UNDERSTANDING GOD’S WILL
INTRO.- ILL.- A preacher received a call from a church that offered him a salary four times what he was getting at his present church. Since he was a very devout and spiritual man, he spent much time in prayer trying to determine what God wanted him to do.
One day a friend was talking to the preacher’s son and he asked him, “Do you know what your dad is going to do?” “Well,” replied, the youngster, “DAD’S PRAYING, BUT MOM’S PACKING!”
HOW DOES A PERSON DISCERN GOD’S WILL FOR THEIR LIVES? For some people, it’s a matter of prayer and for others, it may well be a matter of money.
Money often speaks louder to people than God does. Many people decide what they are going to do in life based on the pay scale or “what’s-in-it-for-me” rather than honestly seeking God’s will. SELF IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN GOD.
ILL.- There was once an old Scottish woman who went from home to home across the countryside selling thread, buttons, and shoestrings. When she came to an unmarked crossroad, she would toss a stick into the air and go in the direction the stick pointed when it landed.
One day, however, she was seen tossing the stick up several times. "Why do you toss the stick more than once?" someone asked. "Because," replied the woman, "it keeps pointing to the left, and I want to take the road on the right."
That’s the way we are. “Lord, I’ll do anything you want as long as it’s what I want.”
We want to bend God’s will to meet our will or to become our will. Of course, I think we all know that God doesn’t work that way. He’s in charge, not us. We often stubbornly “do our own thing” and “go our own way,” even though we have a pretty good idea of God’s will for our lives.
ILL.- Dr. George L. Robinson taught for 41 years as a Professor of Hebrew and O.T. history as McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. When he was just a young man, he said, “I’LL GO WHEREVER THE LORD CALLS ME, BUT NOT TO CHICAGO.”
George Robinson did eventually go to Chicago and apparently, had a very successful career in teaching the Word of God. Was it God’s will for him to go there? We assume so. There came a time in Robinson’s life when he finally surrendered to the Lord and was willing to let Him lead. And that’s when God blessed Him in a great way!
Every Christian should want to know God’s will for their lives. To be in the center of God’s will is always the best place to be! It’s the place to be blessed by God, cared for by God, protected by God, and provided for by God!
WHAT IS GOD’S WILL FOR MY LIFE? All of us should want to know the answer to this question.
What does God want me to do in life? Where does He want me to live? Whom does he want me to marry? Should I go to college? If so, which college? Should I change jobs or stay with this one? Should I make this trip or not? What should I do about my financial situation? On and on, the questions go.
Brethren, God has promised in His Word that He will direct us if we seek His guidance.
Prov. 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.”
IN ALL YOUR WAYS, ACKNOWLEDGE HIM. That means check with the Lord before you do anything! Pray about every decision you make in life. Ask the Lord for His wisdom and direction. HE’S THE MAN! HE’S GOD! He knows all, sees all, understands all, and has all the right answers!
Ps. 25:4-5 “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior...”
SHOW ME. TEACH ME. GUIDE ME. For you are God.
In seeking God’s will for our lives there are two mistakes that people often make:
1- There is the popular idea that God has every detail of our lives prearranged.
It is the idea that we are not freewill agents and have no freedom of choice in life. This teaching was made popular by John Calvin, a French preacher of the 1500’s. It’s called “Calvinism.”
Many people believe that God has caused everything that happens to them in life. If this were true, then we wouldn’t have to worry about seeking God’s will. It would mean that God had control of everything we did and said. And common sense should tell us that “ain’t so.”
If God has control of everything in our lives then why do we make so many mistakes? Why do we sin so much?
IT’S BECAUSE GOD DOESN’T CONTROL EVERYTHING WE DO AND SAY! We are freewill agents. God has given us the freedom of choice in life.
ILL.- Even though I couldn’t find the parsonage the first time we drove into town, I have now discovered there are at least three ways that I can get to the parsonage at 2647 Brian Drive.
God does not have it prearranged for me to go my house a certain way or by a certain road. I have the freedom of choice. One way may be longer and slower, but God doesn’t care how I get there as long as I get there.
The same is true of our lives. God does not have our lives programmed like a road map where every detail of our lives is prearranged or predetermined. We have the freedom of choice in life! However, God does have a preference as to what we do in life and that’s what we’re supposed to discern or discover.
We need to acknowledge the power and wisdom of God, but we also need to understand the Biblical teaching of free will. God can and will direct us if we let Him. But we still have the free will to decide the direction we take in life.
2- A second mistake that people often make is thinking that God’s will is unpleasant.
Now granted, some things will be unpleasant in life if we follow the Lord.
