Posts Tagged ‘God’s will’

   Many are suffering right now because of the coronavirus pandemic. It may be due to the disruption of our normal life patterns and relationships, or economic distress and even the potential of financial ruin. We may be grieving for lost loved ones, or we ourselves may be sick and fearful of whether we will live or not. As I write the global death toll is approaching 100,000. 

   These experiences of suffering are, of course, not new. Such suffering goes on all around us. The global scope and near simultaneous experience of this situation, however, is unique.

   Whenever we endure suffering we need others to love and care for us; a network of good and strong relationships around us. We also need categories to think about our experiences; to help us process and sort through what’s going on. How are we to think about all this? And what’s a Christian way of understanding our suffering? The following are some reflections on this topic. And we start with –

Some basics

   Yes, the world is broken. It doesn’t function the way God originally intended and so there are things like sickness, plague and death. It’s broken because of human sin. Passages like Genesis 3 and Romans 5:12 highlight the connection between sin, suffering and death. And sin doesn’t just affect us as individuals. It impacts everything including social structures and, in our case, the creation itself.

   In Romans 8:20-22 Paul says, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Not just people suffer, even the creation is groaning under the effects of sin and is eagerly waiting for God’s salvation.

   As Christians we have hope. And that’s because suffering is not a necessary part of God’s creation. When God’s kingdom comes to earth all things will be made new (Matthew 19:28). There will be a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1; 2 Peter 3:13). This is when “God will wipe away every tear from (our) eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.” (Revelation 21:4. Also Isaiah 25:6-8). We look forward to this in hope.

   But until that time, we live in the tension of the “already” and “not yet.” Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of God has begun with his coming (Matthew 12:28; Luke 17:20-21). But it’s not all the way here yet. That won’t happen until he returns.

   So we exist in an in-between time. We live in the “already” of the kingdom where God has begun to make things right. This was evidenced in Jesus’ ministry of healing, nature miracles and exorcisms. And is still evidenced today when God answers prayer to heal and help those who suffer.

   But we also live in the “not yet” of the kingdom. As Paul says to Christians in 1 Corinthians 10:13, we still go through the same testing and trials that are “common to everyone” (NRSV). That’s because Jesus hasn’t returned. The resurrection and complete redemption of our bodies has not yet happened. And Satan is still alive and active. So we still experience the realities of sin, suffering and death. Although these realities have been decisively defeated through Jesus, we will not experience the fullness of this victory until the final day.

   In the meantime, we have –

Questions upon questions

   We turn to these now. 1. Should I assume I’m suffering because of my personal choices? You know, “Is God judging me for something I’ve done?” The answer is, “No, you should not assume this.” This is not to say that there can’t be a connection. God can specifically cause suffering in relation to our choices to sin. For instance in Acts 5:1-11 God immediately judged Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit. (See also 1 Corinthians 11:29-32).

   But the idea that every time I suffer it’s because God is punishing me for something I’ve done is just not the way the world works in its brokenness. Scripture makes this clear. The wicked prosper (Psalm 73:3-5) and the righteous suffer. Job suffered, but not because of sin (Job 1:8). And Jesus suffered, but was sinless. This shows us that there is no one-to-one connection between a person’s sin and consequences in this world. So short of God making a connection clear to us, we should not assume that our suffering means God is specifically judging us.

2. Is it God’s will for the world to suffer through this pandemic? As I said, God does sometimes directly intervene to judge sin in this world. So is that what’s going on? Well, since it’s happening, we can say for sure that God has allowed it. God is the sovereign creator and overseer of all things. But that God allows something doesn’t mean that God specifically caused it. Not everything that happens in the world is an expression of God’s preferred will (Acts 7:51; Ezekiel 18:31-32; Isaiah 63:10; Luke 7:30).

   So like with question #1, short of God telling us this is God’s own work, perhaps through trusted messengers, we should not assume that God is causing this pandemic. We’re simply experiencing, yet again, the current brokenness of the creation.

3. Why did God make the world in such a way that we could mess things up so badly? If human sin causes such pain and suffering, why did God take such a risk? Simply put, God wants us to freely choose to love and serve him. God doesn’t want robots as servants. God wants people, made in God’s image, who will be his partners in his plans for the creation. And this can’t happen without allowing the possibility of our choosing to hate and rebel against him, which we have done. The possibility of love, even in human relationships, involves the risk of suffering.

4. Is all the suffering worth it? According to Scripture, it will be. That’s because our suffering is temporary, but our blessings will be much greater and eternal. As 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “. . . no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Paul, a man who knew about suffering, said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18. Also 2 Corinthians 4:17)

   This doesn’t take away the pain of our current suffering, but it does give us comfort and encouragement.

5. Can God bring good out of our suffering? Scripture talks about this quite a lot (James 1:3-4, Romans 5:3-5; Hebrews 12:10-11). For instance, Joseph was sold into slavery and was also put in jail. But God used his suffering for good. As Joseph said to his brothers, “do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). Also, Paul’s life was in danger due to persecution, but God used this experience to teach him to “rely not on himself but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

   Although it was not God’s will that we choose sin and thus suffer, God can nevertheless accomplish his plan by using our suffering for his own ends. As Paul says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God can redeem and transform our pain and suffering to bring good into our lives and into the lives of others.

   This also doesn’t take away the pain of our suffering, but it encourages us to endure and to keep moving forward.

6. Can we show how God brings good out of every example of suffering (question #5) and that it will be worth it (question #4)? No, we cannot. We say this all by faith. We are simply not in a position to know how God orchestrates everything and why God allows things like pandemics.

   This, in part, is what the book of Job teaches us about suffering. It never tells us why Job suffered. It simply teaches us that God is in control and that what he does is beyond human understanding. As the Lord says to Job in Job 38:4, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.” We will not understand why and how God does all that God does, at least in this life. And so we have to trust God in all this. We have to trust that the God we know to be just and merciful is doing what is right and good.

7. Where is God when we suffer? God is with us in our suffering. It doesn’t always feel like this is so. It can seem like God is absent. As the psalmist says in Psalm 10:1, “Why, O Lord, do you stand afar off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

   Yet we are taught that God is with us. As the Lord says in Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” God is with us to watch over us, to encourage us, to comfort us and to strengthen us.

   And not only this, God has come to be with us through his Son. He sent him to this earth, whose name is Immanuel or “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). God did not stand far off and aloof from us. Jesus suffered with us and for us in his life and in his death on the cross. God knows first-hand what we’re going through.

   God has not left us alone. He is with us as we experience the pain of suffering. And he suffers with us, until that day when all things will be made new.

