Monday, May 18, 2015

Finding God's Will, Part 5

Here I Am: Now What Should I Be Doing? by Quentin J. Schultze. Baker Books, 2005. 109 pages. ISBN 0801065453 $12.50

Here I Am: Now What on Earth Should I be Doing? by Quentin Schultze is both similar and different from the three other books I earlier reviewed on knowing the will of God for one's life. It is similar because it addresses similar questions of the earlier books: What is God's will for my life? What does he want me to do with my life. It is different because it has a different slant on the subject. It distinguishes vocation (calling) from station, the places we live out our callings. Your stations include "jobs, situations, and relationships." These stations may change every day. Schultze, a professor at Calvin college for over thirty years draws on both his experience of teaching and mentoring college students at Calvin and his own personal experience of following God's call.

Schultze asserts that our primary call is to follow Jesus Christ. We do this through serving others in all of our life's stations. A big part of our call is being care-takers. We are to care for others faithfully wherever God stations us. We are also part of God's plan to renew all things. The author notes, "The Bible says that each of us is called to care for God's world. The Old Testament defines this caring as 'being a blessing to others.' The New Testament focuses on 'loving God and neighbor.' God calls his people of all ages to be sacrificial care-takers, not to selfish career-seekers" (9). Schultze's emphasis on doing the will of God in our current situation is helpful. Too often we focus on the future when God's will lies clearly at hand.

The author believes that "our calling is a life-long process of connecting our shared vocation with our individual stations" (10). In other words, we are to work out our salvation in all of our stations. Our stations will change throughout our life, but our call to follow Christ in all our stations will not.

The book includes eight brief chapters. Chapter one discusses identifying our vocation and stations. The author states that God's call is "more like an unfolding relationship than a carefully planned trip" (13). As declared in the title, we make ourselves available to God. Chapter two tells us how to join God in the renewing of all things. We are to apply our faith to the world. We must live in the world and make a difference. The author notes, "whether we work in education, business, medicine, counseling, or recreation, we can by grace participate in God's renewal of a broken world" (26). Other chapters discuss monitoring our heart, caring for others and our stations, celebrating leisure, "flourishing in communities," friendship, hospitality, being a good neighbor, and leaving a legacy.

This brief book of 108 pages can be read quickly, but will provide much benefit to the reader. Any person seeking to know God's will for her life would not want to overlook this book. The author's emphasis on being faithful to our current situations is a good corrective to overemphasis on future-oriented thinking. In addition, he provides examples and insight on how to make the important decisions that all college students must make.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Finding God's Will, Part 4

I love Kevin DeYoung's title for his book on finding God's Will, Just Do Something. This title explains a major thrust of his book. He wants to prevent people from being passive waiting for some sign from heaven on what they need to do. The author states, "You'll find in this book some of the typical will-of-God fare--how to make wise decisions, how to choose a job, whom to marry, etc. But answering these questions is really not the aim of this book. My goal is not so much to tell you how to hear God's voice in making decisions as it is to help you hear God telling you to get off the long road to nowhere and finally make a decision, get a job, and, perhaps get married" (14).

An alternative title on the cover of the book is interesting too: "How to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, random bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc." DeYoung presents an alternative way on finding God's will. It is similar to Gary Friesen's Decision Making and the Will of God. DeYoung divides the will of God into three parts: God's will of decree which is God's sovereign will, what He has ordained to happen. The second part is God's will of desire. This is the revealed will of God in the Bible. It includes all the commands He has given us to obey. The third part is the "will of direction." This is God's individual will for our life. Does God have a specific plan for our life the author asks. He answers in the affirmative. We can often see this will as we look back on the path we have taken. I often comment I see God's will in the past as I see how he has led me. The author cautions us, "But while we are free to ask God for wisdom, He does not burden us with the task of divining His will of direction for our lives ahead of time" (24). In other words, we are not called to figure out God's secret plan before we make a decision.

