What is God’s Will for Me?

 

“What is God’s will for me?” As I speak with folks, this question often comes up.  Generally, there is some frustration in their voice.  They have been praying and seeking direction, but somehow the answer seems to elude them.

We pastor-types tend to make this out to be pretty heady stuff, this trying to figure out what God’s will is.  In many cases, we have made it a more complicated issue than God intends it to be.

To help us get our minds around this topic, let’s start with the big picture and work from there.  With this wide-angle lens with can say with 100 percent clarity that God’s will is for every person to come to know Him as Savior.  His has spelled this out in the familiar John 3:16 as Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  The Apostle Peter also tells us; The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).

The Bible clearly establishes that God’s heart is for all people to come to Him, acknowledging their need of a Savior.  It really is that simple, God’s immeasurable love is always on display through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is an open invitation to absolutely everyone.  If you are reading this and you have come to know God’s forgiveness, I rejoice with you!  But like those old Ronco veg-a-matic tv commercials, “Wait, there’s more!”

To find it we must begin to look at the  picture with a narrow focus lens; that being God’s will for your life now that He has called you to His fold.  Once again, we can find some straight forward instruction as to how to do this from the Bible: Be joyful always; 17pray continually; 18give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV).

Sounds simple enough as at first glance it appears God is saying to keep a bright outlook most of the time, pray a lot, and remember to say thank you when someone does something nice for you.  But if you will read those three little verses again, you will find that God is saying much more about what His will is for you.  We are not to qualify or justify our actions by self-righteously deciding to withhold our gratitude, not bothering to pray or opting to be sour instead of joyful.

Realizing God’s will for us in these things is a full-time and faith-filled response to the above mentioned love the Almighty offers to each of us.  Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as: Being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (emphasis added).

The faith that is borne at our salvation brings us the surety of eternal life and makes us certain of that which we cannot see with our physical eyes.  Saying yes to Jesus allows us to know the truth of the Scriptures.  In the context of knowing God’s will we can then find the comfort of: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28 NIV). As the power of that verse sinks more deeply into your heart, we can better see how we are to be joyful always, for even as things may be bleak or painful around us, we have God’s promise that He is working things out ultimately for our good!

The instruction to pray continually does not mean to be reciting prayers non-stop, but rather to be aware of the presence of God always.  The more we do this, the more likely we are to be in a constant conversation with Him.  I encourage you to simply try living in the constant awareness of God’s presence.  Conversation for most of us comes much easier with someone we are familiar or comfortable with.  We have established God’s will for you is to be in contact with Him.  It becomes possible if you are willing.

The third piece of knowing God’s will, we are told, is to give thanks in all circumstances.  Here again we experience the tension between what we are currently going through and the higher call of being thankful always.  The Expositor’s Commentary explains it this way: We need to recognize that seeming aggravations are but a temporary part of a larger plan for our spiritual well-being. Out of this perspective we can always discern a cause for thanks.  I’m not saying this is easy for any of us to do, in fact it’s downright impossible on my own.  Ah, enter faith! God is bigger than what my circumstances of the moment are!

Having said all this, you will note that I still have not given you specific insight into what God’s will is for you.  The reason is simple:  That’s not for me to do! I would suggest, however, that if you will incorporate the instruction given about being joyful always, praying continually and being thankful in all things, you will find yourself much closer to God on a daily basis.  As He nurtures your relationship to Him, your faith will grow. As it does, your ability to see and trust His purpose for your life will increase, revealing His wonderfully personal will to you!

77 times?

 

Many times I have written or spoken about the fact that a person who follows Jesus is much more involved with relationship, not religion.  This is not ‘my take’ on this subject, it is the very heart of the Lord.  We can see this in a short discussion He has with Peter in Matthew 18:21-22: Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Now on the surface it appears that Jesus is in fact giving a mathematical formula for how we are to dole out forgiveness.  Thankfully, He was not.  To best understand what is going on here, we need a little context.  A helpful hint I like to use is to imagine myself in the conversation, as it is taking place.  In this case, this is two Jewish men talking about forgiving someone who wrongs you.  The religious code of that time held that you were to forgive a person three times.  After that, you did not forgive them and basically you were to treat them as if they didn’t exist.

Knowing this, and the fact that Peter has now been living with and learning from Jesus for over two years, we get some insight into Peter’s ‘growth.’  The rule says up to three times, so Peter, feeling spiritual, offers four additional pardons!  Oh Peter, like so many still do today, you missed the point.  It seems like the ‘scorecard’ mentality for religion isn’t a new phenomenon.

