J. Oswald Sanders, Every Life is a Plan of God: Discovering His Will for Your Life. Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 1992.
This post will interact with two works: Sander's book and Roger Olson's post on his blog a couple of years ago. They both deal with a topic that seems never to get old or fails to spark controversy. Of course, I am speaking of discovering God's will for one's life. First, I will start with a quote from Olson's post:
"There is probably no more important and confusing issue for Christian young people than 'finding God's will for life.' Many have heard that 'God has a wonderful plan for your life' and been urged to seek God for his will. Whether told or not, many have concluded that they should wait until God revealed his will or pray fervently for a revelation of his will before making any important life decisions. Many become all tied up in knots wondering what God's will is for their lives and attempting to find it. Some are paralyzed by uncertainty and miss opportunities; others rush into rash decisions because someone prophesied over them or they dropped their Bible open, pointing to a passage at random and interpreted that as God's will. Others have followed Gideon's example and put out 'fleeces,' tests to determine God's will. 'God, if you want me to marry Becky, make it rain tonight.' "
These words sound quite to familiar to me as I am sure it does to my reader. Why do so many people struggle to find God's will? Why does it seem to be hidden from us? Does God have it already all planned out before we do it? Is there a perfect blueprint for our life. J. Oswald Sanders' book, Every Life is a Plan of God: Discovering His Will for Your Life seems to imply by the title that God has a perfect plan for our life even before we seek it. We will need to examine the book to see this what the content of the book actually teaches. The question could be phrased this way, "Does God have an ideal and detailed will and plan for every life? What do you think?
This is not the first book I have read by Sanders and I have enjoyed his other books I have read. I have great respect for Sanders as a Christian leader, author, and teacher. He published such classics as Spiritual Leadership and Leading Like Paul. For many years he was the general director of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship. He authored more than forty books on the Christian life. It is interesting that he wrote Every Life is a Plan of God near the end of his life. Sanders notes, "In the course of more than sixty-five years of Christian work in the homelands and overseas, I have had many opportunities to prove the Lord in the matter of guidance, I have not always been sensitive and obedient to the Lord's leading, I regret to say. But I can say with truth that there has never been a time when I have sought guidance from the Lord with total willingness to do what He revealed that I have not received clear and satisfying guidance from Him" (120-21). It is wise to listen to experienced saints who have followed God in obedience for many years.
There are many strengths to this book. It is quite balanced. It pays attention to the intellect in God's guidance. It warns again expecting miracles on a regular basis in seeking God's guidance. It emphasizes the importance of scripture in seeking God's will. Sanders shows practical wisdom in the principles he declares and he acknowledges that God's guidance might be different with different individuals. A helpful chapter is for those considering missionary work is chapter 6, "Guidance in Missions." In addition, it provides useful information on seeking God's will in vocation in many different areas. The author believes there is a "divine plan for our lives," but he does not think it is "like an architect's blueprint" (12). He believes we have free choice. Every day we make choices that will affect our life. In a sense, we are co-creators with God. I do not see our lives as a sheet of paper already filled in. I see it more as empty space waiting to be filled in by us in partnership with God. It seems God gives us freedom in many of our choices. God is more concerned on who we are than where we live or who we marry. It does seem we often worry needless. Here are two quotes on how others see seeking God's will:
" Isn't the matter of God's will not so much about what God wants me to do (find a job, get married, which school to go--all of which have their importance) as it is about discovering God's overall, eternal will, that is what He wants from creation to the New Jerusalem?"
It seems God is more concerned about our relationship with Him and how we are growing in Him. Are we growing in our faith in and our love for Him?
The second quote is one I have been thinking about:
"Forget the blueprint. Toss it because the only reason we want it is we don't like taking risks and learning the 'will of God' through the school of hard knocks, failures, mistakes and miscalculations." This does seem true to me. We want absolute certainty. We want guarantees that this decision will work perfectly. Maybe, God wants us to learn from our mistakes. Isn't that how growth occurs.
Overall, I think Sanders' book is well balanced. He provides different methods that God uses to guide us. Some of these are: Scripture, counselors, prayer, reason, circumstances, our desires, gifts, talents, and temperament. He warns us the danger of following impressions and seeking fleeces and forbidden practices like astrology. He provides excellent help on how to know if you are called to be a missionary. In the last two chapter he provides practical wisdom on how to choose wisely. He distinguishes between personal decisions that affect lifestyle or vocation, straightforward decisions, non-moral decisions,and indeterminate matters. In the last chapter he provides cautions about guidance. One is "paying more attention to the mechanics of guidance than to the leading of the Gide" (149). Understand that we are not infallible. We might discern God's guidance wrongly. I think he would say that when many methods point in the same direction, we can be confident with our decision.