Fixed Plan or Free Will?

It was just days after I had just made a huge decision regarding my career path. I made the decision based on what I had perceived to be God’s leading. Then a friend through me for a loop when he said, “Well Ali, don’t worry about it…God would have blessed your decision either way.”

Now wait a minute, hold on right there bud. Did I hear him correctly? I sat there like a stone-faced statue unable to move a muscle. Could what he was saying be true? Anger and confusion suddenly welled up inside of me like a giant tidal wave. I had just spent the past few weeks fasting and praying and seeking and praying some more…about what God would have me do in my situation. I pursued Him with a sense of holy desperation. I wanted to do His will, not my own. And I wasn’t willing to move until I got an answer.

But now I felt as if I was tossed into a pool of bewilderment wondering whether my sincere efforts were in vain. What was the point if our life of faith was reduced to a God who will ‘bless whatever decision you make anyway?’ I knew we had free will, but is this what God had in mind?

These are the burning questions that have been rattling around in my heart ever since. Whether it relates to career path, finding a spouse, or making decisions about life and future in general…I’ve often wondered whether God is sitting up in heaven wearing a director’s hat, orchestrating the details of how our ‘dramas’ will unfold saying, “Do this…do that…turn this way…no that way…stop…now go!” Or…

Whether He is more like a spectator at a basketball game, giving us the freedom to make our own moves, at our own expense, saying something more along the lines of, “It’s up to you champ whether you make a move to the left or to the right, forward or backward…just decide and I will be with you wherever you go!”

Honestly, I prefer the former. I hope for the former. I pray for the former. But it occurred to me in the conversation with my friend that day and in other recent conversations with other Christians, that we often (too easily) accept the latter.

Is this the role God intended for Himself?

If we look to the life of Jesus, it seems pretty obvious that the answer to that question is no. God the Father had the story of His Son all written out even before it came to be and carefully directed Jesus each step of the way. There is no record of Him saying to Jesus, “Son, just decide whether or not you go to the cross… it’s up to you pal and I’ll bless whatever you decide!”

Quite the contrary if you ask me. God had His plans set in place–the what, the where, the when, the who–and there was no turning back. We even see Jesus plead for mercy, begging God to change His mind regarding the destiny that was already written for him,

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

What follows is Jesus ‘in anguish’ and praying even ‘more earnestly’ to His father (Luke 22:44), for he knew it wasn’t going to be an easy road to the cross. God’s plan for Him was already written, within the context of a larger story of redemption. It is no different for us. Job alluded to this when he said:

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)

If we accept that no plan of God’s can be thwarted, the question still remains: are there multiple ways of getting there? In other words, are their different routes (based on our own decisions) that will bring us to the same destination, or God’s ultimate plan for us?

Again, looking at the life of Jesus, we are not told directly if this is so. We don’t know if there was a ‘plan B’ in how the story on the cross would play out. But what we can do is observe Jesus and what we see is this: rather than seeing God as a ‘Blesser’ of his own decisions, Jesus fervently, consistently and persistently sought the Father’s will and adjusted his life accordingly. Jesus is recorded as saying:

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19)

This implies intimate union with the Father at all times. We must follow Jesus’ example and settle for nothing less. I think sometimes when we are afraid or uncertain about the future or a decision that is beckoning an answer, the easier way out is to say, “Well, God will be with me either way anyway.” And we choose according to our own will, not His.

This is not to say God doesn’t sometimes lead His people in this way. We all know the story of Joshua, when he had to step in and lead after Moses died. God said to him, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). In this instance God was giving Joshua the freedom to step out and move forward knowing that He was with him. But one detail we cannot overlook here is that God TOLD Him. He still spoke. He let Joshua in on what He was doing at that time and gave Him the courage to act.

It won’t always be black and white. Sometimes we won’t know which way to go and we still have to make a decision. Mistakes are part of it and God can redeem all things. But even so, we must never stop striving for one thing: to adjust our lives to His plans, not the other way around. He is a God who guides, directs, speaks and leads His people according to His plans and purposes. Just as Jesus earnestly took time out (often in the early morning hours or in quiet places) to seek the Father’s will, we must do the same. He asked His father what He was doing and I am convinced he STAYED there, refusing to move, until he heard from Him.

God’s Word says all the days ordained for us were written in His book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). Do you believe this in your heart of hearts? If so, we must not allow ourselves to settle for a directionless, voiceless, spectator-like “Do it yourself” God! Both the Old and New Testament are chock full of instances of God’s radical way of leading His people. He is fully capable of directing, leading, speaking, stopping and starting. He can tell us specifically where and when and how to go…and not go.

The question is, are we imitating the intimate and intentional communion Jesus had with the Father? Are we living a lifestyle of seeking, asking, listening, pausing and waiting expectantly until we get an answer?

Receive these words from God Himself today, who says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:21)

Friend, open the ears of your spirit and listen for His voice. It may not come in loud thunders or bolts of lightning, but it will surely come!

Action Plan: Read the book of Matthew and study how Jesus sought to be led by His father in all things, each step of the way. Make note of little things He did to connect with the Father and what it was that resulted in getting answers. Write these things down and follow them with wild abandon! Refuse to accept anything less than God’s voice and be determined to follow it at all costs!

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7 Comments on “Fixed Plan or Free Will?

  1. This is a really interesting post, and I’m having a hard time figuring out what I think of it. I agree that we need to align ourselves with God’s will, but the part about Him directing every part of our lives frightens me a little. It frightens me because I know there are moments in my life when I didn’t listen to Him say, “Rebekah, do this,” or “Rebekah, whatever you do, DON’T do that.” The choices I made were not what God would have willed for me. So to think that every detail is within God’s plan makes me think that I have strayed from His path. Almost as if I’m beyond redemption.
    And yet I don’t imagine that God is a spectator who simply cheers us on either. I don’t believe that, like you friend said, He would “bless” your wrong decision; but He would redeem it.
    Personally, I see God as more of the Author of my story. In the beginning, He had it all mapped out. But when we as characters begin to grow and develop, we take on a mind of our own. Sometimes we deviate from the original plan. And though our choices don’t change the overall plot, they sometimes make certain parts of the story irrelevant. So God has to play the editor, slightly shifting and changing the scenes He had originally envisioned to fit the new scenes we have created.
    There is a fixed plan, but there is also free will. It’s not either/or, but a delicate balance of the two.

    • Hi Rebekah,

      Thank you so much for your insightful comment. I love the idea of God being the Author and us being characters taking on minds of our own. I totally agree that God can redeem all things (even our mistakes) and we know that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). I sometimes think its not so much about are we making the right or wrong decision, but who are we becoming in the process that matters most to God. He uses situations and even mistakes to further refine, mold us and mature us into reflections of His Son.

      Thanks again for your thought-provoking comment. Good stuff! Hope you come by again. 🙂

      Blessings,

      Ali

  2. Wow! This really has me thinking 🙂 I want to read Matthew again & then after that the rest of the gospels.
    I have been wondering if I should wait on something or just go ahead & now I’m more confident it’s ok to wait & pray about it
    Blessings

    • Hi Tonya, thank you for your comment. May God bless you with new insights as you read the gospels in the coming weeks!

      Love,

      Ali

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