This morning, we’re going to wrap up our series on hot potatoes by looking at a more personal hot potato: God’s will. If you could ask God any question, what would you ask him? According to one survey, the number one question people want to ask God is, “What is God’s will for my life?” It’s a question that most of us have. Nothing is more important than knowing God’s will. Success is knowing the will of God, and doing it.
Now, knowing God’s will is important for a number of reasons. Nobody wants to get to the end of their life and hear God say, “Bad choice! Too bad you didn’t make another choice. Too bad you didn’t pick curtain number two.”
Ephesians 5:15-17 says, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (NIV).
These verses tell us that we are designed to live with precision – to know and to live God’s will for our lives. Why? Because time is going by, and evil will use it if we don’t. Life is not aimless, nor is it a series of random activities followed by down time. You were meant to live your life on purpose. You were meant to live according to God’s will for your life. And there’s urgency – we need to make the most of every opportunity that we face.
If you don’t live according to God’s will, you’re wasting your life. Paul writes, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise.” Can you think of another word for unwise? It begins with an s! If you don’t understand and live God’s will, what are you doing?
I don’t know if you’ve ever had the sense of wasting significant opportunities. We make decisions everyday – important ones like who we’re going to marry, what we’re going to do for a living. There are medium ones – what house we buy, what car we buy. And then there are everyday trivial decisions – what pants are you going to wear? How will you handle a situation at work? Life is a series of choices and decisions, and your success in life is largely determined by your decisions. Some of you today are facing major decisions in your life: decisions about your marriage, your career, your business, your future, or your health. You don’t know what to do. How can you know God’s will for your life?
The good news is: God wants to reveal his will to you. God doesn’t play games with us. He isn’t playing cat and mouse, hide and seek, what’s behind door number three. God wants you to know and understand his will for your life. This morning we’re going to look at how to do this.
I want to look at two questions. The first is, “What is God’s will?” I want to ask this because there are a lot of different theories about God’s will. And then I want to ask the question, “How can I discover God’s will for my life?
WHAT IS GOD’S WILL?
What is God’s will? First, let’s look at what God’s will is not.
1. IT’S NOT A MYSTERY
I love the story of a lady who was trying to decide if she should go on a trip or not. She prayed about it, but she still couldn’t decide. So, one night, before she went to bed, she prayed that God would give her a sign. Sure enough, she awoke the next morning and looked at her clock, and it said: 7:47. So she went on the trip.
Is God’s will a mystery? Does God hide his will, so that we have to discover it using all sorts of methods and secrets? Absolutely not. God doesn’t hide his will for your life. He isn’t playing a game. He’s not like a celestial Easter bunny, who hides his will so you have to go and find it. He’s not a game show host, asking you at every turn, “Is that your final answer?” God’s will is not a mystery.
2. IT’S NOT NEGATIVE
Some people think that God’s will is a negative thing. All my life, I’ve wanted to be a pastor. When I was a little kid, I would line my sister up and preach to her. I sold sermon tapes when I was five years old. I’m not making this up. But I had serious doubts, as I got older, that God wanted me to be a pastor.
Why? Because I believed that God’s will wouldn’t be something that I wanted to do. Somehow, I equated God’s will with doing something I didn’t want to do. I had set my will up against God’s will.
A lot of you here today probably think that God’s will involves a lot of choices that you wouldn’t necessarily make. Listen to Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'”
Don’t dread God’s will. God isn’t a cosmic killjoy. God doesn’t delight in squashing dreams. The Bible says that when we obey God, and let him change the way we think, ” Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.” God’s will is good, it’s pleasing, and it’s perfect.
3. IT’S NOT A FEELING
Some people “feel” their way into every decision. They’re always looking for that feeling, that emotion, for quivers in their stomach. They’re waiting for God to pull their heartstring before they make any decision. When asked how they knew God’s will, they reply, “I felt God telling me…”
The main problem with this is that feelings are highly unreliable. Feelings can tell you something today, and yet completely disagree with that decision a day later. If you base your life on your feelings, you’re going to have a lot of regrets and a lot of mistakes. Feelings don’t tell the truth.
We’ve been told, “If it feels good, then do it.” Remember the song, You light up my life? The words said, “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right.” Oh yes it can. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” Your heart is deceitful. It plays tricks on you. The devil can create feelings. Deciding by your feelings is not a good way to discern God’s will.
4. IT’S NOT A FORMULA
On the other side of the right-brained people are all the left-brain logical thinkers. They like to get a formula all figured out. They want to follow a series of steps to get to a decision. Put in all the right data, and presto! Problem solved. You’ll know who to marry, which car to buy, and what socks to wear. There are a whole lot of complex steps for you to follow in order to determine what to do.
Now, I need to say that this is probably the most popular approach out there. Most of the books that are written on God’s will follow a formula approach. It’s a very neat approach to God’s will. There really aren’t too many loose ends. Usually, the end result is that you know with certainty that you’re in the bull’s eye of God’s will. Somebody has called this the “dot” theory: that out of all the choices you could make, God has chosen just one for you. Your job is to find it.
There are a number of problems with this approach. First, the Bible doesn’t teach it. The Bible never teaches that God has a bull’s eye for every decision in your life. I really don’t believe that God’s will is that definite on whether or not you get a CD or a tape player in your car. Sometimes God just lets you choose.
Another problem with this approach is how nervous it could make you. If God has a bull’s eye for every decision, and you end up on somebody else’s bulls eye, then you’ve just messed everyone up. If you marry the wrong person or take the wrong job, just think of the domino effect. You could have bumped dozens of people off their own bull’s eyes.
A third problem with this approach is that formulas just don’t work. They don’t work in relationships. They don’t work in life. I’ve been reading a lot of books, “The 21 Qualities…” “100 ways to do this.” I always wondered what would happen if they di scovered a twenty-second quality. That’s the problem with neat formulas. Everyone has a different one. If you happen to follow the wrong person’s formula, or leave out a step, then you could be in big trouble.
God’s will isn’t a mystery, and it’s not negative. It’s not a feeling, and it’s not a formula. What, then, is God’s will?
5. GOD’S WILL IS A RELATIONSHIP
God’s will is primarily about a relationship. It’s not about rules or maps. It’s about knowing and living with God. That’s why there are very few verses in the Bible about the technique of discovering God’s will. And yet there are thousands of verses about developing a love relationship with Jesus Christ. Why? When you get close to Jesus, the better you get to know him, and the more you will be able to be guided by him in every decision.
When I first got married, I thought that marriage was about rules and formulas. We actually made a rule that all purchases over $50 were joint-spouse decisions. That was a good rule, but I found that it didn’t cover enough. I learned that I could forget about a lot of rules if I just focused on the relationship. The relationship mattered more than any of the rules.
The Bible teaches that God desires a love relationship with you. 1 Corinthians 1:9 says, “He is the one who invited you into this wonderful friendship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Jesus said in John 15:15, “Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” That’s why you can’t know God’s will for your life until you’ve reciprocated. You need to respond and enter into a friendship with God. God leads those who have entered into relationship with him.
If you’re here and you’ve never committed your life to Jesus Christ, you cannot expect anything from God. He owes you nothing. But if you enter into that relationship, then God will lead you as you watch his eyes and hear his voice. John 10:14-15 says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.”
HOW CAN I KNOW GOD’S WILL?
So how do I know God’s will? Let me give you 5 A’s – four principles from God’s Word on how to know his will.
1. ACCEPT A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
That’s the first step that you need to take. God’s will is that you enter into a relationship with him. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.” What is God’s will? God’s will is that nobody should perish. God’s will is that you know him, love him, and worship him.
How do you do this? Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us. It says: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.” The first step is to trust the Lord. You can’t know God’s will until you establish that relationship with him.
Some of you don’t want to do this because you’re not so sure that you want God’s will. A lot of people think that if they enter into a relationship with him, they’ll be miserable. Their philosophy is, “Let’s do my will for a few years, and then just before I die I’ll do God’s will. Why spoil life until then?” One person said, “I’m not sure I want to give my life to Jesus Christ, because I’m afraid of what he will make me do.”
But if you think that, you’re missing the point. God is not a cosmic killjoy. God’s will is not something that will make you miserable. God’s will is one that will lead you into greater levels of peace than you’ve ever known before. You don’t have dread entering into a relationship with him. It’s the first step to true success. It’s the first step in knowing God’s will for your life.
Don’t be scared. Don’t be nervous. Don’t doubt God’s love. There will never be anyone who loves you more than God does. There will never be anyone who wants what’s best for you more than he does.
In John 10:9-10 says, “Those who come in through me will be saved. Wherever they go, they will find green pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” If you want to know God’s will for your life, this is the first step. Come to Jesus. In your programs, there’s something called a communication card. I’m going to ask you to tear that off and fill it in if you want to take that step. At the back of the card, there’s a box where you can check, “I’m committing my life to Christ.” If you fill that card out and leave it with us today, we’d love to send you some material so that you can get established as a follower of Jesus Christ. That’s the first step you have to take. I’m going to lead you in a prayer, in just a few minutes, so that you can take that step. Accept a relationship with God.
