Knowing God’s Will: Common Myths
As I work with youth across the ISC system, I have discovered some common myths students believe or attitudes they tend to have regarding the topic of God’s will. First of all, if I were to be completely honest, I would say that the majority of the students in our schools do not even realize that God has a will for their life to begin with, yet alone spend time trying to figure out what it is. They are definitely steeping in the question of, “what should I do with my life?” And they have a general conviction that they want to make the right decision—whatever that is. But, that doesn’t necessarily trickle down to the deeper, broader question of, ”what is God’s will for my life?” That’s one group. The other group would be those students who do believe in God and that God does indeed have a will for people, but have various attitudes or misunderstandings about what “God’s will” means.
Written below is a wide range of attitudes I notice students have about God’s will, followed up with a Scriptural response.
1. Even the concept of “God” is so mysterious and cryptic to me that I don’t see any relevance to thinking about “his will for me.”
100% of the students I encounter, who do not believe in God, have a distorted idea of who God is and an inaccurate view of who they are. In many cases, when it comes to the topic God’s will, atheist students usually interpret the Christian view of God’s will as meaning that God must be cruel, unfair, highly demanding, egotistical, and power-hungry. Usually, they have either only taken snippets of what they heard a teacher or assembly speaker say and have closed off their mind to the concept of or possible existence of God or they have heard a Christian peer say things that are insensitive or inaccurate and have developed a prejudice against the idea of God and His will. Either way, I think they often have an incomplete picture of this topic. There are many great passages in Scripture to study on this topic, but one passage that just inspires me on this topic is Psalm 32.
In this scripture passage we learn that God’s view of us is just the opposite! He doesn’t want us to be robots, programmed with an algorithm to always obey Him. As David writes (or sings), He does not want us to be like a horse or mule that strays away from the master unless they are fitted with a bit and bridle. The passage seems to be saying, that through our free will, God wants us to personally choose to stay near Him even in the midst of stressful times, without “being forced.” An open and trusting relationship with Him is what He desires for all of His people. This trusting relationship begins with us coming to Him in confession of our sins and surrendering our will to Him because we realize we just don’t know what to do! In doing this, we discover that God is a hiding place for us in the midst of stress, shame, hard times, or just feeling directionless (verses 1- 7).
After our hearts are purified through confession and we are showing God that we are completely open to Him and we are trusting Him with everything (even our most vulnerable places of mistakes and shame), God’s response is so awesome—He says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.”
Only a pure heart is needed to understand the will of God. A pure heart receives His guidance and is surrounded by His steadfast love (verses 8 -11), which gives us a reason to rejoice with shouts of joy (v11).
2. If God really wanted us to know His will, he wouldn’t make it so difficult to figure out.
My response to this notion is that knowing God’s will is more like a quest than it is a vending machine. The directions we need to move forward in our journey are discovered little by little versus immediately after we input the right amount of money and press the proper code sequence. (refer to the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 & Proverbs 3:5-6)
3. I’m okay not knowing God’s will because I’m actually afraid to know what it might be.
I sometimes wonder if a lot of our students are actually afraid of God’s will because they think God might demand something of them they couldn’t possibly give or require them to go somewhere they couldn’t possibly go. Its almost as if they picture God being like the evil game-master in The Hunger Games series—entertaining Himself by constantly changing our world and watching us struggle to survive. But, Romans 8:32 (ESV) says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” God is not an evil game master—He doesn’t want us to submit to this plan just so he can take good things away from us and make us miserable. He wants to graciously give us the things we truly need, the things we didn’t know we needed, and ultimately the things that will bring us the greatest sense of personal fulfillment (i.e. the abundant life! Read John 10:10).
4. First, I want to know what God’s will is, so I can decide whether or not I want to do it.
These are the students straddling the fence. They can’t decide how committed they want to be with their faith. On one hand, it isn’t unreasonable to want to “count the cost.” Jesus himself encouraged people to count the cost and even said, “Being my disciple will cost you everything” (Luke 14:25-33). He also said, essentially, that not being his disciple will cost you even more! (Matthew 16:24-25) And then later, “What good is a man if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul?” (Mark 8:36-38). In my own personal journey with Christ, I have discovered the hard way that unless I surrender my will to His will completely, I won’t experience the full-joy and deep satisfaction that comes with trusting God. We just can’t do part of God’s will and disregard the rest and expect to feel successful. Making decisions like this indicates our distrust of God, and still carries hints of rebellion and resistance toward Him.
5. I’m okay not knowing God’s will because I probably wouldn’t be able to achieve it anyway and it’s too stressful to think about what the consequences might be if I fail.
I think this is an area student’s parent-pleasing or teacher-pleasing mentalities slip over into their spiritual formation and their view of God. They think they need to do what is expected of them and achieve perfect performance in order to feel good about themselves or maintain a good relationship with the authorities over them. But, Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us that Jesus is our great high priest who is able to sympathize with us in our weakness. He invites us to approach His “throne of grace” where we receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. I don’t get the sense that God demands our perfection from this passage. I do get the sense that God desires us to approach Him when we have needs, to establish a close relationship with Him, and to be assured that He understands what we’re going through and wants to help.
Our students need to be taught that we’re not putting our faith in our ability to hear God correctly, but rather in the God who graciously and repeatedly makes His will known to us.
Secondly, our students need to be taught that we’re not putting our faith in our ability to hear God correctly, but rather in the God who graciously and repeatedly makes His will known to us. By His grace, we get more than one chance!
6. I’ll just to whatever seems right to me and if it works out, it must be God’s will for me!
I hear this thought pattern more than any other. It is the belief that my heart’s desire confirmed by success = God’s will. But, we should just call this out for what it is: some sort of retroactive labeling of God’s will that enables us to avoid responsibility. Granted, there are times when we look back at our past and realize God had a plan for certain situations that we didn’t realize in that moment. But, this is different. This is attributing inappropriate things to being God’s will. It is doing whatever seems “right” for you, with no regard for seeking God’s will throughout the entire decision-making process, then stamping God’s name on the outcome because that’s what people want to hear, right?
The majority of our students do not have the slightest clue about how to navigate this tricky transitional phase of life and overall, I think their lack of understanding in this area generates a real sense of fear, frustration, and intense pressure to just figure it out and get it right the first time! At the same time, their emotions and behavioral responses attest to the fact that a lot of our teens really are thinking about this topic and have a lot of serious questions about who they are, what they should do in the future, and for some, what God’s role is in the big picture. I think it is easy for us as adults to forget the raw emotions we ourselves experienced when we were in that phase of life and we can sometimes be prone to dismiss the pressure and urgency many students are feeling day in and day out. But, the anxiety they have related to this topic is very real and it actually presents our students with an opportunity to encounter the identity freeing, life directing, Gospel.
QUESTIONS TO DISCUSS WITH STUDENTS
1. If “Knowing God’s Will” were a piece of candy, what candy would it be and why?
2. Do you see aspects of your own thought patterns in any of these attitudes presented here?
3. What other attitudes or misconceptions of God’s will do you think exist among teens?
4. What would help teens that are interested in this topic to seek God more for direction and guidance in their life?
5. What could be done to help teens better understand the topic of “knowing God’s will?”