Monday, October 24, 2011

Discerning God’s will

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is a line from the Lord’s Prayer that millions and millions say, sometimes many times a day. We have heard the phrase “it’s God’s will” tossed around carelessly by people who have not even stopped to ponder what God’s will really is, and where we stand in the light of the will of God Almighty. Most of the time, the phrase “God’s will” is used as a cover-all when something becomes unexplainable and when the situation seems to demand that we make some sense of what lies before us, usually when a tragedy or calamity strikes. And uttering it in such a throw-away manner often may not bring anyone a step closer to where carrying out God’s will should – greater contemplation of God.

God really has only one will – that all creation respond positively to his invitation to eternal life and love with him for eternity. God wants all of creation to find our final home in him. That’s his ultimate will. Anything else that doesn’t lead us home, that distracts us from home, which makes us turn our backs toward home also turns us away from God’s will.

Jesus made it clear in the gospel passage where his disciples come to him and tell him that his family is ‘outside’ looking for him. We are told that Jesus looked at those seated around him ‘inside’ the house, and says, “Who is my mother? Who are my brother and sister?” And continues, referring to those seated around him, saying, “Here are my mother and sister and brother. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my mother and sister and brother.”

Cryptic? Not really. He certainly was not dissing his beloved mother waiting ‘outside’. In fact, if you really think about it, he was giving great hope to all who were in that circle that they have a hope – that there is way in which those whom Jesus preached to, the ‘outsiders’, can also become as close as family to him – those on the ‘inside’ of his life. He in fact is saying, “you (i.e. tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, etc) have a great hope that awaits you because if you listen to the will of God and do it, you are part of my family, and can find your way home”. What is family but a place where home really makes the heart grow fonder.

God’s will is about a home-coming. And it is much less about specifically naming what it is one needs to do concretely than about getting our ‘homing’ devices calibrated well. The less that we train ourselves to point our hearts and minds toward that home in God, the more we will find ourselves in all sorts of problems and difficulties in life.

What then is the antithesis of God’s will? Our will, especially when we are ‘will-full’. One of the greatest, if not THE greatest gift that God ever could give us is our free will. That he doesn’t force us or arm-twist us to love him, to worship him and to adore him shows that he is most secure. But that also shows us that our free and non-coerced response to love him, to worship him and to adore him becomes OUR best gift that we can ever give him, who has no need of any gifts.

Some people have asked me – “Father, how would I know if by choosing this path of life (e.g. taking this person to be my spouse, or accepting this job, or moving into this address, or taking this course of study, etc) I am doing God’s will”? There is no specific yes or no to such answers. It appears to some that seeking God’s will is akin to some kind of crystal ball gazing. It really isn’t.

Certainly, if there are a myriad of choices before us, we need to make some sort of decision, but this is where discerning comes in. With the help of a prayerful spiritual director, and being really honest with him, we can slowly whittle down the choices to a few which are more or less equally ‘good’, paring away those which are obviously wrong and immoral options.

What does honesty have to do with it? Plenty. We need to ask ourselves – in my choice of this ‘thing’ or this ‘task’ or this ‘pursuit’, am I out-rightly making a choice that is immoral and evil? Is it harmful to another person? Is it disrespecting human freedom, human life and human dignity or is it harming, stripping away of dignity, and curtailing the freedom of another person? Am I doing evil and not good? Obviously, if the answer to any of these basic questions is ‘yes’, it is clear as daylight that we are not going anywhere near ‘home’ but completely away from God’s will. The problem is that there are many people out there whose moral compass are out of whack and in dire need for recalibration, but are in complete denial about it. These are the people who are not only out to hurt and deform others, but are also hurting and deforming themselves.

In fact, the gospel text at Mass yesterday hearkens us to be mindful of the call to love God in the way that every Jew is to love the Lord our God - with all our mind (ie, with a clear and knowing conscience), with all our soul (ie, from our deepest depth of our being) and with all our strength (ie, with a determination that sees us purposefully choosing to love, and not be led by feelings and fleeting emotions).

I just came across a funny story where the father was commenting on his son’s handyman skills as he watched his son using a hammer to bang in a nail into a wall. He said, “wow, you use that hammer like lightning!” to which the son beamed with pride, thinking the father commended him on his speed. The father smiled and said “and like lightning, you never strike the same place twice!” Helping one another to do God’s will is also like helping one another to strike for ‘home’ all the time.

