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.
Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which signals the beginning of Lent. For those who don’t know, Lent is the 40-day time period leading up to Easter Sunday. (In reality, it’s 45 days because Sundays are still supposed to be observed as a Sabbath.) Interestingly enough, Lent is not a tradition we find in the bible, but it was created by the church to help Christ-followers to prepare for Easter, and remind us Christians of the life and sacrifice of Jesus—specifically his 40-day fasting and temptation in the desert before he began his public ministry. (Read Luke 4:1-13 to get the whole story of that encounter.) Traditionally, Christians would fast daily until sundown, and they would give up all forms of meat–except for fish–on Fridays.
Lent is often perceived as a time of grueling self-sacrifice due to the whole fasting until sundown thing. Today, however, most of us just give up coffee or sweets. Tough life. Occasionally, though, Lent is taken as a more serious opportunity to combat habits like excessive consumption of food or alcohol, an addiction to pornography, or excessive spending of money. Whatever one decides, the goal behind the sacrifice is to prompt a time of prayer whenever you find yourself tempted to indulge in these activities. (e.g. If you normally go get a coffee at 10 am on Mondays, instead of buying a coffee, you spend those 15 minutes praying and reading scripture. Repeat as often as you get coffee.) It’s funny–well, kind of sad actually–but in my experience most people hear this challenge and are immediately intimidated by the idea of going without coffee for that long. Some people are legitimately addicted to coffee, and would be straight-up jerks for 40 days if they gave it up. To all of you who are in this position: by all means, keep drinkin’ the jo. I think Jesus would rather have us be able to love the people around us than try to observe Lent and be hurtful.
HERE’S AN IDEA, though. Lent doesn’t have to just be a somber time of sacrifice. It can also be a time of devoting ourselves to some new or different practice that also reminds us of Jesus. For example, I am a person who connects with God through music. So for lent last year, I decided to pick up learning how to play piano. I did my best to devote at least 30 minutes a day to sitting down and studying some aspect of the piano. Instead of dreading my bible and prayer time because it was a reminder of not being able to have something that I wanted, I looked forward to it because I was finally doing something that I had wanted to do for a while. Maybe for you this means getting into running or learning to crochet. The only suggestion I have is that it be something you can do while praying.
Now, to the people out there who are thinking, “Well, that’s not truly observing Lent because we are supposed to suffer like Jesus did,” I have news for you: WE ARE NOT JESUS. If you really want to be traditional with it, though, go ahead and give something up. I am all for challenging ourselves.
In fact, here is my challenge to you: Think of something you want to pick up over this season of Lent. Plan out when and where you will engage this activity, and try to do it at a time of day when you are most likely to follow through. For most of us, this means not late at night or early in the morning. Give God your best time of the day. He deserves it.
Also, if you are someone who struggles with a more serious problem, like an addiction to pornography, alcohol, or excessive spending, it’s time to start working on it. I encourage you to take Lent as an opportunity to invite God and your community into these areas of your life. Find someone you can talk to about it. Make plans to avoid putting yourself in situations where you often fail, and, most importantly, when you find yourself wanting to engage in these activities, PRAY. Ask God to help you resist giving in. And have grace with yourself. You’re not perfect. Yet.
Finally, let me know how it goes. Leave a comment.
Chris Sherman, UMin Student Leadership Coordinator
I love prayer nights because it gives me an opportunity to concentrate on my relationship with God. We are reading this awesome book, “The Life You’ve Always Wanted,” for one of our student leadership groups here called the PAC. The book has a chapter talking about our time management and goes into the topic of loving others, saying, “Love always takes time. Love always takes time, and time is one thing hurried people don’t have.” What a great quote when talking about any relationship. If I am always busy with other things, how will I have time to love and spend time with my Lord?
This summer I interned at World Vision and the manager of my department, a wickedly intelligent passionate woman named Romanita, was doing a presentation for us on gang violence and impoverished youth in the U.S. She talked about the phrase, “Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours.” And how as soon as she prayed that the floods came. In her funny way, she said that now she cries all the time. God has opened her eyes and her heart to so many new things, and a lot of them are painful or joyful, thus the flood of tears. I have found this to be very true in my life as well. I feel like I used to be more impenetrable by sad things, and now I am definitely a crier. In these times where I cry over things I don’t want to be publicly crying over, I feel like it’s Gods way of reminding me of how awesome he is and how he is always there, even if I’m not relying on him in that season.
Which brings me into prayer. Speaking with our Father, thanking him for reminding me that this life isn’t about just me. In the words of Ryan Church, “Quantity time leads to quality time.” I think this is especially vital in my walk with God right now, and for so many students’ walks with God. It is hard for my spiritual life to feel fruitful and quality if I am spending no quality time there. We must put in the time to receive the fruit, especially in a slow season.
Kelly Thoma, UMin Intern
When I hear people talking about “God’s will,” I still tense up sometimes. I remember being a college student, trying my very best to follow Jesus and constantly seeking to find God’s mysterious and elusive will. You see, to me that phrase was tied to finding the one right path that would lead me to being the person God had created me to be. It meant that God had something great for me… And that it was my job to find it. I felt like the world God had created us to live in was one giant rat maze, and it was my job to find the one path that would lead to the “cheese.” (Cheese, of course, being a symbol of a fulfilled life). For you visual learners, my life looked something like this:
Prayers such as “God, what am I supposed to major in?” or “Where do You want me to live next year?” were commonplace. My hope was to get clear answers from God… “International studies and the dorms, Becky.” Sure, there might be two or three alternatives that were “ok” choices that God could use even though they weren’t the “right” choice, but most decisions I could make boiled down to being “wrong” choices – if they weren’t God’s perfect will, then they weren’t good enough. And if I made one wrong – or even less than perfect – choice, that would then affect each choice I made down the road. How would I get the “right” job if I pick the “wrong” major? I would have to start at the beginning of the maze again! I took Isaiah 30:21 quite literally. “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” Why was I not hearing that voice? Had I already made a wrong decision that got me off the path?
