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sermon 2018-10-21 – Geoff Follas

Proverbs 16:1-9

UNDERSTANDING THE WILL OF GOD

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Stuart Holden was one of England’s finest young preachers. He was invited to go to America and speak at a Christian conference. Stuart felt this was a God-given opportunity to further his career and so he made all the arrangements and bought his ticket to sail across the Atlantic. Unfortunately, his wife became very ill and he knew it would be wrong for him to leave her at this time.  Stuart was very disappointed and complained to God for preventing him from going.

Often we complain and grumble because our plans and our desires are blocked and we won’t simply hand them over to God and trust Him.

A few weeks later Stuart Holden looked back on that situation and was so thankful that God overruled his plans because the ship he was to sail on was the Titanic.  

The passage we read this morning says, “We can make our plans but the Lord determines what really happens.”

In the early years of my ministry I had plans and visions for the church that I wanted to see come to pass, but sometimes people in the church would oppose those visions and I would get quite angry and frustrated because I believed those plans and visions were right for the church. I had even prayed about them. I would often lay awake at night churning this stuff over and over in my mind until I realised that I needed to hand it over to God and trust Him that if it was His will, it would happen and if not, just let it go. I had to learn to hold my plans and my agendas with an open hand and say, “Lord, if these are from you then let them happen, if not, I don’t want any part of them, even if I feel passionately about them now.”

This morning I want to give you some guidelines to help you discover what God’s will is for you and the situations you are involved in.

Eph 5:15-17 “So be very careful how you live. Do not live like people who aren’t wise. Live like people who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish. Instead, understand what the Lord wants.

I want to look at the 4 factors involved in discovering God’s will.

Specific instructions

General guidelines

Practical indicators

Receptive attitudes

 

SPECIFIC INSTRUCTIONS

The Bible makes it very clear that there are certain specific things God commands us to do and not to do.

These are non-negotiable commands clearly expressing the will of God.

Here are some of them:

We are to love God with all our heart soul minds and strength and our neighbours as ourselves.

We are not to put anything or anyone in the place of God, we are not to steal, lie, murder, get drunk, commit adultery.

Jesus takes this further and says we are not to hate others or seek revenge, we are not to look lustfully at women. We are to repent of our sins and be baptised if we desire to follow Jesus. We are to treat others justly and fairly, give generously, not be proud, forgive others, meet regularly with God’s people, pray, etc, etc.

These instructions are clearly and explicitly laid down in the Bible and there is no argument about them. And God is not going to change His mind about these things. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” These are the non-negotiable instructions from the Lord.

If we at any point go against these clear explicit instructions we are rebelling against God and violating His will.

In spite of these clear explicit commands expressing what God wants and expects of us there are many Christians who find all kinds of ways of getting around them. 

I told you about that pastor in Wellington many years ago who was having an adulterous relationship with another woman and when confronted by a fellow Pastor he said, “I have got too much love for one woman.”

In Paul’s day, there were some Christians who excused their sin by saying, “I am not under the law I am under grace so God will always forgive me.” That is the abuse of God’s kindness and it is a terrible deception.

In his book “The Scandal Of The Evangelical conscience” Ronald Sider said, “There is no discernable difference between Bible-believing Xs and the rest of society in terms of our behaviour.” Is it no wonder that Lammin Sanny a converted Moslem who is the professor of world mission at Yale University wrote, “The cultural captivity of X in the west is nearly complete. We have sold out to the values of our culture. A West without a moral centre is open slather to militant Islam.”

It is absolutely ridiculous asking God to show you His will for your life if you are knowingly violating the explicit, clear commands He has already given us in His word.

GENERAL GUIDELINES

When our children are young it is our task as parents to tell them specifically what to do and what not to do. We say don’t do that because that is wrong and do that because it is right. We tell them to put their toys away, make their beds, say thank you, say sorry, don’t swear or lie or hurt others etc.

What are we doing here? We are building into their lives moral values, an ethical framework, standards, practical wisdom to help them make good, honest, wise, loving choices in the days to come.

When they become adults we no longer tell them what to do, but if we have done our job properly we have instilled into them moral guidelines and ethical standards that we trust will influence the decisions and choices they make.

They still may come to us for advice and we can draw from our experience and hopefully from the wisdom we have acquired over the years, but we don’t tell them specifically what they are to do. We trust that they will make wise decisions drawing on the moral values and ethical guidelines we instilled into their lives when they were young.

The Bible does not give us specific instructions about every decision we make in life. The Bible does not tell us what job or career to pursue, who we should marry, where to live, what products to buy, what food to eat, what to wear, what relationships to enter into, etc, etc. In fact, there are no specific instructions given to us in the Bible for many of the day-to-day decisions we need to make.

So how can we know God’s will when it comes to deciding on things that are not clearly specified in the Bible?

I want to use the illustration of a children’s playground.

There was a rectangular children’s playground surrounded on 4 sides by a high fence. The playground was filled with swings, slides, merry-go-rounds, sandpits, jungle gyms for children to play on and one day a Dad took his children there, let them go through the gate and gave them strict instructions, “You can play on any of the outdoor equipment here as long as you stay inside the fences.” 

In the same way, God has given us the freedom to make our own decisions about many things as long as we keep within the boundaries, or the fences He has set forth in the scriptures.

Let’s say the playground is a rectangle with 4 fences on each side and those fences are the God-given boundaries within which we are to make our choices.

  1. How will it affect God? Will this decision honour God? – 1 Cor. 10:31 “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Would God be pleased with what I am about to do?
  1. How will it affect my character? Will this help me to become more Christ-like – 1 Thess. 4:3 “It is God’s will that you become more like Christ [sanctification]. Will this bring me closer to Jesus or pull me away further away? Will this corrupt, pollute my spiritual life and character or strengthen and build it?
  1. How will it affect others? Will it bring others closer to Jesus or turn them off? Will it help meet their needs? Will it be of benefit to them? Ephesians 5:2 “Live a life motivated by love, following the example of Christ who loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.”
  1. How will it agree with the moral and ethical values taught in scripture?

Hebrews 5:13-14  “ by this time you ought to be teaching God’s Word but you still need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong.”

What the Hebrew writer is saying here is that as we study God’s Word and put it into practice, we are able to recognise those things that agree with the principles, the moral and ethical values of the Bible and those things that are not.

Here’s an example. Just say you as a believer were invited to watch a DVD that had on the cover explicit sex scenes. Nowhere in the Bible does it specifically say, “Abstain from watching videos with explicit sex scenes.” It does say we are not to commit adultery or look lustfully at another woman. But there are moral and ethical values taught in Scripture that come from Scriptures such as Philippians 4:8 which tells us to think on things that are pure, noble and righteous, and 1 Corinthians 6:15 “Don’t you realise that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? And again verse 19 “Don’t you realise that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body.”

Is it right to take that which is part of Christ, that which belongs to God and houses the Holy Spirit and deliberately expose it to sexual immorality?

So these four guiding principles are like the fences around the playground. They define what God’s will is and for those things that are not specifically spelled out in the Bible they provide the framework within which we can make decisions.

For example, you won’t find specific instructions in the Bible as to who you should marry, but there are general principles that provide a framework that can guide you in making that decision.

I don’t believe there is only one person in the world that God will allow you to marry and if you miss that person, you have missed the will of God.

Within those fences, those guiding principles there are quite a number of people that you could choose and as long as you both live together according to God’s Word, you can have a very wonderful life together.

Let’s look at those general principles as they would apply to a marriage partner:

  1. Is it our desire to live lives that honour God, to honour God through this relationship?
  2. Does our involvement in this relationship develop Christ-like character? Are we becoming more like Jesus because of this relationship?
  3. Are we both concerned to put the best interests of the other first in the relationship?
  4. Does this relationship agree with the moral and ethical teaching of scripture? E.g. Are we both believers?

