Sam and Kelcy welcomed the newest addition to their family, Thomas John, on May 5, 2012. Thomas, healthy at 7 pounds 14 ounces and 20 3/4 inches, is a delight to family and friends!
What allows one person to sail smoothly through the vicissitudes of life while others seem to be battered to and fro by these same storms? I have often wondered how the apostle Paul kept an even keel through his numerous trials, including actual shipwrecks (2 Cor. 11:25). In each case, an anchor seems to hold the person’s life in place when circumstances would threaten to capsize them. The anchor symbolizes where the locus of our trust is placed. If chosen well, this center of trust stabilizes us regardless of what we might have to face.
Our Ultimate Place of Trust
Our locus of trust is where we put our confidence in life. It is what we ultimately rely upon for our sense of well-being and safety. This place where we pin our hopes will either be a source of strength to us or a liability when confronted with adversity. If it can be easily threatened, we will be thrown into confusion, panic and anxiety during the ups and downs of life. On the other hand, if it is a place of rock solid reliability, we can rest secure and enjoy peace even when all around us is chaotic. Therefore, choosing where to place our locus of trust is critical for a happy, holy and flourishing life.
Christ our Example
Whenever we want to understand the ideal for mankind it behooves us to look to Christ. As the second Adam, He is the one who is the true human, the exemplar of humanity. Where did He put the locus of His trust? What enabled Him to fulfill His vocation as the savior and teacher of a world that despised and persecuted Him? I would like to start this inquiry by looking at where He couldn’t (and didn’t) place the focus of His trust.
Christ’s family heritage certainly didn’t provide a place of confidence. Born a bastard in a lowly manger to poor parents of a despised race, what little pride He could take in His background was ripped away as His own nation rejected Him at the cross. He never lived down His illegitimacy (John 8:41), and His blunt honesty made Him an enemy of most of the people (John 7:7). He wasn’t an honored son of His hometown, as if that would be worth anything (John 1:46). They were skeptical of Him and even tried to push Him off a cliff (Luke 4:16-30; Mark 6:3-6).
Nothing about His personal life allowed Him to take confidence. He wasn’t one of the beautiful people (Isa. 53:2). He wasn’t educated (John 7:14-15). He was poor. His only possession at His death was the shirt on His back, and what little wealth He had during His ministry was plundered by Judas (John 12:6).
His hope wasn’t dependent on a comfortable life. He gave up His career and the financial security associated with it. He was itinerate and couldn’t call any place home (Luke 9:58). He had to work at getting privacy. He was mingling a lot with sick people and in Gethsemane the stress got so bad He sweated blood (Luke 22:44). On top of all this, He was causing all kind of animosity toward Himself with His preaching and was constantly in danger of being killed (John 7:1, 25, 44).
James Joseph Jacques Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
None of His good works offered Him any security. Healing people was full of controversy and led to plots on His life (Matt. 12:10-14; Luke 14:1-4; Luke 13:10-16). He often had to defend His good deeds through the telling of parables. Those He ministered to were rarely grateful (Luke 17:17). After helping someone with a particularly difficult problem the people told him to go away (Mark 5:14-17). His generosity toward the outcasts of society only gave Him a bad reputation (Mark 2:16). Far from being thought pious, they said He had a demon and was considered smitten of God (John 8:48; Isa. 53:4). On the cross, they said with contempt, “Let God save Him.”
The crowds were only following Him for the bread and fish, and when He told them like it is they couldn’t take it and left (John 6:66). One minute the crowds were crying, “Hosanna,” and the next, “Crucify Him!” His brothers were not believing in him (John 7:2-7). And when He became popular they tried to get in on the limelight, which He had to correct (Matt. 12:46-49). John the Baptist doubted if He was the One at a certain point (Luke 7:19-20).
