I am at a crossroads in life. What’s next? Where am I going? What am I going to do next? More school or go to work? This job or that job? Marriage? How many kids? These are the types of questions that make your head hurt! Where do I turn? So much indecision and uncertainty! How can I know what path to take? What’s God’s will for my life? Does the Bible speak to these things? Yes, it does. Indirectly, but it does. God does have a will and a purpose for each of our lives, and we can know it.
The first thing we need to understand is that there are two types of will. There is God’s decretive will and there is his desire. God’s decretive will is his providential decree. It is what he has determined will happen from all eternity. An example of this is found in Daniel 4:24: “This is the decree of the most high,” where Daniel pronounces God’s judgment on Nebuchadnezzar.
Although this first type of will is certainly going to happen, it doesn’t assist us in figuring out what path we are to take on our earthly journey. This leads us to the second type of God’s will, his desire. This can be described as what God wants us to do. He has given us the ten commandments, and he wants us to follow those. We face a choice concerning our desires. Just aswhen Joshua said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (24:15), so we too must choose daily to follow the path laid out for us in the ten commandments.
Regarding God’s desire, how do we find out what God’s desire (will) is in our lives? Are we going to find it in the world? Does God make himself known in the institutions of men? Will we be able to find it in secular writings? No, we must be connected to God in order to know what he desires for our life. It is impossible to find God’s will apart from the Bible. There is great value in his word. It is in scripture that we find written, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Determining God’s will in our lives is always connected to his word.
In the Bible we find wisdom. Isn’t this what we are really seeking? We are looking for wisdom in our life, looking to make the right decision. So what is wisdom? Wisdom is the opposite of foolishness. It is not found in philosophy or in the world. A good working definition of wisdom we can use is “the proper apprehension of and adaptation of one’s self to reality.”[i]We need to grasp reality clearly in our minds and then act according to it.
In order to grasp reality clearly we need to have a proper view of it. We need to understand reality. We need to put all the pieces together in the right way, similar to a puzzle. This is difficult, but it can be done through the lens of God’s scripture. God shows us the way things really are in his word, and we see these things properly and understand them rightly only when viewed through the spectacles of scripture.
In order to have this understanding we must be knowledgeable. Knowledge is a set of facts. We can spend our time on all kinds of subjects that are quite useless, gaining knowledge about things that do us no good with respect to knowing the direction God would have us go, but we are called to study the creation and his word in order to grow. One simple fact is that God created Adam and Eve. We know this because we study the Bible. The world might tell us about evolution, but that’s not truth. Knowledge, which is connected to the truth, is found in the Bible.
When we gain a set of facts, we can put them together in a way that makes sense, a way that is according to the principles given in God’s word. Only then, with knowledge based on his word, can we have a right understanding. In turn, only with this understanding can we apply our hearts to wisdom. Finally, only with this type of wisdom will we act in accordance with reality.
So how does one do this? How can I obtain these three most important virtues of life: knowledge, understanding, and then wisdom?
The first thing we must do is be willing to work. These virtues are not obtained by osmosis. They are not obtained through laziness or sluggishness. We must be willing to apply ourselves in the good and busy work of study. Isn’t this part of what the apostle Paul means in Philippians 2:12: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”? He means there is a certain work that we must take up. We work; God leads, guides, and blesses our work. Only in the way of our working and being faithful to his word will we be blessed with his wisdom.
This work is in particular a being busy with personal study of the Bible. What does study look like? Is study opening up the Bible to a random page, putting your finger in, and expecting an answer at that spot? Of course not; you could potentially justify anything that way by taking it out of context. Is personal study a real quick sit down and expect an answer? No, it is more than that. To study the Bible means to set all aside and treat scripture as if it is the most important thing in our life—because it is. We sit in a quiet place, open the Bible, and read with our minds open, ready to receive what God has to say to us.
Where does one start looking in the Bible? Does your Bible have an index? Start there. Look up a key word. For example, in connection with dating you might look up marriage or wedding. A few of the passages you run across might be the marriage feast in Matthew 22, the wedding at Cana, or Proverbs 31. With these passages you will be off to a good start.
Let’s face it: some passages are difficult, so how can we better understand their meanings? Is the best way to Google it? Certainly you will gain some sort of understanding, but maybe not the right one. When struggling to understand a passage, find a good, trustworthy commentary. Read it slowly, consider what it says, and pray with that in mind.
A second way to gain understanding of a passage will be to ask others. Whom will you ask? You will want to ask those with experience, with wisdom, those who care for you, those who will be honest with you, and those who love you so much they will hurt your feelings for your own good. You should ask your parents, your pastor, the elders in your church. These are the ones who have been, who are, and who will continue to look out for you and your needs.
