Tag Archives: Donald Miller

The Blank Canvas

Does God have a plan for your life?  Are you one of the special ones for whom He has set out a purpose?  Or are you just wandering through life, a background person in the lives of those who are special and called of God? 

My pastor tells us often that God has given each of us a “vocation” – a sense of calling that pushes us to do things because we’re made to carry out a certain mission, even when those things don’t make sense to others.  Writers may not ever make any money or have stability, but they must write their thoughts down.  It’s in their bones and they can’t exist any other way.  An engineer must figure out how to make things run better.  It’s just the way it is.  But I talk to many people who don’t feel a sense of calling, who don’t feel there’s something they simply must do. 

When I went to seminary, the leaders of my school realized that if we didn’t know ourselves, we could never know others.  Since pastors primarily work with people, they required us to get to know ourselves.  We took assessments and went through steps and read books.  We learned our personality and temperament, our work style, the role we most often play in a group, our strengths and weaknesses, and more.  I learned a lot about who God has created me to be while I was there.  I learned that it’s more valuable to improve our areas of strength and be the best (an expert) in one thing, than it is to be a well-rounded person who can do most things decently.

When I meet people who don’t feel they have a sense of calling, my assumption has been that they don’t know themselves well enough.  They haven’t submitted themselves to the battery of tests, to self-assessment, and to significant prayer time on the matter.  (I spent years in prayer and regular fasting before God finally told me to go to seminary and then it took three years until it was actually time to go.  But I didn’t give up.  I just kept asking Him what to do and where to go until He finally answered me.) 

But last week I went to hear Donald Miller, a popular author, speak and he said something that stunned me.  He said he doesn’t believe God has a specific plan for most people’s lives.  He said it isn’t a biblical concept.  He said God has a specific plan for some people’s lives, but it’s a small percentage of people.  He said he believes that when we’re born, we have a big, blank canvas in front of us with lots of colors to choose from and we make our own design on it.  That’s God’s gift to us – our free will – and our lives are our own to shape and design. 

That is a hard thing to hear for someone who has submitted herself to total obedience and is waiting for God to give me direction on the next steps in my life.  I believe God does have a specific path I am to walk and that my success in the Kingdom of God depends on my obedience.  I believe I can live a life of frustration and fear, as I have in the past when I wasn’t obeying God in all things, or a life of victory and joy through total obedience.  But if God doesn’t have a specific plan for my life, then who am I obeying?  Is it possible that I am painting my own canvas and obeying my own desires? 

My mind has been whirling with these thoughts.  As I went back over my life, I realized that there are a few times when I have known beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has spoken to me clearly regarding the direction of my life.  At times I obeyed right away and other times I allowed misery to overtake my life before I submitted.  I can look at the results of those times to convince myself, if no one else, that I had heard from God.

  1. God told me to move to Nashville, TN.  I obeyed and am very thankful.
  2. God told me not to date the sociopath, but I didn’t know why He was telling me that because the guy seemed great, so I ignored Him for a year, which led to misery.
  3. God told me to go to Regent University to seminary.  It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
  4. God told me to wait for a ministry position after I graduated and to turn down the secular jobs offered to me.  I obeyed and am thankful.

When I look at those things, those very specific things, it’s hard for me to imagine that God doesn’t have SOME kind of plan for my life.  All of them were hard.  At the time, they were all much bigger things than I could do on my own, or even wanted to do.  I know they are things I didn’t make up on my own. 

Once I got to Nashville, I didn’t feel any specific calling about where to work or go to church.  I think it’s possible that it didn’t really matter and God could work with whatever I decided.  Or it’s possible that He was guiding my every step and didn’t need to give me a thundering word of direction because I was stumbling upon His will without it.  I can think of many times in my life where that’s been the case.  I made the best decision I could make, given the information I had, and God has used it. 

I suppose it’s possible that I am one of the few people (in Donald Miller’s concept) who God does have a specific plan for.  But that seems like a terribly arrogant thought.  I don’t really buy into the concept that I’m special.  I think it’s narcissistic.  It seems much more reasonable to me that God does have a plan for everyone’s lives and we have to learn to listen and obey. 

I’m really struggling with this issue and would love to know what you think.  Here are a few Scriptures I found to support my point of view.  Is your opinion different?  Please post your comments below. 

Proverbs 19:21 (Amplified Bible)
Many plans are in a man’s mind, but it is the Lord’s purpose for him that will stand.

Psalm 33:10
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to naught; He makes the thoughts and plans of the peoples of no effect.

Isaiah 46:10-11
1
Declaring the end and the result from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure and purpose, calling a ravenous bird from the east–the man [Cyrus] who executes My counsel from a far country. Yes, I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed it, and I will do it.

