It might not be as common as it was in the 1950s, but it is still not uncommon for a parishioner to call up either TKT or me to schedule a chance to sit down and chat during a major life transition. I doubt the clergy of Saint Paul’s are alone in spending time with members who have recently changed jobs, gotten out of a relationship, or become an empty nester. More often than not, they want to know two things. First, they want to know if their anxiety is normal. Second, they want to know, though maybe not in these words exactly, how they can be sure of God’s will for their lives.
That’s always a tricky question because God’s will has been tied up with some pretty ridiculous schemes over the years. I’ve heard of at least one clergy person who told his congregation that it was God’s will that he have a new Cadillac. God’s will has been yoked to miscarriages, abusive relationships, cancer, and get rich quick schemes. It is amazing what the human mind can do to God’s will, when in the oldest piece of New Testament scripture, the Apostle Paul very clearly spells it out for us.
God’s will is that we might have the material things we want. It isn’t that we stay in situations that are harmful to use physically and emotionally. It isn’t that babies “come home” or young adults be “strengthened in their faith through suffering with cancer.” God’s will is simply this, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, [and] give thanks in all circumstances.” Joy, prayer, and thankfulness, that’s what God wants for us and from us. That means that those terrible things that people call “God’s will,” well, even if they are a real opportunity for prayer, if they don’t provide joy or an opportunity to give thanks, then they fail the Thessalonians Test.
Living a life that aligns with God’s will and passes the Thessalonians test isn’t easy. There are plenty of areas in the world and in our lives that don’t bring joy and are hard to be thankful for, but that, I think, is where prayer without ceasing comes in. When the world doesn’t align with God’s will, we pray – by word and deed – for renewal, restoration, and redemption because God’s will of joy and thanksgiving isn’t just for you or for me, but for his whole creation, made new in Christ Jesus.