In his fantastic book The Will of God as a Way of Life, author and Whitworth University professor Jerry Sittser talks about understanding God’s will. We tend to focus so heavily on the big moments of our lives—getting into college, getting a job, meeting a spouse—that we forget that most of life consists in ordinary time.
“We never know how things will turn out,” Sittser writes, so it is important that we pay attention to daily, little opportunities for growth rather than despairing that our circumstances are not ideal.
In that spirit, I want to talk about four spiritual questions that are important to ask at any point in your life, but especially in your twenties. There are no easy answers to these questions, and if they are to do any good work in you, they will require rigorous honesty. But they will set the foundation for the trajectory of your entire life, if you will let them.
Who Do You Think God is?
“The kind of God we worship will determine the kind of people we become,” Sittser wrote. It might seem like we all worship the same God, but every person will project their own fears and longings and needs onto their image of God. If we think we worship a distant and angry God, we will become distant and angry people. If we think God doesn’t care deeply about the details of our lives, we will become callous to the small things.
One of the ways our images of God are formed is what Sittser calls the “conventional approach” to the will of God. This approach treats the will of God like a prize we find at the end of a maze if—and only if—we have followed exactly the right path to get to exactly the right place.
But the trouble with the conventional approach is that it treats God like a Magic 8 ball who presents some people with a constant stream of “yes” and some with “no” on what seems like nothing more than divine luck of the draw. The conventional approach is built on an image of a capricious and unkind God.
God is mysterious, to be sure, but God is not unkind. He has not hidden Himself from us, nor is His will for our lives unknowable. But His will concerns far more than the so-called important decisions that come along only once every few years—what job we will take, who we will marry, where we will go to school. His will has much more to do with the kind of person we are becoming, which is formed in small, daily habits and choices. But we’ll never see that until we see the blinders we’ve placed around whom we worship.
Did Jesus Really Mean What He Said?
Obviously, no one would say “no” to this, on the surface. Of course Jesus meant what He said! But the thing I want to get at is if He did mean everything He said, that has a lot of implications about how you live the rest of your life.
For example, these words from the Sermon on the Mount:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? … So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
For a long time, I read those verses with a growing sense of dread and disappointment. I’ve lived with anxiety for as long as I can remember, and worrying is almost as second nature to me as breathing. Reading these words, I would feel an acute sense of having disappointed God.
And then, I read this, from Sittser: “Jesus’ teaching on God’s will is deceptively simple here. He instructs us not to worry, as unbelievers do, about present circumstances or future problems…[He] demands instead that we establish right priorities and put first things first.”
I can do that.
When we stop thinking of Jesus’ words as advice given by someone who doesn’t know us and start seeing them as words about reality from someone who loves us deeply, things change. Not perfectly, and not all of a sudden—I still struggle with anxiety, and I suspect that in some way I always will. But if the reality is that God will actually provide for me—as I can see when I look back in gratitude on my life thus far—then these aren’t hopeful statements based in some unrealistic dream. These are clear statements about reality; about the way the world actually works.
Who Am I Becoming?
I think this is the most important question you can ask yourself throughout life. As the philosopher Dallas Willard said, who you are is the most important thing God gets out of your life.
And who you are becoming isn’t about your career. In fact, it isn’t about the future at all, but about the decisions you are making right now, in the present moment.
This sentence from Sittser has stuck with me for years: “The will of God concerns the present more than the future; it deals with our motives as well as our actions; it focuses on the little decisions we make every day even more than the big decisions we make about the future.” It’s in those little works that we become who we are, as those who are faithful with little so that we can also be faithful with much because we have developed the quality of faithfulness.
Who Needs What I Have?
We’re all in need, but we don’t all have the ability to identify or speak our needs. Luckily, some needs are obvious—there will always be people who need food, for instance, or blankets, or water.
Most needs are buried a little deeper under the surface, though. And to be clear, you are not responsible for meeting everyone’s needs, or for meeting every need of any one person. That’s not and never will be your job.
But if we truly believe that we are made to be the Body of Christ, then we are on our way to understanding how we can serve one another according to our gifts. You may encounter someone who needs to be listened to, and you can do that. You may have spare some time be with a friend who needs a calming presence.
You may think that you have nothing, but that will never be the case. You have all kinds of resources—internal and external—that you can spend lovingly with other people. Now is the best time to start forming the habits that will make you a generous person.
Laura Turner is a writer, speaker and church culture enthusiast living in the Bay Area. She has a BA in political science from Westmont College in Santa Barbara. Laura blogs at loturner.com about issues of faith, theology, gender roles and Oscar fashion. She is passionate about including women in all spheres of the church, good books and peanut butter cups from Trader Joe's. Laura and her husband, Zack, live in Palo Alto, California, with their dog R2D2.