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What I’m Reading

Since I’m on vacation, I’ve been reading a little more than usual.  Here’s an update on what’s gotten my attention recently…

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

This book is one of the best ones I’ve read in a long time.  Donald Miller is a young, witty, godly guy who is trying to change the world.  The book is all about living a life worth telling stories about – taking risks, embracing uncertainties and fears, challenging ourselves, and being the people we want to be.  He uses examples from his own life, explaining that he wasn’t living a very good story and the changes he’s made.  It’s inspiring and led me to reevaluate the choices I’m making in my day to day living.  I liked it so much that I went to see him when he came to town to talk about the book.  It’s the first time I’ve ever gone to an event with an author I liked.  It was more than worth it.

Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time but never got around to it.  I ended up downloading it onto my iPod for my recent trip home.  It is Lewis’ story of how he became an atheist and what led him back to Christ, and it includes a lot of detail about his childhood.  Although I don’t understand all of his references to classical literature, I’m really enjoying the book.  He gets very personal with the details of his life and important relationships, but he accepts responsibility for the part he played in the challenging things he faced.  He also has great wit and humor, which I really enjoy.  

High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips

I heard about this book the day it came out earlier this year.  There was a lot of sensationalism surrounding it and it caught my attention.  I’m really too young to have watched her TV show One Day at a Time, but I was drawn to the story she told.  She was raised by an extremely irresponsible, drug-abusing, abusive and neglectful father and had no stability in her life.  That led her to become a drug addict and make some terrible mistakes.  She was sober for 15 years and then relapsed and was caught in an airport with heroin.  She got clean again and now has written about her experiences.  While I think the book is her attempt to resurrect her career and help her finances, I also think she has to genuinely want to help those who’ve been through things similar to her or she couldn’t have written it.  It’s a terrible story and I learned things I’d have been happy to never know about.  At the same time, I think it’s an important story.  She doesn’t glamorize the use of drugs, but she explains their power.  She explains clearly the horrible things that they do to people.  And she takes ownership for the terrible things that she’s done under their influence.  It’s a window into a life I had no concept of and still find it hard to imagine.  I couldn’t put it down. 

The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature by Dr. Leon Kass

I’ve made a commitment to pay much more attention to what I eat, how I eat, why I eat, and how I feel about eating in 2010.  I’ve already begun to become a healthier, more attentive eater, and I want to really understand the subject more.  That’s why I picked up this book.  It’s a philosophical discussion of how eating affects our lives, our relationships, our bodies, our souls, and so forth.  I’ve been reading a little at a time, trying to understand it but not forcing myself to get every single word.  So far I’ve read the forward, the introduction, and the first chapter.  I’m on chapter two and feel like I’ve been reading forever.  The subject matter is very new to me.  I’m not much of a philosopher.  But it’s also interesting and thought-provoking.  I’m anticipating that it’ll take me awhile to finish the book, but I’ll keep working on it a little bit at a time.

The Psychology of Small Groups

I’ll have to update this blog later with the author’s name for this book.  It’s an out of print textbook that my senior pastor gave me to read and I’ve been learning a lot from it.  Any time I have a little down time at work, I’ve been picking up this book and reading as much as I can.  It’s not written from a Christian perspective, but it’s all about the way that people in small groups behave and why.  From my experience of being in numerous small groups over the years, I find what it’s saying to be true and very helpful in figuring out what’s going on in my groups.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

I recently read this book for the second time, but by a different translator.  It was originally written in Russian.  It’s a novel set in 19th century Russia and is a fascinating description of life during that time and of human nature in general.  I’m not sure why I find the book so compelling, but I really love it.  The first time I read it, I think I skipped all the political stuff that Tolstoy addresses and read it merely for the romance and action.  This time I tried to understand the social and political statements he was making.  I can’t say that I was totally successful, but I tried.  I have a feeling this is a book I’ll read over and over again and enjoy more with each reading. 

The basic plot is that Anna Karenina is a young, beautiful woman who married an older, boring, but successful man whom she didn’t love.  She felt obliged to marry him by society.  She tries to make her marriage work, but she ends up meeting a handsome, vibrant young man who sweeps her off her feet.  She has fun for a while with him, but it leads to a tortured existence of being stuck between her marriage and the child she has with her husband and her lover and the child she has with him.  (It’s a morality tale with an unspoken and complex lesson of the shame and torture that we can be spared when we do things the right way.)  The story expands to include the family members of the Kareninas, and there is where my favorite characters are found.  The love story between Levin and Kitty stirs my heart and captures my imagination.  The relationship between Kitty’s sister and Anna’s brother makes me want to scream.  I think the value of the book may lie in it’s insight into human relationships, romantic and platonic.  It’s a wonderful book.

Have you read any of these books?  What did you think of them?

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