If you are anything like me, this question is one that never seems to be answered. Often times I wish God just pointed to what He wants me to do, and I would go do it in confidence and tact. I would know the internship I’m supposed to take, and the major I’m supposed to choose, and the relationships I’m supposed to be in. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed it’s not always that clear; I want a booming voice from heaven, but I can’t even hear a whisper. I notice myself getting frustrated because I feel like every time I pursue real purpose in my life, it slips out of my grip– every time I spot inspiration, it darts back into the woods and I’m left in the fog once again. So we’re stuck. We want to follow Jesus and serve God with our lives, but what on earth does He want us to do?
Perhaps the church in Thessalonica struggled with the same thoughts. Take a look at 1 Thessalonians 5:17-19:
“Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
So here, Paul seems to be revealing what he calls, “God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”. And he says God’s will for us is simply this: to “rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances”. That’s all.
…That’s all? If I were a Thessalonian, I’d feel a bit unimpressed. I’d feel like this answer is not sufficient for my life purpose. I want my purpose to be building a mega-church, running a fortune 500 company, or establishing a non-profit in a poor area of the world. I want my work to be seen, my talents to be admired, and my impact to be incredibly influential. Shouldn’t Paul have suggested something much more profound? If you look closer, I think you’ll see that indeed he has.
I’ve started to practice these things in my life–- rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks–- and I’ve found the purpose I’ve been missing all along is Jesus Himself. Rejoicing in Him, talking to Him about things, and thanking Him for everything. What if Jesus doesn’t want what I can do for Him? What if He just wants… me? A relationship?
As I do these things, I begin to see that my purpose isn’t at all God pointing to things and me going and “doing His will”. Instead it’s realizing I’m blind and Him leading me by the hand to places beyond my wildest dreams. I only need to pull close and trust Him. Our purpose is Jesus and His purpose is us. It’s not our success or spiritual output. So next time you find yourself stressed about what you “ought” to be doing in this life, pull close to the Lord and remember that you’re blind. You need Him. I need Him. We need Him. And when we know in our hearts that we need Him, we find He is all we could ever want and more.
Between my own college experience, and the time I now spend with college students, I have had a lot of conversations around the idea of God’s purpose for our lives. It’s a fair question: “What does God want me to do?” Now, I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that most people ask this question with the hope that God has something great in mind for them. No one asks this question hoping to hear God say, “Well, glad you asked, Timmy! I have a life of utter insignificance planned for you in rural Texas!” No. I have no doubt that God has called us all to greatness. Granted, God’s idea of greatness is fundamentally different than our own (see Mark 10: 35-44). However, it is possible to do great things in this world by living into God’s vision of greatness. Take Mother Theresa for example. Or Jesus. Nevertheless, my point is that when we ask God what he wants us to do, I think we are really asking God to give us something great to do. I think we are really asking, “Hey, God, can I matter? Please?”
Now, while I believe it is good and important to ask God what he would have you do in this life, and I think it’s important for people to want to do great things, I don’t think that is all it takes. There is another part of this equation. In order to be great, and to matter, we have to be willing to accept that greatness, at least in God’s terms, is going to require sacrifice—especially of ourselves, which sucks because that’s the hardest kind of sacrifice. So while I imagine God is pleased when we ask him to make us matter, I also imagine him responding to our question of “Can I matter?” with the question of “Do you want to matter?” Naturally, this question confuses us because that is exactly what we just asked for. Imagine going to a restaurant and ordering a cheeseburger, and then the person working says “Do you really want a cheeseburger?” Yes. That is why I just asked you to give me one.
Why would God respond to us like this?
Well, my guess is for two reasons: One, because to be great in his kingdom requires a sacrifice of ourselves, which I have already said is the hardest sacrifice for us to make. And, two, because my guess is that when you look back at our lives and consider all of the things we have done, it’s probably hard to imagine that we actually want our choices to affect the lives of other people. Greatness by definition means important and influential. To be great means that your choices and actions have consequences, not just for yourself but for the people around you. The greater you are, the more you affect those around you. Consider the President of the U.S. He wields great power. So much, in fact, that a decision he makes in Washington D.C. directly affects our lives here in Seattle. That’s a pretty big reach.
Maybe you are reading this and thinking, “Yes, I want that. I want to make decisions that affect those around me.” Well, good news, you already have that power. Yup, you heard me. Your decisions affect the people around you already. No one makes decisions in a vacuum. Think about that. Does it make you wonder if some of the choices you have been making lately are the best for you and the people you love? I remember when I went through my partying phase in college and my mom would tell me she wished I wouldn’t drink alcohol like I did. I would just smile and tell her not to worry. Now I consider all of the accidents I have heard about lately involving alcohol, some of which have led to people dying, and I can’t help but wonder how many times something could have gone wrong for me when I was drunk.
