I have spent quite a bit time, off and on throughout my Christian life, thinking about God’s will. Not long ago I spoke with a young man who was agonizing over knowing and doing God’s will in his life, and it got me to thinking about it again. How do we know what God’s will is?
I don’t pretend to know what God’s specific will is for any one of us, but I do believe the will of God is not a “somewhere out there” dream for the future, it involves our day-to-day lives. The will of God is not what happens after we’ve skirted past the hassles of daily living, rather it’s how we approach and accomplish what we need to do today.
Let me elaborate. The young man I introduced earlier was in the middle of a nasty divorce when we spoke. He had some personal issues he needed to address, including what a family member called a “vicious and violent temper” toward his children, who were no longer speaking to him. His relationship with his parents and sister were also broken. He had quit his job in order to focus on prayer for God’s guidance and direction in his career…meanwhile his home (the roof over his ex’s and children’s heads) had gone into foreclosure. He could not even pay child support.
As gently as I could, I tried to help this young man understand that I didn’t think God would direct him to embark on a journey to find some God-given vocation at the expense of his family. He was missing the forest for the trees. God’s will for him at that moment, as I saw it, was to rebuild relationships (even if the marriage was not salvageable), and take responsibility for the concerns God had already given him as a son, brother, father and provider. He didn’t have to look elsewhere for God’s will—it was right there, where he was living out each day.
This is true for all of us. God’s will is not out of reach, or something we need to grasp at as it goes whizzing by. We might miss opportunities, but we never miss God’s will in the sense that it becomes irretrievable. It begins right where we are today, at this very moment. Here are some more thoughts that I hope will help bring this idea into focus.
God’s will encompasses His heart concern for others, beginning with our sphere of influence. We all have a sphere of influence. No matter what activities we are engaged in, God wants us to love and care for the people in our lives as we would care for ourselves. God also calls us to stretch beyond our normal sphere of influence to others we do not know…and take the time to recognize the image of God in these people and help serve their needs as we would serve Christ himself. This message is at the heart of both Old and New Testaments.
God’s will involves being faithful in the small things. Most of us work at our jobs to pay the bills, but live for our hopes and dreams of the future. Christians especially long for a sense of God working in and through them, sometimes resulting in great things for God’s kingdom. This is a truly wonderful goal, but it never starts with the big picture. We learn to be faithful in the big things by first being faithful in the small things. We need to pay attention to what is before us, the work God has already given us, before He will entrust us with more.
God’s will is a framework surrounding our freedom to choose. Greg Laurie, founder of the Harvest Crusades, uses the picture of being on a cruise ship on the open sea to illustrate God’s will. We can’t change where the cruise ship is heading and we are bound by all of the rules that apply to passengers while on board. But within that framework, we have significant freedom to choose how we will spend our time. In like manner, we have tremendous freedom within God’s will to choose how we will spend our time, finances and talents. As my friend Sue says, “If you can find out what you enjoy doing and it brings God glory, then go for it! Why wouldn’t God honor and bless your efforts?” I agree.
God’s will involves obedience. This freedom to make our own decisions and choices is always coupled with the willingness to obey God’s commands. One of my favorite passages of scripture describes the path Joshua took to lead his men on their mission to overthrow Jericho. God had promised (Joshua 3) to part the Jordan River for Joshua’s men much as He parted the Red Sea for Moses decades before, but the miracle would only take place when the priests leading the procession carrying the Ark of the Covenant stuck their feet into the lapping waters along the river’s edge. The same holds true for us…one act of obedience frequently opens up a host of possibilities, which then leads to another act of obedience.
God’s will involves trust…and thankfulness. The path along God’s way is rarely well known, well lit or easily visible, especially from a distance. Psalm 119: 105 states, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” The only part of God’s path that is usually visible is the patch of earth right under our feet. As we step forward, God casts light on the next step, and the next, and so on. Stepping forward requires trust, but God is trustworthy.
The story of taking Jericho involves a scene in Joshua 4, wherein God instructs Joshua that one man from each of the 12 tribes of Israel should muscle a rock (I imagine a small boulder) from the middle of the Jordan River, as they crossed over on dry ground, and pile them on the other side of the river as a testament of what God did in cutting off the waters of the Jordan. In this way, when their children asked in years to come, “Daddy, what is that pile of rocks over there?” the Israelites could reply, “That is a memorial to help us remember God’s faithfulness in bringing us to this land.”
As we sojourn along the path God has laid before us, let us remember and give thanks for His faithfulness. Deliberately, intentionally, like piling rocks along the river.