Recently, I have run across quite a few Christians who are obsessed with discerning God’s will for their lives in specific areas. Some worry that the person they are engaged to may not be the one God has chosen for them. Others feel absolutely stuck, baffled as to which career path God wants for them. I have noticed that a cloud of anxiety surrounds these people. They fear that they might make the wrong choice, and that this will lead to devastating life consequences.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this manifestation of anxiety, and I have come to wonder if perhaps these well-meaning Christians have bought into a very tricky idea. It goes something like this: If I choose the right direction, I will be safe, because God will protect me. But if I choose the wrong direction, I open myself up to heartache, rejection and regret.
It’s easy to see where Christians might get this idea. God told the Israelite people way back in Deuteronomy 28 that he would bless them if they obeyed him, and would curse them if they disobeyed him.
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
We all want straight paths, right? Of course we do. But here’s the tricky part: While obedience to God does bring good, it can also bring struggle and pain. How do I know this? Jesus himself endured unthinkable physical and emotional pain because of his obedience to the Father when he “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2: 7–8).
If our Savior endured heartache, rejection, abandonment and shame because he was obedient, then it stands to reason that following God does not guarantee that we will be safe from these things. In fact, Jesus pretty much guaranteed the opposite: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). He told his disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you… If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you… They hated me without a cause” (John 15:18, 20, 25).
In this world, following and obeying God does not keep anyone safe.
What’s the point then? If I can’t keep myself safe by trying to discern God’s will for every choice in my life, why would I even care what God says? It’s because he also promises us something far greater than safety. He promises us himself.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
— John 15:9–11
Our joy is not born in safety. Our joy is born in Christ. Today, let that be enough. To be loved, truly loved, deeply loved, is so much better than to be safe. We live in a world broken by sin. But we have a Savior whose love prompted him to give up his very own life for us. By God’s grace, through faith in Christ, we are becoming who he has set us apart to be. The do fades in light of this. By God’s grace, through faith in Christ, we are a people motivated by his love. The what fades in comparison to this incomparable why. Today, that is enough. Tomorrow, that is enough. Forever, that is enough.