Way too many choices…
Some people seem sort of panicky about making decisions and choosing between options, and a lot of these people are followers of Jesus. I think this panic is spawned and exacerbated by the glut of options in our modern culture (in our Western middle-class reality anyway). Previous generations didn’t struggle as much as we do trying to discover God’s will because they didn’t have as many alternatives from which to choose. Also, our impoverished contemporaries living on $2 a day just don’t have that many choices to make (almost half the world – 3 billion people – live on less than that, and I’m talking about today in 2012!). “Whip or no whip on your mocha latte?” is not something they hear a lot in a Bangkok slum. They’re not asked very often, “Is that a tall, grande, or venti?” (I digress, but does it bother anyone else that the smallest of those is called, “Tall” while the medium sized one is “Grande”? Furthermore, why is “Tall” not in Italian like the other two? I didn’t take Italian in High School!)
Could it be true that God
sometimes plays kind of
“hard-to-get,” so we’ll want
him all the more?
There’s a nerve-wracking glut of choices in our culture. “Should I go to college in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, or London?” “Who, when, and why should I marry?” “What career should I pursue?” The young man raised in a tiny remote pueblo in a Southern Mexican mountain region that’s only accessible during the non-rainy season has only 3 women within a day’s drive (during the rainy season he can’t drive anywhere) who are eligible for marriage. He’s not nearly as stressed out about his matrimonial decision. In some places people suffer for too many choices, in others – too few. Either way, we need God to guide us – and he will, if we’ll ask him to.
There are three things about God’s will that I’d like to propose to you. I think you have to begin with these simple presuppositions.
1. God has a will. You might wonder if God even has a “will” for your life. Yeah, he does. I hope that after reading this, you’ll come to the conclusion that he does have a will, a preference, a purpose for you, and that he wants to show it to you so that you can do it. Paul said to the Corinthians, “I will come back later, God willing” (Acts 18:21). In the same spirit, in their writings the old Puritans would use the abbreviation: “DV” to denote “Divine Volition” (“God willing”). Yes, he has a will. There are things that he wants you to do and other things that he doesn’t want you to do.
Maybe we should distinguish between the universal will of God for all of us and the specific will of God for us as individuals. He wants all of us to trust him, to be obedient to his commands, to love him for who he is, to love our neighbors, etc… These are things that all God-followers should do all the time. The specific will of God has more to do with particular plans he has in his mind for each of us individually. To my mind when we’re doing his universal will (obeying, etc.) we’re more likely to discover his specific will for our lives, the things that he’s leading us to do in particular. The most important decision we face is the daily decision to live as lovers of Jesus. Then in the context of this intimate relationship with him, he’ll let us know what he wants for us personally.
They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. 2 Corinthians 8:5
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God… 2 Timothy 1:1
I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. Romans 1:10
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:3
For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:17
Paul said, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Acts 18:21
Instead you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will we will live and do this or that.” James 4:15
If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 1 John 5:14
2. God’s will is best. Jesus said to the Father, “Not my will but yours be done…” I’ve come to trust that God is interested in my highest eventual good (please note the use of the word: “eventual”). People often say that we should “surrender to God’s will.” It’s true, but the word “surrender” makes it sound like we’re struggling and kicking until we finally say, “I give up!” But the will of God, though it often includes much difficulty, is not always the most torturous of options. His will is actually the best. Don’t be afraid of it! Don’t just resign to his will - embrace it!
As he (Paul) left, he said, “I will come back later, God willing.” Acts 18:21
He made known his ways to Moses… Psalm 103:7
3. God really does want us to know his will (at least some of it). He’s not a tease. It’s not like him to keep us totally out of the loop just to torture us. He wants us to know him and have a pretty good idea of what he’s up to. He doesn’t stash his will like Easter Eggs or hide up in heaven and say, “You’re getting warmer!” If we’ll get close and friendly with him (in a respectful way of course), one way or another he’ll let us know what he wants so that we can do it.
A few disclaimers…
You don’t wait for some supernatural revelation before you can get out of bed in the morning. I knew a pastor who prayed about what clothes to wear on Sundays. I can’t judge him for it, because it might be that God wanted to be consulted about this particular man’s Sunday attire. God does what God does, and wants what he wants for his own reasons. But in general, I don’t want to give the impression that as Christians we can’t decide what to have for dinner without a word from God.
Sometimes the need is all you need. If you see an injured person on the side of road, you don’t need three angel visitations in order to do something about it! The priest and the Levite that preceded the Good Samaritan might’ve thought as they walked away from the waylaid man, “I’d have stopped but God didn’t lead me to.” And I doubt that the one who did stop prayed, “Oh Lord God Almighty, I beseech thee through the wonderful Name of Jesus, lead me in Thy righteousness and holiness. Is it Thy will…?” (You get the point.) He saw a need and stepped in to do his part to meet it. The need is often all the leading you need in order to know what God’s will is and do it.
Don’t get me wrong; I said the need is often what you need. It might be that you’re confronted with a need and you’re not the one that the Lord is calling to chip in. He might even speak a clear “No, that’s not for you to do. I’m sending someone else.” You’ll see this unfold as you read on, but suffice it to say, sometimes what we call leading is just doing what’s right. You don’t need God to speak to you out of the clouds to know whether or not to help someone in need if it’s in your power to do so.
Don’t just resign to his will
- embrace it!
Don’t over-spiritualize every decision. God leaves some things (lots of things) up to us, don’t you think? But it is up to us (as people of the Bible) to filter our decisions through what we know about God and the way he does things. We’ll talk more about that later…
I remember attending an Easter Sunrise Service where the preacher stood up when it was time for him to give the message and said, “I really don’t have any leading about what to say, so let’s sing another song and go home.” I sat there dumbfounded! “Are you serious?! We got out of bed before the angels and hiked all the way out here. At least read to us out of the Bible!” On the other hand, I think I know where he might have been coming from. He probably didn’t want to just talk to us out of his own head, but wanted to speak prophetically (he was known, as I recall, as sort of a “prophet”). So I can’t fault him for trying to be faithful to a personal conviction that the Holy Spirit had put on his heart. I’m just trying to make the point that unless otherwise instructed by the Spirit, you don’t really have to wait for an angel visitation before choosing what to have for breakfast.
Be careful not to let your desire to know God’s will for the future make you irresponsible about the present. I hope you won’t become so enamored about what God will want you to do tomorrow that you neglect what he’s already told you to do today!
Okay, that’s enough introducing. Let’s move on…