Decisions, decisions—life is filled with decisions. And few things are more frustrating than the daily barrage of inconsequential questions that require a decision. They start as soon as you pry your eyes open and plant your feet on the floor in the morning. What clothes will you put on? What will you prepare for breakfast? Should you pack lunches for the kids or give them money to buy their lunches? (You don’t like the hassle of packing them and you don’t have enough money to buy them every day.)
Should you drive the car to work or take the bus? If you drive, should you offer to take your neighbor with you or should you drive alone? (You need the car pool money but you don’t like to waste the time and fight the extra traffic involved in dropping him off and picking him up again after work.) Should you accept that invitation to dinner for tomorrow night—the one you’ve been waiting for so long—or should you go to the open house at your child’s school?
And young people are not immune from the struggle of daily decisions. Jack is trying to decide whether to invite Jeannie or Joannie to the big banquet. Jeannie is wondering whether to accept Jack’s invitation or wait for a better one. Soon the decisions get more difficult. Should you date each other again and start getting serious? Could you be meant for each other for life? Should you plan to marry at all?
Then there’s the matter of education. What courses shall you take in high school? Shall you plan to go to college? If so, where? What should be your major? What vocation should you prepare for? How will you find a job? Where will you live? What about the possibility of a Christian service career? Some of the most momentous decisions in life are made by the time we reach our early twenties.
Then just when we think everything is settled and all our major decisions are over for awhile, suddenly we are faced with things like the purchase of a new house, or the possibility of a different job, or a major relocation to another part of the country, or the biggest business deal of our lives, or the question of having another child.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone with us all the time who knew the right thing to do in every situation and who would tell us how to decide? Well, we do! He doesn’t whisper in our ear and say, “Don’t buy that car; it’s a piece of junk,” nor does he shout, “Join that church; it’s the best in town.” But he is there, and he does care about every detail of our lives, and he is willing to give us advice about anything we want to know.
Nearly everybody is looking for guidance of some kind, and there are many places to turn for help in this old world. There are horoscopes, fortune tellers, palm readers, and spiritist mediums—all of which the Scriptures unequivocably condemn.27 There are also professional counseling centers and guidance clinics of every shade and description, some of which are helpful and some of which are not.
It’s good to know that our primary source of guidance as Christians is the God who not only knows the future but can do something about it. In fact, the Scripture says that we live in his world. He made it, he holds it together, he’s in charge of it, he’s interested in everything about it, and he controls every circumstance in it.
The Apostle Paul gave us a profound insight into this magnificent truth about God when he referred to him as the one “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”28 Two words in this verse help us understand the subject of God’s will. The first is counsel (boule). This boule involves a careful deliberation leading to a firm plan and purpose. Nobody can thwart God’s counsel, his sovereign design or decree. Because he is God, he cannot ultimately be defeated. And Paul says that God is continually working every detail in his universe toward the eventual accomplishment of his invincible plan. He will use every happening in fulfilling his purposes.29 Those purposes are unchangeable30 and irresistible.31 For example, God shall surely defeat Satan, destroy sin, establish his righteous rule on earth, and be glorified in his redeemed ones throughout eternity. Nothing can stop him.
But Paul said God’s counsel is derived from his will. He calls it “the counsel of his own will” (thelema), a more general word referring to God’s wants, his wishes, his desires. Thelema is the most common word for God’s will in the New Testament. It is important to understand that it involves not his determinative decisions, as the previous word did, but his desires for us, what he wishes for us. When we speak of God’s will or God’s plan for our lives we are normally alluding to what he wants us to do, not what he has decided we will do. “God’s plan” may mean his counsel, his irresistible decisions, his ultimate program; but it can also refer to his desires for us, and that is the way we are using “God’s plan” in this book.
While God will work every event in time toward the ultimate fulfillment of his purposes, and while everything he decides to do grows out of his wishes, he does not necessarily bring to pass everything he desires. He does not force his wants and wishes on us, nor does he violate the volition he created in us.
For instance, God would like everybody to be saved. That is his desire, his will. He said so.32 But he will not coerce everyone to accept his gracious offer of forgiveness and life. Many will refuse it to their own eternal destruction.33
Furthermore, God would like all believers to carry out his wishes for their lives, to find and follow his plan for them, and he sometimes seems to arrange our circumstances in such a manner as to help us want to do his will. But he never forces it on us. It’s still our decision to make. We can thwart his will if we so desire.
And because so many believers and unbelievers alike are resisting God’s will and rejecting his plan, there is a great deal of needless pain and suffering in the world. We endure not only the consequences of our own rebelliousness, but often also the widespread results of the sins of other individuals and of nations.
Yet through it all this one remarkable truth stands unshaken: God will use “all things”—every circumstance whether happy or heart-rending, every detail of every person’s life, every move of every nation on earth, every sin as well as every act of obedience, absolutely everything—to accomplish his own ultimate purposes. Our God is in charge of everything.
