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How can we understand God’s Desires?

I ask for God’s wisdom all the time. This is often because I find myself in situations where I lack the cognitive capacity and/or experience to fully comprehend how to respond to a given situation. Let’s face it, if there really is an omniscient, omnipresent, all-powerful, and all-loving God who is actively engaged in our universe, then it would make sense to seek his wisdom for the way to live. However, as I look at people who believe in such a wonderful God, it seems to me that they tend toward two extremes.

One extreme is those who ask God to reveal his “will” for everything they do. It is as if God created the world and then created creatures who must depend on him for most of the decisions in their lives. They seem incapable of making a decision on their own for fear of “missing the mark” or missing precisely what God wanted done in a certain circumstance. This extreme results from seeing wisdom as “the only right decision” among many competing ones.  So they seek signs from God or look for directions from Him on almost all decisions in their daily lives. 

The other extreme is those who view God as having created the universe like a computer and then allows it to run on its own.  In this perspective, God primarily programmed variables into a self-replicating system and then walked away. Therefore, those who live with this belief system seek to make the best decisions they can, given the information they have. There is no reason to seek wisdom from a divine source because God isn’t interacting in our world.  Wisdom for these individuals involves no divine intervention. It is primarily humans seeking to know how the systems of this world operate. 

I find neither of these two extremes of God’s wisdom presented in the New Testament in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul repeatedly deals with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and God’s will throughout his letters. In one such place, Colossians 1, Paul describes what the wisdom of God is like in a terribly run-on sentence.  I challenge you to try reading this one sentence in one breath…

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

Colossians 1:9b-12 (NIV)

From this one-sentence passage, we come to understand Paul’s view of God’s wisdom and his engagement in the world. It would appear from the form of this passage that Paul felt he needed to fully describe the wisdom of God as well as its implications in one thought or sentence.

First, notice that Paul says he asks God to fill these people who he has never met “with the knowledge of God’s will.” He then says the knowledge of God’s will comes through “all wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.”  Paul apparently believed that God does invade our dimension through his Spirit and specifically gives these young believers divine wisdom, as he asked.  

Notice that Paul clearly sees God’s Spirit providing all the wisdom and understanding these early believers needed to live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.  In other words, Paul taught these young believers that God’s Spirit would give them everything they needed to know to make the right decisions in everyday living.  Everything they would need to live a life like God intended!

Paul then elaborates on what pleasing God in every way looks like.  In other words, if they lived their lives with wisdom and understanding, then they would bear fruit in every good work, and they would grow in the knowledge of God. Think about it, through living their lives with wisdom and understanding, they would do things that would make a significant impact, and they would mature as they grew to know God more. In other words, as they lived their lives wisely and reflectively, they would grow in knowing more of who God is and the ways he works. It was a self-perpetuating process. The wiser they became, the more they knew.  The more they knew, the better they lived and the wiser they became, and the more they knew…

Paul is painting a picture that these followers of Christ would grow in their understanding of God and his heart as they mature and continue to use the wisdom they learned and reflected on it. I want you to see how this knowledge of God’s desires comes from building a relationship with him, not from blind obedience, just following one order after another.

This is analogous to how we gain wisdom and knowledge from people around us. We get to know an individual’s heart and desires by spending time with and listening to them. As we get to know this friend better, we then grow in our knowledge of their desires. We don’t need to guess what is important to them every time we are together because we know their heart and longings. And the better we get to know them, the more we want to please them.

That is what this passage is describing for us.  We are to live our lives and seek understanding through God’s word (wisdom) and reflectively process (understand) what we learn through making decisions throughout our lifetimes.  The more we study the teachings of the New Testament, live them out, and then reflect on what we are learning, the more our lives will reflect a life pleasing to God. The Spirit is giving us wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.  As we continue in this process, we begin to know what God desires, and his Spirit works in our lives, so we don’t need to check with God in every decision. We know the kinds of things he desires, and we can make decisions consistent with these intentions.  This is called maturity.

Paul finishes this marathon sentence by saying that a life pleasing to God will be typified by a life of great endurance and patience, all the while giving thanks to God in everything thing we do. This doesn’t sound like blindly following one order then another, but rather a life lived in communion with a loving God who is building maturity in a heart open to receiving his love.






2 responses to “How can we understand God’s Desires?”

  1. Thomas C Phillips Avatar
    Thomas C Phillips

    Some guy who used to live next door told me once that if what I was contemplating was not against the Word of God, then it was probably in the will of God.

    I was pretty good advice then, and probably is pretty good advice now.
    Nice work as always…

    1. Greg Wiens Avatar

      You have a better memory than I!

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