"I just don't know if this is God's will."
You've either heard this phrase or let it escape from your lips. Odds are, both are true. We've used this phrase as an excuse to leave churches, to quit our jobs, and, yes, even to break up. But here's the thing: Do you even know what God's will is?
Currently, I work in Young Adult Ministry. The people who participate in the ministry I oversee are all in college, freshly graduated, starting their careers, in the workforce, newly married, or discerning what they want to do. However, wherever they're coming from, they all are at the beginning of their path. And many of them tell me that they want to do "God's will," which is a fantastic thing, yet there is a problem. In evangelical circles, many of us have forgotten what God's will truly is and have instead built up an idol.
It is no secret that many evangelicals have made God out to be their cosmic candy dispenser. We come to God only when He has something to offer us: We pray when our favorite football team is down in the final quarter. We listen to preachers who wear Jordan's and rave about how "relatable" they are. We go to the churches with the most talented worship teams and the most robust children's programs. We stay after service for the free coffee. This self-serving tendency is dangerous enough, but it becomes fatal when it touches our comprehension of God's will.
If I have no understanding of what God's will is, then I get to make it up as I go. At least, this is how I lived my life. I would find myself saying things like: "I don't think it's God's will for us to be together," or "I think God's will for me is to preach to millions." By giving God's will a slippery, incomprehensible definition, I was ultimately seeking to please myself with a pious disguise. I was saying, "this is God's will," but I was doing the opposite.
Not understanding God's will may lead to an opportunity for abuse. Someone may be in a harmful church environment, but because they don't know if God's will is for them to leave, they won't. Others may tell them that it isn't God's will for them to go. I know many people who have suffered abuse because they couldn't discern whether God was calling them out of their suffering. This abuse truly is not God's will.
So what is God's will?
Last fall, I grabbed coffee with my theology professor, and I poured my heart out. I shared with him my anxieties, my doubts, my fears. Sitting outside of the campus coffee shop, I confessed my ecumenical confusions. I shared that I was afraid of stepping outside of God's will for my life.
In response, he gave me two pieces of wisdom that I will take to my grave. The first is that "there is freedom in the spirit." (I'll table that one for another time.) The second was: "God's will is the sermon on the mount."
If you want to know God's will, read Matthew 5-7. If you need a bulleted list, here it is.
God's will is for you to:
As we move forward, we should very much be a people concerned with God's will. However, we should recognize that God's will is ultimately about His kingdom and that it requires us to be servants. Let us pray that the Church would become a place where the sermon on the mount becomes tangible.
"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
The first step to getting clean is recognizing how dirty we are.
A prince hides among sheep. A place of honor exchanged for rank among a putrid herd. Their bleats cannot mask the screams of a guilty conscience. Their matted, tick infested wool and splintering hooves cannot bleach the memory of that crimson stone on wet soil. The blood is on his hands. He is dirty.
"Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground."
Taking off his sandals, he plants his feet in the arid dirt, breathlessly lured towards the flames. His sweaty soles picking up dust, turning his toes and his heel a charred black mess.
We love to be clean. Most of us shower daily, some of us even twice. A white shirt with a small stain isn't "mostly clean," but soiled. Mothers groan when elated children play in the fresh spring lawn in their new socks.
The moment of Moses's repentance, however, was a dusty and dirty episode. With filthy toes, he turned to the manifest presence of God. Soiled and filthy, he cowered in front of the Shekinah Glory and was set on a path to deliver God's people: A path that would cost him forty years in the desert.
We have prepared for our forty days with filthy bodies. We gather together at the start of our journey into lent by putting ashes on our foreheads and remembering our mortality. It is this way that we prepare to be spiritual sojourners through our liturgical fast. We begin lent by remembering how dirty we are.
And it's true that discipleship is a dirty calling. The Church is a messy place, an assembly of sinners. Some come with broken families. Some come who have been abused. Some come who do the abusing. Some come with sexual sin. Some come with addictions. Most come with pride. And most come with clean shirts and well pressed pants. Despite our filth, we put on a Sunday best. But Ash Wednesday and Lent are not about a Sunday best.
This lent, let us allow ourselves to recognize our dirt. Let us remember that we are from dust, and to dust we shall return. Let us turn to the God who sees us, who fills the earth and makes all ground holy. And let us fast as our savior did for forty days: The savior who washes dirty feet.