José Joaquim da Rocha [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
His disciples were ambitious and didn’t get the message, even wanting to call fire down on those who didn’t believe (Luke 9:46; Matt. 20:20-28; Luke 9:54-56). His main leaders couldn’t stay up to pray with Him at His darkest hour. Judas betrayed Him. Peter denied Him. Thomas doubted Him. And finally, He had to intervene with divine power when He was arrested because of Peter’s fleshly impulsiveness (Luke 22:50-51). Then they all fled, leaving Him alone. Clearly, He wasn’t going to find personal authentication in His mentoring legacy.
His trust in the justice system would be futile since they didn’t hesitate to break their own rules in trying a capital case by night and suborning perjury. Through all this, Christ’s trust was completely in the Father and His goodness. Yet, on the cross all evidence of even that was taken away from Him which led to His anguished cry, “Father, Father why have You forsaken me?” Though not abandoned by the Father, the apparent triumph of pain, shame and evil stripped Him of all outward assurances.
With a Loud Voice
In the face of no evidence and apparent absolute defeat, He entrusted Himself to the Father. “And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,’” (Luke 23:46). I find it interesting that it says that He cried out in a loud voice. His faith was bold and sure even in the face of hideous opposition and a total absence of encouragement. Truly, the locus of His trust was in God.
By Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
1 Peter 2:21-23 says, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” He didn’t sin, resort to deceit, revile or threaten when He suffered. Suffering happens because we experience a loss. And if the locus of our trust is in that thing we lose, we are tempted to sin, deceive, revile and threaten. Jesus entrusted Himself to the Father. His authority was not in His strength, but in His weakness. It wasn’t in His resources, but in His commitment to a Person – God. He placed His entire life in the Father’s hands.
Hands Off Trust
Our ultimate trust can’t lie in our talents, wits, riches, health or piety. These areas are under our control (or we think they are) and our temptation to place in these things our locus of trust stems from a lust for certainty. But these are as reliable as sinking sand and can never bear that kind of pressure. Neither can our trust rest in people: our parents, children, friends, church, leaders or country. Indeed, there is no certainty with people. Both freewill and the tenuousness of life teach us that.
When your locus of trust is in things or people, you are led around like one with a ring in his nose. Every disturbance throws you off balance and causes insecurity. You are being led from fear to fear. We need a hands off trust, a place of trust that is reliable and which is outside of our control. Like Jesus, the locus of our of trust must be in God. The old hymn, The Solid Rock, captures this eternal truth most beautifully:
The Solid Rock
My hope is built on nothing less, Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.
When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace; In every high and stormy gale, My anchor holds within the veil. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.
His oath, His covenant, and blood, Support me in the whelming flood; When every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my Hope and Stay. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.
When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found, Clothed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne! On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.
—Edward Mote (1797-1874)
Tenkasi, Tamil Nadu, India
February 9, 2012
As our microbus left the hectic, crowded street and neared the gates of St. John’s Matriculation School; the varied sounds of hand clapping, drums and singing filled our ears. The seven of us cast bewildering looks around, and in discordant voices asked one other, “What’s going on?” and other similar queries. Our microbus lurched to a halt just inside the gates of the school and we all filed out the side door. A lady in a red sari bid us to follow her, and soon all our questions were answered. Lining the path into the school grounds, eight hundred students of all ages had come out to greet us with fanfare, song, bouquets of flowers and gifts. Needless to say, we were all somewhat flabbergasted with the attention showered on us by the staff and students of the school. After some introductions, Shanti- the lady in the red sari and the Principal of the school- ushered us into her office so we could plan the day’s activities. So began our whirlwind ministry in southern India. How did we get here?
Mission- Seeking Opportunities to Serve
For the last couple of years, our Fellowship has prayed and sought for opportunities in which we could be of help and service in other areas of the world. Last year we were able to bring a van load of wheel chairs to an orphanage in Mexico. As we sought God about what we could do this year, St. John’s Matriculation School came to our attention. Awhile back we had learned about the work of Dr. Thirumalai and St. John’s school through Alec Brooks and Charis International. At that time we heard of Dr. Thirumalai’s desire to set up a sewing school at St. John’s and we gave towards that project. Late last fall we learned that Dr. Thirumalai has been wanting a team to come to the school and teach conversational English, basic computer and possibly help out with some new construction. After much prayer and conference, we decided to send five of us from the Fellowship to meet up with Alec and Joni Brooks in Delhi, India. From there we would proceed to Tenkasi where the school is located.
St. John’s Matriculation School
St. John’s Matriculation School began as the vision of Dr. Madasamy Thirumalai and his wife Swarna. Their desire was to see a school established that could provide an education for those too poor to afford what was currently offered at the average school in India. Sixteen years ago, the school began in some rented rooms in downtown Tenkasi- the town where Dr. Thirumalai grew up. The school first served Lower Kindergarten and Kindergarten students. Over the years, through Dr. Thirumalai’s and Swarna’s, perseverance and hard work as well as the Lord’s provision- the school has expanded to provide schooling for all the elementary grade levels as well as the first couple of upper level grades- up to 10th standard. The school is now on its own property (through the sacrificial giving of Dr. Thirumalai and his wife and others), has three buildings housing the classrooms for 850 students and employs approximately 20 teachers. The students are all receiving an excellent education in math, history, reading, Tamil, science, social studies and English. Students also receive training in living a disciplined life, relating respectfully to others and how to work diligently and with excellence. For a majority of the students, none of this would be possible if it were not for the low tuition at which the schooling is offered. I learned that as well as providing a very good education for far below the average rate in India- 250 students are receiving scholarships which allows them to attend even though their families could not afford the tuition.
What we saw
On a typical day our team broke up in teams of two and cover three classes in the morning. Matthew and I worked with the computer classes, Tim and Jordan conversational English, and Betty and Joni would teach English songs. The caliber of the students we taught thoroughly impressed us. They had an enthusiasm for learning, were always excited and ready to get to work. Their respect, discipline and warmth towards one another and us will always be remembered. I had to remind myself that the majority of these students came from some of the poorest situations in Tenkasi. Their behavior never let on that this was so. These children were flourishing at St. John’s school. That is what we saw- children flourishing in the love of God that has come to them through the dedication and care that began with Dr. Thirumalai and Swarna sixteen years ago.
I’ve been blogging about divine guidance. I suggested that there are three basic views Christians have: blueprint guidance, breadcrumb guidance, and apprentice guidance. Blueprint guidance sees God’s will for us as an exact plan to be followed. Breadcrumb guidance understands the will of God as a goal, instead of a plan, and the way to that goal doesn’t necessarily follow a predetermined path. In both of these views, however, it is thought that God has a specific and particular outcome in mind for our lives. Apprentice guidance differs from these in that it teaches us that God’s will for us is less about particulars, like who we marry and where we live, and more about what kind of person we become.
Apprentice guidance uses the metaphor of a master and apprentice to understand divine guidance. An apprentice learns under a master the ways and skills of a vocation. The master aims at training the apprentice in such a way that he will be able to participate in the vocation as a fully capable workman. Likewise, a teacher trains her student not to simply parrot her lessons or mindlessly carry out her instructions, but to integrate the learning into his life. In both cases, the goal is the formation of the learner. Divine guidance is God’s formative instruction enabling us to live as He does, that is, in love (Eph 5:1-2).
Becoming Capable of Communion
From the Garden of Eden to the creation of the church, God’s intention has been to create family. It’s the communion of the Trinity that God has been trying to enlarge. Humanity is God’s beloved creation, made in His image to be able to reason, choose, and enjoy relationships. Our destiny is to become partners with God and one another in loving friendship. “God’s will is for community in which power and love are shared, where love and not compulsion reigns,” says Clark Pinnock. From this we understand that one purpose of divine guidance is to enable us to become capable of communion.
Learning the Dance
God, as master teacher, uses a variety of methods to instruct us in the way of love. The hope is that we develop virtue and wisdom so that we can participate in relationships of love, which is the key to human flourishing. This guidance comes primarily through the Spirit of God, the Word of God, and the People of God. Through these avenues God speaks to us, cultivating habits of heart and mind that shape us to be fully human, able to share life with others in reverence and happiness. His will isn’t for us to act out some script in a play, but to learn the steps in a dance of love with Him and one another.
