Posts Tagged ‘finding God’s will’

The title today is “Knowing our place in God’s plan.” Now the phrase “knowing our place” doesn’t sit well with many Americans, being free spirited and independent as we so often are. We don’t like this idea of having “a place.” We say, “I’ll be who I want to be and do whatever I want.”

But the Scriptures teach us that we will only find true peace when we find our place in God’s will for our lives. There is a paradox here: the one who does whatever they want is actually a slave; a slave of sin, which eventually makes us miserable and destroys us. But the one who is a slave of God, doing what God wants,  is free; free to find true peace and contentment.

That’s because God made us; God designed us to walk in his ways. And specifically God has given each one of us gifts and callings. And it is only when we align our lives to his will that we will know true contentment and joy. Even if things are hard, we can know we are right where we should be.

John the Baptist knew his place in God’s plan. He was crystal clear. So I want us to look at two passages from the Gospel of John to see what we can learn from him.

John 1:19-27

John is not the Christ. 19And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

So this delegation from the powers-that-be come from Jerusalem to check John out because he is drawing big crowds. This was a cause of concern for them, since they were mindful of keeping the peace with the Roman overlords.

And as John answers all their questions, he reveals that he has a really clear understanding of who he is, and who he is not. Beginning in reverse order of who he is not – he is not “the prophet.” This is a reference to Deuteronomy 18:15-18 and how it speaks of a prophet like Moses who would come. And he is not Elijah, or at least he is not literally Elijah come from heaven after going there in a fiery chariot.

But most importantly he is not the Christ, or the Messiah. v. 20 – “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” He is very clear.

The lesson here for us regarding who we are not is that we also are not the Christ. This seems so basic that it shouldn’t have to be mentioned. And I don’t know anyone who would literally claim to be the Christ, apart from mental illness.

But there are some who, I think, have a “Messiah complex.” People, and yes, Christians, who think they are God’s gift to the world. Who have an all too high opinion of themselves. Who think that they know best about every situation; who have an answer to any problem; who think that everything hinges on them, and that without them things will just fall apart. They are here to save the day!

And then more commonly there is our simple self-centeredness. Where we live for ourselves and our self-interests. We make ourselves the Lord of our lives so that we are functionally claiming to be the Christ and Lord of ourselves and our domain. We don’t learn from Jesus, we don’t listen to Jesus, we don’t submit to Jesus. We just do what we want and what’s best for us.

In both of these cases we learn from John the Baptist that we too must submit ourselves to Christ and his Lordship.

  • He is the Savior, God’s gift to the world – not us.
  • He is Lord – and we are not.

This is the most basic first step in finding our place in God’s plan. We subordinate ourselves to him. This is the path to peace and joy.

Well even though he is not the Christ, John does have a role to play. He knows who he is not, but he also knows who he is. 22So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

John is quoting Isaiah 40:3. He was given the unique role of preparing the way for Jesus as was prophesied by Isaiah. His job was to clear the obstacles out of the way for the coming of the Messiah. And he did this through calling people to repent of their sins and find forgiveness.

He is not the Christ, but he does have a role to play in God’s plan.

Our second lesson then is that we have a role in God’s plan too. In a parable in Matthew 25 Jesus makes the point that all of us have various responsibilities to work for him. Vs. 14-15 say, “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.”

In Romans 12:4-6 Paul teaches us that we each have been given gifts to serve God. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them”.

So we are to be clear about who we are not, but we also need to be clear about who we are – what God has called us to do, what gifts God has given to us. And we need to use them. What is your role? What is your specific place in God’s plan? I encourage you to find out; find your place and then do what God has called you to do.

John’s humility before Christ. 24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

There are several “comes after me” statements from John the Baptist in the Gospel of John. In 1:15 he says, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.” In 1:30 he says, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” And here we have, “He who comes after me – the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” In each case they refer to Jesus’ superior status or rank over John.

v. 27 is the most specific. To take off and put on someone’s shoes was considered slave work. And so John is saying that he is not even worthy to be a slave of Christ. Now, Jesus said of John that he was the greatest person in the period of the Old Covenant (Matthew 11:1). But even so, John knows his lowly place in relation to Jesus.

John models for us here how we are to be humble before Christ. Even though we have a role, and it may be a great one, we are under Christ. We too are not worthy to be Christ’s slave. We are as low as you can be. Not a master, not just a free person, not just a slave, but unworthy to be Christ’s slave.

As Jesus says in Luke 17:10, “when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” We are “unworthy servants.” This is our place in relation to Christ.

And then we come to our second passage –

John 3:26-30

Here we see that John’s place is to exalt Christ. 26And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30He must increase, but I must decrease.”

When some heard of Jesus’ success, they thought John the Baptist might be jealous. But John recognizes that whatever our place is, it is given by God. “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” He has his own place, given him from heaven, just as Jesus has his own place given from heaven.

He also makes the point that he is not in competition with Jesus – he is not the Christ as he has been clear all along. Rather his place is to go before Christ.

John describes himself as the friend of the bridegroom, who is Jesus. And as the friend he takes joy in the success of the bridegroom and his blessings. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John’s goal is to exalt Jesus, not himself.

He is content and filled with joy in doing this. As he says in v. 29, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.”

The lesson for us is that our place is to exalt Christ, not ourselves. Life is not about us; our accomplishments; our name; our legacy. Always striving, grasping, panting for more and more. It is about Christ and who he is and what he has done. We must decrease, and he must increase.

And like John, when we do this our joy will be complete. When we are in God’s place for us we will have joy, peace and contentment.

William Higgins

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We’re focusing once again on finding God’s unique will for our lives, and we have started looking at eight things we can do to figure this out. But before we jump back into this, let me share with you some general reflections on seeking God’s will.

We usually want to know more than God wants to tell us

We want to know everything with all the details. But often God wants us to wait on him. In fact, I think it is fair to say that more often than not God wants us to walk by faith, that is, move forward without knowing what’s ahead and all the details. So God only tells us what we need to know, when we need to know it.

And you have to factor this in. Maybe you’re not hearing from God because now is not the time for receiving more instructions – you’re just supposed to continue on faithfully with what you already know. On a number of occasions I have sensed this from God – no need for more instructions, just keep doing what you’re doing.

God’s unique will for us can be flexible

That is, I don’t think things are rigid and completely fixed. And this means two things:

  • We can fail, but get back on track. In other words, God’s will is not an all or nothing proposition so that if you make a mistake, you are forever unable to do what God made you to do. Yes, sin has consequences. But God can still use us and he is infinitely creative in finding ways for us to fulfill our purpose.
  • Sometimes God lets us choose. In other words, there may not always be just one right choice. There may be several acceptable and good choices. I don’t think that it’s God’s purpose for us to have to be told every little thing. God wants us to grow up and be able to make good and godly decisions because of what he has already taught us. Just like any parent with their children.

The most important question is, “Will you do God’s will?” once you find out what it is

Yes, it’s important to ask, “What is God’s will for me?” But maybe we should focus more on cultivating a heart that is ready to do God’s will.

Let’s be like Jesus. Hebrews 10:7 sees the words of Psalm 40 as Jesus’. He says, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God.” This is where our heart needs to be. If God knows that you are ready to do his will, I don’t think that finding out what that is will be too difficult.

Alright now let’s look at the –

Eight things you can do

– to discern and discover God’s unique will for you. And we begin with some review from last week:

1. Get close to God. If you want to know what God wants for you, draw near to God. Clear up any issues of disobedience. And then be in relationship with God. Spend time with God.

2. Study Scripture. Learn what God is like, and what God has done. Fill your mind with God’s truth and values. And then you can test and discern what God’s will is.

3. Listen for God’s voice. God may give us an inner sense of things or even speak to us deep in our heart. But we need to make time to listen.

Now, onto some new teaching . . .

4. Listen to your heart. I’m not saying listen to “the flesh.” That part of us that is self-focused. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” This will get you nowhere.

Rather listen to your new heart. In Jeremiah 31:33 God says, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” This is that part of you that is new and from God, that desires to serve God.

Be aware of your inner desires that God has given to you. What is your heart telling you?

Paul says this in 2 Corinthians 2:12-13, “When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.”

God opened a door for Paul, but because his “spirit was not at rest” he took a different direction. He really felt that he needed to be with Titus. You see that his heart played a role in his decision. (And we also see that God gave Paul more than one good choice in this situation.)

