Deciding the Big Ones
June 5, 1993
“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the Word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ’Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
This is my final message on the will of God. In my very first message I commented that this series had not been part of my original plan for this year. When I set out my preaching plans for 1993, this series was not on my mind at all. But as this year went on it seemed to me that almost every week someone would come asking for advice. And though they would say it in different ways, the question would always be the same. “Pastor, how can I discover God’s will for my life?” As I heard that over and over again the Holy Spirit began to nudge me, saying, “Ray, what you had planned is not what I wanted.” That feeling evolved to the point where I finally made the determination to do this series.
One day I sat down at my desk and began to scribble out everything that I could think of relating to the will of God. I just sat there for several hours, just writing down sentence after sentence, ending up with several pages of notes. I looked at it and said “How could this be a sermon series?” I sat down again and began to arrange my scribbles and BOOM! suddenly right there in front of me were the 10 subjects that we have taken one by one in this series.
I want you to know that I have been overwhelmed by your response. Almost every Sunday I’ve been stopped by somebody back in the Narthex or in the hallway with an encouraging word. During the week people have stopped to say “Thank you” for preaching this sermon series. I appreciate it because when we started I had no idea what the response was going to be.
The Road Not Taken
In my first sermon I began by quoting the words of Robert Frost in his famous poem “The Road Not Taken.” It ends with the words: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” You make your choices and your choices turn around and make you. What you are today is nothing more than the sum total of thousands of choices that you have made over the years of your life. You are who you are because you said “yes” to this and “no” to that. You are what you are because years ago you decided to do this instead of that. What you are and who you are and the kind of person you are is the sum total of all those decisions you’ve made. Therefore, there is nothing more important than for you to know how to make good decisions.
When Saul was on the road to Damascus, he was struck down by the blinding light and by the voice of the Lord. He only asked two questions. He said, “Who are you Lord?” and the answer came back, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Then he asked a second question: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”
That question rings across the centuries in a thousand variations. Should I get married? Should I stay single? Lord, I’ve got a house. Should I keep this house or should I buy another house? You are down in Florida. You are in a ministry. You get a call from a church in West Virginia. The great question on your mind is, “Lord what do you want me to do?” You’ve got a job in Jackson, Mississippi and you get an offer from Little Rock, Arkansas. You’re not sure what to do. Should I stay? Should I leave?
Lord, what do you want me to do? I’m in love, at least I think I am, at least it feels like I am. Lord, if he asks me to marry him, should I say yes? Lord, what do you want me to do? No question is more basic or more critical for the people of God than that question! Lord, what is your will for my life? Lord, I don’t want to make a mistake. Lord, if you speak I want to listen. Lord, I don’t want to miss it. Tell me, Lord, what do you want me to do? Every week during this sermon series we’ve been trying to find the guidelines so we can make a proper answer to that question.
Four Foundational Statements
I want to begin by pulling everything together that I have said in these 10 sermons by giving you four basic statements:
1. God wants to guide you much more than you want to be guided.
Or to say it another way: God is more committed to showing you his will than you are to knowing his will. He wants you to know it more than you want to know it. You may be so confused that you think that is not possible. You may be struggling so much that you can’t even conceive how that statement can be true.
2. When you commit yourself to knowing God intimately in every area of your life, he takes personal responsibility to make sure that you do His will.
When you make the commitment to say, “Lord, more than anything else I want to know you in every area of my life,” then God responds by saying “In that case, I’m going to make sure that my will gets done in your life.” He takes personal responsibility.
3. If you truly want to do God’s will, you will do it.
If you truly want to do God’s will, you will do it. Not just that you will know it, not just that you’ll understand it, not just that you’ll discover it. But if you are truly committed to doing God’s will, he will see to it that you are able to do it!
4. If you truly want to do God’s will, it will be impossible for you not to do it.
If you truly want to do his will in every area of your life, not only will you do it—it will be impossible for you not to do it. That ought to give a tremendous degree of comfort to you. That’s how committed God is to showing us his will. He not only wants you to do it, but if you will truly open your life to him, he’ll make sure you do it.
The Play-Doh Principle
What then is the most important factor in discovering God’s will for your life? The answer rests inside your heart. It rests with an attitude that I’m going to call “guidability.” That’s the ability to receive guidance from God. It’s an attitude on the inside which is open to the Lord.
When was the last time you played with Play-Doh? It’s probably been awhile unless you’ve got a houseful of preschoolers. Play-Doh is fun! When it first comes out of the can its so much fun because its cold and clammy and gushy. It’s gushy, you know how you gush it between your fingers. And it’s bendable and shapeable. It’s wonderful to play with. You can take Play-Doh and you can make a little baseball with it and throw it through a window, as has happened many times. Or you can make it flat like a piecrust. Or you can roll it up and make a cigar. Or you can take that thing that looks like a cigar and bend it into the shape of a little horse. Then you can turn the horse into a rabbit or pig depending on how fat you make it. You can do anything you like when the Play-Doh is soft.
