By Marcia Hornok
“God has a wonderful plan for your life,” states a popular evangelistic appeal.1 This leads many Christians to conclude they must discern God’s pre-determined plan and carry it out. But how does He reveal His perfect will for us? What happens if we miss out on God’s best?
Bill and his wife, classmates of ours in Bible college, completed their lifelong goal of becoming missionaries and moved to South America in the 1970s. Learning a tribal language overwhelmed them; health issues developed; and Bill soon realized the mission field wasn’t his niche after all. He returned home with his young family and began working for a farmer.
As if his struggles on the field weren’t enough, now he faced the emotional strain of being a “missionary flunkie,” and his Christian peers would not let him forget it. Some criticized him for putting his hand to the plow and turning back. One colleague said he should apologize to his home church for disobeying God. The mission board even discussed making him reimburse his supporters. People saw Bill as a failure in ministry, but what was God’s assessment? Five principles from 1 Corinthians 16 give the answer.
1. DO WHAT YOU WISH IF GOD ALLOWS
Paul told the Corinthians that he would come to them when he passed through Macedonia, and perhaps winter with them “if the Lord permits” (16:5-7). Like Paul, we can make our plans and proceed with them unless something interferes. We rest in the confidence that God sovereignly oversees all circumstances, but He allows us to choose our own course. Why did God give us intellect and free will if He does not expect us to use them?
James 4:15 affirms that we ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” Zane Hodges said, If the Lord wills should be on our lips, “not as a mere formula, but as a genuine expression of [our] dependence on God.”2
2. LIVE WHERE YOU CAN HAVE AN EFFECTIVE MINISTRY
Although we have the responsibility to make our own choices, including vocation and location, we often face competing options. Verses 8-9 indicate a decision can be based on the potential for ministry we might have. Paul planned to stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, “for a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” I tend to think adversaries should
be avoided as a detriment to ministry. Not in God’s design. Opposition may slam a door shut, but it should not hinder us from entering a door of opportunity. If you have two possibilities for using your spiritual gifts, choose the harder one, because that is where you need God most, and He will do the work. The glory will be His.
3. RESPECT THE DECISIONS OTHERS MAKE FOR THEMSELVES
Even though the “Great Apostle Paul”3 wanted Apollos to do something, Apollos had freedom to do what he preferred according to his own timeline. Paul “strongly urged” Apollos to go to Corinth, “but he was quite unwilling to come at this time; however, he will come when he has a convenient time” (16:12). Imagine that—God’s will can be a matter of convenience. And we can turn down the plans others have for us, even if they are our superiors. Based on this verse alone, Bill’s colleagues should have supported, not shamed him.
Another instance of people making their own decisions is Silas in Acts 15:34, where “it seemed good to Silas to remain there.” In the context of the Jerusalem Council, there were things that “seemed good to” the church leaders (Acts 15:25) and what “seemed good to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 15:28).4 Sometimes we need to do what “seems good” rather than expect clear direction. Sounds
like common sense, doesn’t it?
4. EVALUATE YOUR MOTIVES
“Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love” (16:13-14). Our decisions must not compromise God’s standards and truths or our Christian walk. If we make a “no” decision, discern the reason—is it because of fear? Or feeling inadequate? We may have forgotten that God uses our weaknesses more than our strengths.
Additionally, are we motivated by our love for God, which will enable us to love the people we serve? The precedent for ministering in love had already been set in chapter 13, which affirms that our efforts profit nothing without love, and love never fails.
5. STAY ACCOUNTABLE TO GOD-APPOINTED AUTHORITIES
Paul urged the Corinthians to submit to the household of Stephanas and “to everyone who works and labors with us” (16:15-16). There are no Lone-Ranger Christians. Some church planters prize independence and do not unite their churches with any organization, even though doing so would protect them from future doctrinal deviations, tax liability, and civil lawsuits. In contrast, missionaries appreciate the value of staying under the umbrella of protection their mission boards provide.
We Christians also need to submit to our local church leaders and surround ourselves with accountability partners. They keep us on track, encourage us, and help us with problems. Additionally, they can evaluate our options objectively when we face significant decisions.
I’m happy to report the rest of the story about Bill, occasioned by an unusual circumstance. Our daughter and her husband moved to the city where Bill lives and visited the church he attends. Bill and his wife greeted them after the service and asked where they were from. Our daughter said, “We live here now, but originally I’m from Utah.”
Bill’s wife replied, “We know only one person in all of Utah, but you probably don’t know him. His name is Ken Hornok.”
This led us to reconnect with our classmates after 48 years. Recounting his life story to us was painful for Bill at first; however, we could not view him as a wipe-out. We also thought at one time that we had “missed God’s perfect will,” until we read Decision Making and the Will of God.5 Bill had read it too and felt its liberating message. He recalled Dr. Homer Heater saying, “God gave you a watch; you don’t need to keep asking Him the time.”
Bill had loved and nurtured his wife, raised his children to live for God, helped his neighbors, witnessed to unbelievers, and faithfully served in his local church while supporting his family with manual labor jobs. Recently, we have been consulting with him about a personal problem, and he is giving us excellent counsel. No matter where his decisions took him, Bill is a “good and faithful servant.”
In conclusion, 1 Corinthians 16 exhorts us to do the work of the Lord where we are (16:10) and devote ourselves to service (16:15). St. Augustine is credited with saying, “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”
Although Paul had the benefit of direct revelations from God, he observed five practical guidelines to wisely consider his opportunities and circumstances. We may do the same, as well as accept the choices others make for themselves. Let’s give up the misguided notion that we can find or miss God’s will. Instead of pleading for a special word from God in making decisions, we should follow those He already gave in 1 Corinthians 16.
Marcia Hornok writes from Salt Lake City where her husband pastored Midvalley Bible Church for 39 years. For a free digital copy of her illustrated book of 40 Brief Evangelistic Analogies, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. From “Have You Heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?” by Bill Bright, 1965.
2. Zane C. Hodges, The Epistle of James: Proven Character Through Testing (Irving, Texas: Grace Evangelical Society, 1994), 101.
3. Don’t you think Paul would hate this moniker that many preachers ascribe to him?
4. How they knew what seemed good to the Holy Spirit is a mystery, probably unique to the book of Acts.
5. “God’s will” is not something we must find. Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen with J. Robin Maxson (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah 1980, 2004).