Christians often talk about “following” God’s will, but what if His will actually followed us? Up to adulthood, I’d understood God’s plans for me to be specific and narrow. But four years in college made me question that perspective.
Illustration by Adam Cruft
The summer before freshman year, I filled out a questionnaire in an online forum for incoming students. It inventoried my personality and pet peeves, penchants for cleanliness, partying, getting up early, and more. We were all desperate to secure a roommate ourselves rather than risk the random lottery.
When I wasn’t working at the ice cream shop and trying to save for tuition, I studied my fellow freshmen’s questionnaires: Are there any new entries? Do any seem as if they might go to church? Is this answer weird or funny? After probably too much time overanalyzing, I messaged with three women and agreed to live with one of them. A month before school started, she and I met for the first time at IKEA and shopped for dorm necessities. And then we were off—move-in day, full schedule of classes, new clubs, and new friends. The other women simply dropped off my radar.
Four years later, I found myself sitting on the campus green, where graduation would commence in a handful of weeks. Cozied on a blanket, my small group and I were reflecting on what we’d learned, how we’d changed, and what was to come after graduation. That’s when I remembered the questionnaires all those years ago and realized: All three of the women I had messaged were sitting in front of me. The four of us independently landed on paths to each other and to Jesus.
Evidently the Lord had plans for me to live with a friend who would support and encourage my spiritual wellbeing—but there wasn’t one right person. There were several, and He left the choice up to me. That moment on the lawn has stuck with me, because it’s a beautiful picture of the breadth of God’s will and protection.
Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (NIV). I always thought the verse meant God was so powerful and sovereign that no one else’s plans could compete with His. But looking into the eyes of my friends, I knew the Lord’s purpose prevails because He is generous, and He gives us many ways to abide in Him. I had been imagining my life with Jesus to be a maze, when really it’s a field of wild flowers, with no path at all but beauty at every turn.
This is true when we’re making commonplace decisions like living arrangements, and it’s true even when we’re walking away from God. Think about Peter after Jesus had been arrested. In the face of danger and conflict, Peter and the other disciples scattered, abandoning their Teacher. Then, when others questioned his affiliation with Jesus, Peter said he didn’t know the man—three different times. And yet God established the church through Peter just as Jesus had promised: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18). Indeed, evil could not overcome the Lord’s plans for the church or for Peter.
Peter became the de facto leader of the apostles, suggesting a replacement for Judas as his first order of business. He spoke at Pentecost and essentially kicked off the church’s mission to tell people about Jesus. Peter ended up doing exactly that, traveling for over a decade, and he worked to make the church an inclusive place, reaching out to both Samaritans and gentiles. He even influenced the apostle Paul. Yes, God’s plans for Peter prevailed because He is sovereign, but also because God walked with Peter and provided opportunities to honor Him.
Ultimately, it makes sense that the breadth of God’s will and protection is wide. He has endless resources and energy and compassion, after all. We can think of His plan not as a tricky riddle to solve, but as uncharted wanderings with a friend. King David, whose mistakes were public and well recorded, experienced firsthand this generosity from God:
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take up the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will take hold of me.” (Ps. 139:7-10)
That day on campus, under the shade of sprawling oak trees, I felt spoiled. That God would give me so many good choices, so many ways to thrive, seemed lavish. That’s not how I usually imagine Him, but it’s how I want to. I often recall this memory and wade in it whenever I doubt the abundant life that God has promised us—the broad, overgrown, blossoming field of His will, with Jesus by my side.
College feels like a lifetime ago, but as I approach one year into motherhood, I still find myself evaluating how I “should” arrange my life. Is it God’s will that I choose quality time with my daughter instead of an afternoon with a friend going through a hard time? Should I use a spare half hour to exercise or take care of a chore for my husband? I have to remind myself all these choices are good and glorifying to God. There are many ways to follow and honor Him, and “no purpose of [His] can be thwarted” (Job 42:2 NIV).