The Will of God

In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.[1] [1 Thes 5:18]

What has bewildered me for years…decades…is what the will of God is for me right here, right now.[2]

For years I wondered why God hadn’t revealed His will for me, knocking-off-my horse revelations, big, huge life-long challenges, monumental tasks of self-sacrifice and dedication, missions worthy of a “S”aint [the big “S” of which I “aint”].

But St. Paul [a very big “S”], who was knocked off his horse, summarized the secret very nicely in this succinct Rule for Life: In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. [1 Thes 5:18]

In all circumstances give thanks…not just in happy, wonderful times when remembering God and giving thanks is natural, easy to do,…not even in just in the painful, trying circumstances in which being reminded to give thanks may seem counterintuitive but it serves to remind me that God is with me, no matter what,….but even, and perhaps especially, in ordinary, hum-drum, everyday circumstances in which it may be most difficult to discern the hand of God, in which it is hard to find a reason to give thanks just because it is ordinary, hum-drum, everyday. Then its easy to take God for granted, like many persons I live with day in and day out, even my wife, my children; He is overlooked, forgotten, ignored. I guess my awareness quotient needs boosting, my appreciation factor a major overhaul, my humility a better work-out. “Ya guess?” Duh!!!

Scripture can tell me how to recognize the joyous, the exuberant occasions. The Annunciation’s be it done unto me according to your word [Lk 1:38], an acceptance of God’s will in humility, trust and wonder. Again, Mary’s My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior [Lk 1:46-47], the working of God’s will in her. Peter’s stammered Master, it is good that we are here [Lk 9:33], a humorous but oh, so human understatement of the glory of the Transfiguration. The first converts, so overjoyed that they even ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. [Acts 2:46-47]

There are poignant examples of obviously painful acceptance of God’s will, My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done! [Mt 26:42], the most obvious, the terrifyingly magnificent paradigm of obedience. Abraham’s “God will provide the sheep for the burnt offering.” Then the two walked on together [Gen 22:8], true, unflinching faith with fear and trembling. [Phil 2:12] Remorse for sinful failures: Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: “Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.” He went out and began to weep bitterly, [Mt 26:75] followed days later by the humbling interrogation by Jesus: Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” [Jn 21:17]

How about the hum-drum, the ordinary, the mundane. I can’t look to the miracles…too miraculous…or can I. Granted, raising Lazarus and walking on the water, even calming the storm is a little beyond the norm…but how about eating? The way it was done was miraculous, Jesus knew the crowds followed him because you ate the loaves and were filled. [Jn 6:26] Ok, so that’s still a bit out there.

How about the eighteen years between His being found in the temple at age twelve and his baptism by John at about age thirty. All we know about those years are summed up in two verses in Luke: He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man. [Lk 2:51-52] That must have been rather an ordinary, hum-drum existence. Even his neighbors didn’t see him as a stand-out: Where did this man get all this?…Is he not the carpenter? [Mk 6:2-3] Throughout His life, He only did what the Father told him: a son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing; for what he does, his son will do also. For the Father loves his Son and shows him everything that he himself does. [Jn 5:19-20][3] Does this mean that carpentry, that being subject to his parents, that growing up and doing the normal things in this out-of-the-way one horse town is doing what He sees His Father doing? It seems as though it does…

The corollary to Jesus stating that He cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing [Jn 5:19] is that I, in turn, are totally dependent on Jesus to do anything good, i.e. God’s will. He explicitly states this at the Last Supper: whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. [Jn 15:5] If I take this literally, and I see no reason why I should not, then everything else that He said is subsumed in this: everything from “follow me” to all of the Sermon on the Mount or Plain to carrying my cross daily to doing to the least of these must be done, can only be done, will not be able to be done, without remaining in Jesus and, through Him in me, being His hands, His eyes, His mind, His feet, here and now, in this moment in time and this small place in the universe. Of course, any pretensions of my being Him totally are ridiculous hubristic inanity; He must function on earth through me and you…and you…and you, through each of us in our own sphere of activity, of interaction, of grace, to reach the whole world and…every creature. [Mk 16:15]

Perhaps the most cogent argument for the ever present revelation of Your will is the prayer You taught us which reflects the perfect way, His Way, of relating to You. In it, You coupled two significant calls to action on my part: Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven. [Mt 6:10] The Kingdom is what I am called upon to preach by word and action in season and out of season…seems to me that that should cover a whole bunch of moments right there.

