Someone took me to task for what I thought was a harmless quip. In a tongue-in-cheek article about how we Baptists “steal” pastors from one another, I remarked that, though it’s a flawed system, God seems to help us through it most of the time.
“God helps us all the time!” someone responded.
Yes, I understand, but I know also that we frequently sidestep the will of God and mess things up.
A good example of this was a church in one of the Carolinas. A friend found the story and sent me the two newspaper copies years ago. A noted pastor from Texas announced with great fanfare it was God’s will for him to move from his flourishing church to a new ministry on the East coast. He said he had no doubts God was leading him to a new and even more flourishing ministry. In less than two weeks he announced it was God’s will that he return to his former church. The story didn’t explain any precipitating causes, nor what negotiations occurred with the former church that would bring about his return.
My friend who sent me this story, a great mentor, was exhorting me to exercise caution in labeling everything God’s will. In this case, it’s alleged God changed his mind!
I know a similar story firsthand since I knew the pastor quite well. He announced his move to Louisville to attend the same Baptist seminary I attended believing it was God’s will. He remained one week before convincing his former church to take him back as its pastor.
The prophet Jeremiah spoke of God’s displeasure with false prophets who say “he says” when the Lord didn’t speak (Jeremiah 23: 31). We need to seek his will, to be sure, but it’s often best to say we believe a matter to be the Lord’s will if we’re still working our way through it. And it’s helpful to ask for the insights of others as we test our thoughts (1 Corinthians 14: 32).
Some Christians believe in the reform doctrine that everything that happens to us is due to the active and deliberate plan of God. Whereas I respect their belief, I’m of the Arminian mindset, believing God gives us freedom to choose, and often we make some really bad choices. We see people all the time using tobacco, spurning their marriage vows, texting and driving and being reckless in other ways on the road. When these people hurt themselves or others, I really don’t believe it is God’s will. It’s his will that we exercise better judgment. God helps us if we let him.
Fortunately, he’s a merciful God who can mend the bad choices we make.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.