by Kevin Hester
I have two college-age sons, one in high school, and one in middle school. They have been raised in a Christian home and my wife and I have prayed that they would find and pursue God’s will. They seem to be trying, just like most of the students I deal with at Welch College, to do just that. My incoming college freshman is wrestling as I write this whether to major in missions, or psychology, or both. I can tell it’s really bothering him. I recently asked my oldest son what he considered to be the biggest question of his generation and he said, “finding God’s will…how do you know?”
I have thought a lot about this question since he posed it to me a few weeks ago. I remember the angst myself. God’s will always seemed to be so mysterious. I heard people talk about calls and experiences and though I felt God’s presence and truly committed myself to Him to do anything He wanted, what He wanted wasn’t entirely clear. I prepared for the ministry at Free Will Baptist Bible College. I was a pastoral major and worked during my senior year there as an assistant pastor and minister of music with a local congregation. I loved the work and the people. I graduated and moved to St. Louis, Missouri to attend seminary. I looked for jobs at local Free Will Baptist churches but none materialized. Instead, I focused on my studies, my growing family, and began slowly moving up the ranks of the custodial staff at Covenant Theological Seminary.
I had always loved history and ever since Leroy Forlines’ classes I had come to embrace theology as well. I took every class in church history, theology, and philosophy I could at seminary. They seemed to draw me in. One day, my systematics professor asked if I had ever considered doing further work. I hadn’t . I had always assumed as soon as I got out of seminary I would find a church and settle into a pastorate. But the idea was born. So, after seminary I applied to some churches and to some graduate schools. The churches didn’t call but the schools did. Five years later, I found myself teaching at Free Will Baptist Bible College.
For me, finding God’s will was something I fell or grew into. It wasn’t something that I ever could have sketched out. I couldn’t have dreamed what God ultimately had in store for me. After all, I was just a country boy from Alabama. I was willing to let God use me but I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to be worth much.
Only recently have I truly begun to realize how wrong I was, and to a certain extent how wrong I still am. I fear that much of our evangelical rhetoric and many of the voices speaking to our millennial youth have perpetuated the mythos of God’s will in ways that run counter to the Christianity of the previous centuries.
This conversation with my son reminded me of an article I read a couple of years ago by a friend of mine from seminary named Anthony Bradley (What Anthony said drew a great deal of flack at the time. He posed the thesis that presentations of “radical Christianity” and “finding God’s will” had left the millennial generation discouraged and kept “ordinary people in ordinary places from doing ordinary things for the glory of God.” Instead of a missional, radical experience Bradley calls us back to a traditional Christian understanding of vocation. He poses the question, “What if youth and young adults were simply encouraged to live in pursuit of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, education, wonder, beauty, glory, creativity, and worship in a world marred by sin…no shame, no pressure to be awesome, no expectations of fame but simply following the call to be men and women of virtue and inviting their friends and neighbors to do the same in every area of life?”
The radical call of Christ is a call to love as He loved. Being a disciple is a “radical” call in this world but the focus is on love and not on what is done out of that love. This is something that John knew and Augustine pointed out in his reflection on I John 1. “Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will.” Tractatus VII.8.
You see, sometimes love looks very ordinary. I was loving my church when I led them in worship. I was loving my wife and children when I cleaned toilet bowls so we could have a roof over our heads and food on the table. I was loving God when I crammed for those exams, read all those pages, and wrote all those papers to learn more about Him. And during all those times, doing all those things, I was in God’s will. God’s will is not only about the future. It is about the now. I wasn’t waiting for God’s will, I was in it even then, even in the ordinary.
Dr. Ken Riggs preaches a sermon where he makes exactly this point. If you want to know God’s will, read His word. God’s will isn’t a mystery. There are Ten Commandments, strive to keep them. Jesus summed it up in Matthew 22 with the statement, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul.” Do this and God will take care of the rest.
I am reminded of C. S. Lewis’ reflection on self-image from Mere Christianity. In this work he argues that people with a healthy self-image rarely think of themselves at all. I wonder if the same thing couldn’t be said about God’s will. Those persons “in God’s will” don’t seem to think much about it all. They are too busy doing, too busy loving, too busy being ordinary; and perhaps, that is the most radical thing of all.
So I think I know now what I need to tell myself, my sons, and my students. Be who you are in Christ right now. Love and live. Be faithful. Be ordinary for God and He can do extraordinary things with you. If he can turn an Alabama country boy into a theology professor, I can’t wait to see what God will do with you.