General Will of God
Ephesians 1:9-10 ESV - Making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will
Colossians 1:20 NIV - and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.
1) To know Him and to be known by Him; to be loved by Him and to love Him.
This can be seen in the above two verses, where God desires to 'unite all things in Him' and to 'reconcile to Himself all things'. So to understand what that means, we refer to the state of affairs before sin set in, in the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve and their relationship with God. At that time point of time, humans walked freely before and with God - building a personal relationship. And in a personal relationship, both parties get to know each other better. And as God is love (1 John 4:8), to know God and be involved with God is to be loved with God and therefore we respond with love to God as well (1 John 4:19).
- Building the Church in terms of and through evangelism, discipling/teaching
- Serving society with compassion and justice
- Creation Care (for the living things and the environment)
Specific Will of God
I also want to add that based on my personal experience, I think it is best to discover God's purpose for you in short-term specific wills. Long-term specific wills, as its name implies, take long to show itself and at times we may not yet be able to see the big picture of God. Just like reading a novel/fiction, we read it page by page, and we may time to time foresee what's going to happen by understanding the setting described by the author, but ultimately we look forward to read (or skip the boring parts) what is to come. There are also plot twists that totally catch us off guard, which makes the story so much more exciting. Thus being overly concerned with predicting the next chapter or how the story ends may in fact ruin the whole experience. If your friend tells you spoilers, or the ending of the book before you reach it yourself - most of the enjoyment of reading it will be gone, no? Likewise for finding out God's purpose for us in our lives. Thus for the rest of the post, look at discovering the specific will of God from this angle.
To start discovering the specific will of God at any point of time in our lives, there are a few questions that we should ask ourselves. This lets us understand our hearts and motives better, because ultimately God's desire is for us to be reconciled with Him in heart and knowledge and deed. Knowing ourselves better will provide us with a better hint of what is to come and also God's thoughts for us.
"Why do you ask: 'What is God's specific will for me?' "
This question is of utmost importance. There is always a reason why we ask anyone any question (even if the answer is just curious/bored), whether in school/work/social circles. An example is: "How are you?" There are a wide range of reasons people ask this, and therefore a myriad of answers. Thus, we should also know why we are asking God about His specific will in our lives, only then do we know what sort of answer we are looking for and will answer THE question we have. We don't always ask this question after all: Sometimes, we just want to get through a particular rough patch in our lives regardless of God's will; or are enjoying a period so much that we wished it would last forever. And yet sometimes, we do ask, Maybe because we don't understand why terrible things are happening in our lives; or perhaps the current season/period feels boring/meaningless. Or there is great pain and loneliness. Or our lives pale in comparison to friends whose lives are so purposeful and joyful due to their purpose in God. Again, rarely do we ask with only one aspect of what I listed below, often they are a mix and intermingle to produce something rather complicated. Do reflect and think of your own answers.
For our Own Gain
Mark 10:25-27 NIV - It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Perhaps, for some of us, we are just like the Pharisees, who refused to believe that Jesus could actually be God, even after all the miracles - healing, casting out of demons, raising people from the dead - He has done. They could not bear to let the traditions of their faith be done away by anyone, even God, thus hardening their hearts to Jesus. For us, when we ask for the specific will, repeatedly, it could be because we aren't willing to accept what God had already said. Ask yourself: "Have you truly not witnessed the miracles of God and His prompting? Are you sure you that really don't know, that God has not already replied?" Be honest and objective. It's okay if you find it truly difficult, or even impossible to accept God's specific will for you, but you must not lose your spiritual sensitivity to Him. With time and perseverance on your part, His desire for you will consume you to accept His will for you. And I pray that you will live out this verse: "I do belief, help me overcome my unbelief." (Mark 9:24) But you must stop living in self-denial, lest it cause you future regret. How would the Pharisees feel if they finally realized that they "crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Corinthians 2:8) because they refused to believe? At least, unbearable pain and guilt. Peter only denied Jesus, and yet he was so broken afterwards. Judas Iscariot committed suicide after realizing his deeds. All their deeds are done, in the words of Jesus: "...for they know not what they are doing." (Luke 23:34). Yet the consequences are still real. So don't willfully resist God. You are only causing yourself future pains.
