The Blank Canvas

Does God have a plan for your life?  Are you one of the special ones for whom He has set out a purpose?  Or are you just wandering through life, a background person in the lives of those who are special and called of God? 

My pastor tells us often that God has given each of us a “vocation” – a sense of calling that pushes us to do things because we’re made to carry out a certain mission, even when those things don’t make sense to others.  Writers may not ever make any money or have stability, but they must write their thoughts down.  It’s in their bones and they can’t exist any other way.  An engineer must figure out how to make things run better.  It’s just the way it is.  But I talk to many people who don’t feel a sense of calling, who don’t feel there’s something they simply must do. 

When I went to seminary, the leaders of my school realized that if we didn’t know ourselves, we could never know others.  Since pastors primarily work with people, they required us to get to know ourselves.  We took assessments and went through steps and read books.  We learned our personality and temperament, our work style, the role we most often play in a group, our strengths and weaknesses, and more.  I learned a lot about who God has created me to be while I was there.  I learned that it’s more valuable to improve our areas of strength and be the best (an expert) in one thing, than it is to be a well-rounded person who can do most things decently.

When I meet people who don’t feel they have a sense of calling, my assumption has been that they don’t know themselves well enough.  They haven’t submitted themselves to the battery of tests, to self-assessment, and to significant prayer time on the matter.  (I spent years in prayer and regular fasting before God finally told me to go to seminary and then it took three years until it was actually time to go.  But I didn’t give up.  I just kept asking Him what to do and where to go until He finally answered me.) 

But last week I went to hear Donald Miller, a popular author, speak and he said something that stunned me.  He said he doesn’t believe God has a specific plan for most people’s lives.  He said it isn’t a biblical concept.  He said God has a specific plan for some people’s lives, but it’s a small percentage of people.  He said he believes that when we’re born, we have a big, blank canvas in front of us with lots of colors to choose from and we make our own design on it.  That’s God’s gift to us – our free will – and our lives are our own to shape and design. 

That is a hard thing to hear for someone who has submitted herself to total obedience and is waiting for God to give me direction on the next steps in my life.  I believe God does have a specific path I am to walk and that my success in the Kingdom of God depends on my obedience.  I believe I can live a life of frustration and fear, as I have in the past when I wasn’t obeying God in all things, or a life of victory and joy through total obedience.  But if God doesn’t have a specific plan for my life, then who am I obeying?  Is it possible that I am painting my own canvas and obeying my own desires? 

My mind has been whirling with these thoughts.  As I went back over my life, I realized that there are a few times when I have known beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has spoken to me clearly regarding the direction of my life.  At times I obeyed right away and other times I allowed misery to overtake my life before I submitted.  I can look at the results of those times to convince myself, if no one else, that I had heard from God.

  1. God told me to move to Nashville, TN.  I obeyed and am very thankful.
  2. God told me not to date the sociopath, but I didn’t know why He was telling me that because the guy seemed great, so I ignored Him for a year, which led to misery.
  3. God told me to go to Regent University to seminary.  It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
  4. God told me to wait for a ministry position after I graduated and to turn down the secular jobs offered to me.  I obeyed and am thankful.

When I look at those things, those very specific things, it’s hard for me to imagine that God doesn’t have SOME kind of plan for my life.  All of them were hard.  At the time, they were all much bigger things than I could do on my own, or even wanted to do.  I know they are things I didn’t make up on my own. 

Once I got to Nashville, I didn’t feel any specific calling about where to work or go to church.  I think it’s possible that it didn’t really matter and God could work with whatever I decided.  Or it’s possible that He was guiding my every step and didn’t need to give me a thundering word of direction because I was stumbling upon His will without it.  I can think of many times in my life where that’s been the case.  I made the best decision I could make, given the information I had, and God has used it. 

I suppose it’s possible that I am one of the few people (in Donald Miller’s concept) who God does have a specific plan for.  But that seems like a terribly arrogant thought.  I don’t really buy into the concept that I’m special.  I think it’s narcissistic.  It seems much more reasonable to me that God does have a plan for everyone’s lives and we have to learn to listen and obey. 

I’m really struggling with this issue and would love to know what you think.  Here are a few Scriptures I found to support my point of view.  Is your opinion different?  Please post your comments below. 

Proverbs 19:21 (Amplified Bible)
Many plans are in a man’s mind, but it is the Lord’s purpose for him that will stand.

Psalm 33:10
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to naught; He makes the thoughts and plans of the peoples of no effect.

Isaiah 46:10-11
Declaring the end and the result from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure and purpose, calling a ravenous bird from the east–the man [Cyrus] who executes My counsel from a far country. Yes, I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed it, and I will do it.


Filed under Spiritual Life

7 responses to “The Blank Canvas

  1. Audrey Bolek

    Kimberly, thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I don’t know much about Donald Miller, other than what you spoke of him. I believe God wants us to submit to Him, to seek Him, look to Him, lean on Him, and trust Him. Whenever we decide to take matters into our own hands, it’s been by experience and observance for disaster & pain. One of my all time favorite scripture and I come back to so often in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to you own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” I love that! I need Him to be my guiding light! I get that when I seek Him in His Word! I am passionate about that.

    I was thinking about some of my unsaved friends who go through life making their own decisions, and in my opinion their lives seem really empty. Is that all there is to this life? I want more. I truly want to be about eternal values. I believe when we get to Heaven, God will look over our lives, what we did with them, and there will be some sort of reward for what we did with our time on earth. I’m so thankful God looks at our hearts and He is the only one I have to answer to.

    God bless you,


  2. Kimberly,

    Interesting blog. I ask the same questions. There are those that I think were created for a “specific” plan. John the Baptist to set the stage for the coming of Christ. Moses, to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land. Mary to be the Mother of God and so on. Some of us are not created with that specific of a plan. But, the word says the plans He has for us are good…plans to succeed and prosper and give us a future and a hope. So we know that we are created with some kind of purpose and a plan in mind. We are created with specific talents. However, I agree with Donald… we do have the black canvas to make the choice of what we will do. Some of us have several talents and can go in many directions. There are so many options. It’s our choice. God is not micro managing everybody’s life. But I know there are times that He’s protected me from disaster. And yes, there are times that God was specific with me about some things He did or didn’t want me to do. Sometimes I listened and was grateful. Other times I didn’t listen and suffered for it. So, I think the answer to your question is both. I think we have the opportunity to choose the path of disaster, or the path that is good, or the path that is fantastic. And, it all boils down to prayer. We just need to ask Him to set our feet on the path that is fantastic…even with all the potholes (trials) along the way. I think we are responsible for most of what happens in our lives. Yet, ultimately, God is in control. If we pray to Him and ask for His guidance, we must trust Him to set our feet on the right path…the best path.

  3. Mommakisses

    I keep thinking it’s time to take God out of the box. Strike the rock, or don’t strike the rock. Ride the storm out, or calm the storm. Life mapped out, or blank canvas. I think all of the above. God doesn’t have the same rules we have. He does have plans for us. We do have free will. And honestly only God can make those two things work into a beautiful work of art. Are we all destined to be a Moses? I don’t think so. Have you ever seen someone doing a job you felt was unworthy or at least something you could never do? Have you ever seen someone doing that same job with their whole heart? Joyfully? That same person would NOT be as happy trying to be a Moses. I think it’s because He puts a bent in our hearts (the way the child should go in Prov. 22:6)… a path for us to follow… desires in our hearts. Ultimately, our purpose is to worship Him, to seek Him. And when we do, He leads us, guides us, directs us. In my head I picture a dancer, following the music, totally guided by the music, but not forced by the music. Moving, flowing and not hindered by any walls… dancing outside of the box. Not everyone can be a hand, an eye or leg… someone needs to be the little toe or the body would not walk as it was designed to. We just need to find the place we fit. Thanks for keeping us thinking!!!

  4. I can almost hear God saying, “Whatever you want. Enjoy what I’ve created.” when it comes to choosing a flavor we like or a shirt to wear in the day, but to say I have no great purpose in being created leaves me hopeless. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that God has a plan and a purpose for us. He has established a future and a hope for us already. I agree that not everyone can be a Moses, but I have to believe God is painting my canvas. Did Jesus not paint over our mistakes with His blood?

    Look at what happens when we try to figure it out on our own. If I start to believe I have that much control, I have become the doubting Israelite wondering in the wilderness. I have chosen to make the imagine of the golden calf and bow to a simple mineral rather than the One who created it.

    If God sets me high on a platform for others to see, or places me behind the scene to help those in the forefront of the battle I am content, as long as He is the one leading me.

    Just my rambling thoughts…

  5. Thank you all so much for sharing your thoughts! There are so many beautiful ideas here, it makes me happy. This is a controversial subject and has been debated for a very long time. It is the mystery of our faith – wrestling with these different and sometimes incompatible ideas. I look forward to continuing the conversation!

  6. Jenn

    I also do not agree with the theology that, ‘God does not have a specific plan for most people’s lives or that He only has a specific plan for some people’s lives, but it’s a small percentage of people.’ The latter would fall into the, “I am special” category or like you mentioned above, a narcissistic idea. The former would make the rest of us “extras” like in a movie filming. Maybe what Donald Miller was trying to say is that some of us have specific leadership callings while others do not. But that does not translate into God only has specific plans for leaders. I believe we are all important to God, all created with a plan and a purpose, but do have free will to choose God’s way or our own ways. I don’t think there are three paths, disaster, good or fantastic either. I believe scripture is clear there are only two paths, the narrow and the wide. The quality of one’s path is also not synonymous with the final destination or the results of a person’ obedient or disobedient choices. Much of Job’s life was disaster, but that wasn’t the result of his poor choices, it was God allowing Satan to test Job’s character. So while people’s lives may appear to have different roads (some seemingly disastrous), we must be careful not to judge them like Job’s friends did. We must also remember while we may view Moses’ life as fantastic, Moses himself did not perceive his calling that way. He neither wanted the position, enjoyed it, became frustrated with it and even lost the privilege of his end earthly purpose; entering the promise land. I think maybe the best modern day parable in regards to God’s plan for us that I can think of is GPS:-). There are points where we are all supposed to follow specific directions tailored for our lives; but when we do not do so, God makes accommodation to keep getting us back to the final destination, heaven!

    • That’s a good reminder about Job, Jenn. In my life there have been times when my misery was obviously in direct corelation to my sin, but at other times it has appeared for no apparent reason. It’s hard to know at times what the source of our emotions are – good or bad.

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