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.

words of life

Today marks 5 years since cancer took my friend Esther. Last week, I learned of another college friend who walked from earth into eternity. The list of people I know who have passed away grows at a rate that I’ll never be comfortable with. And I hate it.

We always want to say things, anything, that might offer comfort in times of loss, but the reality is that it’s often little solace. Pithy statements like, “he’s in a better place!” and “she’s with Jesus” do not take away the sting of death. They are well-meaning and true words, but they do little to change the situation. I am reminded of the limitations of my words every time I try to console a grieving friend. Every time a friend tries to offer me words of encouragement. Our best words cannot undo sin and its end product: death.

There is one place that I’ve found comfort and hope, especially when dealing with death, and that’s in the words of Jesus. You can chalk it up to religious sentimentality or fanciful feelings, but there is a very real peace in the red letters. Almost as if they have power.

After all, when Jesus spoke, people were healed and demons went scrambling. When Jesus spoke, the winds and the sea obeyed him. When Jesus spoke, a dead man walked out of his grave. John 1 tells us that Jesus was the very Word by which all things were created out of nothing back in Genesis. Jesus has power. And the power was displayed when he was resurrected from the dead, the firstfruit, proving our spiritual resurrection and future bodily resurrection.

We also know that the Bible is God’s revelation to us, so that that when it speaks, God speaks. Thus, it makes sense that reading Scripture would bring peace, because it is the power of God working in you, not just your brain processing the words on paper.

The words that I have been resting on today are some of the last words in the Bible. They describe a vision of what is to come, a reality that draws nearer with every passing day.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new.  – Revelation 21:1-5

This is what we look forward to. Not for a future of floating around playing harps, but a future where heaven is on earth, where death and crying and pain will be a thing of the past. It is a place where the dead in Christ will live with God in newly restored, resurrected bodies. Esther. Patrick. Ronnie. Ommar. Christ the Redeemer will return to finish what he began and redeem everything fully. The earth. Our bodies. Our lives. He is working all things toward this redemption.

Jesus said it, and they are true because the One who spoke it is Truth. He is God.

Behold! Jesus is making all things new!

a life worth living

During my sophomore year at UT, a couple friends and I joined a community group at the church we went to. Unsure of what to expect and without a car, we accepted a ride from the leader of the group and met Ronnie Smith who would love us, challenge us, and help us grow in our love for Jesus. 

We bonded because we had both been raised in very similar church backgrounds, and over the course of the next few years, he would consistently meet with me and push me to love God with my head, heart, and hands. He influenced the Bible I bought, the books I read in my spare time and the preachers I listened to. Years before I ever heard the names of Matt Chandler or Mark Driscoll, Ronnie pointed me to Jonathan Edwards and John Piper to discover the beauty of the glory of God and the overwhelming joy and satisfaction that is found when God is glorified in us. When I fought against notion of God’s complete sovereignty, Ronnie would patiently show me passage after passage in the Bible that proved otherwise, and the word “predestined” went from being an uncomfortably ugly word to one of the most beautiful indicators of the grace of God. He encouraged my teaching gifts and when I wasn’t faithful in the little things, he lovingly rebuked me. In typical sarcastic wit, humor, and passionate zeal, he would remind me that Jesus was the center of God’s story, not me. He was a good friend and mentor.

He moved to Libya to teach Chemistry with his wife, Anita, and young son, Hosea. On Thursday, December 5, 2013 while taking an early morning jog, Ronnie was shot and killed in the city of Benghazi.

To read more about Anita’s story, and her response to the shooting, including her response to Ronnie’s death, you can watch here and here, and read her open letter here

Amid the sorrow and grief, a friend called me that afternoon and asked the following question: “Brice, what are we going to do? How are we going to respond to Ronnie pouring out his life in love of God and people?” It’s an excellent question for all of us.

Ronnie left behind a legacy, but it was born out of his recognition that God loves the whole world and uses us to make it better. It was born out of his recognition that his life was not his own. A life changed by the gospel compels you to live for Someone greater than yourself, and that Someone is the blazing center of everything: Jesus. That is a life worth living. Whether we eat or drink or study or work, we do it all for the glory of God. For Ronnie, this meant moving with his family to teach chemistry to the Libyan students at the International School Benghazi, risking safety and abandoning certain comforts. We follow the example of Jesus who left the comfort of heaven and poured out His life for us, even to the point of death. We do not back away from the prospect of death, but press forward with the promise of life eternal. As John Piper said, “Let the replacements flood the world.”

