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Doing the Will of God
A Bible Study By
Begin With Me
To pray, "Your will be done" is the same thing as praying "Your kingdom come." When God's will is perfectly done upon the earth even as it is in heaven, then God's kingdom has come. To pray thatGod's kingdom will come and his will be done is a missionary prayer that applies to the whole world. We pray, "Lord, may your kindgom come, may your will be done in every human heart." That should be our prayer, and our prayers should cause us to do more than pray. Our prayers should cause us to devote every effort to making our prayers come to pass. If we pray that God's kingdom come to all people then we work toward that end.
And the place we begin is where it counts the most. In many ways, we can not do much about making other people come to Christ. We can talk about Jesus, we can live Jesus before them, but we cannot make them into Christians. The old saying is: "You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink." That is also true of Christ. We can present Christ. What others do with Christ is something else again. But one person we can make certain of. One person that we can absolutely know accepts Jesus as savior and Lord in heart and mind and soul. That person is ME. Therefore, the first place that we apply "thy will be done" is to ourselves.
When we do the will of God, then God's kingdom has come in us. It follows then that the extent to which we do the will of God is the extent of our faith. Here we can learn a lesson from Islam. The word Islam is the Arabic word for submission. The Muslims take Islam or submission as the name for their religion because that one concept defines what it means to believe in God. To believe in God is to be submissive to will of God. Those who are not submissive are by definition unbelievers.
As Christians, we accept that also. In JH4:34, Jesus said, "My food is to do the will of him that sent me, and to accomplish his work." Again in JH5:30, Jesus said, "I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me." What Jesus was saying was that his relationship with God was defined by his commitment to do the will of God. When we believe on Christ, the same standard applies to us. The extent to which we obey God is the extent of our belief. Now I know that some folks do not like to hear that. Some people say. "I believe in God," then they live without God. They make every decision in their lives without any reference to God. But we all know that such a profession is not real belief. It is just words. Real belief has some effect on our lives. Real belief is the submission of our lives to the will of God. By definition then, a believer is someone who is striving to do God's will. That is how we know we believe--because we are trying to do God's will.
There is a poem that says the same thing:
Our relationship with eternal God
Is our commitment to the will of God.
To say, "I believe" is a profession
Just words, sounds in the air, without passion.
Real belief effects me; real belief changes me.
Believers are trying to do Gods will.
We know we believe when we do Gods will.
Now a word of caution. Sometimes people have claimed to be doing the will of God as ajustification for doing evil.
In 1978 the Reverend Jim Jones led a group of people down to Guyana and decided that it was the will of God for all of them to commit suicide--and they did.
In 1993, in Waco Texas, David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians, said that he was doing the will of God when he indulged in depraved sex and stockpiled guns and ammunition and led his people into a confrontation with the federal government that resulted in their violent deaths.
In 1997, thirty-nine members of "Heaven's Gate" decided to "shed their containers" and get on a spaceship hiding in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet. The resulting mass suicide of 21 women and 18 men, ages 26 to 72, all sporting buzzcuts, dressed alike in trendy black pants, oversized shirts, and brand new black Nikes, was truly bizarre
The Bible Guide
This then leads us to the real question in this verse. Any one can claim to be doing the will of God. The question is: How do we know when to believe them? Make that a more personal question. How do I know when I am doing the will of God? How do I recognize God's will for my life? The answer to that is not always easy, but we do have some guides.
The first guide we have for determining the will of God is the Bible. For example, the Bible tells us that God is love. Therefore, if it is not love, it is not the will of God. This is a point that we must get fixed permanently in our minds. God never wills evil to anyone, anywhere, at any time. God is, has been, and always will be pure, undiluted, unmitigated love. Nothing in the world can make us compromise on that. We cannot live, we cannot think rightly, until we grasp and hold tight to that basic biblical principle. If someone says, the government is antiGod and antichrist and therefore we ought to strike at the government and blow up the federal building in Oklahoma city, and kill a whole bunch of innocent people, then we know that is not of God, because a loving God is not involved in the slaughter of innocents.
The Bible says that God is love; therefore, we know that God does not cause pain and death. Some people say that we should regard our sufferings as the will of God, and be submissive in our sufferings. It may be true that some things that appear to us to be pain and suffering may turn out to be the best things that every happened to us. Plenty of students in schools have thought teachers were awful people because they insisted upon students learning things like reading and writing, and yet they were grateful ever after that they learned to read. Sometimes we are poor judges of what is real pain and real suffering, but we know that there is real pain and real suffering, and I for one have a lot of trouble believing that a loving God causes that. I do not believe that God causes mass murder and genocide, and I do not believe that God causes cancer or disease.
This is an old argument. People of all religions have always argued about what God causes and what God does not cause, but Presbyterians in particular have a problem with it. Some Presbyterians, who are more Calvinist than Calvin, say God predestines everything, therefore whatever happens to us is God's will and we must accept whatever happens. That makes a mockery of God. That identifies God with every evil that has ever been done on this earth.
When the Lords Prayer calls upon us to pray for God's will to be done, it implies that God's will is not always done--otherwise we would not praying for his will to be done. Moreover, the scripture teaches that God's will is not always done. It was not the will of God for Adam and Eve to transgress in the Garden. It was not the will of God that Herod, in an attempt to kill the baby Jesus, should slaughter the innocent babies of Bethlehem. To believe otherwise, makes God worse that the devil, but no one really believes that. No one really believes that it was God's will that Susan Smith drown Michael and Alex in that lake over in Union. If we believed that, we would have tried God, not Susan Smith.
We do not believe that God is responsible for everything, because that is not what the Bible teaches. Look at the life of Jesus. Jesus did not say, God is responsible for sin; therefore, I will not do anything about sin; rather, he died on the cross to destroy sin--because sin is not of God. Jesus did not say that God is responsible for disease and pain; rather, he spent most of his ministry healing people who were hurting. Jesus did not say that death was from God; Jesus rose from the dead to conquer death. Yes, evil exists. Sin, pain, suffering, and death exist. These things are real, but these things are not from God--they are from the devil. How do we know that? Because this is what the Bible teaches. The Bible identifies pain, suffering, sin and death with the devil.
So let us go on. The basic means for determining the will of God is the Bible. My wife and I had an example of this. We were debating whether to go on a cruise in the Caribbean--No, we could not afford it, but we decided to go anyway. But my wife was a little nervous about the idea of flying to Miami and then taking passage on the ship for eight days. She could imagine all kinds of bad stuff happening to the ship or to the airplane. Most of all to the airplane--because she does not like to fly. So she made this a matter of prayer, and having prayed at some length, she opened her Bible, and the first words she saw were from IKN22:49, "Let my servants go with thy servants in the ships." That seemed to us like a pretty direct answer. So we went on the cruise and had a great time. And we got back just before Hurricane Errin.
That reminds me of another time, when we were both desperately seeking the will of God. We received a call from a church in Atlanta. That was sort of a frightening thing to us. Here we were two people from a small town in South Carolina and those people down there in monstrously big city of Atlanta said that they thought God wanted us to come down there. That required a lot of prayer. And we turned to the bible for help and came to IIKN1:15, "Then the angel of the Lord said to Elijah, "Go down with him; do not be afraid of him." Again, a pretty direct answer to our prayers. So we accepted the call to that church and were there four years.
The Holy Spirit Guide
You can see then that I believe that the Bible can help us to arrive at specific decisions, but I need to qualify that. By picking our verses, we can make the Bible say anything that we want it to say. Just opening the Bible here and there is not by itself a good method for determining the will of God. As Presbyterians, we have never believed that the Bible alone is sufficient. After all, two people can take the same verse of the Bible and read it in two different ways. So if the Bible is one guide to knowing the will of God, we must have a second guide to interpret the Bible rightly, and we do. When we believe on Jesus, we have a spiritual guide. We have a helper, a comforter. We have the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is in our lives, and therefore the Holy Spirit enables us to make decisions about specific things in our lives.
