August 19, 2017

“Big” Decisions and God’s Will

By Chaplain Mike

When I was a Christian young person, I heard a lot about “seeking God’s will.” This question was especially prominent at Bible college, where young men and women training to go into ministry were trying to discern God’s leading in several key areas.

First and foremost, we were trusting God to lead us to a perfect marriage partner. Battling our hormones and feelings for the guy or girl we really liked, a lot of times, I might add. (Not me, of course, dear.) And then there was the whole decision about whether or not God was calling a person into missions. If, on the other hand, a person believed God wanted one on the “homefront,” there were questions of location, location, location.

A lot of angst, prayer, counseling sessions, Bible studies, dorm discussions, long walks, and sleepless nights revolved around “seeking God’s will for one’s life.”

Frankly, I don’t hear so much about that any more. The “traditional” view of receiving special guidance from God seems to have faded from prominence. For the better, I believe. In my opinion, we’ve come a long way theologically and pastorally in realizing that God may not have one “perfect plan” that a believer must “find” (as though he’s hiding it from his people, as though one day he might pull back a curtain and voila! there it is) in order to be in “the very center of God’s will” for one’s life.

A classic book that led to a change of emphasis in this area of Christian living was Gary Friesen’s Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View. Friesen emphasized that making decisions in our lives is more a function of wisdom than of special guidance or revelation. In the introduction to the book, Haddon Robinson says,

If we ask, “How can I know the will of God?” we may be asking the wrong question. The Scriptures do not command us to find God’s will for most of life’s choices nor do we have any passage instructing us on how it can be determined. Equally significant, the Christian community has never agreed on how God provides us with such special revelation. Yet we persist in searching for God’s will because decisions require thought and sap energy. We seek relief from the responsibility of decision making and we feel less threatened by being passive than active when making important choices.

In this book, Dr. Garry Friesen insists that we must change the question. Instead of wondering, “How do find the will of God?” a better question to pursue is, “How do I make good decisions?”

Young people, of course, think about these things more because they are at a point in their life and spiritual formation when the issue getting established in one’s life vocations is front and center. In our teens and twenties, matters of education, family, career, geographical location, and so on will be decided. What part does God play in the process?

These questions have become more important for people at all stages of life. Society has changed, and for many of us, choices like these now take the stage at various and multiple ages like never before. The simple fact that we live longer necessitates more life-affecting decisions. People wait longer to marry. More marriages break up. People often take longer to find careers, and they may change career choices several times throughout the course of their lives. Society is more mobile and we have many more options, domestic and foreign, about where to live.

Rarely does a person in our world follow the path many in my father’s generation did—college/military, marriage to one spouse, family, lifelong career with one company that followed a logical course of “climbing the ladder,” retirement. And, I would answer, ongoing membership in churches of one denomination.

  • Is it odd that we have more choices and more uncertainty today, but less emphasis on determining the will of God? Or am I just in the other room, missing out on the conversation?
  • What are you hearing these days about this subject? If you are a pastor or someone who counsels others about making decisions, how are you encouraging them to trust God and seek his wisdom for choosing their paths?

Comments

  1. Good post.

    Sounds like you would enjoy a recently published book by Kevin DeYoung called Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. (How’s that for a title?)

    I believe it places more emphasis on God’s ability to affect his will rather than our ability to discern it.

    Dave

    • Wow, that is an amazing title, Dave!

    • david carlson says:

      great book

    • I can understand the need for a book with a title like this (and smile about it), but I can’t deny that both special revelation and decision-making by wisdom have worked together to provide guidance in my life.

      “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:14) I have acquired wisdom by 35 years of “constant use” of the word, and I can “distinguish good from evil” in situations now that 25, 10, or even 2 years ago I would have spent more time reading, reflecting and praying before drawing a conclusion or making a decision.

      But when I was about 25, within 18 months (1) the Lord led me completely out of the field I got my master’s degree in, journalism, and I have never held a full-time position in it; and (2) out of a relationship with a woman I was deeply in love with and was sure I would marry eventually.

      In both cases it took an unusually strong impression from the Holy Spirit to get me to change direction. I don’t know if those qualify as “liver shivers,” but the point is that while I didn’t possess the wisdom to make (or for that matter, even imagine) those life-changing decisions, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” was enough wisdom to steer me in the right direction. But it took something unusual for me to recognize it was the Lord’s will.

      Thirty years later, the wisdom of those pieces of guidance amazes me, but I had little to do with either of them. People who are desperate for signs, visions, dreams, prophetic words, etc. and those who try to downplay them have this in common: They’re both trying to encroach on the sovereignty of God to use whatever means he wants to guide us.

      • God was merciful to me in faith’s infancy, too, DT. Whether some of the “guidance” I received was actually from him, I don’t know for sure, but he guided me nevertheless.

      • Elizabeth says:

        I can affirm with DT similar experiences with the Lord protecting me from what would have been a disastrous relationship, had I continued with it instead of obeying Him and getting out of it…even though there was no obvious “sin” associated with it at the time…
        On the flip side, I once took a job that had all the signs of being exactly what I wanted, going against a very strong feeling of dread that must have been from the Lord telling me *not* to take it, and suffered the consequences by being miserable in the job for six months and finally fired.

        It can be irresponsible to ignore conventional wisdom and refuse to do anything just because you haven’t felt the Lord’s guidance in a certain area, but we must accept that there is special direction at times from the Lord to His followers, and be careful not to interfere with that, and encourage each other to OBEY, saving ourselves the misery of going outside of His provision and loving care. 🙂 Even if we are mistaken and hear something else that’s not Him, if we make decisions in faith believing that we’re following Him, I believe our Lord honors that.

  2. I spent a lot of time “seeking God’s will” as a teenager. He didn’t need me to play hide and go seek, though… I had disassociative fugue and woke up in a group of D&D gamers I didn’t know one day, with a boyfriend and everything. It wasn’t the mission field I was seeking, but as we attract more and more mentally ill geeks who need a social group where we can talk that stuff out honestly, it certainly has become my place of work. I married the boyfriend, too, so in a way I chose NONE of the life I’m living now in advance!!! It is wild and crazy.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      THAT is a good story! Sounds like you rolled a natural 20! (sorry, couldn’t resist)

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Natural 20 nothing, YOU CRITTED!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And if you want “more and more mentally ill geeks who need a social group where we can talk that stuff out honestly”, D&Ders have nothing on Furries. Furry Fandom attracts geekdom on sterioids.

  3. Another good recent book on the subject is “Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do” by Phillip Cary. I am reading through it now; it deal with a lot of evangelical thinking trends from the past 50 years that don’t have much of a precedent before then.

  4. There’s no mystery in “finding God’s will”. If we are reading our Bible, and talking with Godly people – whatever we decide is God’s will! No need to beat ourselves up, or listen for a still, small voice, or interpret dreams, hunches, etc.

    • ned –

      honestly, what about an individual who cannot read? or an individual who does not have a bible? is the standard situational then? is it then easier for some to warrant his loving voice than it is for others?

      i’ve always had a problem with that sentiment. “if” you are doing this, and “if” you are doing that, THEN God….. in my experience God has always defied such frameworks.

      • Illiterate communities have historically been more Bible-literate (through repetition and memorization). We all have Bibles (you can get one from the dollar store). At this point, “I don’t have a Bible” is just an excuse.

        I am not attempting to put God in a box, rather I am debunking statements like “You have put yourself outsides God will” (and the unspoken “now you will suffer”), or “I made a mistake marrying you, God’s will is something else for me” (which I hear people say).

        • hey ned, thanks for responding. dude, that people say things like that is frightening.

          some people are not wired to learn via reading. they’re just not. put a book down in front of them and they’re done. what is God’s response to them? does God demand that these people walk only in the path of reading? i have to think not.

          your post made me think of this: so, people who are engaged (repetition and memorization) in and with God’s word is the equivalent of “reading” God’s word? just trying to understand.

          • Yea, by “reading the Bible” I mean conforming our minds to God’s. Memorization, and listening to preaching are all a part of that. Also, being part of a group of Christians who share their experiences.

            Lone Christians get weird.

        • Leslie Jebaraj says:

          ned, but what about Christians in tribal areas with no exposure to the Bible? My own take is, God has exceptions.

          • Well, we all have no experience what that is like, so we really can’t say. What sorts of decisions even have to be made in those circumstances? There is sufficient revelation for our circumstances.

    • Overshoot. You make it sound like we become infallible. Sin still intrudes.

      • Certainly not infallible. But nothing we decide is going to surprise God, or mess with His plans or anything like that. We never need to worry about God having something “better” for us, which we have now screwed up by our decisions.

        • Like with Joseph and his brothers: “You meant it for evil, but God used it for good” (loose translation)?

  5. I have witnessed a few too many anxious souls fretting about finding “the center of God’s will”. The very idea makes God look cruel: He demands that I do his will, but leaves me groping around to find it.

