Friday, April 13, 2018

How to Know and Do God's Will

This week I've been reflecting on how to find a new direction.When life changes, how do we know where to go or which way to turn? It's where I'm at--and I've had the same discussion with at least four others this week. Circumstances have changed, life has changed, there has been a loss--now what?

Here are some words of encouragement for myself and others:

God's Word is vital. No, the Bible will not tell me which job to take, hobby to pursue, or which church to attend, but it will tell me "how" to make those decisions.

-  God's Word distinctly tells me God's priorities--1) to love Him first, to love Him most and 2) to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:36-40).

-  It guides my motivation: I should do all things for the glory of God, not selfish ambition or empty conceit (1 Corinthians 10:31, Philippians 2:3).

-  God's Word also gives me a goal: to make disciples.

Even if I don't know which passages to study or where to look, God promises to make Himself known as I seek Him (Jeremiah 29:13).

The problem is that I'm often asking the wrong questions when it comes to decision making. Most of the time we want to know "what," "when," "where," or "who:" What should I do? Which job should I take? Whom should I marry? Where should I go to school?

Instead, the Bible says:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.... (1 Thessalonians 4:3

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Great. But but that still doesn't answer the question of "what" to do. I have learned to be careful about making decisions based on the "open door" philosophy. If you're not familiar with that form of Christianese, it generally means: "If you have an opportunity that's an open door from God. Take it. If you face opposition, it's a closed door. Stop."

Instead, Scripture says:

[God] opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. (Acts 14:27)

I [Paul] came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord... (2 Corinthians 2:12)

... praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ (Colossians 4:3).

In God's words, open doors relate directly to sharing the gospel of Christ, not making decisions. (Sorry to crash your party.)

So how does one move forward and make good, God-honoring decisions? Here are things a few things to keep in mind:

-  Pray. God promises wisdom when we ask (James 1:5). He commands us to ask for help (Matthew 7:7-11). And when we cry out, He hears and answers (Psalm 18:6).

-  Study God's Word. What am I missing? What are God's priorities? I know God calls me to trust and obey. Using His Word I can evaluate my heart--am I trusting? Am I obeying what I already know? (Psalm 119:105--God's Word is a lamp to my feet (where I am) and a light to my path (where I'm going).)

-  Ask others. Proverbs teaches that there is victory in an abundance of counselors (Proverbs 11:14). I need to talk to people I can trust; people who know me; people with life experience and people God has blessed. I have learned there is wisdom in asking questions and listening even if I disagree. They may have insight that I need to hear; things I wouldn't come up with on my own. Sometimes they tell me things I don't want to hear but are truthful and helpful.

- Get busy studying God. If God's priorities are loving Him first and foremost, I must start there. Am I committed to daily time in His Word and prayer? Am I faithfully attending church in worship and fellowship with other believers? Am I a witness of His goodness and the gospel? Am I a good steward of the resources He's given Me--my home, family, time?

Get busy studying others. The only way I know how to serve and love others is to spend time with them asking questions and listening. Then I look for practical ways I can help? I can always pray--sometimes I can pray aloud with them in that moment.  Maybe I could watch their children, run errands, provide a meal, stop in and visit,  or make a phone call. If people are God's priority they need to be mine, too. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might...."

Get busy studying self. What do I do well? What do I enjoy? How might God use my gifts and abilities to bring Him glory and serve others? What do I need to do to improve in those areas? Take a class? Ask a friend to hold me accountable? Seek out someone who is willing to invest in helping me learn?

What God has given us is not simply for our benefit. His design, plan and purpose is for us to use everything He's provided as a means of bringing Him glory and loving others. He wants the world to see Him and know Him. More importantly, He is worthy. He deserves all of my praise, every breath, ability, and resource He's given (because, ahem, He's the One whose given it and He's the only One who is worthy to receive it). In other words, God's will isn't about the what. It's about the Who--who He is, what He's doing, what He's given, what He's worth.

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:31-33)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the [w]knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:3-23)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Hearts: a Sunday Vignette

Katie sat in church, wondering why she was the only one with doubts and struggles. Life was so hard. Did God really love her? If He did, why didn't she feel like it? And if God loves me, why do I have to work so hard to get what everyone else already has? Peace and joy. Is that too much to ask?

Ryan sat ahead of her, wishing those kids would stop jostling long enough for him to keep a train of thought. I'm trying to worship, for crying out loud! What was wrong with their parents? Didn't they know church was for sober thought, reflection, and awe? This was his one shot at worship and they were ruining it. Next time he'd sit somewhere else.

Jane was afraid. Afraid people would see who she really was. She never did anything right. Her husband said so and she had the bruises to prove it. What if everyone knows? They would say the same things he did. She would never hear the end of it. Never be safe.

Courtney sat alone; felt alone. The more she needed people the more they avoided her. She didn't know how to reach out, how to get past herself. No one cares anyway. Why would they?

Jim smoldered in the pew. Half a handshake. Wimpy fingers, insecurity. He expected to be treated like the man he was. He'd caught his coat in the car door in the parking lot and looked like a fool. Life was fight. Always had been. Always would be.

Karen admired her new shoes. What a miracle! They matched her purse perfectly. Sue would absolutely die of envy. Speak of the devil. "Sue! Sue! Did you hear about the sale at Dillards? You're never going to believe how much I paid for these adorable shoes."

Dan thought of nothing. He'd made it to church; a little hungry, no time for breakfast. Lunch would be worth waiting for. Nothing. Sing. Nothing. Yeah.

Erin's hair was arranged nicer than usual. She hadn't missed any buttons this morning and remembered to polish her shoes the night before. She was ready to worship. Distractions aside, heart free, thoughts focused. Others saw a gray woman, wrinkled and worn, chunky black loafers, sagging hose, aged cardigan. But her heart--her heart had been meeting regularly with the Master. Each morning, she looked into His face, saw her poor reflection and prayerfully made adjustments. Little by little, hour by hour, she shifted her thoughts, fed kindling to the flame of desire for her Lord, and rearranged her choices. In the darkness of the night, when fear crept out of the dark, she brandished the torch of truth and hummed quiet tunes of praise. She didn't see people the way they saw her. Free from judgment, fear, need, she saw the hurt, fear, loneliness, anger, despair and she prayed, loving them, loving her Lord.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave,free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:1-17)