"Do not be surprised when God leads you down a path that makes no earthly sense"

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TylerR's picture


I have pondered over this question myself, Jim. I would classify myself as a traditionalist, in that God does have a will for each of our own lives. I would caveat that, however, by stating that anybody who is waiting in his living room for a cosmic revelation ("Tyler! Thou shalt go forth and . . . ") is really off the mark. 

Many times we only see God's providential hand in our individual lives after the fact. When we are faced with important decisions, I truly believe we simply must pray, observe the Scriptures, seek wise council and, taking all this together, simply do what we feel is the right thing. There is no cosmic revelation. There is no miraculous thunderbolt or inner peace from God. That "inner peace," or however you want to term it, sometimes comes after the fact. We grow in Christ by trusting Him, even in trials and circumstances when we're terrified and frightened of the consequences of making the "wrong" decision.

Not sure if I made any sense, or just muddled the issue. This is a topic worth discussing. 



Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture


Agreed - it is out of context. My own text for God having a specific will for our lives, with the caveats I listed above, is Eph 2:8-10. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jim's picture

I'm really not sure exactly what "common sense" means any more. 

I mean from the world's standpoint this makes sense:

  • Make as much $$ as you can.
  • Don't pick a low-paying career (I mean it would be a fool to be missionary or a pastor)
  • Why get married before you "test drove the product"

So I agree with Olson that the Lord's leading is contrary to the world's thinking. 

But God doesn't expect us to leap off "the pinnacle of the temple"

dgszweda's picture

I would agree with Tyler, with the focus being on prayer (our speaking to God) and Scripture reading (God speaking to us) as the conduit.  It is all about making the right Biblical choice to a given circumstance and also realizing when it is important to include God and when it isn't.  I have seen people pray about the color of the new van that they are getting.  To me that is probably taking it down too far.

Lee's picture

It has been some time since I looked into  the book "Decision Making in the Will of God", so my recall may be a bit fuzzy, but the nature of my ministry has led to many fruitful and unfruitful discussions concerning the basic concept (as I recall it to be) over the intervening years since its first publication.

Frankly, most of the discussions degenerated into somebody's rant about a church elder (usually referenced as an invective--the "man-a-gawd" or similar) who has communicated to the church body that which he has discerned as leading from the Lord concerning the direction the church needs to take in some specific matter.  IOW, I found it to be a convenient point for rejecting scripturally ordained authority within local assemblies. Not that abuses have not nor will not take place within local assemblies under the guise of the "perfect will of God," but concepts should not be judged solely, or even primarily, by their abuses.

I find it practically inconceivable to consider that a God who thrives on a personal relationship with an individual, so much so that He provided the whole gospel plan to achieve that relationship; whose promise is to supply each and every personal need of those with whom He has established a personal relationship; whose indwelling is so sure that He has adamantly stated "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee...;" whose every thought, action, and intent is so right that it may only be understood as perfect ; who has promised not only to indwell but to guide in all truth, would not have a specific, yes perfect, plan for each individual as unique to that individual as is the rest of the relationship.  Furthermore, I think Scripture, especially some of the narratives, indicate plainly that such a plan (will, if you please) is not only actual but knowable to any Holy Spirit indwelt believer.  

On the other hand, I tend to agree with Tyler's observation that this "perfect will" in many cases will only be comprehended in retrospect.                                                                                          


Mark_Smith's picture

I still wish I had my copy of Decision Making and the Will of God...when I moved a few years ago it seems to have not made the transition with me!


I am still not satisfied with my own "belief" on this topic or the answers anyone else provides. I appreciate what John MacArthur says, that is be found in the known will of God from the Bible, seek Godly counsel, then do what you desire to do. But that doesn't seem like enough. I agree with Tyler that each person has a "plan" for their life from God. The thing is the sovereignty of God always makes its way into the discussion and I ask, "is it possible for a person to make a mistake with their life?". Is it God's perfect plan for a person to go left, but they choose to go right...and things get mucked up from there. I appreciate strong advocates of the sovereignty of God who say this is not a possibility, but a reasonable view of human lives seems to reveal that people can and do make many mistakes. They marry too fast, they divorce to quick, they abuse drugs, commit crimes, choose not to receive Jesus...the list goes on and on.


Another thing is the "how do you know God's will question". While I appreciate the view that God does not give "revelation" (I stress the little r), the problem is I have experienced what I perceived to be a definite immediate knowing of what I needed to do at several significant times in my life. In 2 cases this was dramatic. I knew that I knew that I knew that leaving what I was doing and joining the Marine Corps was correct. It was immediate and instantaneous while in prayer. Second, when I met my future wife the first time, I literally "felt and saw" a flash of light/electricity (I can't describe it other than that) and had the instant knowledge that that was the woman to marry but it was followed with a strong thought of being patient and not moving too fast to press her. She didn't receive the same revelation however...that took some patience and it was amazing how God drew her to me without me going out and wooing her. I don't claim this is the usual experience at all, but I cannot deny that in these 2 cases I had an "experience with God". Deny it if you wish but I know what happened...

On the other hand, at other times when I needed to make significant life changing decisions I did not receive any kind of "knowing" despite significant prayer and Bible reading and meditation. So, I restate that I cannot write a clear explanation of what I believe about decision making and the will of God. But, I keep working on it.

TylerR's picture


I understand what you're saying. I struggled with the decision to leave the Navy after 10 years and go into ministry, and felt a strong sense of "inner peace" (or whatever you want to call it) once I finally made my decision. I was happier than ever. 

To your other example, my experience was the same with my wife! I wasn't a Christian then, though . . . Who knows!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mike Harding's picture

I see God's will in his decrees, his demands, and his desires.  Our response is to submit to his decreed will, obey his demanded will, and seek his desired will.  If we are truly submitted to God's decrees and obeying his demands, we can trust that God will providentially lead through the godly desires he places within our hearts.  He directs us by the wisdom principles of God's Word and godly counsel of those who know God and the Scriptures well and who in addition know us well.

Pastor Mike Harding

Jay's picture

This whole idea of 'inner peace' really needs a treatment in a systematic some time, or at least a good study in a journal.  We (orthodox Christians) talk frequently about 'the call to a missions field or pulpit', the 'peace in our soul about XYZ' purchase or decision, and yet we seem to define the Spirit solely by treatments of His person or the heretical teachings of the health and wealth / charismatic / glossalalia, or other unBiblical excesses. 

There is a balance, and I think that it would make for a great small group study or book of some sort.  How a person would go about writing that, though, is beyond me.  Would we really be so concerned about the charismatics if we could legitimately define what the Spirit's role in individual or corporate leading is?  Other than "God is not the author of confusion" or "The fruit of the Spirit...is peace"?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Bert Baker's picture


1. Circumstances

2. Desires

3. The Word of God


These three elements can be found in Gen. 31:1-3 and v. 30 in the life of Jacob.

I have found that when all three are present, one can move with confidence.

The absence of one would not necessarily mean the decision would be wrong,

but the lace of confidence in making the decision could be present.

Hope this helps.

Jim's picture

Three rows:

  • Inputs: Opportunities, Interests, Circumstances, Limitations, Resources, Talents / Abilities (also giftedness)
  • "The process" box: Mindful of God (Matthew 22:37, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind"
  • Outputs: Valid, Christ-honoring choices


dgszweda's picture

One of the pressures that a lot of young people feel is whether they are going to marry the "right" one, and if they don't find this right one, their life could be doomed.  I just never bought into this philosophy and pressure from this approach when I was a young man.  I never felt there was this perfect one made for me.  I truly felt that marriage was primarily a commitment of love and following Scripture as you fulfilled this relationship and not as much about who God had made for me.  I never searched for the right one.  I just found someone who I felt was compatible with me in interests and thought process, prayed about it and made a commitment.  After 20 years I found that I am a flawed individual, who has married a flawed individual and we are both commited to loving each other.  We are raising our kids within a Biblical framework, strongly involved in church, love each other and having a blast doing it.  Do I know if I found the "right one"?  Who cares!  I am confident I am in the Lord's Will.

christian cerna's picture

Our lives would be so much easier if we stopped trying to measure success or a fulfilled life by the world's standard. According to the world, the main goal in life is to go to college, get a high paying job, buy a nice house, drive a shiny new car, have a big screen TV in your living room, take expensive vacations in exotic locations, and post it all on Facebook so your friends can see how successful you are. 

