Tag Archives: God’s Will

God’s Will for Your Life. Really.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

I have noticed that throughout life’s journey there distinct stages in which followers of Jesus spend a lot of time preoccupied with the question of “What is God’s will for me?” For those who are not so spiritually inclined to consider God in the equation, there are still natural periods of life’s journey when we ask, “Where am I going?”

The first major phase of questioning comes around the time of high school when decisions about college or military service or entering the work force are staring down at you. This can be a nerve wracking time. So many options leading down different paths. Which one is correct? Does God or fate have a role to play? What if I choose wrong?

Another round hits post college or military service when careers and/or family generally merges with life’s natural path. Wendy and I have walked along side our daughters in recent years as they’ve navigated those decisions. “Where am I going?” “Where should I live?” “Do I take the job I’m not sure I want or hold out for the one that I do?”

As a child, I observed that my grandparents and parents generations often settled onto a path for 35-45 years until retirement, when the next round of “What do we do now?” began. Increasingly, I observe that mid-life career changes, a rapidly changing economy, and a mobile society have thrust some of us into ceaseless questioning. It can create all sorts of anxiety, fear, and doubt.

On occasion our daughters and others have asked me my thoughts on these big decisions about life’s direction. I don’t profess to be a Sage, but there are a few things I’ve come to understand. The bad news is that I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t tell you with certainty God’s will for the choice of your life’s direction, college, spouse, or vocation. The good news is that I can speak with certainty about God’s will for you.

I think we do ourselves a disservice looking for some singular, well defined path that God has ordained for us. While that may be the experience for some, I’ve definitely found that it’s the exception and not the rule. Jesus definitely foreknew that certain things would happen, like Peter denying Him three times, or Judas’ betrayal. Jesus even gave Peter a shadowy prophetic word about how his life journey would end. But Jesus fell far short of providing his closest followers a detailed road map for their lives after His ascension. Life is a faith journey, not a Google Maps prescribed expedition.

What is God’s will for us, however, is well defined. It’s simply and directly provided in today’s chapter.

Rejoice always. Good times are for thanksgiving. Stretches of monotony are for developing patience and persistence. Bad times are all about growing perseverance and character. Rejoicing in each moment, no matter where we find ourselves on God’s road, is God’s will for us.

Pray continually. This life journey is about process. It’s not just about our destination, but about the development of ourselves and our relationship with God. God doesn’t abandon us to figure it out for ourselves, but is with us each step of the way. If we continue to ask, seek, knock, and conversationally process with God, I believe we progress much faster. That’s why it’s God’s will that we dialogue with Him.

Give thanks in all circumstances. It’s easy to fall into the cycle of self-centered pessimism. I do it all the time. Willfully choosing to think about each and every person and thing for which we can be thankful gives us much needed perspective throughout each stretch of life’s journey. I have one acquaintance who, every night before she retires, tweets what she is thankful for. I appreciate her example, and it reminds me that God wants me to do the same.

What is God’s will for your life? If you’re asking me what college you should go to, what career to choose, or whether you should get married then I’m sorry I can’t do any more than help you weigh your options and apply what wisdom is available in making your choices. I can tell you however, without question, God’s will for your life:

  • Rejoice always.
  • Pray continually.
  • Give thanks in all circumstances.

Perhaps if we focus on these three every day, the answer to all the other questions we have about God’s will for us on this life journey will organically take care of themselves.

 

Rolling the Dice

“You shall describe the land in seven divisions and bring the description here to me; and I will cast lots for you here before the Lord our God.”
Joshua 18:6 (NRSV)

Throughout the Great Story we find the practice of “casting lots” which is basically an ancient version of rolling the dice or drawing straws. In today’s story, the division of land between the remaining tribes was determined by casting lots. In the story of Jonah, the sailors figured out Jonah was running from God because they cast lots. Jesus’ executioners cast lots for his robe. The successor to Judas Iscariot among Jesus’ twelve disciples was decided by casting lots.

The practice of making decisions with the drawing of the short straw or a roll of the dice seems ludicrous in our age of reason and science. Nevertheless, the practice reminds me that there are many times in life when we are required to make life decisions and reason does not provide any clarity. The fork in the road beckons us to choose and our Excel spreadsheet of positives and negatives are equally balanced.

We roll the dice in life on many occasions. No matter how much we beg and plead for God to give us a sign, the silence from heaven seems deafening. I have come to understand that there is a mysterious dance between my decisions and divine guidance. It is the eternal tension between free will and predestination. I choose the path only to find along the journey that there was a reason for my choice that I did not understand at the time. God weaves His will in and through our choices to make the tapestry of our lives, our stories.

