Summer, 1976. We are touring the Philippines with my brother-and-sister-in-law. We were planning to go from Baguio to Bontoc, but we couldn’t, because of the rainy weather and the fact that the road had not been fully paved. “It wasn’t meant to be,” Brent Clapp (named after Bishop Brent) says.
I thought, This seems strange: He’s really saying that God did not want us to go to Bontoc, that it wasn’t His will. I further thought, Why wouldn’t God want us to go someplace? And would He actually reach down from heaven to interfere?
Summer, 2016. A pastor is driving from Baguio to Aurora. Again, it had been raining. Suddenly a tree falls onto his car, cracking his windshield. Why me, Lord? I’m trying to serve you, he prays. (As if God decided to have the tree fall right at that time, for some reason.)
These little vignettes give a picture of an idea in this country that seems popular: God arranges things, causing them to happen, or not. It is almost a fatalistic view, as expressed in a popular song sung by Doris Day back in the 50’s—Que sera, sera, what will be, will be.
Now this point of view of Providence cannot be completely rejected, for even Scripture seems to suggest as much, in places like Ephesians 1: 11: “In whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will.”
Furthermore, there is a whole branch of Protestantism which stresses “the sovereignty of God.” These churches, many Baptists, Presbyterian, Reformed, Christian Reformed (which I grew up in) have historically stressed God’s sovereignty, at the expense of man’s free will.
BUT—this is NOT the main emphasis of Scripture. Now the Bible does say we ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that,” (James 4: 15) suggesting divine sovereignty. I think it is important to remember that God is powerful enough to step in here or there to effect a certain outcome, for instance when Jesus spoke up to still the storm on the Sea of Galilee.
But ordinarily, God works his will upon people through persuasion, not force. God’s will is what He wants, not what He compels to be, or prevents from happening. God does not overrule people’s free will, ordinarily. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matt. 24: 37) Earlier, in Matthew 13, Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:
For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.
And what is it that God wants, His will? Micah 6:8 speaks for all the prophets and the whole Bible when he says, He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Jesus expressed it this way, in Matt. 22: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
What is His will? That we love. “Love is the fulfillment of the law.” “A new commandment do I give you, that you love one another.”
In fact, the Great Judgment scene in Matt. 25 really asks—How well did you love? Did you love me, in the poor, naked, imprisoned, hungry brethren of mine?
Jesus also expresses God’s will in saying, Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn from me. . .For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matt. 11: 28-30. This is discipleship—learning from Jesus how to love.
James 1 says: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: care for widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (THIS is what counts, as far more important than regular “religious” observances, even though we should not “forsake our meeting together,” Heb. 10:25).
Other places, like 1 John, again and again tell people that the will of God is that we love one another, as God in Christ loves us.
Philippians 2, after the famous “kenosis” (self-emptying) passage about Jesus becoming a servant, obedient even unto death, tells believers to “Have this mind in you. . . .(and) Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you.”
If you’ve asked Jesus into your life, and surrendered to Him as Lord and Savior, God is always trying, through his Word and Holy Spirit, to impress upon you His Will—what He wants, nudging you forward to new ways of reaching out in love to others.
To act justly.
To love mercy.
To walk humbly with your God.
If you want to know if you can trust Christ with your life, listen to His words, in John 7: 17: If anyone would know of my doctrine, if it is of God or if I speak on my own, let him do the Father’s will.
For instance, try to love your enemy, pray for them, go the extra mile. Then notice what happens inside of you, as you are following Him who went all the way to the Cross.
Husbands, for instance, try to do what Paul commands, Love your wives. Do loving things for her.
Wives, respect your husbands. Children, Be obedient to your parents. (Today he might have added, Turn off your cell phones and tune into each other!)
In I Thessalonians 5 Paul says Rejoice always, Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1. B. Phillips, Anglican priest, New Testament translator, author of many books including Your God is Too Small, says Dante’s oft-quoted saying, “And in His will is our peace”, is not to be understood as surrender, resignation, and quiescence. The Christian will discover that he knows God’s peace as he is aligned with God’s purpose. He may be called upon to be strenuous; but he is inwardly relaxed, because he knows he is doing the Will of God.