December 15, 2017

My Problem With God’s Will

“God’s will is a profound and holy mystery, and the fact that we live our everyday lives engulfed in this mystery should not lead us to underestimate its holiness. We dwell in the will of God as in a sanctuary … it takes the humility and spiritual poverty to travel in darkness and uncertainty, where so often we have no light and see no sign at all.”

—Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island

Reading these words of Thomas Merton are both a blessed relief and source of immense frustration. On one hand they confirm the idea of God’s will as mystery and relieve me from feeling so spiritually dull. On another hand, the darkness and uncertainty of being a human engulfed in it proves that … I am so very spiritually dull.

Mysterious though it may be, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). If it is true as Paul says that Christ followers are predestined to be conformed to his image and since we are also his body on earth, logic and Scripture tell us our food should also be to do God’s will (see Romans 8:29). The Holy Spirit is busy forming God’s will in us and prompting us toward it. Wanting to prove “his good, pleasing and perfect will” is a supernatural response to Christ’s transformation and renewal of those who’ve trusted him to save them. In spite of being weak and sinful and human, it is what I long for and it has prompted considerable thought and prayer over the years.

Yet, at times I don’t even know what God’s will is. So many Christians think it should be easy to discover. I have also thought this in the past. This idea, along with other equally simplistic ideas about equally difficult subjects prevails in American Christendom. Just follow these biblical steps and get out of debt … or these steps and safeguard your marriage … or those steps and raise kids who won’t ever, ever disappoint you. We write business plans and budgets, agendas and organizational charts. We are a nation of list makers. We like boxes to check off and prescriptions to follow. Why not apply the same thinking when it comes to trying to discern God’s will? I’m not throwing stones here. I like formulas too. I really enjoy following instructions and getting a desired result. It makes me feel productive …  like I’ve ended up farther down the road than where I started.

Subconsciously, I’ve applied this approach through the years. It’s always involved prayer, observation of opportunity and adherence to a set of rules du jour, maybe involving something I’m learning in a current Bible study. I’m embarrassed to admit this. It looks so contrived, so formulaic, so human-sprung. Not that an organized, intentional approach is bad. It may even “work” much of the time. By working, I mean that results seem good enough to call them blessings or revelations. For me, it has occurred with just enough frequency that it tends to be my default.

For a long time, I’ve thought that certain general aspects of God’s will apply to us all and that he keeps it simple when we’re starting out on the path. I’ve even heard it said that God is not playing a shell game … that he really wants us to find his will and that the safest place to be is in the center of it. I have believed this for 36 years, but I’m starting to question it a bit, not from skepticism over him or hardness of heart. I’d say it’s more out of realizing I don’t really know him as I thought I did. It’s not that he’s tricked me … other than being infinitely more inscrutable than I imagined. In truth, I’ve probably tricked myself, mentally conforming God to images I’ve been fed by others and ones I’ve conjured up on my own.

I’m beginning to think he’s not so interested in my following point A … to point B … to point C to discover his will. He wants me … not my careful footfalls from one well-lit steppingstone to the next. Maybe that’s why he’s changed things up a bit and turned out the lights. In the dark, there are no steps. There’s only desperation for him.

Lately, I’ve found myself in a dark wood, more and more frustrated over some situations I’ve prayed about for a long time and for which I can’t discern God’s will. My default method seems not to be working. One situation involves vocation and now that I’m a big, fat 50 my questions seem suddenly more pressing. Have I ignored God’s will, or at least part of it, for the last thirty years by working at what made most sense? What now? If I spend more time doing what I’ve longed to do since I was four, will it produce feelings of resentment and neglect in my family? Will it be financially foolish? Even if it is foolhardy from a worldly standpoint, would that be okay? Would it be selfish or would it be pleasing to God? There are so many more questions involving this that I won’t subject you to. Suffice it to say, I’m in a state of confusion.

Lord, what am I to do?

As I’ve considered God’s will of late I can more easily see what it is not. Jesus reproached his disciples in Mark 16:14 for “their unbelief and hardness of heart.” I admit these are real temptations. The easiest path is usually the one of least resistance, but it may also be the one of least faith. Sometimes it takes more faith to do what we really want to do and sometimes it takes more faith to do what we don’t want to do. I’m not sure which applies in this particular circumstance for me. It’s likely to be different in each of my situations or yours. Yet, without faith, it is impossible to please God. Faithlessness can also produce a hardness of heart that comes from turning away from adventures with God and always giving in to human wisdom. It’s a retreat into self … or convention … and a strangulation of hope in him.

Okay, I’ll just say it. As I look around the church (and into myself), I see sometimes bored and boring Christians, paralyzed because we are afraid to believe God. I see us going through life with smiles of resignation plastered on our faces and chips of resentment on our shoulders. We know we’re missing something. Perhaps we are missing quite a lot. We want it, but we may be afraid to have it.