Additionally, our apprenticeship under God will explicitly teach us to not look to circumstances and life’s events to discern His will. The Bible shows us that since the Fall things are not as they should be. Creation and history are open and remain unfinished. Our job is to partner with God to resist the effects of the Fall and not passively accept situations and events as His will. The beauty of being made in God’s image is that we have the ability of initiative. We can bring something new to the world and by it, in the words of Udo Middleman, “repel death in any of its ugly manners.”
Divine Guidance has been often misunderstood by Christians. Ideas have consequences. Passivity, egotism, and even cruelty can result from a faulty understanding of God’s will. The apprentice model offers a concept of divine guidance that does justice to our created nature and gives us practical understanding of how to live our lives. It treats us as creative, responsible partners with God, working in the world to push back evil and create community.
“When people set the highest value on relationships to one another, it does not take them long to find material accommodations for these.” Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences
How divine guidance is understood shapes both the devoted and nominal Christian’s life. Choosing a mate, a career, a home, or even a parking space are often determined by how one understands God’s leading and purposes. One way to understand divine guidance is to use the metaphor of a blueprint, which I elaborated on in a previous post. Blueprint guidance is an inadequate model for divine guidance primarily because it sells short the image of God in humans and conceives of us more as puppets than partners.
Another useful metaphor comes from the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. Journeying into the woods to be abandoned by their family, the children leave a trail of breadcrumbs along their path in order to find their way home. This method of “breadcrumb guidance” ultimately fails them. Breadcrumb guidance is a somewhat better way to understand God’s leading in our lives, yet it distorts God’s purpose for us, leaving us passive or even worse, self-indulgent.
A Goal, Not a Plan
This model of guidance portrays God’s will for us as a goal, rather than an exact plan. He has a unique objective in mind for each of us, perhaps differing according to each stage in our life, but nonetheless a particular outcome is desired by Him. Our task is to seek Him, day by day, turn by turn, in order to reach that outcome. He allows for the vicissitudes of life, our human weaknesses, and even our sin, so a wrong turn here or there isn’t a show stopper. He will provide new breadcrumbs to lead us to the right path. As long as we’re looking for the breadcrumbs of His leading, then everything will turn out well in the end. This idea is supposed to be an exciting adventure in the daily discovery of God’s will.
The problem with using breadcrumbs, as we learn from the Hansel and Gretel tale, is that they are not stable markers. Mental impressions, signs, gut feelings, and “words” obtained through scripture roulette are easily devoured by the jaws of hard reality, just as the breadcrumbs were gobbled up by the birds. A living and dynamic communication with God is of course desirable, but looking for a stream of divine nods to choose our steps can become a highly subjective, introspective, and even arbitrary way of managing our life. It can border on the crazy or become a justification to do whatever we want.
Led by Principle Rather than Impulse
Besides this, breadcrumb guidance fundamentally violates the purpose that God has for us, namely, to be ruled by principle rather than impulse. In the scriptures, maturity means to gain discernment and wisdom. We’re to learn the ways of God, in order to be like Him, rather than aspire to be good detectives with large magnifying glasses. David exhorts us to not be like the horse and mule who need a bit and bridle to hold them in check, but to gain understanding (Psalm 32:9). Indeed, God wants to speak to us, but not think for us. Ephesians 4 outlines God’s discipleship goals for His people which is to know and practice the truth, the essence of love.
When God created Adam and Eve His hope was to invite them into the communion of the Trinity. As reasoning, creative beings themselves, humankind would be able to relate to God in a way that actually mattered. The image of God imprinted on their souls qualified them to be true companions, although not equals. Yet, as real persons, the joys and sorrows would be genuine for them and God, which would be impossible for mere puppets. Both Geppetto and Pinocchio knew a woodcarving with strings couldn’t compete with a real boy.