Here’s the second principle on how to know God’s will:
2. ADMIT THAT I NEED GUIDANCE
You may have watched events unfold at the political convention in Philadelphia this week. My sister-in-law lives in Philadelphia, so I started to wonder how long it would take to get down there. I plugged in some data on the Internet, and discovered that from the front door of the church to downtown Philadelphia, you would have to drive 842.9 km, for a total drive of 9 hours and 19 minutes. For those of you with kids, it’s roughly 18 hours and 38 minutes. For some of you speeders, it’s considerably less.
Now, who here would think of driving that distance without consulting a map, or getting directions? That’s what I thought. Only men. There’s something genetic in most men that prevents them from ever asking for help. They believe it’s not manly to ask for directions. They refuse to admit that they need help.
The Bible says that if you want to know God’s will for your life, you need to ask for his guidance. James 1:5 says, “If you need wisdom—if you want to know what God wants you to do—ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking.” Just ask. Take time to stop and ask God for direction for your life.
The reason that many of you don’t feel God’s direction in your life is that you haven’t taken the time to ask him for it. You haven’t paused and said, “God, tell me the way that I should go.” Why? Because it takes humility. Psalm 25:9 says, “He leads the humble in what is right, teaching them his way.” God leads the humble.
God is ready to help you in your life. He’s ready to help in any area. He is ready for you to cry out to him with whatever is on your mind. All you need to do is to come to God and admit that you need his guidance; that you need his help. Psalm 32:8-9 says, “The LORD says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.” Don’t be like a senseless horse or a mule. Ask for God’s guidance. Accept his advice. Don’t let your stubbornness keep you from asking for God’s help.
Accept a relationship with God. Admit that you need guidance. Here’s the third principle in knowing what God’s will is for your life:
3. APPLY WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES
That’s the third principle. Apply what you do know. Here we’re talking about God’s moral will: obey what God has revealed as his standard for your life. Obey the clear teaching of Scripture. This is God’s will for you.
Mark Twain said it best when he said, “Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture which they cannot understand. But as for me, I have always noticed that the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand.”
God’s Word is full of instruction on what God’s will is. Many people call the Bible the good book. I prefer to call it the guidebook. God’s Word contains guidance for h ow to live our lives. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” God’s Word – the Bible – contains light for making decisions. It contains guidance for knowing God’s will.
Now, following God’s guidebook means two things. First, it means that we read it. I’ve found that guidebooks are a lot more helpful when you consult them on the journey, rather than when they sit on the shelf. God’s Word was not meant for you to study and put away. God’s Word was meant to be a guidebook for every decision in your life. It’s something that’s meant to be consulted as you live.
The Bible contains God’s wisdom. Wisdom doesn’t mean knowledge for its own sake; it means skill in living. God’s Word exists to make you wise; to tell you how you should be living your life.
If you’re not spending time daily in God’s Word, you’re missing out on his wisdom for your life. You’re missing out on all that God has revealed. You’re missing out on the principles he’s given to guide us, and to teach us. The Bible reveals God’s heart. It reveals his commands. It reveals his principles to live by. It’s a guidebook to be consulted every day of your life.
Some of you need to buy a good version of the Bible you can understand, and to begin a daily reading program. You need to pick up a good topical study Bible. You need to consult God’s Word for how to make decisions in your career, your marriage, and your life. God’s Word contains the wisdom that you need. 2 Peter 1:3 says, “As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life.” God gives us everything that we need.
Sometimes God will speak clearly in his Word about a situation. But even when he doesn’t, he gives us guidance on how to make decisions. God tells us to listen to the advice of qualified people. He gives us stories of how other people, in similar situations, have followed God’s will. Study God’s guidebook.
But the other step that we need to take is in following the guidebook. God’s Word was not given just to be studied; it was given to be obeyed. The problem with a lot of us is that we aren’t applying what we already know. We know the directions, but we prefer staying lost.
What is God’s will? God’s will is very clearly communicated in the Bible. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says, “God wants” – it is God’s will – “you to be holy, so you should keep clear of all sexual sin.” What is God’s will? God’s will is that you be a holy person. People say, “I felt it was God’s will for me to have an affair.” It wasn’t God’s will. God wants you to be holy.
What is God’s will? 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” God’s will is that you be a thankful person. No matter what your circumstances, you are called to be thankful. We don’t need to ask what God’s will is in this case. Just be thankful!
Every day we have a choice: will we be obedient to what we already know? Will we apply what the Bible teaches us? Will we accept the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Will we live under his control?
There are a lot of us here who know God’s will, but we’re not even on the journey. We’re busy making excuses for not obeying God. James 4:17 tells us, “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”
A lot of us are saying, “I want God’s will for my marriage, for my career.” God is saying, “Let’s get back to the basics. Are you reading your Bible? Are you in a small group? Are you giving to me regularly, sacrificially, and joyfully? Are you praying to me?” We say, “God, I want to know about…” But God’s not obligated to go to the next step until you first start doing what you already know to be the revealed will of God for your life.
Here’s my question for you: What do you already know to do but you haven’t done yet? What’s your next step? What do you need to do that you’ve been putting off? Don’t delay. Do what you already know to do. Apply what the Bible teaches. Read his guidebook, and follow it.
Two more steps in knowing God’s will:
4. ALIGN YOURSELF WITH GOD’S ACTIVITY
Author Claude King recounts the time that he and his wife resigned their jobs and moved to a place near Atlanta, Georgia, to begin planting churches. They had sensed what they thought was God’s will. They had read all the right books. They had the right attitude, and they were disciplined and energetic. Their plan was to work to support themselves while starting new churches. 6 months later, their furniture was still in storage. With a two and a half unemployment rate, they couldn’t find a job. Their savings were depleted, their checking account was empty, and their debts were moving. And there were not even the beginnings of a new church. Devastated, they moved back home with their parents, not knowing what they had done wrong.
What went wrong? He found out later when another opportunity came up. He was called to serve as a volunteer. He decided to surrender his own plans, and refused to dream his own dreams of what he would do for God.
He and another person shared with churches the need to reach people with the Gospel. They shared their vision. And then they watched to see where God was at work so they could join him. Within three months, they had a list of 14 places or people groups that might need a church. After two years, they had six new churches with full-time pastors, and another group meeting that were planning to start as the seventh church. They found that God had far greater plans for us than they could dream.
When we follow our own plans, they can fail dismally. James 4 says:
Look here, you people who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.
I believe that God has greater plans than we do. God is able to do, as Ephesians 3:20 tells us, infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or to hope. But many of us let our plans get in the way. We’re clinging so tightly to our dreams that we refuse to dream God’s dreams, which are far better. We’re not like Abraham, who was ready to sacrifice his own son out of obedience to God. Why did God ask Abraham to do that? Not because he wanted Isaac – God didn’t want a human sacrifice, nor did he allow it. He did it because he wanted Abraham to give up his dreams for God’s dreams, which were far bigger. Be prepared to release your dreams, and your plans, and align yourself with God’s dreams for you.
5. ACT AS YOU PLEASE
What’s God’s will for your life? Once you’ve accepted a relationship with God, admitted that you need his guidance, applied what the Bible teaches, and aligned yourself with God’s activity, there’s only one step left – act as you please. Somebody said it well – “Love God and do as you please.” Once you’re living a life of obedience and surrender to God, then do whatever you want! Because if you’re living a life of obedience, guess who is running your wants? Who is giving you your desires? God is! God will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4-5 says, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the LORD. Trust him, and he will help you.”
One of the best gifts God has given you is your brain. Use it! Once you’ve surrendered to God, and are willing to let him guide your life, God gives you incredible freedom to make choices. God allows you freedom.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be in that place in which I’m committing everything that I do to God. I want to be in that place in which I’m delighting in God, and he’s giving me my heart’s desires. And it begins today. It begins with the next step that we’re going to take in livi ng out God’s principles. Let’s bow our heads and make a commitment to God to take that next step.
I’m going to ask you to clench your fists tight, with every eye closed. And if you’re here this morning, and for the first time you want to come to God and say, “I accept a relationship with you,” then unclench your fist and say, “God, I surrender my life. I’ve been trying to live it my way for too long. Today, I give myself to you, and pray that you would become the manger, the CEO, of my life. I thank you for what Jesus did for me on the cross, and I pledge to live for you from this day forward, as best I know how. In Jesus’ name.”
If you’ve been following Jesus, and today you want to say, “God I want to know you more,” would you unclench your fists and say, “Father, today I ask for your help in following your guidebook. Make me more open to your direction. Give me a heart that won’t hesitate in asking you for help. Today, I surrender to you. I take delight in you, and ask that you would give me my heart’s desires. I commit everything I do to you. I trust you, and ask for your help. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”