Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Discerning God's Will in my Life (Philippians 2:12-13; Romans 12:1-2) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

I remember an elderly woman at our church in Santa Monica who was a zealous evangelist.  She was petite, about 5'2'', and would come right up to you, look you in the eyes and say:  “Have you saved a soul for Jesus today?”  At times church members, upon seeing her approaching, would quickly dart away.  One made the comment, “Oh Oh, here comes Virginia, convinced she's doing the will of God.”

"Why Am I here?" "Why Am I Alive?"  Have you asked such questions?  Good questions which should be asked.  Like George Cameron, who thinks about these questions daily.  He is alive due to the kidney donation of Clay Jones, a high school football player in Texas, who died in an accident.  Cameron writes: "I gambled, I drank to excess, I didn't take care of myself.  But knowing that I carry the kidney of this young man has really affected me.  It awakened faith in me.  I wonder why God spared me.  I have changed for the better and now work harder at being patient and loving and respectful of my life and the lives of others.”

Yes, God desires for you and me to seek, to know, and to follow His will.  Why?  Listen to God's word in the N.T. Letter of  Colossians: “We pray and ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will, in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might.”    A good prayer is “Lord, fill me with the knowledge of your will.”

Last week I spoke about discerning God’s Will in general.  I identified 3 aspects.  First, God’s Intentional Will which means God’s will for all people from the time of creation: to worship and love and honor and obey God and love one's neighbor, to lead a moral and just life, to discover and use your God given talents and abilities, to use your brain and your heart, to share your time and resources, etc. 

Second, God’s Circumstantial Will, which means that God is involved in all of the events and circumstances of your life, guiding and leading and working each day.  It doesn’t mean that everything that happens to you is God’s will.  It means God can take the disappointments, the defeats, the failures, the accidents, the set-backs, even evil and weave them together for His good purposes. 

Third, God’s Ultimate Will, that because God is the sovereign ruler and Lord, because God is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-present, God’s will for creation, for human history and for our lives, will never be defeated but will ultimately be fulfilled.  And here is the paradox, God's will is sovereign, nothing can defeat it or change it, or stop it, vis-a-vis human free will, going back to Adam and Eve. 

Today we are examining the question of discerning God's will in your life.  Will this message answer all your questions.  No, probably not.  But I hope it doesn't confuse you further or generate even more questions.

Scripture declares that God’s Will is knowable, you and I can know it.  Romans: 12: “Don't be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  It can be seen, felt, perceived, sensed, heard, incorporated, discerned and understood.  One of the gifts of coming to faith is the ability to personally discern God's will.  Yes, it is a mystery, and yet God will unveil or reveal this mystery to us at times in our lives, when we seek it and pray about it.    

What kinds of situations have you sought God’s will about?  “Lord, I need guidance in this decision,”  “Lord, how do I solve this problem,” “Lord, should I change jobs or go back to school to change careers,” “Lord, how do I handle the problems I’m having with my child,” “Lord where can I get help for my marriage,” “Lord, should I volunteer in the community,” “Lord, where do you want me to serve in the church,” “Lord, where can I get help with my finances,”  “Lord, should I have this surgery or not.”

Further, scripture says God's will is not only knowable it is achievable.  By faith, God gives us the power and grace to fulfill His will in our lives, to make the decision God wants us to make, to put it into action, to be where God truly wants us and to fulfill what God wants you to do.  The words we hope to hear when we meet Jesus after we die, are these scriptural words – “Well done, good and faithful servant, well done, enter into my kingdom.”   

Sometimes we know God's will in advance.  For instance, recall God’s call to the Apostle Paul.  “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, come over to Macedonia and help us.  After Paul had seen the vision, he got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called them to preach the gospel there.”   The apostle Paul knew God's will for him was to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.

I think of a contemporary example, Christian song writer Amy Grant.  She grew up in Nashville in a Christian home imbued with faith, traditional values, love and support.  She knew early on that God was calling her to a career in Christian music.  By the time she was 16 Amy had released her first album and was on her way to becoming a dominant voice in the Christian music movement.  She has sold over 30 million albums; won six Grammy's and has performed in the White House.  She has taken Christian music to a wider audience than any other artist in the Christian genre.

On the other hand, Scripture also teaches that we don't always know God's will in advance, like the Apostle Paul or Amy.    II Cor. 5: 7 says: “We walk by faith, not by sight.”   Abraham was called by God to go forth to a land that God would show him in the future.  God didn't tell him where the land was but  upon arriving, Abraham knew this was the place he was to settle in. 

A pastor writes:  “I have found that God’s will for me is meaningful more in retrospect than in prospect.  I find when I step out in faith, rather than waiting around for some sign, and move ahead, God unfolds or shows me His will, that is, how He desires to use my life becomes clear.  I see God’s hand far more when I look backward than when I try to look forward.”   I find that oftentimes is true for me.  God decides how and when he wants to use us for His glory.  Your job and mine is to be alert and ready and have the courage to trust in God and go forth in faith.