I’m not finding fault with Peter, for I too like to have something tangible to hang my hat on.  Some type of cosmic scorecard sounds appropriate.  I can keep a list of all the wrongs done me and can cross-reference the names with those who have sought my forgiveness.  The problem with this approach is that my list will always be considerably longer because many of the injuries done me will be known only to me!

What Jesus is teaching is the exact opposite of keeping score.  Rather than having a running account of wrongs done to you up to seventy-seven times, the Lord tells us that forgiveness cannot be quantified or qualified in any way.  It is a matter of our heart, and it is a matter of choice.

 

The relational (heart) piece of forgiveness starts when we take a grander view of just what forgiveness is.  Remember, you are in the conversation as it is taking place and though you don’t know it yet, this is the Savior of the world who is speaking with Peter.  What an advantage we have now, living as it were on ‘this side’ of the cross.  Here we know that the ultimate price has been paid through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This is forgiveness in the biggest picture!

The basic point is this: we who have been forgiven much ought to be most forgiving of others.  If you read on in Chapter 18 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus makes this point clearly in telling the parable of the unmerciful servant.  This guy, who owed millions, begged the king to forgive his debt because he couldn’t possibly pay it back.  The king mercifully wipes the slate clean, only to have this fellow have someone thrown in debtor’s prison who owed him a mere fraction of what he had just been freed of.

This is what we are to keep in mind regarding forgiveness.  Because Jesus has forgiven us the debt we could never repay, we ought never quantify the forgiveness we extend to others.  Our hearts, being humbly aware of the mercy we have been shown, are to share the love of the Lord as we forgive others.

Giving forgiveness is also a choice.  Knowing what I know about it, I can still self-righteously withhold my forgiveness.  I put myself in the judgment seat and decree that someone wasn’t sincere, or they waited too long or, whatever.  Once I sit in that particular chair, I have lost the whole point Jesus is teaching us.

Who is it that is ultimately harmed by my unforgiving attitude? Me.  If I decide to harbor ill-will and resentment toward someone, it eats away at me, not them.  They can go about their life not even knowing I have allowed them rent free access to my mind, where my tortured thoughts of veiled retribution keep me hopelessly bound in anger.

Jesus came to set us free from the power of sin and from ourselves! He speaks of this several times in John Chapter 8: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” and, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:31-32, 36 NIV).  Once freed from the sentence of death our sinfulness deserves, we begin to realize the wondrous gift Jesus has given us.  He has freely loved us, providing the ultimate sacrifice as proof.  Living in this awareness, can we be so petty as to resist forgiving others?

The bible also tells us to not keep an account of the wrongs done to us.  The Apostle Paul, in writing what has become a familiar verse read at weddings says of love: It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it in not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV).  This we ought to take to heart, for we only waste our time mulling over the things of the past instead of living in the present.

Let the scorecard of the wrongs and slights be gone.  If you can get rid of it, the freedom Jesus offers will become much clearer to you.  Who wants to keep track of up to seventy-seven sins against you anyway? Instead, try to keep in the forefront of your heart and mind the only number that matters; 0.  This is what God sees wrong with you if you have accepted Jesus as your Savior.  The Lord wipes clean your eternal slate, and then He throws it away! Savor this indescribable gift the Savior gives.  As you do, you will find that by extending forgiveness whenever and wherever allows you to stay all the more focused on loving God, and others!

Be Careful What You Pray For (you might just get it!)