The author provides good insight on his chapter are challenges to God's direction. He states that we want to know God's will for us because we want to please God. This is good. He lists some other reasons we seek God's will of direction. One reason is that we are "timid." He means that we are fearful of making a decision because of the consequences. We want to know perfectly before we make a decision. However, that is not how it works in the real world. We walk by faith, and not by sight.

Another reason we seek God's will of direction is because "we are searching for perfect fulfillment in this life" (29). If we are not finding perfect fulfillment in our job, relationships, then we must not be in God's perfect will. The Bible does not teach that our pilgrimage in this world will be a place of paradise. Instead, it teaches that we will experience, struggles, disappointment, and persecution. The author think this way of thinking is caused by the current culture. Another challenge is that we have so many opportunities and choices. Having so many choices paralyze us from acting because we do not know what is the perfect choice. He also thinks another reason is that we are cowardly. We are unwilling to take a risk.

Another problem the author points out is that we do not distinguish between moral and nonmoral decisions. We tend to focus on nonmoral decisions in our search for God's will. Most of our decisions are made about nonmoral matters. For example, what color socks should I wear today? Which college should I attend? Who should I marry? What job should I choose? I think you get the picture.

The traditional approach to seeking God's will seem to imply that God is hiding his will from us. DeYoung argues that it accuses God of being "sneaky." He answers that God does not hide things from His people. another problem is that the traditional approach "encourages a preoccupation with the future" (46). DeYoung notes, "We don't just want His word that He will be with us; we want Him to show us the end from the beginning and prove to us that He can be trusted. We want to know what tomorrow will bring instead of being content with simple obedience on the journey" (47). This focus on the future causes anxiety, discomfort, and frustration. Maybe, we are not getting a sign from heaven because God has already shown us how He wants us to live and has given us freedom to make decisions based on wisdom.

The author lists two other problems with the traditional approach to guidance. First, it "undermines personal responsibility, accountability, and initiative"; second, it "enslaves us in the chains of hopeless subjectivism." Too often we blame God for our poor decision and do not take personal responsibility for them. We can learn from our mistakes. It also prevents taking personal initiative. It makes us passive waiting for some sign. People are actively doing something when God calls them to a specific task. "How can I know God's will" seems to the wrong question. The better question is how can I make wise decision. He quotes from Haddon Robinson: "If we ask, 'How can I know the will of God?' we may be asking the wrong question. The Scriptures do not command us to find God's will for most of life's choices nor do we have any passage instructing on how it can be determined. Equally significant, the Christian community has never agreed on how God provides us with special revelation. Yet we persist in searching for God's will because decisions require thought and sap energy. We seek relief from the responsibility of decision-making and we feel less threatened by being passive rather than active in making choices" (51). This does not mean that God's word has nothing to say on how we live our life. DeYoung notes, "But when it comes to most of our daily decisions, and even a lot of life's 'big' decisions, God expects and encourages us to make choices, confident that He's already determined how to fit our choices into His sovereign will" (51). It is a call to be active, not passive in our decision making.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Finding God's Will Part 3

We are faced with decisions everyday. As committed Christians we want to honor God in our decisions. Some of us fear missing God's will. We struggle with discerning God's will for our life. Does God have an individual will for us? How do we make good decisions that honor God? This struggle to know God's will seems to have started in the nineteenth century. Before that time people had little choice in many of the decisions we now have the freedom to decide for ourselves. J.I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom seeks to answer the questions we have about finding God's will in their book, God's Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions. This book was previously published under the title Guard Us, Guide Us. It seems to be the same book published under a different title.