Regret - I squandered my chance, I ignored God. It's too late, what now?
Once we realized the damage caused by "what we do not know what we are doing", we ask for the specific will of God because we worry that we blew our chance in the kingdom of God - what we missed out; how we screwed up. Maybe its because we were not faithful with what we have; we were clueless; we were much more self-absorbed previously; we hurt people that were really important in our lives. "God, do I have another chance to make it 'right'?" We are forgiven, but can we reverse the damage? That is our heart's loudest cry. Indeed, some damages can be reversed, some not. Our actions may cause serious consequences in some cases, and fatal consequences in some cases. But God STILL has plans and purposes for us, and still has a specific will for us. We consider the life of the prophet Jonah. A holy man, chosen by God specifically for His special and unique purpose, knowingly disobeyed and ran in the opposite direction of His mission (Jonah 1:3). Who of us can say that we are holier or more special than this prophet? And yet he, like us, knowingly disobeyed the Most High. But in chapter 2, he repented and decided to obey God - thus God used the fish to return Jonah to dry land (2:10) In chapter 3, Jonah commanded Nineveh to repent, and many lives were spared from God's wrath. It is true that if Jonah had left immediately to Nineveh at chapter 1, upon God's specific command, some sinful actions would not have been committed in Nineveh. Perhaps some innocent people would have lived; some theft, robberies, rape, sexual immorality and murders would not have taken place. This is fact, and cannot be changed, just like some of the consequences of our actions - irreversible. But the neither the Bible nor God mentioned that in the book of Jonah (but are mentioned in other instances in the Bible) What was recorded was the more than 120,000 people that were spared, together with the cattle (4:11). I pray that we would feel regret and shame for our mistakes, but not so much that we focus so much on the un-mentioned innocents and forget about the ">120,000" we could have impacted instead. Remember, "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance." (Matthew 3:8 ESV) God's purpose, just like a good GPS, cannot be hindered by a bad driver and a lack of fuel. But I still hope that you're a good driver and have fuel, so that you can arrive there in good shape (living life in Christ) and not in a tow truck (the glory of being a Christ-follower).
The Pharisees of Jesus' time wield a lot of influence amongst the masses. They produced many rules to observe for the masses over the years, making it difficult for the average person, Jew or Gentile, to truly see and understand the heart of God. Some of us are like the masses, the average Jew/Gentile then. We just obey and follow what the leaders say. At that time, the masses (at least some of them) may not have access to Scripture and thus have to take the word of the religious authorities as law and obey them. However today, in Singapore, this is definitely not the case. But some of us fall into this trap of equating our spiritual communities as God. They are related, but not the same. God knows you fully, even better than yourself. Your friends, mentors and leader don't. Thus, I encourage you to think very hard and reflect upon your life. Don't always immediately fall back to consulting your spiritual buddies, mentors and leaders at the first sign of uncertainty. This is because you need to:
- Develop a greater understanding of God and also the sensitivity towards Him. This means the way He communicates with you, His long-term specific will for you (slowly!), His love and desire for you... essentially, building a stronger personal relationship.
- Understand yourself better, what God has created and trained you to become.
- Be certain and assured of God's presence, purposes and plans in your life.
If you always depend on the people around you to tell you what God has purposed for you, eventually it will become harder to obey, because you may not truly believe and be convinced that what they told you is what God intends for you (even if that is truly the case). Are you okay with your spiritual community orders you to work in a particular sector for the rest of your life or marry a certain someone that you don't think is suitable? And what if they lost their spiritual sensitivity to God and mistakenly say what they did, or even worse, have selfish reasons for what they told you and masked it as God's command? They will be called to account to God, but you still bear the consequences. And if you saw them as God, you will become bitter and upset at God, who is absolutely innocent here. So I strongly recommend that before asking those you trust, to do your own reflections and communications with God. Think of the current circumstance, the previous circumstance, the future, what God has convicted you, your experience with Him, your gifting, your resources.... only once you are more certain of God's possible purposes in your life, then you consult your community to see if they on the same page as what you thought. Continually do this in your whole life at regular intervals - be it months or annually. This whole experience and exposure will be really beneficial for us as children and servant of God, making us more attuned to our Father's heart and thoughts, purpose and will.