   A final thought –

We can have joy even while we suffer

   Even though we will continue to suffer in various ways, Christians can experience victory in the midst of it. Paul says in Romans 8:35-37, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

   A part of this victory is the experience of joy even while we suffer. We can have joy because God is working in us. As James 1:2 says, “count it all joy.” God is working in us that we may be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (v. 4. Also Romans 5:3-5). We can also have joy because, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “this slight, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” We can “rejoice and be glad, for (our) reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:12). There is a new world coming and we have a part in it.

   We can have joy because, even though we cannot always understand our suffering or explain it, by faith we know that God is working in our lives and we know that God’s promises are true.

William Higgins

April 9, 2020

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Series on Faith in God

We are continuing on in our series on Faith in God. As Scripture tells us we need faith to receive God’s promises. James says without faith we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7). But Jesus tells us that with faith, “all things are possible” (Mark 9:23). All that God has for us is made available to us by faith.

We also talked about how there are three parts to faith:

  1. A word from God, which gives us something to stand on.
  2. Firm trust in God and God’s word.
  3. And appropriate action based on his word to us.

We need all three of these to have the kind of faith that receives from God.

But the sad fact is that in various ways we often get off track in our attempt to have faith in God and to receive God’s promises. We will focus on one particular problem today, which is rooted in the first part of faith, having something from God to stand on. When we try to act in faith without a word from God, this is called –


Here’s an illustration from everyday life. I have faith in my wife that she is kind and hospitable. But if I invite over a large group of people for dinner without her saying it’s OK, well, that is presuming upon her and would likely have dire consequences for me!

To be presumptuous is to move forward with unwarranted confidence. It’s to have misplaced assurance. In the things of God our confidence is unwarranted because it’s not based on a word from God.

Now easy examples of this have to do with when Jesus will return. Not too long ago Harold Camping and his followers proclaimed that May 21, 2011 as the day. Do you remember? These people really believed. They had certainty (the second part of faith). They even had actions of sacrifice and boldness (the third part of faith). But nothing came of it because it was not based on God’s word (the first part of faith). They found themselves waiting for God to act, when God never said he would.

The point today is that we need to make sure that we are standing on God’s word with our faith; that what we claim as a word from God is indeed a word from God. Otherwise, although we may look like we have faith, it’s simply presumption or fake faith; it’s a cheap substitute.

Now there are many –

Different paths that lead to presumption

I will just give a few examples today. 1. You misunderstand a word from God. This is quite common. For instance, you might say, if I raise my child right, they will become a Christian. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Well, this is a proverb, not a promise. It talks about the way things usually work out. Not the way it always works out. So this doesn’t give us a guaranteed end result for every person. And as we know from other Scriptures we must all make our own moral choices in the end.

Another exampleif I have faith, my whole family will eventually be saved. Acts 16:31 says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” This is a misunderstanding of the context of the verse. Paul is saying that the promise of salvation by faith is not just for the Philippian jailer, but for everyone in his household. That is, if they believe, they too will be saved. He’s not saying that if he believes his whole household will be saved or will eventually be saved. Again, each of us have to make our choices. They can’t be made for us.

Another path to presumption is when 2. You claim a promise that has conditions, but you don’t meet them. For instance, God will always forgive me. You read the last part of Matthew 6:14 – “your heavenly Father will forgive you,” and you say, ‘Hey I prayed for forgiveness and God has promised to forgive me. I am standing on this promise!’ But you left out the “if” part; the first part of the verse. There’s a condition. It says, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” You won’t receive the blessing of forgiveness, unless you meet the condition of forgiving others.

Many of God’s promises have such conditions that we need to be aware of.

Another path to presumption is when 3. You trust in your own plan to fulfill God’s promise. You act without listening to how God wants to bring it to fulfillment.

Genesis 16 tells the story of Sarah and Abraham who come up with a plan to get their promised son through Hagar the servant. But this wasn’t God’s will; this wasn’t God’s plan. And it caused many problems.

Another example can be seen in Matthew 26. Peter knew that God’s kingdom was being made real through Jesus. But when the police came to arrest Jesus he took a sword and cut off a man’s ear. He thought he could make the kingdom of God come by violence, instead of the suffering love of the cross; in his own way and not God’s way.

When you act on your own to fulfill God’s plan you end up further from the blessing (not closer). And it makes a mess of things.

A final example of a path to presumption is when 4. You take a general promise and make it rigidly apply to you. You take God’s general will, and say it has to happen to you in a certain way or time.

For instance, Psalm 91 talks about the one “who dwells in the shelter of the Almighty” – and it says some pretty amazing things:

  • 10 – “no evil (harm) shall be allowed to befall you.”
  • 14 – “I will deliver him, I will protect him.”
  • 15 – “I will rescue him.”
  • 16 – “with long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

So you say, ‘this is what the Word says, God will protect me from all harm and give me a long life.’ Well, what should we make of Paul’s many trials which he enumerates in several of his letters, not to mention the trials of our Lord. Or the promise that it is through many trials that we must enter the kingdom? Act 14:22.

No, this Psalm talks about the way God works in general. God loves to deliver his own and bless them. But this doesn’t always happen, just as the righteous don’t always have long lives in this world. But this Psalm does speak to how it will be in the end for each of us. We will be delivered and blessed and live life eternal without evil or harm.

Now, if you get a specific word from God by the Spirit that says, he’s ready to deliver you or to keep it from coming to you in the first place, this allows you to have something specific to stand on, to pray in bold faith.

The difference between faith and presumption

Let’s look at the big picture. This is how real faith works: 1) We have a word from God as a foundation to stand on. 2) We have firm trust in God and God’s word to us. And 3) we have appropriate action. And then God comes through for us and we receive the blessings.

But when we 1) have no word from God to stand on, 2) we have misplaced trust, and 3) we will have wrong actions; not in accord with God’s will. And we receive nothing from God. And we will likely look foolish and cause others to scoff or stumble.

So it’s really important to learn –

How to avoid presumption

And the key here is to discern God’s will. Here are some things that will help guard us from presuming upon God.

1. Know God’s word. Know what God’s will and promises are, what the context and scope of each promise is, and any conditions that apply.

2. Know God’s voice. Now this isn’t always easy. But you can get to know what God’s voice is like. It’s clear, pure and different than you. And of course, always check any such word against the word of God which is our standard.

3. Only claim general promises in a general way. We can only stand in faith on as much as we have from God.

A good example of this comes from Daniel 3:17-18. The three young men were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace. And they said, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” They are saying, ‘God can do it, but even if he doesn’t we are fine with that.’ God loves to deliver the righteous, but he doesn’t always.