    Far better for the Christian to live by trusting God’s promises:

    “[He] who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil 1:6 ESV)

    “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,g for those who are called according to his purposes.” (Romans 8:28 ESV)

    Related thoughts: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/wills_sproul.html .

    • Amen.

      The most destructive form is the belief that God has some secret will – and that if you fail to find it (of course, via magical and mysterious means) then you will suffer for it!

      • I haven’t commented on this site for awhile – probably Michael Spencer was still alive the last time I did. However, this discussion resonated with me. My Christian high school taught this version of finding God’s will. And along with that, we got the stories of those who either did not find God’s will for their lives or those who did and ignored it. And for those who didn’t find/follow God’s will, the chastising hand of God was said to come down on them in a heavy way.

        Our school was in a working class to middle class area of town. Most families got by OK, but usually not enough to afford a lof of luxuries. Yet the pressure by the administration to go to certain Christian colleges was heavy, tuition notwithstanding. The assumption was that if a student discovered it was God’s will to go to one of these colleges, God would somehow provide the money to go. Many times students would go off to these schools, only to have to come home in a year or two to attend the local community college or state university because the money ran out.

  6. I am convinced the concept of “seeking God’s will” is a modern creation for Western style capitalism. I can’t imagine a middle ages person “seeking God’s will”, it was decided for him. If dad was a farmer, he was a farmer. If dad was a blacksmith, he was a blacksmith. If a feudal lord said “Go and kill my rival’s warrior”, that is what you did. Life happened, and you dealt with it.

    A family without food to eat doesn’t “seek God’s will”, they just go out and look for food. “seeking God’s will” is for those with excess time and/or money. Everyone else just deals with life as it happens, asking God for grace and mercy for another day.

    • that…….was……..amazing. truth.

    • Well of course they didn’t seek God’s will in the Middle Ages! They were all Catholic back then. 😉

      Seriously, that is an excellent point. I’ve never thought about that before, but I think there’s a lot of truth in what you’re saying.

      • Jason,
        You are right. Life for most was always pre-determined.
        Really this is a creation of a post world war II area. Wouldn’t you say? I think that Chaplain Mike has talked about the Lutheran view of Vocation and maybe this is something we should all be investigating.

        • Your time line is a bit too short. What changes people from 99% subsistence living is when the industrial revolution gets to them. In the US it started in the mid to later 1800s. For some of the world it isn’t there yet.

          I keep marveling at how many people from the first world don’t want the world to “mess up” what many primitive peoples have. But many times when the young folks in those societies look around they decide on their own that the don’t like dirt floors, daily hunting for food, death in childbirth, etc…

          But back to the point. “Seeking” is something you can only due if you aren’t living meal to meal.

          As to the other post that started this mini-thread:
          “is a modern creation for Western style capitalism”

          Why do people wrap everything in modern day terms as capitalism? The industrial revolution has happened in many non capitalist places.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          I think it is also the effect of a change in how some Christians characterize their relationship with Jesus. Back in the day, it was typically put in terms of Jesus being Lord. Or consider the iconic Lutheran hymn “A Mighty Fortress”, where Jesus is (in the second verse) battling Satan on our behalf. Of course these characterizations are still current in Evangelical Christianity, but to them have been added Jesus as best friend. This is new(ish). The hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” is from the mid-19th century, and the idea only really seems to have taken off in the second half of the 20th century.

          This changes our expectations. It would be odd to approach the warrior as he is battling Satan and tap him on the shoulder to ask him what school you should go to. But seeking the advice of your best friend is perfectly reasonable. Given that your best friend is omniscient, it would be odd not to.

    • Score!

    • yes. Living in the present, walking the journey day by day, with Father. Making decisions as the necessity comes up (and being surprised regularly at how He very often provides the decisions and solutions for us, if we stop agonizing and furiously planning ahead), rather than all our westernized goal setting for the rest of our lives (which seldom turns out anyway).

      I also think we far too often believe we are required to make decisions that we are NOT required to make. A lot of things we think are “big” things, are really not.

    • Leslie Jebaraj says:

      Sounds rather blunt, but how true! Thanks for the insight.

  7. Some people appear to have strong callings on their lives, in that there’s The One Big Thing that they’re supposed to do for a very long time.

    I am not one of them.

    So I waited, with some angst, and did this or that for God while I was waiting for him to give me The One Big Thing. And yes, I’ve got a decent grip on my spiritual gifts and skills, and yes, I know that I would not do well as a cloistered nun. So, I gravitated to areas that were fruitful (or that I didn’t screw up too badly). After a number of years both waiting and doing, when I look back on my journey through God’s kingdom, it has become apparent to me that God’s will for me is just being there for Him. He will work things out.

    Separately, strange that you did not mention Purpose Filled LIfe as a movement in this area. I thought I was the only Christian alive who did not like that book until I joined the i-monk community.

  8. I think things have toned down a bit on this front, but it is still present in some circles, just below the surface. Some emphasize a healthier tone to it, such as clear teaching of Scripture and clear overall biblical principles (Andy Stanley is big on this).

    Unfortunately, I think part of the reason is the unhealthy emphasis by some other church leaders to encourage people to “step out in faith”. They claim that if you really trust God, and He wants you to do a specific thing, then you will not grow in the faith (and will show your lack of trust) if you do not act. This, of course, leads people to wonder what God is specifically calling them to do, and to be anxious of how they are supposed to determine that step.

    Haddon Robinson’s own book “Decision Making by the Book”, was helpful to me. However, as much as I admire Haddon Robinson, I disagree with his above statement, “We seek relief from the responsibility of decision making and we feel less threatened by being passive.” It may be true for some, but for many, seeking God’s specific will is out of a response of fear and guilt.

  9. Clay Knick says:

    Good post, as usual. I can’t remember the last time a person came to me trying to find God’s will. Most ask if certain things happening to them is or isn’t God’s will than if they are “in” God’s will. I’m like you: I remember doing a lot of soul searching trying to find God’s perfect will, but some books and wise counsel helped deliver me from that without discounting the reality of God’s guidance.

  10. When I attended a (Evangelical) Christian college some years ago, “finding God’s will” was quite the thing. As best as most of us could figure out, this involved “praying through” on whatever the issue might be. All night prayer sessions, ending in “praying through” in time for breakfast and classes were the ideal.

    Two fellows I knew were both dating the same young woman. Both of them seemed to think she was “the one”. Since both were aware of the other, both independently decided to spend all night (the same night!) in prayer seeking God’s will on whether or not the young lady in question would be their wife. Both “prayed through” on the question by morning, and both proudly announced to friends and acquaintances the next day that God had assured them that she would be their wife.

    Obviously this created somewhat of a sensation on the campus of this small Christian college. I’m not sure at what point each learned that the other one had also been announcing that God had revealed His will to them and that the young lady would be their wife. By dinner time in the campus cafeteria, however, the news that they had discovered that God had assured that each of them would be marrying the same young lady was the topic of conversation for many.

    One of them did end up marrying the young lady. The other married another young lady. I met yet another young lady whom I married, even though I chose not to use the praying through all night until I found God’s will process (much to the concern of several friends). Instead I used the good sense that God gave me. We have been married many years. I chose well, and by no means would choose differently even if that were somehow possible.

    • awesome. truth.

    • I was waiting for the fundamentalist LDS ending to your story with a happy , or not so happy, threesome. Ya left me hanging, bro’….. either that or dueling pistols at the cafeteria….

      • Or, one guy marries the woman but they divorce and THEN the second guy marries the woman. Wow, God was right…they BOTH were supposed to marry her. 😉

        • well played

        • The story is true, but a bit tongue-in-cheek. I thought they both decided that what they wanted was God’s perfect will. I’ve seen this same idea surface since then, including the woman who announced to the church that God had told her it was His will for her to have a Cadillac. To the best of our knowledge, the Cadillac never happened. I am suspicious that God allows us to make choices, and looking back at a later time we can see that He sometimes/often used our choices in both our lives and the lives of others.

        • funny..

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Or, one guy marries the woman but they divorce and THEN the second guy marries the woman. Wow, God was right…they BOTH were supposed to marry her.

          Sounds like that Babylon-5 episode where the Centauri Seeress prophesies that both Londo and Vir will be the Centauri Emperor. “You (Londo) will be Emperor, and then you (Vir) will be Emperor after the other is dead.” Episode ends with Londo & Vir sitting there; Vir just looks weirded out, but Londo’s definitely looking paranoid.

      • That’s one of the beauties of Mormonism Greg!!! 😛 A wife for every day of the week!! 😀

    • Beelzebub's Grandsom says:

      I’m sorry to hear that ANY of these people have married and/or reproduced.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Two fellows I knew were both dating the same young woman. Both of them seemed to think she was “the one”. Since both were aware of the other, both independently decided to spend all night (the same night!) in prayer seeking God’s will on whether or not the young lady in question would be their wife. Both “prayed through” on the question by morning, and both proudly announced to friends and acquaintances the next day that God had assured them that she would be their wife.