This is a far cry from the type of lives that the Godly men in the Bible lived. Most of the Godly were poor, spent their time praying in the wilderness, preached the Gospel wherever they went, and shared their belongings with those in the Church who are less fortunate. Their main goal in life was to know God, and to seek holiness, and to prepare themselves for the life that would come after death.

Sadly, our lives do not look much different from the lives of unbelievers. If it weren't for the fact that we go to Church on Sundays, would we able to distinguish who is a Christian, and who isn't? Are our goals different from their goals?

The bible says that we should never say we are going to do something in the future without saying first "If the Lord wills, we will do this or that...". Yet all of us are guilty of trying to plan our entire lives, and the lives of our children, without saying, "If the Lord wills...". Instead of living day to day seeking the will of God, we are foolish enough to plan our whole lives, as if we had any control over what happens even today.

It is no wonder that so many of us do not experience peace or contentment with what we have. Unless we go to the school we want, or have the job we wanted, or marry the person of our dreams, or live in a pretty house or drive a nice car, then we think that something is wrong. We are ungrateful and have trouble thanking God, because we judge our lives by the material things we see, and not those intangible things, such a growing in grace and in the knowledge of God, seeing our loved ones turn to God, learning new things about God, finding strength to resist temptation, etc.


Mark_Smith's picture

Has anyone else been bothered by the notion that God doesn't tell me what to do...but He'll tell my friend so when I ask for counsel it is godly counsel?

Jim's picture

I observe that:

  • Were the decision maker to consult with godly advisors (he "walks in the counsel of the godly") 
  • They would most likely affirm the valid choices

Example: HS graduate who:

  • Interest: Has an interest in being a policeman 
  • Circumstances: Lives in US, Father was in the USMC, Uncle is a State Trooper. Athletic in HS
  • Limitations: No outward physical limitations. Family has financial limitations.
  • Opportunities / Options: Local community college / "The U" / Military service in various branches / Bible college that would mean dorm living and private college tuition
  • Resources: Already mentioned financial limitations. But he would probably be eligible for Pell grants, et cetera
  • Talents / Abilities: Hunts with his Father / outdoorsman

Valid Christ-honoring outcomes / choices:

  • Join the Air Force (or another branch). MOS = military police
  • College: Community College / Bible College / "The U" all valid choices

An example of an invalid choice: Taking a boat to Kiribati 

Mark_Smith's picture

so all we get to make decisions is "wisdom" and Bible verses. Don't get me wrong, I love the Bible, but it says nothing about whether I should enlist in the Air Force or the USMC! So, that leaves a lot to "wisdom"...just looking for "common sense" in situation. I'm sorry, but the God I worship and know is bigger than that. I don't know how to quantify it or explain it or justify it, but that simply feels wrong...no, more like incomplete to me.

wkessel1's picture

I found the book by Kevin DeYoung - "Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will" an insightful read.   His subtitle for the book is great - "Or How to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lost, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc."

TylerR's picture


Judging from the title of the book, it sounds like something I'd agree with. Thanks for pointing it out. I'll look into it! 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

Well, I kinda like that girl, she seems to like me, let's just do something and get married?


Wisdom? I have not read the book...just having fun and thinking at the same time!

Mark_Smith's picture

Went to amazon to check out the Deyoung book mentioned above and I saw this one:

God Told Me: Who to Marry, Where to Work, Which Car to Buy...And I'm Pretty Sure I'm Not Crazy


Anyone heard of it?

Mark_Smith's picture

My wisdom says to by a low mileage older car and send the rest to missions...rather than buy new.

Jim's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

My wisdom says to by a low mileage older car and send the rest to missions...rather than buy new.

That's a valid choice too! I'm going to give an account to God for my choices ... and you will to. 

(As an aside ... I have 2007 GM sedan with 61,000 m on it) 

Mark_Smith's picture

you are accountable for choices but God doesn't offer direct help on making the decision?