If you want more specificity in a case, pray and ask for it. “God what is your will?” “How do you want me to pray?” And then you can pray with bold faith. But short of something more from God, ask, but leave it open to what God chooses to do.

4. Ask others for discernment. Ask other Christians, ‘Do I have something from God here?’ Let them see if it rings true to them. This is one of the ways we can help each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

I want to end with a Scripture that sums up what I’m saying today from –

1 John 5:14-15

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”

He’s talking about firm faith or as he says, “confidence” toward God. And he makes the point that our faith comes to fruition if “we ask . . . according to his (God’s) will.” That’s when we receive what “we have asked of him.”

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John 5:19-20; 30

We went through John chapter 5 in some detail last Summer. But I want to go back to it today, or to a few verses from it, to look at a particular topic – being in tune with God so that we do his will.

I think we all know in general what God’s will is for our lives from the Scriptures. For instance we are to share the good news of Jesus, and we are to love our neighbors. But I want to cast a vision for you of being so in synch with God that we not only know the general framework of God’s will, but we can also be guided by God in very specific ways in specific situations.

So God opens a door for you to share the gospel, and you know how to do this, but you are also listening for what God might want you to say to this specific person. Or you stop to help someone with a flat tire because you are loving your neighbor. But not only do you help you also listen for what else God might want you to say or do in this situation.

The goal is to always be tuned in to God and paying attention; listening so that if he has something specific for us to say or do, we can hear it and act appropriately. We want to know what God is up to in the situation and be able to respond accordingly so he can do his will through us.

Let’s begin with –

An example of Jesus being in tune with God

If you will remember with me, in the first part of John 5, Jesus healed a man who had not been able to walk for 38 years. It was an astounding miracle. But there was a problem. Jesus did this on the Sabbath, and according to the traditions of the Elders you are not supposed to heal on the Sabbath, unless the person’s life is in danger.

So Jesus’ healing action began a debate with the Jewish leaders, it’s really a trial scene, where they are accusing him of various wrongs. And Jesus’ defense against these charges is that he only did exactly what the Father wanted him to do.

Now let’s see what Jesus teaches about being in tune with God in his defense to the Jewish leaders, because –

Jesus was perfectly in tune with the Father

1. Jesus did nothing on his own. In v. 19 he said, “Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord . . ..” In v. 30 he said, “I can do nothing on my own.” And also in v. 30 – “I seek not my own will.”

So he is telling them that he didn’t decide to heal this man, God did. Now that’s not to say that Jesus couldn’t have healed him or others on that day if he had wanted to. It is just to say that that’s not how Jesus operated. He didn’t act on his own or independently of the Father.

2. Jesus was in the closest possible relationship with the Father. In v. 19 he talks about “what he sees the Father doing.” So he knows what God is up to and he talks about it in terms of seeing this. In v. 20 he says, “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.” And in v. 30 he says, “As I hear . . .” from the Father.

Jesus had constant and perfect fellowship with the Father and so he both saw and heard all that the Father was up to; all that God wanted in each situation. There was no confusion on his part. It was clear.

And then finally, 3. Jesus did exactly what the Father wanted him to do. v. 19 – He “only does what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” And in v. 30 he said, “I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”

Whatever God specifically told him, that’s what Jesus did. He was in complete submission to God.

To sum up, Jesus knew in general what God’s will was for him. For instance a part of his ministry was to heal people. But he not only knew this, he knew specifically who to heal and when, in this case on the Sabbath.

One way to summarize all this is the language Jesus uses in John 10:30, when he says, “I and the Father are one.” In context, this is talking about being united in purpose and action. Whatever the Father wanted, that is what Jesus did. They were in perfect synch.

Our relationship with the Father 

Now, we are not the Son of God, and so we don’t have that unique relationship that Jesus had with the Father from before time. And we are not called to be the Messiah so that the Father would need to show us “all” that he was up to as v. 20 says. Our every step doesn’t need to be specifically told to us. Much of what we do is simply operating in the general framework of God’s will.

But through Jesus we can also be in tune with God. There will be times when we should expect that God wants to lead us more specifically and so we need to be listening, we need to be tuned in so that God can accomplish his will through us.

In the gospel of John, Jesus talks about our relationship with the Father in two different ways that help us understand this:

We are given the Spirit to lead us. In John 14:16, 26 Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever . . . (and) he will teach you all things . . .” He also said in John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

Because of Jesus, we are given the Holy Spirit to live in us and to lead and guide us. We don’t have the relationship with the Father that Jesus had, but through him we do have a relationship with God.

Also we can be one with God through Jesus. In John 17:11 Jesus prays to the Father that Christians “may be one, even as we are one.” How were the Father and Jesus one? As we saw, they were one in purpose and action.

John 17:23 speaks to Jesus’ role in this, “I in them (by the Spirit) and you (Father) in me, that they may become perfectly one . . .” One with who? John 17:21 tells us, “that they may also be in us,” or one with us, like the Father and Son are one. So this is not talking about us being organizationally one. But rather how each one of us can be one in purpose and action with God through Jesus. But of course, when this vertical unity happens then we can have horizontal or organizational unity. Once we are all in sych with God it makes it much easier to be in sych with each other.

So although we are not going to be in tune with the Father, like Jesus was – 

Being in tune with God is the goal of our Christian lives

And Jesus is our example. 1. So like Jesus, we are to do nothing on our own. We have God’s general will for us – sharing our faith and loving our neighbors. But we are to be careful to listen to God to guide us so that we are not just taking the initiative and following our own agenda as we do these things.

What if there is something more specific that God wants us to say or do? If we don’t listen we won’t know and we will end up acting on our own. We are not to act independently of God, but in concert with God and what God is up to in a given situation.

2. Like Jesus, we are to be in close relationship with God. We won’t have the same level of relationship with God that Jesus had. But the Spirit does dwell within us and we are to be led by the Spirit. And so we can have a sense of what God wants in particular situations.

We won’t be one with the Father like Jesus was, but we can also be united in purpose and action with God so that if he tells us we know what he is up to in a given situation.

3. Like Jesus, we are to do exactly what God wants us to do. Once we hear God giving us very specific instructions – that is exactly what we do. We are to be in complete submission to God.

What do you think of this? That a central goal of the Christian life is to be in tune with God? Do you experience this?

Let me also say that this doesn’t just apply to individuals. As a congregation we need to be able to hear God and discern more specifically what God wants us to do – beyond just sharing our faith or loving our neighbors in general. What is God calling us to do where we are with the people that he has given us? We need to discern this as a group. And we will be working at this in the next few months.

