Chaplain Norris Burkes: Seeking God’s will or willing God’s will?
“What does God want me to do about this, Chaplain?”
That’s a question I’ve been asked repeatedly over the years I’ve served as a military or healthcare chaplain.
An Army sniper sought my counsel wondering if God approved of him killing enemy combatants. Unhappy couples questioned if God was OK with divorce. The aging sought God’s will on disconnecting life-support machines. And in my present role as hospice chaplain, patients seek wisdom related to life-ending medications.
From the lovelorn to the life-torn, many of them simply wanted to distinguish the difference between God’s will and their personal, sometimes selfish, choices.
To help them discover the difference, I gave them the following five questions to ask themselves:
1. How does my faith inform me?
By this, I mean the principles of your faith – not just a single text for proof. I once wrote about getting a tattoo to celebrate my running accomplishments. It remains my first and only ink, but a reader still chided me with a single Bible verse he thought forbade tattoos.
“Doesn’t work that way,” I told him. “The Bible isn’t a rulebook; it’s a handbook.”
If the first question doesn’t illuminate your choices, then ask yourself a few more:
2. “What do I want to do?”
If you’re honestly seeking God’s will, then I don’t think God will require you to do what you don’t want to do. “But what about Jonah?” you wonder. “I know God sent a whale to get his attention.” Well, for the most part, God wasn’t the enemy Jonah had to confront, Jonah was.
3. What do your friends say?
Job’s friends misled him. Friends don’t always help you find God’s will, but on the other hand, all my friends affirm that God didn’t call me to dance.
However, when several high school classmates were impressed with my speaking ability, I declared a religion major. By the way, my wife says that God made me a minister because I can’t sit still in a pew.
4. What role are my addictions or desires playing in the issue?
Are you considering moving to Las Vegas? Don’t do it if you’re addicted to money, power or sex.
That’s not to say God can’t tame addictions. A friend of mine served as a chaplain on the Vegas strip and was often required to work backstage around topless women. He had no issues with it, but my wife has assured me that it wasn’t God’s calling for me.
5. How will this decision help others?
God’s will isn’t about us. It’s about helping people. If a divorce helps children out of an abusive home, then it might be God’s will. If divorce is about finding a more attractive mate, then it’s NOT.
At the end of the day, there are some things I don’t ask God. I wanted to buy a home, so I bought one. Materialism doesn’t interest God. He is more concerned with what owns us, not what we own. He’s concerned about our unhealthy attachment to things and our unhealthy detachment from those we love.
Finally, my father-in-law, a serious Bible student and pastor for 50 years, has always said that the most certain way you will know God’s will is when you experience the misery of being out of it.
I suppose that’s what Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales and voice of Bob the Tomato meant when he said, “There is no happier place than the intersection of God’s will and your giftedness.”
Handcrafted gifts and tasty treats will be featured during Victorian Christmas at the historic Nevada City United Methodist Church, also known as the church “at the top of Broad Street.”
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