4/28/10

God's Will: Forget the 'Dot'

I recently pulled a book off my bookshelves that has gathered dust since the 1980s. It’s a book I’d always meant to read. How I wish that I had. I've found such freedom in its words.

Garry Friesen and J. Robin Maxson wrote Decision-Making and the Will of God to combat the anxiety and frustration many Christians find in the traditional view of seeking God’s Will. The book was one of the “Critical Concerns” books with a strong commitment to the authority of Scripture, addressing contemporary issues like caring for the terminally ill or transparency in communication. Friesen and Maxon’s book presented a biblical alternative to the traditional view of decision-making.

The authors explain that in the traditional view, God has a sovereign will, moral will, and individual will. It is the “individual will” that they challenge. Space does not allow me a thorough review of the book here, but let me share some basics.

As I read the book, I found myself sighing … or rather, relaxing. I grew up with threats that if I missed “the perfect will of God”—His perfect individual will for my life in every decision—I’d have to be content with God’s permissive will. Miss the dot? Second best. Bummer!

The authors say that the idea of an individual will of God for every detail of every person’s life is not found in scripture. There were cases of divine guidance, but they were the exception to the rule, given to people who played strategic roles in world evangelization or during the formative years of the church—and it was always communicated by supernatural revelation. For the great body of believers, they say, specific guidance is not offered for the little practical choices of life: "Which blouse do I wear, the red one or the blue?" "Who do I marry?" ... except that we are to marry believers. "Do I live in a condo or a ranch house?" "Do I pick sweet potatoes or rice for dinner?"

The authors explore the original language of popular “direction” verses, and show that God’s will really is revealed in scripture—in His moral will—and we are all also subject to God’s sovereign will.

The alternative view of decision-making, which they call “The Way of Wisdom,” is not a matter of finding the perfect “dot” of God’s will, but rather, an area of freedom” within the circle of God’s moral will. Areas that are specifically addressed by the Bible are to be obeyed, but where the Bible gives no command or principle (non-moral decisions), the believer is free and responsible to choose his or her own course of action—just as Adam and Eve were given great freedom to choose within God’s established boundaries (Genesis 2:16-17).

Within God’s boundaries, we can analyze, evaluate, judge and discern wisely, and then freely determine our choices. For God’s children, the authors state, “all things within the moral will of God are lawful (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23), clean (Mark 7:19; Luke 11:41; Rom. 14:14, 20), and pure (Titus 1:15).” In non-moral decisions, then, the goal of the believer is to make decisions based on what is best to get the job done (Rom. 14:5, 10, 12).

The believer’s attitudes should include humility and submission to God in advance, plus the willingness to seek God’s wisdom (James 1:5-8). The authors quote Canadian theologian J. I Packer: “Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it.” Other helpful attitudes in making decisions are a teachable spirit, an ethic of diligence, and a heart of faith and uprightness.

This “Way of Wisdom” takes away the anxiety of decision-making and leads to greater excitement in making choices!

How about you? What do you believe the Bible teaches about decision-making?


4/21/10

Calculated Service

Seldom has a poem so rocked my world.

South African Joe Seramane wrote about how we respond in such calculated, manipulative ways to the daily callings of God. He ended with a prayer seeking God’s forgiveness.

Let me just share Seramane's poem. See if his words grip your heart the way they did mine.

You asked for my hands that you might use them for your purposes.
I gave them for a moment then withdrew them, for the work was hard.
You asked for my mouth to speak out against injustice. I gave you a whisper that I might not be accused.
You asked for my eyes to see the pain of poverty. I closed them for I did not want to see.
You asked for my life that you might work through me. I gave you a small part that I might not get “too involved.”

Lord, forgive me for calculated efforts to serve you only when it is convenient for me to do so, and only in those places where it is safe to do so, and only with those who make it easy to do so. Father, forgive me, renew me, send me out as a usable instrument, that I may take seriously the meaning of your cross.

~ Joe Seramane (Lifelines, Christian Aid, 1987)

That one phrase, “Lord, forgive me for calculated efforts to serve you,” describes (too often) the quality of my service. How rarely I pour out my service with lavish love. I say I want to make a difference, yet am I truly usable when I qualify my service?

Some of my personal strengths include planning ahead, counting the cost, organizing, and making wise choices. But those strengths can also set the stage for selfishness, if God is moving in another direction or asking for more.

God is not pleased with incomplete obedience, conditional commitment, or calculated service—those times when we hold back as He calls us to give, to get involved, to make a difference. We are to live like Christ who prayed, "Not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39). Surrender and fear of the Lord are the key to knowing and doing God's will; He looks for the condition of our hearts (Psalm 25:12; Psalm 25:9).

Calculated service? Father God, forgive.


What about you? How do you prevent a spirit of calculated ministry?

For more thoughts about total surrender, see "Letting God Choose."

4/14/10

Kathy Howard: Scripture-Based Choices

Kathy is one of those “instant friend” people. I met her while attending CLASS (Christian Leaders and Speakers Seminar) in Albuquerque a few years ago. We spent only a few hours together, but I felt I’d known her for years.

Our paths sort of crossed again when, a year ago, I used her scholarly, motivating book, Before His Throne: Discover the Wonder of Intimacy with a Holy God, as the basis for a series I taught ladies in my Sunday school class. Kathy says her decision to receive Christ “completely determined the direction” of her life. “Because my life belongs to Jesus,” she said, “that relationship guides—or at least should guide—every choice I make.

I asked Kathy about her most difficult and rewarding choice in life so far, and she surprised me with her answer.

