Sunday, November 25, 2012

Understanding God's Will (UGW) Intro

            Alright, I need to say this up front.  I am no expert in “God’s Will” or in how He works or what the Bible says.  I can only tell you what I think and believe at this point in my life.  And that could change.  There could be a Bible verse that I didn’t know about that could alter my view.  God’s ways are a mystery.  And ironically, they become more mysterious the longer I walk with Him.  But this is how I understand it now.  (And I may refer to things that I wrote about in deleted posts.  But it should still make sense.  Hopefully.) 

            And despite the fact that I seem to have a lot of answers here, I also have my fair share of unanswered questions and doubts still.  We will always have deep, hidden doubts and fears, even as Christians.  (While I may have doubts and questions about how God acts and moves and answers prayer, I do not have any doubts about God’s existence or love.)  And these are usually hidden pretty good until we face trials and tragedies.  And then, all of a sudden, we’ll find ourselves thinking and wondering things that we never thought we would.  But I want it to be known that it is normal to have doubts and unanswered questions.  The key is to be honest with the Lord about them and to let them drive us closer to Him.  The more we do this, the more we will grow in our confidence and faith, and the more we will learn to seek refuge in Him when other doubts spring up.     
            Anyway, what I want to look at is how we view God’s Will versus how I think the Bible portrays God’s Will.  I think that there is so much confusion over this, because we have grown up with so many pat answers and assumptions about what it is and about how God works.  And I think that this is why “Finding His Will” has been so hard for me in the past.  Not only did I have misplaced hopes, fears, and a lot of expectations about how God “should” answer, but I also had many misconceptions about what “His Will” is and how to find it.  
            Let me start by looking at these two examples from my life: a job that I got and the first home we rented. 
            Just after my internship, I was looking for a part-time job.  I could only work a handful of hours a week since I had a toddler.  And they needed to be evening hours so that I could work when my husband, Jason, was home. 
            As I interviewed for a position, the interviewer assured me that I could do almost all the work in the evening and that there would be minimal interruption during the day.  And I asked several times to make sure.  As I considered all the facts, everything sounded pretty reasonable.  All I had against it was this tiny, little nagging sense that I wasn’t running it all past God.  It was just a hint of a feeling that something wasn’t right, that I was going off in my own wisdom, and that God might actually want me to say “no,” or to at least slow down and pray and wait for guidance.  But the details all seemed right, and I couldn’t see any real reason not to take it.  And I needed the job (or I thought I did).  It was an open door, so it must be God’s Will, right? 
             Well, it was a few weeks after I got the job that I learned that it was very disruptive to my day.  This was a crisis-management counseling position, and so I had to be there when called upon.  And I was called upon at all hours of the day, several times a week.  I had to drop everything and ask my husband to come home from work so that I could attend staff meetings with the teens in the hospitals, sometimes up to an hour away. 
            I only made it four months before burning out and needing to find a new job.  Had I just slowed down and listened to that still, small voice (which I didn’t really recognize as the Holy Spirit at the time), I would have been spared a lot of trouble.  Thankfully, God allowed me to find a much more convenient part-time job after that, a position that opened up just as I was leaving the other one.  He is sovereign! 
            But, you might be wondering, maybe all this was God’s Will?  Maybe He planned it all to happen that way to get me into that second position?  Maybe, but I don’t think so.  I had the sense that I was rushing ahead of God, and yet I didn’t listen.  I believe that He might have had a different plan in mind, but I missed it with my hasty choice.  He, however, took my mistake and worked it into a new plan.   
            And another time that I made a hasty choice was in regards to the first house that we rented.  We were in an apartment out by my grad school (Miss ya, Trinity!), but we were looking to move back home by Jason’s work.  My mom and step-dad, Bob, owned some rental houses there.  And Bob called me up one day and offered to rent a house out to us.  Something inside (or Someone) said, “Wait!  Check it out first.”  But I didn’t listen.  My reasoning said, “He’s my step-father.  Of course he wouldn’t rent out to me something that wasn’t fit for us.  I’ll just have faith that God brought this because it’s for the best.”
            Well, after we said “Yes” and made plans to move, we got to see this home.  And we were horrified.  It was disgusting and filthy.  It reeked of animal pee, the carpet was soiled, and there were fleas and mice poop all over.  (We had to bomb it three times for fleas.  And I was eight months pregnant.)  And it was like a fun house at a carnival, with walls ever-so-slightly slanted this way and that.  And it was tiny, tiny, tiny.  It was so filthy that we had to live with my parents for a month so that it could get fixed up enough to not be a health hazard.  (Bob hadn’t really kept watch on the previous renters, so he didn’t even really know what condition it was in.)
            And then, as house prices rose and we had a second child and I decided to stay home and we couldn’t make enough money to move up, we got stuck in that house for several very unhappy, very depressing years.  Thankfully, God eventually moved us to a better place, but I wonder how things might have turned out had I listened to the Spirit’s quiet nudges or took the time to pray.  So was the path that we took God’s Will for us, His preplanned path, to get us where we are now?  Or did we have some responsibility for what happened and where we ended up, especially since I knew that we didn’t seek God’s advice in the first place? 
            I think the first thing we need to do when we talk about God’s Will is to define it.  When we say, “God’s Will,” I think there are actually three different things that we are referring to:  God’s desires, God’s plans, and what actually happens.  If you said, “It’s God’s Will that I moved to Denver,” it could be that you think it’s what God desired for you, or that it’s what He preplanned for you, or that it was God’s Will because God always does what He wants, so if a move to Denver worked out then it must have been God’s Will.  You know, the whole “Whatever happens is what God wanted because God always does what He wants” argument.  
            I think it causes a lot of confusion when we lump them all together as “God’s Will,” because they are all different things.  So, what is it?  Is His Will best understood as His desires (what He wants to have happen), His plans (what He has planned to have happen), or what actually happens?  And does He cause what happens or just allow what happens?    
            And we add to the confusion when we believe that since God is all-powerful, He’ll always do whatever He wants to do, His plans are fixed.  And we respond to this belief in one of two ways: 
            1.  We go through life doing “whatever” and falling through whatever “open doors” are there because God always does what He wants or plans, regardless of us.  Right?  Or . . .
            2.  We stress ourselves out over finding His Will because we believe that He planned one particular, “right” path for us.  And we have to find it.  Or else! 
            The first way causes us, I think, to be lazy in our spiritual disciplines, in seeking righteousness, in obedience, and in prayer, because we don’t believe that we have an effect on God’s Will.  (Been there!)  And the second way causes us to freeze up and panic about making decisions, because we believe that we have to find the path that He wants us to take or we will be out of “His Will.”  (Definitely been there!)     
            This thinking also causes pain and heartache when we face tragedies, like a death or natural disaster or illness.  Whatever God plans, happens.  Right?  And so, whatever happens is because God planned it.  (And if God planned it and caused it, then there is no such thing as free-will.  We are just puppets on a string, acting out our prewritten roles.  Right?)  We know that God could’ve stopped it if He wanted to, so He either didn’t care, He wanted this to happen, He isn’t all-powerful, or our prayers didn’t matter.
            Did He plan it?  Was it “His Will”?  Does He always do whatever He wants?  Do our prayers make any difference at all?  Or is our understanding of God’s Will off?  And do we have more of a role in and responsibility for God’s Will than we realize?  
            So to better understand “God’s Will,” we need to first define it.  Desires?  Plans?  Or everything that happens?  Personally, I think that “His Will” is most accurately defined as what He desires.  It’s what He desires for us (the choices He wants us to make and the path He wants us to take, etc.), and it’s what He desires from us (living God-glorifying lives and being obedient, etc.). 
            His Will isn’t about a pre-set path.  It’s about how He wants us to live - abiding in Him and in daily obedience to Him and His Word.  We make problems for ourselves when we confuse seeking His Will with seeking His “pre-set plans” for us.  Because He does not (usually) reveal His plans for us ahead of time.  And, for the most part, I do not think that there are pre-set plans for us.  Yes, I think that in His love and wisdom, He has “best plans” for us.  But I do not think that His paths and plans are pre-set and unchangeable.  They hinge on us.  Our behavior, choices, and obedience to Him and His Word have a major effect on if His best plans for us happen or not.
            In the Old Testament, we get an idea of how God works with people.  And generally, He clearly lays out two paths: the blessing path and the curse path.  And the people decide which path they take by their obedience or rebellion.  Yes, God has some long-term, overarching plans that He is working out over the course of history (salvation and restoration), and we can’t change those.  (Thank God!)  But He leaves it up to us which path we take in our individual lives to get to that end.   
