Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Walking Out the Will of God

For this is the will of God, your sanctification.
For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.
Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
1 Thessalonians 4:3,7-8 ESV

Earnest Christians actively seek the will of God for their lives.  It is common for sincere believers to pray fervently for God to reveal his will to them, to guide them through tough decisions, hard times, and for direction in the living of their lives daily.

Humans are prone to complicate the issue.  Efforts to seek the Lord's will rise to such heights that the obvious revelations are overlooked.  It is a characteristic of modern do-it-yourself religion for Christians to expect God to provide a special revelation at their beck and call.  Seeking such special revelations when God has already laid down his will in the scriptures and in the life of Jesus amounts to a rejection of his will, not a withholding of it.

Just listen to the prayers we make, both publicly and privately.  How many of our words are words of praise and adoration of God, his majesty, and his holiness?  How many of our expressions are echoes of our thankful hearts as we express ourselves to God?  Probably, not as many as we would want.

When I pray, especially when I'm in a hurry, I tend to cut to the chase.  I want to get something off my chest, or make a special request of God.

If the truth were really known, our vocabulary of prayer is very limited.  We find many ways to ask God for something, and like a child selling his desires to his parents, we are not shy about building our case as to why we need that for which we are asking. 

As I listen to prayers, I have also noticed that we do a fair job of thanksgiving for the blessings he has given us.  I fear however that our vocabulary for thanksgiving is broader than our sincere gratitude, but at least we make the effort to be thankful.

But, to sit still long enough, and to focus on our adoration of God, our praise of his holy attributes, is very difficult.  Concentrating on his holiness, his grandeur, his sovereignty, all of these take enormous effort.  It requires us to think of God as Other, not as God in relationship with us.  Yet, is this not the chief aim of prayer, the worship of God?  I fear this is one of the chief sins of the church, a failure to recognize and worship God as God alone, holy, in all his mystery and glory. 

Getting back to the subject of knowing his will, God has provided enormous resources for this knowledge -- prayer is just one of them.  The scriptures are filled, from front to back, with the will of God.  We also have a record of the life of Jesus, God in the flesh, and not only do we have his words, we have his actions.  Are not these excellent sources for our counsel in the will of God?

Jesus, Paul, and others in the scriptures also tell us that the Holy Spirit -- God as Counselor, Teacher, Friend -- provides us with the knowledge of what we are to do by enlightening us in the word of God, that is, in the counsel of the scriptures themselves.  Also, Paul teaches in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit makes intercession on our behalf, meaning that he pleads with the Father even when we are unable or unwilling. 

The biblical record is consistent -- God wants us to know his will, and he has made the knowledge of his will accessible to us in many ways, and from many places.

Why then is it one of the chief struggles of many Christians to come to grips with the will of God?

Some obvious reasons may be that it requires time to study the scriptures, to pray, and to discern the will of God through the means he has provided.  Certainly, this is at least part of the problem.  It may be deeper than this however.

It may also be difficult because we entertain doubts about the scriptures and whether or not God's word applies directly to us in our day and time.  In other words, it may not make sense to us to accept the Bible as the word of God, having authority in our lives.  This has certainly been one of my excuses over 55 years of faith.

However, I think the most probable reason for our struggling with the will of God is not that we do not know his will, but that we really don't want to do it

Was not this also the experience of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane?  It wasn't that he did not want to do the will of the Father in an ultimate sense, but that if there were any other way than to face the public ridicule, the trial, the death and separation from the Father for a time, he would rather have done it another way.  But, the will of the Father was not to be changed, and Christ was obedient, suffering the humiliation, pain, death, and separation, in order that God's plan to save us from our sins would be completed.

And, this is the critical issue -- our obedience, or as Paul says in the passage from 1 Thessalonians above, "this is the will of God, your sanctification."  What God clearly calls us to do is to become holy, just as he is holy, to be sanctified, that is, to grow in purity by becoming obedient in all things.

There are so many places in the scriptures to find the will of God.  Another excellent place to look is in Philippians 4, as I was reminded recently by a friend:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me -- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
As we make it our chief aim to know the will of God, it is important to recognize that we must be willing to do it. As we do the will of God, revealed to us in the scriptures, knowing his will becomes a matter of simply putting one foot in front of another and walking it out, occasionally stumbling, yet always putting our feet back on the path he has set for us in his word.

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