How to Help Teens Find God’s REAL Will for Their LIves
Unpacking what we mean by “God’s will.”
Obsessed With God’s Plan
I’m sure that I’m not alone in my spiritual searching. I became a Christian when I was a teenager and I was consumed with the question, “What does God want from me?” It came to me quickly as a person with people-pleasing tendencies. Once God opened my spiritual eyes to the truth that He is a personal being and has authority in my life, then the next logical question was: How do I make God happy? But I quickly became confused about seeking out the answer because I assumed God had one plan. One purpose. One use for me. My mission was to seek it out and do it.
I also assumed that I would know God’s will by having this absolute confidence. I thought that is what people were describing when they said, “I have a peace about this decision.” The “peace” seemed to indicate to me that they have rejected all other possibilities and had locked their eyes and heart onto one and only one possible course of action. Whether it was about dating relationships, financial decisions, educational decisions, etc. What I’d come to find out years later is a freeing and sometimes scary reality:
God doesn’t have A Plan.
The Three Wills of God
If you’re a youth leader for more than a minute then you’ll have a teen ask, “What does God want me to do?” Here is where you have the awesome and gut-wrenching responsibility to walk with a teen in teaching them that God doesn’t have a single plan for their life.
TFD.com describes will as a desire, purpose or determination, especially of one in authority. We typically say God’s plan or purpose instead of God’s will. Whatever you call it, there is confusion among Christians about what we actually are talking about when we talk about God’s will .
Leslie Weatherhead, a Methodist-trained pastor back in the day, provides a clear and concrete description of God’s will by dividing it into three concepts:1. The intentional will of God—God’s ideal plan for humans.
2. The circumstantial will of God—God’s plan within certain circumstances
3. The ultimate will of God—God’s final realization of his purposes.
Let’s take a deeper look at each of these and how they relate to a teen seeking God’s will for their life. To dig deeper into each concept, we’ll reflect on God’s will as it relates to Jesus. After that we’ll apply it to the practice of spiritual direction with teens.
It was not the intentional will of God, surely, that Jesus should be crucified, but that he should be followed. If the nation had understood and received his message, repented of its sins and realized his kingdom, the history of the world would have been very different. Those who say that the Crucifixion was the will of God should remember that it was the will of evil men. (The Will of God; Chapter 2)
When a teen is seeking God’s will for their relationships, finances, etc. and they’ve been following Jesus faithfully, what they’re really asking is, “What is God’s intentional will for (fill in the blank)?” They are wanting to discern the ideal way God wants them to live. This is where we point them to Scripture on topics.
Scripture may or may not lay out God’s intended plan for human beings regarding their question. If it does, then cool. If not, then that is where the work of learning discernment begins.
Following from above, the question may quickly arise, “What if sin, bad choices or an unjust situation has disrupted what God wants?” What do we mean by God’s will in those situations?
Again, reflecting on Jesus, Weatherhead writes:
But when Jesus was faced with circumstances brought about by evil and was thrust into the dilemma of running away or of being crucified, then in those circumstances the Cross was his Father’s will. It was in this sense that Jesus said, “Not what I will, but what thou wilt.” (The Will of God; Chapter 2)
We also have teens who come with questions regarding God’s will in the circumstances where evil disrupted God’s intended plan. When they come to talk about sneaking out and losing their parents’ trust, the death of a loved one, thoughts of suicide or cutting, we remind them that God has an ultimate plan (redemption) and has a purpose for them in this circumstance if they are willing to trust God.
Their openness to trust God is the beginning of the discernment process. And remember they’re coming to you, a spiritual leader in their life, with their circumstantial question. So even if they’re not confident that they can trust God in their situation, point out that they already started seeking out God by coming to you.
Finally, Weatherhead writes about God’s ultimate will in relationship to Jesus saying:
The ultimate will of God means, in the case of the Cross, that the high goal of man’s redemption, or to use simpler English, man’s recovery to a unity with God—a goal which would have been reached by God’s intentional plan had it not been frustrated—will still be reached through his circumstantial will. In a sentence, no evil is finally able to defeat God or to cause any “value” to be lost. (The Will of God; Chapter 2)
In all of our conversations with teens regarding God’s purpose, we can only be sure of one “plan.” The Scripture reveals that God doesn’t have a plan as much as He has a goal. That goal is the redemption and restoration of the whole world. As the goal relates to human beings, God’s plan is to lead us to love God with all that we have and to love our neighbors as ourselves, thus bringing glory to God. Encourage teens with this vision of their future and inspire them to push toward God’s goal for them in Christ.
Finally, if you run into a kid like me—obsessed with that question; asking you about it like a broken record; bringing it up at the most random moments during youth group: Please don’t dismiss them and don’t give them a Christian cliche. Rather, open them up to God’s dynamic relationship with us.