Another thing you gain by asking others is that as you explain your situation to them and they gain a better understanding of it, they will ask questions of you. “Did you think of this possibility?” Or, “What will you do if the situation turns out this way?” These questions give you another opinion, another set of eyes, another viewpoint. Others’ experience helps you think ahead and see how a situation might play out in ways that you might not necessarily anticipate. When we speak with those who are older, we have the benefit of their experience of life. The fact that they have been around longer means that they have been through many more situations.
Truly this is what is meant when Solomon says in Proverbs 11:14, “In the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” In this verse the Holy Spirit through Solomon gives practical advice on speaking with others and shows us the benefits of doing that.
This experience is compounded for the better because when you ask parents or teachers, you have the benefit of someone who knows you and your character. They have watched you grow up. They see you for who you really are and will give advice accordingly. All of us are made different, so the solution may not be the same for every problem each of us encounter.
The final thing that we should be doing is praying. We must be praying throughout the whole process. Lord’s Day 45 of the Heidelberg Catechism states that prayer is necessary because only through prayer will God give his grace and Holy Spirit.[ii] Prayer takes our needs before the throne of God’s grace, whereby we confess by our actions that he is Lord and sovereign over all. We actively seek his blessing on our lives. We connect with him. We thank him throughout the process. When children of the Father come before him with humble hearts, asking, seeking, and knocking, they will be blessed by receiving, finding, and being answered.
A couple of questions arise at this point. The first is, after a long search, how do you know that you have found his will? How can you be totally, one hundred percent confident? Confidence comes as the answer to much prayer. When we pray we can be assured that the answer will come. With the answer will come peace. Jesus says in John 14:27, “My peace I give unto you.” God will give us his peace.
What if you aren’t at peace? What if you haven’t obtained peace through this process? If you haven’t found peace, then first repeat the process. Talk to a few more people, search the scriptures more, listen to another sermon, and pray—and pray, pray, pray, and pray: bleed before God in prayer. Pour out your soul to him in prayer. Does not James 5:16 say that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”? Continue to pray; God will answer.
The other thing to remember about not being at peace is that we must consider our conscience. If we are not at peace, we should never move forward in that area of life while violating our conscience. Our conscience is the witness of the Holy Spirit in our minds of the truth of God’s word. Though we may not understand it at the moment of the decision, though we may not have it in the front of our minds at the time, a troubled conscience is the Holy Spirit taking the words of the Bible that we have heard somewhere in the past, whether from our studies, our devotions, a sermon, or a commentary, and bearing witness to those words in our minds so that we are not at peace. “Something just isn’t right about this,” we often say. We know the truth but can’t put our finger on it. We should never violate our conscience.
The second question that comes to mind is, after a long search, what if I never find the answer? What if I am still not at peace? What if peace never comes? Though a difficult question, what we are doing is complaining about God’s timing. How many times do I want an answer, and I want it right now. Doesn’t the internet itself condition us to that response? With worlds full of information at our fingertips, we so easily become impatient. God has his timing.
Recall the words found in Lord’s Day 49: “Grant that we and all men may renounce our own will, and without murmuring obey thy will.”[iii] Included in God’s will is timing. God will reveal his will, but only when he desires to do so. Consider how many believers in the Old Testament were looking for the promised one to appear, but they died without seeing him. Then one day when God was ready, in God’s timing, he made known to Mary that she would carry the Christ child. In the same way it just might be that we never see God’s timing on this earth, and only when we get to heaven will all things be made clear to us.
If we think about this for a moment, there is comfort. God’s timing is a good thing. Our timing may be correct, but when we align our wills with God’s will, our timing with God’s timing, our plans with God’s plan, we are placing ourselves, our futures, our lives, and all of our beings into the most trustworthy place possible: into the hands of God. We then will truly be hidden under the shadow of God’s wings and have no fear.
Being at a crossroads in life is natural. We are all there at one point or another. When we seek God through prayer, careful study of his word, and communion with him through his saints, he will abundantly bless us through Jesus Christ. He will grant the wisdom to direct all our paths toward him and will also grant the wisdom and contentment to say with the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”
[i] Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1966), 100.
[ii] Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 116, in The Psalter with Doctrinal Standards, Liturgy, Church Order, and Added Chorale Section, reprinted and revised edition of the 1912 United Presbyterian Psalter (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1927), 16.
[iii] Heidelberg Catechism A124, in The Psalter, 18.