Finding God’s Will

This evening we continued looking at how to live according to God’s will. In Colossians 1:9-10, Paul prays, ‘We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.’ (Col 1:9-10) We see from this that to know God’s will fully will mean more than ‘working out’ something according to reason and common sense (useful though these are); we need God’s Spirit to reveal to us the mind of Christ (see 1 Cor 2:13-16).

The first step to finding out God’s will in specific areas and circumstances is to ask God for wisdom (see James 1:5). James goes on to differentiate between spiritual wisdom and worldly wisdom in James 3, and we see again the emphasis on spiritual understanding and wisdom. We can’t hope to find out God’s will through rational means alone, for His w ways are often counter-intuitive and paradoxical.

Some pointers to finding God’s will are:

  1. Is what I believe God is saying in line with Scripture? God will not contradict His word. Isaiah tells us to consult God’s instruction; anything else is counterfeit. (Is 8:10)
  2. Confirming circumstances (such as Abraham’s servant experienced in Gen 24 or Paul experienced in Acts 16:6-10) can help us to know God’s will.
  3. Prayer and fasting are key to understanding God’s will, for these spiritual disciplines help us to sharpen our hearing and tune us in to God. Prayer and fasting are ways that we remove the distractions of the world in order to concentrate our minds and spirit on God.
  4. The counsel of the saints can help us enormously as we pray and seek God’s confirmation, but we have to be careful here, as people are fallible and do not always advise us rightly. Nonetheless, it is good to share our situations with others who will pray and seek God for us.
  5. God’s peace is given in many situations where we are seeking to know God’s will to guard our hearts and minds. (Phil 4:7) It is often the ‘green light’ we need to step out into new ventures.
  6. Trusting in God’s sovereignty is ultimately all we can do when seeking His will. Prov 3:5-6 reminds us to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and not to lean on our own understanding. When we truly believe God is in control and guiding our paths, then we can rest in His ability to lead and guide us along right paths for His name’s sake.

Importunity: The Need To Persist

Importunity: persistence to the point of annoyance.
The word ‘importunity’ describes a widow in a parable Jesus told His disciples to remind them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1-8) The woman kept coming to a judge, asking for justice. She did not give up, even though the judge did not seem to want to listen. Eventually, he decided to give her the justice she craved for the simple reasons that her importunity left him no other other option.
God is not indifferent to us like the judge in the parable, but sometimes, perhaps, we feel like He is slow in responding to our prayers. The temptation at that point is to give up. Give in. Stop bothering. There’s no point.
The parable reminds us about persistence in prayer. Sometimes we have to ask and keep on asking. Sometimes we have to seek and keep on seeking. Sometimes we have to knock and keep on knocking.
Prayer is not an optional extra. It’s not something we do simply when we feel like it. It’s not something that can be added on to a life of faith when all else seems to have failed.
Prayer, including the need to intercede for other people, is essential for Christian growth. Life won’t succeed if we cut God out of the equation, and sometimes, we need to just keep on praying, no matter what.
There’s opportunity to do that at the ‘Churches Together’ prayer meeting today at GPCC at 1.45 p.m. Do join us to pray.

Living According To God’s Will (Pt 2)

This evening, we looked again at the subject of living according to God’s will, highlighting four areas which the Bible explicitly teaches us are God’s will for His people:

  1. The need to love unconditionally (see John 13:34-35, 1 John 3:1-2, 16-18). We love because God first loved us, but this love needs to be practical (see also Matt 25:40). No matter what our love language, we must learn to love not only our friends, family and other believers but even our enemies (Matt 5:44-45)
  2. The need to forgive freely (Matt 6:12-15) – even if this means repeatedly forgiving! (see Matt 18:21-35). Again, our forgiveness flows from the fact that God has forgiven us (Col 3:13, Eph 4:32). It does not mean we pretend nothing bad has happened or condone sin, but we leave God to sort out the judgment and punishment and build bridges, becoming peacemakers.
  3. The need to be holy (1 Thess 4:3-6, 1 Pet 1:15-16). This includes sexual purity (see 1 Cor 6:18-20) and means finding out what pleases God so that we can refuse to conform to the world’s standards. (1 Pet 1:14)
  4. The need to do good (1 Pet 2:15, Eph 2:10) so that others can see God’s light.

It can be hard to discover God’s personal will for our lives, but as always, we need to listen for the voice of the good Shepherd and know that He will direct us (Is 30:21) As we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our hearts and lead us in right paths.

