"What Happened, Lord?”
Common question - You set out to get a new job, you work hard, you go through the interview process, you do your best, in your heart you believe this is the job God wants you to have. Then someone else gets the job. You say, “Lord, I thought I was doing Your will.” Perhaps you get the job, and you say, “Thank You, Lord.” But 6 months later you’re fired and you say, “What happened, Lord?” You think, “If only we could move to Durban, we would be happy.” So you move to Durban, believing it to be the will of God. When you get there, you still are not happy - “Lord, did we make a mistake?” We know God has a plan for us. We know that we weren’t put on the earth to grope through the darkness. But that’s the way life feels sometimes.
Knowing God’s will is a journey, not a destination, and along the way we will sometimes be quite confused. The bottom line is not being “right” or “wrong” about God’s will, but truly seeking what God’s will in the first place. If you are willing to follow him, he will lead you exactly where he wants you to go. The problem comes at the next level–the level of practical application. We know God guides His children, but how does that divine guidance work out in the nitty-gritty details? At precisely this point we need to be very clear in our thinking. There is so much misinformation, so much bad teaching, so much faulty theology when we come to the “how-to” of God’s guidance. As a result many Christians continually make wrong turns and end up in spiritual cul-de-sacs because they don’t understand what God has said about the way he guides His children.
To help us understand the biblical perspective, I’m going to share 4 wrong ideas about God’s guidance. Each of these myths, though popular, can be devastating to believers.
Myth #1: God wants you to know the future
This is the biggest mistake that Christians - mistake of assuming the end from the beginning. Because God has led us one step in a particular direction, we assume that the end result must be guaranteed. We start down a road, and because we are going a certain direction we think the destination is certain. Let’s be clear - It is rarely God’s will for you to know your personal future. Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” The picture here is not of a blazing light that illuminates an entire room. It is a picture of a man in total darkness walking along a dangerous trail. There is no moon in the sky. His only light comes from the lantern in his hand. As he holds the lantern, it illuminates the step right in front of him. When he takes that step, what happens to the light? It goes forward one more step. The light is not bright enough to illuminate even 10 meters ahead.
Let’s face the truth–we want to know the future. At least we think we do. We want to know what is going to happen next year, so we can be ready in advance. But God won’t play that game with us.
Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God.” Does he know what will happen tomorrow? Yes, he does; but he’s not telling anyone else about it. Does God have a blueprint for your life? Yes, he does; but I don’t know any way you can get a copy.
Suppose God were to offer you a folder with the details of your life and your loved ones for the next 10 years. Would you take it? Your first impulse might be - yes. But suppose there is a provision. You can’t change anything in that folder. Would you still take it? I can tell you that I would run the other way. Life is much better lived one day at a time. Please don’t miss this point: God wants to teach us to trust him step by step. He reveals His will one step at a time, so we will trust him moment by moment.
Myth #2: God wants you to have 100% certainty before you make a decision
I can understand this thinking. After all, if you are facing a life-changing decision–a potential marriage, a move, a new career, which college to attend, whether or not to begin chemotherapy–you’d like to know in advance beyond any doubt that you are doing what God wants you to do. There are 2 problems with this point of view – 1. Sometimes we think we know God’s will with 100% certainty only to find out later that we were mistaken. 2. In our search for certainty about God’s will, we end up paralyzed by an inability to make up our minds. Some decisions are so important they can’t be left to chance. As the popular saying goes, “When in doubt, don’t.” If you aren’t sure about the new job, don’t take it; don’t make the move, don’t say yes, don’t make any decision with less than total certainty.
We see this principle vividly illustrated - when Paul and his team left Troas, they sailed across the Aegean Sea in response to a vision of a man saying - Acts 16: 9 “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When they got there, they found a woman named Lydia. Later on Paul and Silas were arrested, stripped, flogged, and thrown in jail. That night during an earthquake, they led their jailer to Christ, then baptized him and his whole family. The next morning Paul and Silas were released and escorted out of the city by the town leaders, who were glad to see them go. It’s a strange story. It appears that Paul failed in Philippi. After all, he was in trouble almost from the moment he arrived. Where is the great church he came to establish? But from God’s point of view Paul did exactly what he should have done. He followed God’s leading–God gave more light–Paul took another step and waited for further developments. Step by step, through twists and turns and unexpected means, Paul did what God wanted him to do, even though it wasn’t what he expected to do when he arrived in town.
Doing God’s will means taking the next step–whatever it is–without a definite promise about the end result. Many times you won’t have 100% certainty; but when the moment comes to decide, you must make the best decision you can, trusting God for the results. Sometimes you’ll know more, sometimes less; but living by faith means taking the next step anyway.
