Affirming the Will of God Back to all sermons
Date: July 15, 2011
Speaker: Andy Wilson
Tags: God's will
What was the best message or sermon you have ever heard? Think back. What was it about? What made it the best?
What I wish to pass on to you today is simply – next to the gospel – is the best message I ever heard. First of all I never saw the speaker. I wasn’t present in the audience when it was given. It came to me in the form of a cassette tape. What makes it the best message for me is that since I first heard it in 1973; I have been applying its principles in my life to this very day. It is the only message or sermon that I know that of that has guided me and our family for over 38 years. I have consistently reviewed these principles and applied them over this entire period and THEY WORK.
The message was by Paul Little at the Urbana 1970 missions conference at the University of Illinois. I don’t even remember how I got the tape. When I received the tape, I listened to the tape probably eight to ten times. I loaned it out to so many people I never got it back. Then it came out in booklet form published by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. It has subsequently been revised and updated by his wife and you can find it in the bookstore. I have given away hundreds of copies of this booklet to others. If the bookstore runs out, come see me. I just might have a few extra copies. I have subsequently discovered that Paul Little may have “lifted” most of these principles from George Mueller’s book, “Answers to Prayer.” Don’t worry, if you cannot find either book, all of these principles get plenty of coverage in the Bible itself. That is where they came from in the first place.
Why is the will of God so important? One of the questions I wrestled with before I became a Christian was “How can I lived the best possible life?” There are an infinite number of choices that one will make in life and how can I make the choices that will result in the best life possible. What choices will bring me the most success? What choices should I avoid, ones that will prevent me from enjoying the best life possible? I didn’t want to settle for just “a life”, or even a “good life.” I wanted the “best life” possible. What I realized very quickly was that if the choices were all left to me than I would be assured of missing it. One wrong choice would send me on the path that would totally miss this optimum condition.
When I first heard Paul Little’s message, I said to myself, “this is it.” “This is the answer.” Only God knows truly all of the best choices for me. If I can know what He would want, than I can experience all the best that life will offer.
Paul Little’s premise was this every believer in Jesus Christ has a right to know with certainty that they are where God wants them to be, doing what God wants them to be doing, with whom God wants them to be with, and becoming what God wants them to become. This is just not for pastors and missionaries to know what God’s call is for their life, but every believer.
So what are these principles?
Let’s start with, “What is God’s will for our lives?” There are two parts to this answer. These two aspects are: God’s revealed will – ‘what do we already know about His will’ and His unrevealed will – ‘What is it that we don’t know and we need to know?’
First, the majority of God’s will for us is already revealed. He has recorded it for us to read, study, memorize, and meditate on. It is the Bible itself. The first problem we have is our own ignorance. When I began to read the Bible, I found that much of my think and my behavior needed to change. God says that His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. Solomon says that we must seek after wisdom. It is not just going to drop out of the sky and hit us on the head. If we are serious about know what God wants for our lives we need to know what he has already said.
He gives us commands, promises, principles, and proverbs that can be used to guide our choices. Commands are pretty simple – Do this – Don’t do this. Don’t lie, steal, murder, commit adultery. Love your neighbor. Love your God. All of those are pretty clear. Promises are usually cause and effect relationships – if you want this, do this. If you want to avoid this, do this. You want to be financially free – avoid borrowing money. You want God to bless your possessions and not have them corrupted – give offerings and tithes to God. Again these are pretty clear. Principles – “avoid being unequally yoked” – not a good idea for a Christian to marry a non-Christian or for a Christian to be in a business partnership with a non-Christian. These take a little more effort to apply to your individual situation. Proverbs – these you have to ponder. These are sayings on how things work and how to generally conduct yourself. Don’t try to reason with a fool. He is foolish. He is incapable of reasoning correctly. He will have to have it “beaten” out of him. He will only learn by his mistakes. He is incapable of profiting from the mistakes of others. He simply doesn’t see it coming. Don’t waste your breath.
Probably 90% or more of everything that God wants us to know about His will is already given to us.
Let’s come to the remaining 10%. What we don’t know. Where there is no clear guidance. There is no verse in the Bible that says: “Andy Wilson is to marry Priscilla Logan” or “Andy Wilson should study Chemical Engineering at the University of Missouri at Rolla.” But these choices have had a profound impact on the direction of my life and shaped my destiny. So they are choices that should need some direction of God. Ultimately, all of our choices should lead to us honoring and glorifying God. So let’s look at ‘our’ choices.
First, there are many decisions in life that are ours to make. We don’t have to agonize over whether today we will wear the light blue shirt or the blue and white pinstriped shirt. This is a decision that I have delegated to my wife. What pleases her – pleases me. Frankly, left to myself, I would were stripes and plaids, even blues with black, and maybe, I might even wear white socks with black pants. So I make some of my choices are made to please another and not to offend. Some choices, whether you want broccoli or carrots, chocolate or strawberry ice cream, God leaves to you. If you are pleased, God is pleased. Do you paint your walls, off white or taupe? (I hardly know the difference of either one) – express yourself – be original – show your personally and preferences – God is pleased. God gives us tremendous freedom to exercise our own sanctified judgment.
What is left, are the areas that we do agonize over. These are the areas in which specific direction and confirmation from God is not only desired, but even necessary. These are the choices of what college to attend, what major to study, who to marry, choosing a job and so forth. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a road map? That is not what God wants for us. He wants us to grow in Him. He wants to grow our faith, knowledge, dependence, and love for Himself. He wants to reveal Himself to us. For God, many times He finds the results of our seeking Him to be more the desired outcomes than the object being sought.
So how do we obtain His direction in these areas? There are some necessary prerequisites, principles to practice, and mistakes to avoid.
Before we can expect God to communicate his will in an area to us, there are a few things that need to be true in our lives.
Step one is to be in the family, to have a relationship to Him. Would you walk up to a stranger on the street and ask his advice about intimate areas and critical issues in your life. Would you value that advice? Who do you go to? You go to your friends and to your family. You come to God as part of His family.
God’s first priority with each of us is to restore us to a family relationship to Himself through Jesus Christ. We need to recognize our separation from God because of our own pride, self will, and disobedience to His laws. We need to accept his forgiveness because of the work of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. We also need to completely give our lives to please and honor Him. That makes us family.
We are now part of the family. Families care for each other. Families are loyal to their members. Families protect each other. Families help each other out. You want God’s help? You have a right to it because you are part of His family. Knowing our relationship to Him, gives us confidence in coming to Him and asking what we need. We are entitled.
Yesterday, we just agreed to terms to buy a condominium in Chicago for our son to live in while he attends graduate school. It is very unlikely that if any of you approached me to do the same for you (as much as I may like you) that I would do not so. Why? You are not my son.
We need to be, as a member of the family, in good relationship to Him. We cannot have any known areas where we are walking outside of His will and commands. How compelled will a parent be to giving support to a child that is living contrary to the values of the family and is dishonoring and shaming the family? How seriously will the parent consider these requests? What needs to happen for the child to be able to ask freely and the parent to open their heart to the child?
Mark Twain, a famous American author, was quoted as saying, “…that it wasn’t the things in the Bible that he didn’t understand that bothered him, it was the things that he did.” Are we living our lives in obedience to what we already know that God wants us to be doing or avoiding? Do we need to take corrective action in our lives or repent of some sin? Do we need to restore a relationship with a brother or sister in Christ? Do we need to forgive someone?
We need to approach God with a pure heart, clean hands, and good conscience toward both Him and all men.
We should be coming to Him with an attitude of willingness to accept the direction He chooses to give us. Pastor Cam showed us that Jonah didn’t have this spirit. God show him his will and Jonah decided to opt out.
Many of us want God to show us His will so we can then decide whether or not we want it. We want to maintain control of the direction of our lives. God wants to protect us and our families from ourselves We can and do make bad choices. God wants to help us avoid this. When we make a bad choice, it does not seem to be a bad choice at the time. As a matter of fact, it may seem to be the best possible choice. It may seem to be the greatest possible choice.
I have been in this position before. Three times in my life to have my “dream” job set before me. One of those occasions was a position to be the Chairman of the Chemical Engineering Department at Rose Hulman Institute of Technology. This school was at the time in my opinion the best undergraduate engineering program in the United States. They were incredibly well funded, committed to teaching excellence and innovation. In short it was the perfect place to be. I wanted that job so bad I could taste it.
On the morning before my interview, in the bathroom of my hotel room (Priscilla was asleep in the room), I prayed to God saying that He knew how much I wanted this job, but if it was not going to be good for me or our family that I didn’t want it and I was okay for Him not to give it to me.
The interview went great. I met with the President, Provost, Department faculty, staff, and students. Two weeks go by and I get a call from the search committee chairman who says that of the three candidates considered, the faculty, staff, and students were unanimous that I was by far the best candidate, but the President turned me down. The verse that immediately came to mind was, “The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” Proverbs 21:1. I simply said thank you to God.
