by Rev. Doug Gray
A while back, someone sent me a list of familiar phrases that have been changed to fit the times we live in.
1. If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.
2. A closed mouth gathers no foot.
3. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will
sit in a boat and drink beer all day.
4. It's always darkest before dawn. So if you're going to steal your neighbor's
newspaper, that's the time to do it.
5. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and a leaky tire.
6. If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments.
7. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That
way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.
8. Always remember you are unique. Just like everyone else.
What I enjoyed about these was the unexpected endings. At the beginning of each of these I thought knew what was coming, and then all of a sudden I didn’t. I find life works that way a lot of the time. If only I could know what God’s will was, then I would know what to expect, and save myself the time of trying other ways of doing things. Can we know God’s will? How do we know what is God’s will?
Step 1: Ground our decision-making in God’s love for us. Paul writes in verse 1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy…” When I was a junior in high school I had a sudden revelation—my parents loved me. I guess I had always known that at some level, but I became aware that they listened to me, that they gave things up for my brother and me. Mom would cook on Sundays so that during the week, my brother and I would have enough food for even our teen-age bodies. Dad would work extra hours so that my brother and I could go to camp. People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. God gets that. He didn’t just drop a set of rules on us and say, “This will be good for you.” Throughout history, God has always shown how much He cares first. Before God gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments, He rescued them from Egypt. Paul writes in Romans 5:6, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” As we become aware of how much God loves us, everything changes for us. If we want the key to understanding God’s will, we will have to understand that the first step has already been taken by our God who sees how hard life can be and loves us. We are loved and that
Step 2: Figure out whose will we really want. That’s the thing isn’t it? When we pray and ask for God to show us His will, what we really want is for God to do it our way. Sometimes we’ll even bargain for it: I remember as a kid, I really wanted this really cool bike. I remember praying something like, “You know, God, if You could just see your way clear to get me that bike, I would do whatever you wanted.” I wasn’t really interested in what God wanted…but if God was like a parent I could talk into it, or like a grown-up I could manipulate or trade with… This is “magic thinking” and its so different from faith. Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, wrote, “Magic desires to obtain its effects without entering into relation, and practices its tricks in the void.” Ortberg continues, “We are tempted to use superstition to be spared anxiety, or to avoid blame for our own wrongdoing, or to bail us out of trouble, or to seek inside information to get what we want. Superstition seeks to use the supernatural for my purposes; faith seeks to surrender to God’s purposes.” Solomon really wants to be a good king for the people, and so he asks God for wisdom and knowledge to do that well. In fact, wisdom is the art of choosing doors well, but it begins with listening to ourselves and to God. If we really want to just do it the way we want, well let’s just be honest: we don’t really care if it’s a good idea or not, a wise idea or not, we just want it. The art of choosing well begins with being honest with ourselves and God—Whose will do we really want here?
Step 3: Look for God behind the doors. As some of you know, I really enjoy the journey, wherever we are going. When I was hiking in the mountains of New Hampshire, I would see something cool, or be talking with one of my friends, and I would realize I couldn’t see the person ahead of me. I remember coming to a fork in the trail and I wasn’t sure whether to go right or left. Yogi Berra’s advice was, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” and I wasn’t going to sit there and wait for people to come back, so I looked forward down each path and listened—I chose the path down which I could hear the rest of my group. In the same way, when we come to forks in the road of our lives, we can look down all of the paths, listen down all of the paths to see where God is ahead of us. Down which path do see or hear the most love, the best grace? Perhaps that is the path we need travel to join up with God.
Of course, the idea that there is only one right path for us and God is only down that path isn’t true—God will be with us, molding and shaping us down all of the paths before us. What God really wants is for us to be, as Paul says, “transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” It all begins with the mercy and love God has already shown us, but we just aren’t aware of it or don’t focus on it. When we take notice we will see it everywhere. God’s mercy opening doors and hearts. All we are becoming—a living sacrifice. Like the familiar sayings with surprise endings, so the world will begin with its wisdom, and Christ will give it a surprise ending. We can know God’s will—not all of it and not always as much as we like—as we give ourselves to God and are transformed from the inside out.
1. John Ortberg, All the Places to Go: How Will I Know? (2016), p. 106.