I’ve often wondered how best to illustrate the Will of God in our lives, and how we are to relate to it (other than a lengthy theological dissertation). I’ve found that it can (at present) be aptly illustrated using jigsaw puzzles (though it is by no means perfect, with some incongruous allegories arising, as you will see).
The Will of God for our lives is like a jigsaw puzzle. This is not to say that it is random (though it may seem to our eyes). What I propose to illustrate from it is the construction of the puzzle, the process by which we take the individual pieces and putting it together to form the final picture.
To begin with, let us assume that when we’re born, our life is like an unstarted 20,000-piece (or more or less) jigsaw puzzle. The only difference is that we don't have a drawing showing us what the final picture looks like (I know there’re some jigsaw puzzles that’re like that).
We can say that as our lives progress, piece by piece of the jigsaw is put into place, until the final day when we meet our Creator (whether for eternal joy or condemnation) will the picture be finished. The days of our lives, as illustrated by the number of pieces of the jigsaw, have been predetermined by God (Psa 139:16; Matt 10:29-30). Note here how a jigsaw is created. The picture is first determined, then it is broken up into the constituent pieces. The individual pieces do not change as the puzzle is being built up. What has been will be. The final picture has been predetermined by the creator of the puzzle, and the person working on the puzzle cannot change the eventual picture. (What, then, is the purpose of living, you may ask. What about "free" will? Well, that is dealt with in another article. Suffice to say here, in the ultimate sense, the purpose of living is for God's glory. Paul indicates that "all things were created by him [Christ] and for him" (Col. 1:16). God chose us in Christ and destined us "according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace" (Eph. 1:5-6)).
Now, how do we begin to solve a jigsaw puzzle without an idea of what it looks like? We begin by first looking for the corner and border pieces, don't we? From the corner pieces we can build a framework for the puzzle by looking for and using the border/edge pieces. As long as we don't know what the eventual picture looks like, it would be foolhardy to attempt to start from anywhere else but the corner. Imagine starting from what we think is the centre - it would take forever to sort through the 20,000 pieces to try and match pieces to it.
The illustration here is that God is telling us, unless you start correctly with the correct corner(stone) (Eph 2:20), your attempts to solve the puzzle will be futile. Even then, after starting with the corner, what should our boundaries be? The Bible, the Word of God, should be the borders/edge of our jigsaw. That way, we would know where we are heading, and not go beyond. Our framework for our entire life will be (and should be) determined by the Word of God. What happens when we go beyond the borders of our jigsaw puzzle? Well, the answer is obvious, isn’t it? There will be no solution to it, since there is no picture there.
Now, if our entire life has been determined by the Creator, why then do we pray or seek God? As illustrated by the puzzle, we simply don't know the entire picture. We need God to daily tell us which piece is going to be next put in, and where it is put. Sometimes, events in our lives seem so disparate and unrelated, but we have to realise that solving a jigsaw puzzle is non-linear. While there is a certain order to progress, that does not mean that we have to progress only from one location. God can initiate events from different angles, because He knows the entire picture, and can and will do that even if it means that we get perplexed by the unfolding events.
Now, what happens when we pray and seek the Will of God? As has been mentioned, the Will of God for our lives has already been predetermined (the final picture of the jigsaw, as created by the Creator). When we seek God, He tells us which piece of jigsaw to take and where to place it. I can’t think of a better way to solve a jigsaw puzzle than by letting the puzzle’s creator tell me where to place each piece. Sometimes, God reveals some portions of the puzzle to us when we seek Him. This is not that we can finish the puzzle faster (we still have to get the pieces and fit it into place), but that He is giving us reassurances on what is to happen. This is what happens when the Bible says that "if we remain in Him, and He in us, anything we ask for in His Will, will definitely come to pass" (John 15:7)(paraphrased). This is because, having seen the portion of the picture to come, and we work towards it, that portion will appear. It will not change. The pieces of the puzzle leading to it will not become something else. In the case of the prophets, God has shown them even bigger portions of the final picture. That is why they were able to write down (or prophesize) events so far into the future with so much certainty.
There is also a downside to working on jigsaw puzzles. This happens when we disobey instructions from the puzzle’s creator. We can attempt to start somewhere else in the puzzle, which will frustrate us no end, or try to ram in mismatched pieces. All these attempts will be of no avail, for we will eventually need to take apart the wrongly assembled pieces, and put it in the correct place. All this is wasted effort. When Isaiah and Jeremiah said that God is the potter, and we are the clay (Isa 45:9, 64:8; Jer 18:6), it means that we are to give up our self-will and let Him instruct us on how to proceed with the puzzle.
The puzzle will be finished regardless of our actions. We can either choose to be involved with God in the solution of the puzzle, or to be a problem by doing things our way. It is how much needless frustration and uncertainty we encounter along the way that we want to have.
Now, where does Jesus’ work on the cross fit into all of this? Let us now take a different view of the jigsaw puzzle illustration. The illustration to be used here is not the process of constructing the puzzle, but the finished picture of the puzzle. Let us say that God’s standard is a perfectly completed picture at the end of our lives. Assume that until now, we have been unbelievers, and our jigsaw puzzle is jammed with mismatched pieces and without boundaries. We don't know where we’re going. When we accept Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, we are accepting the directions of the puzzle’s creator in solving the puzzle. By so doing, God as provided us the cornerpiece of the puzzle, and the boundaries with which to work. He cannot undo the frustrations which we’ve had to date in our misguided attempts at solving the puzzle, or the consequences thereof, but He can make right every misfitted piece, i.e. it is through Jesus’ work that the misfitted pieces are put in its proper place. However, even as what has been done previously is forgiven (made right), that does not prevent us from doing the same for future pieces of the jigsaw. And each time we make a mistake of mismatching or jamming in a piece, or trying to go beyond the borders, we need to come back to the creator to seek forgiveness for disobedience and for that piece to be "made right". It is also an apt illustration of the phrase "your faith today will not save you tomorrow". The thief on the cross next to Jesus had his entire puzzle jumbled up, yet just before the final piece was put in, his faith in Jesus righted every piece, and the final piece fell into place to make a complete perfect picture. On the other hand, we may have had a perfect picture all the way until the final piece, and then we choose to jam that piece in the wrong way. The resultant picture will be imperfect. And being the final piece, we have no further recourse to the creator to rectify our mistake.Finally, we should remember that the jigsaw puzzle does not go on forever. There is a limited number of pieces (your living days), and death is the end of the road when the pieces run out and the picture completed. For one who has Christ to the end, he/she would have the perfect picture (which means there is no "death" but eternal life). For the one with the imperfect picture, God can only say, "I knew you not", because that is not the picture which He wants.