision-making.