August 24, 2011 · 8:00 pm
A line in a recent sermon by David White has stuck with me for a bit. He asked us to consider the mindset behind our decision-making. He reminded us that we might say, “If the Lord wills I will do thus and so.” Sounds holy right? But maybe we really mean, “If God lets me do what I want, then I’m going to do what I want.” Notice the differences between being concerned about what God wants and what we want to do if he’ll just let us.
The line that got me was this:
If it is not unholy, should I pursue my particular ambition?
To be honest, I’m not sure he said it or if that is what I wrote down in my notes. What I took away from it is that we commonly quick check the box on whether what we want to do is right or not and if we think it is right, then we stop asking God whether we ought to do it or not. While it is good to consider rights/wrongs in decision-making, I can still ignore important matters in determining whether I should choose to do A or B. This probably sounds abstract so let me put this into a specific and real context:
Should I accept a speaking engagement invitation some months from now? The group and topic are worthy of the time. But should I do it? If it is not wrong, can I just say yes? Is right/wrong really the same as asking God whether or not this is good and right for me to do. As I considered the factors in the decision, here’s some of what passed through my mind.
- Well, it is a conference I was already considering I might attend. So, I would have been gone from my family anyway.
- This particular invitation was pretty special and might not repeat any time soon. I should do it.
- You know Phil, a number of your mentors and colleagues would be there and it would be cool to be on the docket as “invited.” Then I admitted to myself: Glory is not really a reason and the work would be greater than just attending. You often underestimate how much effort it takes to do these things.
- I really want to do this. My motivations are mixed but it still would be fun.
- I hate saying no to requests.
So, what did I do? I asked God for some help in making the decisions. I did not choose to talk to anyone about it (other than my wife and the one doing the inviting) for fear I would get folks to tell me what I wanted to hear.
How did it turn out? Believe it or not just as I was crafting the email to tell the conference planner that I would be coming, I remembered I had tentatively given my assent to an event here in the Philadelphia area. Now, you need to know that this event was more of a dream than a reality, more of, “I’m willing to be present if you guys decide to hold that meeting.” After a fleeting thought that I could squeeze both event in (something I’ve tried before), I realized I was getting my answer and some grace to say no to something that was absolutely enticing but not what I need to do this year.
Does God have a specific will?
I continue to believe in Jim Petty’s 3 circles of discerning the will of God. Somethings are very clearly wrong and should be avoided. This is the inner circle and you could label it “the law”. The middle circle are things that are not necessarily wrong but need to be evaluated through the lens of “the law of love.” These are things that could be wrong because they reveal that we love ourselves more than others. For example, if I decide to give up my job to take up a risky start-up business, I might be unloving to my family and placing them at more risk than they are comfortable with. Finally, the outermost circle contains everything else and is “christian liberty.” So, I decided to go to college or I’ve decided to get married and this seems good to those who know me well. There may be many choices of good schools and potential spouses. Christian liberty says that there isn’t one choice and if I screw it up I’m out of God’s will.
And while I still think in these terms, I am also realizing I don’t spend much time thinking beyond my own interests. It is time to take up the challenge of this question, “Okay, so it is not wrong…but is it right for me and my family? Is this how I should spend my time?” And then…time to pray a bit more and wait expectantly for an answer.
October 14, 2009 · 5:45 am
Robert Kellemen and Susan Ellis have recently published a book, Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith (BMH Custom Books, 2009). If you are not familiar with your church history OR if you are but never studied the strong women of Christian history then you may find this book right up your alley. As you probably know, most history classes and/or texts tell the “great men” story–the story of the major players who changed the course of history. There’s Augustine, Martin Luther, Charles Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, and many more. But what of their wives. And what of other great female leaders in the church–and even those never known by any more than a handful?
Kellemen and Ellis tell the stories of a host of women of faith–often times using their own words. They start with Vibia Perpetua (know from an early manuscript) arrested in 202 AD and include other women from the early church. One of the first things you notice reading the book is that these women are real. They have real emotions, real concerns, questions, and longings. Having read many early church works, I can vouch that these female voices provide some realism while many of the male voices contained in early texts focus on theological concerns.
After covering several church mothers, these authors go on to cover “desert mothers” (e.g., prayer warrior Amma Theodora; spiritual leader, Marcella), writer/mentor mothers like Dhuoda (803-843), and a host of other medieval Christian women–both well-known and relatively unknown.
