A Life Unimagined: When God’s Will Looks Different Than Your Own

“I want to encourage you to believe that the will of God is always far different than what we imagine–far bigger, far more difficult–but, unspeakably more glorious.”

Elisabeth Elliot

Can you take hold of this thought with faith? If you could, the discontentment in your heart would settle into peace. I imagine your life has not unfolded as you thought it would. I imagine that, because I am right there with you. I taste the temptation to give up as the effects of sin, from within and without, seek to permeate into my everyday life. As a little child we all had dreams. We lived in the land of our ideals and eager assumptions about the trajectory of our lives. The life ahead was open and so were our aspirations and hopes. We entertained our fanciful thoughts of adventure and excitement, betting on the days to come.

So…how’s that going for you? How’re they looking? Have they come true? And, are you surprised at their unfolding, or, should I say, their lack of?

We love to say, “Thy will be done”, with our agenda in one hand and the cross in the next. This is what the bible would call being double-minded. It takes many years to learn what my dear sister , Elisabeth , is trying to encourage us to do. It’s interesting to think about the way Jesus responded in the garden of Gethsemane when His enemies sought for the ending of His life. Christ did not hide, He did not shrink back nor come up with another solution. Any aspirations Christ had were of no value if it meant interference with the will of God.

“Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek? They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, I am he.”

John 18:4-5

Essentially, Jesus was saying, “Here I am“. His surrender was not to the band of soldiers surrounding His presence, nor the men who had devoted their lives to Him, but to His heavenly Father. Jesus was willingly accepting the plan unfolding, holding high this banner, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). On the other side of this surrender was unspeakable glory for the Son of God.

I don’t know if in Christ’s humanness He ever entertained “dreams”. Perhaps, in some way, Jesus experienced longings as we do. Building an orphanage, climbing to the top of a mountain, or traveling to a certain part of the world. Yet, Jesus was resolved to complete the work He had come to do. At the end of the day, the will of God was the heartbeat of His life. There was no competition or threat to glorifying His Father. Neither should there be for any of us who are co-heirs with Christ.

The question is, what do you do when the will of God for your life looks nothing like you imagined? When we expected certain results by now which seem non-existent. When the grass looks greener everywhere else then where you are. When, by your assessment, the progress is slow and success is slim.

“God seems to have laid out the order of things, not for the general and brilliant triumph, but for the hidden sanctification of individual souls.”

Elisabeth Elliot

Not for the “general and brilliant triumph”, but for your sanctification. For the purification of your soul and conformity to the glorious image of Christ. But, don’t take just her word for it.

“For this is the will of God for you, your sanctification…”

1 Thessalonians 4:3

A stone by the water which is found smooth and pleasant has been weathered by the water many times. What used to be rough and untidy was met with the continual presence of the water’s washing, shaping it beautiful and right. So it is with us. Everyday, we must let go of any will we have been holding onto and receive again the grace of His weathering. This often comes to us, day in and day out, with circumstances and situations we would’ve never dreamed of.

Hold tight to this word. Though God’s will for your life looks nothing like you thought it would, it is, in His sight, “unspeakably glorious.” We can pray that God would help us to see it as so. Weathered, afflicted, disappointed–we can raise high our banner as our Lord did and say, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”