Wednesday, April 26, 2006

God's Will

You've seen the WWJD bracelets, now visit the website! Answer Me Jesus offers an interactive, Magic 8-Ball style program that answers all of life's questions for you! "Should I get a new hair cut?" "Yes, My Child." "Should I eat fried chicken for dinner?" "Resist the devil." "Should I brutally murder my teacher?" "Wait for a sign."

The site is meant as a joke, but I fear that it's eerily close to how some Christians tend to view God. We feel like every decision we make, from the mundane to the earth-shattering, has a specific right and wrong answer. And that if we just pray hard enough, God will give us the answer we are seeking. But we don't dare make a move until we know for sure.

I think there are some circumstances in which God has a specific decision that he wants us to make. He told Jonah to go to Ninevah, and he manipulated weather and wildlife to re-direct him when he tried to go another way. But most decisions are not like that. God has given us brains and decision-making abilities so that we can figure things out for ourselves. This doesn't mean leaving God out of the decision-making process, but it does mean trusting your gut more often when he doesn't seem to be giving you a clear direction.

Psalm 37:4 says, "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart." The underlying message of this passage is that, guess what, our hearts get to have desires. We can want things, and if we're seeking God first and foremost, then the things we want will be good things, and God will give them to us. That's pretty exciting. Especially for someone like me, who has spent so long trying to figure out what God wants me to do that I've practically forgotten to want anything for myself.

Some of you might be wondering why I haven't mentioned seminary in a while. That's because I withdrew about a month ago. I wrote something up about it when I made the decision, but it was too raw to post publicly. I kept telling myself I would figure out how to say what I wanted to say, but I never seemed to get around to it.

The easy answer is that I stopped going to seminary because I was tired. Tired of school, tired of the stress of deadlines, tired of always living in a future-oriented, "after I graduate" world. But the much more complex answer is that I was fumbling around, learning an important lesson about God's will.

I went to seminary because the opportunity presented itself and it seemed to make sense. I went because I was trying to figure out what God wanted me to do with my life. That wasn't a bad reason to go, but it would have been a bad reason to continue going after I figured out that I didn't want to be there. When I started seminary, I remember saying that I wanted to do something, and if God wanted me to do something else, then he would redirect me, because it's easier to redirect a stream than a stagnant pool. Well, I was redirected. But not in a way I expected.

I felt like a failure when I first started feeling like I didn't want to continue with seminary. Like I was letting God down. But I think God was trying to teach me precisely the lesson I touched on at the beginning of this post: He gave me a heart and a mind and a will for a reason, and he wanted me to start using them.

And I'm happy with what I'm doing right now. I feel, in an odd sense, that working at Starbucks is the green pasture that I've been waiting for so long for. It may not be what I want to do with the rest of my life, but I've been working so hard for so long, stressing myself sick, that it's nice to have a window of peace, even if it's just for a season.


EarthenForge said...

Reading that made me feel excited for you all over again. I'm so glad you're finally getting a chance to feel peace.

Anonymous said...

A lot of good points, but I have to disagree on one major thing. Just like Christians feel like they need a specific answer, quite often they want the easiest, nicest interpretation of a verse... like the one you quoted. "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart." Having put MUCH thought into this, I don't believe this is what it seems to mean at first glance. I believe that instead, as a person is supposed to grow more Christlike and more Christ-minded, it isn't so much that we get "our" desires, but more that as we become more Christ-minded, we will (or should) want what God wants, do what God wants, and be pleased when what HE wants happens... and delight in his delights.

In other words, I don't think it really has much to do with our desires. All the times I've heard and read of great missionaries- Billy Grahm, Corrie Tenboom, and others, they have all talked about such things. But the trend has alwasy been that they have given up their own desires for more "christian" desires and taken delight in those instead.

All that to say given the meaning I find in that text, the verse utterly fails to delight or even inspire me.

Jule Ann said...


I understand your point, and I agree and disagree at the same time. I don't think that's all there is to the verse, but I don't think that makes it wrong. I dealt with your concern a little bit more in depth in what I originally wrote about this.

"what are the desires of my heart? God is supposed to be giving them to me, but i don't even know what they are. i think this comes from years of a false impression of God's will. that he has a specific decision that he wants me to make in every situation, and what i should be doing as a good christian is figuring out what that decision is before ever taking a step. but that's not right. God is not some magic 8 ball that i get to shake up every time i'm faced with a choice so that i can avoid making decisions for myself. i have been given skills and abilities and desires so that i can make decisions for myself, but i have been avoiding personal responsibility for those decisions by blaming everything i do on God.
now don't get me wrong, i'm not saying we should ignore the holy spirit's nudging and just do whatever the heck we feel like. the first half of that verse implies that we are focusing first and foremost on God, and that's why we'll get the desires of our hearts. but the difference is between a loving spouse who does things that will make her partner happy because she loves to do them, and a soldier who does what her commanding officer tells her because she is required to. . . . there's a second way of reading that verse from psalms. God will give me the things that i desire, yes, but God will also give me desires. there is nothing wrong with wanting things, God wants me to want things. he might even help me figure out what i want."

There are definitely people, like Jonah, that God calls to do something specific that runs counter to their personal desires. But I believe that, if we are seeking a good relationship with God, then we won't have to give up our own desires in order to do his instead, because we will already desire what God wants for us.

And as much as Corrie Ten Boom and Billy Graham are to be admired, we are not all called to that type of ministry. To continue the military analogy, God needs some generals, but he also needs foot soldiers and cooks and factory workers back home to make shells.

What it really comes down to is what message do you need to hear? Personally, I tend to err on the side of trying so hard to figure out God's will that I don't even want to breathe for myself. So the message I need to hear is, "Quit stressing about what you think God wants you to do, focus on your relationship with God, and trust your decision-making abilities." But, for someone who tends to err on the side of always trusting their own desires and ignoring what God might want for them (like Jonah), then the message they need to hear is actually the opposite, "Stop thinking you know everything and listen to me for a change." The ultimate goal is to get us both back on the same path, but if I have veered too far to the right, I need to be told to go to the left to get back on track, but for someone else who has gone too far to the left, going to the left will only lead them further astray.

EarthenForge said...

Hmmm. That is a very interesting point you made in your last paragraph. And going along that line of thinking, it reminds me how awful it can be to force an interpretation on someone else. I instantly thought of how the Bible has been used to justify slavery and the subjugation of women. There are certainly verses for women and slaves to read, but they are personal - helping each person be the best they can be, both giving worth to those who feel worthless and a sense of discipline for those who might do something rash.

At the same time, I dont think this means throwing out lessons from a preacher or someone else. (Not that you are saying this, but Ive heard such an argument before.) Because certainly it is valuable to hear other view points and learn from them (I think this is part of the definition of wisdom), and of course, sometimes we are wrong in our interpretations. I think we have to measure single verses or passages against the whole of the Bible in order to grasp a more complete meaning. But I think you are very right in saying that this could still mean different things to different people (and at different times in their life) - not that the Bible is completely relative - but that it has the amazing feature of having something for everyone.

Ryan Platte said...

Ha! Got here via a Google search for something generic. So, hi!