What does God want me to do? Part 1

Does God want me to be a missionary? Should I make a career change? How should I treat a new unmarried couple in church who claim to be Christians but are living together? Should I pursue a new interest or join a community group? How often should I go to church if my unsaved husband doesn’t want me to go at all?

These can be tough questions without clear answers. Thankfully, God does want us to know his will, if we want to do it because we love him. I’ve been a Christian for fifty-seven years. I’ve had to find out what God wanted me to do about ministry choices, friends, writing for publication, people problems, and many other things. When I need guidance about a decision these are the things I consider.

  1. What does the Bible say?

The Bible speaks clearly on many issues. It defines morality, forbids stealing, gossip, and using God’s name in vain. I don’t have to pray about whether or not to do something when God commands me to do it or not to do it. I must obey.

Other things are not specifically dealt with in Scripture, but Scriptural principles apply. The Bible doesn’t tell me not to smoke or view pornography. It does, however, tell me that my body belongs to God. It’s a temple of the Holy Spirit. I need to take care of it. Jesus taught that lustful desires in the heart are the root sin of physical immorality. These principles help me to know what God wants me to do in many cases.

Some churches today actually teach that the Bible doesn’t apply to life today! I can’t imagine that, as we have a Bible in about every room of our house. As people come to talk over their problems we are constantly reaching for a Bible. In any decision we make, we need to consult the Bible first. If it tells us what to do, we don’t need to second guess it. We only need to obey.

  1. Position yourself to do God’s will.

Let’s say you want to become a great basketball player. You find out there’s a great team in town that you can join, and the coach is fantastic. You go down to the gym and watch practices, hang out, ask the coach questions. At first the coach answers your questions. Members of the team show you a few tips. But if you keep asking for help, but don’t want to join the team, what will the coach say? “Hey, buddy, if you want me to give you advice, join the team! Let’s see some commitment and then I’ll help you all I can.”

Salvation is the first step to positioning yourself to do God’s will. When you get saved, you “join God’s team.” God wants us to accept his Son Jesus as our Savior and commit to living for him. Why should he give us advice if we won’t even get on the same side as he is and work for the same things? (John 1:12)

We also need to give our lives to God, promising to do whatever he wants us to do. God doesn’t reveal his will so we can vote on it. When we show God we’re serious about doing his will, he will let us know what that is.

Often we ask God to show us his will, and then expect it to be terrible. “Lord, if you really want me to, I’ll be a missionary to reach the hardest tribe with the most difficult language and live in conditions that will cause me to balance on the edge of death even though it is totally opposite to all my spiritual and natural gifts and I know I’ll hate it.” We may be surprised to find that, when we truly find God’s will, it is a place that fits us well and we can enjoy serving in that capacity.

“Delight yourself also in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) Some people think this means, “he will give me anything I want.” Actually I believe this means that if we delight ourselves in the Lord he will give us the desire to serve him in the way he wants us to serve.

How do we “delight ourselves in the Lord”? The same way we delight ourselves in people we love very much. We listen to him by reading the Bible and learning about it. We talk to him in prayer about the things that matter to us. We hang out with him by talking with him throughout the day’s activities. We grow to know him better and love him more. As we do this, God will make his will clear to us. 

  1. Ask for godly counsel.

We can always find friends who will tell us what we want to hear, but we need to search out counsellors who care about pleasing God and finding his best for us. Proverbs 11:14 tells us there is safety in this approach. That doesn’t mean the counsellor makes our decisions for us. It does mean that the counsellor can point out things we might not see on our own. Pros and cons of a certain decision. Helpful hints. Biblical principles we may have missed. The other side to the story. 

  1. Rattle some doorknobs.

God can steer us best if we are moving forward. If we truly want God’s will, he will close the doors we should not go through and open doors we should. (Revelation 3:7-8.) Sometimes we need to rattle a doorknob to see if the door is locked.

One way of doing this is to set a long range goal that we want to ultimately achieve, and then set short range goals of activities that will help us reach the long range goals.

