Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Lack of Discernment

I don't know about you, but I have spent a lot of time agonizing over the idea of what God's will is. What is God's will in my life? There are numerous verses in the Bible that give us an indication of what God desires for us in essence, wills, for us, but again the question comes out, what does that look like specifically? Is it God's will that I take this job or that one? That I go to this church or that one? That I marry this person or that one? I can't count the number of times in life where I have been idle, sitting around "trying to figure out God's will". Don't get me wrong, it's important to know and to do God's will, as Jesus says in Mark 3:35 doing God's will is how we demonstrate that we are of his family. Yet I suppose that begs the question as to what God's will exactly is. How can I do something that I don't know?

I don't claim to be an expert on this by any means, so I am not here to give some sort of definitive answer, but rather to share my own experiences and reflections on the subject at hand. If you haven't already, I recommend picking up a copy of Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. It provided me with a solid background and one answer to this ever present question of what God's will is. I suppose to clarify, many of us have a general sense of what God wills for us, Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us that we have been saved to do good works that God has prepared for us, and the Bible is replete with passages about how we ought to live and what God seeks for us, which ultimately, can sort of be simplified to holiness. Wow, going back and reading that sentence I realize that that's probably kind of a loaded statement, but work with me here.

We know that God desires for us to be holy, to be with Him, ultimately so that we can glorify Him. I don't think then it is too far off base to say that God's will for us is to be holy. Throughout Scripture, God has given us various commands, which I believe summarize His will, first from Genesis 1:28
"And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”"
This is the command that God gives to Adam and Eve, the first general commission of the human race. Then there is the Great Commandment that Jesus quotes to summarize the entirety of Old Testament law, as from Matthew 22:37-39
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Then Jesus also gives us the oft overlooked new commandment as found in John 13:34
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."
And also the much recited Great Commission from Matthew 28:19-20
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." 
I believe that in general, these pieces of Scripture accurately summarize the will of God for us. To be caretakers, God-lovers, people-lovers, and disciple-makers. While that is all well and good, a lot of times I have wondered, well what is God's will for me

There was a point in time when I would've answered that question with something Kevin DeYoung mentions in his book, which in short would sound something like this, God doesn't care. Wait, what? When I first read that I had to do kind of a double-take as well. However, when I stepped back, I realized what he meant (he also explains it a little in his book). In my personal experience, a lot of the pondering we do in regards to God's will has to do with some sort of decision or another. Should I take the job in California or New York? Should I ask this person out? Should I go to a private college or a state school? etc... Not to say that these aren't big decisions and that God is indifferent to our circumstances, but let us consider the decisions at hand. I am going to go with the college/job example for reference as that's something that I've been through and can speak to from a personal level.

If I believe that God is a good God who is willing and able to bless me in all circumstances then I can also hold that any college I get accepted to or job offer that I receive is a good thing provided by God. So if I get more than one, both are avenues of God's blessing to me. I look at it like this: imagine in a child in the ice cream shop, the parent asks the child if he/she wants chocolate or strawberry. Regardless of whether or not the kid is a die-hard chocolate fanatic or a gung-ho strawberry fan he/she is getting ice cream either way. It's not like the kid can pick a "wrong" flavor. The parent doesn't say, "Sorry, I prefer chocolate and you picked strawberry, that's extra chores for you." Likewise, the parent doesn't exclaim, "Why?! Why?! Why did you have to pick chocolate?! Now you've gone and ruined everything!" No, rather, the parent trusts that the child will make a decision. Likewise God gives us the freedom to choose. I'll probably say this pretty often, and I believe that it is a valid point, God made us with brains for a reason.

So if I believe that God is a good and omnipotent God, then I must believe also that He can bless me if I go to school in the West Coast or if I opt to go to a school in the East Coast. If I choose a private Ivy League school or if I decide to go to a cheaper state university. Likewise, I must also believe that there is nothing I can do that God hasn't already accounted for. Now this gets into that whole confusing realm of predestination which I don't really want to go to, so let's just say that if I believe that God has a plan, I believe that God is smart enough to not hinge it on little old me.

Granted, deciding between where to work or go to school or even who to marry are decisions with slightly more gravity than the flavor of ice cream to order for dessert, I believe the nature of the decision to be similar, and thus by asking God if it's His will to choose one way or another, is essentially the same as the child saying, "I don't know, you pick a flavor." Which is something I'm sure we've all heard or even said before. Now some might be wondering what is wrong with that, but I believe indecision is a means by which we attempt to relieve ourselves of responsibility. My father enjoys quoting an old preacher in saying, "God has given this [task] to you, why are you turning around and giving it right back to God?" I don't believe that God has road-mapped out every single instance of our lives. It's not as though God has men with hats and special books trying to make sure things turn out just right (look up Adjustment Bureau on IMDB if you don't know what I'm talking about), and if they don't He (and the men with the hats and the books) sit there wringing their hands. The simple question is this, if, according to the Westminster Catechism, the chief end of man is to "glorify God and enjoy Him forever" then can I glorify God by going to a big bustling research university? Sure. Can I do it at a small liberal arts college? Yes. The question isn't one of right or wrong but rather a choice between two gifts that have been offered.

However, after reflecting more on this topic, I have come to a sort of realization in regards to something, and that may be that I have been asking the wrong question all along. For myself, I believe that if I have to ask the question "What is God's will?" then there is a problem. Wait, what? Okay, here is where I am going with this. Have you ever met two people that were so close that it almost seemed like they could communicate without speaking with one another? I once played Taboo with a pair of sisters (this incidentally was the first time I ever played Taboo) who essentially finished each other's sentences making the game rather one-sided. These sisters knew each other well enough to know where the other was going with a specific line of thought. Now Taboo is a silly example, but it is a good one nonetheless, you are trying to get others to follow the same train of thought that you are on. If they don't, well, then you lose the game. However, the closeness of a relationship extends beyond dominating all comers in the game of Taboo, but rather extends to other facets of life as well. This concept to me is a relatively fresh one simply because, well, if I'm honest about it, I am not good at cultivating relationships.

The better we know someone the better we know that person's likes and dislikes. If we modify our ice cream shop example, to my friend and I, the ideal would be that I would not even have to ask if my friend wanted ice cream, let alone what flavor he wanted because I would know to get something he liked. Thus, if my relationship with God is comparable, then I would inherently know what He wanted or willed. So, if I must ask the question, "What is God's will?" then perhaps it is more of a reflection into my own personal relationship with God than anything else.

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