Monday, November 7, 2011

"The Will of God as a Way of Life" by Jerry Sittser

TITLE: The Will of God as a Way of Life
AUTHOR: Jerry Sittser
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004, (256 pages).

The Will of God as a Way of Life: How to Make Every Decision with Peace and ConfidenceWhen there is a book about the will of God, I will read. If it is written by an unknown writer, I may just borrow it from the library. If it is written by my favourite authors, I will usually buy it. This book is one of them.

According to Sittser, this book is about a perspective of the will of God, not a series of steps to attain the holy grail of the experiment called life. Sharing about how he manages to move through the twists and turns of life, the book reveals a lot about how Sittser fumbles through life, and eventually arriving at a clearer understanding of what God's will means for him. In Chapter One, he shares about 3 clues. Firstly, 'we will never know how things will turn out' (20). The second clue is about how suffering and loss dispels his idea of a perfect and nice will of God. The third clue is that the Bible says very little about the future path of God's way, but a present avoidance of anxiety and wrongful presumption. The conventional way of thinking is in terms of finding out that ONE specific will of God for each person. Such a thinking reveals 3 problems.

  1. What if we make the 'wrong' choice?
  2. It makes us feel as if God is playing hide-and-seek with us.
  3. It causes us to be pre-occupied with a future view that God's will is something that lies ahead.
Chapter Two goes on to dispel such fears. We have an astonishing amount of freedom to seek the will of God in terms of the Person of God. In other words, the will of God is understood by looking BACK, while we seek FORTH to see God.

"As I struggled with the issue of discovering God's will, I came to a startling conclusion. The will of God concerns the present more than the future; it deals with our motives as well as our actions; it focuses on the little decisions we make every day even more than the big decision we make about the future. The only time we really have both to know and to do God's will is the present moment. We are to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we are to love our neighbours as we love ourselves." (34)
In Chapter Three, Sittser talks about the obstacles that prevent us from understanding God's will. 

"... God's will for us is to choose quality of life over quantity of options, to slow down and integrate our lives as best as we can, and to build friendships with people who know the whole of us, not just isolated parts of us. His will challenges us to resist and even to reverse some of the trends of contemporary culture itself." (41)

Among the obstacles mentioned are, 'tradition,' the massive potpourri of choices, busyness, lack of community.

Thankfully, Chapter Four proposes the way forward. Obedience as a way of life as exemplified by the artist and the athlete.  He writes:

"Both artists and athletes understand the nature of true freedom. They give up their freedom to do whatever they want, subject themselves to strict discipline, and in the end gain the freedom to perform at the highest levels of artistic and athletic achievement. Loss of freedom actually leads to freedom. It is the freedom of obedience, gained by following a strict regimen of practice." (62)

In Chapter Five, he expounds the Ten Commandments, calling them 'implications of grace' rather than the 'opposite of grace' (67). Chapter Six is a lovely chapter about the simple pleasures of attending to the little things in life, and to appreciate the ordinary and what we have often taken for granted. Chapter Seven is a helpful chapter about making choices. Sittser shares his wisdom:

"We must learn to be good listeners, to discern God's greater purpose, and maintain an eternal perspective. Then, after making a decision, we should never look back, trusting that God has already gone ahead of us." (96)
He also warns us about using the rule of 'success' to measure God's will. God's will is present regardless of our definitions of success or failure. He says wisely:

"We don't always know how our decisions will work out, but we know that God will work them out for our redemption. We will fall in love, change jobs, bury loved ones, say good-bye to children, move to faraway cities, raise cats, lose a fortune on the stock market, and end up living in Singapore. Sometimes we will make good decisions; sometimes not. Still, somehow God will work things out for our good, both because that is his nature and because that is his will for our lives." (105)

Sittser teaches us to discover the wonders of 'living in the present moment.' We need to learn to use disciplines to 'refresh' our daily routines, so that we can return to our original work with 'renewed creativity, perspective, and gratitude.' (152) He talks also about calling as a plural rather than a singular term. Finally, he shares six useful signs to discern our calling.

  1. Look within ourselves to ask what motivates us?
  2. What are our talents?
  3. What about our life experiences?
  4. Where are the opportunities?
  5. Is there a community that we can share our talents with?
  6. Is there joy in service?

This is a great book to read for learning about the wise counsel of Sittser. As someone who has gone through deep levels of suffering and pain, he typically weaves his suffering experience into the books he write. This book is no exception. In fact, Sittser dedicates the last three chapters to talk about that. Written simply. Expressed eloquently.


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