Sometimes God wants us to stand still and wait until he leads definitely, but many times we can prayerfully proceed in a certain direction, asking God to lead us in a different direction if that’s what he wants. He won’t speak in an audible voice, but he will lead us through circumstances and giving us peace about certain steps.

Maybe these points all sound good, but you don’t know how to put them into practice. Need to see them spelled out in actual circumstances? In the March and April blogs I’m going to give several personal examples of my search for God’s will in a number of areas. I hope this will give you some ideas that help you search out God’s will for your life.

Building Harmony into Ministry Marriages

m1Anna Stsonn6Recently a reader asked: How can couples in ministry protect and nurture their marriages toward more love and unity? It’s a good question, and one we should probably ask more often. I’m no marriage expert but my husband and I have worked in harmony in ministry for thirty-seven years. During that time we’ve grieved as we’ve seen some couples in ministry break up or struggle in their relationship while others draw great strength and encouragement from their marriages.

When a couple works together in harmony, each doing his or her own part in a way that blends with the other, the result is a beautiful ministry. Like a symphony, their marriage blend blesses the couple first of all, and then the people they minister to. On the other hand, when the couple fight each other and go in separate directions, the result is a clashing cacophony.

In a marriage, what makes the difference between that beautiful symphony and the clashing cacophony?

In the next few weeks I’m going to share our thoughts on marriage based on Scripture and what we’ve observed through the years.  

 Part One: Making Decisions

Submission and individual freedom need to be balanced or the marriage will suffer. Either extreme will affect the harmony of the marriage.

Suzy works hard to be a submissive wife. Sam speaks with authority and Suzy obeys. She hardly makes any decisions without consulting Sam first. Once he speaks on a subject, she follows his desires without question. If she disagrees with his decision, she prays that God will give her a submissive heart. She may not enjoy doing what Sam says, but she feels responsible before God to obey him. If Sam makes unwise decisions, she figures he is responsible to God for them. She leaves herself in God’s hands, satisfied that she has done her part and must leave the result to God.  In their church ministry Sam writes Suzy’s job description and she fills it. She never disagrees with her husband in public. When people ask Suzy for advice she refers them to Sam and she doesn’t answers questions without consulting him first. She never offers or accepts invitations or makes plans without consulting Sam first.

Edward and Enid, on the other hand, believe in perfect equality in a marriage. Edward makes his decisions; Enid makes hers. They negotiate to make joint decisions come out 50/50. He doesn’t tell Enid how to live and she doesn’t nag him. Edward makes jokes at her expense from the pulpit. She publicly criticizes him. In conversations they often correct each other or argue over who is right. Neither one can offer or accept invitations without consulting the other. Each speaks for himself or herself, but will not answer for each other.

 

These two couples show two extreme views of submission and individual freedom. Suzy takes submission to such an extreme that she doesn’t even need to think for herself. Sam, on the other hand, misses out on a lot of help Suzy could give. Enid works so hard to be equal that she loses some of the benefits of marriage, while Edward’s ministry would profit from her support.

Scripture does talk about submission, but an extreme view of it can destroy a marriage.

Ephesians 5 teaches us that wives need to be submissive to their husbands, but that we all need to submit to one another. A husband should love his wife in the same way Christ loved the church.  1 Peter 3 also admonishes wives to be submissive to their husbands and husbands to live with their wives with understanding, giving honor to them. It calls husbands and wives “heirs together of the grace of life.”

So who gets to make the decisions?

The husband, as head of the house, is responsible for final decisions on major issues. He should lovingly lead his family in spiritual issues as well as more mundane matters.

A Christian wife, however, brings her own unique gifts and abilities to the table. She can also be led by the Holy Spirit and should be capable of making wise decisions. A Christian husband can and should be able to learn from his wife.

A couple should work together in an open and trusting relationship in which each works for the good of the other. Marriage can be such a help and encouragement in ministry or it can be the Achilles’ heel that mortally wounds your ministry.

