In a few days, we will be into a New Year. What kind of year would you like to create for yourself? (Pause…and answer that question please). You don’t have total control of all of your external circumstances, but you do have a say on how you will see them, handle them, or whether or not you will trust God in them. Those parts have a whole lot to do with how your next year goes. More about that next week.
Today’s question comes from a familiar place of guilt and fear. Guilt over making a mistake. Fear of missing out on God’s best. Regret over past choices. Many of us live in these emotions of fear, guilt, and regret for far too long.
Today’s Question: I married a man I knew I shouldn’t have married, but I was just too chicken to call it off. My parents paid a lot of money for the wedding and I thought I was having pre-wedding jitters. I’m now married 22 years, have three kids that are wonderful, but I have this nagging feeling that I disobeyed God and missed His perfect will for my life. Our marriage isn’t horrible, but I know I could have done better had I waited. How do I resolve this guilt that I missed God’s best?
Answer: One of the areas I find that many people agonize over is the thought that they have made a terrible mistake and as a result, have forfeited God’s best for their lives. Perhaps like you, they think they should have married someone else, or not married the person they did.
Maybe they wish they had chosen a different career path or a different location to live. Now they feel trapped, wishing they could go back, do it over and make different decisions. Over the years, some of us may have made bad choices, ones that directly contradicted God’s word. Other times we have tried hard to discern God’s will, but still end up unsure, questioning in hindsight whether we made the right decision.
Here’s an example: Sam was offered a wonderful job opportunity with a new start-up company in California. He prayed about it, had the endorsement of his wife and kids and other good friends, and believed that God was giving him the green light to accept this new job.
Sam and his wife sold their home and moved from Florida to California but after only five months the company went out of business and Sam and his family were left with no income, no benefits, and a lot of bills from the move.
“I really thought I heard the Lord tell me to move,” Sam said as he scratched his head bewildered. “How do you ever know what God’s will is or if you’re making the right decision?”
Like Sam, most of us look at temporal things—like success, personal happiness, and a good outcome to confirm that our decision was in line with God’s will. Had Sam and Sam’s company prospered Sam would not have doubted his decision as God’s will. No one who is happily married second-guesses whether she married the right person. We believe that if something is God’s will, good results or blessings will follow. If bad things happen then we conclude it is because we stepped out of God’s will.
But is this thinking Biblical? For example, the apostle Paul thought he was doing God’s will by going on a missionary journey but ended up being shipwrecked (Acts 27). Jesus did God’s will and ended up crucified.
Could it be that God’s will is not discerned by looking at the temporal benefits of a decision but by looking at the eternal results? What if God’s primary plan is not to make us successful or prosperous in this life, but to make us more like His Son in the messiness, uncertainty, and pain of this life?
Is it possible that Sam discerned God’s will correctly after all? Sam was to move to California with this new job, but not for any temporal pleasures or blessings he might have attained with a great job and a secure income. It was God’s will that Sam move to California because the hardship that would come from losing his job gave him and his family the opportunity to grow more of the character qualities of Jesus.
Knowing God’s will can more easily be discerned when we look directly at Scripture. Peter tells us rather simply that it is God’s will that we become holy (1 Peter 1:16). Let’s look at this idea more specifically in three spheres of our lives: The things God wants us to be, the things he wants us to do, and the personal choices we make.
What We Know (for sure) God Wants Us To Be
There are many passages in the Bible where God clearly tells us what He wants us to be. Throughout His Word God tells us to be loving, forbearing, patient, kind, forgiving, generous, thankful, fruitful, humble, honest, obedient, faithful, self-controlled, pure, and a myriad of other descriptions of godly character traits that He’d like us to develop.
In these passages, God tells us directly and specifically who we are to be or become. The apostle Paul tells us to be “imitators of God and live a life of love” (Eph. 5:1). These Christ-like character traits are not learned from books or by sitting in church but are often gained through the trials and tribulations that God allows in our life that stretch us and work out our spiritual muscles so that we might grow to be more like Him.
What We Know (for sure) God Wants Us To Do
Furthermore, His word already tells us a great deal already about what we are to do as believers. For example, He tells us to pray without ceasing, to love our enemies, to bless those who hurt us, to speak the truth in love, to spread the gospel, to help widows and orphans, to encourage one another, to submit to one another, to glorify God, to bear one another’s burdens, to overcome evil with good and more. These Christ-like character qualities are to become the attitudes and actions of the Christian who wants to be holy and thus be in God’s will. So often we agonize over trying to figure out God’s will when He already tells us ninety-nine percent of what we are to be and what we are to do in the Bible.
Personal Choice Within The Wisdom Of God’s Word
Making personal choices is the last sphere of knowing God’s will. It is often the one where we struggle the most. Should I go to Christian College X, Christian College Y, or Secular University ABC?
Do I become a doctor, lawyer, accountant, or missionary? Should I marry Tony or Dave?
Sam’s decision about moving to California to take the job offer fell into this category. This type of decision is usually made using a combination of God’s word, wisdom, the counsel of others as well as our own personal preference. It is sometimes in this area where we question whether we have made an awful mistake and missed God’s will.
Like you, Sally always doubted whether she married the right man. Jim was a believer but at the time she married him, Sally wasn’t quite sure he was God’s best for her. For years she doubted her decision. As a result, Sally felt trapped in a marriage she thought might be less than God’s absolute best for her.
However, if we believe that God’s preeminent will is to conform us to the image of Christ, then for any decision that we make God can and does use for that purpose. This does not mean we should throw caution to the wind and make reckless choices. The book of Proverbs tells us the benefits of making wise decisions and the consequences of foolishness.
However, you need not fear that if you have made a decision that results in difficulties or hardships that God’s will has been thwarted. This is true whether it’s because of foolish decision making, like marrying outside of God’s clear guidelines, or because you stepped out in faith believing something was God’s will like Sam did when moving to California.
As a result of moving out to California and then losing his job, Sam and his family have the opportunity to pray more, to forgive and love their enemy, to trust God more than they ever have before. To develop and practice perseverance and patience, to overcome evil with good and move their faith from head knowledge to living, dynamic trust. Is this not God’s will— Plan A par excellence?
God can and does bring us back to his Plan A—his best plan for our lives because He never deviates from that plan, no matter what decisions we make. He reminds us in Romans 8:28 and 29 that He causes all things, the good decisions we make as well as the bad ones to work together for our good for those of us who love God.
Your question is how to resolve your guilt that you may have chosen the wrong man. Friend, dwelling on the should of, could of, would of possibilities of your marriage choice, keeps you stuck in disappointment, guilt, and regret. Might you have been better matched with a different man? Sure. Is that a guarantee of a long-term happy marriage? No.
Often we define our good as temporal happiness or personal satisfaction. But God defines our good as being conformed to the image of Christ (see verse 29). That promise has no time limit.
Dear one, there are no Plan B’s. God’s promise is that He who has begun a good work in you will finish it (Philippians 1:6). If you focus on that instead of what might have been different if you chose differently, I think you can be free from your guilt and regret.
Friend, when you have doubted or feared you are on God’s plan B, what helped you get back on track?