Thursday, December 27, 2007

Paralyzed by Indecision

I hope you have had a wonderful time celebrating Christ this season!

I've had several comments since the FLC message on December 16, on doing God's will. Since we in the Foundations LIFE Class (and all classes at Providence) did not meet last week (Dec 23), nor will we meet this week (Dec 30), I thought it might be a good idea to finalize some thoughts left hanging from Dec 16. I also remembered that I never explained the significance of the two texts from Romans printed on the outline.

I made some statements toward the end of our time that as long as you are doing God’s known will—at least the five specific areas we discussed that day—then there is nothing wrong with pursuing what you believe to be God’s plan for you in how He has designed you. So what are we to understand with regard to basic life decisions such as: Can I leave this job?; Do I take that job?; Do I move to that area?; Should I ask out or go out with this person?; Can I make this purchase?; etc.? Here are some thoughts that I am posting in the hope that they will be helpful. (If you missed that day, and want some notes, I’m working on making something available, because others have asked.)  So here we go.

It is interesting to me that very few New Testament texts discuss God’s will regarding a personal decision—at least in the context in which we think of it (job, move, dating, etc.). Big clue: Sometimes the silence of scripture—the absence of something from scripture—is teaching us something by implication. As I said last time we met, there are many more texts regarding God’s will (from the Greek, θέλω) that speak of doing God’s will, instead of finding God’s will, which we so often tend to say. However, when it comes to using the term (will) in the sense of a personal decision, we see two uses in Romans that I think are particularly helpful. The first is in the first chapter.

For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. Romans 1.9-10 (NASB, emphasis added)

Here we have the missionary apostle, Paul, who is trying to reach more people with the good news of Jesus. He wants to make it to Rome, but has not found a way within God’s will to do it yet. He sure has tried, but the proverbial doors have been closed. Notice what it says in the sentence above. He hopes to “succeed” “at last” by the will of God. In other words, he has tried before, and “failed,” because it was not—or perhaps not yet—God’s will. It was not a failure to keep trying to make it to Rome for the gospel's sake; it simply wasn't the right time.  I love how the NKJV translates this verse (10). Paul says he is “making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you” (emphasis mine). That translation doesn’t distort the Greek text at all. I believe that is exactly what Paul is essentially saying: “I’ve been trying to go there, but haven’t yet found a way within God’s will to go. God has been closing the doors every time I’ve tried.” Notice the dual role of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. As we have said many times before, scripture teaches that they go hand in hand.

The second clarification for us comes in Romans 15.

For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. …Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. Romans 15.22-25, 30-32 (NASB, emphasis added)

Again, we see Paul saying that he has been prevented from going to Rome to see them. And although it may have appeared to be earthly forces that kept him from going, the implication seems to be that God has caused or allowed the delay for reasons unknown to Paul at the time (see also Acts 16.6-7, and Acts 19.21). Paul kept making plans, believing himself to be in step with God’s Spirit (i.e. in part, the five clear things we discussed that we know are God’s will), and moving forward with his plans to do what he thought was best according to how God designed him. He knew that if it did not turn out to be “God’s plan,” then it would not ultimately happen—or not happen in the same way Paul intended.

Or think of it the other way. Perhaps he could (humanly speaking) recklessly “force” something to happen, which might open up God’s clear disapproval and discipline. Sometimes God causes or allows us to move forward with plans (like even allowing our plans to sin, for example), knowing that we will fail and learn from the failure. Everything is a teachable moment for us.

So, the apostle Paul walks with the Spirit of God, all the while making plans and decisions based on God’s design for him. We don’t see him stressing over the fact that he doesn’t know God’s will, and is therefore paralyzed from making the next decision or taking the next step. He knows God will change the plans if needed. (We’ll have more on Paul’s design—and of course, ours—coming in January.)

Hmm. Making wise decisions and moving forward. …Not a bad pattern to follow.