Which Will of God?

Someone stopped me in the hallway today and asked me, “Do you think God wants you to be a bishop?”  The question took me by surprise.  I have been endorsed by the delegation of my conference (Wisconsin) as a candidate for the Episcopacy.  It is both humbling and an honor to know that others discern the gifts, qualities and characteristics in me that allow them to feel I could serve effectively as a bishop.  The Episcopacy is not something to which I have ever aspired, and I realize there is a bell-curve — probably as many people think I would be a terrible bishop as think I would be a good one.  But does God want me to be a bishop?  What a bizarre concept to me.  I don’t think God wants me to be a bishop anymore than God doesn’t want me to be a bishop.  I am not sure God has an opinion one way or the other.  Last week in Portland I met with members of delegations from across the North Central Jurisdiction.  At the conclusion of one encounter, the gentle woman I was speaking with ended our conversation by looking me in the eye and saying, “You’ll be a bishop, if it’s God’s will.”

God’s will is a tricky matter.  One the one hand, all that is and that ever will be comes from the creative Spirit of God.  Nothing that is exists outside of God, therefore EVERYTHING that happens — good/bad, right/wrong, constructive/destructive, natural/human-made — is God’s will.  What gets difficult is the extent to which God intervenes and interacts with the minute and mundane in daily living.  Do we really believe, in good Calvinist fashion, that all is pre-determined and pre-destined and that God has a gold-stamped envelope somewhere in heaven with the names of all of the next class of UM bishops?  Are we just going through the motions, God’s will be done, with no personal responsibility or influence in outcomes?  I find that hard to believe.  I am a firm free-will kind of guy.  Actions have consequences and we have choices.  I believe in a God big enough to conceive of every possible decision-tree of every person in every place and time, thereby aware of all possible outcomes, but I don’t believe in a god flipping switches and pulling levers to get specific outcomes to emerge from the vast range of possibilities.

It is not God’s responsibility to make me a bishop.  I am a gifted and graced individual, called and ordained, offered wonderful opportunities to use my skills to serve God and the church.  My rank, role, and/or position doesn’t change that.  It is my responsibility to use all I have been given in service to God.  This, I believe, is God’s will.  God doesn’t NEED me to do God’s will; it is in desiring to know and do God’s will that generates faith and joins people of faith in Jesus Christ together to bring about grace-driven transformation.  All the direction that life in the Spirit generates love, hope, kindness, mercy, unity, grace, compassion, patience, peace, generosity, self-control, forgiveness, respect, joy, gentleness, justice and reconciliation is the will of God.  Ours is simply to do the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Would I make a good bishop?  I don’t know.  Would I make a faithful, committed, fair-minded, inclusive, even-handed bishop?  I believe I would.  And am I the “full package?”  No way.  I will be a teaching, equipping, motivating bishop.  These are my gifts and my strengths.  Administration?  Not so much.  Prophet?  I have been told I am big-picture and visionary…  An institutional preserver?  No way!  An apostolic evangelical outreach to the corners of the world generator?  I am ALL over it.  Peace and justice?  You betcha!  Bricks and mortar?  Not so much.  I am not capable of being all things to all people.  What I will be is the best disciple of Jesus Christ I can be, seeking in every way to please, honor and glorify God.  But I will do that whether I become bishop or not.

7 replies

  1. A view from the UMC pew: This article points to the fundamental flaw present in the United Methodist Church: We are no longer a people of one faith. Once you get past there is a God and there is Jesus, across the denomination, there is no consensus as to what comes after that. I do not claim to be a Wesleyan scholar, but I have read enough of and about him that I feel confident in my assessment that, regardless of what else he did, his Priority #1 never wavered from connecting individuals to God and then to each other so that they could live a transformed life centered in God wherever they lived and regardless of their circumstances. There is no longer any consensus as to what Priority #1 is and I know from experience it is certainly not ensuring that the person in the pew has a robust understanding of who God is and who they are and what God requires of me in this life. After delving into the Heidelberg Catechism and three very modern books about it I agree with Kevin DeYoung’s assessment of what the church needs to be doing; it is from the intro to his book about the Heidelberg, “The Good News We Almost Forgot”:

    “No doubt, the church in the west has many new things to learn. But for the most part, everything we need to learn is what we’ve already forgotten. The chief theological task now facing the Western church is not to reinvent or to be relevant but to remember. We must remember the old, old story. We must remember the faith once delivered to the saints. We must remember the truths that spark reformation, revival, and regeneration…In a church age confused about the essential elements of the Christian faith—and whether Christianity has any doctrinal center at all—the Heidelberg Catechism offers a relentless reminder of the one doctrine that matters most: We are great sinners and Christ is a greater Savior.”

    I highly recommend DeYoung’s book as a wonderful example of basic orthodox Christian doctrine that is expressed in a refreshingly modern way without losing any of the WOW Factor. I wish the teachings from this book, as well as the other books about the Heidelberg written by M. Craig Barnes and Starr Meade, had been available a long time ago.

  2. Great book read a long time ago that I found helpful….The Will of God by Leslie D Weatherhead….Bet you all know that one!

  3. I have been thinking a great deal about the concept of God’s will over the last few months, particularly in the context of the Lord’s (or Disciples’) Prayer – ” . . . thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven . . .”

    I am captivated by the invitation to intimacy with the first person of the Trinity which Jesus extends in teaching this prayer to his followers. To know the will of another person reflects a deeply loving connection, and to volunteer to be entrusted to perform that will on behalf of the other shows a supreme trust in that love. This is what Christ is teaching us when he continually teaches us to pray this prayer of the Church.

    It is exactly the kind of partnership Dan speaks of here. Another author I would recommend, from the Baptist tradition, is Kirk Byron Jones, and in particular his book, “Holy Play: The Joyful Adventure of Unleashing Your Divine Purpose.”

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