But You Said
As parents, Emily and I quickly realized that it's not always the best idea to tell your kids when you have something planned for the future. First of all, kids have little to no concept of time. You can tell them that their birthday is in 3 months and an hour later they'll ask, "Is it my birthday yet?!"
Secondly, sometimes plans fall through. You tell them that someone is coming over for dinner, but then that someone gets sick, gets a better invitation, or realizes that you have kids and decides to run the opposite direction (understandably).
There are not many feelings worse than disappointing a child. A child can wield the words "But you said...!" with the precision and deadliness of a samurai.
We Have Say So
When we take a look at the Old Testament prophets, much of what is revealed about the future is conditional prophecy. In other words, the prophets say things like, "This is what will happen if you continue in the same direction." Or "If you change paths, then God will do this instead." The ancients were given conditional statements that gave human beings say-so in what the future would look like.
This means that we can't say things like, "This is all part of God's plan" when something tragic happens. Nor should we assume that everything that happens is part of God's will. God has a will of perfectly good intentions. But God also gives creation say-so, which means that God's will can be ignored or contradicted. God can be told no. When we collapse everything that happens into God's will, we are just one step shy of pantheism.
This also means that while God can state what the future ought to look like, God also gives creation permission to create what the future will look like. While it may be God's will for our friends to come over for dinner, God grants our friends the freewill to know that kids are germy, messy little creatures that have been known to throw up at the dinner table—and therefore back out of those dinner plans.
Avoiding Needless Disappointment
I had a friend that felt called to go into campus ministry. That call was confirmed by friends, family, and mentors. She spent the next year trying to raise financial support—and failed. The funds just never came through. She struggled with questions of, "Did I misunderstand God? Was this never God's will to begin with?"
I told her, "Just because you understood what God was calling you to do, doesn't mean that everyone else did too. Someone's decision to not financially support you may, in fact, have been directly opposed to God's will."
Today we look to Jesus to reveal His will to us. We ask the Spirit to let us know which direction we should go and what we can expect from the future. And we can get frustrated that God isn't more forthcoming with this knowledge. Why does God only reveal one step at a time? If God's word is supposed to be a light for my path, why is the light so dim?
I think the Spirit holds Her cards so close to Her chest for much the same reasons that parents do. Yes, God has a will and good intentions for us. But (this may come as a shock) people tend to screw those intentions up. As soon as God says, "This is what I want for you," somebody else may act contrary to God's will and close that path down for you.
I think God the Father helps His children avoid needless disappointment by not always letting us in on His plans. Why? Because God's plans can be ruined. People have and will continue to get in God's way.
All the Good You Can
So what do we do? John Wesley said that we insult God when we say we aren't sure what God's will is. God's will is perfectly clear:
Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.
Is the future clear? Absolutely not.
Are God's perfectly loving intentions for us clear? Absolutely yes.
Will people occasionally thwart God's intentions? Obviously yes.
But is God's will for us clear? Yes—love God and love your neighbor as yourself.