ILL.- It was not pleasant for Joseph to be sold into slavery in Egypt. It was not pleasant for Daniel to be thrown in the lion’s den. It was not pleasant for Abraham to leave his home country and move somewhere he had never been before. It was not pleasant for Noah on that stinky ark. However, it was far better than the hellish storm on the outside!
Now the other side of the coin is this: God does bless us with a certain amount of pleasantness in life!
Ps. 16:5-6 “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, surely I have a delightful inheritance.”
Hey! I like that Scripture! My portion is secure. My portion is pleasant. I have a delightful inheritance. SOUNDS GOOD TO ME AND I BELIEVE IT!
No matter where we are, if we are seeking the will of God, life will be or can be pleasant for us!
Some people are afraid to surrender to the Lord because they think He will take all the joy and fun out of their lives! Some people think that if they follow the Lord He will make life miserable and unhappy for them. WRONG! I have personally found just the opposite to be true!
Following Christ is the most exciting adventure there is in life! And it’s the most fun! DOING GOD’S WILL IS NOT UNPLEASANT!
PROP.- In our text in Acts 16 there are three basic facts about God’s direction for our lives.
1- God usually leads through common sense
2- God sometimes leads through circumstances
3- God occasionally leads through dramatic revelation
I. GOD USUALLY LEADS THROUGH COMMON SENSE
ILL.- In 1937 architect Frank Lloyd Wright built a house for industrialist Hibbard Johnson. One rainy evening Johnson was entertaining distinguished guests for dinner when the roof began to leak.
The water seeped through directly above Johnson himself, dripping steadily onto his bald head. Irate, he called Wright in Phoenix, Arizona. "Frank," he said, "you built this beautiful house for me and we enjoy it very much. But I have told you the roof leaks, and right now I am with some friends and distinguished guests and it is leaking right on top of my head." Wright’s reply was heard by all of the guests. "Well, Hib, why don’t you move your chair?"
That was common sense advice and God generally leads us this way.
In our text, Paul is beginning his second missionary journey. He decided to take young Timothy with him. Verse 3 says that Paul circumcised Timothy because of the Jews who lived in that area. PAUL DID THIS BECAUSE IT MADE GOOD COMMON SENSE. If he hadn’t circumcised him he would have limited Timothy’s ministry.
I Cor. 9:22 “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”
Paul didn’t circumcise Timothy so he could be saved, but rather to help him minister more effectively to others. IT WAS A COMMON SENSE DECISION.
ILL.- Many years ago I went to Cabool, MO, to try out for the Cabool Christian Church. And I did it on the very Sunday they were having a going away party for the preacher whom they liked very much. DO I NEED TO SAY ANY MORE?
That “try out” was a flop. I preached a good sermon, a very good sermon. That Sunday afternoon they had a party for their “outgoing” preacher, which we attended. One of the elders said that he thought everything went well as far as my presentation was concerned. WELL, IT DIDN’T!
A week later I called that elder to find out how the vote went and he said the congregation voted 66% to accept me as their minister, which was not good enough. He said the elders blamed themselves for having me preach at that particular time. And I was dumb enough to go along with it!
What they did and what I did was not using good common sense! But that’s generally how God leads us in life! That’s why He gave us brains. Very good brains.
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Ps. 139:14 I am fearfully and wonderfully made, including my brain. Although some of you don’t believe that!
ILL.- Leslie Weatherhead once told about a man who prayed for God’s guidance. He said, “I prayed and prayed and prayed, but nothing happened. I finally just used my common sense and things worked out fine.”
Weatherhead said, “It didn’t occur to the man that God had given him a mind specifically for that purpose.”
God usually leads us through common sense. And, of course, the best of all sense comes from the Word of God.
ILL.- A man lived in a very low-lying area near a river. A man in a jeep drove up one day and said, “This area is about to be flooded. You need to get out of here!” The man replied, “I’ll just stay here and trust the Lord to take care of me.” And very soon the water was swirling around his front porch as he sat in his rocking chair.
Soon after that, a man came by in a boat, saying, “You need to get out of here. The water is getting higher and higher.” The man replied, “I’ll be okay. I’m just going to trust the Lord.”
Finally, the man ended up on his roof because of the rising water. It had already flooded his house. Suddenly, a helicopter appeared overhead and lowered a chair so he could be taken to safety. He shouted back, “It’s okay. I’ll stay here. I’m trusting the Lord to take care of me.”
Well, the man drowned and in heaven, he complained to the Lord that He hadn’t take care of him. And the Lord said, “Hey! I sent you a jeep, a boat and a helicopter. WHAT ELSE DID YOU WANT ME TO DO?”
