Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Center of God's Will

Big things are happening in many lives. For example, in the next two weeks we're celebrating weddings, our intern Paul Gustafson has graduated and is seeking his next call, and others are wondering how to move through the next phase of life. The church denomination we belong to will be making some big decisions this summer too.

If we are wise, we will always seek to know God's will. Back in February I reported what Nicky Gumbel says about this in the Alpha program. What follows here is something I also found helpful. It's from Richard Jensen's commentary on next Sunday's reading from Acts.

I've appreciated this particular teacher's work ever since I read his book Touched By the Spirit many years ago. Our paths crossed twice after that: as he taught in the first semester when I was a student at Wartburg Seminary. A couple of years later I was privileged to attend scripture studies he led at an annual a gathering of American Lutheran missionaries in Campinas, Brazil in 1984. You can read more about him here.

Anyway, this is what Dick writes about knowing God's will:
"About twenty years ago, a denominational church paper produced a series of articles based on the questions most commonly asked by people in the pews. The most commonly asked question was: "How do I figure out God's will for my life?"

People want to know the true purpose of their lives. Let me suggest three things that can be said in answer to this question.

First, we know the framework of God's will for our lives in this world: we are called to love God and to love our neighbor (cf. Matthew 22:36-40 and 1 John 4:20-21).

All the decisions we make about our lives ought to be framed within these two great commandments. Our lives are not our own to do with as we please. We are called to love God by loving our neighbor. This is the framework in which our lives ought to be lived.

Second, we know we live our lives under the canopy of God's forgiving love.

This is a very important reality. I do not believe that God's specific will for our life is revealed to many of us for "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).

We can pray and pray for God's specific will to be revealed to us, but few of us will have our prayers answered. So, as Martin Luther advised, we will have to choose boldly our path. We don't often know for certain which is the right path. We choose, knowing that God's forgiving love will sustain us in the midst of lives' many decisions.

And third, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

In Romans 8:28 we read, "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God..." God is at work in the midst of our decisions.

In a sense, this passage from Romans tells us that God is always working to make the best out of our decisions. Our bad decisions do not separate us from God. As people claimed by Jesus Christ and committed to Jesus Christ, we choose, we decide, and we act.

We act in the assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.
Not all that satisfying, is it? Nicky Gumbel's How God Leads is a more hopeful on the specifics. I'm not sure I agree that "few" of us will have God's specific will revealed... sometimes we don't have those prayers answered because we only pray alone, or because we aren't willing to listen to advice and common sense along with specific guidance from God. I'm also a bit puzzled about why he says little about the role of specific Bible teachings such as the commandments (of course, as interpreted by Jesus himself). But, on the other hand, I appreciate Pastor Jensen's humble emphasis on the center of God's will, which is always LOVE... God's LOVE for us and his love reflected in our lives dedicated for the good of others.

No matter how we might perceive God speaking to us, His Love always needs to be in the center of all our pursuit of God's will and our listening for God's voice.


  1. This is great information to some questions I struggle with. As summer approaches my family frequently escapes to the cabin in northern MN for rest and family time. It is an awesome gift from God and we truly enjoy. So much happiness and joy is felt at the cabin. I often wonder if this is his plan? It always feels right, but I wonder? I believe he sees how it strenghthens our family.

  2. Family is important, so important... I will be writing some on this as we move toward the weddings we'll celebrate this week and next. Love, of course, extends way beyond our blood relatives to the communities we live and relax in... so we can't leave those "others" out of what we do... That's why I believe "worshiping weekly" should be with others beyond our own personal family wherever we are, whether at the cabin or at home... Also we have the opportunity to serve others in the places where we play. Our challenge, when we escape to northern Wisconsin to Toni's family cabin, is to not forget those who can't escape due to financial or other reasons. When we honor the Lord during our cabin time, by worshiping at a local church there, doing more scripture & spiritual study, stepping aside from the media to pray and seek God's will, it can truly be blessed time. Our family, like yours, is so much strengthened when we can get away. Bringing others along can be good too.