Living in a Van Down By the River

BY ZACK JAMES COLE

I come from the Adam Sandler and Chris Farley Saturday Night Live generation. One of Chris Farley’s most famous SNL characters was Matt Foley. Foley is a motivation speaker, 35 years old, divorced, and lives in a van down by the river.

In the classic SNL sketch, Farley’s character was brought in to speak to the kids of very concerned parents. Matt used his life as an example of what not to do, or the end result will be— living in a van down by the river.

The Big Question

“What is God’s will for your life?” If I had a nickel for every time I heard that question, I might think God’s will was to be obscenely rich. “What is God’s will for my life?” is a face melting, anxiety-inducing question for me. My answer often has been, “I don’t know! Will someone please tell me?!”

I can remember being a High School Senior and having no earthly idea about what college to go to, and the idea of ‘God’s will for my life’ was nothing but one big question mark. I spent all my prayer time focusing on asking God to spill it.

In agony, I buried my face in the grass, tears, and sweat pouring down my face while praying, “Just tell me what to do! What is your will?!” But I should have been resting in Christ kneeling in the garden, praying, sweating like blood over what was the Father’s will for his life (Luke 22:39-44).

Haunted By My Idol

My experience as a Christian did not revolve around Christ. It revolved around asking, “What is God’s will for my life?” Hunting the answer to this question was my god, and I paid homage to it every day. In tithes, offerings, prayer, devotion, worship, and singing all umpteen verses of, “Just as I Am” and “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.”

I was determined to pin God down and force him to tell me his will, every detail of it, to make sure I didn’t mess up all his plans for my life. I had no interest in what God had done for me in the past. I only wanted to know what I was supposed to do for God in the future.

I was haunted by the thought that if I did not figure out God’s will for my life, I was sure to be living in a van down by the river of a wasted life. Missed opportunities. Missed blessings. Missed callings. Missed purpose. Missed prosperity. All of my potential gone—all because I missed out on God’s will for my life.

The idea that I have this kind of control on God’s will for my life is downright terrorizing. If there was anyone who would mess up God’s will for my life, it was going to be me.

We Have A Problem

Modern American Christianity has placed ‘Matt Foley’ into Pulpits, Seminaries, Sunday School Curriculum, and Conferences everywhere.

It should concern us that the pattern of modern, popular Christian messaging appears to be: “You have a problem. You don’t know God’s will for your life. You need to pursue finding out what this is and if you support my ministry, buy my books, tithe to my church, I will guide you into discovering your best potential you. All for the glory of the Kingdom of course.”

God’s will for my life is not something to be pursued as a potential possibility. God’s will for my life is someone who has pursued me, and he is a present reality.

Any Preacher who leads you to anxiety by ending with, “What is God’s will for your life?” is not giving you the final word of the gospel. He should be helping you cast all your burdens on Christ because his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

The Answer to the Question

God’s will for your life was to crush Jesus on the cross for you (Isaiah 53:10; Luke 22:42). The will of God is that everyone who looks to Christ for salvation will be saved (John 6:38-40). God’s will is that you freely love your neighbor; that you rejoice and give thanks in all circumstances: the good, the bad, and the ugly (Mark 12:30-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18; 1 Peter 2:15-16). God’s will for your life is that you would be in Christ (1 Timothy 2:4).

This does not look like imaginary hills to conquer or valiant voyages to embark on. God’s will for your life is only made clear by looking at the hill called Calvary through the lens of the cross of Christ.

God’s will for your life is simple: receive the finished work of Jesus Christ—for you—and then pour out his one-way love to your neighbor. Are you a husband, a wife, a son or daughter, a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker? Whatever you are, you are free to serve others as Christ serves you (Galatians 5:13-14).

Do Not Fear, Only Believe

Do you fail at all of these roles just like me every day? Do not fear. Rest in the good news that your good works were already planned out by God and not you (Ephesians 2:10). When you fail, even your failure will not separate you from God’s love (Romans 8:31-39). God’s grace and forgiveness have already swallowed up all of your failings, all of your sin, on the cross of Jesus Christ (Romans 5). You are free to rest in Christ; you are free to love your neighbor. Do not fear; there is no condemnation for anyone in Christ (Romans 8:1).

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

A rare Native Atlantien that still lives in the Atlanta area, Zachary James Cole grew up in the Bible Belt of the American South. He became a United States Marine in January of 2004 and served on Active Duty until January of 2009. He was deployed to Iraq twice during Operation: Iraqi Freedom. While in the desert conducting convoy security and nighttime security patrols, Zack was overwhelmed with the nearness and love of Christ. He has a love of history, the outdoors as well as an unwavering love of his favorite local sports teams. He earned his M.Div in Theological Studies from Liberty Theological Seminary. Zack is a co-host of the podcast: The Liberty Tree. After coming home from the Marine Corps he found a Church home at Suwannee Station Family Life Church in Suwannee, GA where he now serves as an Associate Pastor. Zack lives in Sugar Hill, GA with his wife Bonnie and their two sons, Cade and Knox.

 

Twitter: @ZackJamesCole