The authors note the current situation: "During the past century and a half, the topic of guidance from God has become a focus of just such fear in many Christian hearts" (10). The authors believe that individuals basically believed that God in his sovereignty was working out His perfect plans for their life. They think that in the aftermath to the birth of pietism two things went wrong: "First, the notion spread that getting and following direct guidance from God, as something above and beyond making commonsense decisions in Christian terms, was a matter of great importance in the Christian life. Second, God's plan for the Christian individual's life came to be thought of like a travel itinerary in which making planned connections is crucial and missing a connection wrecks the plan and spoils the rest of the journey" (10). One can see how these two things could cause fear and anxiety for the Christian seeking God's guidance. They could expect divine guidance for every little decision they make. It would lead to depending on subjective feelings or putting out fleeces or some special sign on what God wants them to do. One problem we would never mature in our decision making. God does not want us to be robots.

 Packer notes the consequences of this type of thinking: "In consequence, fearful (fear-full) and perplexed anxiety with regard to decision making became widespread among evangelical people. Believers felt unable to make far-reaching decisions until they had received some special personal indication from God as to what they should do. Fear of making what from God's standpoint would be wrong commitments vocationally, professionally, socially, relationally, and matrimonially induced a kind of inner paralysis that resulted in good and desirable commitments not being made, because people could not bring themselves to make any commitments at all" (10) which turns out to be a decision. Does God really want to paralyze our decision-making capability? Something seems to be wrong. It would seem that unless God tells us otherwise he expects us to make wise decisions based on His moral will and in submission to His sovereign will.

One unique feature of this book is that the first chapter emphasizes that we are God's covenant people. We are the sheep and He is the Shepherd. This chapter includes a detailed exposition of Psalms 23. The authors emphasize that "He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake (v.3)." Chapter two quotes a favorite poem of mine by JOhn Henry Newman: "Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead thou me on!/ The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead Thou me on!/Guide thou my feet; I do not ask to see The distant scene; one step enough for me." I think this poem suggest that the future is in God's hand. We can trust Him to guide us. He will provide what we need to make each day's decision. He wants us to use what He has provided for our guidance: reason, the Bible, counsel from other Christians, wisdom and common sense. We expect our children to grow in wisdom in making good decisions. We are co-workers with God. The authors give us the way for wise decision making: "But the wise Christian seeking God's guidance doesn't start with impressions and subjective fantasies. Wise Christians start with the written Word of God, which they receive as their guidebook, as from the hand of Jesus Christ himself. We make our decisions in the light of what Scripture actually says and then, following on from that, in the light of wisdom that comes to us as we soak ourselves in God's word" (59). Other resources for following God's will for your life are being in good spiritual health, counsel from mature Christians, following good role models. and guidance from the Holy Spirit. God is our Good Shepherd. He will guide us and he will correct us when we get off track.

Packer lists some tips for following God's Guidance:

  1. What is the best I can do for God?
  2. Submit to the teachings of scripture. Some of these are to love God and our neighbor.
  3. Follow examples of godly Christians in the Bible.
  4. Use wisdom in making decisions. Draw on the counsel of others.
  5. Listen to what God may be speaking to you in your heart.
  6. Experience God's peace that He provides
  7. Observe the circumstances
  8. Do not expect guidance before the decision needs to be made.
  9. Be open to God guiding you to something you would not choose.
  10. If you make a bad decision, it is not the end of the world. We learn from our mistakes. We grow in skill as we apply scripture to our daily lives.
In the appendix, the authors include words from John Newton on the subject of "Divine Guidance." 
God's Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions is a good guide to understanding how to follow God's direction from life. It is both biblical and helpful. The writing is good and easy to understand. The authors provide examples to illustrate their point. One thing was not quite sure about. The authors note we are not to trust impressions or subjective feelings. But they state that God's peace confirms his guidance. Packer notes, "The gift of God-centered pace of heart as we contemplate and embrace the best, wisest, and most God-honoring option open to us is God's ordinary way of confirming to us that we have attained the wisdom that we sought by observing circumstances, praying for a clear head and discerning heart, searching the Scriptures, consulting experienced friends, and thinking hard before the Lord" (236). I do believe that if we do these things God will guide us. Much of how people seek guidance seems more like paganism than Christianity.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Finding, Discovering, or Discerning God's Will Part 2

In the second part of finding God's will, we will analyze four recent books on knowing God's Will: God's Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions by J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom, Here I Am: Now What on Earth Should I Be Doing by Quentin Schultze, Decision Making by the Book: How to Choose Wisely in an Age of Options by Haddon W. Robinson, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will by Kevin DeYoung.