But then He added: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Let me think about this for a second; how is God’s will done in heaven? (a) Heaven is where God is; (b) God’s will cannot be thwarted, is not unfulfilled, creates not just automatically, as if there is a time lapse between the willing and the accomplishment, but simultaneously; what is willed is; (c) and the prerequisite for remaining in heaven is the compliance and carrying out of God’s will, as was evident in the presumed test of the angels, would they obey God, even when He became man, as well as the continual praising and serving of God by the heavenly host. Now, if this alacrity, this absolute unquestioning immediate accelerated performance of God’s will in heaven is the criterion by which my performance of God’s will on earth is judged, the standard is extremely high. Obedience, the listening and carrying out of His will, is to be immediate, here, now, always and ongoing forever…

Besides those considerations, how about:

  • There is the constant and omnipresent awareness by God of everything that goes on in the universe: Yet not one…[sparrow] falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. [Mt 10:29] This “hands-on” management style of creation should give me pause, if He’s on top of every tiny bird falling to the ruling of nations: You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. [Jn 19:11]
  • How about the fact that He not only watches over me but provides my every need: No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven. [Jn 3:27] Do I really not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wearYour heavenly Father knows that you need them allBut seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness,[4] and all these things will be given you besides. [Mt 6:25,32-33] Do I have the faith He requires: For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. [Mt 7:8]
  • How about the implications of…If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. [1 Jn 4:20]
    • And Jesus is very explicit about His total identification with each and every person we meet: As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.[5] [Jn 13:34] both during his life and after his resurrection: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? [Acts 9:4]
    • He was also explicit about how I am to treat them: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ [Mt 25:35-36]
    • And my reward: And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward. [Mt 10:42]
  • In case I plead prejudice and exclude someone from my love, Jesus teaches me (a) in parable a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. [Lk 10:33] and (b) in action: How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink? [Jn 4:9] that my neighbor [Lk 10:29] includes everyone.
  • And what is God’s will: Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.[Lk 10:8-9] (a) welcome; (b) making friends; (b) show them tangible evidence of God’s Kingdom; and (c) welcome them into God’s Kingdom.
  • Come, we have work to do: You will not finish the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. [Mt 10:23]

But external work is not the only thing to which God calls me. He first calls me to discipleship, to listening, to learning, to prayer. Jesus cautions me about being anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her. [Lk 10:41-42] “Pray as if [since] everything depends on God; work as if everything depends on you.” [Augustine] For me, this is a particularly important point. I tend to focus on doing, on accomplishing, on finishing. I tend to forget that in everything, especially in the Kingdom, depends on God…I am simply a servant and not a very obedient one at that…Jesus warns me against pride and hubris in action: When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do. [Lk 17:10] The only way I can stay focused and humble is prayer, relying on God, understanding that all I have in resources comes from God, realizing that I can jump up and down until the cows come home, but without His grace, without His help, without His being there before me, being there from the beginning, being there knocking at the door, I might as well be blowing against the wind.

Another obvious clue of God’s will, but one I have overlooked is that it comes packaged with every temptation; it is constant, ongoing, always before me. With every temptation comes an equal grace in the form of an invitation to choose to do His will. If I consider how may of these zing by me every hour, I should have no problem seeing God’s graces swirling in multitudes around my head.

There is also a correlation of the will of God with the experience of consolations and desolations in my life. These are also constantly present, though some, if not much of life, takes place in the middle of this spectrum where neither is consolation or desolation is obvious. On the other hand, as Ignatius points out, if I am trying to follow the will of God, around me is peaceful and serene and temptations are fraught with anxiety and frustration. Such peace and serenity is indeed consolation, though unfortunately often so prevalent as to be unnoticed and “expected” rather than a gift to which I have no entitlement and which is worthy of awe and thanksgiving.

If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. [Lk 9:23] The interesting twist to this doing God’s will is that by denying myself and taking up my cross daily, hourly, minute by minute, second by second, and following Him, I find that my yolk is easy, since it is shared by Jesus, and my burden is light, since He has borne the weight of my sins, and I will rest in green pastures and find eternal happiness in heaven.

Do this…and this…and this…and this in memory of me.[1 Cor 11:24; Lk 22:19]

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] This is the question Ignatius sought to address through the discernment of spirits, both in discerning the major decisions in Your life and in determining which way you are being tempted in consolation and desolation.

[3] Even what Jesus says, He attributes to His Father: I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak.[Jn 12:49] Indeed, at the Last Supper, He tells his Apostles who have been with Him three years: If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him…[Jn 14:7] and He goes on to repeat what He had told them earlier: The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. [Jn 14:10]

[4] To fulfill all righteousness: in this gospel to fulfill usually refers to fulfillment of prophecy, and righteous-ness to moral conduct in conformity with God’s will. Here, however, as in Mt 5:6; 6:33, righteousness seems to mean the saving activity of God. To fulfill all righteousness is to submit to the plan of God for the salvation of the human race. [NABRE Note on Mt 3:14-15] This is in keeping with Paul’s interpretation of salvation as faith in Jesus Christ, God’s plan for salvation, rather than judgment on adherence to the Law or moral conduct in conformity with God’s will.

 

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