There was a time when I thought I was required to consult God every time I selected a parking space. At other times, I have made nearly all my decisions from a worldly point of view, not deliberately, but as a consequence of having fallen into the habit of neglecting to pray and ask, “what would Jesus do?” Over the years, I have traversed the entire spectrum from permissive to robotic.
I can try to discern God’s will in every decision, pray about dinner choices, etc., but at the end of the day, I still have to sweat out many of these issues. Whether that is because I’m less able to hear God’s voice than the next Christian, I don’t know. But there are a hundred unresolved questions in my life — what kind of jobs to take, which movies to watch, which music artists to avoid, people to spend time with, churches to attend, etc.
It would be easier if God made all my decisions for me, but he doesn’t. I have to proceed on limited information, the exhortations in Scripture, the counsel of others and what my spirit is telling me. It’s all a very nebulous, squishy business. I’m certain that I sometimes feel misgivings even when I’ve done nothing wrong.
I like structure. I like knowing what I’m doing and exactly how I’m going to do it. I hate uncertainty. I would be happy if, every morning after I got up from prayer, I found a fresh itinerary at the foot of the bed. I don’t deal well having my plans shot down by unknowns, especially when my intentions are good.
Maybe it’s true what I’ve heard said so often, “God looks on the heart.” And perhaps the most important thing by a country mile is to want to stay tethered in God’s will — an obedient heart. That, of course, presents its challenges. I don’t even really know my own heart. Many of us can quote Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?” But I can remember countless times after having absorbed this truth, when I have talked myself into disastrous, self-destructive choices just to satisfy some visceral craving. The hedonist in my heart has a way of roping in my mind to create plausible cover stories.
The worst part is that many choices are truly gray areas. There is sometimes no way of knowing whether I am serving selfish ambitions or desires. The thing I’m reaching for is so often a mixed bag, containing noble elements but still a product of my own designs. Conversely, I can worry about God-inspired pursuits when they are satisfying and advance my own interests. There seems to be no foolproof way to discern God’s plans from mine. What God wants is for us to refuse to make our gain or pleasure the priority at the expense of his commands and the good of others. Surrender is not an event, but a process. It plays out, of course, in a hundred seemingly insignificant choices a day but also in my daily attitude. The best thing I can do is tell myself each morning: I belong to the Lord, and I want to do his will, not my own.