Summary: God uses His word, the Holy Spirit, and circumstances to direct us.
Bob Munford tells of a certain Italian harbor that can be reached only by sailing up a narrow channel between dangerous rocks and shoals. Over the years, many ships have wrecked, and navigation is hazardous. To guide the ships safely into port, three lights have been mounted in the harbor on three huge poles. When the three lights are perfectly lined up and seen as one, the ship can safely proceed up the narrow channel. If the pilot sees two or three lights, he knows he’s off course and in danger.
Mumford goes on to say that God has also provided three beacons to guide us. The same rules of navigation apply – the three lights must be lined up before it is safe for us to proceed. The three harbor lights of guidance are 1. The Word of God (objective standard) 2. The Holy Spirit (subjective witness) 3. Circumstances (divine providence)
Together, notes Mumford, they assure us that the directions we’ve received are from God and will lead us safely along His way.
20 years ago, on the last Sunday of the 1970’s, I stood before the congregation of the church where, nearly 14 years earlier, I was saved and preached my first sermon. I was a senior in college and I was just a week past my 22nd birthday.
The title of that sermon was, “What does it mean to do the Will of God?” and, while the text of that sermon was different than this one, I was drawn to think about that sermon because of the desire that I have had over the past twenty years ago to understand and experience God’s will.
20 years ago we were wrestling with high inflation, and a hostage situation in Iran that was now in its second month.
The job market was weak and my fellow college seniors and I were wondering where the jobs were.
I had some options – the military, graduate school, government service, business, education. But, God’s will was something different.
I also thought about which of the many fine young women I had dated would be honored to be my wife. But, God’s will, and, I supposed theirs as well, was something else.
As the years have passed, I still have been interested in understanding and experiencing God’s will, never dreaming that I would be standing in this place at this point in my life.
Using Mumford’s three harbor lights as a guide and outline, I want to have us think about why and how these three together help us discern, individually and corporately, God’s will.
Three passages of scripture will serve as the Biblical basis for understanding these three important parts of discerning God’s will.
The first passage is 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing that God wants us to do.”
It is said of Alexander White, a preacher of great renown from another generation, that when he was to old to enter the pulpit, he still arose every morning to prepare a sermon, even though he never preached them. He did so until the day he died.
We do not have to be a preacher to understand the value of Bible study. God has given to us a book of great importance.
The Bible contains absolutely everything that we need to clearly understand God’s will in this time and place. Nothing else available to us will provide us with such clear directions.
The 2 Timothy passage indicates why the Bible helps us discern and experience God’s will. First of all, God inspired it. The Bible is a book with a divine origin. It has stood the tests of time and attempted obliteration of those opposed to it. Because it is inspired by God, it is therefore a primary way to understand God and his purposes for humankind.
Second, it is God’s way of preparing us to do what is right – a key part of God’s will. Not only does the Bible reveal who God is and what His purposes are, but it also reveals what we are to do and how we are to live in light of God’s plans and purposes.
But, how to we read God’s word in order to understand and experience His will?
Martin Luther wrote, “I study my Bible like I gather apples. First, I shake the whole tree that the ripest may fall. Then I shake each limb, and when I have shaken each limb, I shake each branch and every twig. Then I look under every leaf. I search the Bible as a whole like shaking the whole tree. Then I shake every limb – study book after book. Then I shake every branch, giving attention to the chapters. Then I shake every twig, or a careful study of the paragraphs and sentences and words and their meanings.”