As far as I can see, there is much confusion when it comes to “being
called by God”, “getting a vision from God” and “serving God”. In oh so
many cases we seem to expect concrete hints and commands from God when
it comes to these. Here, an alternative approach to calls, visions,
service and plans is developed, in harmony with my general view that
God’s concrete intervention in our lifes is really the special case
[see previous article “The
third way of life in this world
“]. As usual, you’re really welcome
here to discuss these thoughts and to add your own.

Exceptional character of calls and commands

Both from personal experiences and biblical confirmation it seems to
me completely bogus to think that God regularly
contributes to
decisions and projects in our lifes. In nearly all cases, he does not,
not even to the most important! Some proof material:

  • Paul. God did not concretely interfere with
    Pauls decisions, except of the initial call to mission [Acts
    13:2 BWE
    ] and the call to
    Macedonia [Acts
    16:6-11 BWE
    ]. Paul had to do all the plans and decisions himself.
    And he
    did, and did not give up, independent of the results! He knew that he
    was
    right, from the general will of God, not from the results.
  • Deciding whom to marry. That’s a decision with
    huge implications, yet according to Paul, a widow may marry any man she
    wants, if
    only he is a Christian [I
    Corinthians 7:39 BWE
    ].
    So God seems to guarantee no definite guidance: God wants the spouse to
    be also Christian, and that’s it.
  • Deciding if to marry. Paul viewed his state of
    singleness as God’s gift [I
    Cor 7:7 ESV
    ], yet he also spoke about his right to marry [I
    Cor 9:5 ESV
    ]. So a gift is not necessarily an obligation or a
    command from God, but rather a possibility.
  • The great many without concrete callings. It seems that
    nearly all peple in NT
    times never experienced concrete calls and commands from God. Rather,
    they lived as they saw fit, within the
    general, timeless will of God. Some examples:
    • Luke. He travelled with Paul at times, and even wrote
      two bible books, seemingly without a concrete command from God to do so
      [Luke
      1:1-4 BWE
      ].
    • Priscilla and Aquila. They took Paul in and worked
      together with him in their business [Acts
      18:2-3 BWE
      ], travelled with Paul for some time [Acts
      18:18 BWE
      ] teached Apollos when necessary [Acts
      18:26 BWE
      ]. Bible does not mention concrete calls and commands from
      God, and they did not need: they just did what seemed appropriate and
      good to them.
    • Timothy. Initially, he was not called by God. Instead, he
      started to travel and serve with Paul because Paul met him by
      chance, and wanted him to accompany him [Acts
      16:1-3 BWE
      ].

Basically, it seems that God wants people most of the time to care
about their lifes and decisions themselves, without immediate
calls and commands from God. We make God too small when we think his
main business is caring for
our everyday life; instead, that’s our business, while God offers
forgiveness, eternal life, truth and character transformation. Which
helps us also in everyday life, but as mediate, general gifts.

Of course, the Bible is filled with stories about God’s concrete
deeds. This can lead to the expectation that our life will be willed
with these, too. But one should see that the Bible probably collects
some extraordinary events from many thousand years and many thousand
people, so that it’s content is not representative for one
day of one person.

Even in the global view, it is no problem if calls and commands are
just the extraordinary case. For each person that would mean God did
not plan what concrete good works a person should do; compare
Eph
2:10 ESV
and Eph
2:10 BWE
for the difference. Instead, people shall think about good
works themselves and choose them. And globally that would mean that
every important good work gets done, by the statistical distribution
that’s implied when 200+ million Christians do something
good. Furthermore,
this world has so much more problems than Christians have capacity to
do
good: therefore it is also unimportant, to some extent, which good
works remain un-done, i.e. how resources are distributed to needs.

Implications of this understanding on daily life

  • Do not calculate God’s intentions from what happens. If
    one tries to determine the concrete plans of God with one’s personal
    life from what happens, one will nearly never hit God’s ideas. Of cause
    it is always correct to infer that God wants to sanctify me … that
    conclusiuon is justified even independent of my circumstances. But
    whether or not God wants me to go into mission, buy this or that, leave
    one church or join another, follow this or that strategy in church etc.
    can hardly be determined from
    circumstances in the sense of a concrete call or command. Instead, one
    can collect wisdom from the Bible,
    experiences and hints from fellow Christians etc., and use that as the
    basis for such decisions. We should not call that a direct call or
    command from God, but perhaps “wisdom”.
  • Just act rightly. God just wants us to do right
    permanently, and that’s all he wants when we have no concrete call.
    That is, act rightly also in difficult times and also if nothing
    changes to
    the better.
  • Sermons as a human activity. People choose the texts,
    people preach what they found out about these texts. Sermons are not
    filled with immediate words from God, spoken to a concrete church at a
    concrete time. Iinstead, sermons are a repetition of what God revealed
    to be general, unchanging truth.
  • Visions. Just as sermons, visions are human, in nearly
    all instances. Human visions are justified if compatible with the
    general will of God. Take Nehemia for an example: in his view, he yould
    not trace his vision back to a divine origin [Neh
    1:1-4 ESV
    ; 2,5
    ESV
    ]. Somebody who serves God should therefore not think that God
    placed exactly him in exactly that position, except if a real, direct
    call is implied.
  • Open doors. If it is true that concrete calls and
    commands are the exceptional case, our conception of “open” and “closed
    doors” should be re-thought. Perhaps, open doors are mostly a natural
    phenomenon of life, someting like accidental entropy decrease. This can
    be checked by looking for open-door experiences in the lifes of
    non-Christians.
  • Being led in the job? God wants to care for our basic
    material needs [Mt
    6:31-33 BWE
    ]. However, to think that God helps people in a rich
    western culture to find a good job would imply that he does not help
    the African people to find equally good jobs. Which would be unjust,
    and therefore cannot be.
  • What is walking by the spirit? You do not need to keep
    some “free space” in your life and keep
    listening to the Holy Spirit (in order to hear concrete commands).
    Instead, living out what God showed you about holiness by his general
    truth in the Bible already is living with the Holy Spirit.
    There is not necessarily a further, more concrete callin in your life.

