As you are about to hear in this week’s PODCAST, knowing God’s will for you life is far easier than you may have been led to believe.
Far easier. Uncomplicated. Abundantly knowable. Readily understandable.
In a word, God WANTS you and me to know His will for our lives.
The reason for this discussion this week is the fact that last week I inadvertently created a vacuum.
I made a point last week (not even the main point of the message, but a valid and timely point nonetheless).
Last week we discussed the fact that we have come to a place in our day where far too many Christians rather cavalierly throw around the phrase, “God told me…” “God spoke to me and said…” “God is telling me…” or its equivalent. Does that ring a bell?
And we noted then that, Look, words mean things. When we or others invoke such phrases as, “God told me…” “God spoke to me and said…” “God is telling me…” what are we really claiming?
Did we hear an audible voice, such as the voice heard in our passage for this podcast?
And what is the person to whom we claim, “God told me…” supposed to do with that?
More to the point, if God does not reveal His will to us through an audible voice, how does He reveal His will to us?
How am I supposed to know where God wants me to live? Where am I supposed to work? Do I go to college? Join the military? Get married and start a family?
How does God reveal His will for my life, and YOURS?
After you hear this, there will be no doubt as to the answers to those and many, many other questions.
This really is a practical and straightforward as it gets.
Let’s begin by reading Matthew 17:5-6
But even as Peter spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground.
Now, when it comes to hearing directly from God, I often go back to a season of my life when I was feeling very separated from all things “Christian”. And, as I have shared before, I heard something. It sounded like an audible voice, but there was no one besides myself there, so I can’t say for certain that it was. It may have been, but it may also have been something only in my own mind. I can’t say.
In fact, I can’t even say for certain whether or not it was God.
As you can tell, I am very reluctant to claim that I heard the audible voice of God.
Nevertheless, the message that I received was, “You knucklehead, how long have we been together?”
Now, whether it was merely a thought in my mind or an auidble voice, it’s irrelevant. God and I had been together for a really long time. There was no doubt about that.
What I know came from God was this: A verbal and accurate recitation of Matthew 11, where Jesus very clearly said:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
That is the Word of God. That, I know for certain, came from God. It’s from His Word. There was no new revelation given.
But, no matter how you slice it, it was a very unsettling experience for me. In Matthew 17, the disciples were terrified and fell down to the ground. When I “heard” those words “You knucklehead, how long have we been together? I am gentle. My yoke is easy. My burden is light”, it was like a bolt of lightning running through me. It was not casual. It stopped me in my tracks. It rocked me. It changed my life. I questioned God.
I needed to know, beyond any shadow of doubt, that God was calling me to give up my steady job and pursue this Jesus in HD ministry, where we investigate and get to know this gentle Jesus. Was this really a direction God was guiding me to, or was it me hearing things while all alone in the basement of a funeral home? I needed to know that it was from God.
I remember, just days before we were supposed to launch this life-altering ministry, pulling up to a stop light at 7:45 am and telling God, “Please, I need to know if this is from You or not. I don’t want to do anything foolish.” I got to work at 8:00; and at 8:10, I got called into my boss’ office. He said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but we’ve been trying for a year to get an internship for my son. We haven’t been able to find him anything, so he is going to have to intern here. Which means I’m going to have to let you go.”
And I started laughing!
I got up and gave Mr. Macy a big hug. He didn’t understand one bit. I assured him that I’d be fine. It was exactly what I had prayed for just minutes earlier.
All of this to say, when it comes to hearing the audible voice of God, even in this situation – which, in hindsight does seem to be directed by God – we need to always be reserved when it comes to claiming that we hear the voice of God.
It’s kind of like miracles. We are not living in an age of miracles. But that doesn’t stop God from performing miracles today. They are rare. They are awe-inspiring. And there is never any question that they are from God, and not from man.
But they are the exception, not the rule.
And the same goes for the Voice of God. I will never say that God will never speak to someone. But I am one to say, “If you think that it happened to you, does it fit the pattern that we see in Scripture?”
I think that there should be sort of a system of checks when it comes to tossing around the phrase, “God told me…” because of the sheer power of those words!
As Hebrews 1:1-2 says,
Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.
It is not the norm, today, that the audible voice of God is heard. There was a revelatory period, just as there were periods of miracles. But we’re not in one today.
But what about Romans 8:14?
Only those people who are led by God’s Spirit are his children.
How does God lead us? How does He reveal His will for our lives, if not through an audible voice?
Let me premise my answer with this: my approach to Christian living is very practical and straightforward.
So, with that in mind, let’s start off with this:
- God’s will for your life is nothing to be feared. We see evidence of this in Romans 12:2,
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Even though it may not always feel good, pleasing and perfect, when all is said and done and you look back on how your life has evolved, we will all agree that God had led us along a path that was good, pleasing to us and God and perfect. And when we see that, we won’t change a thing, even the suffering it may have taken to get to that point.
- I do not subscribe to the “Domino Theory” or the “Theology of the Ash Heap”. There are individuals I have met who are terrified that if they mess up in understanding and living out God’s will, then the rest of their lives will be thrown into the proverbial “ash heap”. What if you marry the wrong person? Not only would you have screwed up their life and your life, but also the person they were supposed to marry and the person you were supposed to marry. Then, what if children are involved? The adverse affects of this one decision are limitless! It’s like a neverending stream of falling dominoes! You don’t need to walk along terrified that you are going to miss some ingredient of God’s perfect will for your life, resulting in the rest of your life being screwed up.
- God’s will is meant to be clear and readily understandable. It is not hidden like buried treasure. Nor is it something that we need to arduously search for. Now, if you were to go to Amazon.com and search for books regarding God’s will for your life, you’ll run across one title after another named something like “Discovering the Will of God”. Forget that!
Why would God have a plan for your life… and then hide it from you?
It’s one thing to tell your kids about tiny treats hidden in plastic eggs and then have them hunt for them on Easter, but it’s completely different when someone’s whole life is on the line!
Now, as I studied the New Testament, I learned the will of God boils down to five things. These five things need to be in place before you can even begin to worry about the nitty-gritty things like where you should live, go to school, work, etc.:
It is God’s will that you choose to become a committed Christ follower.
The Lord is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
It is God’s will that we be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:17-18)
Just by reading the first sentence of this passage, it is abundantly understandable that God’s will is perfectly clear. But what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? There is a very good reason that Paul put side-by-side the concepts of being drunk with wine and being filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s a beautiful metaphor. You see, the way we get drunk is no different than the way we get filled with the Holy Spirit. When you get drunk, you first choose to be somewhere where you probably shouldn’t be (where alcohol is flowing to excess). Then you choose to grab the container (glass, bottle, can, Solo cup, etc.) and you choose to fill it with the alcoholic beverage. You then make the decision to lift the container to your lips and pour its contents into your mouth. You make the decision to swallow the drink. You then make the decision to do this again. And again. And again. And again. And as you continue to do so, you begin to lose control, and progressively hand your control over to the alcohol.
Becoming filled with the Holy Spirit is also a series of willful choices. This series begins the minute you open your eyes in the morning. Each day, you wake up and tell God that you want to live that day under the influence of the Holy Spirit, in terms of what you say, what you think, how you act, and your attitudes. Now, when we take back control, by saying, thinking, or doing something that is in violation of what the Holy Spirit would want, we call that sin. And the path back to surrendering control over to the Holy Spirit is to confess our sin.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
This becomes not only a daily choice that occurs when we rise from bed in the morning, but an ongoing series of choices: moment by moment, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. We continually evaluate how we are living before God and honestly determining whether or not we are manifesting a Spirit-filled life; and when we are not, we correct it.
It is God’s will that we pursue personal purity.
God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
If we violate this, then as I mentioned earlier, we confess our sins and change our behavior, or repent.
It is God’s will that we be submissive rather than rebellious toward those in authority over us. Of the five prerequisites I’m laying out, I would suggest that this is the one most people stumble over the most. Though it may sound rather benign, the implications of it are profound.
For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state,14 or the officials he has appointed…
15 It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. (1 Peter 2:13-15)
I cringe when I see my Facebook friends taking cheapshots at our President or his officials. We need to respect our laws, from speed limits to tax law. We need to respect our employers. We may not agree with the way they are running the company or supervising us, but it doesn’t matter. As Christ-followers, it ought to be said of us, “You’re the best employee I ever had”, because we do what we are asked to do without grumbling or complaining. So, we are respectful people, not rebellious people.
You can see how this ties into being submissive to the will of God. From God’s point of view, why would He reveal to us His will for our lives, when we are not willing to obey even our earthly supervisors?
In the Bible, when Daniel was faced with being ordered to violate his Hebrew dietary laws, he didn’t fold his arms and protest. Instead, he made a respectful appeal to his supervisor. He used words like “please”. He offered an alternative. He showed respect.
Or consider Peter, when he penned this passage. There is no way on earth that Nero deserved his respect… other than the fact that God told Peter to respect him. So, we are called to be respectful people rather than rebellious.
It is God’s will that we suffer for rather than compromise our convictions.
So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:19)
We are people who live by conviction. There are certain truths that we hold near and dear. So, what are you to do (in light of 1 Peter 2:13) when your employer asks you to lie? Do you submit in that case?
We are called to honor those who are put above us UNTIL we are asked to violate Biblical a conviction. At that point, we live by conviction and suffer the consequences. Or, as the apostles exemplified, obey the decrees of the government until those decrees violate God’s Word. Then, just as they said, “we must obey God rather than man.” So, if an edict were to come down from Washington D.C. saying that I am no longer allowed to teach the Word of God, then with all due respect, I must continue to do so despite the law of the land. And if there is a price to be paid, I pay it. Or, if a student were required by their teacher to review a play or movie or book of which the content of the work would violate a Biblical conviction, then just as Daniel did, they should come up with a creative alternative. If the teacher accepts the alternative, then great – it’s a win/win. But if they reject the alternative and it’s either do the assignment as assigned or take the F… the Christ following student should take the F. It’s not a self-righteous or high-and-mighty situation, it’s merely a conflict of conscience.
So, with these five “prerequisites” of knowing God’s will for your life in mind, keep in mind Psalm 37:4,
Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
How can we do this? We do the things that please him (see the above five listed choices). When we live this way, we are living in the Lord’s delight and according to His will. First off, it’s very simple. When we choose to follow Christ, choose to be filled with the Holy Spirit, pursue personal purity, submit ourselves according to God’s will, and live by Biblical conviction, then our desires fall in line with God’s desires. So, if our hearts are in alignment with God’s heart, based on these five prerequisites, then when we are faced with a choice like where to live, where to go to school, where to work, or who to marry… we follow our heart, because based on the above list, our heart will be in alignment with God’s heart.
It’s that simple. No audible voice required.
However, there is a caveat.
What happens if those five things are in place, you follow your heart, but the end result you thought would occur does not materialize?
Moses desperately followed his heart and wanted to enter the Promised Land. But God said NO. In a moment of significant rebellion, God told Moses that he had forfeited the privilege of entering the land. Sometimes you and I will pursue the desires of our hearts and it won’t work out. Sometimes it’s because we have made a sinful, rebellious choice, but sometimes things just don’t work out, even when we are faithful.
But isn’t it comforting to know that Moses eventually did get into the land… on the Mount of Transfiguration?
God’s will is good, pleasing, and perfect.
And, if who we are is more important than what we do, than what we do will take care of itself. Whether things work out to your expectations is irrelevant. There could be many unseen twists and turns along that road. But when all is said and done, you will look back on that road and recognize how good, pleasing and perfect God’s will is!