Today, I sit in my hotel room a thousand miles from my loved ones and stare at a long day with my client. I’ll be honest: It feels like a mountain sitting in front of me and I’m short on mustard seeds. This is part of the journey. We throw the dice. We make choices. We fumble and fret and second guess our choices amidst the daily commute. We trust God to lead us and weave His will and purpose through our daily slog. We press on. We continue on the path despite our doubts and nagging second guesses… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

 

 

Embrace the Mystery of the Moment

Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
John 13:7 (NRSV)

There was a lot that Jesus’ followers did not understand. It is a subtle, but recurring theme in John’s biography of Jesus:

  • Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
  • They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father.
  • Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word.
  • Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
  • His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

Along my life journey I’ve discovered that I almost always desire clarity and understanding, but it quite regularly eludes me in the moment and in my immediate circumstances. It is only when I reach a waypoint down the road that I look back and perceive with clarity and understanding how God was at work around me, in me, and through me. I have come to accept that there are some things that will continue to elude me until my journey is over and I am safe at home.

At least I’m not alone. I take heart today in the realization that Jesus’ best friends and closest followers on this earth were perplexed in the moment, too. Being physically present with Jesus and hearing His every word, they still didn’t get it until further on down the road. Maybe it’s time for me to cut myself a little slack.

I’m reminded that this life journey is, for me, a faith journey. I will rarely have clarity and understanding in the moment. I am, however, assured of the hope that God will complete His good work in me. Having looked back at how He has brought me to this point, and all that He has faithfully accomplished thus far, it is evident that I can trust that my present circumstances are part of the plan.

You do not know now what I am doing,” Jesus says to His followers, “but later you will understand.”

Indeed.

So, go with it. Trust. Have faith.

Embrace the mystery of the moment.

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featured image by odreamer via Flickr

Tapping into the Flow

St. Paul by Rembrandt van Rijn
St. Paul by Rembrandt van Rijn

King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?” Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains.” Acts 26:27-29 (NRSV)

The followers of Jesus were a small sect within a secondary religious people inside a relatively small region of the Roman Empire. Jesus was certainly not the first to claim to be the Messiah and his followers were not the first to make waves within the Hebrew community in Jerusalem. In the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection, even some of the Hebrew leaders dismissed Jesus’ followers as just another sect claiming that so-and-so was the Messiah. Leave them alone, many argued, and they will fade away like all the rest.

The odds were against Jesus’ followers making waves outside of the Judean region to the larger Roman Empire. The Roman pagan religious institutions were part of the fabric of both society and economy. The Romans didn’t particularly like the Jews and didn’t particularly care about what they considered a minor theological dispute between Paul and the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, with the exception of the political advantage it provided. We’ve already seen that in the previous chapters as Paul has been imprisoned for years simply to appease the Jewish leaders.

Over the years Paul’s relatively minor case has allowed him to share his story with a string of political leaders and Roman power brokers. It started with the Jewish leaders and the local Roman Tribunal in Jerusalem. Then came Roman Governor Felix and his wife Drusilla, Roman Tribunal Lysias, Roman Governor Festus, and now the regional King Agrippa and his wife Bernice.

Paul’s story, and the story of Jesus, is being sown like seeds among the powers-that-be, and Paul himself will soon find himself planted in the capitol of the Roman Empire. Paul, the most learned among Jesus’ followers. Paul, the most cross cultural of all Jesus followers who was Greek by birth. Paul, the most acquainted among Jesus’ followers with the law. Paul, the only leader among Jesus’ followers born a Roman citizen. How precipitous that among all the followers of Jesus it is Paul making the slow sojourn through the Roman judicial system. These seeds will take root. The story will spread. In less than 300 years the Roman Emperor himself will become a follower of Jesus.

This morning, I’m thinking about how God moves through people, events, relationships, and circumstances to achieve His will and purposes over time. Along life’s road I have occasionally found myself striving to make things happen only to have my intensions unrealized and my efforts fail miserably. The older I get the more I try to be wise and discerning about my time, energy, and resources. Increasingly, I find myself trying not to impose my will on the circumstances around me, but rather to discern how and where God is moving in order to tap into the flow with a desire to discover what part God might have for me to play within it.

Striving Against Divine Design

David before Saul
David before Saul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saul now urged his servants and his son Jonathan to assassinate David. But Jonathan, because of his strong affection for David, told him what his father was planning.
1 Samuel 19:1-2a (NLT)

The story is downright Shakespearean. I’m surprised the Bard never penned his own version of the story of Saul and David. Saul is the mad king given to fits of jealous rage. David is the young anointed one whom God has chosen to succeed Saul. What’s worse, David is Saul’s son-in-law and the best friend of his first born son, Jonathan. Saul tried desperately to follow Michael Corleone’s advice and “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” but Saul’s own family members thwart his attempts to whack David.