Wanted: Bendable Believers
But what happens to the Play-Doh when you leave it out for 3 days? It dries up, gets hard and brittle. What happens when you try to shape it? You can’t because it’s too hard. There are many Christians who are like that before the Lord. They are hard, brittle and unbendable. They are set in going their own way, they have their own plans, their own agenda, their own desire. They have become stuck in their ways.
Christians like that wonder why guidance is hard to find. When you let your life become hard and brittle before the Lord, even God himself will have difficulty guiding you. That is why there is no principle more important than the principle of guideability, which is nothing more than being soft and bendable and open in the hands of God so he can shape you the way he wants.
We find many examples of guidability in the Bible:
Young Samuel said, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”—Guidability.
David said, “Teach me thy way O Lord.”—Guidability.
Solomon said, “In all thy ways acknowledge him.”—Guidability.
Isaiah said, “Here am I Lord, send me.”—Guidability.
Saul said, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”—Guidability.
My whole sermon series can be wrapped up in one sentence: Guidable people always receive guidance from God. Why is that? Because God always speaks loud enough for a willing ear to hear. Therefore there is nothing more important than being open to receive guidance from God.
How will you find the guidance you need? That’s a tough question because God may speak to us in a variety of ways. We may hear a sermon, read a passage of Scripture, receive advice from our friends, feel some inner sense of direction, have opportunities open or close, or none of these or all of these.
A Most Unlikely Text
But there is a marvelous passage in Acts 16 that pictures for us some of the major ways in which God guides his children. Acts 16:6-10 is the story of Paul and Silas and Timothy at the beginning of the second missionary journey. They had joined forces to visit the churches, preach the Word, and strengthen the saints. It was Paul’s desire to go west and preach the Gospel in the province of Asia. But we’re told that the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let them go west so they went north instead, intending eventually to go northeast into Bithynia. But the Spirit of Jesus told them no, so instead of going west into Asia or northeast into Bithynia they went due west across the top of Asia to the sea port town of Troas, which is where Paul received a vision of the man from Macedonia. From Troas, they crossed the Aegean Sea and began preaching in Macedonia.
You could probably read this text 150 times and you would say, “I don’t see anything in there about discovering the will of God.” Len Hoppe called me early this week and said, “Pastor, I’m going to lead the contemporary service this Sunday. I’ve been reading these verses and I can’t see anything in here. How are you possibly going to get a sermon from this passage?” Well, we’ll see! I am using this seemingly obscure text because it shows us how Paul and his friends, in the course of the ordinary affairs of life, determined God’s will in a big decision they had to make. They had to decide where they were going—north, south, east, or west. Acts 16:6-10 tells us how God made his will clear to them.
I believe the way God made his will clear to them is the same way he’ll make his will clear to us as we face the big issues of life. So, then, how does guidance come? Our text reveals four answers to that question.
1. Guidance comes through obedience in the ordinary.
Verse 6 tells us that “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.” Then they tried to go to Bithynia but they couldn’t go there. So they come to Troas where Paul has the vision. On the very next day they get ready at once to leave for Macedonia, “concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
Paul was on a mission from God to preach the gospel. That’s the only explanation for his life. That’s why he made one hazardous journey after another. That’s why he kept moving from one province to another. That’s what his team was about. Before they started, his desire was to preach. Their destination was to go places where they could preach, and in between, from the beginning to the end, they only had one thing on their agenda: To preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The only thing that Paul didn’t know was exactly where he was going to do it. He knew what he was going to do, he knew how he was going to do it. The only thing that wasn’t clear was where he was going to do it. Was it going to be in Asia or Mysia or Bithynia or any of a dozen other possibilities? Don’t miss the point: Paul knew what he was going to do and how he was going to do it, he just didn’t know where. The guidance he needed concerned where to preach, not whether to preach. In Paul’s mind, he was to continue preaching wherever he found himself.
99% of Life
That leads to a profound insight: 99% of life is ordinary. It’s just the same old stuff day after day. As my friend Jerry Hansen says, “It’s the same old sixes and sevens.” You get up in the morning, take a shower, put your clothes on, eat breakfast, get the kids ready for school, go to work, hope the kids are OK, come back from work dead tired, read the paper, watch TV, try to be nice, try to get supper ready, eat supper, try to sit down, can’t sit down, mess with the kids, flop into bed dead tired, get up the next morning and then what? Do it all over again! That’s the way life is! You just get up, do what you’ve got to do, and when you come home, do what you’ve got to do at home. The next morning, you get up and do it again. That’s very important.
Where do you begin in discovering the will of God? The first step is to do what you already know to be the will of God in your present situation. The way you discover God’s will for the future is to do what you know to be the will of God right now. So many of us live for those high mountain peak experiences, for those emotional moments, for those times when the clouds part and God just seems so real and close to us. Almost as if we could reach out and touch him.
Get Up and Do It!
We wish they could happen every day so when we say “God, show me your will,” what we mean is, “Lord give me some feeling, some insight, some spiritual revelation.” And God says, “I have already shown you my will. Now, just get up and do it!”