So what would you like to do? In Christian circles, this can be a dreaded question. Why? Because, a good Christian is only supposed to do what God has led him to do. What does this mean? Does it mean you have to get a really good feeling about something, or receive a sign? This is not really indicated in Scripture. In fact, for the vast majority of people living throughout the history of the world, most of their day-to-day decisions were not accompanied by signs, audible direction from God, or special feelings. Too often, we think that submitting ourselves to something that we don’t want to do is a sign that we are wholly committing ourselves to the leading of God. As a result, we unintentionally communicate to the next generation of Christians (and even other Christians around us) that to follow God means doing something you don’t want to do.
I want to be extremely careful here: I am not leaning toward the opposite extreme, suggesting that you should just do whatever you want to do. I am suggesting that we follow God’s will and his plan, whenever he makes us aware of it. I am simply suggesting that if we seek God and his will, he gives us desires toward things. Here are some guidelines I think any Christian, young or old, should consider when making short-term or long-term plans.
1. Is it morally permissible?
This question just seeks to answer if this is something permissible to do or not do. So, for example, if you want to hold up a bank, that decision violates criterion #1. This is not asking the question as to whether or not this is morally permissible for you, but in general. Most Christians would be surprised to know that most plans they are considering usually pass this test. If it doesn’t, however, you can quickly discard it. It’s never right to do wrong.
2. Is it a wise thing to do?
Many times, something is morally permissible, but perhaps it would not be the wisest thing in which to engage. Suppose one is trying to find out whether or not he should go into debt to finance something. In general, I believe it is morally permissible to go into debt (as a broad principle); however, many times it is unwise. Suppose you want to know whether or not you should take a trip to Hawaii, or take a trip to a neighboring town at a small resort. They both pass the first test, but perhaps Hawaii is not wise because it is too expensive; or perhaps the neighboring town isn’t wise because you know too many people and it won’t be a relaxing vacation.
3. Do you have the desire to do it?
This is a big one. There are times when #3 does not apply, certainly (I can think of times when you know you ought to do something, but don’t particularly want to do it). However, why put yourself in a position of doing something you don’t want to do (whether it be for a career, education, vacation, job, etc.)? Unless there is an overriding factor (as there sometimes is), life is just too short to do something you don’t want to do for no necessary reason. Besides, as I mentioned earlier, if we will seek God, he will direct our paths and desires (Psalm 37:4, Proverbs 3:5-6). Perhaps you want to do it in large part because God wants you to do it!
4. Do you have, or can you obtain, the gifts/skills to do it?
I always thought it would be cool to be in the CIA, as a field agent. I would be just like Jason Bourne. Or at least I would, if I had those talents, skills, and psychological makeup to do so. But I really don’t. I’d probably be an intelligence analyst in DC, living a boring life. Which I am not, by the way. The point is you can have all the desire in the world, but if you don’t have the skills, or cannot reasonably obtain the skills, that might be an indicator that the plan isn’t for you. I can relate this to education. Too many people try to insist that everyone get a master’s degree in theology, or apologetics, or whatnot. That skillset does not belong to everyone. Now don’t let this be a discouragement to you: I’m not saying that merely because it’s unlikely you can’t or shouldn’t do it. I’m saying that, if all else is equal, if you don’t have a reasonable chance of being able to obtain the skills needed, you shouldn’t do it (many people can obtain many skills with proper training and sufficient work, but this isn’t always the case). It would probably be a waste of time for me to try to become a surgeon. I fidget too much!
5. Is there a legitimate opportunity to do it?
I have often told people who were asking me about God’s will this phrase (not original with me, I’m sure): God works primarily not in signs, but in opportunities. Sometimes the opportunity is just there. Sometimes it appears not to be there, but God kicks down the door. With respect to my schooling, God keeps providing various opportunities for me, and as he opens the doors, I feel quite confident about walking through them. God’s mission isn’t to trick us, or deceive us. While it is true that sometimes you have to work hard to create an opportunity, if none arrives even after hard work, if all else is equal, then it may not be the right thing for you.
6. Do others confirm that you should do it?
This is not a perfect criterion, since most of us always have doubters in our midst about anything we might do that’s out of the ordinary. But I mean, in general, when people hear what you want to do, do they agree? Do people ever approach you and tell you, “You should be such-and-such?” Often, they do so because they see the skill and passion in you for whatever subject you’re speaking of. Personally, I’ve had several people tell me I should pursue a PhD. I view this as confirmatory. On the other hand, if wise people in your life are all telling you not to do it, you might want to reconsider.
7. Are you truly seeking God’s will on the issue?
Whether it’s for a vacation, a job, school, marriage, family, whatever—do all to the glory of God. What I mean by this criterion is not some mystical searching, but rather an earnest desire, expressed in an attitude of prayer and holiness to God, to do what God would want you to do, and to submit to whatever leading he gives. God is not in the business of tricking us. About a year ago, my wife and I moved to Wake Forest to pursue the graduate work I am now doing (in philosophy of religion). I have never seriously questioned the move, because God has provided or confirmed this move so many times. My point is this: if you’re earnestly seeking the will of God, it’s morally permissible, it’s wise, you have the desire/gifts to do it, there’s an opportunity, and others have confirmed this is what you should do, then what are you waiting for? Find out how to get it accomplished and take the first step today.