Next time, the plan is to talk about how to get in tune with God.

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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 are in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 today. It seems especially appropriate to share on this passage and its message, given that a number of our congregation are going through some real times of testing and hardship right now. Let’s look at this Scripture and see what God has to say to us this morning.

“3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

5For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, producing in you an endurance of the same sufferings which we also suffer. 7Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

8For we do not want you to be ignorant, sisters and brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.”

Let’s break this down into four points.

1. Paul talks a lot about going through hard times in these verses

The word “affliction” shows up four times. It means “trouble that inflicts distress” due to the outward circumstances of life. It can also be translated “trouble” or “tribulation.” It also refers to “inward experiences of distress.” The pain that we have because of our difficulties.

The word “sufferings” occurs four times, once as a verb. It means “that which is suffered or endured.” It can be translated, “to be in pain.”

In these verses Paul is referring specifically to suffering because of his ministry – suffering lack and being persecuted. In v. 5 he talks about how “we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings” as he and Timothy fulfill their calling to preach the gospel. Later in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 we get a taste of what Paul is talking about: imprisonments, beatings, near death encounters, including being stoned; being shipwrecked, adrift at sea, exposed to dangers as he traveled, exposed to the cold; often hungry and thirsty.

But also v. 4 broadens the scope of what’s being talked about in these verses to include “any affliction.”

In our verses, he is giving thanks to God for a specific deliverance. v. 8 mentions  “the affliction we experienced in Asia,” that is, in the Roman province of Asia in what would be Western Turkey today. We don’t know specifically what he’s talking about, but probably the Corinthians do.

This is what we know. In v. 9 he says, “we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” And in v. 10 he called it a “deadly peril.” He thought for sure he and Timothy were going to die. The result was that “we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (v. 8). Now notice he was not just burdened, he was “utterly burdened,” weighed down, or crushed. So much so that he had no strength to deal with it and had no hope of living. So this was really intense testing he was in.

And certainly sometimes we feel “utterly burdened beyond our strength” by the circumstances of life that we are in. So much so that we think we aren’t going to make it. That is, we too can have despair; we can give up hope. This is a part of the inward pain that such suffering and affliction bring to us. This is what trials can do to us.

2. But also these verses say a lot about God’s mercy and comfort

v. 3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” This whole passage is blessing God for God’s mercy and comfort.

The title that Paul gives to God, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,” doesn’t just point to God as being merciful and comforting, but to God as the source of our mercy and comfort.

God’s mercy is seen in that God delivered Paul from his trial. He didn’t die. God’s comfort has to do with God’s help in the midst of his trial.

The word “comfort” here can also be translated “encouragement,” or “consolation.” In its verbal form it means to give strength, to give hope; to lift another’s spirits; to ease their pain and sorrow. And this is a real theme in vs. 3-7. The root word shows up 10 times.

Paul is saying that he has experienced this from God. God comforted him in his desperate trial. In v. 4 he speaks of him “who comforts us in all our affliction” and talks about being “comforted by God.” He experienced God encouraging him and giving him strength. He experienced God’s presence and love which allayed some of the pain he was going through.

He also teaches us in v. 5 that God’s grace is sufficient to our need. “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so though Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” He is saying that if we have many afflictions, we can have a corresponding measure of comfort as well.

Well, just as God comforted Paul, God will comfort us in our sufferings too. God is there with us and for us in our hard times. God can encourage us, let us know that he loves us, strengthen us and hold us up, so that we endure (v. 6). And so, like Paul, we should look to God to do just this.

Paul also makes the point in the verses that –

3. God can use our sufferings for good

He can redeem our afflictions. This shows up in two ways in our passage:

1) Paul talks about how, because he has suffered and been comforted by God, he can now give comfort to others who suffer. v. 4 – God “who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Suffering equips us to minister to others; to help and bless others who are enduring suffering. And through such comfort we strengthen them to endure, as Paul says in v. 6.

2) He talks about how God used his trial to help him grow in his faith. Specifically to teach him to rely fully on God. v. 9 – “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

His situation was beyond anything that he could take are of, and since it involved him dying he had to look to the one who can raise the dead. Death isn’t fixable by human means, only by God. He has to learn in a new way what full reliance on God meant.

Now, none of us like to go through trials.

  • But it is true that often, we minister most effectively when we are in the midst of trials or have gone through deep waters. As here we are enabled to minister comfort to others.
  • And it is true that often, we grow in our faith the most when we are in trials. As here we are taught to rely on God more fully.

And so although we pray to be spared trials, we also pray to be effective ministers to others and to grow in our faith. Although we pray to be spared testing, we also pray, your name be hallowed, your kingdom come, your will be done.

So we don’t want trials, but we have to trust God to sort through all this in terms of what is truly best for us from the perspective of our faith and of eternity, and what will bring glory to his name and advance his kingdom purposes.

We also learn in this passage –

4. How to respond to those who are suffering

1) Like Paul, we can comfort others with the comfort God has given us in our times of suffering. Again, v. 4, God “who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

We can share how God has been faithful to us. We can encourage them to hang in there; to look to God for help. We can ask what practical things we can do to ease their burden. But most of all we can simply be present and express our love. Love is more powerful than evil or whatever evil we find ourselves going through. Love is what truly comfort and heals.

And God uses us when we do these things, to give his comfort to people in need.

2) Like Paul asks the Corinthians to do, we can pray for others, for deliverance from trials, both now and in the future.

v. 11 says, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” Paul is speaking of future ordeals he will no doubt go through. And by the help of their prayers he wants God’s deliverance from these. This is what he means by “the blessing granted to us.”

Now, Paul was not always delivered. According to tradition he was eventually killed by Emperor Nero. So this praying is subject to God’s will, of course. But nevertheless he asks for prayers for deliverance so that he can continue on with the ministry that God has given to him. And we can pray the same for those who are going through hard times.

William Higgins

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Series: How to overcome sin

Tonight we jump into the core of what I want to share with you this week – five steps to overcoming sin in our lives.

These steps come from looking at Jesus as he faced the cross -primarily from Mark 14:26-72. Here he was tested as to whether he would stay true to God and go to the cross. He overcame. And we learn from his example, how to overcome in our own areas of struggle.

We will also look at Peter as a contrast case. He was tested to see whether he would stay true to God by standing with Jesus, even if it got him killed. He did not overcome. We can also learn from, as well as identify with him in our times of failure.

I encourage you to keep in mind the area of weakness you have identified and as we go through this, and apply this teaching to your situation.

We begin with –

Step #1. Understanding what God’s will is, acknowledge your weakness to do what God says

We learn what God’s will is primarily through studying the Scriptures. As Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” We especially need to learn from Jesus and the New Testament, since Jesus gives us the complete and final revelation of God’s will for us.