      Obviously this created somewhat of a sensation on the campus of this small Christian college.

      Sounds like it would have made a good episode for a sitcom. I could see Hilarity Esnuing in so many ways…

  11. “Is it odd that we have more choices and more uncertainty today, but less emphasis on determining the will of God?”

    No, because the latter is a result of the former: with so many options, Christians are forced to walk by faith and not by sight. Kevin DeYoung’s book “Just Do Something” is more resonant today because of the debilitating, paralyzing effects of having so many options. Just trust God, get wise counsel from mature believers, pray to make decisions for God’s glory and not one’s own, and then choose whatever you desire and whatever God seems to lead you to. It’s not flippant, it’s just faithful and humble. We are way too dumb to figure all this out, and God’s not about laying out all the specifics in advance.

    I always go back to these hymn lyrics: “I do not ask to see the way my feet will have to tread, but only that my soul may feed upon the living bread. Tis better far that I should walk by faith close to his side, i do not know the way i go but O’ I know my guide!”

    “Or am I just in the other room, missing out on the conversation?”

    Overall, people have wised up out of necessity, though semi-Gnostic stuff that I grew up with is definitely out of fashion. “Don’t go ahead of the Holy Spirit, or you’ll miss the boat! Make sure to consult with your Shepherd before your next major purchase.” Uh huh, right.

    Love God and do what you please. Sounds dangerous, but it’s true.

    Or, as Keith Green put it, “You just keep doing your best, and pray that it’s blessed, and Jesus takes care of the rest!” Ah, so liberating!

    • Garrett, I had not heard Keith Green’s “You just keep doing your best, and pray that it’s blessed, and Jesus takes care of the rest!” but I like that. I feel that for most of my life I have just been bumping along, making some good choices and some bad choices. I grew up (Catholic) being told to follow the Ten Commandments, go to church, obey the laws, be nice to people, do well in school and get on with life. Nothing wrong with any of that. But as I would read the Gospel narratives, it surely seemed to me that Jesus was talking about living a life that began now that surely seemed different from what I and others around me were living. Further study and prayer led me to a fuller appreciation of the life God would have us live, but there still are no “details” in terms of who we marry, what work we do, where we live, etc. We still have to make those decisions using the brains God gave us and perhaps the advice of a few trusted people. I think we just have to trust that things will work out OK, otherwise, we would be afraid to leave our homes at all for fear of making the wrong decisions. And, if life appears to take a turn for the worse for us, do we say, “Well, how I was living must not have been God’s will.”? I don’t think so. I think we just deal with that bump in the road and keep on going. What else can we do?

  12. A church I attended presented it this way and I quite like it:

    When we say “God’s will” we may be talking about one or more of the following.
    God’s moral will: These are the basic guidelines for right and wrong that we are expected to follow. Basically “Do not murder” and so forth.
    God’s Sovereign will: This is God’s plan for the world/history and so forth. It is quite inscrutable to us and is entirely God’s job to make sure it occurs. He’ll take care of this.
    God’s individual will for our lives: This may or may not even exist and if it does it’s entirely God’s responsibility to communicate it too you.

    They came down especially hard on using the individual will to attempt to over-rule God’s moral rule ploy. The most common example being getting divorced because this person wasn’t “The One” God meant for them.

    I thought this was a really excellent way of presenting things. What’s really amazing is just how much people hate this. We actually taught this in a singles Sunday School class and it was incredible how negatively some people reacted to this. Some people went straight to the church leadership and the leadership stood it’s ground and I think gave them tapes of the senior pastor’s sermon from the previous year.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      They came down especially hard on using the individual will to attempt to over-rule God’s moral rule ploy. The most common example being getting divorced because this person wasn’t “The One” God meant for them

      The urban legend I heard along those lines was about a woman who read in her Bible “Put on the New Man” and used it as a “God Saith!” to divorce her husband and go after another guy.

      And isn’t using “God Saith” to override God’s commandments and/or justify what is evil the original definition of “Taking God’s Name In Vain”? Sure is convenient to redefine it to cussing and only cussing…

  13. Well, growing up at an Assemblies of God school, I heard a lot about God’s will. It wasn’t something like an overt command (“You must find God’s will for your life or you could screw it all up and be in sin!”), but that sentiment was sort of understood. Stories about people who acted on something they felt from the Lord, or entrusted their life decisions to God, and ended up doing something that made them famous or prominent in Christianity (at least, Christianity from the mid 19th century on), were prevalent. It was assumed that good Christians asked God to tell them where they should go to college, who they should marry, what major/career they should choose, etc. God would let me know these things, I imagined, if I prayed enough and/or got enough sin flushed out of my system to clearly hear his voice. Or something like that. The result was feeling like you didn’t find God’s exact plan for your life, you would only be marginally useful in God’s plan to “advance the Kingdom,” at best. In high school I went to a Presbyterian church, and the youth pastor there used to say that God’s will for our lives wasn’t defined like that–more like a circle than a dot was the way he put it. It’s a pretty good analogy, especially where I was coming from. But by that point I was a good Calvinist, and didn’t really know how to fit that much free will into my life. Now though, I think God’s will for our lives is pretty well set out in Micah 6:8.

    • Micah 6:8 is wonderful for this discussion, Michael. Thanks!

      “He has told you, O man, what is good;
      And what does the LORD require of you
      But to do justice, to love kindness,
      And to walk humbly with your God?” (NASB)

      I think I would like that for my epitath.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “I think God’s will for our lives is pretty well set out in Micah 6:8.”

      Yes, one of the lectionary lessons yesterday, and the passage our pastor used for his sermon.

      • I suppose I ought to confess that the only reason I thought of that verse was because yesterday a friend wrote on Facebook that their pastor had used this verse to say pretty much the same thing. So, yeah, not my original thought. 😀

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Stories about people who acted on something they felt from the Lord, or entrusted their life decisions to God, and ended up doing something that made them famous or prominent in Christianity (at least, Christianity from the mid 19th century on), were prevalent.

      I think they only told you the Success Stories, not the failures. Common problem with example stories of any type — you only remember (and tell) the successes.

  14. @Chap Mike: I think in many churches , the convesation (for now) has shifted to “what’s my spiritual gift” or “whrere are my spiritual strengths and apptitudes”; I think the assumption is “if GOD gave me gift x, y, or z, then of course HE’s called me to use it.” And hence the classes in spiritual inventories, and knowing how GOD has wired me, and my ministry style, etc, etc, This may be an upgrade from seeing GOD’s will as an .05 pencil line on the floor, but has its own inherent weaknesses and drawbacks (try getting someone with a strong administrative gift to habitually practice hospitality or go “outside of” their gift.

    Just some late afternoon mumbles.
    GREG R

  15. I’m pretty lousy at this myself and generally follow my own instincts which I can only hope are based in sound principals.

    In my experience, seeking out “God’s Will” often feels more like an attempt to delay or outright dismiss whatever potentially unpleasant path God may actually have in store for us. I’m constantly amazed that the God that called so many into life-threatening works of faith (the apostles and early Christians come to mind) seems only interested in calling us to better paying jobs, happier marriages, and the right timeshare.

    Hate your job and are willing to move out of state? We’ll obviously God wants you to go find a new job. Hate your job but absolutely don’t want to move? Well, obviously God is teaching you patience and wants you to be a good example for others.

    • Ed says:

      > I’m constantly amazed that the God that called so many into life-threatening works of faith (the apostles and early Christians come to mind) seems only interested in calling us to better paying jobs, happier marriages, and the right timeshare. <

      Very good.

      Overseas missions might seem to be the ultimate in personal sacrifice, but even many of our overseas missionaries are there because they didn't like their real job.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Don’t know if they were the “ultimate in personal sacrifice” but overseas missionaries (usually to Africa or some similar Third World hellhole) were THE Prestige Class among a lot of Christians; everybody else — even pastors — were #2.

  16. I am still in a circle of people who are seeking God’s will for their lives and their “big” decisions.
    I have found that God has never let me down when I have asked him a big question I needed help for.

    I think more important than getting God’s specific will, like where to live, or who to marry, is living in community where people are allowed to speak into your life and challenge your decisions. After all, anyone can say, “I feel God calling me to do _____.” What can you say to that? It cuts others off from asking questions and helping you discern the bigger picture of what God may be doing.

    So, although I do still seek God for guidance, it is often in the bigger scheme of discerning past patterns, what I sense the spirit doing, asking guidance from others I trust, and reading the word.

    There have been times of prophetic guidance in my life, but it’s not the norm for me. Many times I think God is giving me the liberty to choose wisely and walk out the aftermath of those decisions.

    Ya know?

  17. Well again…Chaplain Mike hits another home run!! The idea of God’s will was something that backfired on me – big time. When I lived in the upper midwest I desperately tried to find God’s will. I prayed, prayed, and prayed, sought guidance, talked with close freinds, etc.. Along the way I spent a lot of time in scripture reading, praying and studying.

    When a series of events started to work, I thought God was opening the door to my current job. So I prayed and got a “confirmation” I was looking for and decided to make a move from the upper midwest to the east coast.

    In the job I entered..I soon found myself in over my head, with the skills set needed which applied to my greatest weakness. I also found myself working in a combat zone, wondering what I got myself into. In my mind the questions really grew…I wanted answers for what was happening. The church community was less than helpful, including some of the people who encouraged me to “follow God’s will…”

    When I asked these are some of the answers I heard…

    1. God doesn’t make mistakes…you must have misheard
    2. Suck it up and think of Paul’s suffering
    3. The need to spend more time in the Bible
    4. You can’t question God

    In all honesty all of those were annoying, but the one that ticked me off the most was the second point. It came from a fundegelical I knew who spent a lot of time in a nice comfy office in downtown Washington, D.C. Which of course is a far cry from finding yourself in a comabt zone in South Asia.

    The issue of God’s will is another point that led me to question God. All the stories I heard in church detailing God’s will all celebrated success. Yet for every one story about success I will bet that there are 10 people burned, frayed, and fried becuase “God’s will” backfired. And those people you will never hear discussed, raised, etc.. As for me I’ve spent about 3 years trying to find another job to dig myself out of the mess I got myself into. And it’s been hard becuase I’m tryint to find another job in a difficult economy and one that will allow me to pay my student loans, bills, mortgage, etc.. I came to the conclusion that the events that happened where just circumstance and I read too much into them becuase I was brainwashed as an evangelical.

    I knew a girl who felt “called by God” to be a missionary in Africa. One night I was on Facebook and saw that she was on there, I asked her how she was doing. And it all poured out…she told me about the mission being a mistake, how she found herself in a country south of Rwanda and overwhlemed. She was sick a lot, homesick, and was coming apart. She wanted to quit and she wanted to return to the United States. I started to correspond with her to encourage her until she could get out of her mess.

    Then…I went to McLean Bible and heard people talking about her. These were the comments I heard…

    “She’s doing God’s will…” to “She’s having a wonderful time and God is really using her with kids…” I kept the Facebook discussion to myself and asked one person, “How do you know she;s okay…it’s a challenging environment.” I got the pat answer that “God’s in control, she will be fine and Eagle I don’t like your doubt of the situation…” When my faith bottom out I had that individual contact me a lot through facebook before I finally unfriended him.

    How did the story end for that missionary in Africa? She quit, came home and enrolled in gradf school. Somehow her faith – while hit, remained intact and she beleives in God to thsi day. How I don’t know…

    The issue of God’s will when it becomes a disaster is a faith killer. I also learned that talking to some evangelicals about the problem of God’s will often can go nowhere. They can get hyper senstive, and it’s a taboo subject that you just don’t raise. It reminded me of asking the Mormon missioanries I knew about Joseph Smith’s false propehcies which never happened. Just like the later evangelcials the LDS didn’t want me to go there either….

    Okay..and as Paul Harvey would say…”That’s the end of the story!!!”

    • Exactly. I was in a church with that kind of teaching, constantly saying everything was “God’s will” and “God is in control”. The teaching sent me into depression. One of the interesting things is that an extremely large percentage of the church was suffering depression, and the pastor believed God was sending all these depressed people to him so he could teach them “God’s will” and “God is in control”.

      Once I got out of that church, my depression miraculously went away 🙂

    • I’m not a big God’s wil person but I know he has given me opportunities to learn… and sometimes I re-live the same situation over and over … I guess until I get it right. Your description about how your dream job ended up playing to your weaknesses really resonates. Because here you have a choice, and the lesson is that you have a choice. You can either try to become stronger in the area that you are weak (no small task), or you can admit that this is a weakness and move on (neither is right or wrong, it just is). For too long I have tried to be the best in every area including my weak areas. And I have come to realize that I just need to be humble, that it is alright to fail – if I learn from it (failing for me is probably the hardest thing to let happen).

      it is my observation that evangelicals put too much pressure on others without putting the same pressure on themselves (and I qualify this as my own perception). Classic example is the girl you describe above and how others indirectly put pressure on her. I have a cousin who puts pressure on those who pass his christian test.

      Thirdly – I think there is too much emphasis on God having to make the decision, looking for a sign, etc. From my view God is opening doors behinfd the scene. I am walking through them – not waiting for God to give me a sign. If it feels right I atempt it. If it goes wrong there is probably something I need to learn and I actually look for that when looking back in hindsight. From my perspective I believe God wants me to grow, much more than God wants me to attain or God wants me to find my special purpose – because in the end, wherever I am I may cross paths with someone who I might influence, which may move them forward in growth,and may in turn influence someone else… and so on, and so on…

      Just my thoughts Eagle…

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        it is my observation that evangelicals put too much pressure on others without putting the same pressure on themselves (and I qualify this as my own perception).

        It was also the perception of this certain itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth, as recorded in Matthew 23:4.

  18. Great post, Chaplain Mike!

    In the one area where God does not give man the choice, becoming a Christian, we decide that it should be up to us to “make our decisions for Christ”…

    but, where God has given us all freedom in choosing our mates, our jobs, where we’ll live, what kind of car to drive, what color socks to wear, etc., people feel like they have to throw it all on God.

    • Appreciate you pointing out the irony, Steve. We do tend to get things backward, don’t we?

    • I knew Christians who felt that every decision had to involve God’s will.. God wanted them to do “something…” The weirdest thing I heard invovled a couple who prayed for God’s will over when, where, and how to have sex.

      • let’s bring this down to the in-the-trenches level…

        all of us, no matter our past or what we can praise God for, are wounded. in some area of our lives there is the impact of brokenness & sin scared residue. for some, it is the area of physical intimacy for whatever reason. we are bound up & looking for the freedom we have been promised, but must walk out daily to experience.

        same for any very personal, intimate relationship. heck, that aspect of our humanness is part of the wholeness God is bringing to our lives. all of the areas of human interaction need some boundaries established. these boundaries are dependent on the issues we must honestly deal with & work thru. continual maturity will address each area of the individual’s personal life.

        God wants all of us. all areas we are weakest in. all the areas we are strongest in. there is no area that is exempt from His gaze & desire to transform. i do not need to know certain details of a couple’s physical intimacy concerns, but that is just a common example of what every one of us must deal with when God points out where we are dysfunctional & where He alone can bring freedom beyond what we can ask, think or imagine.

        thank you Jesus for your sensitivity to our brokenness & willingness to change us into a liberated version of what we were when You called us to follow…

        • Joseph..Christians have this unhealthy hang up on sex. It’s “our gift” from the wonderful Puritans. But faith in God which I would suggest is unhealthy and harmful…when it gets to that point where couples are praying when, where and how to have sex. Then I would suggest its warped and no different than a cult.

          • Not a fair comment on the Puritans. The Puritans had large families and stable marriages. They wrote love poetry. They delighted in their spouses.

            The Puritans absolutely are not the source or cause of any “unhealthy hangup on sex.” That came from libertines like Rousseau, and from researchers like Masters and Johnson and Kinsey.

            • Yes! A hearty cheer for the Puritans. J.I. Packer’s Rediscovering Holiness, and Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints are two good books that destroy myths about the “puritanical” Puritans.

          • Josh in FW says:

            thanks for the correction on the Puritans. Often people use the word “Puritanical” when “Victorian” would be more accurate. I think I remember being told that it is related to “The Scarlet Letter” which written in a Puritan setting, but in the Victorian period and to a Victorian audience.

            That said, it does seem odd to pray about the details of your sex life, but maybe I’m just being prudish.
            🙂

      • that is gross….
        I don’t know God’s reaction but mine would be… really? you came to ask me that??!!!!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The weirdest thing I heard invovled a couple who prayed for God’s will over when, where, and how to have sex.

        Talk about micromanaging… Every time I hear that one I get these really creepy vibes about sex as described in Orwell’s 1984: “Our Duty to The Party.”

  19. Steve,
    that is how I grew up. This mentality can be faith destroying.

    • It sure can, Robin.

      What a blessing that Christ came to free us from that stuff.

    • Agreed…it was one of the most toxic things that happened to me. I’m stuck in a miserable job that I go to each day. Often I feel sick to my stomach about my work situation and it takes a lot of will power to get out of bed everyday and go to a job I don’t like. And I am angry over how I got myself into this situation…curtesey of my brainwashing and fundegelical culture.

      • Hang in there. I intended to quit my job on a church staff today, it sucks so bad, even though I could not afford it. I too question the whole process that got me here. I am pretty sure that if the economy turns around and I can escape, it will be God’s will that I won’t work for a church ever again 🙂

  20. of course we want to be ‘blessed’ in the decisions we make. we want God’s input as One that has our best interests in mind, no?

