Thursday, 20 January 2011

Thinking Thursday: The Narrow Will of God

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. [Matt. 7: 13, 14]

This message was for those seeking to follow Jesus. It goes with his message “no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14: 6) The emphasis is that of the many ways one can live, there is only one way to come to the Lord God. The gate is narrow, there is only one way through.

However, once through the gate, once on the way, many Christians continue to believe that the way is narrow. They believe that God’s will has a very specific, very detailed plan for their life, and they must be careful not to stray from it. They fret their lives away trying to determine the will of God in every situation and worrying in case they miss it. Let us pursue that thought for a moment, and see where it leads.

If God’s will is so narrow, then becoming a Christian puts you in a straight jacket. Where does that leave free will? I do not propose to get into the question of foreordination and free will. That has challenged great minds for centuries. Let us just consider God’s plan for your life.

If God’s plan is so detailed, why are you not aware of his leading in every small decision you make, many times in a day? What shall I wear? What shall I have for breakfast? Which friend shall I call for a chat? You may think that level of detail is absurd. God doesn’t care what you have for breakfast, or maybe only to the extent that he wants you to eat healthily and look after your body. But you know that already, from scripture. (Is it possible that the rest of God’s plan is in scripture too?) If God’s plan does not go down to that level of detail, where do you draw the line? After all, the friend you call may be the one in need who had not thought to call you.

Whatever level of detail you settle on, because you are not aware of God’s direction in every decision, there must be times, many times, when you chose wrongly. That means that God’s purposes are thwarted, and he has to make adjustments to his plan. Can you see God continually having to re-think things for millions of people because they have not stayed within his narrow will? What kind of a God is that? And what kind of a child of God are you, to be outside his will so often?

Can you see that this makes us flawed followers of a flawed God? We cannot tolerate the thought of a flawed God, and though we know we are flawed, to fail God that often is a great burden. The Bible has much to say about our status as forgiven, saved children of God; about the work of the Holy Spirit within us to make us better servants. This idea only gives us a huge burden of guilt for letting God down so often and frustration at not being able to determine his will for us. When you think it through it does not ring true.

Let me give an example. Suppose I am not very happy in my job and have been trying to find another job - so far without success. Is this God telling me that it is his will that I stay in my current job? Or could it be that which job I do is irrelevant to his plan and I just haven’t been good enough for any of the jobs I have applied for? It makes a difference whether I keep trying or not.

I believe that God gave me a mind, and asks me to worship him with it too (Matt. 22: 37). I think he expects me to use good judgement in making decisions, using the intelligence he has given me and the guidelines he has given in the Bible. If he wants me to do or say a certain thing because it is important to his plan, I am sure he will make it plain. If he needs me to be in a certain place, he will make sure I get there. There is no way that God’s plan can be blocked or spoiled, otherwise he would not be God.

“the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men” (Daniel 4:25, cf 5:21). He knows, and foreknows, all things, and His foreknowledge is foreordination; He, therefore, will have the last word, both in world history and in the destiny of every man; His kingdom and righteousness will triumph in the end, for neither men nor angels shall be able to thwart Him. [J I Packer, Knowing God, p.27]

Or as God himself has said:

I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand,
and I will do as I please…
What I have said, that will I bring about;
what I have planned, that will I do. [Isaiah 46:10, 11b]

When I pray to know God’s will, I ask him to make it plain if there is a certain way to take, but otherwise to help me to use what he has already given me to make the best decision. I even think sometimes there is no right way, but I can have free choice of what I want to do. It doesn’t matter. If it did, God would tell me.

The day you decide to live this way, a great burden of guilt and frustration will fall from you and you will be able to serve God better as you learn and grow.

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