Once we begin to understand God’s will, it will become apparent that we don’t measure up.

It’s just like Jesus said, “The flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. Weak that is, in terms of doing God’s will. We sin very easily, especially in a time of testing when we are put under pressure.

In humility we need to recognize this. As Paul said, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” – 1 Corinthians 10:12. As Proverbs says, “Pride goes before a fall” – Proverbs 16:18. Our pride will kill us.

But if in humility we are rigorously honest with ourselves – God can help us.

Peter’s failure. He was confused about God’s will. Before he got to Gethsemane, he didn’t think Jesus had to die on a cross. In fact, he rebuked Jesus when he said he had to die – Mark 8:33. Despite hearing Jesus’ repeated teaching, he thought Jesus would be a warrior Messiah and he would fight alongside him.

But not only is he confused, he was overconfident. He saw himself as strong. He said to Jesus, “Even though they all fall away (the other disciples), I will not.” – Mark 14:29. And he said, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you” – Mark 14:31. Peter doesn’t acknowledge his weakness.

Jesus’ example. He knew God’s will for his life. Before he ever got to Jerusalem he told his disciples, “The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him.” – Mark 10:33-34. (In our story Jesus quotes Zechariah 13:7 – Mark 14:27)

And Jesus was upfront that this would be hard. Just as he said to Peter and the others, “The flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. Jesus didn’t want to die the shameful death of a criminal on the cross. He didn’t want to be abandoned by God. He didn’t want to come under the judgment of death. Mark tells us that he “began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.’” – 14:33-34. He knew it would be hard.

Step #2. Remain alert in prayer for times of testing and temptation

At Gethsemane Jesus told the disciples “keep alert and pray that you might not enter into testing” – Mark 14:38.

As we saw, Satan comes before God requesting permission to test us. He wants to test us in order to cause us to sin, so that he can condemn us before God. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us that he “prowls around like a lion, seeking someone to devour.”

So, since we know that we are weak and the enemy is trying to destroy us, we should look to God in prayer (Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2) and specifically we should ask to be spared testing and temptation. We need to counter Satan as he seeks permission from Go to test us, by asking God, “do not lead us into testing but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13), as Jesus teaches in the Lord’s prayer, and as he told the disciples in our story. We are saying, ‘God, the enemy is powerful and I am weak. Have mercy on me. Don’t let me be tested, lest I sin against you and dishonor you.’

Now sometimes in mercy God will answer our prayers and we will be spared. And who doesn’t want to be spared going through difficult situations? Why wouldn’t we be praying this all the time?

But even if God doesn’t spare us but allows us to go through testing, because he knows we can handle it, and he wants us to grow in character and godliness – we will be ready for the test, being alert and prayerful. We will recognize what is going on when it confronts us.

Peter’s failure. He was not spiritually alert to what might come his way. In fact, he was literally asleep – Mark 14:37. Jesus found him asleep three times.

Although Satan had obtained permission to test him, as Jesus said in Luke 22:31, he didn’t ask God to spare him testing, asking for God’s mercy.

The final time that Jesus woke Peter up he said, “The hour has come” – Mark 14:41. It was too late to get ready. There Peter was in the test of his life – confused and unprepared.

Jesus’ example. Jesus was alert and knew what was coming. And so he prayed to be spared. He prayed that “the hour might pass from him” – Mark 14:35. He prayed fervently, three times, “remove this cup from me” – Mark 14:36, which is another form of the prayer “do not lead (me) into testing.”

And when God didn’t intervene to offer up another way, he was ready and accepted the test.

Step #3. In a time of testing – Keep your mind focused on God’s truth

In a test, Satan will attack our thinking. He puts thoughts in our minds and plays on those we already have to tempt us to sin;  to rationalize choosing sin:

–           “It isn’t really a sin, is it?”

–           “Well, under these circumstances surely it’s OK.”

–           Or, “So and so does it!”

–           He will even quote Scripture, in a twisted way, as he did with Jesus in the wilderness.

He also uses the influence of the world to deliver these messages. He will do whatever it takes to deceive and confuse us; to get our thinking distorted.

Jesus faced this battle of the mind throughout his ministry. And he shows us what to do: 1) Tell Satan to stop and go away when thoughts of giving in come to mind. In Mark 8 when Peter told Jesus he must never go to the cross, Jesus heard in this the voice of Satan. So he rebuked Satan’s message that came through Peter. He said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” – v. 33. He is saying to Satan, “No!” “You are wrong!” And he tells him to “get behind me,” that is, go away. We also see this in the wilderness testing of Jesus, where he said to Satan, “be gone” in Matthew 4:10.

In the same way, we can also tell Satan to stop and go away when he tries to confuse and deceive us. We have the authority to do this in Jesus. As he said in Luke 10:19, “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy.” When we hear thoughts that seek to excuse our sin, we can simply say, “Depart from me in the name of Jesus!”

2) Counter Satan’s deception with the truth. When Satan tested Jesus in the wilderness, each time Jesus responded, “It is written . . ..” He countered Satan’s distortion and deception with the truth of the Scriptures; by quoting Scripture.

In the same way, we can quote meditate on, or read aloud Scriptures that pertain to what we are  struggling with. And by repeating the truth of God is this way, we keep our minds thinking God’s thoughts and dispel the deceptions of Satan.

Peter’s failure. He entered the test already confused, and so he had no chance. He had already lost the battle of the mind. Thinking that Jesus was about to start a war, he acted in the flesh to cut off the man’s ear, who had come with those who sought to arrest Jesus – Mark 14:47 (John 18:10).

Jesus’ example. He stayed focused on God’s truth. As the soldiers arrested him he said, “let the Scriptures be fulfilled” – Mark 14:49. And he carried this attitude all the way through.

When he was on the cross and the people said, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:32) he must have heard the voice of Satan in this and he must have been tempted to show them just who he was.  But he kept his mind focused on God’s truth and he stayed on the cross in obedience to God’s will.

Step #4. In a time of testing – Receive strength from the Spirit to do God’s will

This is almost certainly the most important thing I will share with you. Not only does Satan attack our mind he also attacks our heart – our desire to stay true to God. As he tests us he puts us in difficult situations that make it really hard to follow God and really easy to give in to sin.

As we saw, when the pressure is applied, what happens is that there is a conflict between the desires of the Spirit, who encourages us to do God’s will even if it is hard and requires sacrifice and the desires of the flesh, which want us to take the easy way out even if it means sinning against God.

