Wednesday, August 15, 2012

God's Will: Complicated and Easy, or Simple and Hard?

When I was younger, the dominant conversation among the followers of Jesus in my particular circles was, "What is God's will for my life?"  We talked about how to discover the answer to this question quite often.  Suggested practices included getting up to pray every day at 5 AM, because evidently the Holy Spirit is the morning person in the Trinity and does not speak to night people who sleep past sunrise.  We talked about digging into the Scriptures with a good study Bible and underlining lots of verses and reading good commentaries and looking up Greek words in our concordances so we could know the original words used by the authors.  We talked about abstaining from anything that would keep us from hearing God's voice.  These included alcohol, R-rated movies, evil rock and roll music, night clubs, physical contact with the opposite sex past holding hands until at least the 4th date, and even then, only light kissing.  

All the while we were to be discerning what God's will might be and wafting for some burning bush to appear.   It never did - for any of us.  It was agonizingly frustrating and some in those circles just gave up.  They gave up not just on finding God's will, but on faith altogether. 

Occasionally I will run into an adult struggling with this same question.  It usually comes from someone who came to faith later in life, or at least to taking it seriously.  They do not have the angst of youth driving them, but there is a persistent nagging that makes them wonder, "What am I missing?  What is God's will for me?' 

In reflecting, my thought is that we believe the will of God for our lives should be shrouded in mystery.  I think that is a natural human tendency.  Spirituality fascinates us because it deals with unseen powers and angels and demons and cosmic struggles and powers and principalities and oracles that come to human beings bringing special insight and wisdom.  It's cool stuff.  But to be cool, it has to be complicated enough so that when we figure it out, we feel like we have accomplished something that few others will.
In other words, we want God's will to be complicated, and so we believe that it is.  More than that, we believe that the difficult part is the discovery, but that once discovered, the doing of God's will should be easy.

After all, following God is about hitting the sweet spot in life.  Being in the center of God's will is where all the pieces come together and everything that was up in the air falls neatly in place.  The right job will come along with more than adequate pay.  The right potential spouse will present himself or herself.  The right friends will show up at work or church or in your social circles.  If you are in school, the right major will be made perfectly clear and graduation with honors is a certainty. 

This is the will of God found in the fantasies of too many.  But in reality, most of those who actually live in the center of God's will, tell a different story.  And it's the one we find most often in Scripture.  Discovering God's will is easy.  Living it is hard.

In simplest terms, God's will for our lives is to follow Jesus.  It is to follow this rabbi who loved God with all of his heart and loved his neighbor as himself, demonstrating that love in the surrendering of his life, even to the point of death, not for his own sake, but for our sake and the sake of others. 

Simple, but hard.  It's hard because we will not always have all the answers.  The pieces will not always fall neatly into place, and every decision will not be accompanied by descending doves against a rainbow backdrop with an angelic choir hitting that one note while singing "aaahhhh."  Following Jesus may lead you to reprioritize the affections of your heart and reshape the entire arc of  your life.  And this reshaping will likely not appear in one grand vision, but like the little reflectors on the posts alongside the road in heavy fog, will become clear one at a time and just frequently enough to keep you from running off the road and crashing.

God's will is not complicate.  It's not easy either.  It is quite simple, and likely to be quite difficult as well.  That is the whole reason for grace for those who have put their faith in Christ.  Before we know Jesus, grace is drawing us toward God leading us to repentance and the new birth.  But once we receive Christ, grace operates in a new way, giving us the power we need to live a God-honoring life.  An easy life needs no extra power, comfort, support, counsel, courage or renewal.  A hard life does. 

One thing.  This life is not hard in the sense that it is oppressive.  It is the kind of hard that produces strength and joy and humility and gratitude and generosity in a person.  It is the kind of hard that build us up, not tears us down.  It is the kind of hard that compels us to lean into God and into community to make it the transformative and life-giving adventure for which we were created. 

May you come to see the simplicity of God's will for your life.  May you begin or continue to walk the difficult, but life-giving, joy-filled road of following Jesus.  May you find strength through God's grace for your journey.  May your priorities and even the trajectory of your life be reshaped by this journey.  And may you bless this world and the people in it in such a way that neither you nor it are ever the same.  

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