    God is the One that can bring about life transitions that do point to a new direction+situation. i can be honest with my wants, desires, preferences, etc., but the biggies cannot happen unless God does work behind the scenes so-to-speak…

    however, we cannot become paralyzed while waiting for the handwriting on the wall either. if we are doing the right things in our day-2-day, then the decisions we make will be ours to pursue. if we feel a check in the spirit (hard to quantify, but is a real experience) then we can reevaluate or continue to bounce things off close friends+confidants.

    within our existence is a limited selection of possibilities that do have major impact on our lives. i want to know God is okay with those decisions since i cannot know the future outcome.

    marriage? job/career? geographical relocation? certainly God is willing to hear our prayer about how to proceed, but i do not think He is going to make it more complicated than allowing us to follow thru as we seek Him. i think the process less spooky-spiritual as has been presented in the past. if it is maturity that is part of our journey, God expects us to make decisions based on the level of faith+wisdom we have acquired. not sure about the divorce issues though. but i do know He works good out of all the bad if we continue to seek Him.

  21. scrapiron says:

    I have never heard God telling me to do anything. Ever. As a kid and as a young man, this distrubed me immensely, because I was surrounded by people who were hearing God tell them every little detail of life, so I figured I must not have been chosen by God for salvation.

    This was very depressing for a while, then I began asking people how they really knew God had told them the stuff God was telling them. (Thinking that you’re destined for destruction tends to embolden your conversations.) Turns out, in exactly zero cases did God ACTUALLY TELL these people anything. They had hunches, just like I had hunches, about what was the right thing to do. The main difference between us seemed to be that I followed up on my hunches by thinking about how they fit into what I already knew was God’s will (from the Bible) and by asking for advice from older people who had been around and had some wisdom, whereas most of them were just plain sure. I began to take heart that maybe they were all faking it when I discovered Garry Friesen’s book and began to realize that the whole “center of God’s will” thing wasn’t really even a biblical concept. What freedom!

    Years later, I can look back on some lives and see some real problems with this idea of convincing yourself that God has spoken to you and you alone, through some mysterious and inexplicable means. Like the poster above who told of the two guys who felt certain that God was telling them to marry the same woman, I have seen contradictory messages from God in marriages, ministries, extended families, churches and friendships. When you have played a psychological trick on yourself that has convinced you that you heard a message straight from God, there is no room for compromise, negotiation, open-mindedness or even grace. You HAVE to be right, ’cause it was from God.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      At that point, whatever you felt or decided has been elevated to (literally) Cosmic Significance. And when two Cosmically Significant Messages oppose each other, things get really ugly really fast. The Universe cannot have two centers.

  22. Good points, Joseph and scrapiron.

    I think God wants to hear about the choices ahead of us. God does work in our lives. We pray, we use all our God given resources, and then we step out in faith…trusting that the Lord will be with us in good times and in bad. Good decisions, and bad decisions. And when we make a dog’s breakfast out of our lives (and other’s lives, as well) we are forgiven for His sake.

    I’m still trying to clean up some of the messes I made decades ago.

    Thanks be to God that for righteousness sake, He follows behind me with a bulldozer cleaning up that wreckage.

  23. One other point that I forgot to mention. I think all too often people hide their desires behind “God’s will.” They often hide behind God’s ass to do something they have always wanted and to justify their action. How…?

    Again when I lived in the upper midwest I knew a Crusade staff worker who’s wife was from the Minneapolis area. So on a regular basis whenever I saw him, he spoke and say things such as..” I really want to be closer to “Rose’s” family in the Twin Cities, etc..” It got to a point that I was hearing this so often. Then after moving to the DC area I got a newsletter (you know those cheasy, annoying, look at what God is doing in our lives bull crap letters…) and it opened up by saying..”God has blessed us and wants us to move to Minneapolis. We praise God for the opportunity to serve him there and look forward to what’s to come!!”

    After all I heard from this CCC staff member I rolled my eyes and thought…”Yeah right…” It’s just one more example of using “God’s will” to cover your butt.

    Ok…Nuff said…

  24. Christiane says:

    Sometimes God’s Will for us won’t be what we would want. And we don’t ‘get it’ how this works, until a long way down the road and many years later.

    Do we ‘know’ God’s Will ? Are we supposed ‘to know’ ?

    Or are we simply to pray, ‘Thy Will Be Done’.

    Think of faith of those who bury their loved ones with the words, ‘the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed Be the Name of the Lord’.

    What we ‘don’t understand’ is sometimes for a reason.

    • I think this ties to a lot of Christian wishful thinking. I was in a discussion about heaven a while back. More than one person firmly (very firmly) believe they would be there in the body they imagined having a some point in their life. Healthy, 50 pounds lighter, a full head of hair, etc… I decided to NOT spoil the fun and ask about people who were never in such a condition, say someone born without arms, or with what many would consider a grotesque birth defect?

  25. Good post. I never have fretted over what’s God’s will for me in most particulars, and I think doing so can be really paralyzing, and in a way it dishonors the free will and relationship of love that is part of the Christian life. I’ve experienced God’s leading on very rare occasions but it’s not something I strain for and fret about. Love God and do as you please really does seem to work.

    And I’ve seen a fair number off abuses. The worst have been two cases when people made horrendous choices that destroyed relationships and enriched themselves materially and refused to reconsider because they were convinced it was God’s leading, or was done only after much prayer, etc. Seeing that up close almost drove me from faith and has certainly made me more wary, but ultimately drove me instead to Jesus and to scriptures such as Micah 6:8.

  26. David Cornwell says:

    Even with all the above, the cautions given to those seeking God’s will, the intrusion of self will, self promotion, and rationalizations that lead persons into all kinds of endeavors and relationships, there are times, circumstances, and situations where God’s will becomes very clearly revealed and known to a person and that person is used by God in a special way. But most of the time this isn’t something a person is seeking or wants, and is rather something a person would avoid if he/she could. It becomes clear in time that this is God’s choice, not the persons This I believe..

  27. God couldn’t have made His will any easier to understand; he summarized it in ten commandments, organized in two tablets: loving God; loving your neighbor. I am bothered when the focus on being in or out of God’s will has to do with where we work or where we move or what one studies in school. When I was in high school and college, facing so many tough decisions, I wish someone would have told me start with the commandments, rather than turning God’s will into millions of subjective, unmeasurable, unattainable laws: where does God want me to go? what job does God want me to take? What does God want me to eat for breakfast? The commandments make us focus on the why and not the how of decisions. The commandments are a ruler, which set the standard of actions. They are a curb, to help prevent us from falling into error. They are a mirror, which cause us to be honest with ourselves and who we are. They ultimately point us to Christ, that no matter what we do, we need forgiveness. The “how” becomes secondary to the “why”: love God; love neighbor. When those priorities get flipped with the focus on the “how” rather than the “why”, we end up in idleness and esoteric, subjective wanderings which eventually lead to real sin.

  28. “What are you hearing these days about this subject?”

    Unfortunately I’m still hearing a lot of the same stuff when it comes to knowing God’s will. The emphasis is on recognizing that subjective “voice” or “leading” that lets us know what God wants us to do. What’s worse is when your spiritual maturity is linked to “hearing God’s voice”. I thought for the longest time I was a sub-par Christian because God was telling everyone else what stocks to invest in but He wouldn’t even give me a job lead.

    Fortunately I found Friesen’s book and it helped free me from that guilt-inducing mindset. I read it at the same time we were doing Blackaby’s “Experiencing God” and Friesen won that contest hands down. At 500+ pages Friesen’s book is quite thick but if someone is interested they can find some less lengthy materials here.

  29. That Other Jean says:

    I think we’d do better to pray for wisdom, rather than attempting to discern the will of God through prayer or most other means. For most things, I suspect that the will of God is “Figure it out for yourself!” If it’s not, I believe He’s capable of making His will known in ways we’re not likely to miss.

  30. I think one of the teachings Friesen specifically counters is Blackaby’s “Experiencing God,” which is still a thriving franchise in some circles. Human-centered systemized subjectivism masquerading as a biblically certain method of determiming God’s will (not that I have an opinion or anything)

  31. LOVE GOD – and do whatever else you want. St. Augustine

  32. The quotation from St. Augustine is relevant here, but it is actually “Love and do as you will.” It’s reasonable to presume that he meant to love God, but I think he is also implying that if we truly love our neighbor, then we can do as we will and yet do no harm. It’s from a homily of Augustine’s on the first epistle of John, where both love of God and love of neighbor are dealt with.

  33. Really encouraged to see this being discussed. Used to confuse me when people would say God had a Plan B if I messed up Plan A – they meant it as an encouragement but it just made me a tad paranoid of missing out on God’s plan for my life. I found reading Frank Viola’s ‘Rethinking the Will of God’ really helpful.

    http://www.ptmin.org/rethinkingthewill.pdf

    It’s long but is worth a read. I found it very freeing. Hope this helps.