5. Discern your circumstances. Like we just saw with Paul in 2 Corinthians, we too sometimes talk about an open door or a shut door; you know where an opportunity opens up or doesn’t; where one path is really easy, or another turns out to be real hard.

So it is true that these kinds of circumstances can be a clue to us of God’s will. But not always. Doing God’s will is not always the easiest path that opens up to us. So, let’s not be too dependent on this. We have to see what God is up to in our circumstances and reflect on this.

6. Be open to (but test) extraordinary guidance. In Scripture God uses prophets, visions, and dreams to lead people. (In a somewhat similar vein – a church casting lots to choose a leader between two qualified candidates- Acts 1:26).

Here is one of many examples. After Paul felt forbidden by God to go to other places, Acts 16:9-10 tells us “a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

Although as a pastor I don’t want folks going off the deep end, it is true that God does still use these at times.

But here’s the problem, there are false prophets, visions and dreams. Satan, who can appear as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) can use these to deceive us. Or we can get confused by the voice of our flesh showing up in our minds or our dreams.

So, you have to test these things. 1 John 4:1 tells us “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Whatever prophet you hear, or also dream or vision you have – test it. Does the message line up with the truth of the apostolic witness of the Scriptures? That’s the standard.

And certainly stay away from seeking guidance from those who use the occult, mediums and the like, or even something as simple, but as ungodly as horoscopes.

7. Receive input from wise believers. Seek out the counsel of others; those who have walked with the Lord for many years; those who seem to know and be close to the Lord. And also listen to those God might bring across your path. Proverbs 19:20 says, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” Colossians 3:16 talks about how we are to be “teaching and admonishing one another with all wisdom” as sisters and brothers in the Lord. In our relationships we can share input with one another on what we are going through. And God can certainly speak to us through this.

8. Ask God for wisdom. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” This is an open-ended and generous promise from God. And what a gift it is to be able to sort through all that is before us, and then discern what is right and good for our situation.

Finally, let me share some –

Scripture promises

These can encourage us and build our faith as we wait on the Lord.

Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Psalm 32:8 – “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”

Matthew 7:7-8 – “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

William Higgins

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The topic of finding God’s will is one for all of us to reflect on, and perhaps especially for our young people to consider as they have their whole lives before them. So I would like for us to focus on this today and also next week as well.

Ephesians 2:10 tells us “we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” This tells us that God created each one of us and he has prepared beforehand things for us to do – “good works.” And so we all need to search after our place in God’s scheme of things, so that we can “walk in” these good works, as Paul says. What is it that God wants us to do? What is it that God wants you to do?

Now, let me begin by noting that –

A lot of God’s will is the same for all of us

 God wants all of us to live a life of righteousness, as this is taught in Scripture. And this can be quite specific:

  • Should I be in an adulterous relationship? No, this is not God’s will.
  • Should I marry an unbeliever? No.
  • Should I find a way to love my enemy? Yes.
  • Should I be true to my word? Yes.

Scripture teaches us these things and they are the same for everybody.

And secondly, God wants all of us to serve him and work for the kingdom. No exceptions! This is God’s will for all believers.

To say it another way, it is God’s will for each of us to: Love God with all our heart and to .ove our neighbor as ourselves.

Paul puts it like this – it is God’s “purpose” for each of us is “to be conformed to the image of his Son” – Romans 8:28-29. That is, we are all to live out Jesus’ teaching and follow his example in every situation in life that we find ourselves.

And these things are taught in Scripture. As Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” These things are clear and they apply to all of us, and to any specific situation we might find ourselves in. So Scripture shines a light on the path that we are to walk, showing us God’s will. (Now for sure there can be areas of application that become difficult, so that even in this area we need discernment at times. See – Ephesians 5:10; Philippians 1:9-10; Hebrews 5:14)

But there is also –

God’s specific will for you

Those things that God wants for you, that are unique to you and your situation; that have to do with why God made you and the gifts that God has given to you. This is what we are focusing on. Questions like:

  • How should I serve God? What is my place in the kingdom?
  • Should I marry? And if so, who?
  • Should I take a particular job? Or more broadly, which career?
  • Should I stay here or move?
  • Should I go for more schooling?

Now, let me say at this point, we can overdo this searching after God’s specific will so that you think you need to feel a mountain shake and hear a voice from God every time you do something. So if you go grocery shopping you are asking, “Lord, should I get the name brand or generic? Lord, what should I do?”

We can take this too far. And I have seen this kind of thing, and I don’t want to encourage it. I am really talking about important decisions; or where you are at a crossroads; or when your heart is stirring – and you think God is up to something.

So, how do you find God’s specific will for you? I want us to look at –

Eight things you can do

 – that will help you to discern this. These are steps you can take to help you hear and receive what God wants to tell you. We will look at three of these today.

1. Get close to God. Think about it. Who will hear a person better, one standing nearby or far off? If you want to know what God has to say, you need to draw near to God. Who knows better what a person wants, their close friend or a stranger? Isn’t it obvious? If you want to know what God wants, you need to spend time with God in relationship.

Knowing God’s will for you, is first and foremost a matter of knowing God and being in relationship with God. Not just knowing a bit of information from God, but knowing God himself – who is most important above all.

Relationship with God involves many things, some of which we will talk about below, but certainly it means getting rid of our sin, which keeps us far from God.  Isaiah 59:2 says, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

Does God seem distant? It may well because of the choices that you have made; the ways you have offended God and done wrong.

If this is true, repent and seek forgiveness. Clear up any issues in your relationship. And then spend time in with God. Be close to God. Walk with God. As James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” This is a promise from God.

When you are close to God you can hear what God has to say to you and you can know what he wants from you. This is the foundation for all else that follows.

2. Study the Scriptures. This is certainly a part of being close to God; of getting to know God.

Scripture guides us, not just in teaching us righteousness, but also by teaching us more generally –

  • God’s principles
  • God’s values
  • God’s character, or who God is
  • What God has done in the past, and
  • God’s promises to us for the future

And when we get to know all this from Scripture, it helps to guide us as we look at our own very specific situations.

Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind . . ..” He is saying, instead of being squeezed into the mold that the world puts on you and just fitting in, fill your mind with God’s values and truth. And then he goes on “. . . that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” A renewed mind gives you the perspective you need. So renew your mind in the things of God, fill it up with Scripture, and you will be able to test and discern what God’s will is in all kinds of different situations.

3. Listen for God’s voice. We hear what God has said and done in the Scriptures and this is our standard by which to judge all else. But we can also hear from God today. Amen? God is still speaking and acting today! And certainly any good relationship involves communication both ways.

  • We can hear God when we listen in our times of prayer. (Do you make time for this? Do you listen or just tell God what you need and then you’re done.)
  • We can hear God’s voice when the Spirit stirs within us. It is the great privilege of Christians that the Spirit of God lives within us. And Paul talks about Christians as ones who are “led by the Spirit” (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18).
  • We can also hear God’s voice as we read the Scriptures. That is, the Spirit can apply a passage to our specific circumstances, so that it comes alive and gives us the direction we need.

As we listen for God’s voice, let me say that this comes to us primarily in two ways:

An inner sense in our heart from God. This is non-verbal communication, which nonetheless communicates God’s intention to us.

  • If things are well and good it is a sense of peace, assurance and God’s presence. And example of this can be seen in Acts 15. After the Jerusalem council, James testified about the decision they made at the council, “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . .” – Acts 15:28.
  • If things are not right, it is a sense of unrest, or turmoil. Paul talks about “grieving the Spirit” in Ephesians 4:30. This is something you can feel in your heart.

An inner voice from God. This voice comes from outside of ourselves. (It is not a part of our internal thinking). Yet it is heard deep in our heart. And it is clear, strong, pure and focused.

This is the “still, small voice” that Elijah heard when God spoke to him in  1 Kings 19:12. This is the voice Philip heard when he was told to speak to the Ethiopian eunuch. “And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and join this chariot’” – Acts 8:29.

So three things to begin with today on finding God’s will, all of which have to do with relationship with God. 1. Get close to God, 2. Study the Scriptures to get to know God, and 3. Listen for God’s voice. Next week we will continue on with steps: #4-#8.

William Higgins

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