Decision Making by the Book by Haddon Robinson emphasizes making wise decisions guided by the Bible. The author distinguishes between three wills of God: Sovereign will, moral will, and individual will. Robinson defines God's sovereign will as "God's purpose from eternity past to eternity future whereby He determines all that shall take place" (21). Some refer to this as God's secret will. The Bible teaches us that the secret things belong to God, but His revealed will is to be obeyed. The author thinks that God might reveal parts of it to us.

God's moral will is what is given to us in the Bible. Robinson writes, "The Scriptures tell us what God wants us to believe and how God wants us to behave. This is the moral will of God, and it is clear" (22). I think it was Mark Twain who said it is not God's secret will that bothers him, but His revealed will. In other words, what bothers Him is that he knows what God wants him to believe and do, but he would prefer not knowing these things. It seems God is more interested in our character than where we live or work.

The third level of God's will is His individual will. This is what people are referring to when they say, "How can I know God's will"? The author states his view on God's individual will: God works out His sovereign will through all men and women. He has revealed to us His moral will. But He doesn't necessarily reveal His specific, individual will to us. It's possible that He does this at special times for some Christians, but we have no solid biblical testimony on that point" (23). The author believes God's guidance is through the Bible. That the Bible will equip us to do every good work as 2Timothy 3:16 says. The author thinks "How do I know God's will" is an inappropriate question. He states, "In God's sovereignty, according to His moral will, we have the freedom and responsibility to choose" (50). The key question is "How do I make good decisions"?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Finding, Discovering or Discerning God's Will: Which is it?

Decision Making & the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View By Gary Friesen with J. Robin Maxon. Multonomah Press, 1980. 452 pages. A new updated version was published in 2004. The old version is more familiar to most people.

Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will by Kevin DeYoung. Moody Publishers, 2009. 128 pages.

Here I Am: Now What on Earth Should I Be Doing? by Quentin J. Schultze. Baker Books, 2005. 109 pages.

Decision Making by the Book: How to Choose Wisely in an Age of Options by Haddon W. Robinson. Discovery House, 1998. 151 pages.

God's Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions by J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom. Baker Books, 2008. 270 pages.

Finding, Discovering, or Discern God's Will: Which is It? Does these words signify different things. I think they might. Finding God's Will might imply that it is loss. All three words seem to suggest activity but those who suggest these terms might think differently. Many people who speak about finding God's will mean by this statement that God already has your life planned out. He has picked out your mate, college, job, or career. So you have to wait to God reveals these things before you act. This is often referred to as the Traditional view or the Bull's Eye view. One alternative view sees that God gives us a lot of freedom. Holders of this view do not believe there is just one right place to live, one right person to marry, or one right career. I think Friesen was one of the first people who contrasted these views arguing against the Traditional view. I will try first to illustrate these ideas through my own experience and certain individuals I have known. The second part will look at the arguments made by the authors of these books. These are not the only books that discuss this topic, but I have found them useful and I have read them recently, except for Friesen's book. I plan on reading his updated version soon.

I became a Christian when I was eighteen years old at a medium-sized Baptist church. I had just started attending church for the first time in my life. Soon after making this decision, I began to sense that God wanted me to surrender my whole life to Him. Soon after making this surrender, I felt God was calling me into the ministry. I was licensed by my church and began preaching. I knew that I would need a college degree to do theological training at the graduate level, so I went to college. I went to college with the intention of getting a piece of paper that would allow me to go to seminary. A strange thing occurred during this process, however. Around the beginning of my third year of college I fell in love with learning. I did not seek it any longer as a means to another end. During my college years is also when I read Friesen's book and other books on finding God's will. Close to graduation I believed God was calling me to be a Christian scholar. I sensed that my place was in the academy. Since I had already planned to go to seminary I went. I stayed at seminary for one semester and hated it. I could not find a job. I didn't feel comfortable at the seminary. I left the seminary at the end of the term feeling like a failure. What was I to do now? I decided to return to my undergraduate institution to pursue a master's degree in history. I was even awarded a graduate assistantship. I believed the university was a better fit for me personally.

Nearing the end of my graduate degree I needed to decide if I would pursue a Ph.D in history. Instead, I decided to get married and go to work. I applied for an elementary teaching job at a private school close to home. The principal of the school called me to see if I would be willing to work in the library instead. The school librarian wanted to return to the classroom. I told him that would be great. I had been thinking about going to library school at LSU for a couple of years. I had worked as a library worker most of my time in college. The school even helped me to pay for school.

When I was nearing graduation in library school, my wife needed to move closer to home. It just happened that the University of Mobile had an opening where she wanted to move. I sent them a resume and they called me for an interview. They offered the job to me and I accepted it. I stayed there for a few years. I did not make much at the school, so I accepted a collection Development librarian position at the Mobile Public Library. After being at the library my position was eliminated, so I accepted another position with a pay cut. About a year later I accepted a school librarian position with Mobile County school system. I had worked at school libraries, a university and a public library. I believed that I was more content at the college and university level. It was a better fit for me. So I accepted a library position in Florida at a Christian college. I have now been here for twelve years and am quite content. The school had offered the amount that my wife and I decided we would need to move. We did not tell them what this amount was. I felt after the interview and the offer that it was the right place for us and it has proved to be.

About four years ago I present a paper on Faith and Learning at the University of Mobile. A couple of Professors from Faulkner University presented papers at this conference too. It so happened that we ate together and became more acquainted with each other. They informed us (a couple of colleagues) that they would be starting a Ph.D in the Humanities. I was interested in this program because it was going to be based on the Great Books. I had thought to myself that I wished there was a great books program on a graduate level that I could pursue. Though I was interested in the program, I did not see how I could finance it. I decided to go ahead and seek to enter the program. I was able to get the finances to pay for the first semester and the approval of my family. After finishing the first semester I lost the financial support and the support of key individuals in my life. I decided it was not meant to be. So I felt I was putting this desire for a Ph.D on the shelf permanently. I felt I could finally live with the idea of not getting a Ph.D. However, certain circumstances occurred that brought the desire off the shelf. My supervisor asked me if I was still doing the Ph.D. I told him I had stopped because of certain circumstances. He told me he thought he would support me if I chose to do it again. My wife suggested I could do it if the school paid for it. My school was unable to pay for it. My supervisor suggested I apply for a doctoral scholarship which I did. I will find out in two months if I will receive this scholarship.

Since It would take a year to find out if I would receive the funding to return to Faulkner University that I would spend the year discerning God's will for my life. I thought it would be a good time to evaluate my life and direction since I am at the mid-point of my life. I have done a lot of reading, praying, thinking and talking with others about direction for my life. It has been about ten months since I started this project. I think pursuing the Ph.D at Faulkner is the next step for my life. However, I will continue to wait on God and trust him to make it possible.

There are experiences by two individuals close to me that seem instructive. One of the individuals went to college to be a minister. He has a passion for ministry. The one thing he has wanted to do all his life is to pastor a church. He went to a church in view of becoming their pastor. He didn't get the position, so he decided he would not go to another church in view of becoming their pastor. I have never understood why he gave up trying to become a pastor. A second friend wanted to be a pastor. He waited many years to receive a call, but it never came. Is there a better way to discern God's will? Was it God's will for these two people to become pastors? Did they miss out? It makes me wonder.