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When-I-Dont-Have-Clarity-on-Gods-Will

When I Don’t Have Clarity on God’s Will

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA 

We weren’t clearly “called” to Africa. That I know.

Though I’d longed to work overseas from the time my hair was in pigtails, my husband hadn’t felt it would best utilize the way he was made (“I don’t have the gift of evangelism”, he says). I’d wrestled with this before we decided to marry and hadn’t quite forgotten it, even though 10 years later found me half a hemisphere away from my dreams. I was smack in the middle of suburbia, complete with four little kids, the picket fence, and the dog.

I worked diligently to avoid thinking about the dreams I’d willingly put on hiatus, to cultivate contentment in what I realized was a rich and—though decidedly unsexy—still beautiful life. It was a different dream of mine, you might say. I wasn’t spooning rice into the bowls of refugees, but feeding and discipling my own kids. I deeply believe in “faith expressing itself through love” wherever God puts us, even when we don’t understand.

Cut to one April night. My husband arrived home late to me propped up on pillows after a long day of filling sippy cups and refereeing kid conflicts. He tilted his head curiously and said, “What would you think of us pursuing non-profit work overseas?” That’s where I just about fell out of the bed.

A Google search unearthed EMI (Engineering Ministries International), a faith-based non-profit group of design professionals. They create hospitals, schools, clean water projects, and more for the impoverished while developing architects and engineers in poor areas.

So there we were, contemplating whether or not to sell 70 percent of our stuff in Little Rock, Arkansas (in the U.S.), and move to a continent I was sure was buzzing with malaria and typhoid. Honestly, I was thrilled. Africa was a dream I’d put on the shelf believing that “maybe God will explain one day why He said no”, but now it seemed about to come true.

But even when circumstances seemed to be leaning that way, neither of us had any unshakable indications about God’s will. Our emotions, though indicators of our desires, had been proven in the past to be rather fickle and unduly influenced. Honestly, we weren’t sure if this was a calling from God that we couldn’t ignore, or just an opportunity that God was giving us to serve Him. That’s when my husband said something one night that I’ll never forget.

“I don’t know that this is a ‘obey or disobey’ kind of thing.” You know, like I don’t think we’ll get eaten by some form of gigantic fish if we stay here in North America. He continued: “I think God is giving us a choice on this one. I think it’s more like an alabaster jar. It would just be a beautiful act of worship to Him.”

(That was a reference to the container of expensive perfume that a woman used to anoint Jesus just before He went to the cross, in Matthew 26:6-13.)

The thought stuck with me. I must confess I’m not the kind of person who’s ever heard God speak audibly. Do I know His voice? Well, yes, I do. That’s not to say that I, being 100 percent human and flawed, don’t get His voice all jumbled up with the flawed attitudes and personal desires so artfully cloaked by my subtly conniving, work-in-process heart.

Sometimes I get it wrong. Sometimes I’ve gone with what would be the most awe-inspiring in the sight of other Christians. Sometimes I’ve gone with what’s the hardest (because God must surely want me to do what I don’t want to do, right?).

I know we sometimes get frustrated by ambiguity and all the things we don’t know; all the things God doesn’t tell us. We’re more than willing to obey, but we just want to know exactly what He wants us to do.

But what I like about my husband’s “alabaster jar” is the beauty of the choices God gives us. I don’t have any “God told me” answers for friends questioning me on my decision to go to Africa (although I do know that those words can be a bit of a conversation killer . . . who wants to argue with God if He’s said I should go?).

Honestly, sometimes I feel the temptation to add clarity for God. . . out of my own fear or lack of comfort. When I decided to marry my husband, for example, I was worried that I was “selling out” on what might be God’s call overseas. Choosing a marriage over what might have been my “calling” sounded wrong. I wished I could get a clear sign from God so that I could say, “God came to me” or “God called me”.

But honestly, what I had were inclinations following prayer, a multitude of wise counselors, and careful consideration of what Spirit-led wisdom looked like in the whole of Scripture, my heart, and my reality. (For example, part of what I knew I loved was cross-cultural interaction and understanding, and compassion for the poor—which I could experience in my own country and could therefore still carry my dream back home, in a way.)

Yes, I amazingly got to enjoy both dreams. But God’s plans don’t promise to wrap it all up so neatly this side of heaven. They’re not a lucky charm to happiness and prosperity.

I find poignant the cautionary words of Peter Scazzero, an American pastor and author in the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life in Christ, as I steer away from taking God’s plans into my own hands: “I, like Abraham, had birthed many ‘Ishmaels’ in my attempt to help God’s plan move forward more efficiently.”

Recently, I also heard a sermon by Francis Chan, another American pastor and author. Chan acknowledged he was only about 70 percent confident of what God wanted him to do in a major decision he’d described, and about 90 percent in marrying his wife. Instead, he talks about what he dubs “prinking”—praying and thinking about what the mind of God would be on this.

One blog posting quoted Mother Theresa, who when asked to pray for clarity for a person, replied, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”

Some of our decisions, I think, are just the option to love elaborately. Though my husband and I witnessed no writing on the wall, no dreams or visions that we could faithfully attribute to God, we knew that Africa had so much fewer resources than our developed country. In Scripture, God’s heart for the poor—and the orphans and widows—compelled us to join Him. The chance to know Him more vividly, to worship Him through sacrificing the lives we knew and “stepping out of the boat” were simply . . . priceless.

What’s your alabaster box?

 

This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.

Gods-Will-Isnt-Found-in-Books

God’s Will Isn’t Found in Books

Written By Ana Chavarria, USA

As Christians, we are known for believing that we are to follow what the Bible tells us to do. Sometimes, this gives others the impression that we serve a God who has an unending list of commands that we need to follow.

The reality is quite the opposite. In many aspects of our lives, the Bible does not give us rigid instructions on what we should do. Instead, God gives us guidelines—and the freedom to choose how we want to live our lives.

For instance, the Bible does not have an explicit set of rules on dating. As a result, many of us tend to turn to books about “how-to-date-the-godly-way” for guidelines about relationships.

When I was 14 years old, someone passed me a book on dating which became everything to me. I tried to follow everything it said to a tee. I forgot that while it offered some valuable lessons that came from the Bible, it was not the Bible. Instead, I mistakenly took the Bible verses given by the author as validation that all his “rules on dating” were from God. I remember that the book kept repeating that “courtship” was the only godly way to start a relationship, and that “dating” was not purposeful and could lead to sinful acts. By courtship, he meant not going out just as a couple, always having a chaperone around, and keeping the physical contact to holding hands. Dating, to him, was more of an exclusive relationship. It made sense when I read the author’s experience with courtship and how it worked out for him.

As a result, I grew up thinking that dating was basically a sin and it was wrong to express my feelings to someone. I ended up keeping all my feelings within and this gave me a lot of unnecessary stress.

When I started attending college, I befriended people who were in very godly and healthy relationships. I started to question my beliefs about dating and realized they had a very weak foundation. I wasn’t so sure anymore. All around me, I heard great stories of how God led my friends to the right person in different ways. It was like seeing for the first time that God works in a personal way.

That’s when I realized that what might have worked for the author of that book might not work for me, or for somebody else. Perhaps that’s why we sometimes get frustrated trying to abide doggedly by a set of steps that are said to lead to “godly living”. When we do that, we may not be allowing the Holy Spirit to guide our lives in a personal way.

Christian books and biblical counsel can provide guidance and answers to questions often asked in the Christian life. But they can also distract Christians from the most important thing—our personal relationship with God. If we are really seeking His face every day, He is going to show us His way for us individually.

Think of it this way: there are many books on dating, and each book is going to say what the author has learned about the subject. How do you know for sure which one is absolutely right, and which one to follow? Each author has a unique set of struggles which brought him or her to the place he or she is at now. It was that experience which made him or her write a book full of life lessons and advice for Christians.

Today, I am dating a guy who lives and glorifies God in everything he does. And that makes me want to be a better person every day. It’s an amazing experience to be able to journey together with the one you love towards God.

That said, God has different plans for each one of us. Christian life is not about determining who does it better or trying to model after others; it’s about letting go of yourself and letting God take over your life. You will be surprised by what He is able to do. Trust in Him and He will lead you to the path He has planned just for you!

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”—John 8:31b-32

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ODJ: Sweet Music

Our music practice was not going well. The team was tense because we were gaining no traction in selecting and practicing songs for an important event. Then it happened. A young woman said softly, “I think we should pray about this.” And with that, she called out to God to help us move forward in practicing and performing well for Him.

Nehemiah also knew the power of prayer. Forced to live in Babylon for decades, he had become the cupbearer for the Persian king Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 1:11). Nehemiah was saddened to learn of the sorry state of Jerusalem and his people there, so he asked the king for permission to go and help lead the restoration of the city—but not before he spent “days” calling out to God (v.4). Nehemiah’s prayers to “the great and awesome God” included requests for Him to intervene and move the king’s heart so he could return home (vv.5,11).

The following spring, as Nehemiah served “the king his wine,” Artaxerxes asked him why he looked so sad and how he could help. “With a prayer to the God of heaven,” Nehemiah requested to head home to “rebuild the city” (2:1-5). What happened next brought joy to Nehemiah’s heart, for the king gave him permission to pack up and head back to Judea.