Each couple needs to work out the way they will implement these principles. Both need to give and take. Both need to recognize the strengths of the other. Who will make what decisions?  What will they do when they disagree? How will they work out differences?

Our marriage

Art and I compartmentalize many decisions. He decides car issues and many house maintenance and lawn issues. I get to rule the kitchen. I make suggestions about our ministry. He sifts them and implements many of them. He decides what computer to buy. I purchase clothing and small home purchases. He drives, I ride.

Many other things we talk about until we come to an agreement. Sometimes a decision is more important to one of us than the other. The one who cares least allows the other one to decide. Sometimes one of us gives in because it doesn’t seem that important. Art’s a gentleman and wants to make me happy so that helps a lot. It’s rare that both of us feel really strongly about a decision and take opposite sides. Rarely I might need to give in, even though I disagree, simply because he’s the husband and I leave it to him.

We did have one issue on which we didn’t agree and when it came up it really upset me and robbed me of any kind of peace. We had agreed that neither one of us would use money for this purpose unless we both agreed on it. The issue surfaced at unpredictable times and always left me feeling unsettled. Finally I said, “Take x amount of dollars a year to use for that cause and I’ll leave you alone about it. I don’t want to hear about it or talk about it. Just use the money to do what you feel you need to.” In that unusual situation that was the best way to make peace.

A balanced view of submission and individual freedom will reflect these Biblical principles:

The husband is the loving leader of the home.

Each person brings gifts and skills to the table. Each will be better qualified to make certain decisions.

Each person needs to have freedom to make many decisions by themselves.

Each person should consider the feelings and needs of the other when making decisions.

Each person should trust each other and be trustworthy.

Each person should be giving and taking. No one should get his or her way most of the time while running over the feelings and desires of the other.

In coming weeks I’ll deal with working as a team, nurturing your relationship, and managing finances.

[image courtesy of m1Anna Stsonn6/Deposit Photos]

 

 

What does God want me to do? Part 3—Choosing a Ministry

New Zealand BeachTwo weeks ago I talked about how to find God’s will for your life. I talked about finding God’s will through the Bible, positioning ourselves to do His will, getting Godly counsel, and rattling doorknobs.  I promised to give you some personal examples of how I found God’s will in several areas of my life. Last week I talked about the way the Lord has led me in writing for Christian publication. Today I’ll talk about how the Lord has led me in ministry. I hope this will help some of you who may be looking for guidance in your own ministry.

 

I became a Christian at age 5 and, as a teen, told God I would do whatever he wanted me to do. I was raised in a pastor’s home and always had a special heart for ministry. It only made sense to go to a Bible college, since Bible college training is a pre-requisite for many kinds of ministry. I thought it would be great if the Lord would lead me to become a pastor’s wife, but for several years no would-be pastors asked me out. During my junior year at Faith Baptist Bible College I felt God leading me to write for Christian publication, but that didn’t rule out other ministry at the same time.

 

Suddenly I became aware that Art Brammer was interested in me. After dating 2 weeks he informed me that God had called him to be a missionary to Taiwan. Was than an option I would consider? It sounded a bit like a proposal, but it wasn’t. He just didn’t want to waste time and emotion dating if there was no future in it. Being a missionary wife sounded more daunting than a pastor’s wife, but I told him I believed it could be an option. We continued to date, asking the Lord to lead us apart if this wasn’t his will for us. He continued to lead us together. We married in 1978 and I believed God had called me to my husband and the field of Taiwan as well.

 

After about 15 years in Taiwan we came to a scary place in our ministry. We had started one ministry and helped with another. In about a year it became clear that both of the ministries weren’t really going forward. We didn’t want to quit and go home if the Lord wanted us to stick it out, but we also didn’t want to stay when the Lord was leading us elsewhere. How could we know what the Lord wanted?

 

We prayed and ask God to lead us very specifically. We sought Godly counsel from our field council, mission board, and sending church. Finally we set some goals for our ministry that would help us discern the Lord’s leading. The goals were high enough to show progress, but low enough to be reasonable. If the ministries met these goals we believed God would continue to build those ministries and we should stay with them. If the goals were not met however, we would take that as a sign that the Lord was moving on.

 

In about six months the Lord made his will very clear. Neither of the ministries came close to meeting the goals. It was time for us to move, but we had no idea about what to do next. Art had planned on missions in Taiwan since he was a teenager. It had been difficult for him to even consider any other ministry. We brought our two high-school-aged daughters back to the US and began the search for a new ministry.

 

At first we looked at Chinese ministries in the US and Canada. Some sounded promising, but when we actually visited them, we didn’t feel like they were a good fit for us. God didn’t give us peace about them. Each time we “rattled a doorknob” we found the door was locked. After a couple of months in the States our field administrator from our mission board called. “Would you consider pastoring a church in New Zealand?” he asked. On the southern tip of New Zealand was a church that had been started by a missionary who felt the Lord leading him away. We said sure, we’d consider it. Then we got out our maps. Where in the world was New Zealand?

 

Within about a month Art and I flew down to Invercargill, New Zealand for ten days so we could meet the people and he could candidate as pastor. We visited the church and toured a bit of the South Island. Soon after we returned the church voted to extend the call to Art to be their pastor. We talked about it with our kids, prayed about it, and God gave us peace. We’ve been in that ministry for 15 years now.

 

Early on in our ministry here, God showed us that this new place of ministry was right for us. Our daughters both had opportunities to share in our ministry before they moved away from home.

 

Most ministries go through ups and downs. Sometimes God brings us through down times to times of more apparent blessing. It’s not always easy to know when to leave a ministry and when to hold on. But if we really want to know God’s will, because we want to do it, because we love him, he will show us his way. We may only be able to see the next step, but when he shows us that step, we can take it in confidence. God will help us through all the necessary changes.

 

Are you confused about the direction of your ministry today? Are there Godly counsellors you can talk to? Have you made long range goals and short range goals to get to the long range ones? Are you flexible enough to sense when God is leading you in a different direction? Are you moving forward, rattling some doorknobs to see which ones are locked?

 

My prayer for you today is that God will lead you to make good decisions and you will find the place or ministry where you can best serve him. May you find joy in serving him today.

What does God want me to do? Part 2—Writing for Publication

Thank YouLast week we talked about finding God’s will through the Bible, positioning ourselves to do His will, getting Godly counsel, and rattling doorknobs.  I promised to give you some personal examples of how I found God’s will in several areas of my life. Today I’m going to talk about how God led me through various steps in writing for Christian publication. I hope this will help some of you who are searching for God’s will in a similar area.

 

Getting Started

 

I enjoyed writing from the first time I had to write an essay for grade school all the way up to Bible college. I didn’t know anything about writing for publication, however, and I didn’t know if I would be “good enough” to do this. Early in my junior year at Faith Baptist Bible College I asked the Lord to show me if this is what he had for me.

 

God used a Godly counsellor, one of my professors, to help me begin to think about this. Mr. Clarence Townsend taught both journalism classes the school offered at that time. He had published at least some articles. He was familiar with my writing. He asked me a scary question: “If you could do anything you wanted with your writing, what would you choose?”

 

I told him someday I would love to write a series of children’s books like the Chronicles of Narnia. He didn’t laugh! He told me to set that as a long range goal. That took my breath away.

 

Then he helped me form some short range goals to get to my long range goals. He showed me how to submit an article for a take-home paper with Regular Baptist Press. He showed me the writers’ guidelines and talked about the kind of article they would probably like to see. He helped me dare to actually submit an article. My first article or two were rejected, but I soon established a rapport with the editor and began submitting articles on a regular basis. Getting articles published was a short range goal that also allowed me to have a ministry in the short run.

 

I also pursued other short range goals: writing kids’ prayer letters, attending writers’ conferences, reading publications on writing, writing plays and puppet shows for ministry. All of these things developed my writing skill, taught me how to work with editors, and help me develop new ideas.

