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The other day a friend asked me what I tell people when they ask about my book, Packing Light, and I responded (somewhat jokingly) that it depends on who is asking. If they’re a Christian, I said, I tell them it’s about letting go of the things that are getting in the way of accomplishing God’s will for your life. And if not, I tell them it’s about letting go of the things that are getting in the way of chasing your dreams.
We laughed together because we’re both Christians and have been for a long time, and we both understand how using words and phrases of Christian subculture can be like a ticket into the club. And maybe it’s this way for other cultures, too.
photo: Creative Commons, allison.johnston
Maybe we just like people to speak our language.
But as I started thinking about the two phrases (“God’s Will” and “My Dreams”) I realized the reason I use them interchangeably is because I believe they are interchangeable.
I don’t think we can get to “God’s will” for our lives without paying attention to our own desires. And I don’t believe we can discover what we really want out of life without asking ourselves who made us and what He wants from us.
The two are so connected. We can’t have one without the other.
I’ve wasted a lot of time in my life praying about “God’s will” without allowing myself to want anything. It might sound harsh, but looking back, I realize how often I actually used “God’s will” as an excuse to sit around, because it was easier than wanting stuff and going after it. Wanting things meant putting my heart on the line, and revealing to the world the essence of who I was, so instead of taking that risk, I would just silence my wants and tell people I was waiting to “hear from God.”
I made it seem really holy, telling myself that my wants were selfish, and what I really wanted was what God wanted from me, but that wasn’t true. Or at least it wasn’t totally true. It wasn’t until I finally admitted what I wanted that I was even able to uncover God’s will for me.
Here’s the catch, what I wanted was totally selfish.
I wanted to quit my job, sell my things, and drive across the country to visit all 50 states and write a book about it. There was nothing altruistic about my desire. The whole thing was totally selfish. But what I found when I allowed myself to want what I wanted, and threw myself into it wholeheartedly, was that God actually met me there and purified my motives. My trajectory stayed relatively similar, even as my motives matured.
If we wait for “pure” motives to start anything, we’ll never start. Our motives are purified in the doing.
I do believe it’s possible to live completely out of my own desires and never discover God’s will for my life. I think this is why there are so many warnings in scripture about dying to self, and “carrying your cross” and seeking God and what he wants. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
God gives us the desires of our hearts, which means our dreams are His will for us. But the one stipulation is we have to seek Him, first.
So what does it look like to “seek God”?
I think this is less mystical and mysterious than we make it seem. Here are a couple of ways God showed his will to me while I was doing stuff.
In one sense, I think it’s good to have a healthy fear of our own selfishness and poor motives. On the other hand, when I think back over my life, I think I might have been better off if I had trusted myself more. After all, if you’re asking yourself the question, “What is God’s will for me?” you’re already off to a great start.
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