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Posts Tagged ‘God’s will’

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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For an updated version of this teaching: The difference between faith and presumption

 

 

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We are looking at the final verses of Haggai today. We have already looked at Haggai’s first message: Instead of building up your own houses, get to work on rebuilding the temple – God’s house. And we have looked at Haggai’s second message: Even though the temple doesn’t seem glorious, God will give it glory; in fact, more glory than the previous temple.

In our verses today there are actually two messages that Haggai gives on the same day – December 18th 520 BC. (And so we will have two messages on the same day). In the first of these, or Haggai’s third message overall, he encourages the people by telling them that-

The  blessings are coming

The blessings are on the way.

Now this third message is connected to Haggai’s first message in chapter one, in that both of them note that they were going through hard times because of their disobedience. In other words, God was disciplining them. But the background to this third message is that they had been obedient now for some three months and things were still hard.

To address this, the Lord has Haggai ask two questions. v. 11 – “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law.” He is asking for an official ruling from the priests, as a way of making a point.

In v. 12 we have the first question, “’If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’ The priests answered and said, ‘No.’” After certain sacrifices, you would carry the leftover meat in the fold of your garment. The meat was considered holy, and the garment as well (Leviticus 6). But the holiness of the meat and the garment doesn’t make anything else it touches holy. And this is the point. As a general rule, holiness isn’t contagious.

In v. 13 we have the second question. “Then Haggai said, ‘If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?’ The priests answered and said, ‘It does become unclean.’” So if holiness isn’t contagious, uncleanness is contagious. We are dealing with the rotten apple principle here. A good apple can’t make a rotten apple good, but a rotten apple can make a good apple bad.

Next, Haggai makes the application, which is that the people of Judah were unclean. v. 14 – “Then Haggai answered and said, ‘So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the Lord, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean.’” They were unclean due to their disobedience in that they put themselves first and didn’t work on the temple. And this uncleanness infected all that they did and had. More specifically it is the “work of their hands” that is unclean; that is, their harvests and their animals – all that they brought before God as sacrifices.

They thought that, even though they were walking in disobedience, their sacrifices would make them acceptable; that they would cover over their disobedience and make them holy. But the message of Haggai is that their disobedience made their sacrifices unclean and unacceptable.

The holiness of their sacrifices didn’t make their actions holy. But the uncleanness of their actions made their sacrifices unclean.

Next Haggai reminds them that because of their prior disobedience God disciplined them. vs. 15-17 – “Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord, how did you fare?” He is asking, ‘how were you doing before you started working on the temple?’

And then, in words similar to what we find in chapter 1, he says, “When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord.”

And then Haggai points toward the future. Since they began work on the temple; since they began to be obedient, God will now bless them. v. 18-19 – “Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid, consider: Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.” [The time reference here is unclear. Is it looking back three months to when they began work on the temple and they are now, on December 18th supposed to start looking for the blessing? Or is it saying that the foundation was laid or finished on December 18th  and because of this the blessings will start on this day?]

This is a bold prediction. At this time of year (December) the seed would have just been planted after the late fall rains, and the orchards would not have been bearing fruit. And so without any outward indication of the kind of harvest the seed will bear, and without any indication of the kind of harvest the orchards will bear next season, the Lord says, “from this day on I will bless you” – v. 18.

The problem that they had complained about – hard economic times, would be dealt with. God’s discipline would be lifted, and God would bless them.

What Haggai is really doing in these verses is presenting a before and after picture. Before, they were disciplined because of their disobedience. But now, after, they will be blessed because of their obedience.

Lessons

Let’s see what we can take away from Haggai’s third message. First of all, obedience brings God’s blessing. They were under God’s corrective discipline because of their sin. God was trying to get their attention; to wake them up.

And God does the same with us. As Hebrews 12:6 says, “The Lord disciplines the one he loves.” When we allow sin in our life, we get discipline, not blessing.

But like them, if we submit ourselves to God and obey the Lord, we can know the fullness of God’s blessings for us.

I guess it’s just human nature that everyone thinks they will find happiness by doing their own thing; making their own choices apart from God. But it only comes by doing God’s will. This is how we find peace and happiness.

Second, you can’t cover over sin with good or religious practices. Or to say it another way, you can’t cancel out a life of disobedience to God by doing other good things, so that you say I have done some bad things, but I have also done some good things and they balance each other out.

They thought that since they offered up sacrifices, their disobedience could be overlooked. Sometimes we do the same. We think, ‘I will pray to God,’ or ‘I will come to church,’ or ‘I will help in the soup kitchen’ even though we are willfully choosing to sin. We think, ‘It will be OK. God will accept me. Things will be alright.’

But our unrepented sin contaminates all that we do, just as their sin contaminated their sacrifices. The only remedy is repentance – as Haggai 2:17 says, to turn to the Lord.

Haggai’s fourth message, given on the same day is brief. It has to do with a –

A promise concerning the house of David

By way of background, in Jeremiah 22 King Jehoiachin, or Coniah, as he was also known, a descendent of David, is rejected. v. 24 says, “As I live, declares the Lord, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet ring on my right hand, yet I would tear you off . . ..” And in v. 30 the Lord says, “none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David and ruling again in Judah.”

Why is this relevant? Zerubbabel was the grandson of Jehoiachin, and this pronouncement would certainly put a cloud over him and the line of David.

And so Haggai speaks to Zerubbabel, personally, but also as a representative of the Davidic line. vs. 21-22 – “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother.”

This shaking of the nations is also referred to in Haggai’s second message. Although here it seems more uniformly to point to the end of all things.

v. 23 – “On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” A signet ring is the seal of a king. It functioned like a signature. It was an instrument of authority and a symbol of a most prized possession, usually kept on the possession of the king. And so Haggai is saying – if Jehoiachin is rejected, Zerubbabel is accepted. He is precious, like a signet ring that is not cast off, but kept near. He is God’s servant. He is chosen.

But God is also speaking to him as a representative of the Davidic line. And he is saying that when all other kingdoms have run their course and are judged – the line of David will continue on.

This is similar to the second message about the temple. Even though it seemed paltry, there was a glorious future for it. So also here, even though Zerubbabel is a mere governor in the Persian empire, what will come from him will be great and beloved by God.

The fulfillment can be seen in that:

  • God preserved the line of David through Zerubbabel
  • Jesus comes from this ancestry, from Zerubbabel, through Joseph – Matthew 1:12.
  • When Jesus returns all kingdoms will be judged and he will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Lesson

From this last message of Haggai we learn something about God that we need to remember. And that is that God is in control. Certainly the nations seemed all powerful to small and insignificant Judah. But God can shake them and judge them when he chooses. And even though they sin and rebel, ultimately, they are under his control.

And God has a plan for the world which he will fulfill in the proper time. God is in control of the outcome of history, and this will include the line of David.

But God also has concern for individuals, as we see with Zerubbabel. And so in the midst of our confusion, our inability to control things and our inability to see into the future – we can trust the God who does see into the future, who is in control and who cares for each of us. And we can know that if God can make all of history turn out like it should, he can certainly do the same with our lives – as we seek to follow him.

William Higgins

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