I imagine that is the question most of us ask ourselves in one form or another fairly often. It is not, "What does Pastor Fish want?" Most of you could care very little about that question. The question is, "What do I personally want?" It is the question we confront every time we wish something were different than it is, or when we aim to change our future into something more appealing to us.
It is the question of the flesh - belonging to, flowing out of, and serving the sinful flesh. For sinful man, it is unavoidable. The question is not even completely wicked. What we make of the question and how we answer it may be sinful, at times, but it is not necessarily sinful to have desires or ambitions.
Still, the better question, which we cannot always answer, is, "What does the Lord want?".
We cannot always determine the answer. In truth we rarely may be able to determine the answer, but we should be formulating the first question in the light of the second question. That is the sense of what James wrote in his epistle, Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that." But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
Our lives are a gift to us from the Lord. It is not just the fact of living that is God's gift, but the situation and environment in which we live, the times and social and political atmosphere in which we live, our own condition and powers are all gifts from God who has planted us where we are and made us to be what we are to confront the moments in which we live. God has placed us in life to bear witness to Him and confess His goodness, love and grace both by word and by deed. He has equipped us with opportunities, knowledge, talents, and His own guidance by the Holy Spirit to confess Christ and bear the cross.
There have been much more exciting and seemingly desirable times and places in which to be a Christian. We are not in them by His choice, and because He has prepared us for these times and circumstances, not those. If we were to find ourselves in other times and circumstances than where God has put us, we might well mess up big time. Heaven knows many of the people who found themselves in the times we imagine were ideal messed up, wandered from the faith, and did not make a good confession.
Now, if God had placed us in those times and circumstances, that would mean He had prepared us for them. So, the previous paragraph deals with a hypothetical situation that I don't believe could actually exist, but I stated it the way I did to make the point that where we are and what we face is not contrary to the plan or knowledge of God, even when it is challenging, uncomfortable, and contrary to our desires and expectations.
Perhaps it is helpful to remember that Jesus did not want to go to the cross, or suffer all that was ahead of Him during the Passion. It was the will of His Father, and He desired to be faithful and do the will of His Father, but the pain and humiliation and death were not appealing to Him. That is the message of the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt." He confessed that His soul "was sorrowful to the point of death" - as He looked forward to what He knew was coming the anticipation was almost too much to bear even physically.
The will of God for us is not always sweetness and light. There are moments of sweetness and light, at least as I have experienced my life, but they are not the overarching theme of life as God's child in this world. Jesus warned His disciples that the world would hate them because they loved Him, and the world has continued for two millennia to prove out the prophecy of Christ on this issue.
Part of what we should (note the subtle use of LAW) aim at in our thinking and planning is that our wills align with our heavenly Father's and that we desire what He desires, and that He blesses us in such a way that we will be able to bear what comes and do what is asked of us and be faithful as His servants and children.
There are, for example, some things in this world I dearly desire, but I am learning to say, "Not my will, but Thine be done," and actually mean it knowing what the alternative to my desire might well be. I already have salvation and eternal life in Christ. While I may want conditions in this life to favor my preaching of that truth, that might not be His will. My discomfort, physical or mental, may serve His purpose by setting faith before the unbelieving or before other believers. I cannot see what the plan of God is, I just have to trust that I am in it and serving it by faithfulness and faithfully doing the things that God sets before me to do.
Then, while I am wrestling with the flesh to silence its selfish desires, I need to learn to give thanks in all situations, not just the ones I enjoy. It is not that there is something to be thankful for in every situation, but I want to learn to be thankful in every situation because it is the situation that my Lord has placed me in and entrusted to me to serve Him in. That is very counter-intuitive to the modern mind.
I find I must be thankful for being in the situation I find my self in because God has chosen me for that position and charged me with being His child faithfully in that place. I can also rejoice because I know He is with me to bless me, even when I cannot sense the blessing or blessedness of my condition. It is part of learning to live in the light of the truth that God is God and I am not. I am His servant, humble (at my best), and totally unneeded by Him for anything.
But He had chosen to use me and permit me to serve nonetheless.
Some of the things I confront on my sojourn in this world are intended to teach me humility, or so I suspect. I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, necessarily. I used to think I might be, but I have learned that there are many sharper than I am, wonderful men and women of faith with marvelous gifts from God to serve in His church. I am, however, the tool the Lord has chosen to apply in this situation and at this time. My earnest desire is that I do not fail, but accomplish what the Lord has set me here in this life and in this time to accomplish.