If God is the God of “all things,” then it follows logically that he cares about everything in our lives. In other words, his plan for us includes every detail of daily living. That’s a revolutionary concept to some people and it usually stirs up some lively debate. “Do you mean to tell me that God cares about what color socks I put on in the morning?” That is exactly what I mean. But wait just a minute! Please don’t throw this book down in disgust yet. Hear me out. And begin by looking at the Word of God. The evidence is overwhelming.
“The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.”34 God is interested in things as small and insignificant as when we go out and when we come in, and he is watching over us in either case. As one thought-provoking Psalm says, “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit or stand. When far away you know my every thought. You chart the path ahead of me, and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment, you know where I am. You know what I am going to say before I even say it. You both precede and follow me, and place your hand of blessing on my head.”35
God cares about when we sit down and when we stand up, and that isn’t one of the more momentous issues of life, is it? When we take a walk he is right beside us each step of the way, and he even cares about where we stop to rest and every word we speak. Job said that he even counts our steps.36 The prophet Isaiah put it like this: “And the Lord will guide you continually.”37 His direction is available all the time and for everything.
Listen to the Lord Jesus: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”38
If God cares about little two-for-a-penny sparrows, he certainly cares about every detail in our lives. His care is so exact that it includes a running count of the number of hairs on our heads. Now that may be a very grave issue to the fellow who has only two or three left, but for most folks it would fall into the same general category as the color of their socks, or what they’re going to cook for dinner, or when they’re going to find time to wash the car. You see, God is interested in everything.
The Apostle Paul adds his inspired testimony. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”39 Paul takes for granted that we know this, but I find that many Christians don’t. They are convinced that some circumstances in their lives are out of God’s control, that he doesn’t care about their predicament, if he even knows about it at all. That God will work it all out for good seems to be the farthest thing from their minds. But he can, and he will, and that goes for “all things”—every particular in our lives.
“All right, I’m convinced,” you say. “I believe God is interested in every detail of my life. Now does that mean that I have to worry about which pair of socks he wants me to put on in the morning?”
No, certainly not. That would be oppression and bondage. God doesn’t want us to worry about anything, much less something so insignificant. He wants us to live in the joyous freedom of his Holy Spirit. Wondering whether we have carried out God’s plan in every trivial non-moral matter could drive us to a padded cell, and unfortunately some folks have taken that route to emotional disaster. God allows us the privilege of expressing our own preferences in matters like that. He is pleased to include this freedom of choice in his plan for us.
What then are the implications of the all-inclusiveness of God’s plan?
Let’s allow Solomon to explain it in what probably ranks as the all-time favorite passage on the will of God. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”40
Look again at those six words in the middle of the promise: “In all your ways acknowledge Him.” We sometimes skip over that part so hurriedly that we miss its true import. To acknowledge him is literally to take notice of him, to consider him, to be conscious of his presence, to be aware that he is right there with us.
And how often are we to recognize God’s nearness? In all our ways, in every activity of life, large or small. God wants us to consider him all the time, in everything. It isn’t a matter of wondering or worrying about what he wants us to do. It’s simply being constantly cognizant that the eternal God of the universe lives in our bodies through his indwelling Spirit, that he is interested in every detail of our lives, and that he wants to control us completely. From that point on, the guidance is guaranteed. He promises that he will direct our paths.
Suppose you really can’t make up your mind about a decision as trifling as the clothes you put on in the morning. What should you do about it? I would suggest that you mention it to your Friend—the one who is with you all the time, who cares about everything in your life, who has promised to give you advice about anything you need to know.
Now here’s where I get more raised eyebrows. “Do you mean I should bother God about silly little things like socks?” That’s exactly what the Apostle Paul told us to do. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”41 Talk to him about it and he will give you a settled inner peace.
Notice again, please, how many things God invites us to talk over with him. Everything! God has an open door policy. Because he wants us not to worry about all those little decisions, he makes himself available to us all the time. He’s ready to listen and help us with the smallest matters. And he’s always on the job. He doesn’t even take time out to sleep.42 He wants us to cultivate the habit of taking all of our problems to him anytime we please.
Just in case you are still a little doubtful, Peter added this inspired testimony: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”43
Many Christians seem to think that God is interested only in the big issues of life such as marriage, vocation, and geographical location. They run to God for guidance whenever they face a crucial decision at a major crossroads in their lives, but ignore him the rest of the time.
We may miss some of the most exciting events in God’s plan for our lives unless we develop a new way of life, a new mind-set that says, “Lord, I acknowledge that you are with me and interested in everything I do. How do you want me to live today? Guide every step I take.”
Listen to Paul’s fervent prayer for the Colossians. “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”44
That prayer can be answered in our lives as well as in theirs. We can please God in every way. Every minute detail can be exactly what he desires. Acknowledge him in everything . Share everything with him. Let him be a part of all you do. If we hope to find God’s direction in the critical choices of life, we need to acknowledge him now in the commonplace.
29 Cf. Psalm 76:10
30 Cf. Hebrews 6:17
31 Cf. Romans 9:19; Boulema, a related word translated “will” in KJV.
35 Psalm 139:1-5 (TLB)
36 Job 31:4
37 Isaiah 58:11 (TLB)
40 Proverbs 3:5, 6 (Berkeley)
42 Cf. Psalm 121:4