Stuck Trying to Find God’s Will

Restaurants with huge menus make me nervous because I always take the longest to order. There are usually several options that look pretty good, and I worry that I’ll regret my food selection. I’ll ask the waiter what they recommend, and then when they describe their favorites, I realize they have terrible taste buds and I’m no closer to making a decision. A restaurant with one delicious item on its menu? Now there’s something I can get on board with.

We all make many decisions every day, most of them without thinking too hard on them. What do I wear today? Which route should I take? White or wheat? But we sometimes face decisions that cause us to pause and think it through. What major should I choose? Do I accept this job or that one, or go to grad school? How much of my income should I give away? Do I marry this person?

We tend to agonize over these questions, and one of the things I hear the most is, “I wish God would just show me what I’m supposed to do! God, what’s your will in this?”

God, what’s your will for my life?

It sounds like a legitimate question! Who doesn’t want to walk in the will of God? But if we were truly honest, most of us ask the question because we have deep anxieties about the future. We fear we have one shot at every decision, and if we make the wrong one, we’ll live in regret the rest of our lives. That we will somehow be removed from the will and plan of God.

What most of us hear growing up is to seek the will of the Lord. Find out what he wants you to do, and then do it. We pray for God to open our eyes and hearts to His will. We pray for a sign to show us what decision to make, or that God would speak audibly and just tell us what He wants from us.

We believe the idea that if it is God’s will, everything will magically work out perfectly. Without resistance. The problem is, this isn’t necessarily what we find in the Bible. For the saints in Scripture, walking in obedience often meant resistance, trouble, sometimes even death. Often, the path that leads to sin and death is the one with the least resistance.

Not to say we should look for the path with the most obstacles! The truth is, sometimes God closes all doors except one. And sometimes, God leaves several doors open.

But why? Doesn’t He want me to live in his will? If He wants what’s best for me, why doesn’t He just clearly show me what’s best for me? We don’t want a God who asks us to have faith, we want an oracle, a fortune-teller to tell us exactly what to do. Right now.

God has given us the Bible as a way to know Him and what He desires of us, and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tell us that He has given us, in Scripture, what we need to be equipped for every good work. For every good decision. There are truths in the Word of God that we can apply to our lives. The Bible doesn’t tell us explicitly who to marry, or what profession to choose, or what car to drive, or where to live, but there are commands from the Lord, and wisdom and guidelines in its pages.

The will of God for every believer is to ultimately glorify Him. It is to seek His face, to obey Him, and to look more and more like Jesus. It is to be transformed and renewed in our minds and hearts by the Spirit of God. It’s not to guess about what we’re supposed to do, but to make informed, guided decisions that flow from our love of God and his glory.

As small and finite beings, we won’t understand the plan and purposes of a big and infinite God. But it seems that God is less concerned with us being informed and more concerned with us being transformed.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing, you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

I’ve often found that difficult decisions tend to reveal what my affections are set on, whether it’s on the temporary things of the world or on the eternal things of God. If we knew what we were supposed to do, we wouldn’t do it out of love or a transformed heart. But our hearts are what God is after.

When we’ve been transformed with a renewed mind, we love more and more what Jesus loves. Our minds are set on things that honor God, and our affections (heart) are drawn toward Him. We’re able to make decisions for the glory of God, whether it’s the career path we choose, where we live, or who we marry. And so, as Christians, our difficult decisions are meant to show us where our hearts are set. Through these “testings,” we’re able to make decisions and know the will of God. Notice Paul says that by testing, we’re able to discern what the will of God is. What is good and acceptable and perfect.

His priority isn’t that we know the future, but that we trust Him in the now. And we trust him by being obedient to His word and asking Him to transform and renew our hearts. By actually doing something and obeying. Sometimes by taking risks.

We’re free to not know the future because we know the One who holds the future. Who is already in the future. God, who feeds the birds and clothes the lilies, commands us to not be anxious about tomorrow, but to trust his goodness today. We’re free to live confidently, take risks, and make decisions knowing that God is always on His throne.

And we can rest in the knowledge that our sovereign God who directs our steps is always in control.

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your hand in mine

It wasn’t my first time through a haunted house.

It was Halloween weekend and some friends and I had decided to visit a local scare house, one that promised to scare our socks off, if we followed the course, of course. We walked past caged monsters and shrieking zombies, mummies with searching arms and mazes determined to separate our pack. It was enough for a few yelps, jumps, and spooks, but nothing that truly frightened us; it was more the stuff of “Goosebumps” and less the stuff of nightmares. But the exhibits did succeed in dividing our group of friends so that after a while, I found myself with one other person, unsure of where everyone else was.

Then we saw it: the door that led out into the crisp October night sky. We hurriedly walked toward the door, certain that we were in the clear, when we both suddenly jumped in surprise. A deranged, bloody farmer wielding a chainsaw walked menacingly toward us, chainsaw loudly buzzing. And as soon as our feet landed back on the ground, her hand reached out and found mine.

And the world fell away and the scene popped into focus with electric clarity.

It was the most natural thing, to reach out and find a hand of safety in a moment of fear, but in that moment, it was as if a jolt ran through me. It was as if there were explosions in the sky. I hardly noticed anything else; the only thing I cared about was saving my friend from the maniac farmer. I shielded her from his threatening advances (and may have back-handed him with my left fist) and we rushed into the safety of the open night. As we rejoined our friends, I let go of her hand, but still clutched onto the memory. I’ve never been able to let it go.

