As a Wesleyan, I am well aware of the doctrine of free will. I believe that in his sovereignty the Almighty has granted to us free will and that in his grace he has enabled us, in our free will, to respond to his work in our lives. It is grace on both sides, but we have a genuine part in cooperating in that grace.
However, I’m not thinking of salvation here so much as I am thinking of the Lord’s everyday work in this world. If God isn’t some kind of cosmic “puppet master” causing everything to happen just as it happens, he is still the “Master Planner” who not only has a first plan but a backup and then a backup to the backup.
I think that in some cases, even as he is working to bring to pass his first choice in some situation that he, aware that he is dealing with creatures with free will, is also working at the second and third levels “just in case.” In doing that, no matter what we do he is never caught unprepared.
Because of that, sometimes the Lord starts working in our lives, preparing us for things that never come. Like Abraham with Isaac we are bewildered to find ourselves being asked to give up something that we are sure was a gift of God in the first place. Then(and I know Abraham and Isaac’s story is about much more than this, so I can only go so far with this illustration) to our surprise the Lord simply commends us for our willingness and sends us back down to mountain to go on doing what we were doing in the first place.
When that happens, since we are unaware of the big picture, we are at a complete loss as to what was going on — but at the same time, we may sense the Lord’s pleasure with us. In fact, we might even be rewarded in some way for our faithfulness even though we never know what it was all about.