Does God have a plan for the world, for our nation, for our community, for our friends and neighbours, for our families, and for you? Well, a plan is the method from which we get from A to B. I believe that God has a hope that we will get from A to B but that the plan is written together.
I am asked, occasionally, in my professional capacity, this question, “Does God have a plan for my life?” And surprisingly, the answer I give is often, “No”, however, if you ask me, “Does God have a hope for my life?” then the answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” Let me unpack this.
The future is not yet written — not by God, not by you, and not by me. It is written what God hopes for the world, and God, being God, is unlikely to be ultimately thwarted! However, God does not lay down a single path for each of us to follow, and if we deviate from that path, God does not give up and say, “Oh well, you’re off the track, I want nothing to do with you.” In fact, our Christian life bears witness to a God that is always adapting with us, journeying with us. When I asked God if I should marry my wife, God did not say, “Yes, she is the only one for you and if you decide not to or she turns you down then your life is ruined.” No! God asked, “Gavin, would you like to marry her?” to which my reply was, “Very much so!”
Or take Jesus, for example, the Son of God. Have you ever wondered why he always seemed to dodge the direct question, “Are you the Messiah?” I think, perhaps, it is because he would only be the Messiah if he achieved what the Messiah came to do. The proof of the pudding was and is in the tasting! If he had fallen to temptation in the wilderness, if he had not been obedient to the Father, if he had not allowed himself to be tortured and killed, and if he had not risen from the dead, then no, he would not have been the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, the one to whom we fall on our knees and proclaim, like Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”
I will say it again. The Christian is the one who determines the hope of God and joins in with God to realise that hope. It is a partnership. It is a journey. It is a relationship. We are not robots obeying a master. We are invited to be co-creators with our creator God. The Spirit never stops working in and around our lives, and if we live by the Spirit and are guided by The Spirit, then we shall wend our way through life as if we are following a predetermined plan but, in reality, it is a thrilling voyage of discovery and creativity where we join hands with God and God says, “Come on! Let’s see where this goes!”
So what are God’s hopes for the world, nation, community, neighbours, families, and for ourselves? Perhaps this is where the four strands of authority, on which the Anglican church stand, can help. They are: Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and the Holy Spirit. One thing that makes the Anglican Church the place in which I made my spiritual home is that it holds all four in balance. It can be that a particular church or denomination places more emphasis on one authority over another. For example, an evangelical church will favour scripture, a liberal church reason, a Catholic church tradition, and a pentecostal church the Spirit. When it comes to discerning what God’s hopes are we need to hold all four in prayer.
We need to spend time with scripture to discern a) the trajectory of the narrative between God and creation, what we call the big story or the grand metanarrative — how it all began, and God’s hope for how it will end. We can learn how Jesus fulfilled his mission and the Father’s hopes for him and emulate him. How does Jesus hope we might live and have our being in the future? And how did the disciples understand what God’s hopes were for them and for their future?
We need to use our God-given intellect. How can we discern, for example, how our understanding of the concepts of inclusivity, equality, and diversity have developed positively. Can we discern a trajectory and plot where we may be in 5, 10, or 50 years time?
We need to learn from the church. How has the church adapted and grown in the past, as it has sought to be guided by God over the last 2000 years? Where has God been leading it? Can we spot or discern a pattern for its future growth and being?
And importantly, where is the Spirit leading? When we listen to God, what is God saying to us? Who are the prophetic voices of God in today’s wider church? What is the still, small, voice of the Holy Spirit saying to us?
You may well be sitting there thinking, “But isn’t it your job, Rev Gav, to discern what God is saying to us?” and the answer is, “Yes,” and, “No.” I would be extremely wary of any church leader that says, “This is the way. God has told me and you all have to follow!” Many a garden path has been followed with such leadership. Yes, it is partly my job to listen both to God and to you. But we must discern together. We are all the body of Christ. When God speaks to us, it is unlikely that any one of us will have the answer in isolation. When someone comes up to me and says, “God’s told me that…” I may well reply, “Well, he’s not told anyone else… yet!” Or, when someone approaches me and says, “We should do this…” then I will hold it with others and pray and ask for discernment as to whether it is, indeed, the God-inspired thing to do.
So, it is right and appropriate for you to ask, “Well, Rev Gav, what do you discern God has been saying to the whole church?” and I do have suggestions, and hopefully you will echo these, as predominantly, they have come from you all.
Firstly, I think the church has been slow to embrace environmental care. As stewards of creation, a creation which God thinks is, “very good,” God hopes we will do all we can to protect and nurture the world in which we live — as both individuals and as a church. I believe it is God’s hope that we will be at the forefront of making and proclaiming positive change in this area. It is important because God thinks it is important.
Secondly, I think God is reminding the church of its wealth both financially and in terms of resources, and hopes that we will be committed to the poor and the homeless. I do not know how we do this, but it is on God’s heart and always has been. I have a hunch that God will lead us to programmes that benefit those that are left behind; the marginalised and the broken both here and abroad
Thirdly, and perhaps three things is enough for now, God hopes for us to be a church for all — to orient ourselves to be inclusive and welcoming to all no matter what colour, social background, sexual orientation, gender, intellectual capacity, age, or status.
You may disagree with me, or perhaps you could add a fourth, fifth, and sixth hope, however, these are the three hopes that I believe God has for our church.
My hope and prayer is that, under the guidance of God, we will listen to him and follow him as a whole family, and be the church that God hopes we will be.