 

Writing Books and Ministry Materials

 

In the 1980’s I also wrote my first book. I submitted it to editors, had it critiqued by professionals, rewrote it, retitled it, submitted it to more editors. One editor had showed interest in the first chapter, but when I finished the book he was no longer interested. I spent 4 or 5 hours just printing out that book to send to and editor. I sent it by mail and waited months to hear about it.

 

At one point, while I was waiting to hear from an editor, I wrote another book. This was a kid’s book about a Missionary’s Kid who came from the US to live in Taiwan. This book was easy to write because the protagonist, Amy,  dealt with some of the same issues I had to wrestle with as an adult that came to Taiwan. While the first book has never been published, Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World was published by Bob Jones University Press in 1994. It is now in its seventh printing. It is part of BJUP’s homeschool curriculum for third grade and has been used by many mission boards to prepare MK’s to go to the mission field.

 

So then I figured I could largely leave articles behind and begin to write kids’ books. In time BJUP did publish three more of my books for kids and teens. I also tried to market other manuscripts: a VBS program, Christmas programs, a puppet show book, an ESL Bible study book. I initially wrote these things for our own ministry, but wanted to be able to offer them to others. Some of these I successfully marketed, some I didn’t.

 

Finding New Markets and Means of Publication

 

If you know anything about writing for publication you know that the market has changed dramatically in the last ten years or so. Things that used to be easy to sell, no longer are. Traditional publishers are much slower to take risks. At the same time new avenues of publication have opened up. Sometimes it seems like all the rules of writing for publication have changed.

 

I found that some helpful material, like puppet shows, were almost impossible to sell to publishers, but created a lot of interest when offered on my website. I needed to think outside the box of traditional publishers and find other ways to make my writing available. The internet gives many ways to offer your materials. You may be paid for some of this, and you may offer some things for free. Having your own website and blog give you the freedom to write things your way and offer them to others in a variety of ways.

 

Self-publication is also a much more viable option than it was in times past. If you are self-publishing, however, you need to make sure you are offering a quality product. You need to be prepared to market that product in a variety of ways. Information about self-publication and marketing is available in many different formats over the internet.

 

You would think that after 35 years of writing for publication, I’d know how to do everything. Instead I find I have to continue to learn write in new ways for new audiences. I’m preparing to self-publish my first book, Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story. I wouldn’t have considered doing that even ten years ago, but in this circumstance, at this time, I believe it is the right choice.

 

So I still need the Lord’s guidance. Every day I ask him to lead me in the current writing process. I seek advice from Christian writers and groups who know more about publication than I do. I talk to editors and other writers at conferences. I submit manuscripts and pay attention to the reaction from editors and agents. I look for feedback from people I trust. I take the next step and ask God to lock the doors I shouldn’t go through, and open the ones I should.

 

God uses these things to lead me step by step forward. With each step the Lord shows me enough to take the next step. And we go forward together.

 

Perhaps you are beginning to write for Christian publication and you don’t know what to do next. Where can you go for answers to questions and suggestions for your next steps?

 

I have many articles that give tips on starting to write for publication. You might find them helpful. http://debbrammer.com/writers-circle/writing-articles

 

Here is my article on Christian writer’s conferences and which ones I have attended and recommend.

http://debbrammer.com/writers-circle/writing-articles/christian-writers-conferences/

 

May the Lord guide you as you work to find his will for you today.

 

What does God want me to do? Part 1

SYMSN003Does God want me to be a missionary? Should I make a career change? How should I treat a new unmarried couple in church who claim to be Christians but are living together? Should I pursue a new interest or join a community group? How often should I go to church if my unsaved husband doesn’t want me to go at all?

 

These can be tough questions without clear answers. Thankfully, God does want us to know his will, if we want to do it because we love him. I’ve been a Christian for 53 years and have had to find out what God wanted me to do about ministry choices, friends, writing for publication, people problems, and many other things. When I need guidance about a decision these are the things I consider.