Since people are different God reveals his will to us in various ways.  God uses many avenues, not just one.  Since the circumstances of our lives vary, and we find ourselves at different stages of life, God  reaches us in a way that is appropriate for that occasion.   Recall the verse from Philippians:  “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”    

I've spoken to people who have sensed a clear call to a career: becoming a missionary, serving in the military, a lawyer, an artist, a pilot, a doctor, a teacher, a police officer, a craftsman, a professional athlete, an actor.    “I was born to do this,” they will tell you.

I’ve spoken to others who have sensed God’s leading them in special activities or callings: such as serving in the church or community, or volunteering at a hospital or in the public schools, or taking on some cause in the community, crime, or homelessness or environmental issues, or grandparents commiting to raise their grandchildren, or a couple adopting a child, or caring for an ill neighbor.    Psalm 138 vs.8 says: “The Lord will work out his plans for my life; the Lord will fulfill his purpose for me, your love oh Lord, endures forever.”    

The biblical truth is this – God has more than one plan for your life.  God's will for you to please him will vary depending upon the circumstances of your life, upon where you are at a particular time in your life.  Rest assured, you are never too old to be beyond the purposes of God.   God desires to use you for His glory until the last breathe you take.

Where do we find God's will?  How do you discern God’s will for your life?  Here are some biblical ways God reaches out to us.  God may reach you in one way or in multiple ways.  God doesn't use the cookie cutter approach.  God uses the individual custom approach.

First, God speaks through His Word, the Bible.  Read it prayerfully and regularly.  Everything we need for living a life that pleases and honors God is found in Scripture.  As you get to know God’s Word, you will get to know God’s will.  Psalm 119 says:  “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

But you need to be careful how we do this.  A man was facing a major dilemma in his life and decided to seek an answer by turning to the Bible.  He flipped open the Bible and randomly put his finger on a page and read the verse; and Judas went away and hanged himself.  He was a little startled, so he tried it a second time, and placing his finger on another verse read: “Go and do likewise.”  He thought, I’ll give it one more try, and randomly selected a third verse, and read:  “Thus saith the Lord.” 

Second, God speaks through your own faith and intuition and judgment and common sense and conscience.    You will be a-tune to God’s will if you are daily walking with God, the Holy Spirit will guide you.   Pay attention to the voice within you.   Many times I've found a thought arises: go see this person, go call this person, and I have and they say, wow, I was just thinking about you, or I really needed to talk to someone.  Listen when God speaks to your inner self.

Third, God speaks through the circumstances of your life.  Oswald Chambers put it this way:  “God speaks in the language you know best, not through your ears but through your circumstances.”  Think about those times when you said: “It was meant to be, it happened for a reason, it was a God thing.”  Your life is not accident.  What you do each day matters to God.   You can be doing God’s will and because it seems so natural, you are not even aware it’s His will for your life.  Consider this - you may be doing now what God wants you to do.  You are where God wants you to be.  Celebrate it. Rejoice in it.  Give thanks for the opportunity to serve the Lord.

Fourth, you discern God’s will by how God has shaped you, designed you, wired you in terms of your spiritual gifts, attitude, aptitude, abilities and talents, your personality, your passion, your interests.  What motivates you?  What energizes you?  What could you see yourself doing?  God’s will is to match your divine design on the one hand with your work, your opportunities, your decisions, your service, your vocation and avocation on the other.  

If you are not technical by aptitude, God’s will is not likely that you should be an engineer or computer scientist.   If you can’t sing a note, God’s will is not likely that you should sing professionally or in a choir.   If you have a poor sense of direction, God’s will is not likely that you should become an air traffic controller.  If you have no sense of humor, you don’t get jokes and can't tell them, God’s will is not likely that you become a comedian.  We discern God’s will by knowing ourselves and how God has put us together.  I remember a Sunday School teacher at a former church who came into my office after church on her first day of teaching Sunday School and said:  “I am sorry pastor, but I resign, I discovered that I really don't like children.”

Fifth, we discern God's will through the wisdom, counsel and faith of others.   As you seek God’s will, don’t be afraid to talk to others, to people you respect and trust.  God wants us to seek out and listen to one another in the community of faith.  Listen with open ears. Don’t get defensive if someone says something you don’t want to hear.  You want to hear the truth.  Listen for the word of God from these people. 

Sixth, oftentimes God reveals His will only after we take the first step, a leap of faith.  I’m sure you’ve experienced those times in which you have prayed and prayed but nothing seems to happen.  I have.  You feel like God is not listening.  We sometimes must act first, step out in faith and trust that our decision is in accord with God’s will.  Only later, do we find the answer.

Seventh, we sometimes discern God’s will most clearly when we need help, when we are most vulnerable.  We go to God in our hour of need.  We have nowhere else to turn.  It is a time of crisis or confusion or illness or brokenness.  In such times we are most receptive and honest and open to God’s word and will.   It is in such times that God can reach us because we are ready to listen with patience and humility.       

You may know and be doing God's will right now.  Praise God.  If you are truly seeking His will, be assured, God will reveal it to you.  Dear Lord, fill us with the knowledge of your will.  Amen!

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