God’s Plan Isn’t a Roadmap
By alastair bryan sterne
April 17, 2012
One of my mentors once said to me, “God doesn’t give us clarity, son.”
It may have been said first by Mother Teresa—I can’t remember. But this insight has stuck with me and has been on my mind over the past few weeks.
My wife and I just moved from our home, our church community and our friends all the way across the continent. We felt called by God to plant a church in Vancouver and are working on doing so. As Julia and I have been walking faithfully in response to where Jesus is leading us, I can’t help but want to know a few things. I want God’s timeline and milestones and other measurables. I want to know who will be a part of what we’re doing, what unexpected turns to expect, when things are going to happen, where we’ll end up planting in the city and how the decisions I make now will impact the future. I want clarity, but those words remain right: “God doesn’t give us clarity, son.”
God certainly gives us glimmers of clarity and an assurance that we are where He wants us to be—but that doesn’t mean we suddenly become omniscient. Our knowing always remains in part, leaving us weak and dependent. In other words, embracing our finitude and limited understanding is exactly where God wants us to be so that our strength is in Him and not ourselves.
But this wanting to know how things will play out lingers in the recesses of my mind. Perhaps it’s because I am easily fixated on what I’m doing rather than on who I'm becoming. Without a doubt, when someone asks what God’s will is for their lives, they really mean, “What does God want me to do with my life?” They assume there is some direct Batline to the Holy Spirit to answer that question or that there's a trick to knowing God’s will.
Well, there isn’t.I do not doubt that God has a course for our lives, as well as “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV). But I tend to focus on Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians in regard to God’s will. He tells us, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3, ESV).
God’s will for our lives is to see us transformed into the likeness of Jesus—to become people who walk more and love more like Jesus Himself. Elsewhere, Paul says God predestined us to be adopted as sons through Christ and chose us to be holy and blameless (Ephesians 1). God’s will for us is transformation.
Maybe God cares about who we are becoming more than what we are specifically doing.
The transformation that Jesus brings about makes us more fully alive. It makes us more human. When we are more fully alive, becoming all that God envisions we can be, suddenly we start walking through life lock-step with God and His will. It is precisely when we focus on God’s desire to transform us that He teaches us how to walk through the uncertainty of where we are going. The result is the temporary uncertainty of this life becomes far less important in light of the eternal trajectory we are now focused on. We walk toward Christ through doubt, through struggles, through confusion, through unanswered prayers and through our relentless desire to simply know where every moment of our lives will end up. We don’t know everything—we don’t know the specific job, home, spouse, school, friends, challenges or callings our lives may entail—but we know the one thing necessary.
Paul also says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV). We are transformed by God as we rejoice in the Gospel—not in what we do but in what has been done for us: Jesus loves us and gave Himself for us. In response, we begin to pray out of this deep appreciation for God’s infinite love shown to us in our hearts. We begin to give thanks in any and every circumstance because no matter what we face and no matter what the future holds, we know God is for us and that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
You may not have clarity about temporal circumstances, but you can have clarity about the only thing that matters: God gave Himself for us and is more committed to our transformation and life than we are. In seeking clarity, you are really longing to know what you can’t know. But in seeking God, what you do know is knowing enough. By keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus and the beauty of His grace, the rest works itself out.
Alastair Bryan Sterne has a master's in biblical studies from Asbury Theological Seminary. He is the pastor of St. Peter’s Fireside, a church plant in Vancouver, B.C. Sometimes he writes stuff on their website, like the original version of this article. He is still waiting to say something original on Twitter.