In high school I had a friend whose father was a policeman. The story of how he chose this particular career path has always fascinated me. On the day his brother was to leave to start his police training, he turned to him and asked – why don’t you go with me? So, he packed his bags and left for police college with his brother, without even telling his parents about the decision! My friend’s dad recently retired after having served in the police force for over four decades. I said I find his story fascinating, but I also find it greatly challenging. I find it challenging because I seriously doubt that I would have had the courage to do what he did. Making a major life decision like that in an instant. Leaving behind everything you know for an uncertain future without even a cent on your name. I don’t know that I’d be willing to do that.
My generation tends to agonize over every single decision that needs to be made. Even something as trivial as choosing a restaurant to eat at can potentially take up the better part of a day. Maybe it’s because we have so many options. Something previous generations didn’t have. Maybe it’s because we’ve been conditioned to constantly think in terms of finding our purpose in life or making sure that we are fulfilled in our jobs, marriages and so on. Maybe it’s because we simply don’t know what it is to suffer and we fear that one misstep in our careers or ending up with the wrong person will bring an end to our privileged and trouble-free existence. Or maybe, as Kevin DeYoung suggests in Just do Something: A liberating approach to finding God’s will, it is a combination of all these factors that has led to my generation’s reluctance to take action and make decisions.
But as DeYoung points out, the Church has not been unaffected by these cultural influences. My generation of Christians seem to have a strange preoccupation with discovering God’s will for their lives. This is not necessarily a bad thing – as long as we are working with a Biblical definition of God’s will. DeYoung shows that when the Bible speaks of God’s will, it usually does so in two ways. On the one hand there is God’s will of decree. This refers to the fact that God has complete control over all that he has made. Everything that happens in history can be traced back to his eternal decree. He works all things according to the purpose of his own will (Eph. 1:11). But the Bible also teaches what theologians call God’s will of desire – sometimes also referred to as his revealed will. The Bible is filled with instructions on how God’s expects his people to live. He has been very specific in revealing to us what pleases and displeases him. Unlike his will of decree, God’s will of desire can be opposed by man. In fact, the Bible defines sin as transgression of the law – transgression of God’s revealed will – and of course there’s plenty of that going around.
But many believers, writes the author, are navigating the Christian life with a very different understanding of God’s will – what DeYoung calls God’s will of direction. It is concerned with the question – what is God’s will for my life? What should I study after school? Who should I marry? Where should we settle down? Many Christians live in constant fear that they may make a wrong decision which will take them outside of the will of God. You may have heard people speak of wanting to be in “the very center of God’s will”. This often leads to bondage, a strange form of legalism where Christians are constantly looking for signs that God is leading them one way or another. It also leads to passivity – cleverly disguised as spirituality – since decisions are delayed until God “gives clear direction”. As DeYoung explains, this conception of God’s will is not Biblical. He writes: “So here’s the real heart of the matter: Does God have a secret will of direction that He expects us to figure out before we do anything? And the answer is no… He does not burden us with the task of divining His will of direction for our lives ahead of time.”
So, what is a Christian to do? Are we not to seek God’s guidance for our lives? Are we not to seek his will at all. Well yes, the author answers, but maybe just not in the way you expect. God’s will, says Paul, is that we would be sanctified – that we would grow in holiness (1 Thess. 4:3). For this reason, the greatest concern in our life should not be trying discern God’s will of direction, but pursuing Christlikeness. The more familiar we are with the Scriptures, the easier it will be to discern what Christlikeness means in a specific situation. So, the Scriptures are God’s primary means of guiding us. DeYoung explains: “Obsessing over the future is not how God wants us to live, because showing us the future is not God’s way. His way is to speak to us in the Scriptures and transform us by the renewing of our minds. His way is not a crystal ball. His way is wisdom.”
But of course, the Bible does not tell as what University we should study at or whether we should try out for the cricket team or the rugby team in High School. This is where DeYoung says we need to rely on our God given common sense, while also trusting in the reality of God’s will of decree. In these situations, we need to remind ourselves that God’s plan for our lives will unfold just as he has purposed. Our decisions – whether they be bad or good – will not thwart God’s purpose. What Jospeh’s brothers meant for evil (selling their brother into slavery), God meant for good (saving thousands of people from starvation).
As the subtitle of the book suggests, this view of God’s will is liberating. Instead of agonizing over every decision we make, we simply seek to be faithful to God’s word, knowing that God will work things out exactly as he has ordained. No more playing Bible roulette, where you open the Bible to a random passage expecting God to speak. No more listening for subjective “impressions from the Lord” and constantly wondering if God in fact did speak or if it was just our imagination. Instead, DeYoung wants us to “Just do Something”. He’s not advocating recklessness, but he does exhort his readers to stop being passive. To take action. To make decisions. To take risks for God, knowing that even our worst decisions can not derail the sovereign purposes of God.
I can’t stress enough how good this book is. I listened to the whole audiobook three times in the course of a few days. It ticks all my boxes for a good book. It’s insightful. It’s accessible. It’s Biblical. It’s pastoral and it’s practical. I think what makes Kevin DeYoung such a good author is that he not only has an excellent grasp of the Scriptures, but he also understands people. He knows what makes them tick. He knows what their struggles are and as a result his books are always insightful and practical. This is a book that I believe all Christians will find helpful and I highly recommend it to you.