One characteristic of our generation that is both very prominent and very annoying to me is the way we both crave significance, and trivialize our decisions. If we want God to eventually put us in positions where our decisions make a significant impact in this world, I suggest we start treating the decisions we make today as though they are just as important. It’s a type of stewardship. Just like managing your money well when you have very little of it will help you develop good habits for when you actually have money, I think making good decisions now, when your impact is limited, will set us up to be greater, Godlier decision makers in the future.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
This is a verse that I know is close to a couple of us interns this year, if not all of us. Going into a mission trip right before winter break last quarter, both Kevin and I went to this passage, as the one we hoped would define our trip. For me, this is a passage that I go to every day, because just as in the trip I hope this verse defines my life. Something that Kevin brought up was the simple matter of fact feeling that this passage has. We are given instruction to do three things, and then the reason for doing them is because it is God’s will. Sometimes it can seem so overwhelming to try and deserve God’s will, but this passage reminds me and hopefully you that many times we need to make the conscious decision to rejoice in the Lord, pray about what is going on, and give thanks to God our Father for the many gifts of life, and the ultimate gift of life in Christ!
peace and 1 love in Jesus,
Chris Thurton, UMin Intern
A lot of our anxiety about the future boils down to a lack of trust. We worry because we don’t believe that we are going to be okay. That whole passage where Jesus talks about how the flowers in the field and the birds of the air don’t spend time worrying about how they are going to be taken care of, yet they are taken care of nonetheless, doesn’t seem to resonate with most of us.
I’d be willing to bet, though, that if you and I look back in our lives to moments when we felt like our world was ending and our futures were crumbling to dust, we would realize something interesting: We would realize that God took care of us in those moments.
Example. My junior year at UW I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted to do after college. I was going to move to D.C. and get a job working for the Federal Government at a particular agency that I was very interested in. In order to improve my chances of getting hired on in the future, I decided to apply for an internship with that very agency. I went through the application process, was selected as one of 20 people from all of Seattle to interview, had a great interview in which the interviewers told me I was making it through to the final round, and then… I didn’t get the internship.
Wait, what? I thought I was a shoe-in. God, why would you bring me this far, and give me this much hope just to take it away at the last second? I don’t understand. What am I going to do now? I need to get some experience under my belt this summer. Now I am going to end up working at a restaurant serving pizza and I will spend the rest of my life working dead-end jobs until I end up an old, bitter man with hair in all the wrong places and a beer gut. Why, God? WHY?!?!
Fast-forward to the end of that summer and the beginning of my senior year in college. I am fresh off the plane from the West Bank, one of the biggest political hot spots in the world, where I just lived and volunteered for two months as a Deputee with the Inn.
Because of my Deputation experience, I struck up a relationship with a professor back at UW who, let’s just say, had a very successful career with a certain organization that I was trying to get a job with. He liked me enough to write me a letter of recommendation for another summer program the next year where I would be getting just about the most valuable experience someone in my shoes can get. I was going to live and study in Tajikistan, a culture that speaks Persian, the language I studied in college. Now, with Persian, you can’t really get a ton of first-hand experience with it, because the main places it is spoken are Afghanistan—a war-zone, Iran—a country that really really really doesn’t like the U.S., and Tajikistan—a post-Soviet republic that is home to a large faction of the Taliban. While to most people, the simple answer is, “Well then don’t go to those places,” the problem for someone looking to work in international affairs or international development is that field experience is like gold. Especially if you have field experience in a culture that speaks a critical language. Like Persian. Thus, the opportunity to go and study in a culture that I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to do so (safely, at least), was a huge opportunity and blessing.
So if my calculations are correct, not getting that internship allowed me the chance to gain a total of four months international living experience, two months of which were spent living in a culture that speaks my second language, the other two months of which were spent in one of the most historically and politically fascinating areas in the world, a relationship with a professor who was very well connected, and personal growth in more ways than I have the time to describe right now.
You tell me: Did my world end when I didn’t get that internship?
It was only after I had returned from the West Bank, and took the time to look back and reflect on how everything transpired that I realized how God had come through for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was not like I just sat back and everything just fell in my lap. I worked hard for the D.C. internship, and I didn’t get it. That was disappointing. But the reality is that while D.C. would have been a fruitful experience, no doubt, I was freed up to participate in a different experience that I now know to have been much more fruitful.