Myth #3: God’s highest goal is my personal happiness
Millions of people buy into this. They believe that their happiness is God’s supreme goal for them. It sounds good, doesn’t it? “God wants me to be happy.” “God wants me to be fulfilled.” “God wants me to be successful.” That thinking has been used to justify all kinds of bizarre and even evil behaviour. Some Christian men have said, “It is God’s will that I should divorce my wife and marry another woman because we are in love, and God wants us to be happy.” The correct theological term for that is, “Rubbish!”
If your personal happiness is not God’s highest goal for you, then what is God’s will for your life? It is God’s will for you to be holy. It is God’s will for you to be like Jesus Christ. It is God’s will for you to be in a place of maximum usefulness for the kingdom of God. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 “It is God’s will that you should be holy” It refers to the life-long process whereby God shapes you, through a myriad of experiences both positive and negative, into the image of Jesus Christ. Here’s the clincher: He uses the very worst things that happen to us in order to accomplish his divine purposes in us.
Romans 8:29 “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” That is the will of God for your life. He wants you to become like Jesus Christ. Whatever makes you like Jesus is good. Whatever doesn’t make you like Jesus is bad. God is fully committed to shaping your life day by day into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Corrie Ten Boom - during World War II she was taken from her home in Holland to the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany. There she and her sister, Betsie, were held, and Betsie eventually died. Corrie Ten Boom was released just before the end of the war. In her book Tramp for the Lord—written near the end of her life—she reflects on God’s leading:
“Looking back across the years of my life, I can see the working of a divine pattern which is the way of God with His children. When I was in a prison camp in Hollandduring the war, I often prayed, “Lord, never let the enemy put me in a German concentration camp.” God answered no to that prayer. Yet in the German camp, with all its horror, I found many prisoners who had never heard of Jesus Christ. If God had not used my sister Betsie and me to bring them to Him, they would never have heard of Him. Many died, or were killed, but many died with the name of Jesus on their lips. They were well worth all our suffering. Faith is like the radar which sees through the fog—the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.”
How can going to a prison camp be the will of God? It can’t be if God’s will is that you should always be happy and comfortable. Yet going to a prison camp can be the will of God for you if it makes you more like Jesus Christ and gives you opportunities to share the love of Christ to people that would never hear it otherwise. That’s the biblical perspective.
Will God’s plan for you and me always bring immediate worldly wealth and success? No, but - God’s plan will always bring peace and joy and fulfillment. Our duty is to follow the Lord wherever he leads us. When we do that, we find a deep joy in him. The path of duty leads to a joy the world cannot match.
Myth #4: God makes his will hard to find
Many people struggle unnecessarily in this area. Perhaps they are seeking 100% certainty, or maybe they are seeking some kind of message from God–a postcard that reads, “Dear Jack, Buy the red Ferrari. Signed, God.” Or they fear that while they are watching the rugby, God will reveal his will, and they will somehow miss it. Or they worry that they have sinned too much and have blown their only chance to do God’s will.
To all these things God says, “Trust Me.” God wants you to know his will more than you want to know it. God is more committed to showing you his will than you are to discovering it. He takes full responsibility for getting you from here to there step by step. Hebrews 13:5 “Never will I leave you.” And he won’t. Psalm 32:8 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.” And he will. Matthew 28:20 “Surely I will be with you always.” And he is.
We think that God’s will is hard to find. The biblical perspective is quite different. God will reveal his will to anyone who is willing to do it. That leads me to one final thought: God ordinarily will not show you his will in order for you to consider it. He won’t show you his will so you can say, “Maybe I will … maybe I won’t. How about Plan B, Lord?” He will show you his will when he knows you are willing to do it.
“Get to know the character of God.” Nothing will sustain the children of the Lord in hard times like knowing God’s character. You don’t “learn what God is like” by going to seminary and memorizing the attributes of God. You learn what God is like in the darkness of the night, when you feel overwhelmed and burdened and full of fear and uncertainty. Learn his holiness. Exult in his mercy. Ponder his patience. Consider his ways. Meditate on his goodness. Remind yourself of his justice. Rest on his faithfulness. Linger at the foot of the cross. Memorize his promises. Pray the psalms back to him. Testify to his kindness. Declare his glory. Defend his honour. Be silent before his judgments. Get to know the Lord. Nothing matters more than this. You might even say that the whole purpose of our earthly journey is for us to get to know what God is like.
Job 23:10 “He knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” He knows the way that I take even when I don’t. He knows the way that I take even when I can’t see clearly. He knows the way that I take even when I get lost.
Looking back, we find it easy to count our blessings and to see the hand of the Lord moving on our behalf.
Even when we think we’ve arrived, we haven’t. Even when we think, “I’ve made it at last,” life suddenly changes and we take a sharp bend in the road. But the journey itself ought to be enjoyed -we should use it to learn what God is like.
“Heavenly Father, you are in charge of everything that will happen to me today–whether it be good or bad, positive or negative. Please make me thankful for everything that happens to me today. Amen.”
This prayer is powerful because it doesn’t change anything outside of me, but it does change everything inside of me. My circumstances don’t change, but my attitude does.