I’ve made a transition in recent years in the way I think and talk about God’s will.
For many people, the will of God is a mysterious, elusive and frustrating concept. Too often, we have made it into a game that borders on God playing “keep away” with us. We speak of God’s will as though it were something God hides or does not want us to know.
Some confuse God’s will with luck, coincidence or happenstance. Others are sure that if they could just decipher God’s will, then their life, family, marriage, church or career would be straightened out and all would be well.
At times of tragedy or death, some blame God for things that are far from his intentions for us. Others reduce God’s will to pragmatic decisions about whom to date, what school to attend, where to eat dinner, what to do on vacation and so on.
God’s will has become a source of conflict and confusion for many.
Like much of our confusion, our misunderstandings of God’s will for us stem from our lack of biblical literacy.
The Bible is rather clear that God’s will is knowable and available to all. Many a time, I have suggested to someone seeking God’s will that he or she take Matthew 5-7 and simply spend time reflecting on and doing the things Jesus explicitly speaks to in the Sermon on the Mount.
Those pages are full of God’s will for his people. As the Lord’s Prayer suggests, God’s will is inextricably connected to God’s Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.
God’s will is bound up in all those things that bring God’s Kingdom to reality among us. If you are confused about this, then nothing about life as a Christ-follower will make sense to you.
I think our language proves to be a hindrance at this point. Thus, a few years ago I shifted to no longer talk about God’s will for people or a congregation, but rather to speak of God’s dream for us.
Before, when I would ask a couple preparing for marriage what they thought God’s will was for their life together, their eyes would glaze over and they would mumble some religious pabulum that nearly put me to sleep.
Now, when I ask them to tell me about God’s dream for their life together, their eyes light up and they engage their imagination around the amazing possibilities God has for them.
Same with congregations, clergy, deacon bodies and church staffs. Talk about God’s will, and familiarity breeds a degree of contempt.
Ask them what they believe God’s dream for them is or invite them to “dream with God” about their future, and energy emerges as they envision possibilities and activate a part of their imagination that has been dormant for far too long.
Healthy churches dream. Healthy clergy have visions. Healthy Christians have healthy imaginations.
One of the most important conversations you will ever have with your children, spouse, congregation or any group seeking to live life with meaning and purpose is when you ask: What is God’s dream for us?
Throw that out at your next deacon retreat or Sunday school lesson or sermon planning event. I hope such a conversation is a regular and deliberate part of your life.
The pace of life is such that many of us neglect carving out time to think, dream and imagine under the Spirit’s guidance.
To try and do church without an overarching divine dream guiding us is to reduce congregational life to the mechanical work of trying to balance budgets, count attendance, run programs, marry and bury, and manage facilities.
No wonder our churches and ministers are burning out with frustration over such a small and boring agenda.
What is God’s dream for you? It is the essential question for us. Why not set aside a season to dream your dreams and then align them with the Divine dream for you and your congregation?
Start by looking to the biblical witness and church history for stories that inspire and invite us to imitate. Take stock of the amazing assets God has blessed you with.
Look honestly at the community around you and the overwhelming opportunities before you. Then, dream together. Make it God-sized and more than you can do on your own.
The result will be clarity of purpose and energy for making such dreams into reality.
Who knows: Perhaps you will be able to pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and actually know the joy of seeing that dream come true around you.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Healthy Churches (CHC) housed at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.