  34. “Getting Into You”
    by Reliant K

    When I made up my mind
    And my heart along with that
    To live not for myself
    But yet for God, somebody said
    Do you know what you are getting yourself into

    When I finally ironed out
    All of my priorities
    And asked God to remove the doubt
    That makes me so unsure of these
    Things I ask myself, I ask myself
    Do you know what you are getting yourself into

    I’m getting into you
    Because you got to me, in a way words can’t describe
    I’m getting into you
    Because I’ve got to be
    You’re essential to survive
    I’m going to love you with my life

    When he looked at me and said
    I kind of view you as a son
    And for a second our eyes met
    And I met that with a question
    Do you know what you are getting yourself into

    I’ve been a liar and I’ll never amount to
    The kind of person you deserve to worship you
    You say you will not dwell on what I did but rather what I do you say
    I love you and that’s what you are getting yourself into

    He said, I love you and that’s what you are getting yourself into

  35. Jerry Sittser’s “Will of God as Way of Life” was transformative for me. (Note the use of transformative)

    Basically discussed how while God may have a specific will for your life, God is often more interested in how we live than in the specific choices we make. So, let’s assume for a moment that you want to be a doctor. You wonder if its God’s will. The approach of Sittser would say that God cares less about the specific career choice that you make and more about how you live, after you make that career choice. God less about who you specifically marry, then he cares about how you live for Him during your marriage.

    The key point is that we so often focus our desire for God’s will on the big decisions of life, and less on the mundane day to day, which is probably more important, because that shows the true condition of our heart and our relationship to God.

  36. At the risk of sounding facetious….

    “Knowing God’s will? Well, that’s easy! Love the Lord your God will all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind…and love your neighbour as yourself. Everything else is just details”

    http://thisrestlesspilgrim.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/knowing-gods-will/

  37. I have to weigh in here because I’m currently embroiled in a discussion about this with a friend. He’s convinced (via a particular teaching he was exposed to) that there’s ONE will of God down to every last detail, and we’re supposed to be in the center of it, and know perfectly that we’re at the center of it.

    My problem is that it sounds a lot different from simply knowing Christ, believing Christ, loving Christ, depending on his blood, etc. Incidentally, I don’t hear this friend talking about the Christ very much, but he’s all over the “will of God’ conversation. Alarm bells…

    Yeah, I don’t hear so much about this as much as I used to either, I’ve wondered if it’s still around. It generally gives me hives. I don’t see how you can be heavy on God’s will for your life and still be heavily saturated in God’s will for Christ’s life- crucifixion and resurrection. It’s very me-centric. I’ve never seen this paradigm not slide towards gnostic, docetic thinking. I was peer pressured into thinking like this for awhile, but never willingly. I finally gave it up in favor of expecting that to know Jesus relationally is to be in his Will. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

    Nate

    • How does he get around the idea that finding that “one perfect will of God” is akin to special gnosis?

      • I haven’t raised that issue with him yet. He’s very informed, but I don’t think he’s paying very close attention to church history, particularly reappearing trends like gnosticism and the damage they do. I kind of wonder if the whole thing isn’t a method of convincing himself that there’s a perfect resolution for his problems that God wants to effect.

        It’s hard to talk to him about, cause I’m generally at a loss as to how to disagree in a way that he can’t get around. Scripture seems to make mention of God’s will, though not in the way he interprets it. He doesn’t seem to notice.

        Nate

        • Hope your friend finds a way out. Maybe it will be partially from watching Jesus-loving people like Nate, who respects the discussion, but is free to be unconcerned about pissing God off over literally every detail. Has it occurred to your friend that only a control freak would ever consider raising a child that way ?? Or can he dodge that by the verse that “God’s ways are not our ways….” ??

          Perfectionism = neurosis.

    • we should seek to know God’s “good, perfect, pleasing will.” now it could be argued we get bogged down in minutiae that was never God’s intent. i do believe God more interested in our behavior than our theological conclusions. we cannot be self-centered with decisions that run contrary to God’s thou-shalt-nots…

      we do need wisdom. we need to ask. we need to weigh carefully. we need to discuss with others. then we need to make decisions that will be major ones with no guarantee on their outcome.

      it is a scary proposition. but we cannot remain bound up by the fear of ‘what-ifs’. and any decision does not end continuing inquiry of God while the details are being worked out.

      marriage is a key issue for the Christian. it is the one relationship that is sealed with a vow before family+friends. it is a sacred commitment unfortunately resulting in less-than-ideal results. and today divorce for those identifying as Christian just as common as the rest of society. i happen to think that all marriages are not what God intended, nor ‘joined together’. however, there is a greater onus on the believers that do exchange I do’s before God & witnesses…

      [return from rabbit trail]

      big decisions need to be weighed carefully & God’s blessing sought. of course we can be naive. distracted by hormones, faulty theology, a glass too much of fine vino. and i know i am imperfect in whatever decision i make. still in transformation. still on the journey. still learning. still limited. still susceptible to very unpleasant consequences. i hope God keeps trying to get my attention if i am about to make a serious left turn off the narrow way. what may look like a simple change in direction might be a BIG mistake. maybe the divine 2×4 of get-my-attention will be mercifully applied to upside my head. i can only hope… 😉

  38. This is the subject that inevitably led to my leaving my last church. Kevin DeYoung’s awesome book helped a bit too. What ended up happening was that I preached a very Reformed sermon (my first and only sermon there too) based on that book as well as segments of Piper’s Desiring God; a very Reformed sermon in a church that called itself Reformed Charismatic. The church agreed with everything I was saying up to the point where I touched more Keswick and Charismatic theology, such as the idea that you needed to wait on God for a word of knowledge before doing anything. That was the point in the service when I was interrupted by one of the elders from the church while I was still standing behind the pulpit and preaching, and he spent what felt like up to 5 minutes correcting me.

    Was my pride hurt? Sure. He wasn’t necessarily out of line, just disrespectful. I knew full well going in to the sermon that this would be the point when someone would take issue, and it was precisely because of this point that I felt the need to ask to preach the sermon in the first place, as there was some destructive charismatic theology in place that led nearly all it’s hearers to be bound up in fear and afraid to even take a part time job unless it was dab smack in the center of God’s will as evidenced by a very personal subjective word of knowledge direct from the (in)audible voice of God. Basically I watched the theology destroy some of my friends, and I was hurting for them. The elder who ‘corrected’ me during the sermon was also personally vested in this doctrine as it would cause him to painfully reexamine some of his life choices if the doctrine was proven in error.

    That, more than anything, kicked off a months long search for the history of the doctrines and understandings of the theology, eventually leading me to conclude that while the church called itself Reformed Charismatic, it was far from it, and I could no longer worship alongside them, despite still to this day feeling a burden and love for them.

    The sermon is probably still available online if anyone is interested.

    • Stuart, thanks for your interesting story. I hope you are doing OK. I would love to hear the sermon. Feel free to post it in a comment, or send it my email.

        • Stuart..I’m listening right now. Are you from Wisconsin? 😀 😀 😀 As a former Wisconsinite can I be talking to a fellow Packer’s fan? 😀 I miss Wisconsin a lot…it was a cool place to live. I lived in the Se area of the Dairy State!!!! 😀

          • Born in Illinois, but 8 years in Green Bay before moving to Minnesota! So…close enough, I’d hope!

          • And before that, about another 8 years in the NW corner…

            GO PACK GO!

          • I lived for 5 years in Milwaukee… I loved hanging around Green Bay!! 😀

          • Eagle – kind of wondered if you wer from WI by some of the clues you’ve dropped. I grew up in far NW Wisconsin, moved to the west-central part of the state near the Twin Cities, now in the LaCrosse region. Alas, not much time spent on the WI east coast 🙂

          • SG, I was living in Ladysmith/Bruce in the late 80s to early 90s…moved to Green Bay in either 92 or 93…

          • StuartB – then we were neighbors :-). Grew up in the Hayward/Spooner area, studied for a semester in ’90 in Chicago, then moved to Rice Lake for a couple years in the mid-’90’s before heading toward the Cities, where I lived until ’05. I’ve had friends from the Bruce/Weyerhauser area.

        • the newest editions of the NT all say: “If you love ME, thou wilt be trolled…..” so hang in there Stuart, you are an example of courage and love that costs.

  39. A few years ago I fell for a girl. I spent much time praying and agonizing and having verses “given to me” over it, and I felt certain that I was going to marry her one day. Even after it was clear she didn’t really want to go out with me and just saw me as a friend and hardly had time for a relationship anyway, I was sure that things would be different if I waited long enough for certain circumstances in her life to change. I was just so utterly and absolutely convinced that this was “God’s will” and she was the single one God had picked out for me. I pretty much completely avoided consulting friends about it during this time, probably because I knew they would tell me I was being foolish and should give up on it – but hey, I know better because of all the prayer I’ve done about it, right?

    When I found out after many months she had started dating someone else, I was completely devastated, more than I have ever been. I also sent her a very nasty series of messages in a kneejerk reaction, maybe the worst thing I’ve ever done, though thankfully she’s very nice and forgave me for it. Because I was so convinced that this was part of God’s absolute will for me to wait for her, I reacted explosively and very badly when that illusion was broken. Even after this, it was months more before I was able to completely let go and accept that this conception of “God’s will” was wrong. Overall, I was stuck on her for well over a year.