Of course, I had no idea that this was how things were going to go down when I found out I didn’t get the D.C. internship. I couldn’t have known. That is why it is so important to look back from time to time. Looking back, it all makes a lot of sense, and I see how God was at work in my life.
While I wish I could say that because of this experience, and the belief that God had a better plan for me than the one I had for myself has allowed me to trust God in every situation, the truth is I can’t. I still fail to trust God. All the time. It is nice, though, to have this part of my story to look back on and take comfort in when I come to another, seemingly different, situation that requires my trust in God. Remembering this part of my story at least helps me to put a little bit more trust in God each time. Or maybe to spend less time worrying about the future than before. Remembering God’s faithfulness to me has helped me understand God as a God who gives more than he takes.
Try it out. I bet you’ll find more reasons to trust God than you think.
Written by Chris S.
God doesn’t waste anything. As a pre-med, chemistry major I remember getting out of four-hour labs with deep creases around my eyes from my chem goggles, then arriving at offices hours saying, “oh hey Professor Dasher, I’m here… again…” I remember carpeting the Pi Phi living room with o-chem notes and study snacks. I remember writing twelve drafts of my medical school personal statement, perfecting resumes and pestering professors for med-school recommendations.
I had a plan. I was just taking a year off to be an intern for a college ministry in Tennessee, while I applied to med school. I remember a month or so into the internship feeling more alive than I ever have. I felt like more of my gifts were being used than when I had done anything else. I remember being confused and frustrated, wondering if it was a waste of time and money to get my chemistry degree. Yet, through the long process of changing career paths from doctor to pastor, I have learned that God doesn’t waste anything.
I have continued to be amazed at the ways the Lord has used my chemistry to connect to people and mentor people. Sometimes it has been as simple as earning me credibility/respect as I am a young, blond, sometimes ditzy lady. I continue to be amazed at the ways God creatively uses my past for His glory. It has not gone to waste.
I love that about Him. He will take our past and squeeze all the good He can from it. Have you ever gotten a beach towel sopping wet? Then you and a friend each grab an end and begin to twist, trying to wring out every drop of water? That is what I picture God doing with our past. He wrings out all the good He can. He doesn’t let anything be wasted.
I can’t sit here and tell anyone what you “should” do with the rest of your life, but I am confident that the Lord will use all the decisions and experiences for His glory. Whether broken plans, broken heart, broken family or broken life. As we offer our lives to Christ, he will redeem and use all things. Nothing will be wasted.
What does this mean for us? It means freedom. It means we don’t have to stress about picking the “perfect” major, boyfriend, living situation, weekend plans or life plan. We are following a God who use our imperfect lives for His glory. God will not waste anything.
Written by Annika L.
When I stop to think about God’s calling on my life & discernment, I don’t necessarily have explicit moments where I know God was telling me what to do when I had a number of decisions placed in front of me. I think I can pretty much sum up God’s leading my path with one question: “why not?”
Let me unpack that. Honestly, like most college students, I spent quite a bit of my college experience trying to answer the question for myself, “what am I supposed to do with my life?” I’ve never been one to really stress about such questions, I have always kind of figured things would work themselves out, and they do seem to in one way or another. But, as graduation approaches there is the question that you begin to face from other people about what the next steps are going to be.
I am of the belief that God doesn’t only have one specific path for each of us to follow, but that God has a number of possibilities set out ahead of us. If we are pursuing a relationship with God, any of the options placed before us are journeys with God, living within God’s will. A mentor once advised me with a simple rule of thumb for making decisions and figuring out the answer to “what am I supposed to do?”…He said, when God gives you options, take the bigger risk. For me, the approach has been, which options is scarier? Okay, why not?
This has come into decision making at quite a few different points in my journey. Move to Tennessee (where I’d never been and knew no one) for an internship? Why Not? Pack everything up for graduate school in New Jersey? Why Not? Spend half a year in Kenya working in a slum? Why Not? Live in an Intentional Christian community in California? Why Not?
Obviously, there was quite a bit of prayer, conversation, and weighing multiple factors before making these decisions, so I don’t want to make it sound simple and easy. But, ultimately, my decision came down to knowing God was with me no matter where I ended up, and when that’s the case, asking why not is a pretty simple approach to decision making. I wouldn’t take back one of those decisions for anything.
There were certainly struggles, loneliness, difficulties, and burdens in all the parts of my journey, but I think that would have been true no matter what I did or where I was. God has promised to be faithful, and I have experienced that faithfulness every step along the way. The promise of Hebrews (and Deuteronomy) “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you,” has provided me with confidence to take risks and try out scary experiences because I KNOW God will be with me, guiding every step on the journey of, “what in the world am I supposed to do?”
Written by Janie