United We Stand

‘United we stand, divided we fall.’

This slogan has much truth in it. Unity is highly prized in the Bible (see Ps 133, Eph 4:3) and should be the aim of all Christians. Jesus prayed for unity among His followers based on the very unity that exists in the Godhead. (John 17:20-23)

Unity implies wholeness and togetherness, but is not the same as uniformity. The diversity within the church is God-given and to be embraced in the same way that a body is made up of many different functioning parts but is still one body (see Rom 12:4-8, 1 Cor 12:12-26). ‘Churches Together’ accepts this diversity in form (how we choose to worship, sometimes with liturgy and choral music, sometimes with spontaneous prayers and modern songs, for example) but strives to work together on core truths, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

The church is meant to be the place where unity and diversity fit together like pieces of a jigsaw, where all are accepted and valued, but a common, higher purpose is served.

Unity within an individual is also necessary. This is often called integrity, wholeness or congruence, when how we live is not compartmentalised. We are called to wholeness and not to fragmentation, to lives that are undivided. David prayed, ‘Give me an undivided heart’ (Ps 86:11), a prayer which is the first step to unity in every area of our lives.

Destiny

Dave spoke this morning from Matthew 17:22-23 on the subject of destiny. Often, we ask ourselves the question ‘What will tomorrow bring?’, and even try to find out the answers ourselves. Some ways of doing this – horoscopes, consulting mediums etc. – are wrong, but Jesus knew that His destiny was to die. He told His disciples this on many occasions, but they failed to understand. Jesus was steadfast, knowing that God’s plan for His life meant increasing opposition and ultimately a painful death.

This was not simply random or the consequence of evil men, but part of God’s plan for our salvation. Christ’s suffering worked for our benefit. He was punished for our sin by death, but this led to our freedom and life. Jesus was condemned and suffered not only the physical agonies of crucifixion but the sense of being cut off from God. He embraced this as His future (Heb 12:2), knowing what it would achieve for us.

Our destiny, therefore, is not a mystery. Our destiny ultimately is determined by our relationship with Jesus, by the decisions we make to follow the truth and to embrace Him.

Life Lessons

1 Samuel 26 sees us back in familiar territory, with this chapter almost a re-run of 1 Samuel 24. David, hunted by Saul for so long now, once again has the opportunity to dispose of his enemy if he wants to (and Abishai, his loyal servant and nephew, is more than willing to take the decision out of his hands and do the deed himself.) But David refuses to contemplate laying a hand on the Lord’s anointed and absolutely refuses to harm Saul, taking a spear and water jug as proof that he was close enough to harm him if he had wanted to, but assuring Saul subsequently that harming him has never been on his agenda. Once again, David appeals to his actions and integrity and assures Saul that he has nothing to fear from him.

We might wonder why life is repetitive and tends to throw the same problems at us, but learning lessons often takes time. We see this in school; it’s why we have to tackle the same problems (maybe with different clothing!) over and over again before we truly master them. We see this so often in our daily lives. Learning to trust God, learning to rely on His power rather than our own, learning to walk by faith and not by sight are all lessons we find difficult to master, and so God often brings us back to the same kind of problem. In 1 Samuel 24, there was perhaps a part of David that would have liked to ‘sort’ the problem himself (hence the cutting of the corner of Saul’s robe); now, he is firmly of the opinion that God will sort Saul out: ‘“As surely as the Lord lives,” he said, “the Lord himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go.”’ (1 Samuel 26:10-11)

David was slowly learning that God was in sovereign control and that he needed to learn both patience and how to handle power. Both are vitally important to our spiritual growth. The impulsive, sort-it-my-way approach to power is not God’s way; even Jesus Himself did not come to be served but to serve. (Mark 10:45) Dictating our timescales onto God also does not work, for there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the sun. (Eccl 3:1) David knew all about the agony of waiting (see Ps 13:1-2) but he was also slowly learning that waiting for God is not the same as simply being passive. Waiting and hoping are inextricably linked in the Bible, and as Eugene Peterson writes, ‘Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusions. It is not compelled to work away at keeping up appearances with a bogus spirituality. It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying.And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith. It is a willingness to let God do it his way and in his time.’ (Eugene Peterson, ‘The Journey’)

 

We may feel a sense of déjà vu about this chapter, but its lessons of patience, submission and humility are ones that definitely need to be grasped by 21st century disciples.