When I graduated from high school, I had every intention of becoming a veterinarian. I thought a bit about a medical career, but given that I like animals more than people, I decided in favor of veterinarian medicine. But while in college I was preaching a good bit and was asked by a local preacher to help with such duties in a congregation outside of Tampa. After the better part of a year, I decided that I would probably end up preaching whether or not I became a vet, so I changed my major to something I thought might help me more and determined to give my life to that pursuit. And it is not uncommon when I first meet someone for them to ask me about my decision to preach, often phrasing the question in these terms: “When/How did you get your calling?” I’ve always found that an interesting question because it belies some concepts and conclusions about how God works. Preaching is not a normal “job” (though some men approach it as such), but rather a life. And many people recognize that and assume that those who would choose to live such a life have received some special sign or inclination or communication from God Himself. And it’s somewhat humorous to note the reaction of some folks when I reply, “I didn’t receive some call. I simply decided that’s what I needed to do with my life.” They almost act disappointed that I don’t have a good “God moved me” story.
I firmly believe in the power of God, and that He exercises His will upon the universe. I believe that He has, at times, interrupted the normal laws which govern this world and performed supernatural activities – wonders, miracles, signs. The Bible account is full of His power being manifested in order to accomplish some particular goal or in order to confirm His will being revealed (note the exodus account or the signs offered to confirm the identity of Jesus). I do not believe that He acts in this way in the present age, and I believe that the New Testament affirms this truth (study the purpose of miracles – Mk.16.20; Heb.2.3-4 – and the comments of 1 Cor.13.8f). But I do believe that He has the power to act in this world through providential means, that is, accomplishing His will without superseding any recognizable law of nature and without violating the free will of anyone. A Being Who is omniscient and omnipotent, knowing beforehand what men will do, has the capacity to bring about His determinations without the need of miraculous intervention. Thus, when we are told to pray to God regarding our daily needs or for deliverance from temptation (Mt.6.9-13), He can provide for such without the need for bread from stones or exorcisms. But providence is a hard concept to appreciate, because we can never know if God is acting unless He has told us so. Thus, people often draw conclusions that are not in evidence, and then extrapolate theories about God’s will and God’s ways that are completely un-Biblical.
There is a troubling sentiment that seems to have pervaded the thinking of the general “Christian” world of our day, namely that “God has a plan for me.” I’ve run across the idea repeatedly of late, though it is nothing new to the thinking of the modern evangelical adherent. Many people who believe in Jesus have accepted the idea that, somehow or another, God has mapped out a course for every individual and that such a blueprint accounts for every little activity, decision, and circumstance in one’s life. And then every day’s events are filtered through the lens that “this is God’s will.” When good things happen, God is blessing me. When bad things happen, Rom.8.28 is taken out of its context and perverted to affirm that “God has something good that will come of this.” I have already affirmed that I do believe in providence and that prayer would be useless without it, but I cannot find any Biblical reference that supports the idea that “God has a plan for me.” I do not deny that God has had a plan for some men. He employed men like Abraham and Joseph and Moses and Pharaoh and David and Nebuchadnezzar and John the Baptist and Jesus and Paul in order to advance, fulfill, and reveal His scheme for man’s redemption. And such certainly raises the possibility that God might put certain men in certain places in this world with the expectation that they will be an influence in the furthering of His determinations. But the New Testament no where affirms that such is the case for every believer. In fact, the idea that God is a puppet master in the life of each supposed follower can have devastating implications. I heard a “preacher” recently raise this question – “What do I do if the life God promised me is not the life God has given me?” Wait a minute. If God promised me a life and then didn’t give it, doesn’t that make God a liar? And thus unholy? And thus imperfect? And thus not at all the God revealed in scripture?
In truth, there are serious repercussions to the “personal blueprint” concept about God’s activity. If I can’t find “God’s purpose/plan for me” then have I somehow failed Him? Or maybe He didn’t properly reveal it and He has failed me? Perhaps my faith is somehow lacking or defective. Maybe I’m just too weak or ignorant to really serve God because I can’t “find my place”? What if the pursuit of “God’s plan for me” leaves me confused or frustrated because He’s not revealing things or moving me or guiding me or speaking to me. What if I don’t get the gifts and signs and tongues and dreams and emotions and feelings that I’m supposed to get? Is it me? Is it Him? Do I quit? Where do I go for my answers? To the televangelist or local pastor who has everyone convinced that God is talking to him (while he rakes in the dough and advances the show)? What do I do when I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do?
The Bible tells us what God’s plan is for us. He wants us to put our trust in Jesus (Rom.10.8-13) and sacrifice ourselves to His service (Rom.12.1-2). His plan for me is that I get up every day and live my life as a child of God and disciple of Jesus (Eph.4.17f; Col.3:1f). He wants us to be holy (1 Pet.1.13f) and godly (Tit.2.11f). Can I be useful to God? Certainly. Can I be a force for good? Without a doubt. Does God hear my prayers and care for me? He says He does (1 Pet.3.10f; 5.5f). I don’t know what will come my way in life – joy, pain, tragedy, success. But as a follower of Jesus, I don’t have to have God pulling the strings. He died for me and saved me. The faithfulness, service, sacrifice, and gratitude are my privilege. I’ll try to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him. Wherever that takes me will be fine.