But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus. Acts 18:21
We have a sizable Somali population that has immigrated to our small town in West Central Minnesota, where I’ve come to know and enjoy them through our relationship in the clinic. It took me a while to realize it, but every time I prescribed a medication and told them it would make them feel better, they’d say this word – “Inshallah”. Not having any idea what that meant, I finally asked and was informed it means “If God wills”.
Though I’m a Christian and believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), I must admit, I have, at times, found myself learning from my Muslim neighbors. Inshallah, is one of those times. Apparently, in Islam, when looking to the future, the Muslim is to have this attitude – I have my hopes and desires, but my plan and my will are always subject to God’s will. This seems to be the way Paul used the phrase in today’s passage. Upon leaving Ephesus, when asked to return, Paul said he would – If God willed it.
The phrase can be used in a fatalistic tone, simply accepting that if something happens – good, bad, or sinful – then God must have wanted it to happen. Based on Paul’s life though, I don’t think his deference to God’s will was simply a passive attitude. Paul lived every day, pursuing God’s plan. When he said he’d return to Ephesus if it was God’s will, he knew that if God told him to come back, he would obey. He lived moment to moment for the Father, continually seeking his plan. By daily seeking God’s will, he could be confident that he was living in it.
Paul’s Inshallah is a lesson from which I can learn. As I go about my day, it’s only natural for me to do what I want to do. Just because it’s natural though, doesn’t mean it’s healthy or right. My will has led me to pain and misery often enough that I should be wary of it. God has yet to lead me to disaster though. So, daily, many times a day, in all things, I must ask what it is that God wants. In what I watch, read, think, eat, say, and do, I must continually seek God’s will instead of my own. Then, I must do it. Inshallah – if God wills it.