It’s like Paul said, “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other” – Galatians 5:17. And we have to choose which way we will go.

Well, when we are struggling, what I am saying is that the Spirit can help us. Although the flesh is weak, Jesus also said, “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38.

That is, the Spirit is willing and able to help us. The same Spirit of God who first gave us a new heart with new desires when we were born again, can strengthen our desires for righteousness in a time of testing, when the desires of the flesh seem to be prevailing, so that our desire for righteousness is greater than our fleshly desires – and so we choose to do God’s will. As Paul said, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” – Galatians 5:16. The power of the Spirit gives us the strength we need to override the desires of our flesh.

What we are really doing is putting to death the desires of our flesh that oppose God. Paul writes in Romans 8:12-13, “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” By the Spirit, that is, the strength the Spirit gives us, we put to death the deeds of the body; we deny or say “no” to our fleshly desires that oppose God, so that we can do God’s will.

As Jesus told us, we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross in this way daily – Luke 9:23.

So in your moment of weakness pray, “Spirit fill me and empower me. Give me the strength I need to do your will.” The Spirit is powerful and can enable us to overcome.

When we do this there is a death and resurrection that takes place within us. The wrongful desires of our flesh are crucified and the new life that God is raising up in us is more fully manifested.

Peter’s failure. He tried to stay true to Jesus, but he only relied on the power of the flesh.

As you remember, he secretly followed Jesus after he was arrested and was outside in the courtyard where Jesus was being tried – Mark 14:66-72. Satan used the world to pressure him. The crowd put him on the spot. They said, “This man is one of them!” – Mark 14:69. And they did this three times. The third time it says, “Peter began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man (Jesus) of whom you speak’” – Mark 14:71.

Despite what he had said earlier, Peter wasn’t prepared to die for Jesus. When it came down to it he denied Jesus in order to save his life. Only relying on the power of the flesh and under pressure – he gave in.

Jesus’ example. He received strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. Jesus didn’t want to die on the cross. He didn’t want to be abandoned by God. He didn’t want to come under the judgment of death.

But Jesus received strength from the Spirit. Again, “the flesh is weak,” but “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. And the Spirit was at work in him. You can see this in his prayer in Gethsemane, “not what I will, but what you will (God)” – Mark 14:36. His desire to do God’s will was greater than his desire to stay alive.

He received strength to undergo arrest, false accusation, mockery, torture, crucifixion and death. Jesus crucified the desires of his flesh in his heart, which led, in this case, to him offering up his body for literal crucifixion.

Step #5. Endure test

Satan tries to wear us down in a time of testing. Even if we are successful at first, he continues to pressure us to give in so that we will fail. So whatever the test, however long it goes on, however hard it gets – Don’t give up!

What this means is that we keep repeating the previous two steps:

  • Keep focusing your mind on God’s truth. When the lies and rationalizations come, respond with God’s truth – the Scriptures. And keep telling Satan to leave you in the name of Jesus.
  • Keep receiving strength from the Spirit to do God’s will, denying the desires of your flesh that would lead you to sin.

No matter how long the test lasts, you don’t quit thinking what is right based on the Word, or choosing what it right by the power of the Spirit. This is what endurance means.

James 4:7 calls this “resisting Satan.” And there is a promise in this verse. Just as Satan has to seek permission to test us, he can’t keep actively testing and pressuring us forever. It says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Peter’s failure. He sinned. He denied that he knew Jesus in order to save his life. When Peter realized what he had done, “he broke down and wept” – Mark 14:72.

Jesus’ example. He endured his time of testing. He endured through arrest, beatings, mockery and crucifixion. He endured even when the test was so hard that he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34. Jesus endured, faithful to God – and this is the key phrase – until the end. Not for part of it or for most of it, but until the end. Mark 15:37 says, “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.”

In all of this I am making the point that – 

Jesus is our example

He shows us how to overcome sin; how to overcome our weakness; how to do what God calls us to do, even when it is really hard.

He models this for us in five steps. And what I am saying is that, if in this way he overcame the most basic desire of the flesh – to live – he surely shows us how to overcome any desire of the flesh that stands in the way of doing God’s will in our lives. Jesus shows us how to overcome in our areas of struggle.


A word of encouragement

Keep this in mind when things are really hard. Jesus was blessed for his faithfulness to God. He was raised from the dead (Mark 16:4-7), vindicated and seated at the right hand of God above all where he reigns over all.

And he knew this would happen ahead of time; that it would be worth it to stay true to God. As Hebrews 12:2 says, “for the sake of the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

In the same way we will be blessed for our faithfulness to God. Testing can be really hard and painful. So we need to keep this bigger picture before us as well. If we endure to the end it will be more than worth it!

Listen to these promises:

Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.” We will be rewarded.

James 1:12 says, “Blessed is anyone who endures testing. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” We will be raised to new life.

2 Timothy 2:12 says, “If we endure, we will also reign with him.” Just as he endured and now reigns, so if we endure, we will reign with him in the life to come.

William Higgins

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Stacey and I were at a social event a number of years ago, and we ended up seated for a meal at a table with a couple who were involved in obvious and well known wrongdoing, at least from our point of view as Christians. And they knew about our Christian views and that I was a pastor. So . . . we’re sitting across from each other, knowing all this, but where does it go from here?

Have you ever been in a situation like this? You don’t want to give the impression that you agree with or approve of what they are doing, but you also know that God loves them. So there is a tension. As Christians, sometimes we get ourselves tangled up in these situations and end up either cutting off relationship, staying away or being rude (that is, we don’t act in love) or we end up minimizing or excusing the wrong behavior so that we don’t have to feel the tension anymore. What I want to show you today is that you can be clear about your convictions concerning God’s will and still have a loving and kind relationship with those who don’t practice God’s will.

Let’s look to our example here –

Jesus combined two things

1. He was clear about God’s will and that people need to do God’s will. He preached to all who would listen, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” – Matthew 4:17. And he didn’t do this is a vague way. He talked about some very specific things that people needed to give up in order to do God’s will. And he preached that there would be judgment for sin. There was nothing wishy-washy about Jesus.

But also, and at the same time, 2. he related to those who didn’t do God’s will in a loving way. He didn’t stay away from them or avoid them. He didn’t condemn them or see them as beyond hope. He didn’t hat them, call them names or ridicule them.

Rather, he sought them out; he initiated relationships with them. He was kind to them. And he did this because he was genuinely concerned for them. He was trying to open doors for them to be blessed by God because he knew that they would only find freedom and joy in knowing God and in doing God’s will.

He said in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” How can he help if he is staying away from them? Or if he simply wants to condemn? Or if he is treating them like a leper?