Jesus had much to say about prayer. The New Testament has many examples of His teaching others how to pray. Not only did the Lord frequently teach on this important topic, He modeled what a devoted prayer life ought to look like.
The gospel accounts record Jesus praying at various times, from early in the morning and also late at night. Jesus prayed often, which should encourage us to do the same.
My focus for this article is the fact that Jesus also prayed with great faith. He did not pray hoping that God the Father might hear Him. Instead, Jesus prayed as if He were talking directly to God (which He was!). Jesus knew, as we must, that our all-powerful and all-knowing God supernaturally is able to communicate with all people simultaneously. For us to be aware of this awesome fact is a gift of faith, for my finite mind can in no way get around it, yet in my heart I know it to be true.
Allow me to share the true story of how I became certain that God hears all our prayers and hence the title of this blog: Be careful what you pray for, because you might just get it!
A little background first to help you get the full impact of the way God opened my eyes and heart to his prayer answering ways. In May of 1991 I was admitted to a de-tox facility as the first step in my recovery from alcoholism. After spending three weeks there I was feeling so much better physically, and through the care of the professionals on staff, I was becoming aware that my only hope for long-term sobriety was to admit my total defeat at the hands of booze and to trust in a Higher Power to give me the strength I would need to stay sober each day.
As a child, my parents had dragged me to church with them every Sunday. Though it meant nothing to me then, apparently the stories I had heard repeated there stuck with me as did the messages of hope I had heard, for in those early days of treatment I came to know that Jesus Christ was indeed this Higher Power. (I am blessed these days to know Him as the Highest Power!) I began then a habit that continues to this day; in my morning prayers I ask that He give me the strength I need to stay sober today. Nearly 27 years later, He has perfectly filled my request each and every day.
But I’ve gotten a little ahead of the story. My prayers at the beginning of my new life, though consistent, lacked any real depth. I knew what I needed, for me and my family, and I asked. God graciously responded. It was one particular response that I want to share with you that truly opened my eyes to how closely God listens to us and how He patterns His response in the way that best speaks to us individually.
After de-tox I spent another 28 days in a rehab facility. This I know now was another blessing as I was able to begin to deal with the disease I had. I was learning about the damage it had done to me and to those closest to me, especially my wife and our firstborn child.
Those who are familiar with the ravages of addiction know full well the scope of this damage. My wife, one of the greatest gifts God has given me, decided early on to stick with me, offering gracious support as she herself began a journey of recovery from the effects my illness.
Though we committed to each other to go all-in on this new opportunity for life we were given, it was not going to be easy. My drinking had ruined us financially. As I emerged from treatment, we were faced with a huge financial burden. I owed in excess of $100,000 in back taxes (a sizable sum in 1991) and we had no income. We had to rely on Social Services and the kindness of family and friends just to stay fed and to have a place to live in the summer of 1991.
I have come to see the truth in scriptures like Jeremiah 32:17 which says nothing is too hard for God. Our situation was indeed dire, but not impossible to overcome. God did (and does) have a plan for each of us.
I began to more fully experience God’s mercy after I finished my 28-day in-patient rehab. Out of work and with few marketable skills, God stepped in. A good friend had a well-placed friend in one of the three nuclear power plants nearby. With the right strings pulled, I was hired as a temporary employee for a position that was to last 6 months.
There was a slight problem, however, I didn’t have a car to get there and back. Again, no problem for God, as He provided one. Another friend in our small town was aware of our troubles and sold us his 1975 Chevy Chevelle for $100. This car was a true winter-rat. The driver’s side door didn’t open from the outside, there was no floor board in back and the catalytic converter caused the passenger-side carpet to smolder after about 15 miles.
Here’s where I learned the lesson that God does have a sense of humor, as in hindsight I came to understand about being careful what I pray for. This junker of a car was well beyond my ability to fix if anything else went wrong with it. So I prayed, “God please keep this thing running for 6 months so that I can get back and forth to work.”
The job started on October 8th, 1991. It went well and with lots of overtime worked we started to chip away at the mountain of debt I brought on us. That Chevelle ran all winter, getting me through some horrendous snowstorms along the way.
April 7th, 1992 was my last day of employment there. I got out of work early and stopped at the noon AA meeting here in town. I got into my car when the meeting ended, and it would not start. It was dead; no life, no horn, no nothing. Then with a smile I remembered my prayer. God had answered it alright, to the minute! That car ran for 6 months, exactly as I had asked God to do.
I share this account to encourage everyone who prays to never sell God short. He does listen to us and He does respond, just not always as we expect or even hope.
I’ll conclude for today with what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Ephesus:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21

