October 31, 2014

The Homily

Gods-Will

Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4, NASB)

But for all who did receive and trust in Him, He gave them the right to be reborn as children of God; He bestowed this birthright not by human power or initiative but by God’s will. (John 1:12, 13, The Voice)

Perhaps the most asked question by Christians, at least in the West, is, “What is God’s will for my life?” I know I asked it a lot when I was in college, referring to what vocation the Lord would have me pursue. I’ve heard others apply it to whom they should date or marry, where they should live, what kind of car to buy, or whether to supersize their lunch order. Finding the will of God seems to be very important to many—or could it be that we find it very important to have God put his stamp of approval on what we want to do?

So much of the time I find myself torn when I sense a desire in my heart. If it is something that seems enjoyable, I figure it must not be God’s will for me, but just my own fleshly desire. If, however, it is something that I would normally avoid, I think that God must be leading me to do it. It’s the old “I’m afraid to submit to the will of God because he might call me to go to Africa” syndrome.

While on a weekend retreat to the Abbey of Gethsemani several years ago, Father Damion, the guestmaster, gave a talk on the will of God. He said that most people who say they are seeking God’s will actually want to know what God will approve of so they can go and do it in their own strength. We don’t want to give over control of our lives to God. We want a checklist of things to follow so we can maintain the illusion of control, but also seem to be trying to please God.

“God is working in us all the time,” said Fr. Damion, “but we prefer the darkness of our own wills and efforts.”

After his talk I waited to talk with Fr. Damion alone. I asked him, “Why is it that when I desire something I often think, ‘Oh, this can’t be from God. He would not want me to desire something like this.’?” Fr. Damion answered, “Because the enemy wants us to live where he lives—in despair.”

Then he said something that both puzzled and shocked me. “YOU,” he said, “are the will of God.”

Let us go back to our Gospel reading this morning. We are made children of God, not by the work of man, but by the will of God. It is God’s will that you and I are his children. Not that we do this or that, or that we accomplish certain things, or live certain places. He wants us as his children. Oh, certainly there are many examples in Scripture and in church history of God leading men and women to do specific tasks or live in specific places. But I think those are exceptions rather than the rule. For the most part, God wants us to just live according to our hearts. As we delight ourselves in him, the psalmist says, he will put his desires in our hearts. And we can trust him to give us desires that will please him.

You will quote to me Jeremiah,

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

I will quote to you Ezekiel,

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

And St. Paul,

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

This new life is the will of God. It doesn’t come by my efforts, any more than a baby puts forth its own effort to be conceived and born. And what has God created me for? Listen to the words of our Lord.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

God’s will for us is for us to live, and to live a full life. This full life is not found in what we possess, but in what possesses us. Constantly looking in the mirror to see if we are “in the will of God” displays a lack of trust in God and a misdirected focus on ourselves. Wondering if the desires we have are really from God only leads to paralysis. God wants us to live, not constantly examine ourselves.

In C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair, King Caspian has died and is now in Aslan’s country. Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb, two children from our world, are preparing to return to England. King Caspian says to Aslan,

“Sir, I’ve always wanted to have just one glimpse into their world. Is that wrong?”

“You cannot want wrong things any more, now that you have died, my son,” said Aslan.

For those who have died and Jesus now lives in them, you cannot want wrong things. No matter how wild or strange your desires may be, if you are delighting in the Lord, you can trust those desires are his will. YOU are the will of God. It was his will that you would become his son or daughter. It was his will to give you a new heart and a new spirit. It is his will that you live in peace and joy, no matter your circumstances. Should you stray and sin, it is his will to forgive you again and again.

The good news is we do not have to seek God’s will. He lives in us, and he will fulfill his will by directing us with desires in our new hearts and new spirits. So relax. Enjoy. Live.

Let us pray.

 

Comments

  1. One of the things that I love about being a Lutheran is that we (a lot of us, anyhow) don’t feel the need to ask that question (“what is God’s will for my life?”).

    We realize that we are free…in Christ. To live our lives as best we can and know that when we screw it up for ourselves or others that we are forgiven.

    Every Christian can know God’s will for themselves. “Love God, and your neighbor as yourself.”

    So, as Luther said, (the first one of the 95 Theses) “The entire life of the Christian is one of repentance.”

    I want to do wrong things all the time.Well… I guess I’m a real sinner. Full blown. Ungodly.

    But doesn’t that describe the ones who Christ Jesus came for?

    I sure hope so…otherwise I am toast.

    Thanks, Jeff.

    • Jon Bartlett says:

      I’ll echo that…. “Love God, and your neighbour as yourself.”

      That’s enough of God’s will for me to last several lifetimes.

    • We realize that we are free…in Christ. To live our lives as best we can and know that when we screw it up for ourselves or others that we are forgiven.

      Every Christian can know God’s will for themselves. “Love God, and your neighbor as yourself.”

      Thanks Jeff,
      A friend of mine has pointed this out to me a couple times after attending sunday service with us. Many christians want to deny freedom in Christ, I honestly think they want a rigid set of rules and an approved ‘christian calling’ to measure their lives.
      Second thing you said is we are forgiven. Hey, that is a starting point of freedom. At one service the speaker was talking about going to God for forgiveness when we commit a sin. My friend pointed out that God has already forgiven us but the problem of our sin is those who it affects, we need to go to them.
      Finally he said we may never know our ‘calling’. God’s will for your life may be to have someone overhear your conversation, someone you will never know or meet. No pressure.

  2. “No matter how wild or strange your desires may be, if you are delighting in the Lord, you can trust those desires are his will.”

    Delighting in the Lord? Most mornings, I don’t even want to get up and face the day; many days, I wish I’d never been born and resent God for creating me. Many nights, I go to bed afraid and worried about what tomorrow will bring. There’s not much delighting in the Lord in me, not much at all.

    “It is his will that you live in peace and joy, no matter your circumstances.”

    Really? And if I can’t, does that mean I’m disobeying him? Do I have to feel a certain way to be pleasing to God? Or does he take me up in his arms and hold me, though I may know nothing about it, and though I may not feel it? Though I may be lost in the midst of a thousand conflicting desires and wishes and fears and hopes, and know not where my “true” self or desires are?

    Lord have mercy.

    Christ have mercy.

    Lord have mercy.

    • Even Christians go through dark times like Job and that’s still a mystery. I hear your lament brother.

  3. “He said that most people who say they are seeking God’s will actually want to know what God will approve of so they can go and do it in their own strength.”

    Wow…that struck something inside of me.

  4. Jeff is right and Robert F. is right. Both are right. It’s the old “dichotomy of the two natures”….but my soul needs to hear Jeff’s positivity while still acknowledging the accuracy of Robert’s negativity.

    There’s an old story about an Indian chief who converted to Christianity and a year later ran into the preacher under whom he was converted, H. A. Ironside. “How goes it?” asked Ironside, and the chief said, “There are two dogs fighting inside me, a big white dog and a big black dog.” Ironside said, “Who wins the fight?” and the chief answered, “Whichever one I feed.”

    Light always overcomes darkness.

    • “The Lord said he would dwell in the thick darkness….” 1 Kings 8:12

      “Clouds and darkness are round about him…..” Psalm 97:2

      “…the darkness and the light are both alike to thee…” Psalm 139:12

      • The darkness exits inside the light. As Jeff said below, referring to Romans 8: nothing can separate us from the love of Christ….neither darkness….nor light…

  5. Jeff is a literalist. :-)

  6. Jeff, I hope you’ll clarify this: “For those who have died and Jesus now lives in them, you cannot want wrong things.”

    Oh, but I do. And the apostle Paul did too, according to Romans chapter 7 (and thank God for chapter 8).

    You counterbalance that phrase though in the next-to-last paragraph, with “Should you stray and sin, it is his will to forgive you again and again.” So you do realize that we choose to sin. Please explain.

  7. On the back of a rock says:

    Jeff, I think I understand you, and I think I even live there 1 day out of 20. But a few genuine questions, if I may. Ezekiel and Paul were rigrht, but Jeremiah was, too. Robert raises good questions of hopeless despair. I have questions of evil and of good vs better.

    What if my desire is to “disown” my adult daughter even though it will cost my relationship with her kids, because the pain of her bitterness and rage she vents against me is just so great?

    What do i tell my dear friend who desires approval of his sins, not just acceptance of him and forgievenss of the sins.

    What if part of me wants to confront my wife’s anxieties as the attempt to control that they, at some level are, and part of me wants to do whatever I can to ease her misery in her panic?

    • Ted and Rock,

      The key is to delight ourselves in the Lord. If you are truly delighting in God and his ways, you will not desire to disown your daughter. If you delight yourself in the Lord, you will still experience pain and suffering, but your desires will be his.

      Ted, I hear what you are saying about Romans 7. But again I think we need to continue reading to chapter 8. There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. And nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not even if we have wrong desires. Not even if we don’t ascertain the perfect will of God. Not even …

      • “The key is to delight ourselves in the Lord.”

        Yes. Then the problem must be that I don’t always want to delight myself in the Lord. Sometimes I want to delight myself for how it makes me feel, and that’s when I end up wanting the “wrong things.” Can anyone delight themselves in the Lord 100% of the time? 80%? Sometimes I feel I’m having a good day when I’m at 50% and I hope I don’t die on days when I’m in the 25% range. ;)

        Thank God and Jesus for making a way for those of us who drift from delighting themselves in the Lord.

  8. Jerry Goodman says:

    Thank you for this painful, yet so true revelation of my heart struggles. Anyone else? I appreciate the wisdom of Fr. Damion. I’m really sure that I still don’t love God as much as He loves us. Seek His righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit as a daily learning desire is a good place to be. This post is excellent.

    • Totally agree. And yes…Jeff, this is an excellent post/homily. I always look forward to your homily posts!

  9. thank you- i needed to read this.

  10. Jeff,
    Father Damion? Is that name for real? It’s too perfect.

    • It’s a saint’s name. Before the Omen movies, there was Fr. Damien of Hawaii (different spelling, but never mind), who ran leper colonies. Died of leprosy. Before them all, there was Socrates and his “daimon.”

      METATRON (played by Alan Rickman in “Dogma”): “You people. If there isn’t a movie about it, it’s not worth knowing, is it?”

  11. Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

    Just intensely wanting to know the specific Will of God for one self can be both terrifying and peace-filled. I believe there has to be 1). an experiential level of Trust to truly “hear” / be aware of / the promptings of the Holy Spirit and, 2). an experiential knowledge that you are Loved unconditionally to truly abandon / surrender / ones self to God’s Will. Given that most human beings have issues with trust, and many as well struggle with believing they are truly loved, this can become a rather burdensome topic or a topic that one keeps at a safe distance not wanting to face the realities of surrendering ones control.

    “Why is it that when I desire something I often think, ‘Oh, this can’t be from God. He would not want me to desire something like this.’?” Fr. Damion answered, “Because the enemy wants us to live where he lives—in despair.” Oh how true!

    There’s this thing in us that wants to be sure, needs to be right. Our insecurities can so drive us to try to figure something out. Our need for control can so blind our perception. Until we can say with St Paul; “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” there will always be the dichotomy within us between our will / desires / as human beings and our will / desires / as children of God.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that living without the peace of God is not an option. I don’t have to need total understanding even though I want it. I don’t have to feel totally right in regards to God’s will (ex., being torn within that doing something to benefit myself would be selfish )….but I do need to have peace about it. Sometimes I will literally stop myself from whatever, and slowly say over and over, “I need the peace of God; I want the peace of God; I choose the peace of God.” This helps me to re-focus my attention, to become aware of being in God’s Presence regardless of what I am doing or thinking of doing. For myself, practicing the Presence of God is of the utmost importance. Reminding myself that being in Gods Presence is being in the Presence of LOVE. I’m reminded that we are called to be Love in this world – Jesus gave us a new commandment that summed up all other commandments/laws….to Love God above all things and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This so simplifies things especially where I tend to complicate decision making with so many choices. St Augustine put it so eloquently : “Love God and do what you want.” If Jesus’ commandment to Love God and love others be our every moment focus we can’t not be in the Will of God.

  12. Speaking of the Abbey of Gethsemani, here is what the Abbey’s most noteworthy monastic wrote on the subject of God’s will;

    First of all, let us not all be too glib in our statements about the will of God. 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. His will is the cloud of darkness that surrounds His immediate presence. It is the mystery in which His divine life and our created life become “one spirit,” since, as St. Paul says, “Those who are joined to the Lord are one spirit” (I Corinthians 6:17).

    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. The will of the Lord is not a static center drawing our souls blindly toward itself. It is a creative power, working everywhere, 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.

  13. Jeff, I am reminded of Proverbs 8:31, where wisdom (personified as a woman) is present at creation:
    …then I was beside Him, like a master workman, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in His inhabited world and delighting in the children of man. (Proverbs 8:30, 31 ESV)

    I particularly like that last phrase. I usually don’t think of God’s wisdom as delighting in what our race is doing at any given moment. Yet, His will is for *us*.

  14. Energy is Eternal Delight, and he who desires, but acts not, breeds pestilence.

    William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell