Facing Work Tomorrow

Facing Work Tomorrow March 27, 2011

I grew up with the idea that I could only be happy if I found “God’s will.” People do weird things because they think they are doing God’s will. I once met a man who told me God spoke to him about starting a fishing business in the Caribbean, and it so happened that he was from Minnesota, didn’t like the cold, and loved fishing. And it sure seemed to me that he blamed God for what he was doing, when perhaps he was calling the shots himself. (And from the look in his wife’s eyes, she agreed with me.) Still, leaving aside such examples, there’s something to focusing our attentive heart on God so that we can learn of God and listen to God and discern what God created us to do in this world.

This may be the most important thing we can learn about God’s will:

God’s will …
and what you dream about in your deepest dreams
line up so well,
you can usually chase your dreams
and you will more often than not
find God’s will.

There is a reason why so many people quote Frederick Buechner’s famous line about God’s will, because it tells a deep truth. Buechner said God’s will is this: “The place where God calls you is where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.”[i] This beautifully combines the kingdom dream of Jesus and your own personal dream—find that place and do that. Another wise thinker about finding a life that matters is Parker Palmer, who borrowed an old Quaker idea when he said that we find a life that matters when “we let our life speak.”[ii]

If you keep your eye on the kingdom of God, if you keep in mind that deeply personal nature of all you do, then you can pursue that place where your deepest gladness and the world’s deepest needs meet, and in that place your life will speak. You are asked merely to discern the intersection of what God is doing—kingdom of God—and what you are asked to do in what God’s doing.

[i] F. Buechner, Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith (SanFrancisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), 405.

[ii] Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999).

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  • John W Frye

    How necessary it is, Scot, to be reminded of these liberating ideas in view of the resurgence of a Christian world and life view that calls us to very suspicious of ourselves. I know some friends who are being hammered by a view of God that makes them feel crappy about themselves when they leave church each Sunday. They are being led to second guess themselves rather than to explore their deepest gladness and connect that to God’s will. Thanks so much for this brief post and your excellent book: One.Life: Jesus Calls We Follow.

  • Amen! And to what John said. Thanks, Scot!

  • PLStepp

    I often ask my students, “Who do you think gave you those dreams?” Why are we convinced that God’s will is going to be to make us miserable?

  • Andy W.

    So, what if your the 2/3 to 3/4 of the world that doesn’t have options or choices about what life you can pursue? If you’re born in the wrong class in India you’re sorta stuck. If you’re born into a small village in Columbia you’re dream may be to get a good job for the local drug boss so you can provide food for your family. This is the reality of most of the world and the idea of pursuing dreams is just that, a dream. What if following God was not tied to this vague idea of “God’s Will” meaning specific purpose, career, life dream, whatever. But what if we all wake up everyday, wherever that is, and seek to serve God at that moment. If we a seeking to love God and others, whatever our circumstance or location or need or lack of need, we will find ourselves “in” God’s will. This may lead some to discover a life that matches up with their dreams, for most it’s just enough to know they are serving the true King and bringing His Kingdom reality in this broken and messed up world.

  • scotmcknight

    Andy W.,

    I would agree with your points, but my book is not written for that 2/3 to 3/4 of the world. The dream of God, as I sketch in this book, is right where you land: for a person to love God and to love others. For justice, and peace, and wisdom and the kingdom vision of Jesus. The dreams, I would contend, will lead us to the heart of God if we follow the dreams well.

  • Just thought I’d add another:

    “You will know your vocation by the joy that it brings you. You will know. You will know when it’s right.” – Dorothy Day

    I love the Beuchner quote as well, and wrote about it in much the same way!


  • Andy W.


    Ah, I got it. Thanks for that clarification.

  • Dave

    And yet there are those who “suffer according to God’s will” (1 Peter 4:19) in ways they would not have dreamed or desired, and are “made sorrowful according to the will of God” (2 Corinthians 7:9). I count myself mildly among them.

    From Hebrews 12:

    5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as children? It says,
    “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
    6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his child.”

    7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?

    I take this to mean God’s will is not always in our dreams or the desires of our hearts. Sometimes our dreams are just dreams that have no place in reality.

  • Anna

    I discovered from somewhere I had gotten the idea that if it was God’s will, I’d know it because it entailed suffering (because God is out to build my character!).

    One of the best books I’ve read to counteract that in a Christian and responsible way is called, “What’s Your Decision? How to Make Choices with Confidence and Clarity”.

    Though the authors are Jesuits (Catholics) who explain the Ignatian way of prayer and discernment, it’s written for any Christian. It balances the idea of God’s giving us our true desires, with how we can sort those out from the inner static of false desires (Ignatius called those ‘disordered affections,’ as I recall.)

    Ignatius was a swashbuckling troublemaker who was very fond of the ladies. When he was recovering from a war wound, he noticed that when he fantasized about heroic deeds with romantic overlays, he enjoyed the fantasies while they lasted, but felt let down afterward. But when he fantasized about growing closer to God, and imitating deeds that godly people had done, he found that afterwards he still felt uplifted.

    That was the start of his writing about how our desires interact with God’s will. Anyway, I found that book very helpful; perhaps someone else will too.

  • K.

    Not too long ago, I would have agreed with this post, but not now. We can dream all we want to, we can have the desires of our deepest heart, but if they don’t line up with God’s will, then we’re stuck. I’ve always disagreed with the Reformed crew, but maybe they have a point that God ordains and there’s not a thing we can do about it. I’m giving up on my dreams. God has ordained this life for me, so I pray that he will give me the will to bear it. God’s will is good in a theoretical sense – bad for me, but good in some grandiose scheme that I don’t think has anything to do with me.

    As for “that place where your deepest gladness and the world’s deepest needs meet, and in that place your life will speak” and so on – pretty words, but huh?

  • I struggle with that quote of Buechner’s (and Palmer’s follow-up, having read Palmer’s book, but admittedly knowing Buechner’s quote only second-hand). While I find the idea of God’s will and my own deep joy lining up more than a little appealing, I wonder about the probable reality that God nonetheless calls people to do things they don’t want to do, as well. How do we reconcile these ideas? I don’t think that one is just wrong, so much as the two concepts are such at odds with each other that I’m left scratching my head.

  • Dean

    Seeing God in the present offers the very strong possibility that we will see God in the future too. The dream “job”, or “spouse” or “church” fades away over time and fresh discontent and ingratitude reappear.

    A person can be in the wrong “fit”, for sure, but it took me a long time to see that my feelings of discontent were rarely about the job or the relationships. They were about ingratitude and impatience with God.

    I realize that Philippians 4:11 and 1 Timothy 6:6 are in context about financial matters, but they work just as well for contentment for a job, a marriage and a church if we will let patience and appreciation develop.

    Those in developed Western nations, of course, are rarely encouraged to be content or grateful. Such a disposition would seriously impact an economy built on dissatisfaction and consumption. 🙂

  • Dave Guertin

    @11 Mark – I have asked those same questions too. It may be that eventually we get to the place of discovering that our deepest longings line up with God’s calling on our lives, but the process of getting there is usually less than ideal or smooth.
    Lately when parishioners have come and raised the question of God’s will, or have refused to participate in some ministry because it’s “just too far out of their comfort zone,” I remind them that most of the key Biblical leaders did not enter their callings all that willingly.
    Buechner’s and Palmer’s quotes smack of just a little to much of the self-actualization craze that seems to have permeated much of the American church. It seems to me that we find our longings met in Christ alone, regardless of our external circumstances at any given place in our lives, including vocations and ministry.