Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Understanding God's Will" synopsis

            “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  (Romans 12:1-2)
            We all want to know what God’s Will is, don’t we?  But do we really know what we are asking?  Are we willing to put in the required effort to know it?
            Usually, when we want to know God’s Will, we want to know what our next step is or what plans God has in store for our future.  We think of “His Will” as “His plans for our life.” 
            But is that how the Bible defines “God’s Will”?

            Does “God’s Will” mean what He wants for us/asks of us?  Is it His plans for our lives?  Is it whatever happens because God always does His Will, such as “Well, it must have been God’s Will that I got pregnant . . . or lost my job . . . or that our house got destroyed in a tornado, etc.”? 
            Personally, I think that “His Will” is not necessarily about His future plans for us and it’s not really whatever happens to us.  I think it is most accurately defined as what He desires.  It’s what He wants for us (the choices He wants us to make and the path He wants us to take and the blessings He wants us to obtain, etc.), and it’s what He desires from us (living God-glorifying lives and being obedient, etc.).
            His Will isn’t about some pre-set path that we have to figure out in prayer, crying out to God, “Lord, what is Your Will for my life?”  It’s bigger than that.  And. yet, smaller.  It’s about how He wants us to live daily - abiding in Him, walking with Him in daily obedience to Him and His Word.  It’s more about the moment than it is about the future.  About the small daily things than the huge future things. 
            And if we are living as He wants us to live daily, “the next step on our path” will become clear . . . as we walk with Him. 
            But if we just focus on finding “the next step” instead of being more concerned with how we walk with Him daily, we will be off-track.  We are pursuing the wrong thing.  Yes, it’s great to want to know what His plans are for our lives, but He doesn’t reveal those before it is time.  He doesn’t often explain why He’s allowed something in our lives and where it will take us. 
            But He will reveal to us how we are supposed to live today, how we can be obedient today and what changes we need to make and how we can walk closer to Him.  Focus on that, and the next step becomes clear when it needs to become clear and we will always be on the path He wants us to take. 
            I also think we are off-track to think of His Will as “whatever happens must be God’s Will.”  Living like we have no effect on whether God’s Will gets done or not because He always does His Will regardless of us will cause us to be lazy in our daily pursuit of God, lazy in prayer, lazy in obedience, and lazy in reading and applying His Word. 
            But if He is just going to do whatever He wants anyway and if everything that happens is “His Will” then it doesn’t matter what we do, right? 
            Wrong!  God is very clear that our obedience is critical in obtaining the blessings He wants us to have, in staying on the path He wants us to take, in staying in His Will for us.
            Consider the Israelites at Passover.  It was God’s Will that they be spared when the Angel of Death came and killed the firstborn of the Egyptians.  But in order for God’s Will to be done, they had to be obedient in putting the blood of a lamb on their doorframe.  God had a Will, but it was carried out by the people’s obedience.
            God’s Will was to get the Israelites from Egypt into Canaan.  But in order for this to happen, Moses had to be obedient in getting them set free and the people had to be obedient in following him to the promised land.  Disobedience and a resistance to follow Moses was equal to resisting God’s Will and plans, and they earned themselves death through an extended stay in the desert.  Had they just obeyed and followed God’s directions, they would have obtained the blessing. 
            But God’s Will was still accomplished; He took the next generation of Israelites into the promised land because they were willing and obedient.  
            Getting God’s Will done requires our obedience, a responsibility on our part to follow Him in His plans for us, to live as He wants us to live.  He does not force His Will upon us and not everything that happens is because He planned it that way, because He caused it, or because it was His Will.  The Israelites didn’t have to die off in the desert, but they resisted doing it God’s way.  Yet, God made a way to accomplish His ultimate Will for the people, just with the next group of willing people.  

