What to do when you don’t have lots, wet fleeces, or gut feelings about what to do next.
The beginning of a year is a time for resolutions and goals. A time to make a plan and set out on a new path; a time to make decisions and stick to them in order to achieve all of those things you never quite finished the year before. Should I focus on developing this project or that other one? Should I take that job or the one across the country that uproots our entire family? Should I buy the red shirt or the blue shirt (Blue obviously)? Should I major in business or move towards full-time ministry? In our fast-paced society, we face a hundred decisions that can significantly or insignificantly effect our lives for the future. Frequently, if you are in the Christian tradition that also means finding some way to meaningfully connect those important decisions to what God would have us do in our lives.
That presents a problem though. I’ve never heard the audible voice of God in a dream or vision. I’ve never been given a fleece to see if it was wet or dry in the morning. I don’t own a set of lots and I distrust open windows next to closed doors. How then do I seek the will of God in the critical decisions of my life?
- This school or that one?
- This job or that one?
- This town or that one?
- Marry this girl or that one?
Frequently we aren’t given a clarion call from above telling us what we should do, instead we are forced to struggle in the mire wondering “what’s the right next step?” Even though the pace of our decisions has increased dramatically, knowing the will of God in our decisions is not a new problem. People have sought the will of the gods in their critical decisions for thousands of years!
One of the best places to see how this worked in the ancient world is at Didyma in western Turkey. Didyma meant twin and referred to the Greek gods Artemis and Apollo. Artemis’ temple was located at nearby Miletus while Apollo’s temple stood at Didyma (connected by a “sacred way”) and was one of the locations of the six major oracles of the ancient world, second only to the oracle at Delphi.
Didyma was one of the most active oracles in the ancient world. The earliest inscription found there have been dated to the 7th century BCE. The original temple was destroyed in the 5th century BCE and eventually rebuild. The site is visited by nearly every ancient Greco-Roman leader that sought greater power. Alexander the Great, Lysimachus, Seleucus, Caesar Augustus and Trajan. Massive resources were expended to seek the advice of the oracle who would answer (normally) one simple yes or no question for you per year. Persons seeking the advice of the oracle could wait as long as a year in the chresmographeion (the area shown in the 360 view above) in order to receive a response to their question.
We know from the oracle at Delphi that ancient leaders would send a proxy to ask a question of the oracle. The oracle or pythia was normally a young girl who was forced to sit on a bowl held by three stilts in the adyton (“do not enter”) in a structure within the larger temple called the naiskos. The naiskos housed the cult statue or sacred spring. The pythia in a hallucinated or ecstatic state would be approached by a priest who ask of her a simple yes or no question. The pythia would respond to the question in an altered voice. The priest claimed that this was the voice of Apollo coming through the pythia. Pythia, because they were forced to take hallucinogens, tended to have short life-spans.
Once the question was answered the petitioner would be called from the chresmographeion and his answer would be read at the large double doors to the inner sanctuary. Can you imagine expending thousands of dollars, sometimes waiting as much as a year, to get a simple “yes” or “no” answer about the will of the gods for your life?
Fortunately, the God of the bible doesn’t work in such a cryptic way. God certainly has a will for your life but it normally has far less to do with the issues we are worried about. To be perfectly honest it doesn’t much matter what color your wearing or if you live in that city or this one. If you take that job or this one. If I may be blunt, I seriously doubt God is all that concerned with questions like these. God is far more concerned about whether you love him with all of your heart, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.
You see God isn’t like the other gods of the ancient world. His will has been revealed to us – and not by one yes or no question at a time! The book of Hebrews begins this way:
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV)
And in the letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes,
“In [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ …” (Ephesians 1:7-9 ESV)
So, unlike the ancients who relied on yes or no questions, we may know the will of God for our lives by looking to Jesus. Fortunately, Jesus has a lot to say to his disciples about his will for their lives. Nowhere is this perhaps more poignant than in Matthew’s account of Jesus life. During Jesus teaching the sermon on the mount, Jesus, in his very salt of the earth way draws on the imagery around him on the northern shore of Galilee to demonstrate a point. Discussing the lilies of the field and the grasses he tells the gathered crowd:
“O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:30-33 ESV)
Both the author of Hebrews and Paul point us to Jesus to discern God’s will for our lives and when we look at Jesus, his message is clear: seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
Jesus treats our anxiety over the small decisions of life as an indictment of our faith. If that’s you, it’s okay. If your faith is faltering, God wants to lift you up and support you. He is big enough to be comfortable with your doubt. At the same time he is also big enough to know that what really matters is not what profession you go into or what job you take or where you live but whether or not you are making manifest the kingdom of God and seeking his righteousness. If you are doing that, in whatever profession you find yourself in then you are fulfilling the will of God for your life. No need to cast lots, wait for liver shivers, or a wet fleeces overnight. We have been blessed by a God who is willing to reveal himself not only in scripture but in the person and being of Jesus. Ultimately, his desire is for the manifestation of the kingdom of God and, according to John 15 the bearing of much fruit.
Read in its right context, the fruit of John 15 is not right thinking but right action. This is why Matthew records Jesus’ rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees who “tithe mint and dill and cumin” but “neglect the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23 ESV). The scribes and Pharisees were so concerned with their right thinking about the law that they forgot the law’s intended purpose: justice, mercy and faithfulness. Wherever you find yourself, in whatever occupation, major, or city, you have the opportunity to practice justice, mercy and faithfulness in pursuit of God’s righteousness. If you trust in God’s will for your life to make manifest the kingdom and seek his righteousness, you will produce fruit to his glory, proving yourself to be a disciple of Jesus.
The worst thing that could happen would be for you to spend your fortune to know the will of God. To waste time in indecision and paralysis because you are anxious about tomorrow. You don’t have to wait in the chresmographeion for a year to know God’s will for your life in the next hour, day, week, month or season. Seek the kingdom, justice, mercy and faithfulness and you will be seeking after his righteousness.
The glorious thing about our God is that he doesn’t just care about ministry he cares about the proper ordering and functioning of society. He doesn’t just care about lawyers or nurses, he cares about law and healthcare. Ultimately you are called to find the opportunity to make manifest the kingdom of God wherever and however you find yourself. There are as many ways to do that as there are different people on this planet that God loves and cares for. Rest in his will. Do not be anxious, waiting for a sign from the gods. It’s not likely to come because his will for your life has already been revealed to you.