In his book Can I Know God’s Will? (2009) R.C. Sproul makes the obvious statement that “destination matters to the Christian.” That is because our time on earth is limited and we seek to better conduct our lives to the glory of God. Therefore every thoughtful Christian is longing for guidance and perhaps at some point wonders if there is a roadmap to God’s will. This desire to discern and do the will of God is proper and Biblical. God’s will is important to us and it is okay to ask questions about it.
St. Michael Archangel Catholic Church is the religious center of Naranjito, the town in Puerto Rico where I grew up. I can’t remember the first time I walked into that church, but I do recall feeling intimidated by the tall structure and the somber clerical garb of the priests and nuns. The acoustics in the old cathedral-style building were strong enough that a person at the back row could hear the front row chatter. On Sundays, microphones were used only so that those who sat in the town plaza – avoiding the tithing basket – would have no choice but to at least hear the sermon. It was a solemn place to attend Catechism classes.
We sat stiffly in the front pew with our Catechism teacher, a nun, towering above us from the pulpit. By extending her trembling index finger she pointed to the trees, the big church building, the rows of pews and even the birds chirping outside. With authority she told us how God created everything out of nothing, everything we see around us, and even that which we can’t see. I was attentive. At seven years old, I had already begun wondering about things such as life, purpose, God, pain and death. Finally, I had arrived at a setting where my many questions could find their corresponding answers. With the eager anticipation and impulsiveness of a child, I asked, “If God created everything in this world and there was nothing before He created it, where was He standing?”
The nun became surprisingly angry. Sternly, she raised her voice, “God punishes those with no faith! You must believe and trust, and have no doubt!” Her words ricocheted against the hard surfaces of the empty church with authority, and my young mind heard them as if they came from God himself.
She sent me to the back of the church to repeat at least three times the Our Father and Hail Mary prayers as a punishment, asking God for forgiveness for my lack of faith. On the long walk to the last pew at the back of the church I pondered, “What kind of god would give me the power to ask questions and then punish me for them?” While I prayed for forgiveness, I also informed God that one day I’d like an answer to my questions.
Although I was very young that day, it has taken me many years to overcome the nun’s reaction to my questions, and to take courage to ask questions again. I know now that the root of my childish question was not a lack of faith, but rather a desire to understand God and His will.
Have you ever been discouraged from seeking answers to your questions about the will of God? If so, I hope to encourage you. Although Paul warns us that to know the mind of God fully is unattainable (Romans 11:33-36), a Christian’s desire to discern and do the will of God is proper and Biblical.
- It is modeled by the Psalmist in Psalm 143:10, “Teach me to do your will for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” See also Psalm 25:3-5.
- It is essential to what we do, particularly in light of Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” As well as in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
- Furthermore, as followers of Jesus, it is expected that we seek to understand God and his plan. In Matthew 7:21, Jesus makes a distinction between true and false disciples, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Also in John 7:17, Jesus proclaimed that, “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”
William Barry states that, “A belief that God acts with purpose in this world must lead to attempts, however feeble, to discern how my own actions might be attributed to God’s one action.”
To do this well, we need God’s mercy and his gift of wisdom. That is because if we embrace our desire to discern the will of God, it can lead us to wonder if God has a “perfect” plan for our lives. If He does, could we miss it or end up with plan B, C…Z, or, God forbid, no plan at all? This generates an anxiety about our decisions that can paralyze us.
For the first 40 years of my life I was living in accordance to “my will” and the results were not commendable. Having exchanged my old credo, “I DID IT MY WAY!” to “not my will, but yours be done,” I was eager to properly interpret the Biblical passages about doing the will of God. This desire has led me to an extensive search for the past seven years. I have studied the Scriptures, dozens of relevant books and hundreds of online articles on this subject.
I was looking for a tidy roadmap that would direct me straight to this hidden treasure of God’s will, but it turned out to be more like a labyrinth as I got stuck at many dead-ends. God surprised me during this journey and I hope He will do the same for you. Over the next posts, as in a conversation among friends, I will disclose my research, struggles and conclusions on this topic. To start us on this path, the next post will present possible reasons for our insecurity and what our search to discern the will of God should never become.
Let’s start this conversation. What questions do you have about the will of God?
See also Trust God with Your Future