Here’s where I start with the whole “free will” thing. I said a little bit of it the other night, I think. My fundamental premise is that we are perfectly free to act as our nature allows (for instance, I can walk and run and crawl and skip and do cartwheels… but I can’t fly). Which means that
1. unbelievers, who have a sinful nature unchanged by the Holy Spirit, are perfectly free to behave according to their nature, which is marred by sin. That’s what depravity means — every element of human nature is touched by sin — NOT that humans are as sinful as they could be. I believe that God in his mercy and love for his creation and for his people restrains human sinfulness.
2. believers, whose sinful nature is being mortified and replaced with the nature of Christ as we are conformed to his image by the Holy Spirit, are free to act according to our renewing nature. This is why Paul talks about the war within himself — on the one hand, we desire to follow Christ, but on the other hand, our sinful nature is still fighting against us.
I also think there are two ways to look at God’s sovereignty that are true simultaneously. From our perspective, since we cannot know the future, and because God actually operates within time in our lives, every choice we make has true, infinite possibilities until we make it. When I choose to turn left instead of right at the stop sign, or to take Job A rather than Job B, or to marry Joe and not Fred, those are real choices that limit and change my future choices. But from God’s perspective, since he exists outside of time and knows all events in the scope of time because he created them, we also say that he is sovereign over those things. They don’t happen apart from his purposes being fulfilled.
I think you’re right to look at things from a “sanctification” perspective — just don’t forget the universal perspective too, that God’s purpose is to redeem for himself a people, i.e. the Church, not just individuals, and to redeem and transform creation — all through Christ. So in some sense, Jesus is the goal of all creation. That helps me put the whole “marriage” thing in perspective. If God’s purpose is to sum up all things in Christ, like the Scriptures say, then whether or not I get married isn’t all that important (which, uh… don’t see me as one of those people who pretends not to care. Cuz I do). I believe God already knows each hour of my life, but not in a weird micromanagement way that turns me into a robot. Like I said, when we’re talking about human life within the constraints of time and space, God’s sovereignty and our (real, meaningful) choices look very different.
I DON’T think we’re meant to spend our whole lives looking for “signs” of what we’re supposed to do, or that we’re supposed to pray about what color to paint the bathroom or where to eat dinner or stuff like that. I believe that God uses what he gave us — our experiences, our education, our brains, our consciences — guided by the Holy Spirit, to put our lives in line with his plan. I think that’s one reason the Scriptures talk so much about wisdom and ALSO emphasize the inevitability of God’s plan.
That’s why I don’t like to talk about “the man God made for me” or whatever. I think that, in that time-bound human perspective of God’s sovereignty, there are dozens if not hundreds of men I could marry and be happy with and have a godly marriage and raise a godly family with. I can think of several off the top of my head — not guys I would necessarily marry right now but men I know are godly Christians with a biblical understanding of marriage, guys who love God’s church, who could lead me, who’d be good dads, etc. I don’t think it’s some mystical thing that we have to feel all googly about or panic about or spend four hours a day praying about. God uses means to accomplish his will — means like the preaching of the Gospel, and our brains and hearts. Means like first dates, wedding ceremonies, and uteruses. Things don’t usually spring fully-formed from God’s mind — he graciously brings us into his plan for all creation by giving us responsibilities and using our choices to accomplish the summing up of all things in Christ. Which I think is pretty awesome.