The following is an excerpt from Francis Chan’s book Forgotten God. He addresses a question that many of us have struggled with and clarifies why few of us have ever received God’s answer.
How many times have you heard someone say, “I just wish I knew God’s will for my life”? I know I’ve longed for this before. But now I see it as a misguided way of thinking and talking.
There are very few people in the scripture who received their life plan from God in advance (or even their five-year plan, for that matter!). Consider Abraham, who was told to pick up his family and all his possessions and start walking. He didn’t know where he was going. He didn’t know if he would ever be back. He didn’t know any of the details we consider vital (e.g., his destination, how long the venture would take, what the costs / rewards would be). God said to go and he went, and that’s pretty much all he knew.
I think a lot of us need to forget about God’s will for our life. God cares more about our response to his Spirit’s leading today, in this moment, then about what we intend to do next year. In fact, the decisions we make next year will be profoundly affected by the degree to which we submit to the Spirit right now, in today’s decisions.
It is easy to use the phrase “God’s will for my life” as an excuse for inaction or even disobedience. It’s much less demanding to think about God’s will for our future than it is to ask him what He wants you to do in the next 10 minutes. It’s safer to commit to following Him someday instead of this day. To be honest, I believe part of the desire to “know God’s will for my life” is birthed in fear and results in paralysis. We are scared to make mistakes, so we fret over figuring out God’s will. We wonder what living according to His will would actually look and feel like, and we are scared to find out. We forget that we were never promised a 20-year plan of action; Instead, God promises multiple times in scripture never to leave or forsake us.
God wants us to listen to his Holy Spirit on a daily basis, and even throughout the day, as difficult and growth moments arise, and in the midst of the mundane. My hope is that instead of searching for “God’s will for my life,” each of us would learn to seek hard after “the Spirit’s leading in my life today.” May we learn to pray for an open and willing heart, to surrender to the Spirit’s leading with that friend, child, spouse, circumstance, or decision in our lives right now.
Walking with the Spirit
To say that we are not called to figure out “God’s will for my life” does not mean God doesn’t have purposes and plans for us in our lives or that he doesn’t care what we do with our lives. He does. In both the Old and New Testament, He tells us that this is true. The key is that He never promises to reveal these purposes all at once, in advance.
We do know that we are called to keep in step with the Holy Spirit. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians we read, “but I say, walk by the spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh… if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (5: 6, 25).
Nowhere in Scripture do I see a “balanced life with a little bit of God added in” as an ideal for us to emulate. Yet when I look at our churches, this is exactly what I see; a lot of people who have added Jesus to their lives. People who have, in a sense, asked him to join them in their life journey, to follow them wherever they feel they should go, rather than following Him as we are commanded. The God of the universe is not something we can just add to our lives and keep on as we did before. The Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is not someone we can just call on when we want a little extra power in our lives. Jesus Christ did not die in order to follow us. He died and rose again so that we could forget everything else and follow Him to the cross, to true Life.
How have You Changed?
When people give their lives to God in exchange for a ticket out of hell, there is often no turning or change of direction, which is the definition of repentance. If all you want is a little Jesus to “spiritualize” your life, a little extra God to keep you out of hell, you are missing out on the fullness of life you were created for.
Not only this, you don’t need the Holy Spirit. You don’t need the Holy Spirit if you are merely seeking to live a semi-moral life and attend church regularly. You only need the Holy Spirit’s guidance and help if you truly want to follow the Way of Jesus Christ.
If you truly believe and have turned from the way you were headed and joined a different Way of living, then you desperately need the Holy Spirit. You know you cannot live this Way without the Spirit in you.
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It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5)
And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:27)
First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. (Acts 26:20)
Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, (2 Timothy 2:25)
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4)
Forgotten God by Francis Chan with Danae Yankoski