imagine if the story of jonah from the bible started not at chapter 1 verse 1, but rather at chapter 3, verse 2:
arise, go to ninevah, that great city, and call out against it the message that i tell you. so jonah arose and went to ninevah, according to the word of the LORD…
if this indeed were the case, not only would half the book be lost, but one of the most practical and helpful applications we learn from it would be left behind as well. but instead of starting here of course, jonah’s whale of a tale begins like this:
now the word of the LORD came to jonah the son of amittai, saying, ‘arise, go to ninevah, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me. but jonah rose to flee to tarshish from the presence of the LORD. (1:1-3a)
i often talk with many believers who are struggling with making a choice, and more often than not, a difficult choice. they sometimes have to choose between the lesser of two evils: a lose-lose situation. they other times have to choose between two seemingly “good” choices, such as choosing a college or finding a church to make their home: a win-lose situation. and what i have found is that many people struggle with making a decision, because they fear making a mistake.
many christians want to know what God’s will is. they spend endless nights searching for it, countless hours praying for it, and more often than not, most of their time miss it, because they fail to realize that the will of God is constantly unfolding before their very eyes. even in their “mistakes.”
what many christians often fail to discern as well is that when the Bible speaks of the “will of God,” it uses it in different contexts with different meanings. the first is what is known as His decretive, sovereign, or hidden will, which basically means that nothing happens outside of God’s perfect plans, i.e., all that comes to pass is “willed” by Him. He “willed” the earth into existence. He “willed” there to be light. He even “willed” for His own Son to be beaten, flogged, torn, and crucified, on our behalf, for our sins. in fact, “it was the will of the LORD to crush him.” (isaiah 53:10)
though this is often hidden from us until it comes to pass, there is one aspect of His will that is revealed: His preceptive will, i.e. His law. the laws and commandments from God are much more than ancient rules, they are a reflection of the moral character of God, accurately manifesting His perfection and goodness, and the consequences of failing to meet His holy standards. God in this sense “wills” that we not murder. He “wills” that we do not steal. He has also given all human beings a conscience, an internal gauge of “morality,” because He has indeed written the law upon our hearts, that no man or woman may be ignorant of His preceptive will.
for when gentiles, who do not have the law (of moses), by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. they show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them (Romans 2:14-15)
an interesting thing to note about the two “wills” of God so far is that the first one discussed, His decretive will, cannot be broken. if one atom of one molecule of one cell of anything in the entire universe were outside of His sovereign will or control, then He would cease to be God. He is a God who is immutable in nature, He cannot change (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8), and will not change. the second will however, His preceptive will, is subject to our obedience! He wills people do not lie, yet they do. He wills they honor their mother and father, but they often don’t. though part of the will of God, it may or may not always come to pass.
the third and final “will” of God spoken of in the Bible is His will of disposition. this is in reference to what God desires, His attitudes, and His dispositions as a personal God who is constantly seeking relationship with His creation for the sake of His glory. He does not wish (will) that “any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). “have i any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the LORD GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23). though God wills these things because He is good in His very nature, they do not always come to pass, because many will not heed His word, believe His gospel, take up His cross, and follow Him. many, are perishing, “against” this will of God.
r.c sproul sums this up well for us: we would be wise to follow the counsel of john calvin when he said, “when God closes His holy mouth, I will desist from inquiry.” the true mark of spirituality is seen in those seeking to know the will of God that is revealed in His preceptive will. it is the godly person who meditates on God’s law day and night. while we seek to be “led” by the Holy Spirit, it is vital to remember that the Holy Spirit is primarily leading us into righteousness. we are called to live our lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. it is His revealed will that is our business, indeed, the chief business of our lives.
many people face a mess with fear of a mistake seeking the “will of God.” let me conclude with an exhortation from jonah’s story. almost the exact same words from the original command of God in jonah 1:1-3a are found in His second command to jonah in 3:1-2. jonah was presented with a decision at first, he had two options. in his situation, it was a good thing, and a seemingly bad thing. and jonah made a mistake (our practical encouragement i mentioned earlier by the way). he picked the wrong door. the wrong suitcase. he cut the wrong wire to the bomb about to explode. and he suffered the consequences, obviously (which is where we get jonah 1:3-2:10 from). but even in his “mistake,” despite his wrong choice and his complete disregard for doing what God had even made perfectly clear for him… he still ended up exactly where God originally wanted him, at ninevah.
God is sovereign over my mistakes and yours! if you are being forced to choose and make a decision between two (or more) difficult things today or soon or ever, be encouraged to seek wise counsel from godly friends(Proverbs 15:22), spend time on your knees asking God for wisdom that He does and will provide (James 1:5), and walk by and in the Spirit trusting He will lead you by still waters (Psalm 23:2). and be encouraged knowing that no matter what you do, even if you make a mistake, just like jonah, you will end up exactly where He wanted you anyways… ninevah.