God usually leads us through common sense!
II. GOD SOMETIMES LEADS THROUGH CIRCUMSTANCES
ILL.- My daughter Holly went to Lincoln Christian College in Lincoln, IL. One day, she and three other students (2 boys and 2 girls) were horsing around, playing with a soccer ball. A young man named Chris Santasiere kicked the ball really hard and it hit right on the end of my daughter’s nose! OUCH! No blood, only pain and agony.
That was in the fall of 1993 and in December of 1994 she married that young man. THAT PARTICULAR CIRCUMSTANCE STARTED A ROMANCE WHICH ENDED IN MARRIAGE.
So, young people, I am saying if you want to meet the right person to marry you must play soccer!
Holly and Chris appear to be happily married. It was a hit! She’s bossy and he’s not! And no, she didn’t get that from me, because I’m not bossy!!!!! DO YOU HEAR ME?
Seriously, I couldn’t ask for a better son-in-law. Well, maybe a richer one perhaps. And I have the most beautiful granddaughter in the world. DON’T ARGUE WITH ME ABOUT THAT!
I do believe that God leads through certain circumstances.
ILL.- While working as the Assistant Manager at the Silk Tree Factory in Cape Girardeau, MO, a man who had attended the Anna, IL, church came by to see me. He said, “Steve, the Plumfield Christian Church in West Frankfort is needing a preacher. Why don’t you call Benny Gayer who is an elder there? I think they would be interested in having you as their preacher.”
I called Benny Gayer and he asked me to come and preach. I DID AND THEY HIRED ME IMMEDIATELY.
God sometimes leads us through certain circumstances. The circumstance was: a friend who was concerned about that church and me got us together. DOES GOD USE PEOPLE TO REVEAL HIS WILL? He sure does. If the shoe fits, wear it, they say. And that shoe fit very well.
Acts 16:6 Paul was “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the Word in the province of Asia.”
Up to this point, Paul apparently went wherever he wanted to go. He did what seemed best to him. Now, he wanted to go to Ephesus, but the Holy Spirit hindered him somehow.
Vs. 7 “They tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.”
Some people think that the Holy Spirit spoke to Paul in an audible voice, like “Don’t go that way, Paul!” And I certainly don’t want to limit God and say that He didn’t do that or can’t do that.
God can do whatever He wants, because He is God. And if He did speak to Paul audibly through the Holy Spirit I wish He would do that for me too!
However, there is a good possibility that Paul just encountered a series of closed doors. Maybe he got sick and couldn’t go. Perhaps the boat trip got canceled or the Jews opposed him. Whether it was an inner feeling or an outer frustration, the result was the same. Paul couldn’t do what he intended to do.
God wasn’t telling Paul where He wanted him to go. He was just telling him where He didn’t want him to go. Sometimes the Lord’s “no” leads to His ultimate “yes.”
ILL.- A man said he lost an excellent job in sales because a company went out of business. So he prayed for God’s guidance and looked for another job, but nothing opened up.
Finally, the ideal job came his way. He just knew it was God’s will for him. He prayed and prayed. Out of 300 applicants he got down to the final two, and then he didn’t get the job. And nothing else opened up. He said, “Finally, I took a job in insurance, the one field I said I would never go into, and now I’m beginning to see that God’s hand was in it.”
ILL.- Another example. Wallace Johnson, a builder of numerous Holiday Inn Motels and convalescent hospitals, said, “When I was forty years old, I worked in a sawmill. One morning the boss told me, ‘You’re fired!’ Depressed and discouraged, I felt like the world had caved in on me. It was during the depression and my wife and I greatly needed the small wages I had been earning.”
“When I went home, I told my wife what happened. She asked, ‘What are you going to do now?’ I replied, ‘I’m going to mortgage our little home, and go into the building business.’
“My first venture was the construction of two small buildings. And within five years I was a multi-millionaire!”
“Today, if I could find the man who fired me, I would sincerely thank him for what he did. At the time it happened, I didn’t understand why I was fired. Later, I saw that it was God’s unerring and wondrous plan.”
Sometimes God’s “no” is ultimately His “yes.” That closed door, that lost job, that sickness, that terminated relationship, etc. may just be the protection and direction of God!
III. GOD OCCASIONALLY MAY LEAD THROUGH DRAMATIC REVELATION
ILL.- A Jewish rabbi, a Catholic priest and a minister were discussing church giving. The rabbi said, “After our collection, I draw a big circle and throw all the money into the air. What lands inside the circle we use for God’s work. Whatever lands outside the circle we use for ourselves.”
