There was one person that gave me hope. He was my missions professor who I met with regularly. One of the things I asked him about was finding God’s will. He described it as not necessarily just a feeling, but the result of the experiences that God puts you into. God put us through the experiences he wants and the places that he wants us to be in to lead us to where he wants us to be. That made far more sense to me than a deep feeling inside.
When I first wrote this post it turned out to be exceptionally long so I have broken it up into four smaller piece. This first one being by far the longest.
This is a time of transition for a lot of people. Many are graduating and contemplating going to college or life after college. As for myself I am planning a move to go to Western Seminary. In times like this people often ask the question, “What is God’s will for my life and how do I find it?” I want to answer that question to the best of my knowledge on finding and doing God’s will. To flesh the question out more I want to write how I have worked this out in my own life. In doing so I give no claim to being expert in the area of discerning God’s will or in following it. It is what it is. Before I begin I would recommend listening to this podcast by Os Guinness. I think he does a good job explaining what the Bible says about God’s will. (As a side note the Kindlings Muse is one of my favorite podcasts).
This story begins during my sophomore year of college. Until then my major was undeclared. Being an undeclared major is actually harder than it seems. When people meet a college student they often want to know what the student is planning to do with their life. If you tell someone that your major is undeclared they will then proceed to ask you questions about what you would like to do with your life. Of course if you have not selected a major these are question that have probably kept you up late at night. Being reminded of those late nights is an unpleasant experience. In the end I was often forced to make up stuff.
Missions had been an interest of mine for a while. I had a good experience going on missions trips in high school and thought it would be an enjoyable career to pursue. What I didn’t think about was that most everyone who goes on short-term missions trips consider them a high points in their lives. Another factor that increased my interest in missions was their appeal. To me missionaries were the Navy Seals of Christianity. If I was to be a Christian I wanted to go all the way. Missions seemed like the most hardcore life one could live as a Christian.
I was reluctant to pursue this however. Few parents want to hear their child say that they want to be a missionary. I expected that if I told people I wanted to be a missionary I would get the response, “That’s nice…now what would you like to do as a career.” More importantly I felt that I wasn’t good enough for the job. As much as I desired to be involved in ministry I felt that it was only for certain elite believers. It wasn’t until I found a few people that believed I could be a missionary that I declared a major in missions, or Intercultural Studies as it was called so the credits could transfer to secular schools. Declaring my major as missions was like crossing the Rubicon. It was my way of burning the boats so that I wouldn’t be able to chicken out.
In the following years I took the classes required for my major. I enjoyed the cultural classes. Cultural anthropology opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at the world. I loved learning how people in other cultures differed from me. The core of missions study, contextualization, was also appealing to me. I enjoyed all the ministry classes I was required to take. I found them interesting and grew a lot through them.
Throughout this process loomed the mysterious “call.” My understanding of the call at the time was fairly vague. It was something one got if they were supposed to go into missions or full time ministry. Only if you got the call should you be in ministry. Often one would get a call and then resist it at first, but eventually would be forced to give to it. Missionaries would feel a call to a particular people group or country. According to this understanding, I tried to feel my call. This proved to be a very difficult task for me.
First, I am not a person that is big on feeling. I am a thinker. When I set about trying to discern my call I went about it by rationally introspection of my feelings. This left me confused. I couldn’t tell if there was something there or not. Sometimes I felt there was and other times not. This difficulty was compounded by the fact that I never got a clear answer on what the call was. The clearest description I got was from an old Baptist missionary. He told me “the call” was a feeling you had deep inside you that God wanted you to do something. I didn’t want to offend him, but this sounded a lot like the “burning in the bosom” that Mormons say they feel as proof that their faith is true. It seemed like the people I asked that question didn’t have a good understanding of it themselves. If the call was something that you just felt then I was in trouble because I never just feel anything.
I’ve also heard of many crackpots describing how God told them to do this or that, which leads to an important point. God will never tell you to do something that is against his stated will in the Bible. For example God is not going to tell you to blow up an abortion clinic. Nowhere does Jesus tell his followers to do that. So if you feel God telling you to do something that contradicts what he has already said, it is almost certain that the voice you are hearing is not God’s.