The List

‘A’ list celebrities, bucket lists, grocery lists; even Santa Claus has a list. His being so important we are told through song that he checks it twice! We have Top 40 lists, honey-do lists, greatest plays lists, blooper lists and play lists on our electronic devices. For organization, we often list things alphabetically. Lists are seemingly everywhere, as many aspects of our lives seem to be in list form.
I for one am a list maker. I find my most productive days are ones in which I have made a list of the things I want/need to get done. Driven by equal parts memory retention issues and my orderly nature, I seem to work best when I can see my goals written out.
I will also admit to a certain satisfaction when an item gets scratched off the list at its completion. I’ll leave for another time a discussion of my tendency at days end, as I review the list, to write in other things I have gotten done that were not originally on it; just so I can scratch them off too!
The Bible contains many lists too. The Book of Exodus (chapter 20) records God giving Moses the Ten Commandments, making it safe to assume that God favors lists as well. The Almighty, having created us to be favorably disposed to using lists, gives us His Law in 1 through 10 form.
Jesus himself was also inclined to using lists to teach people. The 12th Chapter of the Gospel according to Mark records a conversation between the Lord and one of the Jewish teachers of the Law that gives evidence of Jesus using a list as a valuable teaching tool.
(The teacher asked him), “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Jesus not only gives the answer as a list of two things, He goes even further and prioritizes them. In brief, Jesus tells us to place God first, others next and then ourselves in our plans. When Jesus lists things is a particular order, it’s a good bet He did so for a reason: For us to follow it as is!
Here lies the key for all us list makers/followers: Priorities. A list loses most of its ability to be a guide for us if there is no order to the items on it. For example, if I place mowing the lawn ahead of making a bank deposit in the checkbook to cover rent, the lack of priority may have repercussions for me. So as important as listing making and following it is for me, without a thought-out plan to do all these things, I may still end up merely chasing my tail.
Some years ago, my wife Betsy came up with a brilliant yet practical idea to help me get and keep my priorities in order regarding my lists. As a Christmas present, you gave me a 5’ x 7’ pocket notebook. On the top of every page, she printed the name Jesus; giving me an instant and on-going reminder to always place Jesus at the top of all my plans:
Jesus
1………………………………………
2………………………………………
3………………………………………
4………………………………………
What a great gift! It helps me in several ways. (Here comes another list!):
Serves as a reminder to pray about how I spend my time.
With Jesus at the top, my priorities are already in order. No matter
how urgent/important an item I put on the list, Jesus is already on top
of it
Allows me to continue using a method that has been successful for me.
Gives me a conversation starter when talking lists with others.
If you are reading this and are already a follower of Jesus Christ, I hope the sharing of my ‘Jesus’ list helps you to remember where to keep your focus. I know it does that for me, especially when I check my list and it seems to be growing as time passes instead of decreasing. I can take a deep breath and pray that the God helps me to re-focus on the most important item on it, Him!
But if you are not (yet) a believer in Jesus, I hope these thoughts on prioritizing your to-do list is helpful. I will be praying that the day comes soon that Jesus will be atop all your lists as well. (BTW, I just added you to my prayer list to receive salvation!)

Giving Thanks

I am a big fan of the Thanksgiving Holiday, though maybe not in the more traditional sense. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy overeating the seasonal dishes served at this time, as well as the opportunity to visit with family and friends that I don’t get to see regularly. I also quite enjoy dozing off while ‘watching’ a football game after the big meal.
No, what really stirs me every late November is taking the time to intentionally thank God for the countless blessings He continues to pour on me, and to hear so many others doing the same as they too ponder the great depths of our always giving God.
Psalm 107, verse 1, captures what the position of a thankful heart should be: Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever. (NIV) Ultimately, all creation owes thanks to God simply because He is good. Yes, I believe it is right and proper to thank Him for individual blessings, but truly our whole countenance ought to be thanking Him always, simply because He is good and that His love endures forever.
However, the thanks we give to God is not quite like the thanks we give to one another. It is customary in our culture to say, ‘Thank you’ to the person who has done a kindness toward us. This is of course proper. We ought never forget to acknowledge the thoughtfulness of another. It is not the giving of thanks that is to be different with God, but the order in which we do it.
The Bible teaches that we are simply to be thankful to God. This tells me that I need not wait until God delivers on a promise, but rather I am to be thankful regardless of my circumstance. The Apostle Paul captured this idea in his letter to the Philippians: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Phil. 4:6 NIV).
Did you catch it? We are to offer our thanksgiving with our request. This is a great reminder of what our heart position needs to be in relation to God. We are not to think of Him as merely a cosmic giver of gifts from afar, but rather as Someone with whom we can, and should be, having daily fellowship with.
When we align our hearts in proper to submission to God, we will find what Paul says next to be reality in our lives: And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7 NIV). God promises His peace, even if the answer to our prayer happens to be no. Giving thanks to God, then, is to be the normal and natural expression of our faith. He is the Creator of all, and His desire is to have close relationship with His creation. And He has made this wonderful truth possible by bridging the gap between us and Him with His Son Jesus Christ. That fact alone gives us a lifetime of things to say thank you for.
But the giving of thanks is also an action that we should be taking often. One of the best ways we can express our gratitude to God is to provide care for others around us. We find this directive in James 1:27: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (NIV)
It has been said, correctly, that gratitude is an action word. By daily taking inventory of all God has blessed us with, humility should not be hard to come by. As we recognize the abundance He has shown us, it should become more natural that we honor Him by blessing others who are in need. God does indeed bless His faithful followers, but not simply for our pleasure or convenience, rather that His name may be given geater renown. Simply put, our thanks to God should be tangible. Yes, we are to thank Him in our prayers, but also in our actions.
So a Happy Thanksgiving to you from Lakeside Christian Ministries! May you enjoy the day with family, friends, food and fellowship. And remember to thank God, always and in everything!