Let’s look now at –

Three examples of this in Jesus’ ministry

1. Jesus associated with tax collectors. Mark 2:13-15 says, “Jesus saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.”

Jesus sought out a relationship with these tax collectors. And this wasn’t a one-time thing. In fact, he did this so often that he had the reputation of being “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners.” – Matthew 11:19.

And this was scandalous to many. Tax collectors were considered to be traitors working with the Romans. And they earned much of their money by overcharging, thus enriching themselves.

The Pharisees certainly didn’t approve of Jesus doing this. Mark 2:16 tells us that they asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Their approach was to keep separation from sinners. But Jesus associated with them.

But let’s also be clear that Jesus didn’t condone their behavior. In Mark 7:21-23 Jesus said that “theft” is evil and sinful. In Luke 12:15, Jesus teaches against greed and seeking more and more wealth. And as Mark relates here, they are called “sinners.”

And that’s why Jesus called them to “follow me.” That is, leave your old life behind and learn from me a new way to live. This comes out clearly in the story of Zacchaeus, another tax collector, in Luke 19. He stood up at the meal with Jesus and said, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much” (v. 8). He was repenting of theft (he gave back four times as much according to Old Testament law) and greed (he gave to the poor).

So in this example we see in Jesus both a clarity about God’s will, but also, at the same time, a loving relationship with those who don’t do God’s will.

2. Jesus associated with the sexually immoral. Luke 7:36-39 says, “One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.’”

Jesus related to this woman, who was most likely a prostitute. He didn’t scold her or turn her away. He wasn’t embarrassed by her. In fact this encounter is evidence that they had talked before, and she is now returning grateful for his ministry and expressing her devotion and evidencing her repentance.

Well certainly society looked down on prostitutes. And the Pharisees did not approve of Jesus’ association with her, as we see from Simon’s response. One should keep apart from such sinners!

But let’s be clear here as well, Jesus strongly disapproved of her behavior. In Mark 7:21-23 he declares that “sexual immorality” is evil and sinful. And in Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus teaches that sex is reserved for a life-long relationship between a man and woman in marriage.

We find a similar situation in John 4. You know the story. In v. 6 Jesus was weary and sitting beside a well. In v. 7 a Samaritan woman comes and Jesus initiates a conversation with her, asking her to give him some water from the well. And it turns into an opportunity for him to share about the living water that he can give to her.

All the while Jesus knows she is involved in sexually immorality. In v. 18 he said, “You have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.” This is probably why she came to the well alone. The other women in her village avoided her.

And as we saw, Jesus does not approve of this by any means. But he related to her anyway. And through this conversation she and many others came to faith in Jesus.

In both of these instances, Jesus has at the same time a clarity about God’s will, but a loving relationship with those who don’t do God’s will.

3. Jesus associated with people that held different religious views. We are staying in John 4 for this one. This time the focus in on the fact that she was a Samaritan.

The Samaritans came from Jews who intermarried with Gentiles after the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. They were seen by Jews as “heretical.” They only adhered to the first five books of Moses and had their own temple for a time on Mt. Gerizim.

Once again, Jesus initiates a relationship with her. He is kind to her and engages in conversation. But the woman brings her religious views up in v. 9. “’How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” She goes on to say in v. – 20, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” There are some real differences here.

Yet Jesus was clear about the truth. He responds in v. 22, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” He was clear but still associated with her. And again, she and many others came to faith in him as the Messiah.

Here we see once again a clarity about God’s will and truth, but a loving relationship with those who don’t do God’s will or accept his truth.

Well what about us?

  • How would you respond to the person who just got out of jail for stealing the local little league’s money and now lives down the street from you, when they wave at you every morning on their way to work? (Like a tax-collector).
  • Or how would you respond to the gay couple next door who has asked you over for dinner and games? (Sexual immorality).
  • How would you respond to your new Muslin neighbor who needs help moving in? (Different religious views).

What Jesus kept together – clarity about God’s will and love for and relationship with those who don’t do this, too often we separate. Sometimes we set aside Jesus’ love for those who don’t do God’s will. We take the route of the Pharisees and seek separation from them. Instead of mercy, we condemn. We express disgust, hatred, call names and ridicule them. And I’m sure that they will just be rushing into our church to find out about God’s love after we do all this.

The simple fact is that, when we do this, we aren’t concerned to express God’s love for them, or to open God’s door of healing and help to them through a relationship with them.

Sometimes we set aside God’s will and the belief that everyone should do this and that there is a day of judgment coming. So we get all vague. Or we outright excuse or even bless people’s sin. Live and let live. Let’s all just get along.

The message today is that we must follow Jesus’ example and keep the tension in place, neither setting aside Jesus’ love or his holding to God’s will and truth. We must follow Jesus’ example and have in our lives, at the same time both a clarity about God’s will and a love for those who don’t do God’s will.

A final thought. We are to have genuine love for those who don’t do God’s will. So even if they don’t respond to our relationship or change their views, we still have love for them and their well-being. We are not offering a pretense of love just to get them converted or whatever.

If you struggle with offering genuine love,  remember these things: 1. You are only a forgiven sinner yourself.  2. Your sin was disgusting in the sight of God. 3. God was patient with you in your sin.

William Higgins

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Psalm 19 is a profound psalm with lots of good teaching in it. It’s also a very beautiful poem. I want us to really dig into this today and see what we can learn.

I have a handout for you –  Psalm 19 outline. There are some issues of translation that I won’t get into. I am using two translations, the ESV and NIV. Let’s read it through as a whole first, from the handout.


Let me begin by pointing out that there are several allusions to Genesis 1 in Psalm 19. Here are some examples from verse one:

  • “the heavens” is the same word as is found in Genesis 1:1
  • “the sky” is the same word as “firmament” in Genesis 1:7

(For more see below. The seven statements about God’s instructions could also echo the seven days of Genesis one)

But most basically, the structure of Genesis 1 helps us understand how this Psalm is put together. It is generally recognized that days 1-3 and days 4-6 in Genesis 1 are parallel to each other, with the first series focusing on the making of different spaces, and the second series focusing on filling those spaces. 

Making spaces

Filling spaces

Day 1 – light & darkness (temporal space) Day 4 – Filled with stars.
Day 2 – waters below, above (sky) Day 5 – Filled with fish, birds
Day 3 – the earth Day 6 – Filled with animals.

Now on day 4, as a part of filling the created spaces, God set rulers over the day and night, the Sun and the moon. Day 5 has no mention of a ruler. But again, on day 6, God set humanity as the ruler over the earth, both man and woman.

I draw attention to this because these two servants who rule, specifically the Sun and humanity, are contrasted in our Psalm in sections B and B1 (handout).

Now we’re ready to look at our Psalm. We begin with –

The words of the heavens

“1The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”

A couple of notes, “The heavens declare,” can also be translated “are declaring.” And “the sky above proclaims,” can also be translated “is proclaiming.” This is an ongoing activity. And this is reinforced by v. 2, which tells us that this happens “day to day,” and “night to night.” (The day and night language also echoes day 4 in Genesis 1)

So the heavens are declaring, proclaiming, pouring out speech and revealing knowledge. And this is all focused on “the glory of God.” The heavens praise God and point to God in that they are God’s “handiwork.” For when people see the heavens and their workings, they see the glory of the one who made them. (For similar thoughts see Romans 1:28)

Then we have a qualification. “3They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. 4Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” They do a lot of talking, but not with audible or human words. And yet in spite of this, they still speak. In fact their words go everywhere, to the ends of the world.

Now we have a focus on the Sun, as the ruler of the day –

The faithful servant over the heavens

“In them he (God) has set a tent for the sun, 5which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and like a strong man, runs its course with joy.”

The sun is here vividly personified. It retires in a tent that God gives it during the night. When the sun “comes out” of its tent in the morning, it’s ready to go. This is described with two images: 1) like a bridegroom right after his marriage ceremony, ready to take on the world. 2) like a strong man, or an athlete ready to run, who then “runs his course with joy.” It is not a toil, and there is no complaining. It is ready to go and is happy about it.

“6Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.” It travels its path from east to west each and every day, staying true to the path given to it by God. It goes from one end of the heavens to the other and “nothing is hidden from its heat,” referencing its rule over all the heavens, echoing Genesis 1:16 and 18.

So the sun is singled out as a prime example of the heavens declaring God’s glory. It is doing what it is supposed to do and thus glorifying God.

Next we learn about –

God’s instructions

This is really a poem within a poem – about God’s Law, or as I am putting it his “instructions” to us; God’s will. It is made up of seven statements.

1. “7The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul”

2. “the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple”

3. “8the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart”

4. “the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes”

5. “9the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever”

6. “the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether”

7. “10More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.”

Notice the synonyms: law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear, rules. Notice the characteristics of God’s instructions: perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, enduring forever, true, righteous altogether. And notice its benefit for those who keep it: reviving the soul, making wise the simple, rejoicing the heart, enlightening the eyes.

This section ends with two comparatives that speak to its value. God’s instructions are more valuable than gold or honey. They are to be sought out. Let me ask, Do you seek it out more than gold or honey? If someone put a pot of gold in front of you and said choose this or a better of understanding of what God wants from you, which would you pick?

In the background here is Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. One scholar (David Clines) has pointed out parallels between these passages. Here are two: In Genesis 3:6 the tree seemed good “to make one wise.” But in Psalm 19:7 God’s Law is characterized as “making wise the simple.” In Genesis 3:7 it says when they ate “the eyes of both were opened.” But in Psalm 19:8 God’s Law characterized as “enlightening the eyes.”

The underlying message in this comparison is this. Instead of seeking out wisdom to rule apart from God, we are to find wisdom in God’s instructions. He gives us true insight and enlightenment.

Next we move to a focus on humanity. In contrast to the faithfulness of the sun, we have –

The flawed servant over the earth

And this is in the form of a prayer. “11Moreover, by them (that is, God’s instructions) is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”

Here we see the quandary that David, and all of us face in terms of God’s Law – judgment or blessing? Judgment if we disobey – hence the warning language. Blessing if we keep it. He speaks of “great reward.”

Already in vs. 7-10 we have begun to see the human problem, but this is spelled out further in these next verses, in the form of two obstacles that stand in the way of receiving God’s blessing. This speaks to the flawed rulership of humanity.

“12Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; let them not have dominion over me!”

1. We have errors or hidden faults. That is, inadvertent sins, sinning when we don’t even know we are. What is the solution? He asks for forgiveness. Grace.

2. We have willful sins. That is know, willful choices we make that go against God’s will. What is the solution? He asks for help. Keep me from them. Once again, grace. (In the phrase “let them not have dominion over me,” the word “dominion” echoes Genesis 1:28. But it is an ironic allusion, because it refers now to sin having dominion over humanity, as opposed to humanity having dominion over the earth.) (“Dominion” is the same word used in Genesis 4:7 where God tells Cain must rule over sin) (The word “hidden” is used to describe the sun’s expansive rule. Here it is used to highlight the flawed rule of humanity.)

So, with God’s forgiveness and preventative help, David goes on to say, 13“Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.” In this way he can receive God’s great reward. (Perhaps he means he will be blameless due to forgiveness and innocent of great transgression due to God’s preventative help)

This leads us to the last verse –

The words of humanity

We have already seen in v.1 how “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork;” how they pour forth speech. And we have seen how the sun is a prime example of this, as the faithful servant of God who rules over the sky, never wandering from his path.

Now David prays, that as a human, as a ruler over the earth, he will have words that are acceptable in God’s sight. 14 “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

He acknowledges in this Psalm human brokenness and sin, including his own. But with the help of God’s instructions, instead of his own wisdom, and with God’s forgiveness and preventative help, that is, God’s grace, he prays that his words can be a part of declaring God’s glory. That just as the heavens do this, and the Sun as the ruler of the day does this, that he might fulfill his role in offering up praise to God and pointing others to God in the way he runs his course.

And he also prays this for the mediations of his heart, the source of his words. This is not just an outer thing. He prays that his heart would be acceptable and glorifying to God.

He ends with the theme of redemption as a counterpoint to his brokenness. He uses “Lord” or Yahweh, God’s personal name. In the first part of the psalm it was the generic, “God,” the creator God. But from vs. 7-14 Yahweh is the name that is used seven times – God’s covenant or saving name. It is this God who is his rock and redeemer and, the one who protects him and saves him.

Let me end by asking –

What about you?

Do you desire to join in the chorus of praise to God? To pour out day to day acceptable words that point to and praise God?

Then we too, like David need God’s help. And thankfully we have all the more help, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • We have God’s clearest instructions, God’s Word made flesh. We have Jesus’ teaching and example to guide us, give us wisdom and enlighten our eyes.
  • And we have Gods’ grace. We have forgiveness for all our sins, errors and willful ones, through Jesus’ death on the cross. And we have God’s help, so that sin will not have dominion over us through the Spirit whom we receive in our hearts, who gives us the power to overcome.

In this way we too can fulfill our role; our words too can join in with the words of all creation to give proper praise to God.

 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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