Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sermon 1/20/08 Life's Toughest Questions Part 2: How do I know God's Will for my Life?

Life’s Toughest Questions, Part 2: How do I know God’s will for my life choices?

For Christmas Santa brought Melanie a puzzle calendar with a new puzzle to work every day. For January 7th, the puzzle was called, “Lost in Translation” and the directions say, “These figures of speech were translated by computer to another language, then back into English, with surprising results. What were the original figures of speech?”

· At the fall of a cap
· March your better leg forward
· Joins when the foundation
· Then excess mile goes

Answers: At the drop of the hat; Put your best foot forward; Get in on the ground floor; Go the extra mile

Melanie and I had a good time with this puzzle the other night. She got 2 out of the 4 while I took some good guesses, but missed them all. As I was thinking about “knowing God’s will for our life choices”, I begin thinking about how lots of times we try to discover God’s will like we try to uncover a secrete code. Somehow we think that God does his very best to hide his will from us so we will have to go searching for it.

Finding God’s will is difficult and most, if not all of us, have had trouble doing this at times in our lives. On our surveys, almost 10% of the questions we had been about discovering God’s will for our lives. In the Vine, only two people formally wrote this question down, but when I verbally asked about life toughest questions to some college students at lunch one day, all of them asked a question pertaining to God’s will for the choices they will have to make.

As I have been thinking through this question, it has occurred to me that it can be answered it a number of different ways. I could really preach on this question for weeks and weeks. I am going to try to answer this question by first looking at one of the most famous Bible stories, namely the story of God calling to Moses out of the burning bush, in order to talk about God’s will in general. Then I will talk some about discerning God’s will for our life choices.

Moses and the Burning Bush

The background to the Exodus story is that the Hebrews have been is slavery for a number of years to the Egyptians and the Egyptians, in order to maintain control of the people have been treating them extremely poor and they have even been killing male babies so that they will not grow too powerful for them. The Hebrews have been calling out to God for help.

Exodus 3 begins the story of God telling Moses what he intends to do about the situation,

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up."

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush,

Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am."
"Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."[i]

Moses is out minding his own business; he now has a wife and a family. He is working for his father and law and then he walks past a bush that is on fire, but not being consumed. He is very curious about this, so he walks up to take a closer look. When he does, God calls out of the fire. God proceeds to tell Moses what he wants to do and he invites Moses to be the leader.
One thing that is clear from this passage is that God is not hiding his plans from Moses. He has gone out of his way to show Moses what he is about to do. Part of me wonders how long it actually took God to get Moses attention. He may have walked past a number of things before he noticed God. God DOES NOT hide his will from us, rather God seems to go out of the way to help us know it. As David Harr said to me while I was writing this sermon, “I wonder how many burning bushes we walk past all the time.” In discovering God’s will for our life choices, we first must understand that God wants us to know his will.

The interesting thing about Moses is that even after God speaks to him, plain as day, in a bush that is on fire, he still comes up with a list of reasons why he cannot commit. Of coarse God has an answer for them all. Notice,

Moses says he is unworthy of the task 3:11 God says he will be with him 3:12

Moses does not know much about God 3:13 God tells him who he is 3:14-22

Moses says the people will not listen 4:1 God will provide signs 4:2-9

Moses says he is incompetent 4:10 God will send Aaron to help 4:12

Moses asks God to send someone else 4:13 God will be with him 4:14-16[ii]

From this chart, it is clear that Moses was wrestling with the things God is telling him and for good reason. Moses had just made a life for himself and has a family. God is telling him to give it all up and do these new things. I have heard this type of this called “A Crises of Belief.”[iii] Moses now has a huge choice to make and he is not going to make a change without a fight. However, God counters all of the doubts that Moses has so that Moses agrees to do what God wants him to do.

I think we all go through similar struggles when we know God is calling us to do something. We have to find the way to work though out doubts and confusion and follow God. The great thing is that God understands out struggle and seems to be able to provide the grace we need to make the change. As Maxie Dunham says, “God will not lead you where his grace will not sustain you.”