In my final post on this subject, I’ll describe a model for divine guidance that I believe more closely follows the biblical message. I call it apprentice guidance. The master trains his apprentice to become more than a servant who simply executes commands and blends into the background. One day he hopes to call the apprentice a co-laborer and friend. I seem to remember Jesus saying something just like that.
In a previous post I summarized three models for divine guidance. The first of these I called, “Blueprint guidance.” As the name implies, blueprint guidance is about God having an exact blueprint, or plan, for your life. He knows the perfect path for you to take and wants you to fulfill His divine will by following that path. Any deviation from His plan will mean you have chosen second best. He still loves you and you can still be used by Him, but you will have missed His perfect will.
Blueprint guidance seeks to show us that God is a meticulous ruler and leaves nothing to chance. His particular will is the best possible option for us. He only wants what is perfect for His children. We can take comfort in the fact that if we follow in His footsteps, whatever happens to us is all part of His perfect plan. We can rest secure that Someone is watching out for us and that there is a purpose behind all the ups and downs and twists and turns of life.
Partners, Not Puppets
While painting a lofty picture of God, blueprint guidance defaces man. Special among creation, humans have been made in the image of God. Unlike rocks, plants, insects, and animals, humans are endowed by their creator with freedom of choice, that mysterious ability to be little creators themselves. While puppets might be fun to play with, God created us to be partners, not puppets.
Only free, reasoning beings can have a relationship of intimacy and meaning with God. Writing a play and watching it acted out I’m sure is enormously enjoyable. But no one, including God, would want to live out their life in such a way. The real action is in voluntary relationships of love. What blesses me is not seeing my wife follow some meticulous plan I came up with, that’s what tyrants like. What warms my heart is her uncompelled, spontaneous love. It would give me no pleasure if I knew that she was only acting out a script I wrote.
In contrast, apprentice guidance, which describes divine guidance in terms of a master teaching a student, is more faithful to how humans have been created. Normally, God instructs, not directs. He demonstrates, not orchestrates. I’m not saying that He doesn’t work behind the scenes to bring about good in our lives, but He longs for us to be partners, not puppets. His purpose for us is to be fully human: initiating, learning, and perfecting. His guidance is an impartation of wisdom that He hopes we will cherish as much as He does.
In my next post I’ll talk about breadcrumb guidance, another view that is somewhat better than blueprint guidance, but nonetheless, doesn’t do justice to how God has created us.
Understanding how God guides us has important implications for our lives. How we see Him interacting with us to shape our future will determine what kind of choices we make in the present. And the quality of our life is highly dependent upon our choices. So, a right understanding of divine guidance is essential for a happy life, but also for an effective one. For it is difficult to see our intentions for good come to pass when we misinterpret the will and desires of Him from whom is the source of all goodness.
Christians have tried to tackle this topic of divine guidance since the early church. While it is impossible to exhaustively cover in a blog post all the ways of understanding divine guidance, I will summarize the three most basic ideas.
In this model, God’s will is like a master blueprint. He has a plan for our lives and has mapped out precisely what each person should do. This is His perfect will. Our job is to discover that plan and follow it diligently. If we don’t do exactly what He has ordained for us, then we will have to settle for second best. We aren’t rejected by Him as long as we are within His permitted will, those choices and actions that aren’t sin, but we’ve missed the ultimate best for our lives.
This idea rejects the concept of a blueprint and favors instead the idea of a goal. Like a team playing on a ball field, God has a goal for us to reach, but allows for fumbles and setbacks. Life is dynamic and our best laid plans are often upended. That’s fine, but we need to discover the next best choice that will lead us to His goal. God’s guidance is like breadcrumbs that point us in the right direction. Our job is to daily discover those breadcrumbs and follow His lead.
An apprentice is one who is learning from a master to be able to do the kind of work the master does. He is learning to imitate the skill and character of his teacher so that he can effectively participate in the vocation. The focus is on learning the values, wisdom, and behaviors of the master. When the master gives guidance to the apprentice it is directed toward developing his character and capacities, not determining his every step. In this model of divine guidance, our job is to understand what God says about humanity, the world, and what is truly important. We are to follow Christ in living and working for the good wherever we can. As beloved children, we are to be imitators of God and walk in love (Eph. 5:1-2).