Losing that job, let God give me the same position at Qatar University and that is what brought us to the Gulf. In the 15 years that we have been here, He has amazingly blessed our family here and it has truly been the greatest experience that we could have imagined. God truly protected me from something very good, in order to give me His best.
We need to have a willingness to hear and obey how God leads and directs.
Means of Guidance
What are the principles that we need to apply in order to know God’s will and direction. There are five that I have used in my life: the Bible, prayer, circumstances, counsel, and peace.
- His Word
If we want to know what God wants, this is the starting point. If we are not willing to begin here we simply are not very serious about our relationship with God. Proverbs is the greatest book of advice never taken. Who did Solomon write this book for? His son. What was His son’s first act as king? He made an incredibly bad decision that split the kingdom. Ten of the tribes of Israel walked out on him. I don’t think he consulted the book.
Many of the problems we face in life are as a result of our own ignorance of what God has said in His word. Our lack of guidance comes from the fact that we are unwilling to consult the most readily available and obvious source of direction.
Shortly after I had become a Christian, I was at a youth meeting in Kansas City and the youth pastor, who was incredibly impressive and had a highly successful ministry, said that a key element to his success was in his reading through the Bible every month. How many people here have read the Bible through cover to cover at least once? Raise your hands. Shame on the rest of you! That youth pastor challenged me, if he can read the Bible every month, surely I can read it every year. Which with the exception of several years, I have. Like him, I have found this to be tremendously helpful.
When I was deciding to go to graduate school on the day we needed to make our decision my wife and I were both still uncertain and undecided. That morning I was to begin memorizing a new verse, it was Isaiah 41:10, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” This verse answered the specific concerns and questions that I was wrestling with in my decision. When I came home from work that night, Priscilla and I were sitting on the front steps of our home and she told me how the verses that she read that morning were the very ones she needed to answer her questions. God had given the same answer to both of us independently. We knew that God was leading us to go ahead with this decision.
God has asked us to bring all of our requests to Him. The classic verse is Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
As a Father, one of the greatest joys I have is to listen to what my children have to say about themselves. As a matter a fact, I have made a standing request from my children to give me a CD about themselves each Christmas. I want to know who they are, what they are thinking, what music they like, what they are becoming. I desire this communication from my children more than anything else.
I believe that God feels the same way. He is not too busy running the universe to not be interested in you finding a parking spot. God says He cares and He does. Talk to Him.
God wants to give us direction. James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
Circumstances are very much part of God’s leading, but sometimes they can be misleading. Most of us tend to rely exclusively on circumstances. Circumstances are many times more reliable as a negative guide than positive. If you believe that God is leading you to go to graduate school in Engineering and you are unable to be admitted to any university, you can be fairly clear that God does not want you to attend graduate school. On the other hand, if you are accepted into three programs, that may not be an indication that He wants you to go into Engineering.
I have also seen that many times, we are presented with an expedient, convenient, or easy choice when it comes to a decision. More often than not, this choice is exactly the choice you should avoid. The first example of this was in a missions committee where the only choice seemed to be to drop support of a missionary, until one of the quieter members of the committee admitted that it seemed the only way, but she didn’t feel right about it. This sparked quite a discussion and another much more acceptable alternative was developed and adopted that everyone felt very good about. Circumstances should be viewed with Biblical principles and prayer in order to be correctly interpreted.
Solomon in Proverbs urges us to get advice from many counselors, but not to believe all of it. The saying goes, “Experience is a dear teacher, and a fool will learn from no other.” Profit from others experience. Learn from their mistakes. Hear what they have found to be true and what has worked in their lives. You will get new and fresh insights. You will get additional alternatives and options that you never would have come up with by yourself. You will get Godly counsel from mature brothers and sisters in Christ.
We need each other. My wife and I early in our marriage established a ground rule that we would not make any major decision unless both of us were in complete and total agreement. This has been the best check on bad decisions, we have. The one time, we didn’t follow this principle, it took two years for us to recover and get back on the same page.
The condo in Chicago was seen by every member of our family and all of them weighed in on it. We all came to agreement that this was the one we should pursue. We in the West with our rugged individualism have lost this as a value. In the Arab culture, every decision is a group decision. My students didn’t decide by themselves to enter Chemical Engineering, they came with their friends.
