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.