(No, I’m not here to debate free will vs predestination, nor establish my position on said paradox. But I am going to muse about it based on my own personal journey thus far.)
Sometimes I wish I could just get up and go. All of a sudden and out of the blue, spontaneously pack my bags, leaving everything and everyone behind to go off on an unplanned, foolhardy adventure to some random place in the world I’ve never been, where I can’t speak the language and don’t know anyone. Start a new chapter, not having the slightest clue what comes next—but that’s exactly where the thrill lies. The possibilities are limitless. It’d be a wild ride. In addition, my life/background/upbringing is perfectly suited for such a bold move. I already lack roots; I’m a global nomad. What’s stopping me?
Arguably, the last time I “chose my own adventure” (anyone else read those books when they were kids?) was when I upped and left Tokyo for the UK, a country I’d never set foot in before, to attend Durham University. There was no “divine calling from heaven” or “angelic vision”; the whole process leading up to it was actually remarkably frivolous (i.e. carefree and superficial). I’d always envisioned myself going to the US for uni since I’d attended an American school, but one random day when I was back in Singapore serving my National Service my parents asked me, ‘How about the UK?’ I didn’t agonise over it; I just thought, Hmm, cool, yeah, why not? One thing led to another, and I got accepted to several UK unis. I didn’t even want to go to Durham as the other courses seemed more appealing, but it was out of respect for my parents’ wishes who wanted me to go to a high-ranking uni (fulfilling the Asian parents stereotype) that I begrudgingly chose Durham.
Nevertheless, I still remember the excitement of flying to a place unknown, starting completely from scratch. A bunch of us international students were picked up by coach from Newcastle airport and subsequently dropped off at our respective colleges, until just me, another girl and the international rep were left. We alighted at 9 pm right in front of Durham Cathedral, lit up eerily and beautifully by the lamp posts’ yellow glow with not a single person in sight. The other girl was grumpy and whining, so I was more than happy to consent to the poor rep’s request for me to stay put while she escorted the girl to her college before coming back for me.
I stood outside the cathedral all by myself in the dead of night for an hour. I couldn’t stop grinning. What a start to this adventure.
I’m so glad I came to Durham. Immensely. But was that God’s plan all along? I could have easily chosen to go elsewhere, and God would still have worked things out in an amazing way. I’m inclined to think that God, in His grace and mercy, went with the flow—my flow—and orchestrated things for the better because at that point in my life, I didn’t fully understand what a relationship with God meant. I wasn’t fully walking with Him.
Then I started to. I learnt to speak and listen to Him as a Father, as a Friend. Suddenly, I found I was no longer alone in my decisions and in my journeys. A certain Someone (with a capital “S”) was now involved and coming along for the ride. This was new.
I’d initially come to Durham planning to stay for 4 years: 3 years BA, 1 year MA. But at the beginning of my final (i.e. third) year, the Lord told me to go back to Japan after my BA. He gave me a vision of me doing street worship evangelism in Shibuya; He reminded me of the vision He’d previously given me of leading a big worship event with Lindsey L. and Aogu F.; He placed on my heart an undeniable urgency to share His love with the Japanese.
I had no doubts; I immediately accepted it. I was going to go back.
It broke my heart, then broke it again. I was leaving close-knit, life-transforming friendships, the band I was in, the church where I’d grown, the girl I loved. Church leaders tried to convince me to stay and do the internship; I could only sigh, yet also state with full conviction, ‘Sorry, but I’ve got a calling from a higher power.’ I had no choice… no, that’s a lie. I did have a choice, and that choice was to follow and obey God. That was my choice, and I paid dearly for it.
Why didn’t I question it at the time? Why didn’t I say, But God, I love it here in Durham, I’ve made new friends and found a new family, I don’t want to leave? Why did I know 100% I was going to see this through? Why was I so unwavering in my decision?
I went back to Tokyo without a plan. I had no place to stay, no job, no clue as to what I was meant to do. Things fell into place quickly though; and if they hadn’t, I suspect I might’ve had a massive crisis of faith. My spirit knew I’d done the right thing (although the pain said otherwise). I went on with my life, waiting for my next “marching orders”, which soon came: the Lord wanted me to return to Durham (again!) to do an MA. Again, a series of undeniable signs; and so I did. And then just recently, the Lord (for the third time) again made it clear what He wanted me to do next: my church’s internship. And so I will.
