Acts 26:14b, NLT – “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.”
In Acts 26, Paul faces King Herod Agrippa II, Festus (the procurator of Judea), and a host of Roman and Jewish nobility for a trial before he finally defends himself before Caesar’s court. Paul recounts the transformative encounter he had with Jesus on his way to Damascus, Syria, in which Jesus told him, “It is useless for you to fight against my will.”
(First of all, I’m glad for the New Living Translation, because the first time I read this, they were talking about “goads” in the New King James Version).
But also, how can we fight against God’s will when we rarely even know what it is? I know there are levels to this. So a Christian can argue that God’s will for all Christians is to spread the Gospel, and that was God’s will for Paul. It would have been useless for Paul to avoid that. (Though, at the time, Paul was a Pharisee who was pretty much blindsided into Christianity, so, even then, he had no idea what God’s will was until God revealed it to him.)
I think a lot of times, we put too much pressure and focus on God’s will for our lives. If we take this verse and interpret it in a deterministic manner, then, it doesn’t matter what we do; God’s will will come to pass anyway.
Let’s consider this example. I believe that if it is God’s will for me to continue my education, it will happen. In that sense, I can trust God and seek God’s wisdom as I do research, make my decisions, and wait patiently while opportunities open up.
On the other hand, if God’s will is for me to become a preacher, then that is also something against which it would be useless for me to fight. I didn’t like public speaking for a portion of my life and my career path was nowhere near preaching, or even pastoring–God forbid! (Actually, maybe I should take that last part back, you never know…) But God guided me into that. In that sense, it was useless for me to fight.
I love this, because now it brings up the question of, “Do humans have free will?” And I still think there are a plethora of ways to answer that question. For instance, I don’t believe it is “God’s will” that I wear a particular outfit on a particular day or change my hairstyle. Those things are left to chance and free will. But I do believe that God’s will plays a part in our ultimate purpose, whether it is what we do, why we do it, or how we do it. And I think that looking back on our stories and how everything is connected gives us a clue as to where God’s hand was and where we were a little more free to make our own decisions.
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.Proverbs 16:9, New International Version
Hebrew: THE HEART OF A MAN [DEVISES HIS WAY], BUT THE LORD [DIRECTS HIS STEPS].
Heart: reminds me of a person’s desires
“devises (their) way”: to devise means to think, dream, design, concoct, plan, etc.
The LORD: reminds me of authority and wisdom
“directs (their) steps”: basically shows us where to go
Passages like Proverbs 16:9 make so much more sense now. As a child, my heart desired to serve God through music. I dreamed of all the different ways I could accomplish that. Many of the decisions I made were in an attempt to achieve that desire. But the LORD–the wisdom and authority of God–ended up directing me and showing me where to go (literally). It was not a direct, linear path, and I developed other skills and gifts along the way. So my next step is to keep the desire in my heart, but see what steps the Lord leads me to take.
*”My Way’s Cloudy” is a lyric from a song (and the title) by the cast of Langston Hughes’ musical “Black Nativity.” I use this as the title for this post because it reminds me that even if we can’t see our way, we can trust God to guide our steps so that we get where we’re going safely.