Be Free and Serve (or, Doing God’s Will)

August 4th, 2007

“I have a passion for South America. I love the people and the cultures. I really have a heart to see them come to know Jesus and to serve God. But… I’m not sure it’s God’s will for my life.”

“My residency has been very rewarding. I talk to people. I can help them, and make them feel better. I can help them with problems, and spread some happiness in their lives. It gives me lots of opportunities to talk about God. But… I also love art–creating beautiful things. It’s another way to help people, and I’ve always wanted to go to art school. I don’t know if I should keep going with med school, or leave to do art. I’ve been praying a lot, but God hasn’t revealed His will yet.”

Making big decisions is a hard thing. It’s a topic at the forefront of my mind at the moment. I’m finishing grad school shortly, and because the company I interned with is in a slump right now, I don’t have a job lined up. I have to find a long-term job, and I have to figure out what to do with my time in the short-term. Get a part-time job? Live off savings and do various volunteer work? I want to stay in Austin; if I get an offer elsewhere, should I take it, or wait for something here? How do I know what God wants me to do?

As Christians, committed to serving God and submitting to Him, we know that we should seek His will. When a decision affects our lives in a big way, we want to factor God in, so to speak. So…What do we do when we have a decision to make, but we haven’t heard from God? What do we do when we can’t seem to find His guidance? Do we wait until we get a clear indication somehow? How are we supposed to recognize those indications? Are we even supposed to expect to hear from God in this kind of thing? What if we come up to a deadline? What happens if we make the wrong decision, and miss God’s best?

There have been times when Christians have received explicit communication from God. God told Ananias that Paul would minister to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). Timothy received a word of prophecy through a council of elders that he was gifted to preach the Word in public exhortation (1 Tim 4:13:14). But…Are we always to expect that kind of communication for our decision-making? Should we make our big decisions by, well, letting God decide them for us?

It would be nice to have an extended teaching on the matter of how individual believers are to make decisions. Something like the book of Romans for the doctrine of salvation. Unfortunately, we don’t. Still, there are some things from Paul’s letters that are rather revealing.

One such revealing passage is 1 Cor. 7, where Paul discusses marriage. He starts off with a question: Should believers marry? That’s one of those big decisions, where we know we should seek God’s will. So how does Paul answer it? He says that it’s good not to marry, but if sexual frustration will lead you to sin, then you should marry instead. He wishes everyone would be single, like him–but not everyone is gifted that way! He says we should only marry other believers, and advises us on what to do if we do have an unbelieving spouse. He says that it’s good not to marry, because single people can devote themselves more to God, while married people have to be more concerned with practical concerns and with taking care of each other’s happiness. But either way–staying single or marrying–you do well. A widow can remarry if she wishes. (Though Paul thinks she’ll be happier single!)

So how does Paul go about instructing us in how to make this decision? Does he talk about each believer seeking God’s will for their life? Discerning His will through inward inclinations & promptings, through circumstances, through a word of prophecy, by laying out fleeces, by hearing the voice of God through an inner peace? No…

Instead, Paul lays out a set of principles. He constrains our choice by God’s commands. (If you want to be free to have sex, you need to get married. Marry a believer. Divorce is bad.) He explains benefits and disadvantages of both courses of action, along with the moral obligations of each. And then he says to do as you please.

To do as you please. Do you appreciate how…how wonderfully freeing that is?

Or look at Romans 1:8-15, where Paul talks about coming to visit the church in Rome. He tells them why he wanted to come to them–it would encourage them, and it would encourage him. (So he had a good reason for wanting to do it.) He’s often tried to come, but he’s been prevented. And he keeps trying and praying that somehow, by God’s will, he could finally succeed. He’s not waiting for a go-ahead message from God–he knows it’s something good, so he keeps trying to do it. He trusts that if it’s God’s will, he’ll succeed–and if he doesn’t succeed, well, he’ll keep trying!

Paul does as James said–he makes plans for what to do, within the moral commands that God has revealed. And then he doesn’t just declare, “This is what I’m going to do.” He knows that God may have other ideas. So he submits to God’s will, saying, “If the Lord wills, this is what I’ll do.” (James 4:13-17) But he doesn’t worry. He doesn’t seem to think he needs to know God’s specific will for the circumstance. He simply serves the Lord as best he can, using the spiritual gifts that God has given him, trusting God to work out the results.

Paul knows that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to each of us, for the common good (1 Cor. 12). He knows that we were created in Christ Jesus for good works, prepared in advance for us (Eph 2:10). He knows that God is working in us, that we would want to serve Him (Phil. 2:13). He knows that God works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), being conformed to His image. And so he works and serves, knowing that God is in control, trusting His providence.

Augustine said, “Love God and do as you please.” That doesn’t mean “Do whatever you want.” But if your desires are informed by your love of God and your knowledge of His word, then you are free to do as you please. Pray for wisdom, and seek out wise counsel. Immerse yourself in God’s word, to know what He cares about. Learn the wisdom of Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, and the Psalms. If you have a passion to serve Him in a particular way, then try to do it, praying that God would allow you to serve. If good opportunities arise, take them. Discover your spiritual gifts, and use them. Don’t hold back trying to figure out what God has for you, but make the most of your time. Do what seems most wise. If you have two good options, be free to choose between them. And know that God may take you where you don’t expect, in spite of all your plans.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph. 5:15-21)

(This wasn’t an exhaustive exploration of the topic, by any means. Just some of my thoughts, mostly inspired by listening to Greg Koukl‘s material, Decision Making and the Will of God, available as a CD set or mp3 download.)

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One Response to “Be Free and Serve (or, Doing God’s Will)”

  1. […] (Incidentally, this was one of the first topics I posted about.) […]