Monday, February 23, 2009

Thinking it Through

I've been experiencing a bit of inner turmoil as of late. The reason? Well, a couple of weekends ago, I found myself at
Frontier Ranch, a beautiful Young Life property in Colorado, for a women's retreat weekend called Captivating. Captivating is a popular book co-authored by husband and wife team, John and Stasi Eldredge. You may recognize his name as the author of the New York Times Bestseller, Wild at Heart. Their books (along with their ministry, Ransomed Heart), aim to "reclaim the heart" (my words, not theirs). The basic premise is that our hearts are under attack from Satan, and we must fight hard to win them back so that we may be restored to the joy that God intended for us in Christ Jesus.

I went into the weekend with questions, and came out of the weekend with more questions. There is a lot I could get into here, but the focus of this post is to explain what I've been pondering over lately. I'm sort of an island these days-- bouncing around from location to location without much community (due to the nature of my job)-- so it's nice to use my blog as a forum to discuss this. I'd encourage anyone who has any thoughts on this to post a comment.

My questions stem from the idea of talking to God, or rather, hearing God talk to you. John Eldredge's most recent book is called, Walking With God. Talk to Him. Hear from Him. Really. Really? Eldredge makes the case that if we develop true intimacy with God, we will be able to talk with Him and he shall respond in kind. Eldredge asks questions like, "Should I go camping this weekend?" and awaits the response, "Yes," or "No."

That same weekend, I picked up two books from the Young Life Camp store-- one called, Closer than Your Skin, by Susan D. Hill, and the other by John Piper, called, When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. I suspect I should have started with the latter, but I ended up reading the former instead. Hill makes the same arguments-- she prays to God and then waits in silence for His answer.

So, is it really that simple? Do you just ask God questions, and he'll respond back? This is the crux of what has been on my mind as of late. I became a Christian at the age of six, and in the twenty-three years that I have been a follower of Christ, I can say that only one time (with any reasonable certainty in myself) that I have heard what I tend to describe as the voice of God. It was not audible, only within my head, and it produced a feeling within me such as if I had been pierced with a ray of light. What I (allegedly) heard from God was not some new revelation, but Holy Scripture, "My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9) It was as Hebrews 4:12 states

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow, as it judges the thoughts and purposes of the heart.
Aside from that one time, I can only think of one other time that I believed that I was hearing directly from God, and in that time, it also came in the form of scripture. I certainly do not hear from God day to day, or at least not in the form that Eldredge and Hill recommend. I must say that I was, and am, very skeptical of this approach to relating to God. For one thing, how do we know that the voice we're hearing in our heads is from God, and not just ourselves, or worse, from Satan? At one point during the weekend, Eldredge told how when someone asks him to pray for them, he first checks with God to see whether God wants Eldredge to pray for that person. He told us that sometimes God says No, he doesn't want Eldredge to pray for that person. Again, Really? Is that really from God? Is it theologically sound to say that there are times when God does not desire us to pray for certain people?

Things get a little more sketchy for me. In Walking with God, John tells the story of the time he asks God, "Should I ride my horse?" but forgets to ask God, "Where?" As a result, he falls and is injured. Am I to draw from this scenario that all bad things that happen to us are a result of not properly hearing God's voice, or not following it when I do?

Still, I would be lying if I said that this conversational approach to God wasn't appealing to me. What if it were that simple?

BUT, after mulling it over a bit, and also being frustrated by people who say they are trying to "find God's Will" or who use circumstances (like encountering a little difficulty in the pursuit of something) to act as indicators of whether they're following God's Will, I'm sticking to my original conclusion that God does not relate to us in that way (which isn't to say that He can't, because He can do anything He wills, but it is to say that normatively, He does not).

To aid me in my quest for answers, I referred to a book that was given to me as a gift from my church when I graduated college in 2002. Finding the Will of God by Bruce K. Waltke examines the question of whether the concept of "finding God's will" is a biblical idea and whether the practices that many Christians use (such as following hunches, looking for signs, pointing to random Bible verses, trusting the first thought that pops into our heads after prayer, etc.) are sanctioned in scripture.

He writes, "When we talk of "finding God's will" we generally want divine guidance on specific choices, but it should be noted that this specific term is never used after the Holy Spirit came upon the church at Pentecost. The apostles, upon whom the church is founded, did not teach that we are to seek God's will in this way (pg 10-11)." He continues, "The New Testament gives no explicit command to "find God's will," nor can you find any particular instructions on how to go about finding God's will (pg 12). He also points out that "there are no examples of God stepping miraculously into the life of anyone in the New Testament in response to the seeking of His will. When the Lord does choose to do something miraculous, like sending a vision to Peter or transporting Philip to another town, it is not in response to a request for God to reveal His will." In fact, "both of these men believed they were already doing God's will, and the Lord stepped in to change their situations. (pg 160-161)."

He says that our attempts to "discover" God's will using the aforementioned strategies are actually a form of divination, which is the way pagans sought to make decisions, rather than the way Christians should go about it. "If we are going to find His will on one specific choice, we will have to penetrate the divine mind to get His decision... we are attempting to discover hidden knowledge by supernatural activity... '(f)inding' in this sense is really a form of divination. (pg 11). And, lest you are unaware of what God says about divination, you can turn to Deuteronomy 18:10 (The Lord says, "Let no one be found among you... who practices divination").

