Like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie, we pull our dusty hat down, clutch our whip, and head into the dark cave that hides the elusive Will of God. It’s a mysterious treasure, so we have only vague clues pointing us in the right direction. If at any time we misinterpret a clue, the whole adventure is pointless, because we’ve failed to follow the grand master plan designed by Jesus himself at the beginning of time.
But what if God’s plan for us isn’t so complicated? What if his will isn’t like searching for the Holy Grail—an elusive “something out there” that we, in our finite humanness, not only have to discover but then interpret and implement properly? Instead, what if God’s will discovers us? What if it weaves itself into our story, our experiences, our passions, and our gifts—and then unfolds in our hearts and lives?
That process started for me in first grade, long before I really knew who Jesus would become in my life, and certainly before I gave a second thought to discovering his plan for me. My mom and I sat down with my first-grade teacher for the obligatory 15-minute parent-teacher conference. After Mrs. Smith showed off my meticulously organized desk and my “student of the week” body outline complete with descriptions and anecdotes from my 6-year-old brain, she began shaping God’s will in my life. “Mrs. Sutton,” she said, “Darren is truly a treasure.” (Clearly, she didn’t live with me!) “I’ve never met a child so intent on helping people. He’s the most caring child, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he enters a counseling-type profession when he grows up.”
In eighth grade, I begged to skip school so I could attend some lunchtime revival meetings at my church. This was a feat. My parents, who weren’t churchgoers, thought I was just trying to get out of PE. (That was a nice fringe benefit.) During decision time at the revival, lots of my friends (who really were trying to get out of class) lined up at the front, waiting for someone to pray with them. I remember walking up to do just that. Afterward, I heard the evangelist ask my youth pastor, “Who was that kid praying with everyone? If he doesn’t become a pastor, there’s no justice in the world.”
In college, I started dabbling in youth ministry—conducting weekend events for smaller churches, hosting impromptu small groups with kids from my youth group, and working as a summer-camp counselor. People told me how “gifted” I was and how clearly God must be speaking to me. This struck me as curious. I was a singer, not a youth pastor. If I was marked for ministry, it was clearly to be a worship leader. But God’s will was finding me.
I’d been intently staring at what I had identified as God’s plan for me, and all along he had been writing an ongoing, different story. I almost missed it because I was looking too hard at what I thought God wanted me to do rather than at what he was doing. I wasn’t the one tasked with the destiny-quest; God was. And he started unveiling before I even knew where to look—or that I should be searching at all!
Don’t misunderstand. I firmly believe it’s good for us to be awake to God’s intentions in our lives. And I believe that’s a pretty specific plan, in most cases. Throughout Scripture, God delights in giving people super-detailed job descriptions:
- “Hey, Noah! The boat needs to be this kind of wood and built exactly to these measurements, and this is how you should fill it.”
- “Moses, I know that striking-the-rock thing worked last time, but now you just have to speak to it.”
- “Ananias, Paul is in Damascus. Get over to the house on Straight Street and ask for Judas.”
Jesus usually isn’t waving at us to head off in a random direction, then inviting us to figure out his plan as we go. But sometimes we put more emphasis on us discovering it than on God revealing it. And sometimes his revelations don’t arrive in the way we expect. Just because I could sing a little didn’t mean I should be a worship leader.
As we help teenagers discern God’s next steps for them, we point to strengths we see, character traits that define them, and proclivities God might use to propel them toward his vision for them. In the meantime, don’t pigeon-hole teenagers into a corner just because they excel in that area . What else are they good at? Are there specific reasons they excel in a certain area that can be transferred to other passions in their lives?
By helping teenagers pay ridiculous attention to Jesus, even when his words come through others, we help them recognize his work in their lives—sometimes without a burning bush or a talking donkey. Young people realize that Jesus is working in and through them all along to reveal an adventure that, in the end, isn’t as elusive as it seems.