It’s a memory that has resurfaced from time to time simply because of how vivid it was. Her hand in mine. My hand in hers. Instinct displayed in the most innocent form. You don’t want to face fear alone.

I’ve been re-reading some Sherlock Holmes and found in a brilliant piece of prose that Watson experienced something similar:

“Miss Morstan and I stood together, and her hand was in mine. A wondrous subtle thing is love, for here were we two, who had never seen each other before that day, between whom no word or even look of affection had ever passed, and yet now in an hour of trouble our hands instinctively sought for each other. I have marvelled at it since, but at the time it seemed the most natural thing that I should go out to her so, and, as she has often told me, there was in her also the instinct to turn to me for comfort and protection. So we stood hand in hand like two children, and there was peace in our hearts for all the dark things that surrounded us.”

— John Watson, “The Sign of the Four” (written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

There is something so basic about looking to someone else in a moment of crisis, in a time of trepidation. We instinctively know there is strength in numbers, and two is better than one, but more than that, there is the silent acknowledgement, “I’m with you on this. We’re facing this together.” There is solace knowing that someone else is there.

I was able to protect my friend from a masked actor in a haunted house, and in a display of chivalry, could probably protect her from a host of other physical things that threatened her. Watson was able to offer comfort and protection to Mary Morstan in light of her father’s death and the strange mysteries behind it. And when I get married, I hope to guard my wife’s heart and keep her safe and comforted to the best of my ability. But if I’m honest, there are many terrors where my cold and clammy hands would provide little help because “the dark things that surround” are often more than just physical fears. Sin, death, depression, anxiety, a broken past, guilt, all these and more are shadows that stand menacingly over us, things which we often have no power over. My comfort and my protection have their limits, and as much as I try, I make a shoddy savior. So where do we turn in our fear?

In the midst of the dark things that surround, what do we grasp?

God the Father, who promised from the beginning that he would never leave us or forsake us, sent his Son Jesus to the earth so that the dark things could be overcome and shown to have no power. Jesus overcame temptation in the midst of his weakness, cast out demons from the afflicted, and even conquered Death by being raised back to life. This Jesus, who promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20), is our source of comfort and hope, our God victorious. He who faced suffering and death for our sake promises that he is trustworthy and in control. We can rest in his shadow because he makes the shadows of darkness disappear. We have the promise that we can turn to him and not be disappointed, and so when fears assail and tragedy strikes, we can slip our hand in his.
We don’t have to face fear alone.

We never face anything alone.

oh my God

Where were you? I was at work when I heard the heartbreaking story that has given us all heavy and somber hearts. On Friday, a man walked into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and opened fire, killing 20 students and 6 adults.

In a culture and time where violence and tragedies of this sort are becoming alarmingly more frequent, this event struck especially home. Maybe it’s because I remember being in elementary school and the warm nostalgia that I get from memories on the playground and the ways my teachers strove to make learning exciting. Maybe it’s because I saw my younger brother and sister go through those years, excited about birthday parties and first crushes, a classroom full of friends and toy pigs. Maybe it’s because I have many friends who are parents to young children, and I know how deeply my own parents love me. Maybe it’s because many of my friends are under-appreciated teachers who pour their lives out for the young lives we entrust to them. Perhaps it was the fact that the helpless members of our society that look to us for protection were betrayed, and futures were snuffed out before potentials were reached. Anger, sadness, shock, frustration, confusion, helplessness, worry. All of these thoughts and emotions washed over me as my grief lead me to tears and to silently pray, “come, Lord Jesus!”

These are trying times. The world we live in still lays in the fall out of sin, and we daily feel the effects of it, maybe more so tonight. It leads us to cry out in anguish, “where are you, God? Why did this happen? Why didn’t you stop this?”

There’s a song that tugs at my hearts in moments like this, a haunting song that recognizes the brokenness we all feel and experience. I encourage you to listen to it all the way through:

If the world was how it should be, maybe I could get some sleep.

What we need now are not cute answers with bows on them. In the next few weeks, we will have many discussions about gun control and the level of safety at our schools and public places, and those discussions certainly need to occur. But what we need tonight is to lament. It is a very biblical response to times such as this. Lament that evil is a reality and we still experience injustice and brokenness and pain. Lament that tonight there will be empty seats at dinner tables and drenched pillows. Lament that sadly, this may not the be last time we hear of tragedy like this.

We lament knowing that our cries reach out to a God who hears his people, who loves them, and is willing and able to act in incredible ways. Indeed, God the Father experienced his own anguish as he sent his Son to a culture that unjustly murdered him. The Father looked down as Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” before he died. This same Father of the now-risen King Jesus now sends the Comforter through Jesus to us who are now his children. Our God upholds the needy, embraces the destitute and comforts those who mourn. Friends, he does care. He most certainly loves us. And this breaks his heart as much as it does ours.

We don’t know why this happened. But it’s not right. Evil is real. So is our God, and he is strong. As we pray for the children, parents, teachers and school officials, and those who are ministering to the wounded, broken and hurting, we also mourn and lament as we look forward to the day when our King returns to restore everything. When tears and sorrow will be no more.

Come, Lord Jesus, come!