The Will of God as a Way of Life: How to Make Every Decision with Peace and Confidence

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9780310259633: The Will of God as a Way of Life: How to Make Every Decision with Peace and Confidence

Practical help for understanding and following God’s will for your life “God has a plan for our lives,” but what does that mean in practical terms? How do we know God’s will for important life decisions, like who to marry, what job to take, what church to join? How can we be free if God has a perfect plan for us? Does suffering mean we are off track? How exactly does God speak? Author Jerry Sittser explores these questions and offers a biblically based approach that is truly liberating. No matter what decisions we’ve already made, he points out that it is still possible to live out God’s perfect will―even if we think we’ve married the wrong person, chosen the wrong career, or landed in some kind of serious trouble. This new edition includes study questions designed to help individuals or groups who are faced with decisions―large or small.

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About the Author:

Jerry Sittser is Professor and Chair of Theology at Whitworth University. He holds a master of divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary and a doctorate in the history of Christianity from the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books, including A Grace Disguised and The Will of God as a Way of Life. Married to Patricia, he is the father of three children and two step-children, all grown.

 

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P a r t I Knowing God's Will O Lord our God, grant us grace to desire you with a whole heart, that so desiring you we may seek you and find you; and so finding you, may love you; and loving you, may hate those sins from which you have redeemed us, for Jesus Christ's sake. Anselm We Never Know How Things Will Turn Out Ispent the first twenty years of my life feeling certain I knew the will of God for my life. I was going to practice medicine. I was as sure about the future as I was about the difficulty of getting there, for making it to the end seemed a daunting task to me. While still in high school, I talked seriously with a plastic surgeon about joining his practice when I completed my education, and he invited me to his summer home to show me slides of his work. By the time I entered college, I was eager to enroll in science and math courses to prepare for medical school. I had one goal in mind. Everything else was a distraction and inconvenience to me, like having to do chores on a hot summer day. But I made a fatal mistake in selecting a college. Hope College, located in Holland, Michigan, was a liberal arts institution, which meant that it required students to take a broad range of general studies courses. If I ever wanted to earn a degree from Hope, therefore, I would have to do more than study science. I would also have to read Dostoyevsky, listen to Beethoven, study the causes of the Crimean War, and write a persuasive essay. I was about as eager to study the liberal arts as I was to read a dictionary for weekend pleasure. But I had no choice. In my first semester I signed up for a freshman writing class. For years I had read literature only under duress and had avoided writing altogether, except when my teachers forced me to put pen to paper. Fortunately, my writing professor, Dr. Nancy Miller, knew my type. Savvy and sociable, she was adept at handling people like me. When I griped one day about the writing requirement, she ignored me as if I had just made a bland comment about the Detroit Lions. When I told her that I simply did not need the course because I was not planning to write for a career, she replied, 'You never know, Jerry, how things will turn out.' She was right, of course. I ended up doing something far different from what I had assumed was God's will for my life. I did not attend medical school; I enrolled in seminary. I did not become a medical doctor; I became a minister instead. Later I returned to graduate school to earn an advanced degree. Now I serve as a college professor, and I write in my spare time. Words are therefore central to what I do. The writing course I took my freshman year of college became very useful to me, and my writing teacher proved to be a prophet. As it turns out, both course and teacher helped to prepare me for a vocation I never imagined at the time I would be doing. Inability to Predict the Future From this experience, I learned a valuable lesson I will never forget: We never know how things will turn out. What appears in our minds to be the pathway we should take might change as suddenly as weather in the Midwest. So we would be wise to be attentive and responsive to God along the way, even in matters that appear to have little significance, such as crafting good papers in a freshman writing class. Perhaps our attention to these little things is the will of God, and our preoccupation with the future a foolish distraction. As I look back on my forty-nine years, I see a pattern emerge. At various points along the way I thought I knew the pathway I was supposed to take, but I ended up doing something quite different. This different 'something' turned out to be the will of God. At twenty, I was sure that God wanted me to pursue a career in medicine; I became a minister instead. At thirty, I was planning to stay the course in pastoral ministry; now I am a college professor. At forty, I didn't aspire to be an avid writer; now I am finishing this, my fifth book. At every step along the way I thought I knew God's will for my life. I thought I had it all figured out. But it did not turn out as I had planned. It occurred to me a few years ago that either I had developed the bad habit of missing the will of God for my life, or I had a mistaken notion of what God's will was and is. The first alternative terrified me, for I had lived far too long and had made too many irreversible decisions---like getting married and having children---to wish I could start over in a vain attempt to get back on track. Besides, I have had too much evidence at my disposal---such as contentment of life and joy in my work---to assume that I had missed the will of God. It struck me as odd that I could wander that far off course without intending to, and yet not know it. So I concluded that I had misunderstood what God's will really is. Like a detective who had followed leads to one dead end after another, I decided to pursue another course altogether. I began to explore a different way of approaching the will of God. It proved to be one of the most exciting decisions I ever made. Suffering Loss The inability to predict the future was the first clue that set me searching in a different direction. But it was not the only clue I had. A second clue came from suffering loss. My wife Lynda and I had four wonderful children, two girls and two boys. We were deliriously happy. But that happiness---what we assumed was the 'will of God' for our lives---came to a sudden halt in the fall of 1991 when a drunk driver jumped his lane and collided with our minivan, killing Lynda, my mother Grace, who was visiting us for the weekend, and my daughter Diana Jane. Four of us survived. John, then only two, was seriously hurt. Catherine (eight), David (seven), and I were injured, though not badly enough to require hospitalization. That experience set me to thinking about the will of God. I had assumed that my marriage to Lynda was the will of God, that our family of six was the will of God, that the happy, stable, prosperous life we enjoyed together was the will of God. We were, as so many said, 'the ideal family.' How could God allow such a tragedy to happen?1 I could not believe that God had suddenly changed his mind about what he willed for us---a good marriage and a healthy family. How, then, could my life as a single father of three traumatized children also be the will of God? The accident forced me to reconsider my assumptions about God's will. Did God plan only 'the good life' for me? If so, I wondered how I could integrate suffering into my understanding of God's will. Or did God plan something very different for me, something still good, but also hard and painful at the same time? If so, I had to face the prospect that my approach to the will of God was entirely mistaken.

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