I had a conversation recently with a young woman who was agonizing over whether to go out with a fellow who she felt was likely to ask her on a date soon. She was pretty sure she wasn’t interested in him, but she was concerned: What if she said no, but he was actually The One?
Her look of concern mirrored the one I’ve often seen on high school students and their parents whom I’ve advised as they made college plans. What if they don’t get into the right school? Or don’t even apply there? Or don’t even know about it?
Making wise and informed decisions is important, of course, but our preoccupation with selecting the right option, whether we’re talking about a spouse, a school, a career, or any other important life choice, is the unhelpful product of bad theology. It misunderstands both God’s role and ours in our decision-making and it misdirects our focus, treating the lead-up to a decision as more important than its aftermath, when in reality it’s usually just the opposite.
An obsessive search for the right option often grows from the belief that God has mapped the course of each of our lives and that happiness and fruitfulness depend on discerning that path and following all its predetermined turns. This idea is particularly potent because the first half of it happens to be true. God has determined the course of your life, just as he has sovereignly determined the course of, well, everything. As Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” But here’s the thing: Those dice don’t need to know what God ordained. They are going to fall according to his plan. Period.
We don’t need to know God’s plan for our life in order to follow it either. Judas was not trying to conform to centuries-old prophecies when he made his own free choices about whether or not to betray Jesus, but the path he chose was nonetheless exactly the one that God had ordained. Of course, if you are a child of God your life story will have a happier ending than Judas’, but, like him, its conclusion will not depend upon you figuring it all out.
There simply is nothing in the Bible which teaches that we need to figure out God’s preselected “right option” when we come to an important life choice. It is true that God occasionally revealed special instructions to his people, like sending Abraham to the Promised Land or directing Ananias to help Paul after his conversion, but those messages were both unusual and unambiguous. In the absence of such a plain directive from on high, God expects us to make decisions through Bible-based wisdom, not lucky intuition of his hidden plans.
And what’s amazing is that God can then take those decisions and work them together for good. When we agonize over our options trying to get it all just right, we are not really honoring God; we’re actually dishonoring him by acting as if he can only accomplish his good purposes for us if we manage to figure it all out too. It is as if we think God imagines a good story for our life, but then it’s up to us to guess all the plot twists if we want to get to the end. How absurd! If God could use the pharaoh of Egypt and the rulers of Babylon and Persia to accomplish his purposes, he can use the imperfect efforts of his people as we prayerfully seek to make wise choices.
Of course, those choices do need to be prayerful. They do need to be Bible-based. We should seek out good information and thoughtful perspectives, but then we can act without the crippling worry of whether we got it just right. Because we didn’t. Because we can’t. Unless other options are sinful, there is no “just right” waiting to be found. It’s about making the best decision we can, then handing it over to the Lord to accomplish his purposes.
Once we let go of the fear of unknowingly taking a fatally wrong turn in our decision-making, it frees us to focus on the part of each decision which is usually the most important, yet often receives little attention: Everything that comes after it.
If you are in high school, which college you attend matters much less than what you do once you get there.
If you are single, you have probably already met several people who could make a great marriage—if you both put in the work to make it that.
We tend to obsess over forks in the road, but most of the road is just… road. The quality of your life and the fruitfulness of your Christian walk are determined far more by your daily, mundane choices than by your few big decisions. Go ask any couple who have been happily married for 20 years how they stayed together and in love that long, and I promise you that “I married the right person” will not be at the top of the list.
So don’t try to determine the whole course of your life with the perfect decision today. Be prayerful, be thoughtful, be prudent, and then be done. Make the best choice you can, trusting your sovereign Father, and then buckle down to the daily living that will make this path the right path.