In making decisions we want to know what God’s will for us is. Which job is the best one for you to take? Is that a good deal on that car or house you’re looking at? What do you say to your loved one that you’re not getting along with?
Hearing God’s voice (discerning his thoughts) is essential to life, but we may try too hard to know God’s will. Hearing God is part of an intimate relationship with him — it’s not a device for making our lives easier. More important than having clarity on God’s specific guidance is being submitted to God’s overall purposes and enjoying his presence, even when we’re not sure what his will is regarding a particular situation.
Sometimes God does not want to tell us what to do! Instead he wants us to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight” (Prov . 3:5-6). We trust the Lord (venture on him) as we walk along and he straightens our path as we go.
Anxious About Not Knowing?
In any situation we can happily trust that the Spirit of Christ is with us and that he will help us to make a wise decision by following the general counsel of God’s Word and the guidance of trusted friends in the Body of Christ (Prov. 3:5-6). But we still may feel unsure about what is the best course to take!
How does it feel for you not to know what is best or to be waiting and waiting for discernment on which path to take? Many people I talk with are quite anxious about not knowing what to do or whether or not things are going to work out for them. To be in a state of not knowing feels out of control and anxious and so they want clarity from God. For most of my life this was true for me. Ironically, what I learned is that if we’re anxious it makes it harder for us to hear God’s voice or even to make a wise decision!
Almost six hundred years ago Julian of Norwich in one of God’s “showings” to her discerned the Lord to say these famous words: “I will make all things well. I will make all manner of things well… And you shall see for yourself that all things will be well.” This is what God’s Word says, for instance in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Julian understood that if we trust God’s good purpose for us in this general and overarching sense then we will not be anxious in the specific uncertainties and painful situations that we face:
It is proper for [God’s] servant, out of obedience and reverence, not to know his counsel too well. Our Lord feels pity and compassion for us because some people are so anxious to know [his clear guidance]; and I am sure that if we knew how much we would please him and set our own minds at rest by leaving the matter alone, then we would do so. The saints in heaven do not want to know anything except what our Lord wants to reveal to them, and their love and their desires are directed by our Lord’s will; our desires should be like theirs…
It is God’s will that we should pay attention to all the deeds he has done, for he wants us to know from them all the he will do, but we must always stop ourselves from considering what the [next] great deed will be. And we must pray to be like our brothers and sisters who are saints in heaven and who only want what God wants, then all our joy will be in God and we shall be content both with what is hidden and with what is shown…
The more anxious we are to discover [God’s] secret knowledge about [the matters that concern us], the further we shall be from knowing it. (Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich, pp. 82-83, 87-88)
Recent scientific research has proven the truth of Julian’s insight that generally as our anxiety increases our effectiveness decreases. In all areas of life — whether in our work, relationships, or faith — we function best if we’re in a state of “optimal stress.” (See my article, “Optimal Stress.”) In other words, not only is it a problem to be over-stressed, but it’s also a problem to be under-stressed. Instead of being anxious or apathetic we want to be alert — alert to God’s presence and activity as we go about our daily lives so that if God wants to speak to us we are in position to hear his voice. Hence the Psalmist prays, “Awake my soul!” (Psalm 57:8)
To be alert to God, but not hyper about or obsessed with hearing from him, requires that we be joyfully content in his kingdom — even when we don’t know what God’s specific will is regarding a decision we’re facing. It’s okay not to know what the best thing to do is as long as do know and trust that God is with us to care for us.