He adds, "Simply because God has a plan does not mean that He necessarily has any intention of sharing it with you; as a matter of fact the message of Job is in part that the Lord in His sovereignty may allow terrible things to happen to you, and you may never know why... Instructively, the outcomes of faith for the first three heroes of faith celebrated in Hebrews vary considerably. Able believed God, and he died; Enoch believed God, and he did not die; Noah believed God, and everybody else died! The only thing they had in common is that they believed God and it pleased Him (pg 15)."

So, what's a girl to do in order to determine God's will for her life? Namely, we turn to scripture where God's will has already been revealed to us. 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18 says "See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another, and for all men. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

We (in this order) read God's word (the Bible), develop a heart for God by spending time with God each day in prayer and in His word, seek wise counsel in the form of other men and women of mature faith, look for God's providence-- or the working of cirsumstances in our lives, use our own good judgement, and as a final outlet, we may find that God has divinely intervened, although we do not seek this out, nor wait for it to occour in order for us to act. Waltke develops several chapters around these themes, and I would direct you to them, and his book as a whole, to further understand how these activities work to reveal God's will in your life.

I also like this book that I just found on Amazon. It is called Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will or How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. The book is due for release on April 1, 2009 and shall make a welcome addition to my library. The product review reads

Hyper-spiritual approaches to finding God's will don't work. It's time to try something new: Give up.

Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung counsels Christians to settle down, make choices, and do the hard work of seeing those choices through. Too often, he writes, God's people tinker around with churches, jobs, and relationships, worrying that they haven't found God's perfect will for their lives. Or— even worse— they do absolutely nothing, stuck in a frustrated state of paralyzed indecision, waiting . . . waiting . . . waiting for clear, direct, unmistakable direction.

But God doesn't need to tell us what to do at each fork in the road. He's already revealed his plan for our lives: to love him with our whole hearts, to obey His Word, and after that, to do what we like.

No need for hocus-pocus. No reason to be directionally challenged. Just do something.

Thanks for taking the time to read through this long post. I know this sort of thing is a bit of a departure from what I normally do, and I apologize if it turns some people off. However, these are things that I have been thinking about lately, and it is near and dear to my heart. I must say this has been helpful for me as an exercise in clarifying what I'm thinking.


Inspired Kara said...

I really really really enjoyed reading this. I struggle with the same thing. I've never really felt like I have 100% clear direction from specific decisions from God, but more nudgings. Does that make sense?

I may just invest in a couple of these books. The last one sounds really cool!!!

elventryst said...

Kara, I think that does make sense-- those nudgings (which are most likely the Holy Spirit) are to be coupled with wisdom (a word that the Bible often uses to mean character development)in making our decisions. Obviously I'm still working these things out in my head, but I hope my post helps. I can't wait to get my hands on that last book- it looks like what I'm looking for.

Great job on your friend's shower, by the way-- it looks like you thought of everything and put so much time into all the details! Everything is so beautiful and I can't wait to see more pics.

Sierra Sullivan said...

That was truly a wonderful read. I admire your critical thinking! Very well-thought out and concise.

I haven't even read that book yet by John Eldredge about how to have a conversation with God so I can't say I have a fully-formed opinion.

I DO think that God meets people in ways that meets them in their own unique ways. I believe that the Eldredges do really hear from God in the way that they write about (from what I've heard), but it doesn't necessarily mean He will speak to everyone in that same way.

I would love to develop more of "conversational" relationship with God and haven't yet figured out exactly how God steps in in my life other than circumstantially. I tend to go by my gut feelings or "nudgings" and with the counsel of others, pray that I am walking in the right direction in all I do.

I, too, tend to think that we should should pursue whatever it is we desire to do, and that if it's not God's will then He will close the door to that opportunity. Instead of me just waiting to hear from Him on what to do, I just let my prayers and circumstances guide my path in what I do.

I love that verse from Thessalonians. It pretty much sums it up. I think we put in far too much effort into "finding" God's will rather than just purely living from the heart. When we are close with the Lord and reading His word, I think He naturally guides us, whether we're aware of it or not.

Fashion Fille said...

that'd be great if you could email a picture of the earring, my email address is thanks!

Ad Tys said...

Good post
Yeah I think John might oversimplify at times

I've read 2 of his books (Wild and Waking the Dead) and recall enjoying them both

the part from that book you mention where he hops on horse but doesn't ask direction and falls is kinda funny

who knows how many times I've bumbled from bed to subway - we've had those days where you just had to hit ground running yknow - forgetting to pray for direction and was fine after all : )

and yeah my eybrow tends to rise if someone flat out says God told me to do this and that

'hearing voices' is a sign of schizophrenia

now I'm not ruling out hearing an audible voice but you get my point heh

At any rate good for you looking beyond face value to inner structures and roots

TD-2243 said...

I loved reading this and the wisdom shown here is well beyond your years. So much of this rings true in my life. I have only in the last couple of years come to the understanding that God has no intentions of ever letting me in on His plan for my life. I am more comforted having arrived at this conclusion, although it has caused me much confusion and grief trying to figure it out.

Unfortunately, many years and tears were shed along the way wondering if I was doing the right thing going this way or that way. I would much rather have God speak directly and say "Go here and do this", but that just simply isn't the case in my life. I look forward to reading that last book you mentioned.

Although we are not a deists, I certainly can understand how people came to those beliefs. Thanks for writing all of this.