Whenever I’ve told people the story of the past few years of my life, I had the tendency to say, God told me to:
God told me to go back to Japan.
God told me to go back to Durham to do an MA.
God told me to be a missionary to the UK and do my church’s internship.
But recently I changed my phrasing because it sounded like I’m a mindless robot/puppet blindly following orders. And I’m not. Just a few weeks ago, He told me, ‘I’ve never forced you to do anything’. This is true. Yes, God told me to; but more accurately, God wanted me to:
God wanted me to go back to Japan.
God wanted me to go back to Durham to do an MA.
God wanted me to be a missionary to the UK and do my church’s internship.
I had a choice each time; I could’ve said yes or no. And I said yes all three times.
I don’t regret any of those yeses one bit.
I guess I instinctively chose to obey because I knew He knew what was best for me, and I’d reached a level of trust in our relationship that made me follow His suggestion/recommendation without hesitation. (I’ve also refrained from using “instruction/commandment” as they connote something formidably forceful.)
I believe I’m co-writing my life story with the Lord, not simply transcribing what He tells me is going to happen.
Yet regardless, the truth is that He knows best. He’s omniscient.
Yes, if I recklessly choose to go somewhere or do something, He’d still go with me. He’ll never leave nor forsake me. And if I end up doing something unbelievably foolish, He’s big enough to redeem my mistakes.
But just like how if I was torn in trying to make a decision and I asked a trusted friend for advice, and s/he told me strongly, and firmly, and with full conviction, that a certain path would be the best/worst path for me, I’d listen to them. How much more should I listen to the Lord considering how much He loves me and wants the best for me?
However, does that mean the rest of my life leaves no more room for spontaneous uprooting and venturing? I understand there are times He allows us to make our own decisions, allows us to step out in faith first before guiding us… but at least over the last 3 years, and in the last 3 big decisions, He’s told me in advance what He wants me to do. How is He going to reveal His will to me next? Who knows?
And if I maintain an intimate relationship with my Father, and if I truly seek to do His will, then won’t I simply be going along with His (albeit the best) plan, and thus not really my own decision? Okay, I’m starting to tread into troublesome “free will vs predestination” territory. Backing out (for now).
One last thought: what about Jesus? I’m reminded of the song ‘Where You Go I Go’ written by Brian Johnson and John Mohr:
Where You go I go
What You say I say
What You pray I pray
What You pray I pray
Jesus only did what He saw You do
He would only say what He heard You speak
He would only move when He felt You lead
Following Your heart, following Your spirit
Furthermore, throughout the gospel of John, Jesus always refers to how everything He says or does is only what He hears the Father saying or sees the Father doing. And if we’re meant to become more Christ-like as we mature, should we not also (strive to) do likewise? For example:
Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. (John 5:19)
“I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.” (John 12:49–50)
(I wonder if during the first 30 years of Jesus’s life, He sneaked off and went on some crazy, fun adventures? He must have bantered of His own accord, right? Or was He just speaking the Father’s banter?)
Even Jesus, who had a specific greater purpose (i.e. die on the cross and be resurrected for the salvation of humankind) and thus was on a straightforward trajectory in accordance with God’s ultimate will, had to choose to go to the cross. He didn’t want to; He certainly didn’t waltz up to it. I mean, the fact that Jesus prayed so hard that ‘his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground’ (Luke 22:44) is telling of His anguish—yet, He still uttered:
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
I’m glad Jesus chose that adventure. It now allows all of us to choose and partake in our own adventure with God.
Ultimately, I know I’ll go wherever He tells me to go. Not because I’ve succumbed to passive resignation and submission, not because I’ve lost active free will, but because I actively, out of free will, choose what I know to be my life’s greatest adventure: and by God[‘s will], it’s going to be wild.
Come away with me, come away with me
It’s never too late, it’s not too late
It’s not too late for you
I have a plan for you
I have a plan for you
It’s gonna be wild
It’s gonna be great
It’s gonna be full of me