The second topic we addressed this summer was how the gospel relates to our calling. My sweet friend, Kristin, led the discussion in my packed living room. We had standing room only as the room filled with women carrying pressing questions… How do I understand the will of God? How do I go about making important decisions? What is God’s will for me when it comes to singleness or marriage, my college major, whether or not to go to graduate school, or what kind of job to pursue?
Kristin began by summarizing a talk she gave several years ago as she was approaching the end of her college years. The summary was pragmatic, practical:
Kristin explained the difference between God’s revealed will that we can discover in the Scriptures and his secret will that we discover through the leading of the Holy Spirit. She encouraged us to excel at the revealed things by reading God’s word and making it our ambition to obey what it says. So much of God’s will is revealed in his word: honor your parents, abstain from sexual immorality, forgive those who have wronged you, love your enemies. No mystery in those instructions!
When it comes to God’s secret will over an issue or question that is not directly addressed in the Scriptures, Kristin encouraged us to pray. Pray for God to “make our paths straight” and lead us in the direction he wants us to go. She also encouraged us to seek wise counsel, submit our wills to the Lord, and then rest in the sovereignty of God. She reminded us that as we seek God’s kingdom first, all the other things we need, such as answers to pressing questions, will be given to us.
Such was the end of Kristin’s talk on God’s will as she delivered it several years ago. But that wasn’t the end of the discussion in my living room. Kristin said that she ended her message before she had “sat in the rooms with more questions than answers.” Before she had wept and bled with people in our community who had struggling marriages, stillborn babies, suicidal fathers, and deep wounds inflicted from past conflicts. Those experiences changed her and the way she views God’s will.
Kristin now adds to what she understands about God’s will another truth: Sometimes, it is the will of God for us to suffer. She has learned that suffering is the main way God sanctifies us, prunes us, makes us into people who truly reflect his Son. She’s seen it in other people. She’s seen it in herself.
We see this truth reflected in the gospel. Jesus suffered. More than any of us can imagine. And he suffered without sinning, escaping, or finding a way to dull the pain. He suffered well. He remained under God’s hand until God saw fit to lift him up (1 Peter 5:6-7). He trusted God, depending on him in every way.
Kristin said it well: “Because Christ suffered perfectly and ultimately, we are freed to suffer well and temporarily.” We can follow Christ’s example in suffering, submitting to the will of God and trusting him to always do what’s best, working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).
Sometimes discerning God’s will is as simple as obeying what the Scriptures make clear. Sometimes it is a subjective journey as we try to listen and make Spirit-directed decisions. And sometimes it is a submissive experience as we trust God to make sense of our suffering. No matter what, as the gospel makes clear, we can trust the will of God and our calling to live it out.