Sometimes, a day seems like a chess match. You versus the day. Or maybe better, you versus the devil. He is someone much more skilled than you at this game. A superior thinker and strategist, smarter in every way. As hard as you play the game, as hard as you think, you’re always behind. You can’t think ahead as well as he can. You make dumb moves. Your pieces thin out on the board, or, perhaps, they stay and you’re lulled into a false sense of security as he lures you into his trap. And a chilling “checkmate” rings in your ears before you know it. You’ve been had. You tried, but it wasn’t good enough. You sit there mouth agape, dumbfounded, as this devilish dude laughs and scorns you in wicked delight. Checkmate.
But you know how when a master and a rookie play chess, there’s often some third guy watching it? He’s kind of an adviser to the rookie, an older, kinder master bent on helping the rookie, much to the chagrin of the other master-player. If the rookie listens to his adviser more often than not, he’ll win.
I think God is a lot like that Master Adviser. He knows. You don’t. He (literally) wrote the book on how to do it. He tells you how to play the day. He makes clear what are the dumb moves and what are the right moves. He cares deeply about you and you being victorious in this game. If you listen to what he says, you’ll win. If you ignore his advise, or drown it out by the loud droning of your own feeble ideas, you’ll lose.
This analogy isn’t perfect, but for sure I’ve been losing one game too many. It’s about time for me to become a better listener to the third man. How about you?
Recently I have been deep in thought – or needing to be deep in thought, and went to a local desert to be alone with God for a while. It really helped me and served as a reminder of the importance of the spiritual discipline of being alone with God. I have never done this as much as I’ve wanted, but it’s so nice to get away when I can.
Solitude is an important spiritual discipline, as long as you don’t neglect your responsibility to serve others!* Solitude and deep investment into people’s lives go hand-in-hand. But lately I sense that popular Christianity tends toward serving others at the neglect of intimate seclusion with God.
Jesus is the perfect model for us in this. We all know of His constant and spectacular ministry among the people, but there is frequent, if discreet, reference to His solitude as well. At the start of His ministry the Spirit led Him to the desert alone for 40 days (Luke 4.1). In Capernaum after hectic days of teaching and healing the sick into the night, “in the early morning while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” (Mark 1.35). Before choosing the Twelve Disciples, Jesus spent all night alone in prayer (Luke 6.12). In a difficult period of Jesus’ ministry – after being rejected in Jerusalem, his colleague John the Baptist was just killed by Herod, and the 5,000 men he miraculously fed tried to make Him a political ruler rather than believe in Him as Savior – He went up the mountain by Himself (John 6.15). Jesus taught the importance of one-on-one prayer for all of His followers in the famous Sermon on the Mount, saying, “When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6.6).
My theology professor in college really ingrained in me how important this was. Addressing how stressed and worn out everyone in class was, he challenged us to go out somewhere – anywhere – and be alone with God for a day. An entire day! He shared that one time after he had done this, he worked in a noisy, hot, and dark woodshop cutting boards all day long – but with the same sense of peace and God’s presence as the day before.
It’s such a valuable thing to go away from your normal busy life into seclusion with God! If God created and saved us for relationship with Him, how could this not be a priority? God is worth the time ( See “Major Decisions Call for Major Actions”). Such secluded times are often difficult, because you see just how messed up your life and faith is, but are undoubtedly rewarding and carry you on to further maturity in Christ.
* Some in the Patristic and Medieval Church have gone too far with this discipline, and avoided people altogether or even saw solitude as “more spiritual” than being with others.
That’s the big question in the young Christian community. Usually we mean something specific: should I go to this college or that college or not go at all, or marry so-and-so, or which career, where should I live, etc. But it’s illuminating to survey where definitions of the “the will of God” appear in the Bible:
- “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” Jesus, John 6.40
- “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;” 1 Thessalonians 4.3
- “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5.18
- “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12.2
- “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5.15-17
- “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him . . . For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” 1 Peter 2.13-15.
God’s specific calling on your life (career choice, marriage, etc.) is irrelevant if you’re not staying in Jesus’ teaching – something you can do whenever and wherever you’re at. God has already shown his will in the most important things. Believing in Jesus for eternal life and making that truth known, giving thanks to God, staying away from sexual sin, walking in wisdom, renewing our minds with the things of God, submitting to the government and other commands of the Bible are essentials, whether you’re a plumber or a pastor, if you live in San Fransisco or San Juan, whether your single or dating or married.
To know God’s will we need to look to God’s Word. He makes it clear. So why are we so worried and anxious about it? We have great freedom in Christ. And all those specifics? That’s a topic for another day, but as my old college pastor Steve Griffin said: “Focus on being a passionate disciple of Jesus Christ. Everything else will follow in on its own.”
We often have big, important decisions in our life, especially when we’re young (though not limited to that time). For me and many I know, now is a time when big decisions are to be made that will affect the rest of our lives – that goes without saying. The question is, how do we navigate all these options? How do we judge what to do?
I don’t know all the answers (for sure!) but I know a suggestion to get to answers: seek God. Seek God. If God has a plan for our life, and He does, we should to go to Him to find out what it is, and in so doing get to know Him more deeply so you can make the right decision. The Bible has many examples of what God-followers have done to do this – radical actions, like fasting from eating food, praying night and day for help, writing psalms to the Lord, fleeing into the wilderness to pray. Names include Moses, Hannah, David, Elijah, and Jesus Himself.
Don’t you think making an important decision calls for something drastic? Maybe we need to go into the mountains or beach or somewhere and be alone with God for a day, or two days, or longer. Maybe we need to get up earlier, go to bed later, or fast from meals for a while so we can use those spaces of time in prayer and interaction with God’s Scripture.
This is not some legalistic thing, some deed you must do to be a spiritual hero. If you want to be serious about God, be serious about Him! It’s not unusual to do extreme things like be alone with our Creator for days or fasting. First, if you have a relationship with anyone, it’s the most natural thing in the world to spend time with them; second, if you’re thinking of some big decision with another person, like marriage, moving or whatever, it’s appropriate to spend time to talk and think it through together. Same thing with God. If you’re a Christian, He’s with you all the time. It’s fitting to talk through things with Him, besides the reasons that He’s your God, Savior, and the King of your life. Seeking God isn’t not some checklist on a list of rules to be a good person. It’s just this: How serious will you be with God about serious decisions in your life? How much do you want to get to know the Eternal Lover and Savior of your soul?
Just a rambling thought. 🙂