I’d like to leave you with one of the most powerful sermons I’ve ever heard, and it was one given by Ronnie at the Austin Stone Community Church. He compiled a list of Bible verses and passages, and organized them in such a way as to tell the story of the Bible. The entire sermon is composed strictly of Bible verses and is all preached from memory, sharing the story of creation, fall, salvation and restoration that is recorded within the pages of Scripture. This is the true story of Love that captivated Ronnie, and I pray that through it, we see that God has been working all things for His glory and our ultimate good.  This is the history of redemption.

Ronnie did not waste his life. I pray that we do not either.

If you would like to purchase a copy of  The History of Redemption as a beautifully illustrated hardback book, you can purchase it here. Proceeds from the sales will go to the Smith family.

If you would like to support Anita and Hosea with a gift, please click here.

the walking dead

When I was in high school, I told my grandmother that I wanted to be an archaeologist. While everyone around me was telling me that medicine was the right path for me (I’m Indian, it’s the default assumed profession), I was convinced that I would be happy and content digging in the dirt. My grandmother then laughed and asked me why I was so interested in looking for dinosaur bones. When I told her that was paleontology and not archaeology, clearly two different disciplines, she laughed again. Harder.

Needless to say, I am currently not an archaeologist.

For as long as I can remember, the earth and stuff from history buried in the earth have always intrigued me. Geology, paleontology, and archaeology were the stuff that fascinated me as a kid. And Power Rangers, but that’s a different story. I wanted to be a mix of Ross from Friends, who by the way, was a paleontologist, and Indiana Jones. Well, maybe not, but I was very interested in what the ground had to offer for me discover, particularly when it came to ancient cultures and civilizations.

No ancient civilization wooed me as compellingly as ancient Egypt. Egypt, with her dual kingdoms and audacious building projects, themselves little more than monumental grave markers. Historians claim that the Great Sphinx, the Great Pyramid and the other pyramids in the Giza Necropolis were already built and standing for over a millenium before the exodus of the Israelites from the biblical account even happened. Egypt with her pyramids and pharaohs and pantheon of deities. Egypt with her mummies.

Archaeologists have found many of these mummified corpses, housed in elaborate coffins that were then placed in stone sarcophagi. The body of the deceased would be embalmed and wrapped in linens, with its vital organs removed and preserved, and then placed into a carved wooden coffin, which in turn would be placed into the rectangular sarcophagus. The idea was that the spirit of the deceased would return into its body, and so to help the returning spirit distinguish its body, the faces of the pharaohs were carved and painted onto the lids of the sarcophagi.

What strikes me is how bright and vivid these ornate coffins are. Many of them are very stylized and intricate, gilded and painted with deep, rich colors and have been attempted to look lively and life-like. Some of the coffins of the royalty were overlaid with, or even made with gold and silver. And despite how beautiful the outside of the coffin is, just one peek under the lid reveals the grave truth (no pun intended… okay, maybe): what lies within is dead, decaying and decomposing. You will never pop the hood and find life.

That description is pretty accurate when it comes to humanity. We spend so much effort and money and time trying to ensure that we look a certain way, maintain a certain image and have everything in order. We paint ourselves with education, money, and fame, trying convince everyone that what’s on the outside is who we really are. We live to satisfy this image that we bear. And all the while, inside we’re dead. We’re life-less corpses walking around in magnificent human bodies.

This is exactly how the apostle Paul describes us in the New Testament: dead apart from Christ. Not that we’re physically dead (although sin will certainly lead to that) but that spiritually, what lies within our earth-suit lacks a pulse. There seems to be no purpose or goodness to life, and we live knowing that there is more, just unsure of what it is.

But God.

The risen Christ is a testament to Jesus’ power over death. God makes us alive with Christ in His resurrection, reaching into our dead hearts and replacing them with living, beating, thriving hearts. Our spirits can rejoice because in Christ, life has purpose and reason and meaning. We are no longer selfish beings looking to extend our legacies far beyond our lives, which is what the Egyptians had attempted to do with their mummies and building projects. No, we live in Christ as proclaimers of the love of God in this life and heirs of His promise in the hereafter.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—  among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” — Ephesians 2:1-7

In Christ, we are no longer zombies or walking coffins. In Jesus, we do not live in mindless wandering, attempting to appear as if we’re alive. We are alive and our identity is found in Jesus. The image we project is not an idealized self-portrait, but we display and proclaim Christ in our lives. We live to make His name great. Christian, live in this identity.

Two thousand years ago, a body lay in a tomb, wrapped in ceremonial burial linens. This body didn’t stay in the linens, though. Jesus the Christ rose from grave and gives us a promise that if we are in Him, death will not be our final resting place either.