Last week we began our summer sermon series “Questions You’ve Always Wanted to Ask.” This is a sermon series where you have the opportunity to ask questions that you have often wondered about, questions about life, God, faith and anything else you have been pondering for a while. And while some questions are trivial matters with answers that have little impact in our lives, the really tough questions of life are different. We need to have an answer for those kinds of questions and we need to have the right answer because we are going to be charting our lives by them. And the idea of this summer sermon series is not to make your pastors seem like the ones with all the answers, because we don’t have all the answers. The idea of the series is to look at our questions in the light of God’s Word and see what God says about the big questions of life.
So the question we are considering today is this: … how do you know you are following God’s will for your life? How do you make decisions in a godly manner and then be happy with those decisions and not continue to second-guess yourself?
This is a question many of us have probably asked ourselves. I know that I have asked it of myself. And a good place to start is to realize that God has a plan for your life and mine. He tells us through the prophet Jeremiah, For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11) God is a good, loving and all-wise God, so following his will is far better for us than following our own will. And following God’s will for our lives is better than just going with the flow, bobbing around like a cork in the ocean. And what we really want to avoid is coming to the end of our lives with a whole bunch of regret. We don’t want to be a person who says, “If only I had been following God, I would have made a different choice back there, and things would have been much different. And I wouldn’t have the horrible regrets that I have today.”
So it would be a good thing to know God’s Will, God’s direction, for our lives. And one way we can get a handle on what God’s Will is for our lives is to look at the life of Jesus. Jesus is God the Son, but sometimes we forget that he is also the ideal human being. And there are lessons that we can learn from Jesus’ life that we can turn around and apply to our lives.
So let’s begin by imagining a bridge over a river. There are guard rails on both sides so that the cars don’t go off of the bridge. And we can use that as a picture to help us as we think about God’s will. On one guard rail we have God’s Moral Will. God has made clear in the Bible what is right and wrong and so as we desire to follow God’s will, we want to make sure that we avoid going over that guard rail as much as possible. And when we do go over the guard rail of God’s moral will, we want to get back on the bridge by confessing our sins to God and receiving the forgiveness that he gives us through Jesus.
There is a guard rail on the other side of the bridge too, and this is God’s will that the whole world be saved. 1 Timothy 2:4 tells us that God “…wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4 TNIV) If we are seeking to do God’s will, we don’t want to go over this guard rail either for that would be unbelief and perhaps even actively working against God and his plan for saving the world.
Within these two guard rails, we have Christian freedom. I don’t believe that God has for each of us a preordained lane on that bridge for each one of us. I don’t think that it is the case that each of us is supposed to get in a certain lane that God picked out for us and follow that lane for the rest of our lives. I think that we have the freedom to change lanes. But when we are in a time in our lives when we are considering a lane change, it is good to seek God’s direction for our lives, because even though we are free to choose any lane on this bridge, not all the lanes are equal, and God will know which lane is the best for us.
The first thing to consider when seeking God’s will for our lives is do we have a Willing Heart? When Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39b NIV) Are you willing to pray that prayer? Are you willing to say “yes!” to whatever direction God gives to you even before he gives it to you? Sometimes we don’t hear God’s direction for our lives because we don’t want God’s direction for our lives, we want God to give his approval to our direction for our lives. One time I was visiting with someone who was debating whether to break up with her boyfriend or not. And I suggested that she pray about it and ask God to give her his direction on this matter. And she said, “Well, what if God doesn’t want what I want?” And that’s really the question, isn’t it. A Willing Heart is willing to do what God wants, even if it is not what we want.
Also a Willing Heart is already following the parts of God’s Will that he or she already knows. For example, they are obeying and honouring those in authority over them. They are we avoiding sexual immorality and gossip. They are honouring God with their lips and their worship.
Sometimes we want a sign from God, but we aren’t willing to pay attention to the signs that God is already giving us. Sometimes we are like Bruce Nolan in the movie Bruce Almighty. Early in the movie, he was desperately asking God for a sign, but he was ignoring the signs that God was already giving him.
