A few years ago, my parents took a cruise, and they had such a great time, I fully expect them to take another soon. They came back with tons of pictures and had a lot of fun. As they shared a little bit about their trip, I was surprised to hear just how much they could do. Whether on the ship or at the next port, there were so many choices.
I’ve never gone on a cruise like that, but I think I’d have trouble deciding what to do. I wonder how many people go on those kinds of cruises and choose to stay in their cabin all alone for the duration of the trip? After all, what could be better than staying in the equivalent of a hotel room, looking through the porthole (if you have one), sitting on the bed, or — oh, I know, exploring the closets? Short answer, everything.
While my parents were on the trip, they had incredible opportunities every day. They couldn’t change the course of the ship, but while they were onboard, they could change theirs. They could eat whatever they wanted, be lazy, be active, lounge, swim, shop, or just relax. See the sights, take in a movie or a show, dine with new people every night, or enjoy a meal to themselves.
Our lives and the will of God are like their cruise in many ways. Last time I wrote, we focused on the fixed, the unchanging part of God’s will. God’s eternal plan of both redemption and justice will carry on, as He has ordained, no matter what you or I or anyone else do about it — just like the cruise ship.
Not everything in our lives is a fixed part of that unchanging plan, however. While we’re on the voyage, we have considerable freedom to enjoy all the benefits of our gracious host, who would like nothing more than to show us all the wonder that awaits us.
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
— Ephesians 5:15-17
We can choose to do things our own way, of course, but we might end up wishing we hadn’t. We can eat at the buffet as often as we like, and overindulge in whatever we choose to the point of sickness; or we can select what’s best, stay active, and grow stronger, all while enjoying the finer things God always intended us to enjoy. (I hope you know I’m not just talking about food and exercise, here. Life is full of options, many of them good, as long as we keep them in moderation.)
God doesn’t want us to hide out in our cabins by ourselves, either, not when we have the opportunity to spend time with so many amazing people. We might be perfectly suited to helping someone else on the trip deal with whatever’s going on in their lives. Maybe some of them can help us out, too. Our relationships are meant to help us: family, friends, church — all meant to enrich our lives. They don’t have to, of course. We can choose friends who don’t help us, too. How we choose to spend our time, and who we choose to spend it with, will have a lot to do with how much we enjoy the journey.
God’s will is the combination of both those plans He has decreed must happen and those plans He wants for us to choose for ourselves. We are free, within the bounds of the bigger journey, to choose to do what excursions we take.
He doesn’t leave us without any guidance, though. Sometimes, God will close doors, like the crew on the cruise ship keeping us out of areas where we don’t belong. More often, He will post warnings or offer recommendations how to make the most of our journey; and it’s up to us whether we choose to follow His counsel or not.
God wants us to enjoy this life. That’s not to say we won’t face some choppy seas from time to time, but we can choose to trust Him to guide the ship, while we enjoy all the blessings He built into the cruise along the way. He wants us to enjoy it, but He won’t force us to make the good choices.
So, back to my original dilemma: if I can choose to do so many things in this life, how can I know which decisions are best? If God does have a plan for my life, and the Scriptures make it pretty clear that He does, He wouldn’t leave me without some way to figure out which way to go, would he?
Making the most of our life will require us to make the choices that will determine both our final result, be it eternal life or permanent separation from God; and, the choices that will allow us to make the most of every opportunity we find along the way. Learning to recognize the difference between His opportunities and our chances to settle for less than His best will make all the difference.
As for leaving us without guidance, no, He wouldn’t. Next time, we’ll talk about how you and I can learn to make the most of our lives.