            Let’s look again at Romans 12:1-2: 
            “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
            Out of thankfulness for the mercy that God has shown us, we are to live holy and pleasing lives as God calls us to (this is what I call seeking righteousness or living righteously).  We are to sacrifice our desires and plans for His sake and for His kingdom, offering our bodies to be used by Him and for His purposes.  And this includes our minds, which we are to transform and renew by the power of the Holy Spirit. 
            This is to be our daily lifestyle. 
            We need to get our hearts and minds in line with Him.  And this can only really happen when we choose to stop conforming to the world.  We can’t do both: have our minds conformed to the world and transformed by the Holy Spirit.  But when we choose to let go of our worldly pursuits and mindsets - when we seek righteousness, holiness, and God’s Kingdom and seek to be pleasing and submissive to Him - we give the Spirit room to come in and transform us.  And it is then that we can discern God’s perfect Will for our lives, what He wants for us and from us and the ways that He wants us to walk.  And then, it’s up to us to obey!  And as we walk in obedience, the path will become straight and we will know the “next steps” when it is time.

            “If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm.”  (Psalm 37:23) 
            “The righteousness of the blameless makes a straight way for them, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness.”  (Proverbs 11:5)

            We won’t know God’s plans for us by trying to force Him to reveal it, by trying to make it happen, or by going about our business while neglecting a serious pursuit of God and our responsibility to be obedient.  We have a lot more to do than just “going with the flow,” thinking we’ll stumble into God’s Will for our lives. 
            We need to be delighting the Lord by being spiritual sacrifices, by letting the Spirit transform us into humble, righteousness-seeking, God-honoring, God-fearing, totally-committed and radically-obedient Christians if we want to remain on His best path for us, if we want to know what His good, pleasing, perfect Will is.

            I think we cause problems when we misinterpret verses like “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord . . .” (Jeremiah 29:11), “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9), and “. . . for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13).  
            We hear these and we think that it means that He has plans and that He will always do whatever He plans.  We think that they are set in stone and it’s going to happen regardless of what we do.  Right?
            And in a way, that is true.  God’s plans eventually get done.  But we have a right to refuse to follow Him in His plans.  And if this happens, He will just find someone else to work His plans through.  Just ask the Israelites who were led out of Egypt but died off in the desert because they refused to follow God in His plans.  His Will does get done.  But it is up to us if we will be a part of it, through our obedience and humility and spiritual transformation, or if we will fall outside of His Will and miss out on the blessings because we chose to do it our way. 
            Even Philippians 2:12 echoes the need for daily obedience in order to see His purposes accomplished.
            “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed. . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. . . .” - and then comes verse 13 – “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” 
            We are to continue in our obedience, in fear of the Lord, because God works in us to accomplish His purposes.  But if we are not living in active obedience – if we are just floating through life thinking God’s Will for us will always be done because God always does whatever He wants regardless of our responsibility or obedience – then we cannot expect to be accomplishing His purposes.  Usually, when we float through life without consciously and actively abiding in Him in reverent fear, we are just accomplishing our own purposes and putting His name on it, even though they might seem good, godly, and reasonable to us.
            Our problem is that we would much rather seek His plans than seek Him with our whole hearts.  We would much rather believe that His Will has to do with finding out His plans or the next step on the path than it does with transforming our life.  We want a quick open door, not a makeover of our spiritual lives and disciplines.  We want the blessings without any work or responsibility on our parts.  We want to believe that every problem we have in life is because He made it happen for a reason, not that it might be some consequence of our own doing or a result of disobedience.
            But we do have responsibilities and we do create consequences.  His best plans for us don’t always happen because we can choose to obey or disobey.  We can choose to pray or not.  (For more on my view of prayer, go to the big “Understanding God’s Will” series, questions 5-9.)  He allows us to be disobedient, to not seek answers in prayer, to fail to pray for His Will to get done. 
            And He allows us the consequences.   He honors our free-will and our choices and allows us to have an influence over what happens in life, for good or for bad.  We have a hand in (and a responsibility in) making His Will happen and in reaping blessings instead of curses.  By obedience, righteous living, and prayer.
            Yes, God is all-powerful and He does indeed know what is best.  And whatever He does is best.  But just because He knows what’s best and wants what’s best doesn’t mean that He always causes those things to happen, apart from man’s cooperation.  I believe that He voluntarily limits His use of power in causing things to happen.  He does not always use His power to force things.  He doesn’t always do “His Will,” regardless of us.  Oftentimes, He hinges it on us.  (Of course, as I said, His Will does eventually get done, but through people who are willing to do it and to follow Him His way.  Those who neglect to do it His way miss out.)
            But most of us don’t want to put that kind of effort in.  We’d rather just convince ourselves that every open door is from God, that everything that happens is because God planned it that way, and that He always does whatever He wants, that His best plans for us always get done because God always does what He plans. 
            It’s a lot easier and a lot less disruptive than transforming our lives and our minds.  But . . .
            “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. . . . Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord?  He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.”  (Psalm 25:9, 12) 
            “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding . . .  Then you will understand what is right and just and fair - every good path . . . Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.”  (Proverbs 2:1-2, 9, 11) 
            “The integrity of the upright guides them . . .”  (Proverbs 11:3) 
            “He who walks righteously and speaks what is right . . . this is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.  His bread will be supplied, and water will not fail him.” (Isaiah 33: 15, 16)
            “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.  But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’“  (Jeremiah 6:16)
            “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed. . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”  (Philippians 2:12-13) 
            Humility, wisdom, understanding, discretion, integrity, righteousness, seeking “the good way” and walking in it, obedience, and reverent fear of God are what will take us down the good, restful path.  It’s what will keep us safely within His Will for us. 
            But that path is not pre-set and fixed.  Because we can refuse to look for or go down that path.  We can refuse to include Him in our choices.  We can disobey.  We can fail to put the blood on the doorframe.  We can fail to trust that He will lead us into the Promised Land, fail to follow in faith.  His plans for our individual lives don’t happen apart from our effort and obedience. 

            His Will  - what He desires from us, how He wants us to live - is not a mystery; it’s all there in His Word.  But do we take the time to discover it?  Do we abide in Him?  Do we put aside our own selfish desires and plans in obedience to Him instead?  Do we waste our time and energy pursuing “the next step” instead of pursuing Him, or trying to figure out what the future holds instead of trying to figure out how He wants us to live today?

            When it comes to our daily lives, the way I see it is this: His Will is a verb.  It is how we are supposed to live daily.  The Bible talks about doing the things that God wills, things that He desires us to do.  It does not as often talk about waiting for His Will or trying to find it as though it is a pre-set path or plan. 
            Matthew 7: 21:  “‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. . . .’“
            John 7:17:  “If anyone chooses to do God’s will . . .”
            Psalm 143:10:  “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.”
            Ephesians 5:17, 18:  “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. . . . be filled with the Spirit.” 
            1 Thessalonians 4:3:  “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified . . .”
            1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
            And a line in the Lord’s Prayer says, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:10)  I used to read this as “May Your plans come to pass,” as though we had no real responsibility for that happening and that it would happen no matter what.  We were simply acknowledging that we wanted His plans to happen.  But I’m beginning to wonder if it really means, “May Your Will be obediently done by us on earth, as it is done up in Heaven by your angels.  May we do what You want us to do, and may what You want to have happen, happen; by our obedience and prayer.” 
            It seems that, in general, His Will for us is how He desires us to live, in obedience to His Word.

            So if you really want to know what the Will of God is and how to stay on the path He wants for you, let me put it this way: 
            “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Matthew 22:37, 39)    
            “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”  (John 14:21)   
            “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:33) 
            “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:5)    
            “ . . . whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  (1 Corinthians 10:31)
            “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  (Psalm 46:10)

            Love God and others with all you’ve got!  Obey His commands!  Seek His kingdom and seek righteousness!  Remain in Him always, through prayer and His Word!  And if you are living for His glory, your life will be fruitful and God-glorifying!  And we don’t have to know everything; just be still in Him, for He is God!  He will be exalted! 