I would prefer to be a big name and big voice in the church, but I am not. Perhaps I am called at this time in my life to be a still, small voice outside of the church, in the world at large, for Him and for His grace. I am called to serve my neighbor in ways I never anticipated serving, and by serving my neighbor I serve God. It doesn't make me the great preacher and teacher I had once dreamed of being, but perhaps it makes me the faithful witness or the seasoning of the Word of God in the world around me that God would have me be.
I am not bearing my soul here to complain or to elicit pity. I am talking frankly (in print) about my situation and the things I wrestle with in life as an example of how life might work also for some of you. I know my life, intimately. I do not know what God has in store for me on this planet -- how many years or what sort of health or what my ministry will be like in the future. I wish I did, sort of. Sometimes I think knowing in advance might frighten me. But I know that God is with me, that I am one of His favorite people (a person of His favor), and that He is guiding every step of my journey. Even when I turn and take missteps, He is there to bless me and use me somehow, and guide me back to the path He would have me take.
I am absolutely one of God's favorite people. I have seen evidence of it throughout my life, and on the cross of Christ. But I am not unique or better than any of you, nor more favored. Our Lord has every single one of His children in His sight, figured into His plan, serving in absolute grace, doing what God would have them do, except for their sins, of course. The magnitude of His grace and wisdom are flabbergasting to contemplate. His eyes are not just on me, not just on His chosen, but He has everyone worked into His plan, whether they want to be or not, whether they know it or admit it or run screaming through the world denying His existence and His love.
Because I know my story, and my thoughts, better than anyone else's, I use myself as an example - but not an example of ME, I mean to use me as an example of His great love and kindness and goodness, of my stumbling and weak faith and apprehension of His grace and goodness. I hope that as you read it you can fit yourself and your story into the parts that sound somewhat familiar to your experience and know that God is with you - intimately.
Many people stumble over the difficulties, frustrations and pains of life because they insist on defining love, or grace, or God's goodness according to the standards of the flesh. Illness or misfortune or adverse happenings are received as evidence of some lack in God or His love or His presence. They forget that God is not just human. He is above us in many ways. "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts."
It kind of comes down to trust. Some people are not comfortable trusting God if He is not willing to measure life and good and evil by the same standards that make sense to them. If God is going to be good, they know what good will look like, and if God fails the test and does not measure up to their demands and expectations, then they have to rethink everything. Either God does not exist for them, or He must stand at a distance and watch without involving Himself in their lives. But He says that He is a God who is near and not a God far away, Jeremiah 23:23.
Many people are comfortable with an image of God as the grand watchmaker, who started the machine running and watches it run down, interfering now and again, but not much. Others see God as playing favorites with those who follow the rules or learn how to coax the goodies out of God. None of those images of God match the one He has given us: loving, fatherly, intimately involved, working good and forgiving sins and subtly and broadly enticing us, calling us by His Word and sending His Holy Spirit to work in us and work through us.
God is love. God is good. God is wise. God is omnipresent. He doesn't switch from one thing to the other in series, He is all that He is all of the time, and all of eternity. I cannot believe those things about God and allow myself to imagine that He is not aware of what is going on in my life or unconcerned about how I am. He showed me how deep His love is when He sent Christ to the cross in my place to win for me everlasting life and full forgiveness. When Jesus said, "It is finished", or "Tetelestai" He told me that I was rescued, safe and secure.
I just have to work at wrapping my mind around the thought that what is good for me in this situation or that circumstance is not necessarily what I think it is, but what God thinks it is - or rather what God knows it is. I am not going to be comfortable at every moment until I am in glory with Him, and who knows what comfortable will be like there?
So I hide myself in His Word. In the context of this newsletter article I find particular comfort and safety in Romans 8:18, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." That tells me that when I finally stand before the Lord, with His goodness and glory poured out on me, and everyone who belongs to Him, it will be so wonderful that I might well be embarrassed to have endured so little and chafed so much under the hand of the Lord in this life.
What do I want? I want to trust in the Lord with all my heart. I want to do what He wants me to do, and serve Him. I want to be a faithful child of God. That is what I want - and so do you.
Yours in the Lord,
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