Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Syllabus For Life

"And he [Paul] trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise and go....and it shall be told thee what thou must do.”  (Acts 9:6)

A syllabus is a summary or outline most often used to describe a course of study. At the beginning of the school term, it is customary for a teacher to furnish his or her students with a syllabus, so that the student will have some idea where the teacher is headed, and what information will be covered. I thought once, while looking over a syllabus for a class I was taking, that it would be helpful if God furnished such a document to each of us as we began our Christian life, so that we, too, might know what lies ahead. That was my first thought. Here are some of the ones that followed:

In the first place, there are plain commandments in the Bible that one can and should systematically apply to his or her life, if he or she has any desire to fulfill the will of God. Some are even defined as being “the will of God,” and may be taken personally, without ever fearing a misstep. For instance, moral purity (1Thess.4:3); a spirit of gratitude (1Thess. 5:18); and civil obedience (1Pet.2:13-15), to name a few. Beyond this, God deals with each of His children with the same individuality any good parent would. He provides a framework of principles in His Word; counselors to offer sound, practical suggestions; providence to nudge us in the right direction; and, ultimately, the Holy Spirit to say “This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isa.30:21).

I had occasion to offer spiritual counsel to a young woman once, who had (what seemed to her, at least) pressing questions concerning the will of God. I’ve noticed that the devil often takes something good—the will of God, in this case—and uses it as a weapon of  torment. He likes to suggest to us, as he did to Eve, that God knows something He selfishly does not want to share with us (Gen.3:5). But as I wrote to my young friend,

“The will of God is not a deep, dark secret. It’s just not always far-seen. It’s easy to become anxious about our place in His program, rather than looking for day-to-day guidance in the place we are now. So much so that we are in danger of overlooking what may very well be some necessary stepping stones to that program.”

At the time of his dramatic conversion, Paul the Apostle’s question to God was, “Okay, so now what do I do?” Beyond Ananias’ message to him that his ministry would be one of suffering, and that he would preach to groups as widely diverse as Jews, Gentiles, and kings, the only direction he received was to get up and start, and God would let him know what to do next. As my husband would say, “Do the next thing!” Don’t you imagine that if God handed out to each of us a personal, detailed game plan, we’d just “take the ball and run with it,” seldom, if ever, checking with the Captain of our Salvation?

No, God does not hand to us a personal syllabus when we begin our walk of faith, going back to the academic metaphor. Instead, the One who called us unto Himself—He, who is the only truly trustworthy Guidance Counselor—takes us aside, shows us the spiritual gifts with which He has equipped us, and gives us our first assignment. For you see, the will of God is not a once-sought-for-and-acquired revelation. At nearly the same time I heard from the young woman I mentioned, I also heard from another—more elderly—Christian friend, who had some of the same questions she did. One thing my husband and I have been learning in the service of God is that the ministry or place of service may change, but the call to follow Him is life long, and only He knows where and when we will be of greatest use to Him in the battle, at any given time.

I rejoice to know that there is a plan for my life—a syllabus, if you will. I also rejoice that, although I don’t have it, I know Who does. And He will share it with me on a need-to-know basis. This keeps God and me in close contact. And come to think of it, that's not a bad thing.

"Lord, what wilt thou have me to do…today?"

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