In recent months, there has been a lot of discussion around the sort of work that Charlie and I have been doing here in Europe. That discussion has involved a great deal of consideration of what we believe is “God’s will” for our family in this season, and whether we are maintaining an appropriate “focus” in our efforts to serve within the local communities here. For the sake of transparency within these discussions, I think I should begin by offering some disclaimer:
First, I am not a particularly wise person. Of course, I very much desire to know the ways and the will of God, but my “discernment” of His will is at best tainted with my own sinful nature and desires. At it’s worst my discernment of God’s will is just flat wrong.
I am not a righteous person. Even on my very best day I deserve nothing more than the darkest depths of hell. I constantly struggle with the deceptions of self and entitlement. I often trip myself up, mired in some strange perception of my own “rights” – my right to be respected, even honored by people. My right to speak. My right to be heard. And I continue to seek my own sense of worth not by who I am in substance, but by what I can do, by what man sees me do. If I’ve apparently accomplished something “noble,” then I swell up with pride. If I fail to accomplish that “good thing” or meet that expectation, then I sink deeply into shame and condemnation. Even at my best, any real influence of a knowledge of or faith in God’s unfailing Word and love in my life is barely noticeable.
One of the common complaints against those of us working within the Western Church is that we do not know how to form or maintain authentic community with others. We always seem to approach new relationships with an agenda. I have been on both sides of this issue. That is, I have at times treated others as little more than a means for me to accomplish my own goals (or worse, as little more than a hinderance to those goals). On the other hand, other relationships that I believed to be genuine friendships have turned out to be no more than attempts to gain something through me. This sort of thing has happened enough times that I now struggle more with issues of trust and honesty in relationships, and often approach new relationships with a greater degree of skepticism and defense than I used to. (This is true even as I recognize that it is precisely with this same type of agenda that I almost always approach God.)
I know that when I speak this way about my weaknesses and struggles – particularly in the context of ministry – it makes people uncomfortable. But I think that it is so important, particularly as we attempt to serve others through our faith, that we recognize our own desperate need for the grace of God. The bottom line is that any service that I attempt to provide for others is going to be poor service, particularly as it is measured against the example of the life of service offered by Christ Himself. I know that everything I do in the name of Christ will be marred by my own pride, my own prejudice, my own sense of self-righteousness and entitlement. The revelation of this can be enough some days to make me want to give up all together, whatever that means.
I also am recognizing more clearly the blinding effects of some of my personal struggles – such as distorted perceptions of benevolence and spiritual superiority – in determining God’s calling in my life. For example, through the years I have become more aware of the devastating effects of pride in my life – which is not so unlike a spiritual cancer of the soul, seeking to consume and snuff out the good and sacred things, things like faith, and hope, and love. The fact is that much of the calling of God in my life is designed primarily to save me from the temptation of my own pride, the danger of my own spiritual death. Whenever opportunities for “ministry” or “service” make my own soul more vulnerable to the deceptions of self-righteousness or pride, it is by His grace and mercy that God often pulls me back and closes my mouth.
Yet somehow, even through the thick film of my own sin and brokenness, consistently the grace and authority of God prevails, often abundantly and overwhelmingly. I really don’t know what to do with this reality – the reality of His unmoving love for me, and for the people I hurt, and the people who hurt me. The tendency for measuring my worth – the measure of how much I deserve to be loved – by my successes and failures is so deeply engrained in me. The notion that I don’t have to do anything – that nothing I can do will change the way God feels about me – leaves me sort of dumbfounded, and in awe, and a little frightened.
There is nothing I can do. I can’t draw God nearer to me, and neither can I push Him away. My efforts to influence Him are not unlike attempting to stand on a beach and stop a towering tidal wave with my outstretched arms. He cannot be conquered. He cannot be moved. Even if I choose to ignore His presence, avoid meeting His gaze, He isn’t going anywhere. Whether I am ever willing to accept it through Christ or not, He loves me dearly, no matter what I do.
This revelation really changes the perspective of our discussions on “God’s will.” I have begun to recognize how strictly I have limited the movement and purposes of God in and through our lives. When I first began to get of sense of His calling years ago, I put very narrow parameters on that calling. I received His calling to seek humility in service to others, and to seek real understanding of what it means to love Him and to love my neighbor. However, I assumed that this was a calling only to a specific group of people, from a very specific region of the globe, in a very specific time, and through a very specific means.
My distorted assumptions about God’s will have been based on a ridiculous notion that I might exert some control over His purposes and ways in my life. One impact of recognizing this deception has been a shift in the conversation of “God’s will” away from trying to sort out specific details – such as where we should serve, or which sort of ministry we should undertake – towards one, fundamental truth: that God’s will for each one of us, the reason that He Himself came to die for us, is so that we may each begin to comprehend the depth and authority of His love for us. Everything that He directs in our lives will be aimed towards that crucial purpose, and it is against the standard of God’s love that we must measure our perceptions of His will and calling in our lives. Without this, no other criteria we may use will be of any worth at all.