Sunday, August 15, 2010

God Willing

I find myself using the phrase “God willing” a lot these days. The phrase prefaces most statements I make concerning the future. It is not a thoughtless habit or cliché, like when someone mindlessly says “God bless you” when you sneeze.

When I say “God willing” I mean it. I am sensing the uncertainty of my plans. I make my plans, but I have no ultimate control over whether or not they will happen. God decides. As Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”

Being a student of religions, I am conscious that this pattern is a very Muslim habit. Arabic-speaking folk often say “In sha' Allah” (إن شاء الله). Long ago Christians used to say the Latin phrase “Deo volente” or simply DV. However you say it, the concept is becoming a part of my everyday consciousness.

I make plans, but I am increasingly aware that my plans don’t really mean a thing. I am not in control; God is. At best I can hope and pray is that my plans align with God’s prior plans. I had planned to be a fulltime pastor until I was of traditional retirement age. Then all of a sudden God had other plans.

I plan to go to New Hampshire on Friday, but I know there is a doctor’s appointment earlier this week that could change that. A pastor friend called me from New Hampshire the other day asking me when I would arrive; he wanted to talk. I said, “God willing I will be there Saturday or Sunday.

We are going to New Hampshire for the birth of a new grandchild, due to arrive in three weeks. The child is already more than seven pounds in the womb. I do not worry, neither am I anxious. I trust God, but also I know too well the dangers inherent in childbirth. So I pray fervently for the health and safety of mother and child.  But in the back of my mind I utter the prayer of Jesus, “Not my will but Thine be done.” That is how it is anyway, whether or not I think it or say it. God is in control.

I have been invited to preach at an historic pulpit in September that has not heard a preacher’s voice in almost two hundred years. I am excited at the opportunity. But I know what could happen between now and then, so I say “God willing, I will preach…” I am meeting tomorrow with someone who can open doors of ministry for me here in Pennsylvania. I am excited to hear what possibilities God may have placed in this man’s mind. It is God’s will.

I have a sense of being carried in the hands of God, guided step by step. Over the years many people have come to me for advice in discerning God’s will. They agonize over decisions. So I say, “It is God’s will.” They are relieved to hear they are making the right choice. The truth is that they do not choose – God does.

The apostle James wrote: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.'”

The Quran echoes James words: “And never say of anything, 'I shall do such and such thing tomorrow.' Except with the saying: 'If God wills!'" To this timeless truth that transcends the differences between religions, I say “Amen.”
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The image is the Arabic word "Inshallah" (God willing) in decorative script.

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