The priest said that they followed the same procedure in his church. “In our church,” the minister said, “we believe in miracles. We also draw a circle and throw the money into the air. THEN WE LET GOD DECIDE HOW MUCH HE WANTS TO KEEP.”
Brethren, if we threw our church offering in the air and God kept it, that would be a dramatic revelation. THAT WOULD BE A TRAUMATIC REVELATION!
Vs. 9-10 “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave....”
Paul had a dramatic revelation from God.
I’ve never had a vision, but I’ve dreamed a lot. In fact, I’ve woke in the middle of the night many times with a great idea for a sermon. I got up and wrote it down and it generally turned out to be good. BUT I’VE NEVER HAD A VISION LIKE PAUL DID. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, but it’s never happened to me.
ILL.- Preacher Knofel Staton tells about a time when he and two other preachers were attending a meeting in Knoxville, TN. He said, “One day we decided to use the lunch break to eat a quick lunch and then visit Johnson Bible College, which was only a few miles away.
“On the way to the college, we kept looking for an eating place where we could be served quickly. When a place was spotted that looked promising, someone would say, ‘That looks too expensive,’ or ‘It doesn’t look clean,’ or ‘It probably would take forever to be served.’
“At the end of one block I noticed the sigh ‘Mom’s Cafe” and said, ‘Hey, let’s stop here and get some home cooking.’ The preacher who was driving, looked to the left to see it. A second later we rammed into the back of the car ahead, which had stopped at the traffic light. The little foreign car in which we were riding could not be driven another foot, but we were right in front of ‘Mom’s Cafe.’
“Was God trying to show us that this was the right place to eat, or was He trying to stop us from visiting Johnson Bible College? Or was it God’s doing at all? PERHAPS IT WAS THE PREACHER’S FAULT FOR NOT WATCHING THE TRAFFIC!”
Brethren, God occasionally may lead us through dramatic revelation, but this story is not a story about a dramatic revelation from God.
ILL.- One Christian man who relied on impressions went out to buy a used car. He prayed the Lord would help him to find the right one. That night he had a dream in which everything was yellow. So the next day he went out and bought the first yellow car he could find. AND SURE ENOUGH, IT WAS A LEMON!
ILL.- A lady wondered if she should visit the Holy Land. She was afraid because of all airplane crashes. She woke in the morning and her digital clock read 7:47. So she said, “Well, that must mean I’m supposed to take a 747 plane.”
Paul Little said, “I get nervous when people imply a private pipeline to God. The words ‘God led me” are often merely the spiritual preference of our own self-centeredness.”
ILL.- John Wesley said, “Do not hastily ascribe things to God. Do not easily suppose that dreams, voices, visions, or impressions are revelations from God. They may be from Him. They may be from nature. They may be from the devil. Therefore, do not believe every spirit but try the spirits to see whether they are from God.”
ILL.- An old sea captain was asked, “How it is that you can navigate this dangerous channel at night without ever going aground?” The captain said, “You see those buoys out there in the water? When those three buoys merge into one ahead of me I know that I am in the channel.”
Brethren, there are three signs that we can use to know that we are in the channel of God’s will:
1- First, is it in accord with Scripture?
ILL.- Vance Havner said, “We’ve heard that statement countless time, ‘it all depends on how you look at it.’ Nothing depends on how we look at it. That is anarchy with every man as his own judge. Everything depends on how God looks at it, and what He says about it in His Word.”
2- Second, are the doors opening up? Or do you have to pry them open?
A. W. Tozer said, “If the Lord is in it, it flows. If it is forced, it is of the flesh.”
If our doors don’t open with a reasonable amount of effort, then we need to back off.
3- Third, is it what you want? If you have ability in a certain area or you really like something and everything has fallen into place, then God is probably leading you.
ILL.- A man said, “Years ago I lived in a small town where I could never buy anything to fit me. I used to send to a store for what I needed, and they would send me printed order forms. At the bottom of the forms were the words, ‘IF WE DO NOT HAVE THE ITEM IN STOCK, MAY WE PLEASE SUBSTITUTE?’
“Once I said, ‘Yes,’ and they wrote back, ‘We are sorry we do not have your item in stock, but we are substituting...’” The man said, “And they sent me something that was worth double the price I paid. As a rule, whenever they substituted, they always sent something of better quality.”
Brothers and sisters, one important thing we must remember when trying to determine God’s will for our lives is this: When we pray for direction, we must be willing to say, ‘YES, LORD, YOU MAY SUBSTITUTE WHAT I WANT FOR ANYTHING ELSE.’”
“Lord, this is what I want, BUT THY WILL BE DONE.”
When we truly mean these words, God will direct us and bless our lives. And in ways we never thought possible!