Friday, August 12, 2005

The Will of God in Wisconsin

A handful of you will be familiar with the name Alan Dunham. He's a young man who, with his wife, Emily, was actively involved in our church a few years back. Emily was also our ministry assistant for a while and her unique combination of professionalism and a great sense of humor made working with her a real joy. When their growing family migrated north of the border to the Land of Cheddar, I, with many others, was sad to bid them farewell.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Alan a few weeks ago, asking if I'd join him in leading a men's ministry activity I think is worthy of imitation. Alan proposed that a group of guys from his church gather for dinner at a local restaurant and discuss a theological subject afterwards. Since he decided to call these gatherings "Meaty Topics," it's fitting that last night's kickoff meeting was held at The Brat Stop.

One of the reasons I'm so hyped about this kind of thing (besides liking to eat) is because there's a dire need for men to become more established in the Scriptures. Anything churches do to encourage biblical/theological reflection and application beyond the shallow depth of much of what is produced for men, is laudable. Furthermore, having discussions like this in a setting other than the church building, or even a home, can help fight against the ever present temptation to privatize our faith.

Last night's meaty topic was guidance and the will of God. As I told the group, this is one subject I'll talk about any chance I get because I know from my own experience as well as from multiple conversations with other Christians, how much confusion, anxiety, and pain can be caused by the fear of somehow "missing" God's will when faced with important decisions.
One of the people who motivates me to speak out on this subject is a young woman I met a few years ago. She was in her 20's and hadn't completed college. She was stuck in a job she hated and earnestly desired to return to school to pursue a degree in sports medicine. Her problem was that she wasn't sure if this was "just what I want to do or what God wants me to do." When she expressed her confusion to her roommates, both of whom had been Christians longer than she, they told her that when they were faced with such decisions, they prayerfully asked God what choice to make and he showed them. As this young woman related this account to me, her eyes filled with tears and she eventually asked, "What's wrong with my relationship with Jesus that I'm not hearing from him?" Things had gotten so bad that she was even doubting her salvation because she wasn't getting the personal direction others were claiming.

I witnessed her countenance change from one of despair to one of joyous relief when I shared with her what I shared with the guys last night - that when the Bible refers to God's will it does so in two senses. First, in some cases the phrase refers to God's sovereign purpose, his comprehensive and predetermined plan which cannot be frustrated. In other instances, God's will refers to his moral precepts, his commands, that which we are responsible to conform our lives to with respect to attitude, motive, and behavior. When the Bible calls us to know the will of the Lord, it is this sense that is in mind. Never are we responsible for finding out beforehand God's sovereign will so we can "obey" it. As James exhorts us, we are to seek wisdom from God, but that's not the same thing as asking him to make our decisions for us. Concerning what is promised in James 1:5, Garry Friesen writes:
James is not promising, for instance, that God will give instant omniscience to the supplicant. Nor is he suggesting that wisdom is divinely injected "intravenously" apart from a regular diet of God's revealed wisdom, the Bible...James 1:5 is not a promise of instant solutions to every problem. Such interpretations are simply not permitted by the rest of Scripture.

James's promise was given in answer to an implied question. In the opening sentences of his epistle, he challenged believers to accept their trials with joy because of the character development that would result. Such a response, however, is not the most natural one. And so the reader might be expected to ask: How can I develop a proper perspective toward my trials? How can I know how to respond in a way that will respond in a way that will produce positive effects in my life? To which James replied: Ask God for wisdom.

In that context, the needed wisdom would probably be multifaceted: it could include the ability to see the situation from God's perspective and recognize its potential values; it could include a recognition of ways to bring relief and/or avoid unnecessary pain where possible (cf. Paul's wisdom in 1 Corinthians 7:28ff.); it could include the recollection or discovery of relevant Bible passages that would reveal divine viewpoint; it could include the ability to apply specific biblical principles to the immediate situation; and it could include the perspective needed to wait on the Lord.
For those interested in pursuing the subject in greater depth, I gave a few recommendations of resources I've found helpful over the years. Here they are in no particular order:

Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen
Decision Making and the Will of God (audio lecture and study notes) by Greg Koukl
Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? by Bruce Waltke
The Will of God as a Way of Life by Jerry Sittser
Found: God's Will by John MacArthur
Step by Step: Divine Guidance for Ordinary Christians by James Petty (read Chapter One here).
Decision Making God's Way: A New Model for Knowing God's Will by Gary Meadors

It was invigorating spending time with about 35 brothers in Christ who evidenced a hunger not only for a well-cooked meal but for God and his Word. If by chance, you're one of those men, thank you for your warm welcome. I hope the men of Kenosha Bible Church will continue to hash out (no pun intended) Meaty Topics and that other churches will follow suit.


David said...

Outstanding Keith!! I'm going to feature this in a post on my blog. I've discussed this issue in the past and am surprised at some of the heat this generated. Coming to know the perspective you shared here was tremendously freeing for me. Yet, I find that there are many who have a mystical streak and for whom it is very important to be able to discern that which dwells within the sovereign will of God. To me that leads to paralysis and doubt, just as you have shared. Thanks for posting this.

pdw said...

Keith it isn't a high priority but if you see Alan any time soon and if you remember please tell him and Emily that Beth and I said hello. Peace, Dennis

brian said...

Good post here. I read Friesen's book about 4 years ago and it helped clarify a lot of conflicting ideas that had floating around in my head.

Friesen did an article in Discipleship Journal a while ago which summarizes his views. I've pointed a few people to it who didn't really have time to read his 450+ page tome on the subject. You can find it here :

Apostle John said...

Well done!

Jason Dollar said...

Pastors need to memorize this theology. God has revealed His will, namely His commands, His will is not some exclusive club that we enter by being super spiritual. More preaching and writing needs to be done here.

And to balance the equation, we must remember that God does commune with us, He does subjectively lead us and guide us. We do have a relationship with a living God not a list of principles. But the Word of God reveals the will of God and no guidance is worth following that does not conform to that Word.

Keith said...
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Basf Willy lol said...
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Sarah Flashing said...

Keith, great post. I know that it was God's will for you to write it, too. ;) And thanks for the other idea, "Meaty Topics." I know some ladies who need a high protein diet!

MJ said...

I'll second Walke's book! Sound biblical advice that dispels the mystical "finding God's will" mantra found in too many churches.

Byron said...


Great post; I'll be posting on this subject and referring to your posts in a few minutes. I read Friesen's book over 20 years ago, and it changed my thinking; one illustration alone, involving the logical impossibility of "God has one person for me to marry", was enough to convince me that the traditional view was seriously lacking. It does generate a lot of heat, though; that's for sure, because people with a semi-mystical viewpoint on the subject can feel mightily threatened when they're confronted with the possibility that the "voice" they've been "hearing" may not be God revealing His "individual will" for their lives...

cslewisfan221 said...

Apparently, there are Narnia Events going on all over the country that are movie "sneek peeks". I just found some information at Narnia Resources