Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Fig. 1: James Earl Jones, Kevin Costner and Amy Madigan wait for no-one to come to their Bible-study.

Just what is God's will for my life?

This little tale begins with a Californian girl named Joanne.

It was August 7th last year, 2 weeks after my arrival. I was doing my laundry when I got chatting to her. She'd flown in from San Francisco on some mission or other with her church. We had quite a lively discussion, and I saw her a few more times before she went home again. In particular I remember shifting an unusually heavy sofa after she'd lost some change undeneath it. But Joanne set my mind wondering...

Just how many other Christians came through this secular 530-bed youth-hostel? Shouldn't they have some point-of-contact? Some on-site Christian who can tell them where the different churches are, study the Bible with them, pray with them, minister to them or just simply say hello? I stayed in a Christian-run hostel in Amsterdam once, where they held 2 Bible-studies a week. Surely there should be someone planting the Christian flag in this place?

Such a person could obviously not be me. At the time I wasn't planning on staying long, I didn't know anyone, and I certainly didn't have the confidence to go organising Bible studies for sex & alcohol fuelled backpackers. Nevertheless the idea wouldn't go away.

Every night the bar downstairs would advertise its free alcohol and sex quizzes with, no surprises for why, free bar tabs as prizes, so why couldn't there be a Bible study upstairs each week? With all its drunks, bloody fights in the street and rape victims, this really nice hostel had issues, surely those Christians passing through should be making contact with each other and praying for these issues? They were at least likely to encourage each other and make friends.

Perhaps I just valued the encouragement that Joanne had given me. My biggest discouragement was that I simply did not feel led to do this. Not for the first time in recent years I found myself asking that question which I want answered more than any other: "But how can I determine God's will?"

Only once has God ever taken the unprecedented step of actually telling me something that he wanted me to do. The rest of the time it seems we have to mash together some mixture of prayer, feeling, experimentation and seeing what happens.

So how can we determine God's will for each of our lives? I've asked this question to many people since arriving here, and they've all had a different take on it.

There's a free library (small bookcase) in the kitchen, where travellers drop-off books that they no longer want, and pick-up ones they do. (Lionel once told me he'd a found biography of Jackie Collins there that he'd abandoned in a hostel in Invercargyll - the exact same copy!) One day I found some Christian book or other that had this advice to offer me:

When we talk about "God's will," we really mean one of 3 things:

1. God's absolute will - His control over every single detail in the universe. For example, His control over the dust on the computer you're reading this on, His control over the dinosaurs, His control over the colour of that tiny little subconscious thought at the back of your head, His control over the behaviour of atomic particles on the far side of the universe ten-thousand years ago that no-one will ever see.

2. God's moral will - Is what we are contemplating doing right or wrong?

3. God's will for me personally - What should I do tomorrow?

The first 2 we can't really do much about. It's the last of these that gets us wound-up.

I can't remember whether the author was talking about point 2 or 3, but he likened life to a football pitch - we're allowed to do anything we want, so long as we stay within the big white rectangle and don't break the rules.

On 9th November documentary-maker Bruce told me "If you're contemplating doing something, you pray ONCE, and then you do it." I think he was arguing that point 1 would save you from getting anything too drastically wrong.

On 6th March, my old friend 610 said "We make our own lives. If you're not making your own life, then someone else is, and that's wrong." But then I don't think 610 believes in God. And I personally want God to make my life.

With no sense of revelation, I had already just begun preparations to run a weekly Bible-study group at the hostel anyway.

Having found a woeful lack of suitable one-off Bible studies on the net, I dropped into the ever-helpful Christian Resources Centre on Queen Street to interrogate Bogdan for a book.

Day after day I asked God to show me which book to get, and day after day I could not find the 'right' one. I told Bogdan that I would wait for God to provide me with one for free, as I knew that that would be the right one. This must have sounded like I was trying to pull a fast one on the kindly Christian bookseller, but really I wasn't.

I asked ex-Minister Neil if he had anything, but his experience gave him a different take on things. He suggested just calling it a Bible-reading group to avoid sounding too heavy to non-Christians. I really hadn't anticipated non-Christians coming. I mean... why would they?

His suggestion was to just ask those present if there were any passages that meant something to them, to read them together, and then to simply ask 2 questions:

1. What is it saying?

2. How does this change us?

He and his wife Jenny prayed for me, and the following day Greg, my pastor at church, agreed to fund some Bibles for it. I got permission from Andy at ACB to hold the thing in the hostel's lounge, and did up a poster to go on the noticeboard in reception.

So it was that at 8pm on Wednesday 23rd March, feeling like a complete idiot, I headed down to the lounge, Bible in hand, not really expecting anyone to show up.

And indeed nobody did. Not that week, not any week except for on 6th April when Won jin and Won kee came, purely because I'd been to Club Bobos with them immediately beforehand.

Tonight was the last night I ran it, for reasons which will become obvious tomorrow.

As I sat alone in the lounge, flicking through my Bible, I heard Jimmy's poor lost voice guffaw over the tannoy that, as usual, there would be 100 litres of free alcohol in the bar at 9:30, to get everyone as wrecked as possible before fleecing. So I grabbed the mic after him and announced to the hostel "Bible study. Lounge. Now. Bible study."

As I sat in the lounge a few minutes later, still alone, I really couldn't blame anyone. Jimmy, for all his long-suffering oppressed down-troddeness as the Globe's only slave that had stuck at the job for longer than a week, still at least had a spiel. Who on Earth was going to come to a Bible-study advertised in 6 emotionless words?

Alan, an old youth-leader friend of mine, once told me "Never call anything off due to lack of numbers."

Perhaps I should have listened to the absence of God's voice. I really never did feel led to run those meetings. I just thought that I should. At least I don't regret not having run them.

Like so much that has happened to me whilst here in New Zealand, maybe the point was not so much to help others, as for God to emotionally teach and change me.

The day I met Joanne, I would never have announced a self-run Bible-study over the tannoy to everyone.

Perhaps God only wanted to teach one person at those Bible-studies He organised.

Labels: ,

0 comment(s):

Post a Comment

<< Back to Steve's home page

** Click here for preceding post(s) **

** Click here for following post(s) **