That’s the theme that has popped up a couple of times today. In both cases, it’s been a resource that challenges popular evangelical practice.
Firstly, I met my weekly Bible Study group. We discussed what they might do as a Lent course when I start my sabbatical next month. With the support of the church treasurer, I had recently bought a few DVD courses, so that groups might feel more confident to run some studies without ‘expert’ input.
One DVD I invited them to look at this morning was ‘Stop Looking For The Will Of God‘ by the redoubtable Jeff Lucas. His theme is that rather than worrying about discovering the will of God, we should concentrate first on seeking God for himself.
When I came home, I found an email from The Transforming Center. It containd one of Ruth Haley Barton‘s regular devotional articles for church leaders. Entitled ‘Discernment: Finding God In All Things‘, she encourages a more Ignatian approach of discerning the presence of God with us in the contrasting themes of ‘consolation’ and ‘desolation’. That is, what gives us life and what drains us of life? We are more likely to find God’s pleasure for our lives in those activities which energise us rather than those which suck the life out of us.
It’s an attractive theory, but would need testing at greater depth than a seven-page article can offer. It would be interesting to know where Barton sees the place of doing something uncongenial, because we are servants, for example. I am sure she has a place for that in her spirituality, it just isn’t obvious to me in the article. (Unless I wasn’t being very attentive, perhaps.) Certainly that is in my mind, having taken a Methodist Covenant Service on Sunday, which delicately balances the fact that we may like what God calls us to do, or we may find it unattractive. The Covenant Service neatly avoids the two contrasting traps of God’s will either being something we love or something we hate.
Both Lucas and Barton are subtly different from evangelical convention, which speaks of finding God’s will supremely through Scripture, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, trusted Christian friends, circumstances and the resources of reason, tradition and experience. They don’t eschew these filters of understanding God’s will, but they place the emphasis elsewhere. While certain biblical characters are castigated for not ‘enquiring of the Lord’, Lucas and Barton avoid the kind of paralysis some find themselves in where they won’t get out of bed without divine guidance. They put an emphasis back on the relationship with God, in place of a more mechanical approach.
So I wondered: what is important to you in finding and following the will of God?
There is service, truly sacrificial service, which energises and gives life, at least to those who are prepared to serve, and to look for or believe for purpose and beneficial results. And there is service which is just a chore and drains the life from us because it is seen as senseless and purposeless. Church life very often keeps us busy with the latter kind of service, but I’m sure God is calling us more to the former.
Yes, Peter, that makes a lot of sense to me. I was concerned some people might take Ruth Haley Barton’s piece the wrong way. I think I would just want to add that sometimes there is service to which God calls us where we do not feel the energising at the time but cling by faith to 1 Corinthians 15:58, ‘Your labour in the Lord is not in vain,’ even though it feels a vain hope at the time.