When people talk about “God’s will,” what does that really mean? Does God have a will for your life specifically, or only for the world at large?

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When people talk about “God’s will,” what does that really mean? Does God have a will for your life specifically, or only for the world at large?

When people talk about God’s will, they are often referring to a variety of different things. The disciples once asked Christ: “What must we do to do the works God requires?” In response, Jesus said, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29).

Sometimes, God makes His will very obvious. It is clearly God’s will that we need to work at loving and serving others, becoming more like Christ, telling others about God, and valuing the things that God values. Jesus said in Mark 3:35, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” In John 7:17, Jesus reiterated: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”

1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 and 5:16-18 give specific examples of behavior that are God’s will and fall into this basic definition of God’s obvious will. “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God…Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

We all know that sometimes God’s will isn’t always as clear. In these instances, God commands us to seek His wisdom regarding the direction He would have us to go. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

When we seek the Lord, the Holy Spirit will guide us and show us God’s will for us. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer 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.”

Is it really possible, to know the will of God in more specific situations? Who should I marry? Which occupation should I pursue? Which college should I choose? The Bible gives very clear guidelines regarding core values and guidelines for life. For example, God gives this guideline for marriage: 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”

Seeking God’s will for specific situations and decisions may require practicing spiritual disciplines like daily prayer and meditation, fasting, worship, and dedicated Bible study. This is not always easy or clear because God reveals Himself in many different ways using His Word, other people or circumstances and sometimes an inner prompting or voice for direction. It takes practice and some discernment to hear God’s voice.

Sometimes our own timetable, will, worries, and the lack of intimacy in our relationship with God can stand in the way of hearing from Him. When we seek God’s direction for specific answers to particular situations, we need to ask ourselves if we are surrendered to God’s will and if the answer lines up with His Word or if it seems more in line with our own desires.

God desires that we know His will and plan for our lives. As we earnestly seek Him, we find truth in Ephesians 1:9: “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ.”

When people talk about “God’s will,” what does that really mean? Does God have a will for your life specifically, or only for the world at large?

When people talk about “God’s will,” what does that really mean? Does God have a will for your life specifically, or only for the world at large?

Discerning the Will of God

“How can I discover God’s will for my life?” “How can I be sure of God’s guidance in my decisions?” “God, what do you want me to do?” Practically all believers have asked questions like these, especially at critical decision points in their lives.

We shape and order our existence by the hundreds of decisions we make each day, and most of these are so trivial that we make them almost automatically. For many of us, the question of God’s will hardly enters into our decisions apart from those unusual times when we realize that a specific choice could affect the rest of our lives. Because the consequences of a wrong choice at a point like this could be disastrous, we suddenly break out of our usual habits and begin to pursue and sometimes agonize over God’s mind on the matter.

Is there a better approach? In this booklet we will look at God’s will as a way of life and not as an emergency support system. We will get a perspective on our role and God’s role in the realization of His best for our lives and we will look at the prerequisites and principles of making decisions in a way that will be pleasing to God and fulfilling for us.

The Priority of God’s Will
Imagine the tragedy of waking up at the end of a self-centered and meaningless life. At the brink of death you reflect upon the years of wasted time and wonder how you allowed yourself to minimize the things you knew were important by becoming a slave of routine. Our years on this planet are brief, and none of us want to waste them. But unless we regularly acknowledge God and His desires, our lives will count for little.

Because He created us and redeemed us, God doubly owns us. We therefore have an obligation to fulfill His will as His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10) and His children (1 John 3:1). Like Jesus, our spiritual food (see John 4:34) should be to do the will of Him who has called us “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9; see Matthew 7:21).

We not only have an obligation to God but also to ourselves to discern and fulfill His will for our lives. Positively, it is only by making this a top priority that we will find the joy and satisfaction of an ultimately meaningful existence on this earth. Negatively, it is only in this way that we will avoid the undesirable and sometimes devastating consequences of pursuing our own will while rejecting God’s. The initial pleasures of sin do not outlast the guilt, double binds, and disillusionment that are its final product. God loves us and desires what is best for us; He is also omniscient and knows what is best for us. Since His will for our lives is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2), it is in our own best interest to affirm His desires even when they are contrary to our own.

A third reason for making God’s will a priority in our lives is our obligation to others. We cannot choose in a vacuum–the decisions we make will inevitably affect others, sometimes in ways we could never imagine. God has entrusted each of us with the stewardship of a unique sphere of influence. In the decisions we make and in our resulting life-styles, we are called to be faithful ambassadors of Christ to the believers and unbelievers we touch (2 Corinthians 5:16-20).

The Practice of God’s Will
All too often, God’s will is seen in terms of a program that has been laid out before us. When it is viewed this way, the emphasis falls on developing a technique that will help us discover the details of that program as we move from one important decision to another. Should I marry this person? Should I accept this job offer? Should I move to this city?

It is far better to see the will of God as a process rather than a program. Viewed this way, the emphasis falls on developing an intimate relationship with God and not on following some all-purpose technique. Who we are should take priority over what we do.

The Bible concentrates on our need to cultivate intimacy with God but says little about methods of determining His will. It is not a how-to-do-it manual but rather a guidebook on who-to-know. God will not be manipulated by impatient demands and magical formulas. Instead, our paths will be illuminated by our growing and trusting relationship with Him.

“The steps of a man are established by the Lord; and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong; because the Lord is the One who holds his hand” (Psalm 37:23-24).

“Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory” (Psalm 73:23-24).

The biblical model of knowing God’s will centers on a relationship, but we must be careful to use the right earthly analogy. In some relationships we simply want to be told what to do or we want to get approval for our predetermined plans. A better analogy is that of the joint decisions reached by a married couple who enjoy an intimate relationship of mutual concern, respect, and trust. In this case, both are involved in the decisions that are reached, and it is sometimes impossible to distinguish the parts each played in the process. Similarly, the will of God is a divine/human process, not solely divine or solely human. When we consciously acknowledge His presence and depend upon Him in the course of making decisions, the choices that are made are both ours and His. God’s will, then, is not an end but a means of knowing Him better and becoming more like Christ.

Because God honors our choices and desires our unforced love, He does not overpower or coerce us. “God never burglarizes the human will. He may long to come in and help, but he will never cross the picket line of our unwillingness” (James Jauncey). He speaks to us in a subtle voice, and we may be unable to hear Him when there are too many distractions in our lives. Just as we would have trouble carrying on a telephone conversation in a room full of blaring music and chattering people, in the same way the clamoring voices of selfish desires, lack of submission, pride, independence, and unforgiveness prevent us from being receptive to the quiet voice of God.

“Does God guide? Yes, I believe that he does. Most times, I believe, he guides in subtle ways, by feeding ideas into our minds, speaking through a nagging sensation of dissatisfaction, inspiring us to choose better than we otherwise would have done, bringing to the surface hidden dangers of temptation, and perhaps by rearranging certain circumstances. . . . God’s guidance will supply real help, but in ways that will not overwhelm my freedom.”–Philip Yancey

God’s will is a way to be and a way to behave. He does not unfold His plan before us like a blueprint and expect us to do nothing until we see it. His will for us is a dependent walk in which we invite Him to participate in all of our activities.

We make thousands of decisions each day, most of them unconscious (which shoe to put on first, when to look out the window), and it would be impossible, not to say foolish, to seek God’s counsel on each of these decisions. But there are still a number of decisions that are significant enough to capture our attention in the course of each day. A deliberate acknowledgment of the presence of God during these times will carry us far in making God’s will a way of life rather than a crisis experience. The fabric of our lives is woven out of the threads of such minor choices, so it is wise to form the habit of being conscious of God while making them. This habit of taking God seriously in small decisions will make major decisions less traumatic.

How can you know God’s will? How is it possible for a man to know the mind of God? If God has a plan for your life, how does He reveal it to you? How can you find that plan? How does a sinful, finite human being come to know what a holy and infinite God desires?