 

1. What does the Bible say?

 

The Bible speaks clearly on many issues. It defines morality, forbids stealing, gossip, and using God’s name in vain. I don’t have to pray about whether or not to do something when God commands me to do it or not to do it. I must obey.

 

Other things are not specifically dealt with in Scripture, but Scriptural principles apply. The Bible doesn’t tell me not to smoke or view pornography. It does, however, tell me that my body belongs to God. It’s a temple of the Holy Spirit. I need to take care of it. Jesus taught that lustful desires in the heart are the root sin of physical immorality. These principles help me to know what God wants me to do in many cases.

 

Some churches today actually teach that the Bible doesn’t apply to life today! I can’t imagine that, as we have a Bible in about every room of our house. As people come to talk over their problems we are constantly reaching for one. In any decision we make, we need to consult the Bible first. If it tells us what to do we don’t need to second guess it. We only need to obey.

 

2. Position yourself to do God’s will.

 

Let’s say you wanted to become a great basketball player. You find out there’s a great team in town that you can join, and the coach is fantastic. You go down to the gym and watch practices, hang out, ask the coach questions. At first the coach answers your questions. Members of the team show you a few tips. But if you keep asking for help, but don’t want to join the team, what will the coach say? “Hey, buddy, if you want me to give you advice, join the team! Let’s see some commitment and then I’ll help you all I can.”

 

Salvation is the first step to positioning yourself to do God’s will. When you get saved, you “join God’s team.” God wants us to accept his Son Jesus as our Savior and commit to living for him. Why should he give us advice if we won’t even get on the same side as he is and work for the same things? (John 1:12)

 

We also need to give our lives to God, promising to do whatever he wants us to do. God doesn’t reveal his will so we can vote on it. When we show God we’re serious about doing his will, he will let us know what that is.

 

Often we ask God to show us his will, and then expect it to be terrible. “Lord, if you really want me to, I’ll be a missionary to reach the hardest tribe with the most difficult language and live in conditions that will cause me to balance on the edge of death even though it is totally opposite to all my spiritual and natural gifts and I know I’ll hate it.” We may be surprised to find that, when we truly find God’s will, it is a place that fits us well and we enjoy serving in that capacity.

 

“Delight yourself also in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) Some people think this means, “he will give me anything I want.” Actually I believe this means that if we delight ourselves in the Lord he will give us the desire to serve him in the way he wants us to serve.

 

How do we “delight ourselves in the Lord”? The same way we delight ourselves in people we love very much. We listen to him by reading the Bible and learning about it. We talk to him in prayer about the things that matter to us. We hang out with him by talking with him throughout the day’s activities. We grow to know him better and love him more. As we do this, God will make his will clear to us.

 

3. Ask for Godly counsel.

 

We can always find friends who will tell us what we want to hear, but we need to search out counsellors who care about pleasing God and finding his best for us. Proverbs 11:14 tells us there is safety in this approach. That doesn’t mean the counsellor makes our decisions for us. It does mean that the counsellor can point out things we might not see on our own. Pros and cons of a certain decision. Helpful hints. Biblical principles we may have missed. The other side to the story.

 

4. Rattle some doorknobs.

 

God can steer us best if we are moving forward. If we truly want God’s will, he will close the doors we should not go through and open doors we should. (Revelation 3:7-8.) Sometimes we need to rattle a doorknob to see if the door is locked.

 

One way of doing this is to set a long range goal that we want to ultimately achieve, and then set short range goals of activities that will help us reach the long range goals.

 

Sometimes God wants us to stand still and wait until he leads definitely, but many times we can prayerfully proceed in a certain direction, asking God to lead us in a different direction if that’s what he wants. He won’t speak in an audible voice, but he will lead us through circumstances and giving us peace about certain steps.

 

Maybe these points all sound good, but you don’t know how to put them into practice. Need to see them spelled out in actual circumstances? In the next weeks I’m going to give several personal examples of my search for God’s will in a number of areas. I hope this will give you some ideas that help you search out God’s will for your life.