Sunday, January 29, 2012

All the Will in the World (Romans 12:1-2)

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.

When 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 example of 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.

No comments: