Friday, June 30, 2017

Seeking God’s Will (Ro.12:1-2; Phil.2:12-13) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Are you in charge of your life?  We like to think so, but you wonder, with all of the  twists and turns of our lives.  And we look at this world, with its joy and sadness, good and evil, justice and injustice, health and illness, the thrill of success and the agony of failure, and we wonder.

And where does God’s will fit in?  Have you ever prayed: “Lord, your will be done,” or “Lord show me your will.” or “Lord, I want to follow your will?”  I have.  Scripture is clear: God desires for you and me to seek, to know and to follow His Will.   God wants us to open our hearts and minds to His voice and guidance in all times and in all places and in all our years.

What is God’s will?    I doubt that this sermon will answer all of your questions, especially since I still have questions, but it will give you some biblical insights.  Discerning God’s will is not simple.   Any minister who says he or she understands and can explain God’s will to you is, let us say, not lacking in self-confidence.   Are you hearing God speak to you or is it something or someone else?

A man goes ice fishing for the very first time. All of a sudden, he hears a voice. "There are no fish under the ice!" He ignores it and moves to another area, cuts a hole, and tosses his line in. Again, he hears the booming voice: "There are no fish under the ice!" He nervously looks up and asks, "Lord? Is that you?"  "No, this is the ice rink manager!"

First, Scripture teaches that we live out our lives in a context of conflicting wills.  Our own free will, your will, my will, other people's free wills, Satan's will and God's will.  Toss accidents into the mix and you have a real conundrum.  Second, scripture says that God's sovereign will is not only at work in individual lives, but in the universe, history, in time, in the destiny of nations.  Jesus prays in the Lord's Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  The terms God’s kingdom, God’s Will, God’s rule, God’s Plans or Purposes are synonyms/interchangeable.  They mean the same thing in scripture.  These terms mean God is alive and active in this world and in our lives.  God’s Will has existed in the past, is a reality today, and it is coming in the future.

In the letter of Romans, we read: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  We cannot discern God’s will by thinking like the world thinks, but only when we allow the Spirit to transform and renew our minds.  And in the letter of Philippians we read: “For it is God who is at work in you enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  God’s Spirit is speaking to your spirit helping you to grasp God’s will.  We must always pray to discern God's will vis-a-vis the world's will.

These are amazing biblical passages.  They bring comfort, encouragement, assurance and hope.  They affirm the truth that God’s will is not silent or make-believe or a fantasy.  God's sovereign and powerful will is a tremendous force in our lives and our world.     You and I are not merely pawns in life; victims of capricious and impersonal forces like fatalism over which we have no control.   God's will is present and active and God has given us a free will to seek and follow His will.  God calls us to align our will with His, to get in tune-with His will through faith.   Conversely, we also have the freedom to disobey God.

Nothing that happens in life is God’s will!  Is that true?  Can we make that claim?  No. We would be saying God is dead or apathetic or complacent or on permanent vacation in the Bahamas.  We claim through faith that God’s will comes in many forms: blessings, answers to prayer, miracles, small and great, coincidences, surprises of grace which we never saw coming, good coming out of bad, new opportunities emerging out of dead ends.   Well then can we state this:  Everything that happens in life is God’s will?   No we can’t say that either.  We are then speaking about pre-determinism or even fatalism and we are immediately ruling out human free will.

Was 9-11 God’s will?  Are terrorist attacks God’s will? If a child dies of an illness or in a car accident is that God’s will?  If a person is diagnosed with cancer is it God’s will?  If you or I do something foolish, which we later regret, it is God’s will?  As a Christian and pastor I believe the answer is no.  You have no control over a drunk driver who T-bones you or the cancer that your physician diagnoses.  The God of the Bible just doesn’t operate that way.  Why not?  We again live in a context of conflicting wills and individual responsibility.  Jesus acknowledges the existence of Satan, of free will, of sinful of human beings, of a fallen creation and of accidents which occur in life.

Think about Jesus, the Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the World.  In Jesus we see God’s will being played out.   If sickness was God’s will, why did Jesus heal people in his ministry?      Jesus does not tell a man with leprosy that his disease is God’s will; Jesus cures him.  If hunger was God’s will, why did Jesus feed people?   Jesus does not say to the hungry crowds go away, hunger is God’s will; Jesus feeds them.  Jesus does not tell people racked with guilt that guilt is God’s will, Jesus forgives them.  If ignorance was God’s will, why did Jesus teach his disciples and teach the crowd’s through stories and parables?