How Do I Know the Will of God

As I mentioned earlier, God wants is to know his will. If this is true then God has to use different ways to reveal his will to us. In the Bible, as we saw with Moses, God sometimes just comes down and tells people his will face to face. He told Abraham to move and he told Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh. God struck Paul with blindness and talked to him on the road to Damascus. In each case God revealed his will for these people’s lives.

The problem is that many people do not report that God comes down and speaks to them. There are a few people who have that experience, but not many. So, how do we hear from God if we know that God is trying to communicate with us?

1. Scripture: I want to be perfectly clear about how the Bible can help us in know God’s will for our life choices. I do not think we should go to the Bible with a question and look it up in the topical index and then read the answer. The Bible was never meant to be read as manual for finding God will for your paticualr decisions. On the other hand, the Bible gives us a lot of examples about how God has used people in the past to accomplish things. It reveals to us the heart and character of God and we can use that knowledge to help us shape our decisions around.

2. Prayer: I do think sometimes we use prayer as magic. We think that we can give God our “want list” and then he will give us what we want. Or, we think that we can really make up our own mind and then convinced God that it is a good idea. The purpose of prayer is to communicate those things that are on your heart to God and then trust that God will help you deal with them. When we pray about things and choices, we will often notice that we are much more receptive when we hear the answer from God.

3. Worship: Personally, I have discovered God speaks to me most often in worship. It may be a song I am singing or a sermon I am hear, but God has a way of dealing with the things on my heart as I worship.

4. Christian friends/mentors: God often speaks to me through other people. I am lucky that I have some friends I meet with on a regular basis that are honest with me. They are willing to tell me the hard truths and often they help me see God’s will.

5. The “gut feeling”: I think the feeling we get in our gut has often been underemphasized in the church, but I think God uses it. Sometimes I think we just know what the right choice is in our gut! Sometimes we will think about a possible choice and realize that it is just wrong. Other times it may make us feel sick because we know it is the right thing to do.

6. Closed and Open Doors: I really believe that God sometimes uses open and closed doors to help us make good decisions. You have heard the old saying, “When God closes one door, he opens another.

As I look back on these six things, I want to stress that this is not a formula for knowing God’s will, it is a process. It is a process that reaches further than just using them to know what you should do in a given situation. It is a process of drawing close to the heart of God. David Benner reminded me of this truth in his little book, Desiring God’s Will when he wrote,

I no longer believe that God is simply interested in your job, your decision about whom (or whether) to marry or your success in sin avoidance. As incredible as it sounds, God is interested in you! God longs for friendship, not compliance.[iv]

The processes listed above are to help us draw close to God first and foremost. Then and only then can they helps us know the will of God for our life choices.

Life is a Highway
On Sunday afternoons, many of you know that us pastors drive around and give out gifts to those persons who have visited with us for the first time and given us an address. When I get the address, Debbie prints me off a map from map quest so I will know how to find the house. I have not, to this date, be able to find a house in North Georgia on the first try. Although I have the map with the directions, it never looks the same when I get out there. The problem is not the map, but that I just do not know the area at all.

On the other hand, I grew up in Middle Valley and in the Hixson area. I live in Redbank and I know North Chattanooga fairly well. I can just glance at the map and know right where I am going on those visits.

Just like knowing the area helps me to be better able to use the map, the more we know about God and the more time we invest in our relationship with God, the better we will be able to use the processes in finding God’s will for our life choices.

[i] TNIV Exodus 3:1-10
[ii] Chart info comes from Terence E. Fretheim, Interpretation: Exodus, ed. James Luther and Patrick Miller Jr. *John Knox Press: Louisville, 1946) 52.
[iii] The study book Experiencing God uses this language to describe the process we go through when we hear God’s will and have to make the decision to change our wills to fit Gods.
[iv] David Benner, Desiring God’s Will (Inter Varsity Press: Downers Grove, 2005) pg. 60.

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