    I ended up emotionally devastated and almost lost my faith. And now that I’m a little older, I even realize that we would have been a bad match together in the long term, because we’re so different in so many ways. She’s getting married soon and I’m happy for her (I’ve recovered from the heartache now). I’m in my mid-20s and still single, and sometimes I wonder how many great girls I missed the opportunity to date in the time I was obsessively stuck on her. Prayer and hormones don’t go well together – often it’s just using the former to validate the latter in your mind.

    In some ways I’m glad I went through it, though, because it was an important part of me maturing mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

    • Been there, done that, almost exactly the same…although I do live in a mild state of fear every few months that she’ll be engaged soon.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Happened to me some 25 years ago, with the ending StuartB feared and then some (i.e. she didn’t just date someone else, if you get my drift).

        I pair-bonded to her for life, she didn’t pair-bond at all to me, and to this day (25 years After Ann) I have never been able to get past the first date or break that bond and it still hurts.

  40. Funny I just had a similar revelation a couple of weeks ago that part of doing His will is being like Him and just making a prudent and prayerful decision.

  41. Love this post Chaplain Mike.

    I am reminded of the verse regarding God’s will.

    1 Corinthians 10:31 – So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

  42. Randy Thompson says:

    This has been a great post; I’ve enjoyed reading through it, and all the terrific responses too.

    For me, God’s will is like a long chain, and He only gives me one link of that chain at a time. I have no idea where that link will take me. I certainly don’t know how long, or short, the chain will be. All I’m given at any one time is a link.

    How do I know when God gives me a new “link”? Usually, there’s a convergence of reason, commonsense, desire and peace in a mind I try to keep marinated in the wisdom of Scripture. I don’t trust reason alone; after all, what do I know? I don’t trust commonsense alone; it’s usually based on (limited) experience and conventional wisdom. (God’s wisdom quite often is not conventional, by the way.) I don’t trust peace alone; I could simply be exhausted or burned-out. And, I don’t trust desire alone, because, yikes, my all-too-human heart can be a snake-pit of who knows what.

    However, if I am indeed seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness first, then my Scripture-shaped reason and commonsense become tools of the Spirit. My desire is disciplined by and sanctified by the Spirit of God. And, peace is the sense that not only is this line of action reasonable, it’s right and godly. The alignment of these things enables me, when I need to make a major decision, to act in such a way that I will persevere if that decision entails unforeseen difficulties in the future (and they almost always do). These factors converge as I pray, wait, and listen, so that when the time comes, I can act with authenticity and conviction, which I think is the soil in which perseverance flourishes and grows.

    Crucial in this whole process is humility. God’s ways are not our ways. What I think God is doing isn’t necessarily what He actually is doing. Apart from God, everything about me is unreliable, including my brain, my commonsense, my desires, and even my sense of peace. Yet, as I open myself to God, His reliability trumps my unreliability. So, I’m content to listen prayerfully to the Spirit of God “speaking” to me through my mind, commonsense, desires, and peace. I’m content, very content, to not know what I’m doing and not know where I’m going, but trusting that God does. For me, knowing God’s will is like windsurfing. You put up your sail and catch the wind. I offer my life to God, whose breath propels me forward into a future I can never know until I get there. So, like a feather on the breath of God, I am blown along, and am enjoying the trip. And, wonderfully, as I look back on it all, it all makes sense. Somehow, at times not knowing at all what I was doing, I “did” God’s will. I ended up being where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to do. Sometimes it was hard and painful. Sometimes, very hard and very painful. Yet, knowing that was where God wanted me, I now see glimmers of joy even in these hard and painful places.

    If there is a “perfect” will of God, you’d have to be omniscient to know it. For us mere mortals, that’s truly a crazy-making idea. Like a parent pushing an infant in a stroller, our Creator takes us with Him where He wants to go, even when we’re asleep.

    That’s grace.

    • Great comments, Randy Thompson. I always enjoy reading what you have written.

    • (If this shows us twice, sorry. I wrote it, but it disappeared.)

      I just wanted to say….Great comments, Randy Thompson. I always enjoy reading what you have written.

  43. Donalbain says:

    My google-fu is failing me, but I recently read a study that showed that when people were asked about the opinions of their god(s), the same part of the brain were used as when they were asked about their own opinions. However, when they were asked about the opinions of someone else, a different part of the brain was used, even if they shared that other person’s opinions.

  44. I was taught the same way. Young man, find the will of God for your life. Then I found out recently that this will of God is not a one-time thing. Experientially I find this is true as I approach Romans 11:36-12:2 frequently, sometimes more than once a day. It makes life as one with God fresh, fruitful, and free from fleshly expectation.

  45. Chaplain Kevin Compston says:

    My Prayer to God,
    (Feb 11, 2011) Tonight Lord, I bring this prayer before your Holy Throne. I humble myself before your righteousness and state, I am a sinner saved by your grace. I don’t know how all of this is going to turn out, but I have put you first in my life from now on. I lay this prayer at your feet and put my total trust in you Father God. Through all this adversity, I know you are with me.

    I am a born again believer, evangelical minister and retired U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain who was a back slider. I have repented of my sins and come back to the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms from a Military Combat Tour. I let the situation with anger management cause several issues throughout my life and within my marriage. I have taken full responsibility for my sins, my actions and in-action to seek counseling prior, by the “Veterans Administration” VA for this crisis. I have even taken full responsibility for my wife’s negative actions throughout our marriage of 13 plus years. Lord, you know, it’s my fault for not upholding my part as the Christian Husband, Father, Pastor, Chaplain and Man that you called me to be. I have been in VA Counseling since late Dec 2010. My wife of 13 plus years and children left me almost two months ago. One week before Christmas. It will be two months this upcoming Sunday, Feb 13, 2011. She filed for a divorce on Jan. 3, 2011. I don’t see any light at the end of this tunnel, except trusting in you O God. I don’t want to be divorced or separated from my family. Something you already know Father God.

    My prayer to you is this; God have mercy on this sinner saved by your Grace in Christ Jesus. Look with favor on my humble request to save my marriage. Forgive me God if I have asked anything that is to prideful. Or shameful. Or sinful. I bow down to you in mercy O Lord. My prayer is, you look at me as a child of yours, who is broken by his sin and is now going through this painful situation, due to his actions. And rightly so. Forgive me for my reluctance to put you first and foremost in my life and in my marriage. I have no one to blame but myself. O God, I pray tonight that you keep watching over my family as we are separated. Bless my wife and Bless my 11 year old Daughter and my 10 year old Son. Give me your ear O God. Let me draw close to you.

    I humble myself before you Father. My heart is still torn apart. But you already know this. Lord grant me your peace, and touch my heart through all of this mess that I have caused. Holy Spirit please comfort and guide me in this time of heartache that I have helped create. I pray in Jesus Holy Name that my prayer in some way, some how, some form, will be a sweet offering and blessing that will be fulfilled and honored by you, Heavenly Father. I don’t know how all this will turn out God. But you do. I am at a crossroads in my life. But you already know this as well. In all of this stress, I am being tested in this time of trial and tribulation. The devil has come at me from all angles, attacking me and using his deceitfulness to try and peel me away from you Father God. He has tried to stray me away with every argument and evil tactic. I ask for your Holy Angels to comfort me, protect me, minister to me and watch over me during this time of temptation. Heavenly Father, you know my heart and my soul. You know that myself and my wife are Christians but have not lived accordingly as you have called us to be throughout our marriage of almost 14 years. We have lived partly for you and the rest in sin and I repent of that in Jesus Name. I can only hope and trust that my prayer does not go void or on dull ears. I have faithfully sought you Father on my knees, knowing you and your loving presence are in the midst of all this. I am asking for your grace and a miracle to grant my request, that reconciliation, healing, transformation and love be restored for my marriage and my family. I am praying for my wife to start talking to me once again. It’s been almost 8 weeks since she stopped talking to me. I know that I have self inflicted most the causes that has drawn me to this point. I have taken responsibility for those “sins” and actions. I also recognize that you Lord, can intervene by stopping anything in this world, including the divorce, if it be your Holy Will. I pray that you Lord Jesus, will plant and surround witnesses for my wife to see, that her husbands words do speak love. Showing her, that my words are not just that anymore. That they are actions resulting in movement towards wholeness and hope in Christ Jesus. Show her by your holy means O God, that I am seeking help and support for my issue through the VA and most importantly, through you heavenly Father. Through all the emotional drama and turmoil I have created in my family, Father, help me show my loved ones that I am working through these issues and gaining coping skills to overcome them. Present to her heart by your Holy Ghost, Father God, that I have totally surrendered my life to Christ Jesus this time. Thus, putting all worldly ways behind me and walking in your Providence. Lord, I know this is a tall order. I wouldn’t blame you if you told me to just shut up, sit down and keep quiet. I have come together with fellow Christians as the bible speaks and agreed in prayer that this be honored and answered in accord with your righteousness.