This church will be holding its AGM next month. This is the time when we come together to collectively make decisions about the ongoing ministry of the church.

Some of you may have ideas and suggestions you want to bring to that meeting. Some of you may have things you would like to see changed or introduced.

One of the ways you can know if this is of God is to see if it fits within the framework of those general guidelines: Will this honour the Lord, will it help people come closer to Him and become like Him, is it motivated by love for God and others, and does it agree with the moral and ethical values as taught in scripture?

And can I say this? If there are things in the church that you would like to see changed or introduced. If there are people you want to see in positions of responsibility. Even if you feel passionate about it, please don’t push or fight for these things.

Hold them before God with an open hand and pray, “Lord, if this is what you want, let there be agreement among the members, but if not then I gladly let it go.”

CONFIRMING INDICATORS

If we are wanting to know God’s will for some fairly major decisions we not only need the clear explicit commands of God and those general principles, there are also four confirming indicators that can let us know we are doing the right thing as we move ahead.

  1. Rhema scriptures – In the New Testament there are two words for the Word of God. Logos which mostly refers to the written scriptures and Rhema which is a Word given by God to a specific situation or person for a specific reason.

Often when we are wanting to know God’s will or we are stepping out in faith, a word of Scripture will come to us through our Bible reading, or through a message preached or some other way and that word will confirm the step we are taking.

The week before I asked Lois to marry me, there was one scripture that kept popping up every day of that week. It was to do with the two becoming one. It appears in a number of Bible verses. It was there when I read the Bible, when someone else read the Bible in church, and when I was reading an article. “The two shall become one.” When I shared this with Lois, she said that the Scripture verse that had spoken to her was from Ezekiel 37 where God said, “The two shall become one.”

  1. Wise counsel – James 3:17 “The wisdom from above is open to reason, teachable.” 1 Thessalonians 5:27, “test everything and hold to what is good.”
  2. The peace of God – Colossians 3:15 “Let the peace of God rule [be the deciding factor] in your hearts.”
  3. Circumstances – Genesis 24:12-26. When Abraham’s servant was looking for a wife for Isaac he prayed that if it was God’s will certain things would happen and they did. Circumstances can be an indicator that we are doing God’s will but it would wrong simply to go ahead because the circumstances alone seem to be in our favour.

It reminds me of the guy who was trying to lose weight and he had a weakness for pies and cakes. So he prayed as he drove passed his favourite the bakery, “Lord if you want me to get some pies and cakes please show me by letting there be an empty parking space outside the shop.”

He drove past and every parking space was filled, so he went around the block and tried again. The 4th time round a parking space had become available and he said, “Thank you, Lord, this must be your will.”

RECEPTIVE ATTITUDE

This would be the biggest factor in discovering God’s will and it is simply that I really want to know God’s will because I want to do it.

John 7:17 “If anyone who wants to do the will of God they will know and understand that what I say is from God.”

In other words, if you really want to do God’s will, God will ensure that you know what it is.

There are a lot of people who say they want to do God’s will but in all honesty, they have put limitations and conditions on what that should be. They say, “Yes I want to do your will, but not this or that and don’t touch that area.” And then they wonder why they are confused and don’t seem to get any direction.

God reveals His will to those who are willing to do whatever He tells them.

It may be that you have put limitations on God’s will, you have told God emphatically there are things you will not do. How can you come to a place where you can honestly say to God, “Lord I am willing to do whatever you want me to do”?

Start by being honest with God and say, “Lord, there are things I don’t really want to do. Please work in my heart until I can say, “Yes Lord,” and really mean it.

Philippians 2:12-13  12 Dearest friends, when I was there with you, you were always so careful to follow my instructions. And now that I am away you must be even more careful to do the good things that result from being saved, obeying God with deep reverence, shrinking back from all that might displease him. 13 For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants.

Lord do in me and with me and thru me whatever you want to do.