“Why doesn’t God just gave me a straightforward answer when I ask Him for His will?” Invariably someone will ask this when I run a seminar on “Finding God’s Will.” The logic of this question is even clearer in an Google age. After all when I need to know something I just Google and there are the answers. Why on earth doesn’t God set up a similar search engine? Or maybe a 1-800 number. 1-800-Godspeaks?
There are many ways I can answer this question.
Often I remind folks that God only answers when we are ready to obey. He doesn’t entertain approaches that go “you tell me the answer first God and then I decide if I will obey.” If we are to hear from God we are to approach Him in the fear of the Lord, which essentially means with a will in submission to Him.
Or I remind them that probably their life is so noisy that God’s still small voice just gets drowned out. And impatience is so loud. In the words of Emilie Griffin: “We are so busy with our complaints and our requests that we hardly stop to listen for the voice of God…how can the voice be heard, unless we listen? Sometimes God can hardly get a word in edgewise.”
In truth I do not know for sure why God doesn’t simply answer every time I have a query for Him. But my strong suspicion is that it has something to do with this: That God’s primary concern is that we grow in maturity. And that is something that is unlikely to happen if He gives us some technique to get Him to speak.
When I was in primary school (grades 1-6) I had a friend who told me that he and his brothers used to go to the cemetery at night to ask the spirits for “numbers”, i.e. the winning numbers of upcoming lotteries. I forget the steps involved. It had something to do with impaling a grave with a bamboo stick at midnight, saying the right spells and offering the right food offerings, some form of DIY shamanism.
The focus of such exercises was not the spirit, nor even those asking. The focus of the exercise was the information required. I feel the modern approach to questions hasn’t moved too far beyond such a culture. We all want information on all sorts of issues. Of course that includes the critical ones like marriage partners and job choices.
But how many of us are interested in knowing what God is truly like? How many of us want to go deeper in our relationship with Him? And how many of us have “growing in Christlikeness” as life priority one?
The temptation is that we are not really that interested in knowing God more. And essentially we want to live our lives with minimal reference from the Big Guy. Until we need something from Him, like answers.
This temptation finds fertile ground in an age so enamoured with technique and the technical. Here is Quentin Schultze’s warning:
“If we are not careful , even prayer can become just another instrumental technology to employ when everyday modes of control do not work. Prayer slips into machine logic, a means for manipulating God and neighbor to produce our desired results.”
If our primary focus is on the right technique to get God to speak, how different then are we from those who are basically bosses of their own fates until they need something from the Big Guy? Then its time to visit the temple. Or the right holy men. And once we get the desired answers its back to life as usual, which is essentially life lived with little consciousness of God.
Evangelicals are quick to answer that God’s primary means of communicating His Mind to us is the bible. And they are right. The bible properly interpreted should be our primary means to discern what God desires (Psalm 119:105). My only fear is that we reduce God to a book and depersonalize our exercise of knowing His mind.
Therefore we note that God also guides us through His Spirit. God Himself comes to us to guide us but often He does that by bringing to our minds the words of the Lord that apply to a given situation (John 16:12-15).
The centrality of God’s written Word in any exercise in knowing His will presupposes that we are on an ongoing journey of knowing His Word, and a journey of being known by His Word as we allow the Word to reveal who we truly are (James 1:22-25) and to shape us to what we should become.
That this is God’s primary approach to knowing His mind is something that the Word itself teaches.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God?what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2 NRSV
This then is the tension of modern life. Our lives are fast. We need answers quickly. So much of modern life exists to support such a pace and the focus is on doing things quickly rather then wisely. And we approach hearing God in the same way.
The trouble is God refuses to play our game. He sticks to His divine agenda, which is to build a new humanity, a transformed people who will bear His image in the world. He knows that in the long run, a transformed people will be able to know His heart accurately, in fast times or in slow. And so He refuses to give us a 1-800 number. Or allow us to Google His will.
Basically He asks us, “Do you want Me or do you just want information?” If it is just information we want there is Bloomberg. If it is God we desire, we switch off the cell phones, unplug, and enter into a posture of worship.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan