Spiritual leadership often requires of us that we offer a word from the Lord to His people. That sometimes means we say to folks we serve and lead, “I believe it is God’s will that we…”
And that is a dangerously sacred thing.
For example, in the 10th grade I found myself sitting the bench on the football team, just watching the other players play. Now, I could have sat there on the bench, content to get in the game from time to time (as in when we were ahead 50 to nothing) and make a contribution to the team in practice. I was too proud to do that, however. So I decided I would quit.
But it would have been embarrassing just to walk into the coach’s office and throw in the towel, so I put a spiritual spin on it. I marched into the coach’s office and announced, “Coach, I believe it is God’s will for me to leave the team.”
The coach was not a religious man and made no attempt to appear so. But his response has remained with me to this day. After a dramatic pause, he replied, “Son, I’m sure you know a lot more about that kind of thing than I do. But I wouldn’t want us to blame something on God that He didn’t have anything to do with.”
I don’t recall my response. I probably mumbled something rather dim-witted and slithered out the door.
Coach was right. I had taken a serious and holy concept and had adulterated it by using the term “God’s will” to justify my own choice. Needless to say, my motives for claiming to know God’s desires were not pure.
Unfortunately, a number of us misuse this concept of the will of God. We sometimes appeal to “God’s will” to justify our desires. You know, we put the “holy spin” on it. Rationalization is unusually dangerous because it often an unconscious act.
Of course, the fact that the “will of God” is sometimes abused or exploited by people with wrong motives does not nullify its importance. People counterfeit money all the time, but that doesn’t negate the value of the real stuff. It is possible, and often our role, to say to people, “I honestly believe God wants us to…” Let’s not be afraid of that…if we can be honest about it. When we genuinely have discerned the mind and heart of God, as best a finite human can, we ought to be bold enough to say so. We simply have to be cognizant of our own motives, and self-aware enough to realize that if we aren’t careful we can convince ourselves that something is God’s will when He might prefer not to be associated with our decision.
There are only two ways that I know of to check our motives. The first is sincere, God-aided, introspection. David prayed, “Search my heart, and see if there be any wicked way in me” (Psalm 51). Earnest prayer that God will help us see our true motives is critical. A second means of determining our true motives is to find spiritually mature people who care enough about us to shoot straight with us. An accountability partner and a good, honest leadership team can help us see what we cannot see on our own.
The Bible tells us one day God “will expose the motives of men’s hearts,”(1 Corinthians 4:5). Let’s live so that, when God says, “Well, done, good and faithful servant,” He will add, “And you did it for the right reasons.”
–adapted from Travis’ book, Directionally Challenged
Travis Collins wears two major hats, as Director of Mission Advancement and Virginia Regional Coordinator for Fresh Expressions US and as a consultant with The Center for Healthy Churches. Travis served for twenty-five years as a senior pastor, the last nineteen years in two large congregations. His experience also includes missionary service in Venezuela and Nigeria. He is a graduate of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama and earned the Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of Directionally Challenged (2007) and Tough Calls (2008). His third book, based on Acts 20:28, will be released in the fall of 2014 (Chalice Press). Travis and his wife, Keri, have three adult children.