The second thing to reflect on when considering a lane change in life is God’s Word. As a Jew, Jesus would have known the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, very well. And he lived by God’s Word. While fasting in the desert, Jesus confronted the devil’s temptations by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “It is written: ‘People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ (Mt. 4:4 TNIV)
And so, even when we are operating in the realm of Christian freedom, we can ask ourselves, ‘Is there something in God’s Word that gives me direction on this matter?’ For example, you may be considering a romantic relationship with someone who does not have the same beliefs as you do. In freedom, you could do that. But does the Bible offer some wise advice on this matter? Yes, it does. 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” Maybe you are a new believer and you are wondering if you should quit your present job and find a different one where you would have more Christian co-workers. Does the Bible speak to this situation? Yes it does. 1 Corinthians 7:20 says, Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.
The third way we can gain insight into God’s will is through Wise Counsel. We don’t see a lot of evidence of this in Jesus’ life. He sought counsel from his Father in heaven. But it is good advice for us. As Proverbs 15:22 tells us, Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. So seek out people who will tell you the truth. When I young and single and dating, I realized that invariably looked at the situation through rose-coloured glasses. I was not objective. And I also found out that neither were my brothers or my friends. But my sisters were more particular about which girls were my friends than they were about which girls were their friends. So I would ask them, “What do you think about this person?” and they would give me the unvarnished truth. So it can be very helpful to find some wise elders, believers who have been through what you are going through and have successfully navigated those rough waters, explain your situation and ask them what they think.
The fourth factor to take into account when considering what is God’s will for your life is the Vision God has given to you. Jesus lived and died for the Vision that his heavenly Father gave him. In John 6, Jesus says, 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:38-40 TNIV) Jesus is the one who created this bridge in the first place. Jesus is the one who made a bridge between us and our Father God in heaven. Jesus is the bridge between us and God. Jesus lived a perfect human life to fulfill the Moral Will of God. Then Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world so that we might have forgiveness for all the times that we go over that barrier, so that we might be saved from drowning in the waters of our own guilt and shame, and so we can have a life where we are connected with God, living in the freedom he gives and cooperating with his plan of saving the whole world.
God has given us a different mission, yet each person’s mission fits into God’s overall plan for saving the world and making it into a better place. God usually gives us a passion for particular picture of the future. For a mother, that vision may be to see your children grow up to be mature followers of Jesus who are able to successfully make their own way in the world. For a teacher, that vision might be to make a difference in one child’s life in the coming year. And if that vision is good and wholesome and from God, then it is vitally important that you stick to that vision. There are lots of well-meaning, good-hearted people all around us, who would really, really like to get us off of our agenda and onto theirs. They may come to you with ideas that are good and wholesome, but if you follow them, you will go offtrack from what God has given you to do. Once you have your vision clear in your mind, then it becomes easy to say “No!” to anything and everything that that might take you off-track from moving towards that vision.
Just a few words of caution: First, generally speaking, God does not speak to us with an audible voice. The form of communication is from the Holy Spirit to our spirit, so we may have a leaning or a sense that we should go in a certain direction. So hearing the audible voice of God would be very out of the ordinary and can be an indication of a mental illness.
Second, I believe that there are people who are gifted with the gift of prophecy. But I encourage you to be very cautious about declaring God’s will for someone else and also be cautious about someone else declaring God’s will for you to you. It can be authentic, but it sometimes it can be a manipulative kind of a thing.
I also encourage you to be very cautious about declaring God’s will for the future. I have seen it happen where someone gave a word of knowledge about the future and it came true. But there once was a situation in my life when I was very certain about what God was going to make happen in the future and I was very wrong. And it was very disconcerting for me. So I give you that word of caution.
So if we are between these two guard rails of God’s Moral Will and God’s Will that the world be saved, and we have these four things coming together: a Willing Heart, God’s Word, Wise Counsel and the Vision God has planted in our hearts—then we can say that we are most likely following God’s will for our lives. And one of the confirming signs that you are following God’s direction is a sense of peace in your heart. When I was considering going to seminary, when I was headed towards doing that, I had a peace in my heart that I did not have before. When I considered other options, the peace was gone. So I set myself back on the path of going to seminary and that peace about what I should do as a career has remained with me ever since.
And remember, that even as we follow God’s direction for our lives, it is all about Jesus. Jesus is the one who has created the bridge. Jesus is the one who has put us on the bridge. And it is Jesus Christ at work within us who is doing these things. He is the one leading us and guiding us. He is the one who is moving and directing us to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. He is the one who gives us the peace that surpasses all understanding. It is all about Jesus. Amen.
(Words like these were shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on 5 July 2009.)