Many times in my life, I’ve been at a crossroads, a meeting of ways, and had no idea which direction to take. How do I know what the right choice is? If I’m a Christian, how do I know what God wants me to choose?
What if God doesn’t want to give me a big sign? What if faith isn’t always asking God for a miraculous answer? What if we’re getting it all wrong?
In Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring, when leaving Rivendell to journey to Mordor to destroy the Ring of Power, Frodo asks the wizard, “Mordor, Gandalf, is it left or right?” It’s normal to ask directions, especially when a lot hangs on a decision.
While I was in Bible school, at least one young guy told a young woman—whom he wasn’t dating—that God had told him that she was supposed to marry him. He never considered that she might have a choice in the matter. But God did.
There’s a story in the Bible where Abraham sends his servant to look for a wife for his son, Isaac. I remember the story being told to me via flannel-graph, like this: “Abraham’s servant asked God for a sign to know which woman was the right one. He asked God, ‘If she says this phrase, I will know she’s the one.’ And then that happened, and the servant knew that woman was the exact person God had picked for Isaac.”
Except, that’s not what happened.
In Genesis 24, Abraham starts by telling his servant to go find a wife for Isaac, but insists, that if the woman isn’t willing to travel back to their home, not to force her, coerce her, or drag Isaac out to meet her. The servant then asks God, “Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac.’
Now, that sounds pretty specific. But Rebekah never says those exact words. Seriously. Go read it again. The phrasing of what he asks and what she says is even different in the Hebrew text. But she does say something similar. What if what the servant was looking for wasn’t someone to repeat his exact words, but someone who showed the kind of hospitality and generosity he wanted in a wife for Isaac? Is it possible that a person’s character, not coincidence, is a better indicator of God’s will? I don’t think this is just conjecture, because the story goes on to say that the servant watched her and wondered if this was God blessing his errand.
The two things that happened next are, I think, what convinced this man that Rebekah was a good pick for Isaac. First, he finds out that she just happens to be from the same clan as Isaac – something that Abraham had wanted. And second, both she and her parents agree to the marriage. The servant was willing to keep searching if either Rebekah or her parents didn’t sign off on it. Personal choice factored into finding the will of God.
Four years ago, my sister and I went on a road trip to New York City. We knew we had a great-aunt and great-uncle in New Jersey that ran a small Dutch store, but we’d never met them and were told their store was quite out-of-the-way from our route. But along the way, we decided to find a Dutch store for some Dutch treats for the road. There were a lot of them in New Jersey, so we picked the closest one to the highway. When we walked in, an old man was the only person in this tiny store. He asked us where we were from. We said, “Ontario, Canada.” He then asked where in Ontario, to which we replied, “Near Sarnia-Port Huron.” That prompted his reply, “Oh! I have family near there. What are your names?” So we told him, “Mark and Anna Stromenberg.” At that moment, this kind, little, nearly ninety year old man put both hands on his head and exclaimed, “My wife is a Stroomenbergh! You must be Case and Debbie’s children! I need to sit down!”
Was that a chance meeting? Or did God, with no direction from us, guide us to the right store to meet these holocaust-surviving family members?
Sometimes, I feel that we are too focused on miraculous and bizarre signs to discern God’s will for our lives. Yes, we see people occasionally demand signs of God through the Bible, but it’s not generally lifted up as an indicator of someone with strong character and faith. In fact, signs are often demanded by those who are unwilling to take God at His word, and at times, Jesus outright refuses to do a miracle just to convince someone to believe Him.
Author and pastor Bruxy Cavey likes to say, “We run up the ramp of reason before taking the leap of faith.” I really believe that’s true. Think about this: If God only leads us in clear signs, we never have to develop our character or our faith. Isn’t that exactly what God wants for us? To grow in faith and maturity? To be transformed through the renewing of our minds, so that we can know what God’s perfect will is?
I’m in a period where I am trying to discern God’s will for something in my life. I have two good options in front of me, but I cannot choose both. Which one am I supposed to pick? How will I know? Maybe, God isn’t going to give me a clear sign. Maybe, instead, He wants me to spend time with Him, asking Him to direct my heart, asking Him to guide my meetings and conversations, and asking Him to give me peace or uneasiness about the options.
I was reminded by a friend this week of Isaiah 30:21, which says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” Like Gandalf with Frodo, God often stands behind us, promising to direct us, even working in and through our own freewill, provided we are hearing and obeying God’s word, and resting in Him.
Perhaps, the reason we often strive for a sign or “a word from God” is that we are trying to get the wisdom and insight of God in a moment rather than take the time necessary to wait on God and become more like Jesus through Holy Spirit changing our hearts (I wrote more about that here). That takes work. That takes faithfulness on my part. That requires me to seek wisdom and pray through the possibilities. And all of that ultimately takes trust and faith.
What if I spent time with God, becoming like Him? What if I trusted that God’s will was bigger than my choices? What if I sought to be the right kind of person over being in the right place? Because maybe, just maybe, God’s will is big enough to bless any choice I make, when it’s to pursue serving others and grow in godly character.