The Blank Canvas
Does God have a plan for your life? Are you one of the special ones for whom He has set out a purpose? Or are you just wandering through life, a background person in the lives of those who are special and called of God?
My pastor tells us often that God has given each of us a “vocation” – a sense of calling that pushes us to do things because we’re made to carry out a certain mission, even when those things don’t make sense to others. Writers may not ever make any money or have stability, but they must write their thoughts down. It’s in their bones and they can’t exist any other way. An engineer must figure out how to make things run better. It’s just the way it is. But I talk to many people who don’t feel a sense of calling, who don’t feel there’s something they simply must do.
When I went to seminary, the leaders of my school realized that if we didn’t know ourselves, we could never know others. Since pastors primarily work with people, they required us to get to know ourselves. We took assessments and went through steps and read books. We learned our personality and temperament, our work style, the role we most often play in a group, our strengths and weaknesses, and more. I learned a lot about who God has created me to be while I was there. I learned that it’s more valuable to improve our areas of strength and be the best (an expert) in one thing, than it is to be a well-rounded person who can do most things decently.
When I meet people who don’t feel they have a sense of calling, my assumption has been that they don’t know themselves well enough. They haven’t submitted themselves to the battery of tests, to self-assessment, and to significant prayer time on the matter. (I spent years in prayer and regular fasting before God finally told me to go to seminary and then it took three years until it was actually time to go. But I didn’t give up. I just kept asking Him what to do and where to go until He finally answered me.)
But last week I went to hear Donald Miller, a popular author, speak and he said something that stunned me. He said he doesn’t believe God has a specific plan for most people’s lives. He said it isn’t a biblical concept. He said God has a specific plan for some people’s lives, but it’s a small percentage of people. He said he believes that when we’re born, we have a big, blank canvas in front of us with lots of colors to choose from and we make our own design on it. That’s God’s gift to us – our free will – and our lives are our own to shape and design.
That is a hard thing to hear for someone who has submitted herself to total obedience and is waiting for God to give me direction on the next steps in my life. I believe God does have a specific path I am to walk and that my success in the Kingdom of God depends on my obedience. I believe I can live a life of frustration and fear, as I have in the past when I wasn’t obeying God in all things, or a life of victory and joy through total obedience. But if God doesn’t have a specific plan for my life, then who am I obeying? Is it possible that I am painting my own canvas and obeying my own desires?
My mind has been whirling with these thoughts. As I went back over my life, I realized that there are a few times when I have known beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has spoken to me clearly regarding the direction of my life. At times I obeyed right away and other times I allowed misery to overtake my life before I submitted. I can look at the results of those times to convince myself, if no one else, that I had heard from God.
- God told me to move to Nashville, TN. I obeyed and am very thankful.
- God told me not to date the sociopath, but I didn’t know why He was telling me that because the guy seemed great, so I ignored Him for a year, which led to misery.
- God told me to go to Regent University to seminary. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
- God told me to wait for a ministry position after I graduated and to turn down the secular jobs offered to me. I obeyed and am thankful.
When I look at those things, those very specific things, it’s hard for me to imagine that God doesn’t have SOME kind of plan for my life. All of them were hard. At the time, they were all much bigger things than I could do on my own, or even wanted to do. I know they are things I didn’t make up on my own.
Once I got to Nashville, I didn’t feel any specific calling about where to work or go to church. I think it’s possible that it didn’t really matter and God could work with whatever I decided. Or it’s possible that He was guiding my every step and didn’t need to give me a thundering word of direction because I was stumbling upon His will without it. I can think of many times in my life where that’s been the case. I made the best decision I could make, given the information I had, and God has used it.
I suppose it’s possible that I am one of the few people (in Donald Miller’s concept) who God does have a specific plan for. But that seems like a terribly arrogant thought. I don’t really buy into the concept that I’m special. I think it’s narcissistic. It seems much more reasonable to me that God does have a plan for everyone’s lives and we have to learn to listen and obey.
I’m really struggling with this issue and would love to know what you think. Here are a few Scriptures I found to support my point of view. Is your opinion different? Please post your comments below.
Proverbs 19:21 (Amplified Bible)
Many plans are in a man’s mind, but it is the Lord’s purpose for him that will stand.
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to naught; He makes the thoughts and plans of the peoples of no effect.
1Declaring the end and the result from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure and purpose, calling a ravenous bird from the east–the man [Cyrus] who executes My counsel from a far country. Yes, I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed it, and I will do it.
Even though I have a different perspective from Donald Miller on this issue, he’s still one of my favorite authors. I’d encourage you to check out any of his books.