How to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky etc.
I read this book not because I was seeking God's guidance about any particular decisions, nor because I felt particularly 'led' to read it, nor because I was recommended it, but rather because my husband was currently reading it, found it sensible and pragmatic, and because I was captured by the subtitle!
The testimonials by pastors and Bible scholars are impressive. The book is heralded as being an essential 'go to' book for young people seeking answers to the big questions such as, 'What does God want me to do with my life?'
I found it cut to the chase. I have known many Christians almost paralysed through fear of 'missing God's will', as though this is some elusive quest where mistakes carry high penalties. I've always felt a uncomfortable with this, as it is contrary to the nature of God. Why would a good and loving God who cares about us with father-like love play such games with us? It doesn't make sense. Alongside this, some Christians who are paralysed into inactivity over-spiritualise decisions. 'I'm waiting for peace about the decision', or 'I'm waiting for a clear calling'.
DeYoung writes in a refreshing manner (some quotes from this, and other books, are here). He makes it quite clear that the God who created heaven and earth is quite capable of using extra-ordinary means to speak to His children. He cites the Biblical examples where dreams, visions, fleeces, writing on the wall, a talking Donkey, visits from angels and other supernatural means were used to communicate direction. However he also makes clear that this is far from the norm, and was far from the norm even in Bible times. Secondly, he does not dismiss praying about decisions, asking God to give us wisdom and help in making the best decisions. He does not dismiss seeking Godly counsel (indeed recommends this, and quotes several passages of scripture to underline this point). But the point he makes is that some decisions can be made simply as decisions.
His style can be shocking at times. He makes bold statements including, 'God does not care where you study or what career you choose'. He then qualifies this by explaining that there is not a single best 'perfect will of God' for your life, and that we need to take care not to treat non-moral decisions in an over-spiritual manner. Sometimes the choices can be made by weighing up the options, considering the pros and cons of them all, and making a logical and rational decision. If the decision does not lead you into sin, it is likely to be an opportunity that can be used by God.
There was an interesting overlap with the book I recently discussed on the error of 'self-esteem' teaching. In our current generation, we are encouraged to look for perfect fulfilment, and it is instilled in us that 'we deserve it'. DeYoung writes, 'my peers and I were among the first ones to experience grande inflation, where we got A's for excavating our feelings and 'doing our best' at calculus. We were among the first to be programmed for self-esteem, as we learned that having a pulse made us wonderfully special. For as long as we can remember, we've been destined for superstardom.... We've been stuffed full of praise for mediocrity and had our foibles diagnosed away with hyphenated jargon and pop psychology.' He points out that this attitude brings a sense of 'entitlement' which is almost certain to be disappointed. By contrast, he describes he grandfathers, both God-fearing men who had lived through some difficult times. In that generation (and indeed as I reflect on this, for my grandparents too, and for many people who live here in East Africa), life was more about providing for the essentials in life. Providing for one's family, with whichever job was available to be able to do so. Being involved in the day-to-day activities of a community. Raising and educating the children. Yes, some people at this time would have followed a vocation or calling, but often people were too busy getting on with life, discharging their responsibilities in a God-honouring way, to spend much time considering whether or not they were 'fulfilled'. I remember something similar when I asked my mother-in-law whether she had had a happy marriage. She looked at me as though I had asked the most peculiar question. You see, to her, marriage was about commitment through thick and thin, about providing for a large family on a meagre income, and about seeking to honour God in all things. Happiness, or lack of, simply did not seem to be a question that made sense.
(I read an insightful blog post that relates to this here. Protecting our children from perceived failure by micromanaging their lives is only set to exacerbate this anxiety in decision making, and perhaps particularly as home educating families we must take great care not to fall into this trap, but rather to prepare our children for life in the 'real world' - which is actually one of the great potential benefits of homeschooling)
DeYoung also tackles marriage. He is pragmatic on this. If you get on well, you are both Christians (and he expands a bit on this, to discuss ideologies which may be incompatible), then maybe you should just get on and get married. Years ago, people had much smaller social circles, and it would be likely you would marry somebody you knew through church or youth group, or somebody you had grown up alongside. Now we have such wide social circles and so much social mobility, that we can become paralysed through fear of missing 'the one'. When I read about Biblical marriage, I do not see descriptions of wild passion (although for sure, Song of Songs comes close!), or seeking a 'soul mate'. The Bible does not say that a marriage partner makes a person 'complete'. There are many errors in thinking in the world around us which have infiltrated the church and make young Christians make too much of decision making.
The book concludes with 8 short studies which could be undertaken as individuals or groups. I have no doubt that at some point in the future I will work through these with a younger Christian who is seeking to find 'God's will' for their lives.
The book is relatively short and easy to read. The style is challenging (although I do not find it offensive in any way). He does not offer worldly pragmatism, but correctly handles Scripture throughout. Indeed he provides a very helpful summary of the instances where the Bible refers to 'God's will for you', and this is invariably with regard to matters of godly living, rather than specific directional instructions. He points out that if we are living close to God, being obedient in the areas where we have been given specific instructions, then when the time comes for us to make choices, these should more naturally follow.
This is certainly one to keep to hand, to buy several copies of, and to refer to often.