I’ve been thinking a lot lately about God’s will and the misconceptions I have had about it. If you’re like me, “God’s will” has been the focus of much prayer, angst, hope, and confusion. Our prayers for God’s will often centers around the need for God to fill in the blanks of our lives. “Who should I marry?” Which school should I attend?” Should I take that job?” For many of us, we have spent too many years with this sinking feeling that life has slipped through our fingers because somehow we must have missed it or feeling frustrated because we fell like God is holding out on us.
It seems the struggle to “find God’s will” is universal. We have heard most of our lives that “God has a plan of your life.” Which he does! But too often we think his will is “out there” as something to be attained such as a static place or position, or an achievement…and it’s up to us to secure it. Thus, when God’s will is seen as something we achieve or possess, we spend most of our life striving and manipulating what we can to order to obtain this desired place. Our pursuit of God’s will tends to be defined by our actions that ensure its possession. In essence, we think it’s up to us to obtain it, yet all the while we are not sure if we found it, missed it or simply messed it up. This chronic striving leaves us exhausted, frustrated and anxious.
Notice how one person describes this struggle:
I have always struggled with the question of “What am I called to do”. If I am not doing then I am not being faithful to His call. I have spent years wrestling with the need to know the call – the need to be faithful – the need to not fail Him. A year ago I literally collapsed physically, mentally, spiritually from years of running around the “chair.” (A figurative and “real” place of resting in Jesus’ presence.) Jesus gently helped me to my feet and bid me to sit with Him but I couldn’t/wouldn’t sit. I basically stood in front of the chair saying, “I’m here with you but you just need to tell me what to do so I can get going again.” I didn’t understand that the rest, the wholeness, the faithfulness to His call was actually in sitting next to Him. I was ready and poised to run as soon as I heard instructions…asking on-going questions and demanding answers and pleading with Him to fulfill my need of knowing so I could just get going again.
Jan Johnson writes, “Our irritation that discernment is a process requiring time and reflection reveals that we are hooked on outcomes and productivity. Discernment both eludes us and surprised us because it’s more about relationship than outcomes. God is not a dispatcher of answers from a faraway office, but an up-close-and-personal being who wants to converse back and forth with us. God is relentlessly relational, inviting us into an interactive life so that discernment and decision making are fleshed out within ongoing nudges within our everyday life with God.”
The capacity to discern God’s will arises out of our own growing friendship with God. Thus, discerning God’s will is personal and not formulaic. For when the Christian life is truly viewed as an unfolding journey with God, rather than a place or possession, discerning God’s will involves the continual ability we cultivate to pay attention to his on-going activity and presence in our lives. It also includes all the ways He is inviting us into relationship and shaping our path.
Ruth Haley Barton wrote, Discernment is a way of approaching life that has to do with sensing the movement of God’s spirit and abandoning ourselves to it just like we might give ourselves to the experience of being in water. Sometimes abandoning ourselves to the will of God is like floating down a river: we lay back and allow the current of the river to carry us along. At other times it is more like trying to run the rapids or ride a wave: we must keep our whole self alert and attuned to the dynamic of the water as it flows over rocks and around corners and over rapids so that we can ride it to its destination rather than being toppled by its force. Either way, we do not set the direction or the speed of the current; rather, we seek to read the elements so that we can move with it and find the best way to let it carry us in the direction God has for us.
My friend concludes her story this way:
I am moving forward again. Not with a plan and a checklist but with a focus on staying in my chair and taking each day for what He has in it for me. I have learned that it is exhausting to carry the weight of all the possible outcomes on my shoulders as I try to figure out all the answers to keep my life and those who depend on me running on a smooth course. I no longer have to do that. The chair is freedom. The chair has started to feel comfy and I find that I like it here. I am looking forward to what He will show me next and where we will go from here. I don’t expect staying in my chair to ever be easy but I have faith that the more I practice just “being” the easier it will become each day to live from that posture.
What we soon discover about God’s will, as she did, is it means growing into habits that encourage us to actively and attentively wait for the unfolding will of God and responding to that. Often, we are given only what’s needed for the moment. God only reveals our “next step” and we respond to that, knowing that ultimately our “steps have been ordered” by God, and we are moving in tandem with his Spirit. Certainly, however, there are times when we receive an explicit “go” or “do this” but the details of how that is to be lived out still remains unknown and yet to be discovered…as you go.
We can’t control or manipulate God’s will; we can only submit and respond to it. When we finally let go of our “death grip” on trying to make something happen, only then do we became aware of the many graces that punctuate our days. This is when we begin to live gratefully instead of frantically.
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God,” (Phil. 1:9-11).