Our starting point is Philippians 3:15, which assures us that God will reveal unto us the guidance we need for every aspect of our lives. Once an amateur pilot explained to me how airliners are kept on their course by radar. A pilot cannot always see what is coming, particularly in bad weather. At best he can see only about a hundred miles. And yet he can fly his aircraft safely in all weather, for the course is marked out for him by radar. If he deviates either to the right or to the left, the radar warns him accordingly. It is thus that God guides us. Our text does not mean that we shall always be able to see more than one step ahead in our Christian lives. It does not mean that we shall even always be able to see ahead at all. But it does mean that God has a plan for our lives — for your life and mine — and that He promises to reveal the steps of that plan to us.

The basis for this assurance lies in the nature of God. For it is God’s nature to reveal Himself and His purpose to man. Quite a few years ago when I was in seminary I learned the famous definition of God contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” The first time a person hears that definition I suppose he inevitably thinks that just about everything that could possibly be said about God is wrapped up in it, for the definition is so long. And yet, as I began to memorize and study it, I learned that it was far from comprehensive. For one thing, there is no mention of God’s being love. And God is certainly infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His love. Moreover, today I believe I should also like to see God’s desire to reveal Himself to man included. I should like to say, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, truth, love, and desire to reveal Himself to man.”

In one sense all that God has ever done has been directed to this end. When God made the world it was to reveal Himself to those who would eventually live on it. Creation reveals God. Hence, Paul tells us that “the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). When God caused the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be written, this too was to reveal Himself to man. Finally, just as God revealed His power in nature and His purpose in Scripture, so did He reveal His personality in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why Jesus could properly say, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).

It is God’s nature to reveal Himself. And God’s revelation always involves a disclosure of His will for the individual person. On this basis Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse used to say that it was actually impossible for a Christian who wanted to know the will of God for his life not to know it.

Now this statement by Dr. Barnhouse also brings us to the first of the great biblical principles by which a Christian may unquestionably come to know God’s will. For the Bible teaches that if you really want to know God’s will, you must be willing to do it even before you know what it is. This is clearly taught in John 7:17: “If any man will do His will [and the phrase means ‘wants to do it’], he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” In this verse, although Jesus was speaking literally of the rejection of His doctrine by the Jewish leaders, He was actually teaching the great principle that knowing the will of God consists largely in being willing to do it.

Now if we are going to come to the point where we are willing in advance to do God’s will, we must recognize first that in ourselves we do not want to do it. If you are saying to yourself, “Oh, but I have always wanted to do the Lord’s will,” you are kidding yourself. For “the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither, indeed, can be” (Romans 8:7). And there is a great deal of the carnal mind in all of us.

In ourselves we are a bit like the Israelites when they had first come out of Egypt. They were a huge company. The Bible says that there were 600,000 men, and in addition to that there were the women and children. So the total must have been in the neighborhood of two million. Now this great host had been led into the desert where the temperature goes much above 100 degrees in the day-time and often falls below freezing point at night. When I was in Egypt in the middle of the summer of 1961, the temperature was 140°F at Luxor. And it was even hotter in the middle of the desert. In these circumstances the people would have perished from the extremes of temperature if God had not performed a great miracle to save them.

The miracle was the miracle of the cloud which signified God’s presence with the people and led them in their wanderings. The cloud was large enough to spread out over the camp of the Israelites. It provided shade during the day-time; and it gave warmth by night, when it turned into a pillar of fire. It was the banner by which they regulated their march. When the cloud moved the people moved, and when the cloud stopped they stopped. One of the great hymns describes it by saying,

Round each habitation hovering,
See the fire and cloud appear,
For a glory and a covering,
Showing that the Lord is near.
Thus, deriving from their banner
Light by night and shade by day,
Safe they feed upon the manna,
Which he gives them when they pray.
The cloud was the single most distinguishing feature of their encampment.

Now we must imagine how it would be when the cloud moved forward and how weary the people would have become of following it. We read in the final verses of Exodus, “When the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys; but if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up” (Exodus 40:36-37). Sometimes it moved often, at other times not at all. We must imagine a family coming to a stop under the cloud’s guidance in the middle of a hot afternoon and immediately beginning to unpack their baggage. They take down their bedding and set up their tent. And then, no sooner has it all been arranged, than someone cries out, “The cloud is moving.” And so they repack their baggage and start to go on again. One hour later the cloud stops. They say, “We’ll just leave our things packed this time and sleep on the ground.” Well, they do. And the cloud stays that night and all next day and all that week. And as they are going into the second week the family says, “Well, we might as well get it over with.” They unpack. And immediately the cloud begins to move again.

Now the people must have hated the moving of the cloud by which God guided them. But no matter how much they hated the cloud they still had to follow its guidance. Because if someone had said, “I don’t care if the cloud is moving; I’m going to stay right here,” the cloud would have gone on, and he would have died in the heat of the desert, or he would have frozen at night. They hated God’s leading. But by this means God was molding a nation of rabble, of slaves, into a disciplined force that would one day be able to conquer the land of Canaan. And He was teaching them absolute obedience.

It is the same with us. Neither you nor I naturally want God’s will. We want our will. We will always hate God’s way, and particularly His way of training us to be soldiers. But we must go through it. For through that training we must learn to say, “Father, even though I do not naturally want Your will, nevertheless, I know that it is the best thing for me; and it is necessary for my spiritual training. Lead me in the way I should go.” And God will do that. For to know God’s will we must come to the point where we first want to do it.

The second great principle for knowing the will of God is that nothing can be the will of God that is contrary to the Word of God. The God who is leading you now is the God who inspired the Bible then, and He is not contradictory in His commandments. Consequently, nothing can be the will of God for you that is not in accordance with what is taught in His Word.

God’s will is expressed in great principles. Take John 6:40, for instance. I call this verse the will of God for all unbelievers. It says, “And this is the will of Him that sent me, that everyone who seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” If you are not a Christian, God is not at all interested in telling you whether you should accept a job with General Motors or with Dupont. He is not interested in whether you should marry Sally or Mary, or Henry or John, or whether you should enlist in the army. He is interested in whether or not you will believe in Jesus Christ and receive Him as your personal savior. God’s will for you starts there. This is His will. And you must accept this demand before you can begin to go forward on any other level.

Another passage is Romans 12:1-2. It is an expression of God’s will for the Christian. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” If you are a Christian, you can take it as an unchangeable principle that anything that contributes to your growth in holiness is an aspect of God’s will for you. And anything that hinders your growth in holiness is not His will. God is interested in having you become like His Son, the Lord Jesus.

Colossians 3:23 is an expression of God’s will for your work. It says, “And whatever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men.” I think this is especially applicable to young people. Not long ago a member of my congregation remarked that all too often young people interpret a difficulty in their work or their schooling as being an indication that what they are doing is not God’s will for them; actually, she said, it is probably God’s indication that they should work harder at it. This verse tells us that God wants us to do everything we have to do well.

A principle that is closely related to this one is found in Ephesians 6:5-6: “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear the trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as menpleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” This is for you if you have a difficult boss, or a difficult teacher. The Bible says that it is God’s will that you should avoid gossiping about him or her and instead work as well as you are able under his guidance. And you should do it, not only when he is watching, but when he is not watching — as unto the Lord and not unto men.

Perhaps you are saying, “Well, these principles are good, but they do not touch the small things with which I am wrestling.” You want to know whether you should go to the movies as a Christian, join a bridge club, make friends with the people at work, join in social drinking, or some other thing. Well, let me give you a final principle that covers most of these. Philippians 4:8. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Do you see the instruction? God says that you are to pursue the best things in life. If these things are the best things for you, then do them. If not, you are to go another way. Just be sure that you take your guidelines from Scripture.

The third principle is also important. It is the principle of daily and even hourly fellowship with the Lord. Psalm 32:8 states it like this: “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go; I will guide thee with mine eye.” Clearly, if God is to guide us with His eye, He must first catch our eye. And this means that we must look to Him regularly throughout the day.

Let me illustrate this by a story. I have a good friend who is a gospel singer and who for many years was a bachelor. He once said, “You know, Jim, it is always easy to find a Christian girl to marry. And it is always easy to find a beautiful girl to marry. But it is not always so easy to find a beautiful, Christian girl to marry.” I suppose he was partly right. At any rate, he eventually found a beautiful, Christian girl and married her. And she was perfect in every way but one. The one imperfection lay in the fact that at times she talked with a very shrill voice, especially in the presence of company. And because he was a great baritone singer, her voice often grated on his ears. This was the making of a serious problem in their marriage.