Paul quotes Isaiah 64:4 in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” David writes in Psalm 25:12, “Who is the man that fears the Lord: He will instruct him in the way he should choose.” The Hebrew word (derek) used for way is one David uses repeatedly in his writings. It indicates a road, a trodden pathway, a course of life or a mode of action. The connotation is that each one’s way is unique. A couple of principles arise from this Scripture. Personal reverence for God is a prerequisite for discovering one’s derek and it is something that God will reveal. Each person’s way is a life journey and not to be learned in a single flash. It is a slowly unfolding process – at times maddening, at times frightening, at times seemingly impossible.

For all our talk about wanting God’s will, maybe the reality is that we really only partly want it – if at all. Maybe it is just too scary or difficult. Maybe we can’t see his will because we really have our spiritual eyes averted. Adventure might mean danger and danger might lead to a painful outcome. (And certainly pain, though we recognize it’s gentling and refining effects from afar, is something we strive to avoid up close.) And maybe …  at times we can’t see his will because we reverence knowing the next step more than knowing him.

Unfortunately, I have to be repeatedly convinced. I always want to figure everything out in advance. Yet, having things figured out nullifies the adventure aspect. It’s an attempt to strip the mystery from God’s plan and a refusal to walk in the dark with him. It keeps demanding to be in charge. I keep demanding to be in charge.

Thomas Moore writes in Dark Nights of the Soul, “When you are on a night sea journey, be taken. Don’t try to have it finished. Don’t try to figure it out.” Be taken? How unassertive … how scary. Even when I feel as though I am stopped because I don’t know what to do next, I am still on a journey … just like Jonah. For all intents and purposes, there wasn’t anything he could accomplish after being swallowed by the fish. He had to just be still and ride it out. He was enveloped in something bigger than himself and he was being taken somewhere. Perhaps this is what Merton meant when he wrote, “We dwell in the will of God as in a sanctuary.”

Furthermore, trying to have it finished and figured out may be futile … at least in the moment. Abraham was sent on a three-day journey by God to sacrifice Isaac. Aside from the anguish the command caused, it could not possibly have made sense to him. Isaac was the son on whom God’s covenant hinged. Still, he set out, powerless and mystified in every sense, certain only that God was due his faith. I picture him, yes, putting one foot in front of the other determined to do God’s will. Yet it was more than that. His faith in darkness was his dwelling for a time. God’s will was Abraham’s sanctuary on the way to Moriah and Abraham’s journey, filled with uncertainty, was God’s will. His destination was not the altar he would build, but God who would provide.

Could it be that our most problematic and static seasons are the times when, despite feelings of weakness and inertia and ignorance, our free wills mysteriously align with God’s most sovereign one and we fly like arrows towards his intended target? And could it be … at least some of the time … his intended target is no place, no destination, no outcome, but only his own heart, jealous for those of us who are sidetracked looking for steppingstones instead of for him?

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Jesus reproached his disciples in Mark 16:14 for “their unbelief and hardness of heart.”

    i picture this sometimes interesting trait of Jesus stating the obvious as done with a sigh…

    it is not a deliberate choice the disciples are being admonished for. they are not being stubborn out of disagreement or even theological perspectives. they are not at all trying to be anti-message, anti-ministry, anti anything…

    the dullness of our spiritual insight the default condition of all mankind. it’s not their fault. it is the sad condition Jesus is pointing out. but really, do you think He was angry & putting upon them the weight & expectation of being happy, clappy, believers with a heart larger than the Sea of Galilee???

    Each person’s way is a life journey and not to be learned in a single flash. It is a slowly unfolding process – at times maddening, at times frightening, at times seemingly impossible.

    yes. and sometimes so surprising it takes one’s breath away & the heart skip a beat or two…

    i don’t like the idea that i was not consulted first regarding the “Come follow Me…” invitation. it happened without any guarantees or movie trailers outlining the highlights of what was to come. simply an almost irresistible kind of teaser with a glint in His eye & a “double-dare-you” child-like enticement…

    i know for certain God’s will for me a much broader meadow than the rather restrictive “narrow way” we sometimes envision ourselves trodding upon. we do not teter on a very precarious path atop a high ridge where a slight slip to either side spells certain doom. God is with us, period. excited to be included in our daily existence & as that accummulates into years, we look back with a clearer picture of what His will is. i think we have far more liberty in living life as an adventure than we really comprehend. thanx for the thought-provoking article…

    • “i think we have far more liberty……” You’re very right. In fact it is crucial to our faith to exercise our wings. In so doing we become his friends: no longer servants.

      • yes…even in the midst of recent unemployment, divorce after 26 years of marriage, & a relocation no more than 2 weeks old…

        i think that at my age (57) the idea of ‘adventure’ can be trite & condescending sounding. the major whiplashes of my life occurring within the past 2 years…

        [sigh]

        still, the wonder of God’s effort in sustaining me in the unique circumstances of my existence enough of a curiosity it makes for continued effort seeking Him in the midst of it all…

        what a crazy thing this life can be. yeah…

        • I guess it’s how you interpret adventure. Kid’s stories, comic books-trite; but what you’ve gone through in the last two years sound like a pretty hairy adventure to me and not one you’d want to revisit. I hope it produces fruit abundant.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      God is with us, period. excited to be included in our daily existence & as that accummulates into years, we look back with a clearer picture of what His will is. i think we have far more liberty in living life as an adventure than we really comprehend.

      This sounds like something I’ve read in a lot of Jewish sources, where God is basically telling everyone to “Keep My Commandments, but Live Your Life!”

  2. In some of the most scary and makes no sense kind of crazy that I find myself in these days, I have this deep and inner rejoicing that I know…….YES, I know that I know that I know…..I am being taken to a place far better than anything I could ever conjur up or dream possible in my own finite mind. I have done nothing! Not one solitary thing to be what I am today or be where I am today! It’s all based on Someone else’s Hand in my life. I’ve been given no choice but to trust Him, all other avenues have been closed for construction, there are no detours. It is Him and only Him. And as much as my flesh would like to stand and fight, I know Him being the reward far surpasses anything else in the world this prodigal has ever experienced. Count it all as loss, right? But that’s just not very popular, even among many Christians……good thing I’ve never tried to be part of the group!

    • Lisa Dye says:

      “In some of the most scary and makes no sense kind of crazy that I find myself in these days, I have this deep and inner rejoicing…”

      I can see this in so much of what you write at IM. It’s hard to see others suffer. I don’t know if this helps at all, but I get inspired by you.

      • I’m humbed Lisa, thank you!

        • Beulah Land says:

          I’m in the middle of knowing God’s will myself, as I read the Bible (this one’s clear), but am at the mercy of other loved ones making choices. Their choices involve me with potentially devastating affects to me and many others. (Funny how you can’t drop a pebble in a pond without the far-reaching ripple effect.)
          All I can do daily is say Jesus, I put my hand in yours. Help me, Holy Spirit, to yield to your gentle nudge.
          I can understand why Jesus’ food is to do the Father’s will. It’s like soul food to one in love with the Savior.
          Like Lisa, I long to be guided in His will and realize the transforming work of His hand. The more I risk trust, the more I find that ‘underneath are the everlasting arms’ (Deut 33:27), and then the more I can’t resist knowing and fulfilling His will.
          So, in all this, I must trust God’s sovereignty. I must trust His faithful love for me. What else do I have.

  3. Finding God’s will. Does He want me to marry this person or that one or none at all? Where should I work? Which house should I buy? How do I handle this bad situation? What color carpet should I get?

    A wise, long time follower of Jesus advised: God gave us a mind and hopefully some common sense. Use it. He also told us to love Him with all of our being and to love other people. He gave us examples. So let’s try to do what He said and did. When we’re up against trying to figure out what to do in a difficult situation, get the best information and advice we can, pray about it and make a decision. Not everything is going to turn out the way we think it should. We’re not going to figure out everything or solve everything. Sometimes we just have to follow and trust even when we don’t know what to do and everything looks bad. It’s only temporary.

    You’ve heard the saying, “It’s Friday now, but Sunday’s coming.”

  4. You both have encouraged me today.

  5. Radagast says:

    “Could it be that our most problematic and static seasons are the times when, despite feelings of weakness and inertia and ignorance, our free wills mysteriously align with God’s most sovereign one and we fly like arrows towards his intended target? And could it be … at least some of the time … his intended target is no place, no destination, no outcome, but only his own heart, jealous for those of us who are sidetracked looking for steppingstones instead of for him?”

    BINGO!

    And there it is – I read through the whole article which I thoroughly enjoyed and you summed up my feelings in that last paragraph. Maybe I am way off, but for me finding God’s will is not even on my radar. Somehow I believe He is acting in my life, most of the time without me knowing about it because I am so obtuse. Sometimes I catch glimpses of this but only in hindsight and on intense reflection. Sometimes I can’t see it at all and someone else has to point it out. But I am at peace with that – maybe I’m just too simple-minded. Like Rebekah up above I survived my past in spite of myself. Like Eagle I was disallusioned and at one time a huge agnostic. At one time I was a cynical conservative (Ok – I’m still a conservative – just open minded and open hearted). In spite of me my wife has not knocked me out with a pan, or a bat, or….

    I know a guy who live in my neighborhood, by all outward appearances he doesn’t seem to have an overly outgoing or demonstrative faith life. About six years ago while doing some HVAC work at a local hospital he suffered an aneurism, dropping in front of a doctor. Had he been anywhere else he’d have been dead. After much suffering and recovery he returned to work. a few years later on the very same day he had his anuerism he was working on a site where there was a giant fork lift with its forks hanging over the roadway. A bus came by and caught the forks toppling the forklift. As it was coming down my neighbor saw a coworker about to get crushed, shoved him out of the way and because of his action his arm was crushed between the fork and a fence post. He lost his arrm. After much suffering and recovery he’s back doing the same job with one exception – his company forces him to take a day off on the anniverdsary date of his anuerism and loss of his arm. In some ways I believe God was working in his life and he was doing God’s will. But I am sure he wasn’t thinking about it.

    “Lord, What am I to do?”

    I think if I were to ask God that question He would tell me ” I don’t want you to do anything. I want you to be.”

    I have an acquaintance who had a miracle happen in his family. As a result he gave his life over to God and went off to do what he perceived was God’s will, giving up his existing life for radical change. That change took him away from his family for months at a time to do God’s work. I just shook my head and thought “I think he missed the message”.

    Somehow, every once in a while I get it right, I do the right thing, I grow a little bit spiritually because I stay with it longer, I hug my wife, I love my kids, and I don’t react right away to a bad situation. I hang on to my job in spite of my fear, I don’t overly -fret about the future in spite of my fear and I tell someone I truly care for they are important to me. Might be God’s will and maybe not.

    “it takes the humility and spiritual poverty to travel in darkness and uncertainty, where so often we have no light and see no sign at all” – aahhh – the reason I so love the christian mystics since I’m in the dark so much of the time…

    My thoughts…

    • “Lord, What am I to do?”

      I have asked that question so many times, if I had a dollar for each time, I wouldn’t need a job! ha ha!

      His consistent and loving response to my asking was this:

      I want you to trust Me! That’s what I want you to “do”!

      Ahhhh……much easier to “do” than to trust, eh?

    • “Lord, What am I to do?” I think if I were to ask God that question He would tell me ” I don’t want you to do anything. I want you to be.” (Radagast, I like to imagine God saying that very thing to me. BE.! )

      After years of pray, fight, scream and do do do, and I should, should, should… I think ( knock on wood) that I am slowly, ever so slowly, grasping that He is the gift wrapped up inside of me, not my beauty or lack of it, nor my brains or bank accounts, works, talent (or lack thereof) Just me, simple me. Living a simple life with my inner- Angst one day and inner-Peace the next… I wonder if He delights in how human we are? Methinks on a good day, Yes, of course He delights in my (our) messiness, my glory and my depravity that co-exists within, my (our) tug of war delights Him as I (we) wrestle to bless Him.
      But, on those other days, well those days, when my certainty in His delight vanishes and I am clobbered by life and I wonder if I missed His will completely… Well, I guess, on those days I get to Trust in His goodness & mercy, cause it really is all about Him, (even though I forget that most of the time ) :

    • JoanieD says:

      Radagast wrote, “Maybe I am way off, but for me finding God’s will is not even on my radar.”

      Me neither, Radagast.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      As a result he gave his life over to God and went off to do what he perceived was God’s will, giving up his existing life for radical change. That change took him away from his family for months at a time to do God’s work. I just shook my head and thought “I think he missed the message”.

      This is first cousin to the heresy of Clericalism, the idea that Only Priests/Monks/Nuns (or Full-Time Christian Workers/Pastors/Missionaries or other Professionally Spiritual types) matter with God. It sets up a Gnostic hierarchy of the Truly Spiritual and all us Great Unwashed.

  6. Quixotequest says:

    It seems chagrin over discerning and following God’s Will seems to go part and parcel to believing that God has an individual life plan for each of us.

    Despite the ubiquity of this belief does God really have this intention? Probably out of my desire to let go of the angst, the piddly little religious programs by which to measure myself, as well as to sincerely be more shaped by what the Bible actually reveals, I’m not so sure believing in an individual God’s Plan for my life is very healthy and productive. I mean, really, when you see the “blessings” and “challenges” that every person faces, how does believing in an individual divine plan really look pragmatically all that different than, say, the lives of non-believers? We all have crap to deal with and joy to restore us.

    I see the healthiness of trusting, resting, rejoicing in how some facets of my life will be made to work for the good of his kingdom as He accomplishes whatever He desires for his creation. But on my personal level it doesn’t seem God is expecting much more than “paradigm” or “worldview-shaping” things like faith, trust, belief, holy love — and then a huge, wide and divergent swath of liberty to just live and enjoy and mourn life however I choose.

    Does He really have intentions in the minutiae of my life, whether I should still be leading a home group, or when I should get back into kids church, or on the worship team, or this job or that, or whether I support this mission or that charity, or whether it’s time to add another child to our family, or not? It’s all just a huge religious system mind-f**k, it seems to me, all this talk about God’s Will as it pertains to some personal life plan, to cause guilt or angst, or worse, the pretentiousness by which believers talk about the most mundane aspects of their life — not that such things may or may not be used by God in some way or another — but the huge posturing of presenting some decision like which vet they find for their dog, and whether that vet is a believer or not, is a matter of divine Will.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Amen to what you are saying here.

      • Suzanne says:

        I recently read a book written by a Unitarian Universalist called “Here if you need me”. While many will not agree with her theology, she has a wonderful section about meshing the fact that her husband’s unexpected death led her to become a chaplain, something she is sure she would never have become had he lived. So was it all God’s will? I would quote love to quote the entire part, but it was not my book, so I don’t have it to quote. But I did find this (miracle of the internet!) from the book, which pretty well sums it up:

        “I can’t make these two realities — what I’ve lost and what I’ve found — fit together in some tidy pattern of divine causality. I just have to hold them on the one hand and on the other, just like that.” (p. 202)

    • i happen to believe God’s plan for my life was for His benefit: he created ‘me’ to be me in my unique set of circumstances & family line & time in history…

      He is pleased with my unique personality & how i react to life whether it is challenges, or joys or mundane daily tasks…

      He wanted to redeem me. restore right relationship with me. He wanted me to know Him as the source of my existence, the One to run to in times of trouble, the One to trust in the midst of seemingly incongruent circumstances…

      i sense His pleasure at times. just yesterday sitting on my small little patio sipping a glass of wine enjoying the evening. a most perfect evening it seemed. to think that He put it all into motion over countless eons for one of His creatures to sit enraptured over a 2-3 hour experience simply mind-boggling. yet, my countless “thank you” & “this is awesome” all that i could muster & i knew that was sufficient. i think He enjoyed it too…

      i did not worry about what job i would eventually land. what church i would join. what lady i would marry. what bottle of wine to open next…

      oh wait…i did wonder about that, but it was not at all related to my sense of it being a divinely decided choice. it was very practical actually. there was only 1 bottle to narrow down the possiblity too… 😀

  7. God’s will is used to cloak and master abuse. It’s used to conform people and it’s used to control individuals. That’s what I find so repulsive about the topic of “God’s will” It doesn’t even have to overt…instead it can be subtle and very masterful. The way I heard it is like this….

    A. Pastor of a church on stage. “I know God wants me to lead xyz Bible Church and that I am doing what God wants me to do…” I regularly would hear this from people in church leadership positions. I knew a staff member in Crusade who regularly talked about how he “sought God’s will and approval in prayer” and that was how he knew he should be doing what he is doing. I heard this routinely in charismatic and non-denominational camps. It often became a front for a person to cloak their own ambitions, drive for power or manipulation of others.

    B. Another way I heard God’s will would be to use God as an excuse to do something they wanted to do. I once knew someone in Crusade leadership that regularly and routinely talked about how they wanted to be in Minneapolis. They wanted to be closer to family. Almost every time I saw this person I kept hearing about how they wanted to be close to family in the Twin Cities. Then after hearing this for the longest of time I got an email saying something to the effect of “The Lord is good!! We have been called to move to the Minneapolis area in accordance with the Lord’s wishes…” Not only did my eyes roll after all that I heard. But I came close to hugging the porcelain God after seeing all this play out.

    C. I’ve heard God’s will in so many disguises…from career, to ministry, to choosing a job, to in one case going to be a missionary in China. I also heard it in the context of dating, marriage, purchasing a house, buying a car, etc….

    I also have seen many people burned by the issue. I took my current job under the guise of following the Lord and moved from the upper midwest to here. For me God’s will is a topic that can reveal the narcissistic nature of people. It can reveal what is driving them. Then you guise it under God’s plan and BAM!! You are now an obedient, humble servant of the Lord. Those struggling with God’s will must obviously lack faith in so many ways. This is why God’s will can be so manipulative. Man just thinking about God’s will I can taste the bile in the back of my throat…

    Where’s a barf bag…?

    • Eagle, see my comments after David’s post as part of my reply.

      Also, I agree that we Christians pistol whip each other with the idea of God’s will. We also use it as an excuse for doing whatever we want to do without consideration or love for others. Thomas Merton further writes on the subject that without charity/love, we talk of God’s will in vain.

      • It’s guilt versus grace. Big difference.

        Lisa, I’m working backward on imonk because I missed a day or two. This post of yours dovetails nicely with Mike’s “There Must Be a Reason?”

        Thanks.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Barf for sure!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      God’s will is used to cloak and master abuse. It’s used to conform people and it’s used to control individuals. That’s what I find so repulsive about the topic of “God’s will”

      Eagle: Do you remember the commandment/phrase “Do not take God’s Name in vain”? THAT’s what it originally meant — using God (or God’s Will) to cloak abuse, doing evil and claiming God’s Name or sanction. Cussing was a minor secondary (and now very convenient) application. Strain the gnat of cusswords while swallowing the camel of doing evil claiming God’s sanction.