Kathy: Ironically, my most difficult choice and my most rewarding choice are the same one—the decision to follow God’s direction and go to seminary.
Dawn: Tell me about that.
Kathy: I was a middle-aged mother of three. Going back to school after 20 years was not only challenging, it turned our household upside-down. But God honored that obedience. The kids always had dinner and clean clothes, but they had to learn to help! God also used those years to prepare and equip me for the next steps of obedience.

Dawn: Perhaps you’ll write a book about biblical parenting someday. Your writing is challenging and I’m sure you’d have many “learned by experience” stories. But what led you to write your most recent book, and is there anything in the book about making choices?
Kathy: My newest Bible study, God’s Truth Revealed: Biblical Foundations for the Christian Faith, developed directly from a ministry God had me in teaching the Bible to adults who had never studied it before. The experience taught me how and what they needed to learn to make a decision about Jesus Christ. That is the main purpose of the study—to give readers all the biblical truth they need to make a decision about what to do about a relationship with Jesus.

Dawn: If it is anything like your previous book, it will be powerful and motivating! Ministry is important to you as a Bible study author, speaker, and teacher, but I know that your family is also a true priority. What has been the hardest decision you’ve made in your marriage or in parenting?
Kathy: I have two daughters, 22 and 20, and one son, 17. My husband and I have had to make some decisions on disciplining our kids that were not easy. One of our daughters in particular had some rebellious years. We had to stand firm with her even though it made her not like us for a while. I’m happy to say she has grown into an amazing young woman.

Dawn: I know that you love to ski with your family—you seem like an adventurous woman. If you knew that the results would be positive, what adventurous “no fear” choice would you make in the days ahead?
Kathy: I’d go on a mission trip to the Sudan to help a friend of mine who is a missionary there. Things are really volatile there now with the upcoming elections.

Dawn: We’ve talked about choices before. What motivates you concerning the choices you make?
Kathy: I want all my choices to be exactly the ones God wants me to make. Yet, I know my own desires have sometimes driven my choices. I wonder what great things from God I’ve missed out on because of that.

Dawn: Me, too, Kathy. I want my choices to be His. In fact, the scripture that I’m claiming for my ministry is Psalm 40:8: “I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” We can pray for each other—that God will help us to make wise, godly choices aligned with His heart.
Kathy: Yes. One of my favorite verses is about making a choice: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve … But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15.
Dawn: Thank you for sharing with us today, Kathy.

For more information about Kathy, check out her website and blog.


4/7/10

Light for Our Darkest Night

Maggie Paulus vividly remembers the night she struggled with her Maker, questioning Him and letting Him know exactly what she thought. She retraced her memories ... moments when she was hurt the most. "Where were You when this happened?" she asked. "Where were You when that happened?" The nagging questions were like barbed wire in her tender heart.

Adopted as a little girl, her life before she was rescued was "unsettling," she said. As a teenager, she struggled as she processed those early years. The wounds were deep, and she struggled with the "why." Her mother introduced Maggie to the Lord the same year she and her dad adopted her. Maggie learned that God is kind, loving, and merciful. But her questions remained. "If He was truly kind, if He was truly loving, if He was truly merciful, then how," she asked, "could He allow such awful things to happen to a little girl who couldn't protect herself?"

Maggie quieted her heart in brokenness, waiting for God's answer, and it came. Rather, God came.

Maggie gave her questions to God, and wrote this poem when she was 15 years old:

In The Darkness
By Maggie Johnson Paulus

In the darkness of the night I cry. Something doesn't seem so right, and why?
Thoughts so painful flood my mind of long ago. I thought I'd left them far behind ~ tears flow.

I am the same as I was then, isn't it so? I don't know how or why or when ~ so long ago.
I call to You and ask You why ... tears I shed. All that I can do is cry upon my bed.

But then a gleaming Light I see, and I feel the loving touch that comforts me
and always will.
You kiss away the tears upon my face, And all the hurt I feel inside, You erase.

In the darkness of the night, I rest my head till morning's light upon Your chest.*

"Now, it's hard to explain in words what exactly happened in the healing of my soul," Maggie says, "but I will try. Because I feel you must know, that when life hurts the most, there is a Healer. The Good Shepherd came gently to this little broken lamb and showed me that all the bad stuff that made me sad made Him sad, too. It broke His heart."

God was not distant; He was there in Maggie's pain. He saw, cared, and hurt with her. Then He took the evil that was intended to harm her and used it for her good. And because she suffered, Maggie's heart remains tender to the hurts that others feel. She is sensitive and aware in a way that she couldn't be, had she not experienced pain in her own life. The memories of suffering are still clear, but the pain surrounding them is gone forever.

"By His stripes we are healed" (Is. 53:5). Jesus indeed healed Maggie's wounds. "Now all I see is the goodness of my Rescuer and what He has done," she said. Maggie says she longs for those with deep aches to experience the Comforter, too.

To know Maggie today, you'd never imagine that she suffered as a child. Jesus changed everything! God has blessed her with a precious husband and family. Quirky, fun, and joyful in Jesus, she blesses everyone she meets and points them to her Rescuer, her Redeemer.

We have just celebrated Easter ~ commemorating our risen Lord. It was for little girls like Maggie that the Savior came, died, and conquered the power of sin and death. Jesus gives hope for all who sit in darkness: "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned" (Isaiah 9:2, NIV).

*From "Maggie's Musings"
“When Memories Brought Pain," 2-11-2-10
Story and poem used with permission