Well, the Lord had given him a great deal of tact among many other talents, and he used his tact to go about the problem in this way. One day he came to his wife and said to her, “Look, dear, do you know the first thing that a drama coach teaches an actress when she begins training?” His wife said, “No.” “He teaches her to lower her voice. By nature a woman’s voice is shrill, but it becomes warm and pleasing when it is lowered about an octave. A drama coach will teach an actress to say a phrase, count down eight notes, repeat it again, and then practice that repeatedly. I think your voice would be improved if you would do that.” When my friend’s wife agreed, they arranged a signal by which she would be reminded to lower her voice in the presence of company. The signal was for him to tuck in his chin.

My friend told me that there were times when this produced the funniest effect you could imagine. There they would be, sitting around the dining room table talking, and his wife’s voice would be rising higher and higher. He would tuck in his chin and look at her. And then, often right in the middle of one of her sentences, she would catch his eye. She would notice his chin, and her voice would drop like a lead marshmallow and then go on at a pitch one octave lower.

She saw the sign when she looked at her husband. It must be the same in our daily walk with the Lord. The Lord knows that we shall go astray. It is our nature to go astray. Our speech will become unpleasing, or our conduct. And we will always do things that displease Him. But we must get into the habit of looking to Him often — in church, in our quiet time, in the various periods of our day — to catch His eye, to notice His sign. For if we do, we shall find Him watching. He will direct us. And He will guide us with His eye.

Now there is only one more point that I need to make, and it is not difficult at all. If you are serious about knowing the Lord’s will and honestly seek it, then you must be prepared for the Lord to guide you into new ways. If there is one thing that I have most learned about the Lord’s guidance it is that He does not often lead us in old ways. God is creative. He is infinite. And He is infinite in His plans for His children.

David Wilkerson, the author of The Cross and the Switchblade and a minister who has been greatly blessed in a unique ministry to teenagers in New York City, tells in the opening chapter of his book how he was led in new paths in his ministry. He had been a Pentecostal preacher in central Pennsylvania, and by his personal standards he was doing quite well. The church had grown. There were several new buildings. And yet he was discontent. One day he decided to spend the late evening hours, when he had been used to watching television, praying. He sold the television set after much hesitation and began to spend time with the Lord. He did this for some time. Eventually, out of these times of prayer he was led to begin his work helping the youth caught up in drug addiction and delinquency in Manhattan. God’s will for David Wilkerson meant leading a country preacher into the heart and the heartbreak of the city.

It will also be true for you. If you will seek God’s will, determining to do it even before you know what it is, if you will look to Him while responding to His voice in the Bible, then God will reveal His way and direct you in ever widening and ever more interesting paths. He will be close to you, and He will lead you in the way that you should go.

I’ve agonized over making THE RIGHT CHOICE—a common dilemma for someone in my stage of life where big decisions are looming. The one on my mind most often lately is where to go next with my career, but before it’s been where to go to college, whom to date, where to live, how to fulfill my calling, and so on. I’ve wondered if I’m even capable of reaching my potential. It’s tempting to think that God has some master plan that He’s measuring me against, and if I take one misstep I’ve missed my chance for happiness forever, or at the very least I’ll be doomed to walk around with the nagging feeling that I’m constantly disappointing God.

But you know what? As I’ve examined that mindset, I’ve learned that I need a better understanding of God and what the term “His plan for me” means.

I’m learning that God is much less a divine dictator who demands perfect compliance to a predetermined plan for our individual lives and much more a co-creator with us of the kind of lives we want to live. I’m learning that His plan for me is a lot less like a laser-crossed minefield and a lot more of a journey of coming to know myself and coming to know Him.

What God’s plan isn’t: My expectations of how my life “should” be
I have a lot of “should” voices in my head. They say things like, “I should be married. I should be better at this dating thing by now. I should know what I want to be when I grow up. I should have a 5-year plan and a 401k and a perfect, step-by-step plan of how to get to my dream career—starting yesterday. Because I don’t, I’m a failure.”

God’s voice, unsurprisingly, does not agree.

What God’s plan is: A journey of joyful discovery that begins where I am
Through multiple impressions, God keeps telling me that this time in my life is a period of joyful discovery—emphasis on the joyful. An impression I received recently as I was stressing over finding the “perfect career” was this: “Ariel, I don’t care what you do to pay the bills. Have fun! Explore. Do what you want to do. Just keep writing, and we will do great things together.”

Well, all right then.

I question answers like that, wondering if this is some sort of test to see if I’ll choose right and win His approval or choose wrong and disappoint Him. I stress out and hesitate to act because I’m worried about doing the “wrong” thing. What an answer like that really means is to move forward with confidence that as I act in accordance with my righteous desires, counseling with God along the way, I’m following His plan for me. God understands where I am. He is patient with my progress, and every sincere effort counts to Him. If He is okay with my learning process, I can be too.

What God’s plan isn’t: God’s will forced upon me
I’ve often battled the fear that if I committed myself to doing whatever God asked, He would force me to do something I didn’t want to do.

I told God I didn’t want to go on a mission. Nope. It’s too hard, and you can’t make me. Besides, I had a plan, and it involved finishing my education and a certain young man that I was certain would be part of my future.

I’m sure you can guess what’s coming.

What God’s plan is: Invitations to reconcile my will with His and practice trusting Him
It’s interesting—with the clearest impressions I’ve ever received, such as the prompting I had to go on a mission, God has always made it just as clear that it is my choice whether or not to obey. He knows the deepest desires of my heart and He wants me to come back to Him, and so as I seek His guidance, He shows me how to achieve those desires. He is always trying to give me what I really, truly want. But it is always, always my choice.

I had a choice to make, and I was terrified. My future had seemed so neatly laid out before me, but with the prospect of a mission, it had changed overnight. I felt much less certain of how my desires for my life would come to pass, but I knew this was an invitation to practice trusting God—trusting that He knew what I wanted better than I did and that this path would be the way to achieve those desires. I chose to serve.

So here I am, several years after my mission. I did graduate from college after returning home, but that young man got married to someone else, and I have yet to see some of my desires materialize. Trusting God is something I practice every day. Being without the desires of my heart has kept me turning to God, kept me seeking Him, and I can’t help but wonder if that was the whole point after all—to use this time in my life to come to know Him and how He works with me.

What God’s plan isn’t: Only one perfect, rigid way to live my life “correctly” with my mistakes and correct choices predetermined by God
God does not dictate every choice we make. It isn’t God’s will for us to make specific wrong choices. It’s God’s will that we have the opportunity to choose for ourselves.

Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other. —2 Nephi 2:16

It’s His will that we have a safe space to learn from our own experience, so lessons can travel from our heads to our hearts. He doesn’t make me make mistakes, but there is room in His plan for mistakes because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

What God’s plan is: Jesus Christ is the Way
So often we want to know “the way” for our lives. Well, guess what? Jesus Christ is the Way—the only way to become like our Father and return to live with Him.

Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not wither thou goest; and how can we know the way?

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. —John 14:5–6

Following Jesus through the continuous process of exercising faith in Him, repenting, making and keeping covenants, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is the way back to the Father. As long as I continue in that process, I’m following the plan.

One day recently I was feeling particularly discouraged about my seeming inability to “get a grip” on my life and measure up to my own expectations. On one side of the whiteboard in my room I wrote down all my expectations for myself. Then I drew a line, and on the other side, across from each of my statements, I wrote what I felt God would have to say about it.

It all came down to this: Me learning is the plan. Me changing is the plan. And there are a lot of good ways to do that. My baptism was a commitment to keep learning and keep turning to Christ. It’s not a commitment to be perfect (and thus fail as soon as I make my first mistake); it’s a commitment to keep practicing. If I keep turning to Jesus after turning away, if I’m committed to keep learning, keep trying, and rest when I need to, I’m following His plan for me.