In the passage of Philippians, it talks about peace, this is the result and the certainty that we are in God’s will, heading in the direction that He wants. It is the knowing. We know. We are certain. God wants that for us, especially if we are walking into difficulties.
A missionary, who has been a family friend for over 40 years, once told me that when God makes his will most clear to us, it is because we will be facing struggles and difficulties as we pursue it. We need to know that when the roof falls in on us, that we are not second guessing our decision. We are there because God wants us there and we are there for a reason. We aren’t running for the doors. We can stand and face whatever happens knowing that God led us and is with us.
When I was first asked to serve as a deacon, I sought and received confirmation from God that this was His will. Another man joined the deacon board without having gone through the same exercise. The issues that we faced were crushing; meetings would go until 2 am. I would be crying out to God in the shower the next day, but I never doubted that I belonged on the board. My colleague with each new problem, the first words were, “I am not sure I belong on this board.”
Know that God will give you peace in knowing, you belong where He has led you.
Now for the things, we should avoid. We will go through these rather quickly. If you need more detail, buy Paul Little’s booklet.
- What I want can’t be God’s will
We just finished in the FAB class, John Piper’s “Desiring God”, the premise is that God is most glorified in us, when we find our joy and satisfaction in Him. God doesn’t want us to be miserable. As we come to know Him and our desires are conformed to His, we will want what He wants. We will find complete joy in doing and being in his will.
The real principle is that ultimately something that I don’t want it can’t be His will. My father said that God took him to every place where he said he would never go. But when my father went to those places, he went because he wanted to. Our desires and God’s desires are to be in union.
- Every decision requires confirmation
Some people are paralyzed for lack of a “voice from heaven,” goose bumps, or the like. God doesn’t try to trick us. Sometimes we have to act. If we have studied the Bible, prayed, looked at the situation; we commit our decision to God and move ahead. Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” You can’t steer a parked car. God will open and close doors. He will lead you as you walk with Him. I like this passage in that I believe that even if I head in the wrong direction as long as I am seeking Him, he will direct me aright.
- Implications which follow God’s will
There logical implications to following God’s will. If God reveals that I should get married, I don’t have to ask Him if I should get a job to support my family. There are a whole series of issues that are now clearly God’s will because of this single decision. I shared my car. I stopped dating. It’s not my money, it’s our money.
- Guard against what we are going to do for God
This is a subtle temptation to think that we are going to do something for God. Compare: “Lord, I am going to be a missionary (business executive) for you.” Or “Lord, what would you have me to do.” Which one is an expression of pride and self will.
- Guard against verses out of context
A man was pondering what God wanted for him to do. So he randomly opened his Bible and put his finger on a verse and it read, “Judas went out and hanged himself.” This didn’t seem to be adequate. So he repeated the process, and read “Go and do thou likewise.” This was not at all what he wanted to hear, so he tried again, and read, “and whatsoever you do, do quickly.”
- God’s will is bizarre or wild
When the Bible says “lean not on your own understanding” it is not permission to kiss your brains goodbye. The Holy Spirit will illumine our understanding and guide us with enlightened reason.
- God’s will be moonlight and roses
Obviously not. As we mentioned earlier, sometimes we are walking into our greatest trials when His will is most clear.
- Call to missions or evangelism is different than a call to anything else
Paul Little maintains and I believe as well that every believer has the same right to experience God’s leading and calling in whatever vocation or circumstance they are in.
- Miss God’s will our life is ruined
We are all broken people for the get go. We all have sinned and fallen short. God has a phenomenal way of picking up our pieces and cleaning up our messes, restoring us to Himself and making our lives a thing of beauty. That is our hope and certainty. We will live with it, but God can reshape us.
Summary and Application
- God is ultimately concerned with the development of our character – His Will leads us into conformity with Christ
God is in the business of shaping our soul, of making us citizens of His kingdom. The process is more important to Him. He is interested in what we become more than actually what we do.
- Take Home Message
- Starting point – Faith in Jesus Christ
- Willingness to let God lead – Does He really have a better plan than yours?
- Replay this message – read the book – test it in your own life
Enjoy the adventure!
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- Paul Little believes that it is the right of every believer to know that they are in the will of God. Why is this important? Why is knowing God’s will even necessary?
- There are two aspects of God’s will revealed and unrevealed. What are we talking about? How does one discover what God has already revealed about His will for us?
- How does God’s word, prayer, circumstances, counsel, and peace work together for us in revealing God’s will?
- What of the common mistakes discussed are you most familiar with?
- How have you seen God lead you in the past? Have these principles been true for you?