This cupbearer and his praying ways remind me of the One who once asked God the Father, “If you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me” (Luke 22:42). Jesus prayed often—seeking God’s strength and that His will be done.

After the young woman prayed for our music team, things finally began coming together. The unified sounds must have been sweet music to God’s ear. May we always remember to pray—seeking God’s will for each situation we face.

—Tom Felten

365-day plan: Jeremiah 38:1-13

May 26, 2016 

READ: Nehemiah 1:1–2:6  


With a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied (2:4-5). 

Our music practice was not going well. The team was tense because we were gaining no traction in selecting and practising songs for an important event. Then it happened. A young woman said softly, “I think we should pray about this.” And with that, she called out to God to help us move forward in practising and performing well for Him.

Nehemiah also knew the power of prayer. Forced to live in Babylon for decades, he had become the cupbearer for the Persian king Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 1:11). Nehemiah was saddened to learn of the sorry state of Jerusalem and his people there, so he asked the king for permission to go and help lead the restoration of the city—but not before he spent “days” calling out to God (v.4). Nehemiah’s prayers to “the great and awesome God” included requests for Him to intervene and move the king’s heart so he could return home (vv.5,11).

The following spring, as Nehemiah served “the king his wine”, Artaxerxes asked him why he looked so sad and how he could help. “With a prayer to the God of heaven”, Nehemiah requested to head home to “rebuild the city” (2:1-5). What happened next brought joy to Nehemiah’s heart, for the king gave him permission to pack up and head back to Judea.

This cupbearer and his praying ways remind me of the One who once asked God the Father, “If you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me” (Luke 22:42). Jesus prayed often—seeking God’s strength and that His will be done.

After the young woman prayed for our music team, things finally began coming together. The unified sounds must have been sweet music to God’s ear. May we always remember to pray—seeking God’s will for each situation we face.

—Tom Felten

365-day plan: Jeremiah 38:1-13

MORE
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 and consider how prayer, joy and thankfulness work together. 
NEXT
What things have you been trying to handle without prayer? Why is it so vital that we seek God’s will to be done as we pray to Him? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)

What-Following-God-s-will-is-NOT

What Following God’s will is NOT

Written By Alyssa Tan, Singapore

Unlike many of my peers who submitted countless applications to various employers even before they graduated, I had only intended to send out a single resume. I was so set on pursuing a specific career in educational therapy that I could join only one organization that I believed could enable me to do this.

After graduating, I sent in my application and was shortlisted for an interview. I thought that this was the ideal path for me as it aligned with my interests and I could help others—why would God disapprove?

Well, there was a small issue that I had to work on a weekend, but I rationalized that God (being God) would protect my time on Sundays such that my church commitments would not be affected. So in my prayers, I didn’t ask whether I should go ahead, I simply asked Him to help me get through each round of selection smoothly and ensure that I had a suitable work schedule.

On the morning of my interview, however, I found out that I had dengue fever. Out of concern, my parents stopped me from going for the interview, so I postponed it. Three days later, still ill, I went for the re-scheduled interview. I wasn’t confident, knowing that my performance could have been much better had I not been at the mercy of a mosquito.

So it came as a great surprise when I was called back for a final interview. To me, this was a clear sign from God. “This was it,” I thought. There was no way I could have impressed the interviewers on my own, with my less-than-coherent responses; I believed that it had to be God working to move mountains on my behalf. I was confident that I would ace the final interview, be offered the position, and start my career happily.

Then I was rejected.

I was at a loss; it just didn’t make sense. Was I not good enough? Why did God give me false hope, shutting the door when I was so close?

I felt like one of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness after they left Egypt. God was with them every step of the way, guiding them where to go: “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night” (Exodus 13:21). If only, I thought, God could also appear to me in a cloud and speak to me in a loud booming voice, telling me clearly when to go ahead and when to stop.

Instead, as I continued to read about the Israelites’ journey, God spoke to me through His word.

“Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped .  .  . Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out” (Numbers 9:17, 23).

Reading this, I realized that the Israelites’ faith was tested daily. They could not predict when the cloud would stay or lift, nor did they know whether their journey would take two days, a month, or a year. They could only trust in God and respond in obedience, waiting for Him to reveal their next step.

Perhaps that is what God wanted me to learn: that following His will is not about reaching a specific end-point in life—be it meeting that soulmate or landing that perfect job—but about turning to Him and trusting Him for each step of the way. It is not about asking God to align His will with mine, but to seek Him and follow His leading for the right way forward.

Eventually, God placed me somewhere way out of my comfort zone—in a communications role within the maritime industry. It has been challenging but the experience has also equipped me to serve Him in ways that I would never have expected to (one of which is writing this article).