I used to roll my eyes every time I heard someone mention “God’s will.” 90% of the time, it was said in conjunction with something stupid, and it just made me cynical. All the “Please let it be God’s will for me to get an A on this test” and “Tebow threw for 316 yards, it must’ve been God’s will for him to win” made the term “God’s will” sound cheap and petty to me. I may not know all that much about God, but I certainly don’t think He’s cheap and petty.
Yet lately I’ve been learning that perhaps submitting to God’s will is more complex than I thought, and maybe it does extend beyond the realm of being a magic 8 ball for football games and calculus exams. On New Year’s Day, my friend Rob Irvine preached about submitting to God’s will in 2012, which he described as trading your plans for God’s plans. The plans I make tend to turn into train wrecks, so I loved the thought of trading them in for something more grand.
I’m in the middle of reading a biography of one of my all-time heroes – Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a German pastor in the 1930’s who fought against the Nazi takeover of the German church, and who started underground, illegal churches that continued to preach the Gospel after the Nazis made the German church a puppet for Hitler. Bonhoeffer later joined the Abwehr (the German military intelligence agency) as a double agent, used his position to smuggle Jews into Switzerland, and also got involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler.
Eventually, the assassination plot was discovered, and Bonhoeffer was sent to a concentration camp, where he was hanged naked with a thin metal wire - just 2 weeks before the Americans liberated the camp. The camp’s staff doctor witnessed Bonhoeffer’s execution, and said this about it: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer kneeling on the floor, praying fervently to God…so certain that God heard his prayer…I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” Bonhoeffer’s complete submission to the will of God gave him a wild, adventurous, and dangerous life that utterly frightens me. Yet at the same time, something deep inside of me desires it.
Recently, my company went through a restructuring that left the future of my career in question. For four months, I was in an agonizing state of limbo. During the height of my worrying, I met up with my friend Matt for a beer. I told him how I was frustrated with God for not telling me what to do. I was fine with anything – if God wanted us to foreclose on our house, sell all our possessions, and live as missionaries in Africa, I was willing to go – I just wanted to know. Matt told me that’s not how God works. He said that submitting to God’s will is a daily act – to ask Him “how can I best serve you today?” I was disappointed that God wasn’t going to give me the life-long roadmap I wanted, but I started taking Matt’s advice anyway.
What makes God’s will simultaneously beautiful and frustrating is that it doesn’t fit a formula. The last community group I led was an absolute disaster. I had led a few groups before and they had all gone quite well, so I thought I was pretty good at it and had figured out the formula for what makes a good community group – the right study materials, the right meeting length, the right questions to start discussions. Yet this time my plans just didn’t work for some reason, and our group was a complete failure. At one meeting, I asked the group to pray for a close friend of mine whose dad had just been killed by a car that ran him over while he was riding his bicycle. Before I had even finished, one of the women in the group cut me off, “That’s why I always say bikes should not be on the road.” Another chimed in “and that new law that says cars have to give bikes at least 3 feet of space is stupid.” I was livid. The father of one of my best friends has just died - leaving behind a wife, 5 kids (including a toddler he and his wife had just recently adopted), and 4 beautiful grandchildren – and you want to make this a political discussion?! All I wanted to do was scream “Get the hell out of my house – I never want to see you again!” I pulled the plug on the group after that night, and we left that church with a disgusted taste in our mouth.
I swore I would never lead a group again. Obviously, I was a terrible community group leader, and my methods sucked – there was no sense in putting people through that again. Yet now I find myself leading another group – and it is flourishing. This community group is thriving like SEC football, and it’s all because I traded my plans for God’s plans. Perhaps it’s because I’m so aware of my past failings, but I don’t so much as send out an e-mail to this group without praying and seeking wise counsel on it first. I have no idea what the group will look like in 2 months nor am I basing what we do together on my narrow formula for community, I just follow Matt’s advice by daily asking God how we can best serve Him.
So what is God’s will for my life? I still haven’t the faintest idea. For now it must be sitting in my hotel room in Stockholm eating a Daim bar, because that’s what I’m doing. But as I continue reading about Bonhoeffer, I quiver at the thought of how God may answer my daily question tomorrow.