I’ve had a chance to participate in a lot of groups and committees during the last few years, and I’ve found that the decisions that emerge from group discussions are, more often than not, messy, uncertain compromises. We look at our options, think through the consequences of each one, decide what the risks are, and then strike out, not quite knowing where the decision will take us. Families, spouses, businesses, churches, juries, and voters all do the same thing. We get together, discuss the issues for a while, and then start doing what we think is best. Then, hopefully, we live through the consequences – positive or negative – together.
Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that things work differently for God. I came to think that God has this very specific plan in mind. My job wasn’t to question or discuss any issues with him. I was simply required to puzzle out what he wants (I might sometimes call it “discernment of God’s will”) and then do whatever I came to believe God wanted.
Problem was, I was never very good at identifying what God wanted from me. I might pray about it. Sometimes, I might even look around after I prayed to see if any unusual things began to happen which would suggest that God is pointing me toward a particular decision. But, for the most part, I really wasn’t very good at unraveling the cosmic puzzle of God’s will.
Over time, I decided that this way of doing things – which feels more like a military drill than a personal relationship – was inadequate. I wanted to come to think of my relationship with God in a way that was more organic, more interactive.
Then, earlier this week, I ran across something that was very helpful to me. I listened to Rob Bell read a part of a letter that was generated by a group of first-century Christians which we now call the Counsel of Jerusalem. Their objective was to put together a set of rules that would allow two ethnically diverse groups of people to co-exist within the same church. (If you want to know the details about the letter, you can read it here). And when this group came to describe how certain they were about their decision, do you know what they said?
It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…
It seemed good to the Holy Spirit? It…seemed…good?!
They are basically saying – we talked this over with each other and asked God what he thought, and he agreed with what we were thinking: “Yeah….seems good.”
What is going on here? Is this what it looks like? Is God, rather than telling this group what to do, instead letting them wrestle with the issue and then endorsing the decision they have made by affirming that – to him – it also seems good? Is God more a partner than an overlord in this decision?
I’m still struggling to grasp this fully, but I wonder how things would be different if I took the Acts 15 approach to my decisions. Instead of assuming that God comes into all of my life decisions with a pre-planned, pre-packaged program that I am to execute thoughtlessly, emotionlessly, maybe…just maybe…he sometimes wants me to mull things over for myself and then ask him what he thinks of my idea.
And perhaps, sometimes, what I ought to expect is not the cold, unbending command of a field general, but the gentle voice of a loving father who simply approves.