There are also chapters on reformation and puritan women. But my personal favorite is chapter 12 which is about African American women of faith. In particular the authors tell the story of Elizabeth Keckley, dressmaker, confidant, and counselor to Mary Todd Lincoln. There are numerous quotations from Lincoln and Keckley showing their tremendous love and support for each other. Based on their material here, it is not an understatement to say that Keckley provided the comfort for Mary after Abraham’s assassination that enabled her to not fall into suicidal despair.
I commend this book to you if you long for a taste of the story of female Christian leaders and supporters of leaders. They footnote the book well so you can find your own way to their original sources to drink more deeply should you so choose.
Check this link out for their Amazon.com page and 4 positive reviews.
January 16, 2007 · 6:48 am
In the last week I had conversations with 3 different friends about whether they wished they knew then what they know now. In one case, a person gave up a solid career for what felt like a calling to the ministry. The ministry went sour for several reasons, none seemingly his fault. Despite strong efforts, no new ministry on the horizon. Another had 5 job offers. He chose one, turned the others down and waited for the new job to begin. Just prior to the job beginning, the company went belly up. The other four positions were gone or didn’t want him if they were his “second” choice. The third friend moved across country to a dream job. Within short order, it was clear that the job wasn’t going to be as advertised.
Counseling offices everywhere are full of individuals asking God for the answer to their why questions. Why did you let me go down the wrong path? Why didn’t you protect me? Why didn’t you bless my plans? Why won’t you show me the reasons for this pain (if I could just see how He was going to use this for (my) good, I could handle it).
So, what if you knew the future AND the reasons why. Continue reading →
October 6, 2006 · 11:32 am
I’ve been thinking about how frequently counseling is conversations about the problem of distorted judgment. Its not surprising. Adam and Eve, prior to the fall, were dependent on God for instructions on how to live. Their sin was to reject that dependence and seek independent knowledge of good and evil. The result? We really have tendencies toward two extremes: Either we underestimate our own impact on others (our actions, flaws, character, etc.) or we overestimate our impact and character defects).
Those who underestimate their flaws tend to correspondingly place blame on others for problems in their life. And while others do cause us problems, some of us have excellent deflecting capacity to present themselves as innocent of all guilt (or if they have any, its only just because someone else is making them act that way).
Those that overestimate their flaws tend to accept blame that is not their own. They feel guilty for other people’s negative feelings and experiences. And while there times when we hurt others and we ought to feel guilty for that, some folk feel guilty for any bad experience of another.
As a counselor, I too am infected with the same problem. Counselors can easily feel self-righteous, that we have objectivity when our poor counselors do not. My job is to attack my own distortions while desperately seeking the Spirit’s guide to help me help my clients discern what is real and true in their own lives.
What makes it hard is that our distortions are hard to challenge. We “know” what we know pretty firmly. Just like a client I had who swore his green van was purple (color-blindness), we tend to believe what we feel, regardless of the facts and opinions of many others.
God help us counselors–the blind trying to teach the blind to see.
September 1, 2006 · 11:53 am
Some initial thoughts about a common problem that brings folks to counseling. I’ll put more up on the topic, but I’ve noticed that a lot of counseling has to do with questions of guidance. Folks are asking about what their future will be like, what they should do now to avoid certain future pains. Did they make the right choice in career, spouse, etc. They want to know what God is up to and why he would have them experience the traumas and pain they have lived through. Some become paralyzed with fear, others angry or depressed. A friend of mine, Doug Howell, put some thoughts together on the topic that I think are unconventional but helpful in that they approach the subject in ways that maybe we haven’t thought of before. Here are some of his questions:
- Why do we want to know God’s plan? To sooth our anxieties and fears? Because we don’t trust God with our life? To further his kingdom? Seems like we really need to answer this question. Why is it so important?
- How many bible characters seemed to know what was going to happen next? (Not Abraham, Not Joseph, Not the Apostles)
- Is there any biblical record of anybody seeking to do God’s plan, who screwed it up and was lost because they decided wrongly? Abraham takes Hagar to solve the problem of not having a son and yet God fulfills his promises to him. Jacob steals Esau’s birthright but God still chooses him over Esau. Jonah still has to go and preach to his enemies…
Seems like much of our reasons to know God’s will/plan for us is to avoid failure and being rejected by God. However John 17 really reminds us that Jesus has already kept all who were given to him and so that no matter what happens, we cannot shake the fact that Jesus is united to the Father and we are united to the Father through Jesus’ works. There are times when we may question our abilities, our faith, but do we really question Jesus’ confidence that he has kept safe all that God gave him as his own. Do we think we can blow Jesus’ work?