But as I grew in my faith and talked to mentors in my life, I learned that “seeking God’s will” was actually much more complicated than that and that it was not about making one right choice at each fork in the road. In fact, I began to realize that if I was seeking God in my life and truly making decisions that helped me live into my part of the greater body that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 12, I could not make a wrong decision. It was like when I used to cheat at the mazes (you know – the ones on the place mats when you were a kid), working backwards from the end! (If you don’t know, that makes maze-solving a much simpler task).
My new paradigm starts with Christ. Seek God first and then each decision along the way becomes just that – a decision. I read the passage from Isaiah in a new light. I can go left or right and either way, God is with me, encouraging me to stay on his wide path.
Written by Becky
Has this ever happened to you? There is something in your life you need to “let go and trust God with.” So you begin to pray, possibly confess, acknowledging that God is ultimately in control and He is good. Then you stand there with your hands open, “releasing it” to the Lord, with all the trust and faith you can muster. You look up to the sky in thankfulness, only too look back down and realize you are still clenching that thing! White knuckles and a death grip!
What do you do? I would probably grunt in frustration. Lord, I thought I gave that to you…why is it still in my hands? I’d then try to pray again, to release it again, and again I would find myself clinging to it. Feeling frustrated, defeated and still burdened.
Back to that question from earlier, “What do you do?” I think that is where my problem begins, with the two-letter word, “do.” How can I give something up to the Lord, how can I trust Him more, what can I do? The answer to that question is probably “Be still and know that I’m God.” AKA, do nothing.
To be honest, doing nothing is hard. I don’t exactly know what that looks like. Perhaps as I focus on the Lord, He will grow and all else shrink. Perhaps my “thing” will eventually become just a crumb that will slip out of the palm of my hand.
I’m still wrestling with all of this. If you were hoping for answers I’ve got none. Just know you are in good company.
Lord teach us. Holy Spirit help us out. We need You. We love you.
It’s in the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
By Annika L, UMin Coordinator
No answers here, just some thoughts that have been on my mind.
The big thought lately is why in conversation I hear over and over “I should be praying more.” Or “I probably need to be praying more than I am.” I hear it all the time and I find myself saying the same thing to others.
Why do we look at spending time with God as some sort of chore that we need to do? If we don’t look forward to it, or it is a burden for us, what is our motivation behind praying?
Is that the price we pay to be a Christian? Is it a means to an end? What about this relationship do we desire if we are not actually excited about being in relationship? With our friends we spend time with them because we want to; we enjoy being in their presence. We look forward to seeing someone and can’t wait until we are with them.
But somehow in this relationship with God we put it off, and put it off, trying to figure out a time that doesn’t get in the way of all else we must get done.
I want it to be different. I want to crave the time that I spend with my savior like a long lost friend coming into town that I haven’t seen in a year.
I want to sit and just be and be comforted and challenged by the voice of God in my life.
Why would I fill that time with something else when I am looking forward to it so much? This is the God of the universe who loves me like crazy and desperately desires to have me know him more.
If I believe what I say I believe, and love God like I say I do, shouldn’t my language speak, “I can’t wait to get out of here and go spend some time with my creator!”
That’s my God.
Written by Mike M.
When it comes to questions about faith and doubt, the one that always arises for me is “why?” Not, “Why does God work in the way that God does,” but “Why do we have such a tendency to doubt that God is at work, and will be at work to carry through.?”
Recently, I was reading Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald, and he partially blames this tendency to doubt God’s promises on our expectations. And not just normal human expectations, but the expectations that we have in America because of the fact that we were born and raised in America. In reference to God’s promises to answer our prayers, he writes:
We live in a society that is reasonably organized. Put a letter in the box, and it usually ends up where you want it to go. Order an item on the Internet, and it usually comes to you in the right size, color, and model. Ask someone to provide you a service, and it is reasonable to expect that it will work out that way. In other words, we are used to results in response to our arrangements. That is why prayer can be discouraging for some of us. How can we predict the result? We are tempted to abandon prayer as a viable exercise and to try getting the results ourselves.
This observation resonated with me when it comes to the doubts that I have about the promises of God. My expectations are based solely on what I have come to expect in this human world, and I tend to place God in that box. When I don’t see the results I desire, I doubt that God will follow through, or has already followed through as the case can sometimes be.
This reminds me of experiences in other countries, where the values and expectations of the culture are completely different from my own. When standing in a queue isn’t the standard mode of operation, but rather people sort of mob toward whatever it is they are waiting for, I have stood there flabbergasted (and irritated) that this is the way things work. Of course, my culture knows the “right way” to make things work!
Isn’t that how we approach our faith in God and God’s promises? One wonders if the limitations we place on God are causing our own faith to remain stagnant and narrow. What would happen if we could remove our human tendencies to expect God to fit into the culture that we come from, and instead, allow God to blow our expectations out of the water?
Posted by Janie Stuart