Question 2: What if I have two desires that are Biblically appropriate and they both seem strong? I am able to do them and I have opportunity in both, so how do I proceed in a situation like this?
We all face decisions like this one. I think the way forward is to trust that God has a plan, he is going to use one of those desires, and so the best thing to do is to take the time to pray, counsel with godly people, and to wait until God causes one of those desires to rise to the top. Generally time and perspective are all you need. In the very very rare occasions that time does not work it out, and you really don’t know which way to go, then do what the Apostles did when they needed to replace Judas after he took his life in shame after betraying Jesus. Talk about a really significant decision. They boiled it down to two men, presumably for tangible, wise, and missional reasons. Then they drew lots. They allowed God to use lots to reveal his will. So…flip a coin or draw lots and trust God. Again, you may go a lifetime without ever facing a dilemma like that. God almost always uses time, Biblical reflection, godly counsel, and prayer to make the right desire float to the top.
Question 3: How do I deal with a nagging feeling I made a mistake, am living with the consequences, and am not in the will of God right now? In fact, this is a big deal: like my job, where I live, what I chose to study in school, or even a spouse.
We make decisions with foolishness, lack of information, and even sinful motives. That is a pretty unarguable fact. The question remains if those can throw us out of God’s plan for our lives, putting us off course. Going back to my main idea, God’s most important will for us is to trust him, serve him, and glorify him. The big deal mistakes are not vocation and location decisions, but rather the decisions not to obey Scripture and have a Christ-centered heart. The key word in all of this is regret. True regret is a God given emotion for our sin. Lost years of not obeying Jesus, or not repenting of a habitual sin that numbed us to the joy of the Holy Spirit and the grace of walking with God, of not having the growth that comes from serving the gospel – that is what should give us regret. Being off course, Biblically, equals not living a God-glorifying life.
But, even in our sin, I believe God redeems, protects, and keeps us in his providential will for our lives. In fact, we are unaware of the billions of ways he is shaping our paths, protecting us, and funneling us in his purposes for us. We may regret why we took a job, but the job we have is his will. We may think about switching our careers, given some real issues, but I would not make it an issue of correcting a mishap in messing up the will of God. I would think of it as a new chapter that you are being urged to enter. To illustrate, I attended UC Berkeley for my freshman year of college. I went for poor reasons, not least its prestige and the offer of a fast German car from my parents for not making them pay for a pricey private school. Was going to Berkeley a mistake? No. While I based the decision on wrong motives, God was shaping my life and had me at Berkeley for a reason. He did great work in my life there and it was a wonderful season in my life that prepared me in specific ways for my experience at Wheaton College and the rest of my life.
If you look at the Bible, there is a clear teaching and narratival perspective in many of the OT stories that history past is the good plan of God. History future is unknown, apart from prophetic statements (many of which are still general enough that specific timing and events are unknown still). Put another way, hindsight is a confidence boosting event for Christians. Again, we should regret our sin, but we should be confident in God’s design regarding our circumstance. God is too good and too sovereign to let our finiteness and fallenness, as well as those of others who effect us, get in the way of his overall purposes and plan for our lives.
One caveat – marriage. It is one thing to be in a marriage where your spouse has been unfaithful, is being unfaithful, and will not repent – who may have even abandoned you. There is Biblical freedom to consider the termination of a covenant (freedom, not necessity – the tenor of Scripture is restoration and redemption). But, many Christians, in struggling marriages, where married life just kinda stinks for now, regret having married their spouse and begin to interpret the situation as a big mistake that should never have happened; and thus to end the marriage is a corrective event that should fix things, at least the balance of things. Given God’s sovereign control of our lives, not to mention the logic of the gospel, that should not be your perspective. Rather, you should affirm God’s orchestration of your marriage and feel burdened to lean into the Lord to begin a new season of trusting him and getting the help you need to bring your marriage under God’s authority and his power. This is a time for renewal and resurrection. This is not a moment to use God’s-will-theology as a way to exit a hard situation.
So, regret your sin, but don’t distrust God’s protection and overall shaping of your life. And, with regret for sin don’t forget to let that drive you back to the cross, back to grace, and move you toward repentance for the future.