Of the three ways of understanding divine guidance, I believe the apprentice model best represents biblical teaching. In a future post I’ll critique the other models and show why the apprentice model is superior.
Here are a couple of quotes related to the subject of guidance which I discussed in my last post.
One from Dallas Willard:
The will (spirit) is mysterious from the point of view of the physical and social world, for there it is causes, not choices, that dominate. But one can never get a grip on his or her own life–or that of others–from the causal point of view. It is choice that matters. Imagine a person wondering day after day if he or she is going to learn Arabic or if he or she is going to get married to a certain person just waiting, to see whether it would “happen.”
That would be laughable. But many people actually seem to live in this way with respect to major issues involving them, and with a deplorable outcome. That explains a lot of why lives go as they do. But to learn a language, and for the many even more important concerns of life, we must intend the vision if it is to be realized. That is, we must initiate, bring into being those factors that would bring the vision to reality. Renovation of the Heart
And two from Udo Middelmann:
The Bible gives images of warfare going on since Lucifer fell and became Satan. Our part in that warfare is to hunger after righteousness, seek justice, work in concert with what we are told in God’s Word about life in the real world, and pray. We are to put the hand to the plow, to resist the effects of the fall of Adam, to live and repel death in any of its ugly manners. The Innocence of God
We do not go through all of life’s ups and downs, absurdities, unfairness, and suffering to fulfill the purposes of God through all events. If that were so it would remove all needs to judge events, people, or situations. They are then all part of a major purpose. Yet the Bible clearly maintains a distance between what happens in history and God’s purposes for history. The Innocence of God
Recently, a few of us have been discussing an article about guidance written by Jill Carattini entitled, Running With Plan B. This has stimulated a lot of discussion and has prompted us to think more deeply about guidance. The following are some thoughts I’ve had about the article:
I like the emphasis that there isn’t a divine blueprint for one’s life and that it’s false to think if you make a ‘misstep’ you’ve screwed up God’s plan. That is very healthy and biblical. I also appreciate how she says that God works with us and that life is dynamic. I especially like that she points to Pascal’s message that our ultimate ‘destination’ and good is God Himself. I wish she elaborated further on that, because I think that is actually the most important point in the whole article.
Where I have difficulty is the inference that God has a specific, particular plan for each of us, rather than a general purpose with the particulars being worked out as we seek to apply gospel truths to our lives and labor to bring His love to others. The GPS example kind of gives the idea of a determined endpoint. I think she says something like this: God has a goal and plan for your life and He is able to re-route you to that goal even if you get side-tracked along the way. This metaphor implicitly implies that there is a destination or concrete outcome that God has for us. It leans too much toward the concept of fate and diminishes the creative responsibility of humans.
This can lead people to be uncritical about their life choices and assume that the direction they’ve taken and the circumstances they’re facing are somehow going to play into God’s ultimate plan for them. In effect, it leaves us passive in relation to our life’s direction and ultimately tempts us to put a good spin on just about any choice we make. It focusses the attention too narrowly on our own life.
Through the life of Christ, God has shown us a vision of humanity and life that we should emulate. What Jesus says about things is what is truly good. He, indeed, is the way, the truth, and the life. God’s ‘plan’ for us is to be fully human in happy communion with Him and others. This includes joining Him in the mission of bringing His truth and love to others, living a life of self-giving love.
In a sense, the ball is in our court to collaborate with God to undo the effects of selfishness and destruction and promote human flourishing wherever and whenever we can. This is a wide open opportunity, truly dependent on our own creative choice, that even God is anxious to see unfold. The normal way of being human is to make plenty of missteps and mistakes. That’s how we learn. These aren’t diversions off of some planned route. They’re part of the normal learning process God intends for us. During this process of learning we’re constantly trying to understand and make sense of reality (through reflection on the life of Christ) and make application of the truths we learn to promote blessing in the lives of people. This is God’s plan A. There is no plan B.