Like most people, I wanted to be a number of things when I grew up. I remember wanting to be an architect, a writer, a teacher, a counselor, a pastor, and a geographer. As it turned out, I became none of those things, but in growing up one of the difficulties I faced was in knowing what God wanted me to do with my life. My belief was that God had a specific will in mind for my life and that, if I failed to discover what that was, I would miss out on God’s best and be miserable. Since then my understanding of God’s will has undergone some transformation.
For one thing, I have come to the conclusion that God’s will is more about living in relationship with Him. Regardless of our circumstances, God’s will is that we daily abide in Him. Out of that relationship, our responses to what we encounter in life will more naturally be in line what that of Christ’s. The late Dallas Willard shaped my thinking in this area when he wrote, “Generally we are in God’s will whenever we are leading the kind of life he wants for us. And that leaves a lot of room for initiative on our part, which is essential: our individual initiatives are central to his will for us.” 1 Here, the case is made that God is not trying to dictate every decision we make in life, but trying to form us spiritually. Willard expands on this concept by clarifying to what end God is forming us. “God must guide us in a way that will develop spontaneity in us. The development of character, rather than direction in this, that, and the other matter, must be the primary purpose of the Father. He will guide us, but he won’t override us.” 2 God is more concerned with forming us into a people who reflect the very character of His Son, Jesus Christ.
But how does knowing this help us in our journey through life and deciding what to do? I find the poet T.S. Eliot to be of some assistance here. In his Four Quartets, he writes in “East Coker” that “Home is where one starts from. As we grow older / The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated / Of dead and living…Love is most nearly itself / When here and now cease to matter. / Old men ought to be explorers / Here or there does not matter”. 3 T.S. Eliot is not merely describing a physical exploration, although that may be implied. Rather, life itself forces us to be on a journey. I am not an old man, but I do believe that we all ought to be explorers, and that we have to move outward from where we are starting at, whether physically or relationally. On some level it does not matter where we are as long as we are in the process of exploring.
Stepping out in faith and leaving home, or the place one is starting from, is risky and there are some people who, like I was, fear making a mistake and falling outside of God’s plan and purpose for them. Regardless, we we are called to act. In Revelation 3:15-16, Jesus is dictating a letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea when he proclaims, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth.” I have often heard this interpreted as Jesus wants people to be either for God or against God, rather than be a person who is lukewarm in their commitment to Christ. However, scholarship has placed this passage more firmly in it’s first-century context and the meaning of this passage had subsequently changed.
Laodicea was located in modern-day Turkey near two other Roman cities, Hierapolis and Colossae. Hierapolis received warm water from nearby hot springs, which was used for healing. Colossae, on the other hand, received refreshing, cold water from nearby mountains. Due to Roman aqueducts Laodicea received the lukewarm mix of hot and cold water, which was not very useful for either healing or refreshing drinking. Jesus would not want us to be against Him. 4 Rather, this passage is saying that whether we live a life of warm healing or cool refreshment, we are to act for God. Or as Scripture makes more plain elsewhere, “Therefore…whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
I’ve drawn upon the wisdom of Scripture, Dallas Willard, and T.S. Eliot, because I firmly believe that where we are at and what happens to us in life is far less important than how we choose to respond. Before ending, I am going to draw upon the wisdom of one other individual. I always experience a sense of excitement and possibility from the following scene in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo is in despair at all that has gone wrong in Middle-Earth. After learning of Sauron and leaving the idyllic Shire, being pursued and injured by Ringwraiths, and pressing onward from the haven of Rivendell toward a perilous journey, Frodo bemoans, “I wish it need not have happened in my time”. And Gandalf responds with, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” 5 There is wisdom and simplicity in this perspective. We can’t control what comes to us in life, but we can decide how we want to respond and choose to act accordingly.
Who we are and who we are choosing to become is more important than where we are physically located or what we are doing. My life has taken me to places and given me experiences I never would have expected when I was a kid trying to puzzle what I should do with my life. I’ve been an explorer, whether I’ve wanted to be or not. And I’m all the better for it. May you go and explore likewise.
1 Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012), 13. eBook.
2 Ibid., 31.
3 “Four Quartets” Wikiquote. Accessed on 27 January 2018. <https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Four_Quartets>
4 Although my first exposure to this way of interpreting this passage came from a Ray Vander Laan video, one can also read about it at the following blog: “A Lukewarm Interpretation of Hot and Cold: Revelation 3:15-16” Andy Unedited. Accessed on 12 May 2018. <http://andyunedited.ivpress.com/2014/01/a_lukewarm_interpretation_of_h.php>
5 “J.R.R. Tolkien Quotes” GoodReads. Accessed on 20 May 2018. <https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/656983.J_R_R_Tolkien>