            Basically, what I am saying is that we were made to love – really love – Him and to be loved – really loved – by Him.  And our lives will reflect it.  It doesn’t mean that the closer you walk with God, the less pain, heartache, trials, obstacles, and doubts you’ll have.  In fact, I find that the closer I try to get to Him the harder it gets, the more questions I have, the more resistance from the enemy I sense, and the more I struggle and wrestle with Him and my fears and my faith. 
            But we were made to love Him and be loved by Him.  And our obedience will show if this is true for us or not.  Our pursuit of righteousness and His Kingdom.  Our desire to get to know Him as He is, in His Word.  Our desire to include Him in our lives and decisions and to open our heart to Him fully in prayer.  Our willingness to follow instead of lead, to humble ourselves instead of trying to sit on the throne.  And if our lives do not show evidence of this then we are outside of His Will - His best plans - for us.  And we need to get on our knees and ask His help in making it right.

            So why am I saying all this?  Why such a huge post on God’s Will and our responsibility to seek righteousness and be obedient and abide in Him?  Why repeat it over and over again in various posts?
            For one, I am saying this because I think that many of us are missing out on a genuine, loving relationship with Him.  Maybe because of our own negative self-views, because we are not comfortable trusting others (even God), because we don’t know how to let ourselves be loved, or because of our misconceptions about who He is.  And our lack of obedience and lack of abiding in Him reflects that.  And we are probably creating serious, negative consequences for ourselves, missing out on the kind of healing, love, peace, joy, and blessings He wants for us.  And it’s time to seriously take a look at the walls that you have up between you and God.  (If this is the case, maybe give the “Through the Refining Fire” series a look.  There might be something there to help you work through the things that block you from a real, genuine relationship with our Heavenly Father.) 
            But mostly I am saying this not for the hurting Christians who struggle with letting Him love you but for the multitudes of apathetic Christians who are coasting and compromising in their spiritual lives.  I think that lazy, lukewarm, self-serving, comfortable Christianity is what has greatly helped our country get into the moral mess that we’re in.  We are ruining our “Promised Land” because we are becoming the Israelites who died off in the desert: too focused on our own comfort and happiness, complaining about our circumstances, forgetting what God has done and Who He is, worshipping “golden calves” in our hearts, hardening our hearts to God’s convictions, and failing to fall down before the Lord in humility, failing to live in reverent fear, and failing to be obedient. 
            I have been there before – lazy, lukewarm, self-serving, and comfortable. Not truly understanding the incredible responsibility and need for seeking righteousness, for actively pursuing Him daily in His Word, for praying for His Will to get done, for doing my part to make it happen, and for walking with Him moment by moment in humble dependency.  I figured that God would just do whatever He wanted anyway, regardless of me.  And I didn’t understand that prayer really does matter, that God works His Will through willing people. 
            But a five-month stretch of demonic harassment (in the post, “Supernatural Stuff and the Armor of God”) opened my eyes to the spiritual battle that rages around us, to the reality of the invisible world working alongside this one, and to the very real need for us to get off of our lazy, lukewarm, self-serving, comfortable, Christian butts and get on our knees and get into the Word and pursue Him, His Kingdom, and His righteousness with all we’ve got.  That is how we are a part of His Will getting done!  That is how we impact the world for His glory!
            If only we will begin to take our Christian responsibility seriously then we might see God intervene in our country.  We might see revival!  This is why I am writing this post.

            “Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men.”  (Psalm 12:1)

            The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.”  (Psalm 14:2)

            “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares.  If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.”  (Jeremiah 5:1) 

            “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.  So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”  (Ezekiel 22:30-31)

            “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”  (2 Chronicles 16:9) 

            “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”  (2 Chronicles 7:14-15)