  8. David Cornwell says:

    “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

    To me part of the key to knowing God’s will, or knowing that we are in God’s will is right here. Loving God one will have a tendency to what pleases Him. What pleases God is that we love Him with everything we have about us. And because of this, we love our neighbor as ourselves. When something else or someone else replaces this love, at that point we are out of God’s will. When something else becomes an idol for us, we are out of God’s will. An idol our our culture wears many masks.

    I know that many people may disagree, but I think we have great freedom within this love. Over the years I’ve reached the point I’m not so sure that we can always find an exactness in searching for spouse, vocation, or whatever. Sometimes this may be the case. But so many times I’ve heard a young person say that they have God’s perfect revelation about a spouse. Then later when something goes wrong a huge crisis of belief may ensue. Loving God and loving our neighbor will never keep us from human error. This is true in vocation as well. God may truly reveal it to us if our hearts are dwelling on Him in love. But maybe not, Sometimes our mistakes are the result of poor judgement or even the lack of common sense. But we can still love God and neighbor. And this is what He wants above all else.

    • I’ve been away from my laptop for a while, so couldn’t reply. David, you’ve expressed my sentiments so well.

      When we come to God through Christ we are new creatures. We have the mind of Christ and we have the Holy Spirit at work in us. Every decision doesn’t have to be met with introspection and I don’t mean to imply that at all by what I have written. Sometimes though we encounter more difficult issues where no matter what we would choose we can’t seem to reconcile things. Those times stretch us spiritually and are probably important in taking us deeper with God, deeper into compassion toward others and deeper in our knowledge of what motives we harbor.

      • David Cornwell says:

        “Sometimes though we encounter more difficult issues where no matter what we would choose we can’t seem to reconcile things. Those times stretch us spiritually and are probably important in taking us deeper with God, deeper into compassion toward others and deeper in our knowledge of what motives we harbor.”

        I’ve had more than one situation like that. And sometimes it takes a while to realize that it has stretched you spiritually.

        Today’s piece makes one do a lot of thinking. Thanks Lisa.

        • Radagast says:

          “And sometimes it takes a while to realize that it has stretched you spiritually.”

          Agreed.

        • Suzanne says:

          See the quote I posted above. Same thoughts.

          I once had a Bible study leader (Campus Crusade, I think) tell me that is was God’s will that she found a good parking space at the mall because she was running late and needed to get to a job interview and then got the job. So, see, she told me, God even cares about such small things. I could not figure, though, how he would not care about all the others in the world to whom horrible things were happening…starvation, murder, rape, etc.

          • Radagast says:

            … that good parking space was the one marked “Handicapped”….

            Sorry for the cynicism but its a pet peeve of mine… God gave us legs and a wonderful cardio-vascular system and what do we do? we would rather spend time driving up and down rows at the mall to find the closest parking space rather than just parkuing and walking a bit – and maybe opening the closer spot to those who are not able to walk the distance – to me that’s christianity in action!

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I once had a Bible study leader (Campus Crusade, I think) tell me that is was God’s will that she found a good parking space at the mall because she was running late and needed to get to a job interview and then got the job. So, see, she told me, God even cares about such small things.

            Last Sunday, I heard my writing partner preach at his church for the first time (ended up missing my flight back to CA…)

            One of his parishoners was shipping out to Iraq. Six month tour of duty.
            Another’s niece — 25 years old, mentally retarded — had just died.
            Still another’s aged husband had a leaking aneurysm the doctors couldn’t track down. (This does not bode well for his life expectancy.)
            And still another wasn’t at Sunday services because of Stage Four Melanoma. (Again, not much to say about life expectancy.)

            (And did I mention a mutual friend of ours is showing signs of mental deterioration?)

            Compared to all that, all I can say about God finding a parking space for His Special Little Pet is (completely deadpan) “Whoopee.”

  9. Wow…this and seeing “Tree of Life” in one afternoon is a bit too much for my shallow-souled pea-brain at this minute.

    All I know is that I eventually get around to what God wants…sometimes the hard way, sometimes the easy way. And sometimes…He is all that is left on a barren and frozen tundra where I have to remember that, really, there is no Other Way….

  10. I gave up seeking God’s hidden will years ago. His moral will for us is spelled out in His word. But His hidden purposes are beyond our finding out., except maybe in hindsight.

    I agree with Quixotequest in his comment above, and don’t see a mandate for us in God’s word to be ‘seeking His secret will’ all the time. It’s the Christian version of divination or , in some circles, (think prophetic) fortune telling.

    God is able to guide our steps and put us where we need to be without our constant scrutiny.
    The best book on the subject is ‘ Decision Making and the Will of God -A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View’ by Gary Friesen and Robin Maxson’

    This book is so freeing… If you are burned out seeking God’s needle -in- a- haystack will, this book is a refreshing drink of clear, cool, water from the biblical springs.

    • God is able to guide our steps and put us where we need to be without our constant scrutiny.

      +1

    • I agree with Quixotequest in his comment above, and don’t see a mandate for us in God’s word to be ‘seeking His secret will’ all the time. It’s the Christian version of divination or , in some circles, (think prophetic) fortune telling.

      that is exactly what it is in the prophetic movement: spiritual divination wrapped up in Christianese words, phrases, motions, talismans, etc.

      all with the intent of “reading the times” & getting a sense of God’s GRAND plan for the individual that needs to be cooperating with the strategy & level of detail necessary to stay in His GRAND will…

      lest you be simply collateral damage in the bigger scheme of things. “…my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6) is pretty clear what is being spoken of in that passage. to use it as the goad to get supra-spiritual insight from the heavenlies regarding God’s sweeping dealings with His creation a rather GRAND stretch of Hosea’s message let alone seeking some prophetic-rhetoric to help fill in the details…

      Lord have mercy… 🙁

    • Quixotequest says:

      Insightful point, Patrick. That’s exactly it: magickal thinking. This is what primitive religion largely is: holding this talisman, reciting that incantation, doing this or that ceremony to bind the supernatural, the divine, God or the Other, to the will of the individual or possibly the family or community. Dress it up in evangelical clothing and Believers aren’t willing to see themselves mirrored in cultures they may read about in National Geographic.

      I don’t think such behaviour is necessarily abashedly wrong, as it is very human to have this thinking show up in the many ways it does. But the Good News seems intentionally trying to steer us away from religious magick and into the direct “experience” of surrender and rebirth to God in Christ via the indwelled Spirit. Still loads of possibility for even that mythic worldview to get encrusted with magickal thinking and behavior; on the other hand, if we are self-aware of the human religio-magickal propensity, then I think we have the opportunity to graciously acknowledge the matter and intentionally seek to grow past it. It begs the question when there are so many warnings in the Word about divination, is it condemning the desire, the method or the object? I dare say many Believers think any condemnation would only about the object (false Gods or spirits), not the root human desire for magickal binding of the Divine.

      The rub: I see the problem (even sometimes in myself), I dislike it, yet the magical religious experience is where many in faith community are content to stay. It pains me, and yet, I long to worship in community. Alone it seems there are greater risks I face given my skeptical and agnostic past were I to shun community just because it is so barnacled with these magickal trappings of how to know, follow and bind “God’s Will”. It’s so easy when I am alone to be sloppy about prayer, yet glorious are the moments to be in common surrendering prayer even when prayers are also often the common facade of magickal incantation and binding of the Divine.

  11. Kelby Carlson says:

    Michael Horton did an excellent treatment of this subject from an academic perspective in his Systematic Theology. It boils down to this; God has two “wills”; his eternal will and his revealed will. We have his revealed will, we don’t have his eternal will, and we never will have his eternal will. Making this distinction is quite helpful, because it allows one to diligently seek “God’s will”–but, for me, that’s much much bigger than just knowing, say, who God wants me to marry. Foremost, his will is to love Him with all of my heart, and soul, and strength, and mind. And to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God. Honestly, what is so hard about “getting this”? Living it certainly isn’t easy (if it was, I think Jesus’ would never have had to die on our behalf) but seeking it? Not really as complicated or fraught with anxiety as people seem to think.

  12. “…at times we can’t see his will because we reverence knowing the next step more than knowing him.”
    Jesus’ will for us is the Father. That we may be one as he and the Father are one. He wants our undivded attention. Communion. It’s sad that we veer from that too often. Oh to be consumed in that fire. It’s very exacting. He wants us.

  13. Richard McNeeley says:

    Sometimes we use our struggles with the will of God in order to hide our own indecision. Or, perhaps, we want to be able to blame God when something goes awry. God is not interested in controlling our every move.
    Biblically the will of God boils down to that none perish ( I Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9), Salvation comes to both Jew and Gentile ( Eph 1:5-2:22), we present our bodies to Him (Rom. 12:1-2), we bear much fruit (John 15:8; Col. 1:9-12), and that we pray (I Thess. 5:16-18). God’s will is Christ in me and through me. Wherever I go, there He is, because He is in me.
    Sometimes God will prevent us from getting a job, house, car, spouse or something else that we want, however, it could just be bad timing.

  14. Lisa, you somehow put into words the feelings of my heart lately on God’s will. Somewhere I gave up seeking God’s will, and I think in giving up I fell into it.

  15. Too often at the Christian high school I attended, the notion of “seeking God’s will” often seemed to be presented in terms of setting out on a quest with only a map of obscure clues to guide you. And if you did not correctly discern the clues, the consequences were always far worse than just not finding the treasure. Indeed, it often seemed as if God were waiting for you to mess up just so He could have an opportunity to “chasten” you for failing to discern His will for your life.

    I now tend to think that a loving God would not play games with us in such a way. While I may not always know His specific will for me, I don’t think there is one path laid out in such a strict and narrow way that if I fail to follow it, God is ready to throw up His hands and say, “Well, now you went and messed it all up. I can’t do anything with you now.”

  16. God’s will for us is this, “love God and your neighbor as yourself”.

    How are you doing?

    Me?

    Not so hot.

    Thanks be to God He loves and died for ungodly ones like myself.

  17. Lisa,

    I immediately recognized the source of your Merton quotation and realized that the next section contains the most defining insights for me;

    There are religious men who have become so familiar with the concept of God’s will that their familiarity has bred an apparent contempt. It has made them forget that God’s will is more than a concept. It is a terrible and transcendent reality, a secret power which is given to us, from moment to moment, to be the life of our life and the soul of our own soul’s life. It is the living flame of God’s own Spirit, in Whom our own soul’s flame can play, if it wills, like a mysterious angel. God’s will is not an abstraction, not a machine, not an esoteric system. It is a living concrete reality in the lives of men, and our souls are created to burn as flames within His flame. will of the Lord is not a static center drawing our souls blindly toward itself. It is a creative power working evrywhere, giving life and being and direction to all things, and above all forming and creating, in the midst of an old creation, a whole new world which is called the Kingdom of God. What we call the “will of God” is the movement of His love and wisdom, ordering and governing all free and necessary agents, moving movers and causing causes, driving drivers and ruling those who rule, so that even those who resist Him carry out His will without realizing that they are doing so. In all His acts God orders all things, whether good or evil, for the good of those who know Him and seek Him and who strive to bring their own freedom under obedience to His divine purpose. All that is done by the will of God in secret is done for His glory and for the good of those whom He has chosen to share in His glory.

    T

    • Lisa Dye says:

      Hi Tom, I have that part underlined in my book as well. In fact, half the book is underlined. I just didn’t think I could legally quote more than I did. I hope to re-read it many times as it is deep … so deep and rich.

      “God’s will is not an abstraction, not a machine, not an esoteric system. It is a living concrete reality in the lives of men, and our souls are created to burn as flames within His flame.” I love this especially.

  18. “Many Christians become preoccupied or even obsessed with finding the “will” of God for their lives. If the will we are seeking is His secret, hidden, or decretive will, then our quest is a fool’s errand.” (More at: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/wills_sproul.html .)

    My take: How cruel indeed it would be for God to require us to “find His will for our lives,” then abandon us to our own devices to do so. Rather, God’s promises are sure:

    “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28

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

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

  19. Lisa, I have some understandings that might help you. Before I share about God’s will, let me say something about Abraham and Issac. In Abraham’s day, human sacrifice was common–I believe God used Abraham to speak against the practice. Abraham talked with God a lot and he always did what God asked him to do. God needed someone who would listen to Him when He said stop. Also, Abraham didn’t think it unusual that God asked him to sacrifice Issac–in fact, Abraham knew God had promised to grow his family through Issac and he had confidence in God’s ability to do what He said He would. So, by leading Abraham to the point of sacrifice, by telling him to stop, and by providing an alternative sacrifice, God was able to make a bold statement against the abhorrent practice. Later on down the line, Israel got in real trouble several times when they passed their children through the fire of sacrifice–they could never, ever say that God told them to sacrifice their children.

    Now, as far as God’s will goes, I think many of us confuse God’s will with His wisdom. Let’s look at things that we know are the will of God. I’m going to start with Deuteronomy 30:19-20,

    I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: THEREFORE CHOOSE LIFE, that both thou and thy seed may live: that THOU MAYEST LOVE THE LORD, THAT THOU MAYEST OBEY HIS VOICE, AND THAT THOU MAYEST CLEAVE TO HIM FOR HE IS THY LIFE and the length of your days…

    Then, I Timothy 2:4 says, “Who (God) will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

    These two scriptures pretty well sum up God’s will, that we have life in Him and that all humans be saved. His work in the world is focused on bringing these two things to pass. As far as the details of our lives (where we are going to live, what are we going to do, etc.) are concerned, probably the best thing we can do is to ask God for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. As we wait on Him to work things out in us and in our circumstances, we can obey His commands to love Him with everything we have and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. If we do these things, everything else will work out.

    Now, as far as the desire you’ve had since you were four, I suggest that you wait for God to open doors for you. Read what Christ said to the church at Philadelphia, “…behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it…” Those are the doors that we would want God to open. I have learned that, if I want to do something, I should wait until God opens the door that no man can shut. Some doors never open, and I usually find out that it was a good thing that they didn’t open. Other doors open that just amaze me (becoming a high school English teacher, getting my master’s degree, writing a blog, self-publishing a book) because I never thought that I could accomplish such tasks.

  20. By the way, God does not have a secret will–above everything else,God is straightforward and truthful. So many times we can’t see God because we have an enemy who is throwing the sand of deception into our eyes to keep us from cleaving to God and having the more abundant life that Christ came that we might have. We need to turn around to God and allow Him to help us out.