Dr. Timothy Tennent: Finding God’s Will in Their Lives
Many of us have struggled with knowing God’s will for our lives. Why does God seem so silent before a willing servant? Why is knowing God’s will such a struggle? The most famous tract of the 20th century was the Four Spiritual Laws. The first law was: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” That may be true, but it begs the question, “How do you know what that wonderful plan is?” Of course, we know that at a certain level, God’s will for all Christians is exactly the same; namely, God’s will is to transform you into the likeness of Christ. That is His will for all Christians, but that still leaves open the vocational question as to how you personally are to live that out. Broadly speaking, Christians have answered this question in three different ways.
The “Needle in a Haystack” View
This view says that God has one fixed will for your life and your job is to find that will and do it. You are like a person wading through a haystack looking for that elusive needle – that needle is God’s will, and you are trying to find it. Amidst all of the distractions and interferences which the world, the flesh, and the devil throw at you, it can be hard to find.
The “Elephant in the Room” View
This is just the opposite of the “needle in a haystack” view. This view says that God’s will is right before your eyes, and you need only get up and do it. You don’t need any invitation or some mystical experience; you simply need to “seize the day.” This view is summarized by the phrase, “the need constitutes the call.” If you see hungry people, you don’t need to spend time praying about it. If you have the ability to feed the hungry, then that is God’s call to you. Go for it! If there are people needing evangelism, then “just do it.”
The “Follow Your Passions” View
Have you seen the plethora of spiritual inventory websites? This method calls for you to take time to do a spiritual inventory in order to find out what your gifts and inclinations are, and it encourages you to pursue vocations that line up with those gifts. If you are gifted at raising awareness about human trafficking, then that is your call. If you are a gifted preacher, then you had better start preaching. If you have the gift of administration, then there is some school or church or ministry somewhere waiting for you to arrive and start using your gifts. But, this doesn’t seem to acknowledge that many of our gifts are unknown even to us, and that they must be “fanned into flame” by the Spirit (2 Timothy 1:6).
The Scriptures insert two major points in this struggle, which we rarely talk about. First, there is the counsel and wisdom of the Church. We often conceptualize finding God’s will as a personal struggle by ourselves, discovered through prayer and reading Scripture. While that is a great start, we need to recognize that the Church should have a significant role in helping us to discern God’s will. We see this, for example, with the Church in Antioch and their discernment in helping Paul and Barnabus launch a new itinerant ministry (Acts 16). Many of you reading this are Christian leaders. You have large numbers of people under your care who are struggling to know God’s will. We join in this process by helping to identify the spiritual gifts of those under our care and by encouraging them to follow what we see (but they may not) as the clear gifts and graces God has given to them. You just might be the breath which God uses to fan into flame a tiny ember in someone’s life which will someday be a wonderful ministry or service to Christ.
Secondly, one of the central roles of the Holy Spirit is to provide this guidance. We often see the Holy Spirit as only operating in two tracks; namely, to empower the church for global mission, and to sanctify us and make us holy. But the third main work of the Holy Spirit, which we often neglect to emphasize, is His role in giving wisdom, guidance and discernment to the Body of Christ. We can join in the Holy Spirit’s work by praying for our people to receive the Holy Spirit and by encouraging them (in concert with the Church’s wisdom) to let the Spirit lead and guide them into God’s mission. We sometimes only see God calling people into ministry settings, but God’s call is for all Christians in all vocations. We have dozens of people in our congregations who are in the marketplace, but do not realize how strategic their role is in the careers God has already placed them. Many parishioners tell us that they cannot remember a sermon which connected their lives as Christians with their “secular” work. This leaves people living with a huge gulf between their lives on Sunday morning and their daily work, which consumes most of their time and energies. This, along with the calling to raise families in the faith, are two of the most neglected calls of God which can be nourished through insightful pastors.
So, lift up your eyes this day and see the people in front of you who are desperately needing the Spirit’s wisdom and help in connecting their lives with the call of God! I have been so blessed in the last decade since coming to serve Asbury by the way God has raised us hundreds of lay people to join in the mission of Asbury Theological Seminary. The laity remains the great “sleeping giant” of the Church of Jesus Christ. May God, through His Spirit, use you to help wake that giant and mobilize the Church for effective ministry in the world!