Christians seek to glorify God in their lives, doing good deeds so that people will see God’s greatness. We know God has a plan for our lives, but we don’t usually know what that plan is. I think particularly of a passage in Ephesians which says: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which he prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians chapter 2 verse 10, emphasis added, ESV trans).
While God is sovereign, controlling even the future, God doesn’t promise us that we will know how the future will be. However, I hear more and more people saying things as if they do know what the future will bring. Particularly, that one course of action or another must be God’s will.
I see many Christians falling into the trap of thinking that Opportunity constitutes Calling. The idea goes roughly like this:
1. God is sovereign, so this opportunity must be placed by him.
2. God would not place ‘bad’ opportunities because of his character.
Therefore: it is safe to take the opportunity. Or more strongly, it is God’s will that I take the opportunity.
The ability to choose
The problem is with the second premise. I don’t think God ever says that all the opportunities he will give us are good. In fact, I think it is clear in David’s struggle with Saul in 1 Samuel chapters 24 and 26 that God sometimes gives us opportunities we should not take. More on David in a moment, but it is critical to say that God isn’t a malicious trickster in this. Rather, God has given us the ability to decide between things and has revealed enough of himself in the scriptures for us to be prepared.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy ch. 3 vv. 16-17, emphasis added, ESV trans.)
I think God does equip us to see which opportunities we should take. Furthermore, he does not leave us alone to struggle, but gives us the Holy Spirit as well as the other members of the church to help us. Even so, I think we need to apply ourselves in thinking about opportunities, not just assume that they are good.
An example from David
Now to David, where a particularly strong example seems to be. God clearly gives David the opportunity to defeat Saul, yet David holds back. In both episodes, David is hiding from Saul, running and clearly outnumbered, but God leads Saul right into David’s hand.
First, God makes it so Saul goes in to relieve himself (yes it is a bit gross) right in the very cave David is hiding in. David and his followers recognize that God has given the opportunity, but David cuts the edge off Saul’s robe instead saying that he will not strike the Lord’s anointed king. He even had to persuade his followers not to kill Saul then and there because the opportunity seemed perfect (See verse 7).
The second time (in chapter 26), God allowed David and Abishai to sneak unto Saul’s camp, with all Saul’s guards asleep and Saul’s spear right there beside his head, but David again did not kill Saul. In both of these, David knew already that he was to be the next king, and his followers saw the hand of God in making the situation, but David did not strike Saul down. David considered what God had revealed about himself and refused to strike down God’s anointed king.
What would bring glory
I think similar things happen to us today. We see opportunities that seem great in some ways, but if we think about what would glorify God, sometimes we realize that they are not really the path we should take. I think I see this a lot in organizations which formed to spread the Gospel changing into organizations that only care for people materially. Caring for people materially is great and I am sure God is glorified by it, but how much more important to care for both the material and spiritual needs of people.
I think Paul’s prayer in 2 Thessalonians is important here (Paul writing with Silvanus and Timothy). Paul prays:
we always pray for you that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of Jesus our Lord may be glorified in you and you in him, according to the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians ch.1 vv. 11-12, emphasis added, ESV trans.)
Paul’s prayer in 2 Thessalonians should not be read as a promise that all the good we try to do will glorify God, but rather Paul is asking God to fulfill their efforts. It is not a guarantee, but a plea. We too should ask God to help us, so that our efforts will be glorifying Jesus. We should ask God to help us understand which opportunities to take and which ones we should not take.
Alexander Gillespie is an Arts Honours graduate of the University of Sydney. Particular fields of interest include Nineteenth-Century migration history, conceptual philosophy, social policy and ecclesiology. He currently lives in Sydney with his wife and enjoys researching and writing.