“God has a plan for your life.” Those who say this mean that God has a specific destiny for you that you must find and fulfil, like Frodo going to destroy the One Ring. Then once this idea has been handed to us we’re left to run with it as well as ask the inevitable questions: how do we discover God’s plan for us? What if we miss it: must we make do with second best? Will that person go to Hell because we didn’t fulfil God’s plan for us?

The issue that precedes these questions is, how do we know God’s will? We strive to know what career God wants us to go into, who God wants us to marry, where God wants us to live … and that’s about it. But if God has a plan for us, how far does that plan extend? To the type of car we drive? The company we work for? How much we spend on holidays and gifts and luxuries? The names of our children? Jocks or boxers? What socks should we wear?

Going to this extent seems ridiculous, but it is logically consistent. If God has a plan for us we want to discover as much of it as possible. Whom we marry is an important decision, but can we say that world-shattering events haven’t been affected by a pair of socks? However, if we don’t pray about everything in this way, what do we ask God about? If we put every kind of decision we make on a continuum from “unimportant” to “very important”, where is the cut-off point after which we no longer need to seek God’s will? A topic that one person sees as important, another may consider to be peripheral: where we live, for example. Whose opinion do we listen to about which topics are important enough to seek God’s will? Naturally we should seek to know what God thinks about it but I haven’t found a verse in the Bible where God sets such a cut-off point – and there is such a thing as common sense.

There is also the fact that living in a wealthy society, most of us have choices that people in Bible times didn’t, such as having more than one pair of shoes, what colour to paint the interior of your house (face brick), being able to choose a career (usually you’d learn your father’s trade) or who you’d marry (this was arranged) or where you’d go to temple or synagogue. There was probably only one per town.

Nevertheless, we can know certain things about what God wants for us. There is an excellent book that’s been out for many years now called Decision making and the will of God by Garry Friesen and Robin … his last name eludes me at the moment. They assert that as God is all-powerful and all-knowing, no one can go beyond His sovereign will but as we can choose to obey or disobey God, we can go outside His moral will. As far as knowing God’s moral will, He makes it reasonably plain in the Bible what He expects from us.

Yes, yes, all this moral stuff is self-evident – but what about God’s will for me personally? God had a plan for Jesus and Paul and Moses and company, so what about me? God even said to Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

We extrapolate these words and apply the concept to ourselves; we infer that God has a specific plan and mission for us. What convinces us further are these words:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

In its historical context this promise applies to the people of Judah who have been sent into exile in Babylon (v.4), not to us who live in the 21st century, so on the face of it we can’t apply this promise of God to ourselves. As for God’s call to Paul and company, they were given vital roles in salvation history: God used their experiences as examples for us, as Paul says in Romans:

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

The same is said in the letter to the Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)

Aha! “the race marked out for us”. So God has marked out a race for us to run. He has a plan for me! Yes; and? Like every other word in the Bible, Hebrews was written for us but not to us. It was written to a group Jews who were being tempted to give up on their faith in Christ because of persecution. “The race” is to stay faithful to Christ: it is the theme of the letter. Some of the “great cloud of witnesses” have been mentioned in the previous chapter as instances of people who trusted God despite their circumstances: this was their race, just as it is ours. The verse says nothing about God having a specific plan for us as individuals.

However, more than just morality, God does have a plan for us and He tells us what it is:

And he made known to us the mystery of his will … to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (Ephesians 1:9-10)

And we do have a vital role in salvation history:

go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)

The word translated “go” is a participle in the Greek, the language in which the New Testament came to us. A participle is what we might call a “nerb”: it has characteristics of both a noun and a verb. The main verb in the sentence is “make disciples”. When a participle and a verb are in the same sentence, the verb is primary, the participle secondary. The important thought is “make disciples”. The participle “go” shows how, when or where they are to make disciples. In other words, wherever you are, whatever you do, in whatever circumstances you find yourself, we are to seek to make others trust and therefore follow Jesus.

(And lest you think to hoist me with my own petard, I’m aware that Jesus spoke this to the disciples, so we must be careful before we appropriate His command to ourselves; however, this command is given to the disciples of Christ in many other places in the New Testament as an ongoing action until “the end of the age” when Jesus returns.)

Teach your grandmother to suck eggs. I want to know, How does this apply to me specifically? Where does God want me to be a witness? Again, this is a secondary issue: we are witnesses, ambassadors, for Christ wherever we are.

That answer may be no comfort at all but I think that our insistence on trying to know where God wants us – even that God does have a specific plan for us – may be evidence that we’re too egocentric. It’s natural to want to be significant: God made us to do great things (but great doesn’t mean earth-shattering or famous or popular). Yes, God even numbers the hairs on our head and loves us more than we love ourselves. He tells us to pray to Him because He cares for us. But God’s primary concern is that He is to be worshipped and loved as Lord of all – the Father, the Christ and the Spirit of Holiness. (This might seem egocentric or even hypocritical on His part but as He is the source and goal of all life and joy, it is right and proper. Even more, consider the Cross and ask again, egocentric?) Parents also care about the feelings of their children but the health of the family means that what the children so desperately want may not be good for them, even if they think it is. A child’s perspective isn’t as wide as their parents’.

Perhaps we think that God has a specific plan for each person because we see the instances of this in the Bible and we imagine that there is only a limited way that God can achieve His purposes: the billions of people in existence, with their desires and thoughts and conflicting purposes, are be enough for God to handle, surely? This limits God unnecessarily: after all, He created everything, every spark and speck of energy and matter and He is sovereign over everything. I’m sure He’s big enough to let us do what we want and still have events turn out as He planned.

Quantum physics theorises about the existence of other universes, where every possible choice is made and every possibility played out in history. (This I think is called the multiple-worlds hypothesis. There are one or two other suggestions along this line, including the Copenhagen theory.) So when you had a choice whether or not to eat that last piece of pie, in this universe you did but another universe came into being in which you didn’t. This of course would mean that there is a gargantuan amount of universes being created with every decision made. I personally doubt the existence of such universes but the point is that God knows every choice we could have made and how every possibility could have played out, and is nonetheless still in control of everything. This means that God has many ways to achieve His plans, so He doesn’t necessarily have a specific plan for each of us – but it doesn’t mean he hasn’t, either.

So we are more or less back to where we began; a little wiser, a little more irritated (not frustrated though because we have made some progress). This is the dance called the hermeneutical spiral: observe the evidence; make a theory; test the theory by observing the evidence; refine the theory; test the theory by observing the evidence; refine the theory … and get closer to the truth, however slightly.

If you want to throw up your hands in despair, as I tend to do (except the throwing my hands up), then do what Aurelius Augustine suggested: Love God and do what you like.

copyright Troy Grisgonelle 2008.