Thursday, November 19, 2015

Every Life is a Plan of God: Discovering His Will for Your Life

J. Oswald Sanders, Every Life is a Plan of God: Discovering His Will for Your Life. Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 1992.

This post will interact with two works: Sander's book and Roger Olson's post on his blog a couple of years ago. They both deal with a topic that seems never to get old or fails to spark controversy. Of course, I am speaking of discovering God's will for one's life. First, I will start with a quote from Olson's post:

"There is probably no more important and confusing issue for Christian young people than 'finding God's will for life.' Many have heard that 'God has a wonderful plan for your life' and been urged to seek God for his will. Whether told or not, many have concluded that they should wait until God revealed his will or pray fervently for a revelation of his will before making any important life decisions. Many become all tied up in knots wondering what God's will is for their lives and attempting to find it. Some are paralyzed by uncertainty and miss opportunities; others rush into rash decisions because someone prophesied over them or they dropped their Bible open, pointing to a passage at random and interpreted that as God's will. Others have followed Gideon's example and put out 'fleeces,' tests to determine God's will. 'God, if you want me to marry Becky, make it rain tonight.' "

These words sound quite to familiar to me as I am sure it does to my reader. Why do so many people struggle to find God's will? Why does it seem to be hidden from us? Does God have it already all planned out before we do it? Is there a perfect blueprint for our life. J. Oswald Sanders' book, Every Life is a Plan of God: Discovering His Will for Your Life seems to imply by the title that God has a perfect plan for our life even before we seek it. We will need to examine the book to see this what the content of the book actually teaches. The question could be phrased this way, "Does God have an ideal and detailed will and plan for every life? What do you think?

This is not the first book I have read by Sanders and I have enjoyed his other books I have read. I have great respect for Sanders as a Christian leader, author, and teacher. He published such classics as Spiritual Leadership and Leading Like Paul. For many years he was the general director of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship. He authored more than forty books on the Christian life. It is interesting that he wrote Every Life is a Plan of God near the end of his life. Sanders notes, "In the course of more than sixty-five years of Christian work in the homelands and overseas, I have had many opportunities to prove the Lord in the matter of guidance, I have not always been sensitive and obedient to the Lord's leading, I regret to say. But I can say with truth that there has never been a time when I have sought guidance from the Lord with total willingness to do what He revealed that I have not received clear and satisfying guidance from Him" (120-21). It is wise to listen to experienced saints who have followed God in obedience for many years.

There are many strengths to this book. It is quite balanced. It pays attention to the intellect in God's guidance. It warns again expecting miracles on a regular basis in seeking God's guidance. It emphasizes the importance of scripture in seeking God's will. Sanders shows practical wisdom in the principles he declares and he acknowledges that God's guidance might be different with different individuals. A helpful chapter is for those considering missionary work is chapter 6, "Guidance in Missions." In addition, it provides useful information on seeking God's will in vocation in many different areas. The author believes there is a "divine plan for our lives," but he does not think it is "like an architect's blueprint" (12). He believes we have free choice. Every day we make choices that will affect our life. In a sense, we are co-creators with God. I do not see our lives as a sheet of paper  already filled in. I see it more as empty space waiting to be filled in by us in partnership with God. It seems God gives us freedom in many of our choices. God is more concerned on who we are than where we live or who we marry. It does seem we often worry needless. Here are two quotes on how others see seeking God's will:

" Isn't the matter of God's will not so much about what God wants me to do (find a job, get married, which school to go--all of which have their importance) as it is about discovering God's overall, eternal will, that is what He wants from creation to the New Jerusalem?"

It seems God is more concerned about our relationship with Him and how we are growing in Him. Are we growing in our faith in and our love for Him?

The second quote is one I have been thinking about:

"Forget the blueprint. Toss it because the only reason we want it is we don't like taking risks and learning the 'will of God' through the school of hard knocks, failures, mistakes and miscalculations." This does seem true to me. We want absolute certainty. We want guarantees that this decision will work perfectly. Maybe, God wants us to learn from our mistakes. Isn't that how growth occurs.

Overall, I think Sanders' book is well balanced. He provides different methods that God uses to guide us. Some of these are: Scripture, counselors, prayer, reason, circumstances, our desires, gifts, talents, and temperament. He warns us the danger of following impressions and seeking fleeces and forbidden practices like astrology. He provides excellent help on how to know if you are called to be a missionary. In the last two chapter he provides practical wisdom on how to choose wisely. He distinguishes between personal decisions that affect lifestyle or vocation, straightforward decisions, non-moral decisions,and indeterminate matters. In the last chapter he provides cautions about guidance. One is "paying more attention to the mechanics of guidance than to the leading of the Gide" (149). Understand that we are not infallible. We might discern God's guidance wrongly. I think he would say that when many methods point in the same direction, we can be confident with our decision.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion?

Bruce K. Waltke, Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? Eerdmans, 2002. 187 pages. ISBN: 0-8028-3974-6

Bruce Waltke begins his book by asking the question, Is finding God's will a biblical idea? This might sound like a crazy question. However, Waltke's point is that many people seek for God's will in a way condemned in Scripture. Early on in his book Waltke defines the term, the will of God. Waltke states, "The will of God can refer not only to His immutable decrees and His pleasures but also to His general providence" (9). It also refers to "His specific choices in perplexing situation" (10). This idea relates to the title to finding God's will. It is in perplexing situations that people seek God's guidance. One of the problems is that people fear of making a mistake. He shows how many Christians search for God's will is similar to practices of pagans described in the OLD Testament.

Finding the Will of God can be divided into two parts. In the first part the author discusses whether seeking God's will is a biblical idea. In the second part Waltke shows us how God guides us through His Word, godly desires, the counsel of others, circumstances, and good judgement. The chapter on good judjement provides five principles for discerning God's guidance. First, you are to make your decision "in the light of Scripture." Our decisions must not contradict the teachings of scripture. Second, we are to make our decision in "light of our giftedness." We are to pay attention to our gifts and abilities. I have seen this point in many books about God's will. Our decisions should not go against our giftedness. It is wise to make decisions in line with our "gifts and talents, our temperament and circumstances." Third, we are to make our decision in light of "according to our ability." We need to know who we are. Waltke believes "Christians must know who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and they must be content within those limitations." It is sad when Christians do not accept themselves and try to be something that they are not. Fourth, make your decision in light of your circumstances. Circumstances should not make our decision for us, but it is foolish to ignore them. God is often at work in our circumstances. Fifth, we are to make our decision "according to an overall strategy." We need to evaluate decisions according to our priorities and our long-range plan. How will this decision help us to accomplish our overall plan? Usually we have a sense where God is directing us and how He has directed us in the past.

These are excellent principles that will help us in making good decisions. We should not allow fear to hinder us from making decisions. We learn from our mistakes and failure. Even when we make bad choices God is able to work through them. We can trust that our lives are in God's hands. Overall, this book guides us to apply God's wisdom to make decisions.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Learning in War-Time

"Learning in War-time is one of my favorite short pieces by C. S. Lewis. It was originally delivered to Oxford students in England on verge of war. In it Lewis asks how can we pursue learning when war is going on? Lewis asks another question to bring the question in context: How can we pursue learning when people are dying and going to hell? This is an important question? It is a question I have asked myself.

I come from a broken home. My parents divorced when I was ten and before that time the home was not stable. In middle school I became involved with the wrong people and eventually dropped out of school in ninth grade. When I was eighteen I became a Christian. Soon after I went to college. During my first year at the college I began asking myself the question, How can I be pursuing learning when people are going to hell? I had not read Lewis yet. It would be several years before I would read "Learning in War-Time. After a few years in college I discovered that learning was an end itself. It is interesting that when I first read "Learning in War-Time, I discovered I had come to similar conclusions on my own. Lewis gives not only reasons for pursuing the intellectual life, but important truths about calling itself.

Lewis hits a home-run from the start: "A university is a society for the pursuit of learning. As students, you will be expected to make yourselves, into what the Middle Ages called clerks: or to start making yourselves, into philosophers, scientists, scholars, critics, or historians." He notes that this might seem an odd thing since they might not have time to finish before called to the war. So why begin something we cannot finish? Lewis tells them there is a even greater question, How can we pursue learning when people's lives hang in the balance.

Lewis explains that this is really no situation: "The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun." The war did not create any new situation. Should learning be pursued or not? If so for what reasons. I will now list some of the reasons Lewis gives.

First, there is a deep desire for knowledge and beauty inside us. God did not create this desire needlessly. It is part of who we are. Lewis shows how people in the past "wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable time that never comes."

Second, we will pursue lesser things if we do not pursue more excellent things like truth, goodness, and beauty. Lewis states, "If you attempted. . . to suspend your whole intellectual and aesthetic activity, you would only succeed in substituting a worse cultural life for a better. You are not, in fact, going to read nothing, (he was not aware of our own time period)either in the church or in the line: if you don't go on thinking rationally, you will think irrationally. If you reject aesthetic satisfactions, you will fall into sensual satisfactions." How many hours to we spend before electronic media vegging out? How often do we read a book to improve our learning? What do we spend our money on?

Third, we can pursue learning to the glory of God. Lewis notes, "All our merely natural activities will be accepted, if they are offered to God, even the humblest, and all of them, even the noblest, will be sinful if they are not." God calls us to different stations. God's will is for us to do our very best wherever He places us. Lewis describes how we can know and fulfill our own vocation. Lewis says, "We are members of one body, but differentiated members, each with his own vocation. A man's upbringing, his talents, his circumstances, are usually a tolerable index of his vocation. If our parents have sent us to Oxford, if our country allows us to remain there, this is prima facie evidence that the life which we, at any rate, can best lead to the glory of God is the learned life." The intellectual life is not the call for everyone, but it is the call for some. God calls us to be obedient to our vocation.

Fourth, the intellectual life supports the church. The church needs learned people to defend it against attacks. In addition, it needs scholars to teach and preach. Lewis notes, "If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now--and not be able to meet the enemies on their own ground--would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have under God, no defense against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered."

These are some of the reasons Lewis gives for pursuing the Intellectual life. When Lewis is speaking of learning he is speaking of the liberal arts. He believed that truth and beauty must be sought for their own sake, not that they are not sought for God's sake. He also thought that being faithful to the vocation of learning is not the idea of working things out to "edifying conclusions," or "to offer to the author of truth the unclean sacrifice of a lie." We are simply to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty and to follow where they lead.