In my own live, the specific question I had was: will God only allow me to do 'small' stuff for the rest of my life, because I'm more flawed than everybody around me? It was a mortal wound - each time I sought the specific will of God in my life (the 'big' works), the wound (inflicted by the devil's lies on hindsight) became worse. Eventually I grew cynical, desperate, and became an unwilling servant for all 'small' things. And I also condemned myself for being that way - and sought to change it in whatever ways possible. Watching yourself fall, in slow motion, is a dreadful, sickening and demoralizing sight. This lasted for 2 and a half years, until I knew what God has purposed for me. And I was just so so so amazed by how intricate His plans for me are, and was so glad that I did not give up following or obeying all those years - His Word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path (Psalm 119:105), together with a few precious friends. As someone who experienced that, I would not wish that you figured this out the way I did, but sometimes there is no other way - don't give up, hold on to His promises in Jeremiah 29:11 NIV - For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. As we continue to ask: "Will God use me?", let the Word of God and your personal relationship with Him increasingly assure you that He INDEED has a plan for you, whether you see it or not. Our response will then transform from "Will God use me?" to "Each of these 'small' things are mere training for the 'big' things God has in store for me."
Knowing what and how to prepare for what is to come and MORE of God
"Have we been faithful with what we have now?"
I am personally convicted and convinced that being 'faithful' with little/much must also include the conscious polishing of our skills by which we use to serve God. An example is my own story: I discovered, during one of my recent weekly services - that my purpose in God (for the long-term) should be along the lines of building people up in a unique way - by gifting them and inspiring them to build 'divine weapons' for God. (refer to my post 'Divine Weapons'). All along, even before I knew and confirmed this purpose of mine, I was actively involved in building people up, talking to them about their blindspots, mentoring them. But I also actively sought ways to get better at it and also try new means of mentoring - by getting one of my mentee to turn my teachings for him into a blogpost (Divine Weapons), getting them to teach me something they learnt recently to crystallize their learnings, and of course blogging such that people can learn much and deep from my content. In terms of the Word of God, I memorized entire books (See 'Memorizing the Bible' post) bit by bit. I picked up the guitar which I have negative talent in. I learnt to articulate my thoughts better from my university modules, so I can bring it back to benefit the kingdom of God. I used skills learnt from my university vocation to manage communities and people better. Etc. As you are faithful with little, the day will come when God will convict you of His specific will, be it short-term or long-term, and you're totally ready to move along with Him. Look and work towards that; it'll be so so so worth it!!!
However, if you have not been faithful with what you have now, then assuredly I can tell you that God's specific will for you would simply be "learn to be faithful in little NOW", because He truly loves you, and can't wait to give you more of Himself. Think with me: if God actually responses to our questions about His specific will/purpose in our lives, and give us 'more' when we have such a careless attitude towards what He entrusted to us, whom (people) and which (gifting/talents/resources) are all precious to Him, then isn't He actually affirming and confirming that we CAN be careless with the little we have and live as we please? Then, there is no need for 1 Peter 2:9 NIV - "But you are a chosen people, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness and into His wonderful light." How are we still holy - set apart - before God, "just as He is holy?" (Leviticus 11:44,45). Or imagine, in the Parable of the Bags of Gold (Matthew 25), the master neither scolds or punishes the lazy servant with 1 bag of gold who did not bother trying, and instead gave him more gold, putting him "in charge of many things" and telling him to "share in the master's happiness". The other servants will surely think: "why bother working; why bother producing more gold?" And if the entire Church thinks like that, how would she remain the radiant bride of Christ? She would simply remain a self-interested woman who only seeks to take advantage of her husband, not free from accusation by the devil, but evil, sinful and hideous.
Here, I am referring to the action people can take. There would be times where there is a physical action we can take to either execute His will or prepare us for do execute in the future. There are times when we can't, and knowing the specific will or not will have negligible or no difference.
