Purple Shirts and the Lord's Will11:58 AM
What do you do when curfew's at midnight but someone's talking to you about how much Jesus has changed her life? What do you do when your camper's sobbing and wants to talk all night but lights out was supposed to occur thirty minutes ago? What do you do when you really, really need to study for a test but your good friend is having a spiritual crisis and refuses to talk to anyone but you? How about when your friends invite you to play volleyball but you're worn out from camp and are dying for a nap that you already started on the church pew? Or when you're spiritually struggling and have a choice to either go to the Bible study you helped start or burst into tears and find your RA to work things out?
What to do? What's the right answer? How can we know? What would Jesus want me to do?
Living on my own for most of this year -- at either camp or college -- left me facing small decisions that didn't have a clear answer. Before, I just had to ask my mom. She told me what she thought I should do (yay, assurance!) or what I had to do. I simply obeyed. If I found out later I probably should have done something else, I could use the excuse that I was obeying my mom or following her guidance. Voila -- no responsibility!
Interestingly enough, big decisions like going to college felt easy in comparison to the little decisions I made during college. I had so many options for so many good, important things. Sure, I needed to study for a test, but the student union's open until 3 AM -- I can stay up later after solving this spiritual crisis. Sacrifice. Others are more important, right?
In fact, looking back on how I used my time and energy and sleep, I used "others first" as the basis for all my decisions. There were weeks when I wasn't sleeping or studying well because I kept dropping everything to hunt down a depressed friend or encourage a sleepless student over text. My own essays suffered as I edited everyone else's.
"You don't have to do everything for everybody," worried friends told me. "They'll be fine."
But what if they wouldn't be fine? What if I could stop their pain or falling grades? And besides, life wasn't about me. Jesus called me to lay down my life. To sacrifice. I felt sacrificial all right -- as well as crabby, exhausted, lonely, burnt out and a failure at school.
God took all the misery of second semester as well as a talk with my best friend and a bunch of hard decisions made as a camp counselor and taught me to look at decision-making in a different light.
Contrary to my belief, decisions never should be made solely on an "others-focused" view. They should always be God-focused, in order to please Him and bring Him glory. That's what living for an audience of one means. This may seem like a moot point, for isn't focusing on others always God's will? Not necessarily.
Consider your options: counseling a troubled friend at 11 PM or hitting the hay because you're a college student and need to do well in classes and start work on a paper due in a few days. You know you'll be tired tomorrow during your 8 AM class and probably won't feel motivated to research your paper if you stay up past 11. On the other hand, your troubled friend needs help now. The others-focused approach immediately picks the first option: counseling a troubled friend until the wee hours of the morning (because avoiding exhaustion is selfish -- everybody else does it just fine). A God-focused approach doesn't immediately pick counseling the troubled friend. It reasons like this: I spent a ton of money at an institution where my main focus is studying to achieve God-given goals -- it's poor stewardship to let those goals slide for a more "loving" or "spiritual" purpose. I honor the Lord by doing well in my classes and taking care of my body. The theology of sleep reminds me that God gave me the need for sleep because I'm human and can't do it all. I will disrespect my professor by falling asleep in class if I don't go to bed now. I will dishonor God by doing a poor job on this important paper. Because I love my friend, I can help her within the perimeters of my need for sleep and study -- pray for her right now, walk her back to her dorm, meet up with her for lunch tomorrow to talk, keep her in my prayers. Besides, God is more than capable of meeting my friend's need without my help.
Which decision is the best? Which is the Lord's will? This may sound strange, but you need to decide. Both are good options to love and honor the Lord -- sacrificing for your friend or stewarding your energy. Whichever option you pick, if your motives honor Him, He will bless you.
How is this possible? How can God's will be so seemingly wishy-washy and relative? It's because Christianity is not about rules but Christ living within you. If you're actively abiding in Christ, the Spirit is conforming your desires, judgments and wisdom to God's desires, judgments and wisdom. God's will is clearly laid in Scripture -- love the Lord your God, seek good counsel, be good stewards of His resources, honor Him in whatever you do. Notice how He doesn't give specifics. This doesn't mean He'll provide specifics in an extrabiblical way -- whisper it in our ear, arrange coincidences that confirm our decisions. He asks us to study hard to make sure we know what His general will is and then make wise decisions in light of that understanding, trusting by faith that God will work in us. If you choose to stay up late with the friend, you can pray for a boost of diligence and energy to finish your tasks to the best of your ability. If you choose to go to bed and help your friend later, you can pray that God would meet her needs for you.
We actually live this way already in so many different areas. When you picked out your purple shirt this morning, I bet you didn't debate over whether God wanted you to wear the purple shirt or the sparkly yellow shirt: "What if it's absolutely crucial that I need to wear sparkly yellow instead of purple today? How do I know God's will? What if I mess up?" No, you just pulled it out of your drawer without a second thought. You did your hair and make-up decisions the same way. You decided to eat a fried egg instead of Coco Puffs for breakfast. You read a book instead of going for a run. Never once did you consult an oracle to decide these things. You based your decisions on your mood, your desires, your energy at the moment.
And that's okay.
Unless your purple shirt, fried eggs and book are acts of rebellion against God's previously-revealed will (for example, you disobeyed your mother in frying the last two eggs that she was going to use for the birthday cake just because you were feeling snotty that moment), then the Lord can and will work through those decisions for His glory. Of course you ought to examine all things -- making sure your clothes are modest, your eating choices reasonable and your morning activities beneficial to your health. But after examining your choices and finding them to be in line with God's general will of honoring Him in everything, feel free to make whatever choices your heart desires. Because you are free. And your heart is conforming to His. So break out the purple shirts for the glory of God.