    Lord Jesus, I have fallen so many times throughout my 50 years of life. You have always been there to pick me up and put the pieces of the puzzle back together. I love and thank you for that.

    I know what the bible says about the faith of a mustard seed in St. Matthew 17:20-21 stating,

    He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” NIV

    I know what 1 John 5: 14-15 states,

    “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know he hears us–whatever we ask– we know that we have what we asked of him.” NIV

    (If it be your Holy Will O God)

    I also know what the bible says in St. Matthew 21:21-22 stating,

    Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” NIV

    I hark-en your love to have mercy and release the affirmative concerning my humble prayer request.

    As Psalm 37:4-6 states,
    “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this. He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.”

    I pray that I never look back O God. I don’t ever want to be hitting rock bottom again. I fully understand now, why it is important to serve and love you first. Father, have forgiveness on me for my doubt. For I have let the enemy cause conflict and negativity in my heart concerning this marital issue. Especially, during this time of my weakness. Let me be humble and say, I will accept your will, whatever the results. Please grant me peace in all of this. I know you hate divorce. I admit, if for whatever reason it does happen, I fully have taken responsibility for the cause of the divorce and it will be due to my sins. Please grant me O God, the faith to never cease following you and your will ever again in my life, no matter what the end result of this situation may be. Grant me your love in this life and never let me stop praising you ever again. Let me serve you always, putting you first in my life forever from this point forward. Out of my weakness through this despair and in all of this darkness, someway, I have managed to hold onto you.

    I thank you God for your salvation in my life. I thank you Heavenly Father for the change you have started to implement in my life through this struggle with anger. I pray my wife through some means will see it taking place. I thank you God for the closeness of being reconnected back into your loving arms. I have let go and turned it all over to you Father. I am thankful for this. I thank you for instilling in me, to put my total trust in you, to cease every obstacle of sin that I have held onto in my walk. I thank you O God for helping me to release all of my sins, confessing them to you in Jesus Holy Name. For receiving your forgiveness and absolution. Thank you for the wisdom to continue in my journey of wholeness, through counseling and the support of those you have placed in my path. I thank you for giving me the ability to forgive myself first, so that I can forgive others. I thank you Lord, that I can love myself as my neighbor, once again. I thank you for your anointing in all of this process. I thank you Lord for my Wife. I thank you God for all of my children. I thank you for the time spent talking to them on the phone, knowing they miss and love their Daddy and sharing with them that I miss and love them to. I thank you for the spirit of humility. I thank you for the spirit of honesty once again in my life. I thank you for your protection and guidance. I thank you for the chance, once again, to be refined in your love. I thank you for the direction you have me headed on the straight path. I thank you for this separation, because without it, I honestly don’t know if I would have drawn near to you again. Thank you for your peace that lives within me concerning all of this. Even when I am down, sad and depressed, I can witness to others, you are here with me and among them as well. Thank you for giving me the boldness to witness on your behalf again and not being ashamed of you. Thank you for giving me shelter, when I could have been homeless. Thank you for the provision of food, when I could have went hungry. Thank you for reassuring my heart, it’s going to be O.K. Thank you for stopping my thoughts of taking an action that would have been unholy concerning my own life. Thank you for my brother for taking me in, who I love and ask you touch his heart to come back to you again. Thank you for opening my eyes to seeing my faults and sins. Thank you for helping me put my pride down once and for all. Thank you for helping me to just listen, instead of having all the answers. Thank you for giving me love in my heart once again. Thank you for helping me with coping skills to handle my anger management issues. Thank you for helping me to share love once again. Thank you for giving me strength to pray for those who have come against me. Thank you for giving me a prayer life once again. Thank you for giving me patience when things have not went accordingly the way I had wished. Thank you for the uncertain times. Thank you for the times of silence. Thank you for the times I have felt your presence and have heard your voice in my heart. Thank you Lord for the heart to forgive those, who have not forgave me. I pray for their hearts to be opened and see in me, through your love, you are changing me. Thank you for your forgiveness of my sins. Thank you for looking after my wife and children and taking care of all of their needs. Bless them O Lord. Bless my Family and my In-Laws. Watch over them in your love. Thank you for the many Christian Brother and Sisters in Christ you have surrounded me with. Thank you O God for giving me insight for things I have no control over in this life, or can fully understand at the present. I ask for your continued peace in my life, hone me into your likeness and reform the clay of this 50 year old for your purpose and will.

    God, you know I love you. I am sorry and repent that I quit putting you first in my life all those years in this journey of my walk. My confession to you Father is, have mercy and redeem me from all my faults, thoughts and deeds that are not yours. Forgive me for taking you for granted so many times throughout my life. I would ask you to heal mine and my wife’s heart. Let me be an instrument of your peace and a blessing for your kingdom’s purpose. Let me be the Christian Husband, Father, Pastor and Man you have raised me up for. Use me in some form of ministry, that proclaims your love and salvation. Let me never again put pride over you and your righteousness. Let me show you with your help, what your prodigal son in Christ can do on your behalf.

    Lord have mercy on this prayer…..from a sinner, saved by your grace. A Husband who is separated from his wife and two children due to the stain of his sin. I pray for all those Combat Veterans and their families in similar or worse condition(s). May you heal their cause and hear their cries, before you ever entertain the thought, of answering my call for help. I pray for my father who is dying of stage 4 cancer. O Lord be with him during this time of suffering. I pray for him and his commitment that he has surrendered his life to you O Lord. I pray for members of my family and all those throughout the world that have not been saved, that by some means of your grace they will come to the Lord Jesus and accept Him into their lives as their Savior. Heavenly Father, may my request not be seen by you as selfish, but rather one, who blesses others through this humble penitent prayer.

    Lord I am looking for my Jabez moment. A double portion and an extension of my boundary for your will, not mine. I am asking for your supernatural power to answer all my request, especially the part about my marriage to be brought back together in Christ Jesus. The Healer, Savior and King. I pray in His Almighty and Powerful Name, that the divorce will be stopped and reconciliation takes place showing the world, that God’s love is above all things. That faith is truly the unseen element of God that makes unbelievers become believers.

    Even in my all brokenness, I dearly love you Father God and always will, because of what your son, my Savior Jesus Christ did for me at Calvary. He being, “The Lamb of God” was nailed to a cross and died for my sins. Sins that were mine, not His. He rose on the third day so that I, and the rest who has accepted Him as their Lord and Savior, will have life eternal. Nothing can take the place of that. Not even the possibility of losing my wife and children to divorce. God, you have given me so many gracious opportunities over the years that I have squandered. Lord help me to reach out and press onward this time to take those opportunities, if you offer them. Let me humble myself for your Kingdom, to share those gifts by talking with boldness, about the resurrected one who creates miracles in peoples lives. That’s the hope I have, because I know you still love this man who is crying out through this prayer request, who has walked with you and beside you for many years. Lots of times, I even tried to walk away from you, but you were always near, even when I did not want nothing to do with you. I have felt your Holy Presence among my life as far back as a little boy in First Grade. Use me O God from here on in, no matter what happens, I have you with me. I look at all my past sin and acknowledge, I don’t deserve nothing, but more anguish and pain in my life. Especially, one who knew the difference of your way verses the evil ones way. I ask you, look upon this with your mercy. Show my family favor if it’s truly your will by granting my request for reconciliation. I don’t have to tell you Heavenly Father, you know that I love my wife and my two children very much. O God no matter what direction my prayer takes, if given this chance or not given this chance, I will show you from now on, what you truly mean in my life. I promise I will lift you and your Holy Name up always and forever and serve you first in my life for the rest of the time you have given me on this earth. I make this solemn oath to you. I will never cease applying you in mine and my families life from hence on if you bring us back together. I guess that’s just about the jest of it all God.

    Lord, have mercy on me and my family. I know that line must be getting old, but I have no other response. In all of these tears I have shed the past two months, I know you have stored them up. As well, with my wife’s tears to. In all of my past and sinful nature, I know you are real O God, because you have picked me up and saved me from eternal damnation. The trail that I was headed down. So in all of this, I will bow down before you, giving thanks and praise to your Holy and Just Name forever. I am prepared to accept whatever you decide in my life and in this situation concerning my marriage, family and future. If it’s not my way, I will be truthful with you, it will probably crush my heart, but I know you will be there to pick me up and assemble me back together as you always have. O God if you see fit in the scheme of your Holy Will, I pray, you take mercy on my prayer, like no other prayer I have ever asked of you before. I really haven’t asked you a lot in my life, so with that said, I will leave it all in your hands.

    In closing, Heavenly Father, there are so many people hurting and worse off in this world than my mere situation. I feel I should be praying for them instead of my biased concerns. At times, I feel ashamed that I have kept crying out to you to intercede in my marriage, but I know you hear me.

    I have went about as far as I can go with this Father God.

    I claim this prayer in Christ Jesus Name and say, it is finished! AMEN

    In Christ+

    Kevin