If there was such a thing as theological amnesia, it would be caused by any discussion about God’s will. Without fail, I find myself repeatedly in conversations about how to find God’s will – often with the same people I’ve already had the discussion with before. It usually goes like this: someone I know reveals that they are having a difficult time discerning God’s will for their life. They proceed to share some pretty crazy ideas about how they’ve been going about figuring out what God might want them to do, while I hold my breath as long as I can, wondering if this is the time and place to unwind the tangled mess they’ve inherited as to how God might communicate His will. Breaking into my thoughts, I usually hear something like, “You’ve spoken a lot on the topic. What do you think?”
Most of the time, the problems we have with finding God’s will stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of how we seek out His will. Those misunderstandings are too numerous to mention here, although I hope to share several of them in upcoming posts. They often stem from popular teachings in the church, ones that have only thin scriptural support, and which fail to take into consideration a mature understanding of the Bible’s teachings about God’s will for our lives. Yet we’ve heard them taught so often that they sound spiritual to our ears, and so we adopt them without critically examining whether they have any basis. Whenever we accept a substitute for the truth of scripture, even a well-intentioned one, we buy ourselves a world of hurt. We are setting ourselves up for heartbreak – and sometimes anger at God – because we are holding Him to a standard that is of our own making.
This is the point in the conversation where I will usually start by saying, “Maybe the reason that you are having so much difficulty hearing God’s will is that you have misunderstood how He communicates His will to us.” That’s usually enough to find an invitation to lay out a more mature understanding of how we might practice decision-making and discernment within the parameters of the scriptures.
Here is what perplexes me the most: In almost every conversation I’ve had, as I start to expand on how God might be working with us to reveal His will, I see real understanding in the eyes of the person to whom I’m speaking. There seems to be a realignment of their thinking, several “ah-ha” moments, a realization of why their methods may not have yielded results, and an understanding that most of the pieces they’ve needed to make a decision have been there all along. Many of these conversations end with a significant insight into their circumstances, as well as renewed wonder at how God’s plan for directing us is so much grander than the simple formulations we teach in church.
And that is why I am so mystified by the stubborn amnesia that plagues us. Significant breakthroughs and “ah-ha” moments are supposed to facilitate long-term retention of the experience. Maybe the momentum of those other methods in the church is simply too strong to oppose. Confusion sets in, we let go of insights we’ve gained, and we’re back to seeking God’s will the old way. Whatever the reason, I have learned to walk away from these discussions only moderately hopeful that the next time I meet with that person, we can build on our previous conversations about God’s will.
More often, the result is the same as though you erased this post from your memory, and started reading it all over again.