The Golf Ball
Let's talk about how that happens. A few years ago, the Charlotte observer carried an article about a forty-seven year-old Winthrop psychology professor who was wrestling with a decision about whether to give up his career as a pschologist and become a minister. His name was Garry White. The article described how he came to know God's will in this matter.
His father had been a strong man of God and an avid golfer. Yes you can play golf and believe--no matter what some people say. Garry White's father had died some years before. While Dr. White was wrestling with this decision about what to do with his life at age forty-seven, he went home to visit his mother. He was walking around a field where he and his dad had once hit golf balls. The field was now planted in pine trees. He said, "I was walking through the pine trees, thinking about Dad. About halfway through, there on the ground was a golf ball. I reached down and picked it up and stood looking at it for a long long time." The ball was an unmarked, uncut Titleist, his father's brand.
Dr White said, "For me that golf ball was a message from God that assured me that Dad was ok. It was as if Dad was talking to me somehow, or as if God was talking to me through this golf ball. It was a message that was exquisitely tailored for me. What that did for me was to end my old understanding of how the world, the universe, is put together. In a sense, it felt like I had come to the end of what I know and was just beginning to realize that there was a whole lot left to know." That golf ball then was God's sign to him to go to seminary and enter the ministry. Let us reflect then about Dr. White's experience. He found an his fathers old golf ball. That was not surprising--since he found it in the place where his father hit golf balls. Other people may have found golf balls there, but other people did not get a message from God from a golf ball because they were not wrestling with Dr. White's problem. He was seeking the will of God about a problem, so God gave him an answer, as he put it, "exquisitely tailored" for him. No one else could have received that message from that golf ball, but Dr. White could not miss that message from that golf ball.
You may be wrestling with a problem. Perhaps the problem is about jobs, perhaps it is about money, perhaps it is about family or friends. Whatever it may be, it is your unique problem. It is not anyone else's problem. Other people may have similar problems, but your problem is still your special problem. You want to know the will of God for your problem. If you come to God prayerfully, with an attitude of surrender to his will, whatever that will might be--then God will give you an answer for your problem. It may not be through a golf ball, but it may be through something just as simple and just as ordinary.
The Unclosed Door
Let us take another example of how we can determine the will of God for our lives. Back in 1995. the newspapers covered in detail the struggle for leadership in Calvary Church in Pineville NC. Ross Rhoads was the pastor at Calvary for 22 years, but things were not going well since the church moved out to Pineville, so the session forced him to retire. The spokesman for the session, speaking on this decision said, "As we have gone down this road, God has clearly been leading us. We have constantly asked the Lord to block us if this was not his will. He has not."
Now, I do not want to discuss whether or not the session should have asked for Dr. Rhoads resignation, but let us examine the way the session went about determining God's will in this difficult matter. They had a tough decision to make. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt. They wanted to do God's will. The way that they decided that God was with them was that God did not block them from doing what they wanted to do.
Now in counseling, I have sometimes recommended the same method. People will say, "Does God want me to do this?" My answer might be if it is not contradictory to the Bible, and if the way is open for you to do it, then that may be a pretty good sign that God wants you to go that way. That is sort of a standard principle for Christian counselors. The principle is that as believers God is in and through our lives. If we are trying to come to a decision, we are surrendered to God's will and open to his leading. Therefore, if God does not prevent us from doing what we want to do, it may be all right. This principle has scriptural justification. In Acts16:6, we read that the Holy Spirit forbade the apostles to preach in the Roman province of Asia. That is to say the way was not open for them to go to Asia, and so they accepted that the Holy Spirit had blocked them.
As I have said, I have used this method, but I am not really happy with it--because it seems to make God into a negative force. We know what God wants us to do by what God prevents us from doing. Perhaps that is one way God works, but only one way and not the most important way. If we study the ministry of the Holy Spirit as given to us in the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit did sometimes say, "Do not go," but more often the spirit said, "Go." God does not just prevent us from doing things that are our will, God leads us to do things that are his will..
Let us conclude then. Through the Bible and through the Holy Spirit, God will lead us to know his will. God can speak to us through something as simple as a golf ball, and God will speak to us. Let God speak. Let God have his will for your life. Amen.