If we listen to Christians talk about following Christ, it seems like one of the biggest uncertainties in our faith lives is knowing God's will. We believe God has a will for our lives and we say we want to follow it, but we often sound like we're at a loss to know what it is.
we consider what the Bible says about the will of God, we find that
some things aren't a part of it. God does not will our suffering, for
example, even though he promises us that if we rest in him in the midst
of it he will not desert us. Our prayers might move God to act in one
situation or another, or they might remind us of our need to act on
God's will ourselves.
Much of the time we feel at a
loss to know God's will because we might tend to think of it as very
specific and detailed. God has a preferred option for every action we
take, every thought we have, every word we speak, and he has either
predetermined what we will do or he expects us to listen so he
can tell us what that preferred option is.
But perhaps God's will is less like a script with each element
spelled out and more like an outline with some general guidelines about
the things God considers most important. After all, while we face issues
in our lives that would mystify the people in the Bible we still don't
see God spelling out every detail in their lives. And yet they
seemed to know God's will, even when they did poorly at following it.
Think about someone who's married, for example, who sees an
attractive person of the opposite sex. That other person seems
interested as well. Does a married person really need to pray, "Lord,
what is your will for me in this situation? What should I do about this
attractive person who seems to like me too?" Or do they just need to
remember the sixth commandment: "Do not commit adultery." Ah, see! God's
will, shown quite clearly, no assembly required.
Other situations might not be covered by the ten commandments, but
they might very well be covered by the two that Jesus said were the
greatest: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love
your neighbor as yourself. In this or that situation, we try to figure
out what action we can take that gives glory to God and shows the most
love for our neighbor. If we have an idea about that, we have an idea
about what God's will for us could be.
Now, more than one choice might fulfill those requirements. There
could be more than one choice that glorifies God, for example, and my
thought is that God would be OK with either of them so he says I can
pick which of them I want. That may be a problem sometimes, because we
still want some kind of more specific direction, but nobody who's lived
this life for awhile should be surprised that we have to make up our own
minds about some things.
Of course, sometimes we say that we wish God would be more specific
and we mean that, but sometimes we mean, "I wish God would give me the
specific guideline that says I should do what I've already decided what I
want to do." In other words, we actually have a pretty good idea about
what God's will might be, but we don't want to do it. Or we don't really
want to find out what it is because we're afraid it will be
different from our own will.
A lot of modern Christians have an idea that God's will involves our
safety and security and making our lives easier. But the truth is,
according to what Paul writes here in Romans, that God's will is going
to require sacrifice sometimes. It's going to require our discomfort
sometimes, and following it might very well mean choosing the hard
things over the easy ones. Too often we look on our churches and our
faith lives as things that have been created for us, in order to serve
us and to be in existence so we can get something from them. But our
faith lives exist because we know that every other kind of life leads
nowhere. And our churches exist so we can combine as the body of Christ
to do his work. God will bless us, to be sure, but that's a side-effect
and not the main purpose.
There's nothing wrong with prayers to know God's will. God's will may
be revealed to us in the Bible or in the guidance of mentors or the
other Christians. It may even be revealed to us as we pray, as a direct
communication from God. And at least we know that if we are praying to
know God's will we are listening for God's word, and that's unlikely to
turn out to be a bad thing.
But the accompanying prayer should always be for God to help us to do
his will once we know it. After all, there's a lot of truth in that idea that knowing the problem is only half the battle. Fixing it is still the other half, and knowing God's will is only half of our Christian responsibility. Doing it is the other.