An example about when we 'can't do anything' would make this clearer. I once read about the great evangelist (in Africa) Reinhard Bonnke's autobiography (please Wiki it if you don't know who he is!). He heard the call of God at the age of 10 in 1950, along with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, to be an evangelist in Africa and spread the gospel there. At the age of 10, he knows nothing about Africa, neither does he have the skills, knowledge or understanding of God - how was he to preach the gospel to them? Much less to a country of people with such a different culture and socio-economic background. I don't know why God told him about this vision at 10 years old, but the point is that there was nothing he could do but simply grow in God, which he did. Some 20-30 years later, when he was already serving in Africa, God again gave him a similar, but stronger vision: a blood-washed (Jesus' blood) Africa, that Africa shall be saved. And this time, there was something he could do since he was already there, and that compelled him to do so much, so much more. For us, we may feel restless not knowing what God has purposed for us - well, maybe it's because right now telling us or not would not cause any difference in our actions and walk with Him. Consider Moses, who lived 80 years before God called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. His 80 years were preparation for what is to come and must take place. Seeing his fear and reluctance even after God expressly commanded and assured him, I would think that if Moses knew God's plans earlier, Moses will live his entire life in panic and hesitation, not growth, and not be fully trained and ready for his task. Thus, perhaps a better question to ask if you do not get any reply from God about your specific will is: "God, what should I grow in?" instead.
Sometimes, there is something we can do once we knew. In my case, once I knew the God's purpose for me is to build people up extensively, (as written above), the action I took was 1) blog MORE, 2) find and employ habits that would make me love the Word more - memorizing the bible more enthusiastically, using the SOAP model (by Wayne Cordeiro) for reading my Bible daily, 3) find opportunities whereby I can practice, apply and expand these skills - such as the recent Bible study camp I went. So all this prepares me for the purpose of God that He is getting me to do. Having said that, we would only know truly if there is something we can do once we know what is the specific will of God itself. However, we can still in the meantime develop the perspective and ability to create 'space' and time in our lives for God and His sudden movement. Learning to put aside our schedules, desires, commitments and concerns for God would definitely make it easier for us to hear, accept and execute the specific will of God in our lives when it comes.
Compilation of Related Thoughts
Acquired Taste and Appreciation
Sometimes, God simply does not respond even after all the above questions was answered satisfactorily. And that's totally common as well. It's probably because we have yet not reached the maturity and level of imagination required to understand and appreciate what God has prepared for us. After all, Isaiah 55:8-9 says: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."Its like alcoholic beverages. I never heard of a children who love alcohol (okay I did, but those are... something-goes-horribly-wrong cases), because they are bitter, whereas children all like sweet stuffs (of which some grow to dislike it). It takes time for children to start appreciating alcohol, in the same way it takes time for us to see and appreciate things the way God does - after being immersed in Him and His word. (If you want to know more on why is there a need for God to hide information and the future from us, refer to my post 'God of the Unknowns'.)
ConclusionHaving said so much, the truth is that God can easily just tell us what His specific will for us is, regardless of whether we can appreciate it or whether we will obey it. And He is surely more than happy to tell us; it's His surprise gift for us, a present He prepared since before we were born; before the beginning of time! He has waited so long, so long, to finally give it to us, to see the delight on our faces when we receive it. But He knows that now, not only may the delight not be there, but we may even feel upset at what He has prepared. Thus He is holding back for the day when that present will mean much, much more to us. In the meantime, He drops hints; He trains and moulds us for that day.
For us on the receiving end, sometimes we forget how much God truly loves, cares and is patient with us. Thus I want to go through this journey of discovery with Him. There are many things I don't like to do, but I would joyfully, excitedly do and find fun, not because of the activity, but because of who I do it with. And who else do I want to go through this adventure with, if not with the One who loves and created me, whose grace and kindness has transformed my life? What God truly desires is a relationship with us, the Church, a radiant church - without blemish and free from accusation. I pray that we fully appreciate the gravity of these verses:
Ephesians 5:25b-27 NIV - .... just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.