Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Discovering God's Will

This was delivered as a sermon at Ampang Gospel Centre on June 19, 2005. Many thanks to AGC for inviting me.

Should I marry him/her? What course should I study? Which job should I take? Is it right for me to watch this movie? When was the last time you asked such questions? Are you asking one now? Life is full of choices and crossroads, wouldn’t it be easy if God just told us what to do? There are few questions in a Christian’s life more fraught with frustration than this confusing thing about Discovering God’s Will. Twenty years into being called a Christian, I have to admit I have no idea how to (discover God's will).

But I do know that I can be asking the wrong questions, for the wrong reasons, and without knowing what I'm really asking for.

The wrong reasons for asking

Struggling to figure God’s will we often deceive ourselves. Praying, ‘Lord, what is your will for me?’ we actually mean, ‘God this is too hard a choice, you make it for me.’ My wife does that to me all the time: ‘Darling, should I cut my hair? Darling, does this dress look nice on me?’ Any man, who has been in a relationship long enough, knows not to fall into this trap. The best answer is ‘Up to you darling, you look great either way.’ Rather than do the hard work of making choices and facing their consequences, we try the easy way out. And if it doesn’t go so well – well, it’s His fault!

There are also those of us who are eternally self-doubting. Insecure about our relationship with God, we keep asking, ‘God, is this your will for me?’ because we are never sure if God approves of us. We are always looking for ways to prove our worth to Him. We keep trying harder and finding new ways, and to earn God’s love. Driven by fear and insecurity we keep busy but it is never enough.

But Who am I? We are ‘sons of the Most High’, not slaves of the evil taskmaster. God said to Jesus, ‘You are my Beloved’ at the Jordan, before He even preached his first sermon or performed his first miracle. He didn’t have to do anything to be the Beloved, and neither do we. We are sons, not slaves. We are the Beloved of God. You and I need not keep a list of do’s and don’t’s. Rules and rituals offer a false sense of safety at the high price of our freedom. Paul says to the Galatians, ‘Who has bewitched you?.. Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing…? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?’1

Before we ask what is God's will, let's first ask, who am I to God?

The wrong questions to ask

There are no short-cuts in life’s journey. Joseph’s own roller-coaster story of betrayal after betrayal only finds vindication toward the end. One would expect him to be bitter and resentful, not least towards God. But without much direct ‘guidance’ from heaven, Joseph kept his integrity and faith. Whether in jail or in Pharoah’s court he blesses everyone he comes in contact with. How does he do it?

Perhaps the crushing of a man yields the sweetest grace? Perhaps by 'losing his life' he has gained it? His ego and ambitions destroyed, he was set free to be what he was called to be. Joseph confesses at the end that ‘God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance… it was not you who sent me here, but God.’2 Rid of his childhood pride, and clearly having forgiven, God’s purposes had become his own.

Trials help us discover who God is in our lives and define our calling. It is only in darkness that we look for the light, only when we’re lost do we find a way. God’s high purposes for us makes ‘safety guidelines’ redundant. ‘Dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code,’3 explains Paul to the Romans. Nhat Hanh, speaking of this same freedom says: ‘People think it is impossible to establish a system of ethics without referring to good and evil. But clouds float, flowers bloom, and wind blows. What need have they for a distinction between good and evil? Life is lived just as the wind blows, clouds drift, and flowers bloom. When you know how to fly, you don't need a street map.’4

Why ask what is Your will when you can ask, who are You and what is Your purpose for me?

Am I ready for an answer?

There is no doubt that God DOES guide us. He says: ‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.’5 He has ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’6

But do we ask for our own indulgence or for the glory of God and the His Kingdom? For, it is the ‘pure in heart who will see God.’7 You will hardly expect God to reveal to you something you have no intention in obeying! We must listen to God with our whole being, listening not for knowledge, but with the will to choose His will, and a body to act on it. That is the meaning of obedience (Latin, oboedire - 'to listen.')8. When we ask for His will, let us be like Mary who listens that she may obey: ‘I am the Lord's servant, may it be to me as you have said.’

The hardest choices are not about what to do and where to go. In the final analysis it is my will against God’s. Until we let go of our hardened self-will and crucify it at the Cross, we will always be miserable. Jesus died that we may be free from self and sin. When we take the cup and the bread, we reaffirm our own death. Realising this, Merton said: ‘I was free. I had recovered my liberty. I belonged to God, not to myself: and to belong to Him is to be free, free of all the anxieties and worries and sorrows that belong to this earth, and the love of the things that are in it…. The only thing that mattered was the fact of the sacrifice, the essential dedication of one's self, one's will. The rest was only accidental’9

Don't miss the adventure!

From the revelation of Abraham to Jesus, God’s greatest goal for us is Himself. To Abraham, God said: ‘Do not be afraid,.. I am your shield, your very great reward.’10 Jesus said: ‘Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’11 Life should be as exciting as a mystery novel – you know it’s going to have a great ending but you’ll never guess how it gets there. And God isn't about to spoil it for us by horroscope-like answers. (If you've had a thriller movie ruined by someone who reveals the plot at every turn, you'll know that I mean.) Our craving for signs betrays our lack of security in God than a sincere need to know.

Every bit of life is precious – the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, the successes and the failures – I wouldn’t trade them for any kind of quick answers. God is more interested in us finding Him, knowing Him and loving Him then in getting every step of life perfectly right. Let’s first come to a full assurance of who we are, grasp His purpose for us, and cultivate a heart of obedience firmly in place. In all things, He is our sure and present Guide.

1. NIV. Galatians 3:1-3. Holy Bible: Zondervan Press.
2. NIV. Genesis 45:7-8. Holy Bible: Zondervan Press.
3. NIV. Romans 7:6. Holy Bible: Zondervan Press.
4. Hanh TN. 24-25 December 1962. Fragrant Palm Leaves. New York: Riverhead Books, 1966. pp. 105.
5. NIV. Psalm 32:8-10. Holy Bible: Zondervan Press.
6. NIV. Jeremiah 29:11. Holy Bible: Zondervan Press.
7. NIV. Matthew 5:8. Holy Bible: Zondervan Press.
8. Melanie, Mike. Archive of Your Etymology Questions.
9. Merton T. Magnetic North. In McDonnell TP, ed. A Thomas Merton Reader. New York: Doubleday, 1989. pp. 132.
10. NIV. Genesis 15:1. Holy Bible: Zondervan Press.
11. NIV. John 17:3. Holy Bible: Zondervan Press.


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