            I do not think that God always does whatever He desires or that He forces His plans on us.  I do not think that everything that happens is because God wanted it or planned it to happen.  We have responsibilities and an effect on life, and we are responsible for many of the consequences.  And this is just how He has set up life.  Not everything that happens is “God’s Will.”  And finding His Will is not about finding “the next step.”  (Sometimes, it is – like when it is time for Him to reveal the next step.) 
            And this is where I get hung up.  I needlessly exhaust myself in search of His future plans, when I should be searching for His Will today - for how He wants me to live in my daily life, as revealed in His Word and in prayer.  And as long as I am doing that, the next step would become clear to me as I went along, abiding in Him and living in daily obedience to Him and His Word.  That is where my focus should be, not on finding “the path.”      
            He doesn’t promise to reveal His path and plans for me because I’m desperately searching for them.  He holds the future, and doesn’t let us in on that ahead of time.  But He does promise to guide me (one step at a time) and care for me when I am doing His Will as revealed in the Bible - living in humility, fearing Him, seeking wisdom, living righteously, praying, and obeying, among others.   As shown in the Bible, these things are His Will for me.                  
            Psalm 25:9, 12:  “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. . . . Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord?  He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.”
            Proverbs 2:1-2, 9, 11:  “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding . . .  Then you will understand what is right and just and fair - every good path . . . Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.”
            Proverbs 11:3:  “The integrity of the upright guides them . . .”
            Isaiah 33: 15, 16:  “He who walks righteously and speaks what is right . . . this is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.  His bread will be supplied, and water will not fail him.”  
            Jeremiah 6:16:  “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.  But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’“  (Italics are mine.) 
            Humility, wisdom, integrity, righteousness, seeking “the good way,” and obeying are what will take us down the good, restful path.  But that path is not pre-set and fixed.  Because we can refuse to look for or go down that path.  We can refuse to include Him in our choices.  We can disobey.  His plans for our individual lives don’t just happen apart from our effort and obedience.  But how much time and energy do we waste worrying and fretting and wavering, all because we are searching for His plan while neglecting His Will?   
            And so the sobering thought is . . . we have a choice in whether or not we fulfill “His Will.”  His Will (at least what He desires from us) is not a mystery; it’s all there in His Word.  But do we take the time to discover it?  Do we abide in Him?  Do we put aside our own selfish desires and plans in obedience to Him instead?  Or do we just want to know what the next step is?   
            Since His Will is about how we live our lives and our obedience to what He calls us to do, I think that His Will goes undone many, many times.  When we don’t seek to know what He expects out of us in His Word, when we don’t obey the Spirit’s nudges, when we don’t pray, when we ignore needs that we see, when we do not do the good that we know we should do, when we violate one of His commands, etc., His Will doesn’t get done. 
            Our problem is that we would much rather seek His plans than seek Him with our whole hearts.  We would much rather believe that His Will has to do with finding out His plans or His path than it does with reforming our life.  We want a quick open door, not a makeover of our spiritual lives and disciplines.  We want the blessings without any work or responsibility on our parts.  And we want to believe that everything happens because He made it happen, not because it was some consequence of our own doing. 
            But we do have responsibilities and we do create consequences.  His best plans for us don’t always happen because we can choose to obey or disobey, and we can choose to pray or not.  He allows us to do that.  And He allows us the consequences.   He honors our free-will and our choices and allows us to have an influence over what happens in life, for good or for bad.  We have a hand in (and a responsibility in) making His Will happen and in reaping “blessings or curses.”  By obedience, righteous living, and prayer. 
            Yes, God is all-powerful and He does indeed know what is best.  And whatever He does is best.  But just because He knows what’s best and wants what’s best doesn’t mean that He causes those things to happen, apart from man’s cooperation.  I believe that He voluntarily limits His use of power in causing things to happen.  He does not use His power to force things.  He doesn’t do “His Will,” regardless of us.  He hinges it on us.   
            Now, I’m sure that this has brought up more questions than it has answered.  So I want to look at some of the questions that you might want to ask right now.  And I want to fill in the answers in more depth and with the Scripture that supports it.  Now, I hate to be redundant, I really do.  I hate being redundant, saying the same thing over and over again, kicking a dead horse, repeating myself.  But in the name of being clear and thorough, I will repeat much of what I’ve already said.  So bear with me.

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