The problem is, of course, that Saul is trying desperately to thwart God’s own purposes. Like the runaway prophet Jonah, every time Saul tries to oppose God’s will he finds himself running smack dab into it.

God’s designs and purposes are a mysterious thing, but along the journey I have experienced it enough times to know when I sense it. I have watched individuals try to accomplish their own purposes in God’s name and have seen it fail time and time again. I’ve seen individuals striving to stay far away from God while God continuously draws them to Himself. I have experienced God bringing about His purposes despite others active attempts to thwart it.

Today I am thinking hard about Saul and doing a little self-examination. In what areas of my life am I striving against God’s purposes? Where in my life am I being like Saul in my refusal to accept and surrender to God’s grand design? What areas of life to I need to stop struggling and simply  surrender?

The Chaos of Forcing God’s Hand

BERCHEM Nicolaes landscape With Jacob Rachel A...
BERCHEM Nicolaes landscape With Jacob Rachel And Leah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Rachel saw that she wasn’t having any children for Jacob, she became jealous of her sister. She pleaded with Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”

Then Jacob became furious with Rachel. “Am I God?” he asked. “He’s the one who has kept you from having children!”

Then Rachel told him, “Take my maid, Bilhah, and sleep with her. She will bear children for me, and through her I can have a family, too.” So Rachel gave her servant, Bilhah, to Jacob as a wife, and he slept with her. Bilhah became pregnant and presented him with a son. Genesis 30:1-4 (NLT)

There is so much happening in this chapter I felt chaotic reading it this morning. There are four discontent main characters, all part of the same dysfunctional family system, all trying to force God’s hand and make things happen on their own:

  • Rachel becomes jealous of Leah and parallel’s Jacob’s jealousy of Esau.
  • When Rachel, then Leah, can’t have children on their own they take matters into their own hands repeat the mistake of Jacob’s grandmother and have him sleep with their maid servants.
  • The sisters, catty and desperate to have more sons, grasp at superstition, eating mandrakes in hope it will make them pregnant
  • While the baby-making contest continues between Jacobs wives and concubines, Jacob and Laban continue the family tradition of deception in the ordering of the family business:
    • Laban deceptively takes the sheep he agreed to give Jacob and gives them to his sons instead
    • Jacob answers deception with deception, using superstition to try to make more of the spotted sheet Laban had agreed to give him.

I get the sense that all of this jealousy, deception, superstition, desperation, and generational family sin makes for a dramatic amount of crazy in their everyday lives. It feels more than a little out of control, and I think that’s one of the points that I’m taking away from today’s chapter. When we desperately seek to take God’s will into our own hands and make things happen by our own ways and means, the results are often disastrous.

The other thing that I must acknowledge in all of this is that God continued to work His own will and purpose in and through Jacob, Leah and Rachel despite their own sinful deception and foolishness (So, I guess there’s hope for me!). As I journey through God’s Message I’m continually reminded that God’s divine purposes in this world are often carried out by unlikely and arguably unworthy individuals. There’s something unsettling and seemingly unfair about it, but it reminds me that I am not God. I do know see the big picture nor is my butt big enough to occupy His judgement seat.

Chapter-a-Day Esther 9

dice
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews, had plotted to crush and destroy them on the date determined by casting lots (the lots were called purim). Esther 9:24 (NLT)

The casting of lots was a common practice in ancient times. It was a form of what we would call today “rolling the dice” and letting the future be determined by fate. It’s a practice from which our modern lottery is based. When Jonah was running from God and his ship was being threatened by the storm, the crew cast lots to determine who was to blame for God being so angry. When Jesus’ disciples needed to pick a replacement for Judas Iscariot, they cast lots to decide between the candidates.

While we still have lotteries as a form of gambling and money-making, our culture long ago moved away from trusting in the practice as way of divining God’s will. Today we put our trust more in reason and discernment than to chance.

Nevertheless, I find in the story of Esther and the festival of Purim a reminder that God is not confined to using only the means of our human design and prescription to work His will. I hear in my head some of my stuffy college professors eschewing the idea that God would use anything other than human reason to divine a proper choice. You can’t deny, however, that God worked through both Haman and Esther’s gambles. God used the casting of Haman’s lot to turn the tables on his heinous motives. Esther rolled the dice when she presented herself to the king without being summoned and God used her bet to work His good and perfect will.

Despite our reliance upon knowledge, intellect, and reason, I find that we all face distinct crossroads at different waypoints of our life’s journey. Two paths diverge from our single one and we must make a choice. Sometimes we make reasoned decisions. Sometimes, we roll the dice.  In either case, I believe there is a divine orchestration at work. As it says in Proverbs: “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps” (16:9) and “We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall” (16:33). Like me, you may have a hard time wrapping your head completely around how that works exactly. There is a divine mystery to it. Proverbs addresses that too: “The LORD directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?” (20:24).