Dealing with success

Some people claim that God gave the “responsibility” to build his
kingdom to us human beings. The view on calls and commands as shown
above implies the same when it comes to human initiative: yes, God
wants our initiative. Responsibility however also implies that we must
fulfill our duty, i.e. we have the responsibility to succeed.

I do not share this view. If God would guarantee the possibility to
succeed, it would be justified to think that he expects us to succeed
also. However, God does not guarantee this possibility: concrete calls
and commands (which could imply such guarantee) are not the regular
case, and it seems to me also that most events on this planet are not
within a “globally coordinated plan” of almight, transcendent God; as,
life is characterized by a free, self-controlled state, not by being
part of a big machinery. (But that’s my opinion, you don’t need to
share this.)

This opinion seems to get support from my observations: in many
cases, success depends on external circumstances that we cannot affect.
Success does not depend on ourselves or God, but on “the situation”,
including the reactions of the people whom we serve. Whereever our
plans succeed it is because we
happened to be in a behavior setting that favored our plans. (A
behavior setting is a set of outer circumstances that favor some
behavior; for a good overview of the theory, see [dissertation of Uta
Pankoke-Babatz
] (German), pp. 19-50). Even Paul hat not success in
everything he did. Cf. also an insight of Solomon: 

“Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor
the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the
intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance
happen to them all.” [Ecc
9:11 ESV
]

To sum this up: this view of initiative and success is, basically, a
conception of “free will” without the implication that humans have the
responsibility to “do right” / to succeed. So this is a conception of
free will that does not capture men into the bondage of heavy
responsibility.

What should be the practical implications of this view?

  • Take the pink glasss down. It might be that we have only
    contact with “successful” Christians. This will make us think that all
    Christians are successful, because God would guarantee this. However,
    there are also unsuccessful Christians out there. For biblical examples
    cf. [Heb
    11:35-38 BWE
    ].
  • You can serve God in freedom. If success is not our
    duty, serving God is really an enjoyable activity. Because we can enjoy
    the fact that God does not judge ur work by its effect or sucess.
    Instead, a totally effectless work gets just the same friendly
    acknowledgement
    from God as a successful work, if both share the same holy motivation
    and moral quality behind it.
  • Don’t blame God. If God’s concrete interaction with our
    lifes is the rare case, he is not to blame for bad situations in
    personal life and in the life of churches. These are not due to God’s
    concrete intentions / interventions, but rather a product of human
    activity and chance. As chance is involved, bad situations are also not
    one’s own fault only; therefore it is not generally justified to doubt
    one’s gifts and abilities in these situations.
  • Take yourage and fight through. Nehemia had a troubled
    time when following his vision to re-build the wall of Jerusalem [Neh
    4:1-23 ESV
    ]. Success is not the natural companion of good works; so
    if we have a troubled time, we need not think that our work is not good
    or even against the will of God. It*s just that God does not always
    support us to the utmost when we do his will, so that things work
    really smooth. Nehemia had
    the courage to fight his way through in a hostile world. As he did, we
    should do.

Hidden coordination

Currently, it deems on me that things might not be that simple as
put in this article. There might be concrete intervention from God,
resulting in some open and some closed doors and some success, but this
intervention might be hidden. One example might be Nehemia, whom I
mentioned so often in this article. By re-building Jerusalem’s wall, he
fulfilled a part of a prophecy given to Daniel [Dan
9:25 ESV
]. It is not mentioned however that he knew this;
nonetheless, God just integrated his actions into fulfilling prophecy.
The prophecy given to Daniel did not say that Nehemia would succeed, it
even mentions that Jerusalem will be re-built “in a troubled time” [Dan
9:25 ESV
]. Which could’ve meant that Nehemia would only have half
success, and the wall would be finished by somebody different. So, yes,
it is possible that human acitivity is integrated in a great, hidden
plan of God, but this cannot justify the fundamentalist idea that
“nobody can stop me because God Almighty is directly behind me and will
make me succeed”.

Another example for God’s hidden coordnation cold be prophecy in the
sermon, where the preacher unconsciously hits to the point what a
person needs.

In a nutshell

Christian living is more about the how, not about the what.
Keep close to Jesus, walk by the Spirit, and for the
rest you’re free and under the favor of God. View your actions as
essentially human activity in obedience to God’s general will, except
where God’s immediate instructions surprise you.

Augustine
put it thus: “Dilige, et quod vis fac”. Which is: “Love [God] and then
what you will, do.” The full quotation is actually this:

Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do
what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your
peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct,
through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let
the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is
good.

[Epistulam
Ioannis ad Parthos, Homily VII on the First Epistle of John, 8
]


Start date: 2007-11-18
Post date: 2007-12-03
Version date: 2007-12-03 (for last meaningful change)

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