Updated: Aug 6, 2020
“When should I eat?” Adam asked God.
“Whenever you’re hungry,” He replied.
“I’m hungry now. But what tree do You want me to eat from?” he asked again.
“Except that one, whichever you desire.”
“Okay. I want peaches and pears, so how many do You want me to have?”
“As many as you wish, Adam.”
“Okay, but where do You want me to eat them?”
God didn’t tell Adam to ask Him how, when, where, or what he should eat. He just said to avoid one tree – everything else was up to him. God’s will for our lives is a lot like this. Unless He’s given us individual instructions, this is the general way He guides us. We’re to “consider Yahweh in the path” we take, and we’ll be assured that He “will make your path straight” (Prov. 3:6). As long as the path lines up with what He’s revealed to us, we’re free to choose whichever one we want.
How do we know what His will for us is?
Modeling a Model of a Model
My five-month-old smiles when I smile, looks where I look, laughs when I laugh and makes the noises I make. Precious. She’s becoming her own little approximation of my wife and me, which gives us excitement and caution since it’ll be for the better and for the worse.
We’re all a conglomeration of impressions of the people we’ve watched during our lives, so everything we say, do, and create was inspired by someone else. Imitation is a prime function of being human and foundational for discovering God’s will.
Paul set himself up as an image for others to imitate like an instructor molding a clay model for his class to replicate: “Join in imitating me” (Phil. 3:17). This included copying anyone who even resembled him: “keep our eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” (Phil. 3:17). What about his example were they to copy?
He’s pointing to the autobiographical portrait he just sketched, where he exposed his obsession with becoming like Jesus in all ways, even in His death (Phil. 3:10). That’s what he presented for them to replicate: his replication of Jesus.
“I yearn for you all,” Paul told them, “with the affection of Christ” (Phil 1:8). The affections of Christ! As the mystical presence of Jesus, he embodied even His affections. When he looked at people he thought of them as Jesus would, felt for them as Jesus would, treated them as Jesus would, and poured his life out for them “as a sacrificial offering” like Jesus did (Phil. 2:17). He was willing – even passionate – to live and die for them. As Jesus.
The Secret of Transformation
Do people see Jesus of Nazareth when they look at me? The answer makes us cringe bitterly. Even Paul knew he was inevitably distant from perfection (Phil. 3:12), as he knew there is always more self to sacrifice, and more Jesus to emulate. But he also knew how to advance in this passion, and it wasn’t a secret.
“We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). That’s it! Did you catch it?
It’s obscured by most translations, but the Greek syntax indicates that it’s the act of beholding the glory of the Lord that causes us to be transformed into that same glory – "from" seeing His glory "to" becoming His glory. It’s a picture of His face shining in ours until our face resembles His. The more we see Him, the more we become like Him. As John put it, “When He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2). Like being warmed by the sun’s warmth, we’re made compassionate by the Son’s compassion.
We must see Jesus ourselves, then we can be Jesus to people. That is both our life mission and the means to accomplish it.
What God Wants From Us
So should I live in Kansas or Canada, be married to Lisa or Laura, as a plumber or a pianist, with two kids or three, driving a Toyota or a Tesla? Does God want you to get life insurance? Or invest in Microsoft? Or get a master’s in technology? And should you lay out a fleece to find out?
If we’re personifying the affections of Christ to others, we’re in God’s will. And we can do this just about anywhere, with almost anyone, through many avenues of work and play, as long as we’re the someone we’re called to be.
God wants to partner with us, not puppeteer us. We have unique intellects and appetites so we can regulate things ourselves, like our diet; not so He can dictate “eat half a pear at 3:00 P.M. standing up facing Southwest”. He desires us to desire what He desires so He can be present through our choices. We’re partners.
When we’re driven by a passion to have Christ’s compassion, we’re free to choose whatever path our desires lead us down (unless otherwise specified: see Acts 16:6-7). When Christ’s heart envelops our heart, His will and our will become one, and “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). See and be Jesus, and the rest is our preference.
Of course, making decisions is more complicated than this. It involves taking inventory of the available options, weighing the pros and cons, and seeking wise perspectives from those who know and love us best – all with prayer. It also doesn’t exclude being prodded by the Shepherd’s staff at times. But the affections of Christ drive the movement. How does it work? It’s pretty simple?
Saturated with His Presence
You know the tall fountains that pour into a bowl that then spills over into other bowls, and then even more bowls all the way down? Jesus is like the fountain, and we’re the bowls. He pours into us so we can spill over into others so they can overflow into others until the whole world is eventually “filled with the knowledge of the glory of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).
We’re importers and exporters: we soak up God’s presence, then we wring it out on others. How? Like Paul, we must personalize Jesus’ love for us: “I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). Personalize it.
Jesus adores you. He values you. Look what He went through just to free you. Recite, memorize, think about, talk about, pray through, and cry and rejoice over this night and day until it laces your very DNA and colors your vision. Then all you do and see can be tainted by the affections of Christ. But don’t stop there.
Be directed by the affections of Christ, then convert those affections into changes in the lives of those around you. Look at people through Jesus-lenses, ask questions, then act on them. What’s Jesus’ heart for this person? Are they happy? Have they been loved? Do they have fulfilling relationships? How have they been hurt? What are their needs – physical, emotional, mental, financial, and social? Then extend your hand to them as the hand of Jesus, and open your mouth with the comforts of Jesus. Show them love, meet their needs, and heal their hurts. As long as we're about this, the details are up to us.
That’s it. Possessed by the affections of Christ. Conduits of the presence of Christ. If this is our ambition, then God will partner with us on whatever path we take. God’s will isn’t narrow and opaque, like walking a tightrope in the dark; it’s an open field pregnant with potential for us to explore and choose for ourselves, knowing that God will partner with our decisions to make them good for us and His kingdom.