“Not my will, but yours be done.”
This is such a Christian thing to say. Whatever God wants, we are eager to do it, making ourselves available to His will, vessels to carry out His plans and purposes to the world. But to be frank, this cause is a lot easier to avow ourselves to when God’s will looks…well, a whole lot like ours.
Called to wealth so we can give generously? Awesome!
Called to pastor a vibrant, living church? Sign me up!
Called to be a Christian creative of some sort? Definitely has its perks!
Yet do our hearts faint when the will of God skews from the path we envisioned for ourselves? When we tell God to make us His hands and feet, and that sends our life derailing from its carefully-plotted course, how do we respond? How should we respond? How did people of the Bible react to God’s calling, and what can we learn from them?
The Example of Jonah
Perhaps one of the most famous stories about how not to respond to the call of God would be our friend Jonah.
No doubt, Jonah had some struggles. He’s called a prophet of God, yet when God commissioned him for a difficult task with some potentially hazardous consequences—bringing a word of warning to the pagan city Nineveh—Jonah didn’t submit easily. In fact, he fled, hoping if he escaped the realm of God’s “jurisdiction”, he could escape the call and his part in God’s will!
A little-known fact about Jonah’s decision to flee was that he did it not just in concern for his own fate, as is often woven into the story, but also for fear of Israel’s future. You see, by his actions in Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, Jonah was setting into motion a chain of events that would eventually lead to Israel being “scattered beyond the Euphrates”, which was part of the Assyrian empire. This was not God’s preferred outcome for His people, but it was His will based on the consequences He warned them of if they continued in their sin (and boy did they!).
Sometimes following God’s will brings bad news even for others, even people we care about. It can set brother against brother, mother against daughter, friend against friend, and create uncomfortable pockets of strife and discontent. Yet we can’t let that discomfort be a cause for us to ignore God’s will. We can’t run from obedience simply because of the personal or even societal consequences…a lesson Jonah learned after three days and three nights dead in the belly of a large sea creature, before God raised him up and sent him yet again to fulfill His will.
The Example of Joseph
Joseph is perhaps not the example you’d expect for following God’s will, but hear me out!
From a reasonably young age, Joseph knew there was some kind of calling on his life. This was confirmed by two dreams, both of which had his family members bowing before him. Yet destiny seemed to derail when Joseph’s jealous brothers stripped him of his beautiful coat—a symbol of his father’s love—and threw him into a pit, then sold him to slavers. It would have arguably been quite easy for Joseph to write off his God-given destiny as forfeit, become embittered, and sink into destitution…or even give in to the bounty of temptation that came his way in Egypt, in the form of seduction from his master’s wife and later his brothers standing at his mercy.
Yet through everything, Joseph continued to walk in the will of God. His humility to God’s leading and his willingness to be led even at the lowest points of despair made him a savior to his family and a foreshadowing of Christ, who would one day walk utterly and completely in God’s will.
Joseph had a choice to make when doing right (obeying his father’s orders, resisting his master’s wife) landed him in slavery, then in prison: keep following God’s will, or give up on his destiny?
Sometimes God’s will is going to take us to places that look dark. We might face our own pits of despair. We could make enemies, come under false accusation, be slandered, mocked, lied about, even imprisoned or harmed. Yet we can trust God will not forget about us, and that as we continue in His will, He will deliver us back to glory in His light.
The Example of Saul & Samuel
Lastly, let’s look at another thing that can happen when we move outside the will of God: losing our position of authority.
When we become part of God’s family, born again and seated in the heavenlies with Christ, that brings about a certain level of authority. We have a place in the spiritual battle and in the spiritual realm. But if we resist God’s will and decide to do our own thing, we are willfully surrendering some of our spiritual-battlefield-authority. That act of rebellion gives the enemy ground.
Take Saul for example. In the record of 1 Samuel 15, Saul makes a great conquest against the Amalekites, the enemies of Israel. But rather than wiping out the people and everything they possessed, as God commanded him to do, Saul kept Agag the King alive and held onto some of the best spoils for himself. Enter Samuel the prophet, who reprimanded Saul for his choice. Saul seemed to have a pretty great explanation, in the way of his forefather Adam way back in the Garden: “The people did it! I only left the King alive!”
Ah, blame-shifting. Classic.
Saul argued this choice twice, but Samuel was relentless: even well-intentioned rebellion is still rebellion. Samuel had Agag brought before him, decapitated and cut him into pieces himself, then delivered a dire word to Saul: this was beginning of the end of his reign.
From this record, we learn that the will of God is immutable. It’s our privilege and our choice whether to be vessels for His will or resistant to it, but make no mistake…it WILL come to pass! So by digging our heels in and resisting, we’re not preventing the inevitable, we’re simply giving up our chance to be part of it. We’re giving up our place of authority and giving ground in the spiritual realm—and many times in the physical, too! It’s no small thing when we defy God’s will; it can have dire consequences both for us and those affected by that choice.
What Does Living in God’s Will Really Look Like?
It’s not being hopelessly attached to the things of this life that would draw our focus away from Him and the things He wants us to do.
It’s holding loosely to what we want so when we hear His voice, we can drop what we’re doing and follow Him.
It’s holding His ways and thoughts higher than our own, prioritizing the things of God.
It’s making our devotion to Him more than lip service—actively seeking His intentions, involving Him in our plans, shaping our walk to His path.
Being in the will of God is ultimately what the Christian walk is all about. It’s dying to self to live for His purposes. It’s accepting the discomfort that may come with fulfilling our calling in His story. It’s answering “Here I am!” when He calls on us, then going where He tells us to go, even if it wasn’t part of our “five year plan”.
Living wholly surrendered to God’s will is by no means easy; but there is no greater, more rewarding, more fulfilling, or more purposeful existence imaginable. His will shall indeed be done, and it is a great privilege for it to be done through us, walking in union with Him!