One of the greatest and most confounding gifts God has given us is our free will. It’s probably also the least understood.
I was musing on this fact as I was sitting in my Wednesday morning Bible study last week. We were talking about King David, and that, for a man after God’s heart, his family was a dumpster fire. Rape, incest, murder, rebellion– David’s domestic life makes Yellowstone look like Full House. The men around the Bible study table, all of whom have adult children, were reflecting on their own lives, their own stories, and how their children (and mine) have had meandering paths on their life journeys. All are godly men who have lived and loved the Lord well, but who have made their own mistakes along the way (like me). And, all have children who are in various stages of faithfulness and/or unfaithfulness, bringing joy or grief to their fathers.
As we all reflected on what we’ve done right and wrong along the way (honestly, with this group, more right than wrong) the one wild card, the factor that has stood in the way of our best efforts, whether leading to either our children’s disobedience or our acknowledgement that their obedience has very little to do with the things we did well, is our kids’ pesky freewill: the fact that they made the decisions for their lives; we did not, and could not, make them for them. We controlled many of the inputs early on (and these inputs are the things for which God holds us accountable), but we had virtually no control over the outcomes.
All of us agreed that, if we had the power to control it, to make them make good decisions, we would really, really want to be able to. We acknowledged, however, that if we did, that would be control, not love. We would have raised robots, not human beings. They would be our slaves, not our children. We can only love someone we choose to love, we will to love. Otherwise, it’s not love. As I’ve said before, love is the decision to be all for another, and making a decision requires free will. Because God gave us the capacity to love, He gave us the capacity to choose, freewill. And, freewill always brings with it the capacity not to love, not to be all for another, to be only for ourselves. To reject.
This freedom can often feel like a burden, because freewill is not freedom to do whatever we want, but freedom to choose who or what we will serve. We will always serve something or someone. We can choose to love and serve God first and foremost, and allow Him to be Lord of our lives. Or, we can choose sex, or money, or power, or our jobs, or our spouse, our phones, our children, or something else to be lord. But, that choice, at its core, is always about choosing us as lord. And, that choice brings bondage and servanthood, as well. Because these things (including us) are all idols, taking the place of God. And, idols follow a very predictable progression: they give you the promise of something great, something transcendent, if only you will invest your time, your resources, your identity, and all you are into them. Over time, however, they more and more of you for less and less of that same greatness until, finally, they have taken everything from you, and left you with nothing. And, the choice to serve who we will is not a “one and done” thing, but a daily choice.
Freewill also feels like a burden at times when we’re trying to discern “God’s will for our lives,” in quotes here because, so often, when we use that phrase, we mean, “I want God to tell me what to do.” We may be considering a new job, or entering into a relationship, or a move to a new location, and we’re praying for God to tell us whether we should go to that new place or person, or remain where we are. And, in our minds and hearts we believe that God’s plan involves one decision over the other, one choice being “His will,” the other not. We really want God to make the decision for us, because we’re scared to make it ourselves, or we know what we really want to do, but we want God to “rubber stamp” it, so then we’ll know it will be a good decision. So many times, the kids in my school and my recent graduates think this way about college decisions and their first jobs, and yet, I see the same thinking in prayer request postings among older adults, as well.
The reality is that freewill means God is not going to tell you that this is the perfect job or the perfect spouse for you (or whatever the decision may be). There may be some jobs or spouses who would be illegal or sinful or horrible for you, but there’s not one who is “perfect,” in the sense that you will now and forevermore live outside the will of God if you don’t choose it or them. God gives you freedom to choose. His will isn’t that you make the “right call” here. His will is that you follow Him, love Him, press into Him, and seek His word and truth. When He is your Lord and you’re chasing after Him, He gives you wisdom and discernment, and aligns your heart with His. Because you genuinely love Him, your desires naturally begin becoming His; you become transformed. You now make wise, godly decisions with the freewill He has given you.
There have been times in my life when God has given me supernatural peace and clarity about a decision, in such a way I knew He was clearly speaking to my heart. Marrying my wife and coming to Grace are examples. I am so deeply grateful He gave me such peace to make those decisions, and I’m eternally grateful I made them. But, had I not made those decisions as I did, and had I continued to follow and press into the Lord and worshipped Him, I would not have been from that point forward living outside His will. He would probably have led me to some other person and some other place, and I would be loving and serving there now. God would have provided for my wife and leadership for this school in some other way (as much as it kills me to think about these things!).
Somehow, and amazingly, God’s sovereignty and my freewill worked together, and continue to work together, to accomplish His plans and purposes, on a small scale in and around my life, and on a grand and majestic scale throughout humanity and creation. The only thing I must do with my freewill is choose Him as Lord and follow Him daily, pressing into Him. As I do, He speaks to me, using my time in His Word, the circumstances of life, other people, creation around me, or that small still voice of few but very profound words to guide and direct me, like a loving parent.
Most of the time, I live within His will by using my own freewill with God as my Lord, living what I know from Him to be true, closely aligned with Him, confident that the decisions I make every day are both an exercise of my freewill and His will, working together in perfect harmony, a team, and as a beautiful dance.