Am I being nostalgic when I write that doing God’s will is ultimately about finding our way ‘home’? Perhaps. After all, I am some 15,600km away from home and it does make me think of home on a frequent basis. But the physical distance from Singapore is really nothing compared to how far I really am from my real home in God if I am not constantly re-examining if I am doing God’s will with all my mind, my soul and my strength.


  1. Dear Fr Luke

    For the longest time, I had the mental image of God as a mean kid sitting on an ant-hill with a magnifying glass, and I’m the ant. He could fix my life in five minutes if He wanted to, but he’d rather burn off my feelers and watch me squirm. Most of the time, He would watch us busy little ants traversing our own little paths even if disaster was imminent – like watching a car crash about to unfold, but declining to intervene. We exercise our own free will and choice when making the big and small decisions that we are faced with. We deal with the mess if we crash and burn.

    However, your blog post today reminds me that God is there, and to factor in God’s Will into every equation, choice and decision. I admit my moral compass doesn’t always work too well and it is difficult sometimes to tell whether what I am doing is based on God’s will or my own will. But with your thoughtful spiritual direction, I notice that there are small positive indicators in my own life when I work on being honest to the commitment to love God and the people around me. As such, I have hope that when there is a will, there will always be a way through the darkness, the pain and the uncertainty.


  2. Reflecting on your post today, I hit a mental block but I could not help thinking that the ant hill analogy of the previous commentor is somewhat true. We often rushing around in our busy lives, and often not stopping to think and reflect on God's purpose and will. In times of difficulty, when the smoke of confusion is thick and heavy, my thoughts are on Jesus on the Mount of Olives as he knelt in prayer:

    Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. -- Luke 22:42

    God Bless and love you,

  3. thanks frLuke for the Spirit-filled reflections. Yes, "God wants all of creation to find our final home in him" and for me,is to rest in His Heart. With this vision and desire, i take each day as the Lord gives, thanking Him for all things - good and not so good and asking for the grace of courage to carry the cross and unload my baggage.

    thanks again father, for i know i can always find comfort and strenght in your blog :)


  4. One of the most apt analogies, I think, about the complete submission to the will of God is that God is like a kite-flyer & we are the kites. With God's skillful manoeuvres, we will be able to soar gracefully & high in the sky. But if we were to cut ourselves free from God, we would surely crash.

    It's very ironical: the narrow path of walking God's way, submitting to God's will is the path to true freedom - freedom from guilt, remorse & shame; freedom from sin.

    Thank you, Father, for your sharing.

  5. On reading your post, I was struck by your refreshing way of looking at doing God’s will as a ‘’home- coming ‘’ It makes the doing of it not so daunting. There is often much joyful anticipation at each home-coming .... even long before the actual event . In fact, just the promise of a home-coming makes the current sojourn or moment of separation less acute and more bearable. My thoughts go to the innumerable journeys, homeward bound- after every semester at tertiary eager and parched I was to catch a glimpse of my hometown. The irrepressible joy felt was so akin to

    ‘’The hills are girded with joy,
    the meadows covered with flocks, ( read.... herd for buffalos)
    the valleys are decked with wheat. ( read......padi)
    They shout for joy, yes, they sing.’’ (Psm 64)

    Nevertheless, no matter how joyful ‘’the home-coming’’ – doing his will, will never be easy , especially when reading further down your post you said......we need to do God’s will in – loving the “Lord with all our mind, with all our soul, and with all our strength’’ At first glance, it seems simple enough for we are asked to reciprocate a Love, not common, a Love – unique ( Bukan Cinta Biasa) What challenges is the ‘’all’’ – how can I give all, my whole self ......and that - not to God only, but more so- to specifically love Him in others .......( especially those irritable ones, those difficult ones, those cantankerous ones) That will really be demanding – extra-ordinary Love !
    God bless you Fr.

  6. Dear Fr Luke,

    Thank you for indicating the meaning of loving God with all our MIND, with all our SOUL and with all our STRENGTH so clearly.

    Yes, I tend to rattle through my prayers and thinking I'm covered for the SO forgetting that whatever I have comes from the Almighty.

    Thank you Father for calibrating and re-calibrating my moral compass....

    God bless. -Mat.