This blog post first appeared over at www.allisonvesterfelt.com - you can read more about Allison there!
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.
God's will without our dreams and desires.
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.
My desires without God's will.
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.
- People — For a long time I listened to critique from everyone and bounced around like a pinball in my life. This experience made me resistant to listening to critique from anyone for awhile. But what I found is that not all advice is created equal. Find a few trusted people to help you see blind spots you can't see, and listen to them. Even (especially) when their critique is painful.
- The Bible — I'm always shocked how many people want to know God's will but don't read the Bible. This was me for a long time, too. I think part of the reason was because I was trying to make the Bible something it wasn't. It is not a Tarot card. It won't tell you literally or explicitly what decision to make about who to marry or where to go to school. But the good news about that is I don't need some special ability to decode it. The more I read the words of God, the more I understand His character. And the more I understand his character, the more I understand my own character, because I was made in his image.
- My conscience — I had the hardest time learning to trust my conscience, because the things it would tell me to do were scary and didn't make sense. It would tell me to speak up, to say “no,” or to tell the truth — and I knew doing those things would cause chaos in my life. But the more I've learned to listen to the quiet voice inside of me, the more I've come to know who God is and who I am. Don't be afraid to listen to that voice. Call off the wedding. Say, “I would like to go home now.” Go on that mission trip you've been putting off for so long. It might be chaos, but you'll find God there. I promise.
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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