In his classic book, The Will of God by Leslie Weatherhead, we find some key insights into this question.  The author divides the concept of the Will of God into three aspects – the Intentional will of God, the Circumstantial will of God and the Ultimate will of God.

First, God’s Intentional Will means God’s original plan for creation, God’s original purpose in creating the world and human beings before the Fall.  Genesis says: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  Neither the earth nor the heavens existed.  God created the universe and human beings with a purpose in mind.  God created people with the free will to love Him and obey Him, to love their neighbor, to worship God alone, rather than self or idols, to be whole - spiritually, intellectually, relationally, physically, and emotionally rather than broken, to treat one another with fairness, respect and dignity, to  live together in unity, to lead spiritual and moral lives, to care for the earth rather than exploit it, to gain knowledge rather than live in ignorance, to live a meaningful and joyful and fulfilling life in fellowship with God.   This was God’s Intentional Will.

Second, God’s Circumstantial Will.   Now we enter a gray area.  Our eyesight becomes a little blurry.  Why, because scripture says we walk by faith, not by sight.  Because of human disobedience, the Fall destroyed man’s relationship with God.  Humanity as represented by Adam and Eve, turned away from God, fell from God’s grace; Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden.

God’s Circumstantial Will refers to the truth that despite the problems, sin and evil that resulted from the Fall, God is present in this world working through us and with us in our circumstances.  God promises to help us by His grace and power to not let us be defeated by our circumstances, but rather to get through, to endure, and finally triumph over them.

God sent His Son Jesus to seal this promise.   Jesus is the seal of God’s promise to be with us, to not forsake us.   The letter of Philippians says: “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me.”  Scripture says: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

God promises to instill hope in the midst of seemingly hopeless times.   God promises to impart courage to us when we are overcome with fear and anxiety.  God promises to provide strength for us, when we feel weak, exhausted and helpless.  God’s promise means don’t give up.

And so we look at today’s world war, with radical extremist Muslim terrorist groups like Isis, dedicated to establishing Sharia Law world-wide, infidels against other moderate Muslim nations and democratic nations in Europe and the USA.  Some say they can’t be defeated, they are too strong.   Others say we need the will and a plan.  What do you say?   God’s will is that though we don’t know how, God’s plans and purposes are at work today to defeat this barbarous and evil threat to civilization.  This is the promise of Easter; Jesus’ resurrection was a victory over evil.

I Corinthians says: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing, he will also provide the way out, so that you may be able to endure it.”  God brings good things out of bad circumstances.  God uses challenges for our good.  God redirects our lives when we are lost or misguided.  This doesn’t mean that everything will always turn out perfect or the way we want it to be.

Like the story about a police officer in a helicopter who spotted a car speeding down the freeway.  He radioed his partner on the ground and a few miles later the patrolman in the car stopped the speeder and began writing a ticket.  “How did you know I was speeding,” the man asked.   The patrolman kept writing and pointed skyward. The man looked up and moaned, “Oh, no, you’re not against me too.”

Listen to this story of a couple whose son was born with a congenital heart defect.  When he was four, he went to Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles for open-heart surgery.  Despite their prayers, and the skills of the doctors, sadly, the child died.  His mother said: “God helped us through our grief in such a loving way, that we continually marveled at what was happening.  The people who brought us the most comfort were those who had also lost a child.  They knew what we were experiencing and when they softly said, ‘We understand what you are going through; there was a bond between us that really lightened our load.  The Bible verse that popped into my head was: “In everything God works for good with those who love him.”’  We hung onto it for dear life and watched it come true.  In the weeks and months to come, we were led to accept Philip’s death without bitterness and other people’s faith was strengthened as they watched what was happening to us.”

Lastly, we come to God’s Ultimate Will.  This means that God’s purposes in the world will ultimately be achieved, will ultimately be realized, will ultimately be established forever.   They will be fulfilled forever.   God's plans and purposes cannot be defeated or destroyed by any power or nation or evil charismatic person or group.  God will make sin and evil serve His final purposes.

I close with a beautiful picture of the future, a future which one day will be realized.  We find it in the book of Revelation: “See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them, he will wipe every tear from their eyes, death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will cease.”   “Lord, Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment