Scripture: Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Can you recall the car you first desired? Way before I was ever in a position to buy a car, I saw a shiny new Chevy Camaro at the Detroit Auto Show, and I remember thinking that that would be a great car to have. Or is there a place you’ve always wanted to visit? Or something you’ve always wanted to do? Or an event you’ve always wanted to attend? We all have wants, right?
I was 26 when I started my first appointment. When I was 26, my two biggest wants were 1) to physically look older than I appeared; and 2) to have enough experience under my belt so that I didn’t seem young to others. I don’t know if it’s still the same today, but for most of my life I’ve always had a youthful look about me. There was a woman in my first church who managed to tell me every week that I looked too young to be a pastor. And so I experienced some anxiety about how old I looked. I was especially anxious about how strangers would react to seeing me the first time they met me to do their loved one’s funeral. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “I can’t wait until I’m 40. Because by then I’ll look a bit older, and I’ll have much more experience, so I won’t seems as young.” And so I really celebrated my 40th!
For clergy, vocational goals can be a tricky thing. Every year I complete a self-evaluation and update my personal profile. And one of the questions is, What are your aspirations as it regards future appointments? To be honest, it kind of feels like a trick question. On the one hand, we’re just like everyone else; we have goals and aspirations when it comes to career advancement. But on the other hand, we’re supposed to be open to wherever the Holy Spirit would place us. I have a colleague who resists answering that question because he doesn’t want to get in the way of going wherever God can use him.
I applaud his servant’s heart, but I’ll also admit that I have had certain goals when it comes to the type of pastoral ministry I’d like. For example, after serving in a church with many on staff, then serving two churches where the secretary and I were the only staff in the building, I realized that I functioned best in a setting where there are multiple staff. And so I put that down on my profile as an aspiration—to lead a multi-staff church. At the same time, I’ve resisted desiring certain churches, or certain positions. In this regard, I do try to remain up to whatever God may have in mind for me. So for me it’s a little of both. I have goals of my own, but I try to temper them with the notion that it’s really not about what I want, but about what God wants.
As a Christian, one of my spiritual goals is to get to the place where I mostly want what God wants. Where I want for me what God wants for me. But this can be a difficult place to get to. Why? Because most of us simply want what we want… what we like… what we enjoy… what gives us pleasure… what makes us happy. And it’s our belief that we know what’s best for us… maybe even more than God knows. After all, who knows me better than myself?
Well, here’s a quick test each of us can take. How many hairs do you have on your head? And for the bald ones among us, how many non-growing hair follicles on your head? If you don’t know the answer, then you don’t know yourself as well as God knows you, because he knows the number of hairs on your head and over your entire body. Do you know the exact date you will pass from this world? God knows. The fact is, the Lord knows each one of us better than we’ll ever ourselves. And yes, he knows our wants, and he wants the very best for each of us. And where his best desires for you are different than your desires for yourself, he’s likely to challenge you. One of the signs of spiritual maturity is adjusting one’s own wants and desires so that they reflect what God wants and desires.
So let’s say you were put in charge of an organization, and had full authority over everything and everyone. And let’s say you were aware of the fact that lots of people would love to see you fail, and just as many were going to proactively work for your failure, and some of them were even working to take over. Also, let’s say that you’re new to this position, and have very little experience with it. What if God came to you and told you that he’d give you anything you wanted. Assuming you wanted this position, what would you ask for? What would you want and ask for?
This was the position that Solomon, Kind David’s son, found himself in. His father died and left the crown to him. He’s suddenly King Solomon, and as King, he’s surrounded by enemies and has absolute power. And in a dream God asks him, “What do you want?”
His answer? Lord, I’m a newbie at this and haven’t the foggiest idea how to be king. But since you’ve put me here, will you give me wisdom to rule well, and to tell the difference between right and wrong, good and evil? Because the fact is, no one can rule these people without your help (see 1 Kings. 3:6ff).
As the story unfolds, we learn that God was so please with this particular request that not only did he give him wisdom to rule well, but he gave him everything he didn’t ask for, including wealth, a long life, and victory over his enemies. The very things most of us wouldn’t have asked for in the first place. In this situation, Solomon wanted for himself what God wanted for him. And because of that, we would say that he got his cake and he got to eat it, too.
Last Sunday Kris Kidney shared her story with us. On the one hand, It was a story of Kris growing up in the church but at some point turning away from God. But it was also a story of God’s faithfulness towards her, which resulted in at least 3 things:
- She and Billy were provided with material blessings when they’re home burned down
- She was reunited with the church
- But most importantly, I would say her faith was reawakened.
Reconnecting with the church was important and good. But what struck me the most as I listened to her was how it transformed her faith. And as this was happening, the question she kept asking God – and maybe for the first time – was “What do you want me to do?” That’s a question asked by someone who’s taking their faith seriously. God, what do you want? Make me want what you want!
And he answered her. Use your gifts and skills to benefit this community. And as she gave it some thought, it was clear to her: offer my group baton twirling lessons for free. And as a result, the ministry has exploded. And lots of kids in Adrian who wouldn’t have been able to learn the baton otherwise have been able to learn it. All because she sought what God wanted.
In a recent had a conversation I had, this person shared something about her friends that I thought was quite insightful. She said that all of her good friends are Christian, but one friend in particular stands out because “his faith guides everything he does.” His faith guides his actions, his aims, his direction in life. In fact, as he’s trying to discern his next step in life, his main concern is doing what he thinks he should do rather than what God wants him to do. I’m putting words in her mouth, but what I heard her saying was that while almost all of them believe in Jesus, and are connected to a local church, their day-in and day-out lives are not necessarily guided by their faith.
This got me to thinking. Could it be that lots of people believe in Jesus — they believe that Jesus is the Savior – but that not all of them consciously and proactively live every day so that it reflects their faith and trust in God’s perfect will? Maybe this would explain why so many Christians come across as indifferent about their own discipleship.
Here’s a good litmus test for all of us. Maybe we should all ask ourselves these 2 questions very day:
- Do I truly want for me what God wants for me? If the answer to that question is “Not really,” then maybe that’s a sign I could use a personal revival!
- How concerned am I that I may be doing my own will over and above God’s will? If the answer to that is “I hardly ever think about it,” then maybe that’s a sign that I’m living more for myself than for God, and that my spirit could stand to be revived again!
On the other hand, if you’re someone who really does want what God wants, and there’s a little voice in your head that’s always asking, “Am I doing this to please myself more than God?” then my guess is that your faith is burning strong. Keep seeking God’s will above your own. Keep wanting what God wants. Because the more we can do that, the more God can accomplish his will in this community, and the more this community will be transformed by the Holy Spirit into the city God designed it to be.
Over the past 25 years, God has been steadily changing my vocational wants. My 26-year old self wanted to look older so that others would think I knew what I was doing. Today, as a pastor what I want more than anything else is for God to use me to do these 2 things: 1) help people like yourselves GROW DEEPER in your faith so that it guides your every action; and 2) to help build a church that will never be satisfied until everyone in the Adrian community has experienced the grace and love of Jesus Christ.
And I’m pretty sure these are things God wants.