In the modern religious world it seems almost heretical to think that God doesn’t have a specific plan for each person (by specific plan I mean that He has planned details of our lives). In everyday conversation and on social media, people attribute events in their life to the specific fulfillment of God’s plans and comfort themselves regarding tragedy considering it was sent by God for a purpose and was not mere chance. Some people anguish trying to discover God’s will for their lives or wonder why God’s plan is bringing them such trials and sorrows. Some interpret many events or Bible passages as signs or messages from God guiding them on this supposed road-map.
What does the Bible say about God’s plans and our lives?
God Had Specific Plans For Some People
Before we study the issue we must make it clear by stating that God did have specific plans for some people in history. The Old and New Testament are filled with people whom God used to accomplish His will. Using words like “I have chosen you” or “you have been appointed” He describes plans for people like Moses, Pharaoh, David, John the Baptist, and Paul (among others) to accomplish specific objectives. He even used nations to accomplish His purposes. Even within these exceptions most, like Pharaoh, He used for a limited purpose and there is not mention of further plans for them outside of that defined need.
Also, with the nations, Pharaoh, and the Jews who killed Jesus God used their evil motives and personal ambitions to accomplish His purposes. He accomplished His will in spite of their wickedness or disobedience. With others, like the apostle Paul, the plans were not obvious or revealed to them even though they spoke other things by inspiration (see also the future of Peter and John in John 21:20-25). God, as sovereign ruler, can use His creation as He wills to accomplish His purposes, Romans 9. But a distinction needs to be made between a specific detailed plan for their whole life or a specific plan for a part of their life that moves His master plan forward. In other words, just because God had a plan for Pharaoh during the time of Israel’s bondage and their release does not mean that He had a continuing specific plan for Pharaoh once Israel left Egypt.
Blueprint or Game Plan?
When thinking of God’s plans in our lives, I think Don Truex explained the two approaches best in an excellent sermon asking if God has a blueprint for our life or a game plan. A blueprint is a specific detailed plan with a defined outcome. There is no room for choice because if you diverge from the blueprint you can’t build what was designed. A game plan, by contrast, is a general approach or strategy that allows a lot of flexibility for choice and many possible outcomes that are in harmony with the general objective. As Brother Truex notes, “with blueprints, there is no ‘Plan B’.”
Discovering the Blueprint
The crux of the problem is revealed when we try to discover God’s plan for us. God’s word was written to a universal audience so I find passages that apply to me but not only to me. My name is not listed in scripture with a unique plan for my life. Therefore, if God has a blueprint for our lives, His will must be revealed outside of scripture. The central problem is that we have no guidance in the New Testament on what signs to look for in our lives, how to tune into the messages of God, or how to discern what is a message from God pointing down one path or from Satan leading me down another path. We have no scriptures telling us that God speaks through feelings, promptings, or a sense of peace to direct our decisions as He navigates us through life. We are not told to expect the leading of the Holy Spirit or instructions on how to discern it. Yet many Christians interpret (and that is the key: they interpret) events and feelings as indications from God that He wants them to take a certain action, make a decision, or is satisfied with their choice. Some have called this the “third revelation.”
Though foreign to the New Testament, this “third revelation” is described as God’s leading through emotions, impulses, and “speaking to/putting upon your heart” to fulfill God’s specific plan for your life. This is idea, rooted in mysticism, is popular in Christian bookstores, but is foreign to God’s word. Though a former believer in this idea, Reformed writer Gary Gilley, in an enlightening podcast answers biblical arguments offered in support of God’s inner leading and the absence of Bible instruction about listening for God’s voice in our heart or how to detect His prompting. He also addresses what proponents do not: why is the “prompting” not considered binding or obligatorily and disobedience considered a sin?
The last question is quite important because if God does have a blueprint, what if we ignore it or choose another path? Proponents argue that many of the choices are not moral choices but are lifestyle choices (should I choose this job or that or live in this city or that) but if God is giving us signals that we should live in Atlanta but we choose to live in Tampa, why would we not be rebellious sinners for circumventing His plan? Any divergence from the plan means we cannot build exactly what God planned! Will God then force us to do His will and take away our free will? I think it might surprise some who teach that predestination is not taught in scripture to realize that they are contradicting their view of man’s free will by promoting the blueprint concept. When we talk of people that God has planned for us to marry, jobs He has planned for us to have, etc. we are promoting this blueprint concept whether we have realized the implications or not.
Discovering the Game Plan
If we understand that the Bible does not have a specific plan for a mate, job, place to live, or the minute details of life we understand that God could still have a general plan for us to follow. We are faced with the same dilemma described above: discovering the plan. Since this plan is not “personalized” we are given general direction and boundaries and the flexibility to choose within those boundaries. The New Testament is filled with general guidance for the Christian to be holy in his life, edify his brethren, be a light in the world, abstain from immorality, teach the lost, etc. These commands and expectations are bound on all Christians. Some specific life decisions that blueprint followers look for feelings or impressions from God to guide them, game plan followers look to the principles of scripture to guide their judgment. Consider these examples:
- How much should I give to the contribution? Whatever you determine is appropriate, 2 Corinthians 9:6-7.
- Who should I marry? Whoever you want to as long as they have a scriptural right to marry, 1 Corinthians 7.
In a book I highly recommend, Is that You, Lord?, Gary Gilley listed several decisions of Paul in his missionary planning and travel that were not attributed to God “laying something on his heart” or some prompting but were completely Paul’s discretion: Titus 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2; Philippians 2:25, 1 Corinthians 16:3-4.
To find the game plan, we study the New Testament instructions for all Christians. We follow general plans such as Titus 2:11-14:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
The challenge here is not to try to find God’s will through some mystical and mysterious promptings but to submit our will and our desires to the will and desires of God expressed in His word.
My View: God’s Game Plan
We understand that “all things work together for good for those that love God” (Romans 8:28). It is not for us to figure out what He is doing through His providence, but to obey His will so He can accomplish His purposes through us. Instead of wondering where God wants me to live or what job H wants me to take, I must make those choices using wisdom taught by God’s word and in whatever city I choose to live and what career I pursue, live to His glory. God can use me where I am even though He has left the decision making to me.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6) ESV
Instead of attributing events to the direct hand of God, I take the Mordecai attitude of “PERHAPS you were brought here for a reason” because PERHAPS it was just chance but you can use the opportunity to serve God. Unless God explicitly reveals His actions, I feel it is presumptuous of me to say “God did THIS.” Give glory to God that whether by chance or His purpose, the action took place but in humility remember that “His ways are past finding out.”
To take the game plan view, we realize that God has given us boundaries in which to act, guidance on decision making, authority to make choices in our lives, consequences for our choices, and acts providentially to take care of us and make all things to work together for our good. It does not diminish His role in our lives but recognizes that God has a role and has created a role for us to accomplish His will. I do not have to anguish that I may have married the wrong person, lived in the wrong place, chosen the wrong career, or messed up other choices because I wasn’t in tune with the vibrations of the Spirit or hearing the voice of God in my feelings or some signs. If I am obeying His will I am accomplishing His will.
Your view will largely depend on your view of predestination and free-will. However, there is confusion when people teach that God has given us free-will to act but then speak of trying to find God’s specific plan for our lives. Thinking through your view, based on what God’s word teaches, will help you be more consistent in how you think and how you speak.