SERIES: DETERMINING GOD’S WILL IN OUR LIVES
PART III: HOW DO WE DETERMINE GOD’S WILL IN OUR DECISION MAKING
By Pastor Matthew Woods
In part II of this series we reminded ourselves of the things we know God wants for us. He wants us to know salvation as so wonderfully reminded in John 3:15-17. We also know that the Lord wants us to live our lives carrying a firm hope in Jesus Christ so that everything we do may be done to the glory of God. Yet, we also reminded ourselves that Satan is all too eager to try to confuse us and get us to doubt the Word of the Lord. We know the formula from Genesis 3, “Did God really say…” So then the battle is within us because sin wants one thing while the Lord wants another. Yet while the Lord never forces His will upon us He makes it clear that not following His will brings about curses while following His will brings about blessings (cf. Deut 28 and in Matthew 7). Here in part III we try to see God’s will in our personal decision making. How do we determine God’s will in decisions such as Jobs, marriage, or even in the daily choices?
DO MY DECISIONS REALLY MATTER TO OUR HEAVENLY FATHER?
First, let’s ask ourselves, “Do my decisions really matter to our Heavenly Father?” Well, let’s ask this another way: Does a child’s decisions matter to her/his parents? As a parent I have to confess that the decisions my boys make are important. Decisions small and large can reflect one’s character and be life altering. Therefore, it matters to me as a parent that the decisions my sons make are godly decisions, “large” or “small”. I prefer that they act as men of integrity. For example I hope that I have instilled in them the proper way to treat a lady and given them an example in the way I have conducted myself with my wife, their mom, worthy of a future bride. I pray that whatever job they work at that they show up on time, work hard, and conduct themselves appropriately with fellow workers. I pray for a good relationship with the church regularly engaged with its fellowship and never too discouraged with the church’s inevitable flaws. I pray for good decisions in areas of faith, courage, success, and in being men worthy of respect by both the Lord and our neighbors.
I would hope that they would make sound decisions in regards to their safety. For example, young men usually drive quickly. Once I was one of those young men who drove too fast too often. So I pray that they will be safe drivers. I would hope that they would be men of compassion who would be willing to help when given opportunity. I pray that they would make decisions that would reflect a humility and gratitude for the things that they have been entrusted with in this world. And, of course, I worry for them as a parent does that their decisions will lead them into a future with some level of success.
No parent wants a child to fail. Nor does our Lord want us to fail when making our own decisions. So I would answer the question with a decisive “Yes my decisions really do matter to our heavenly Father.” After all why would Jesus come to bring salvation without wanting our decision making to be healthy? This is one motivation when Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more (John 8:1-11) and the rich young ruler to sell all his possession and give them to the poor before he decides to follow Jesus (Luke 18:18-23). Jesus gives them a good alternative over what their decisions have previously led to—one that will help them win.
WHERE DO WE START?
Start in prayer. Go to the Lord first. I won’t belay the obvious here, but prayer is the place to start even before you go into the word. The first and best place to start is with Jesus. When Jesus picked His disciples He prayed all night to the Heavenly Father for wisdom (Luke 6:12-17). Jesus’ whole ministry is marked by prayer.
Go back further to Nehemiah 9. This is the longest recorded prayer in the scripture. Nehemiah’s faith life was a balance of prayer and action. But he always prayed first. Nehemiah prayed and then put his request before the king (Neh. 2:3,4); he prayed and then “set a watch” (Neh. 4:9). He exhorted the people to “remember the Lord …and fight” (Neh. 4:14). Nehemiah came to Jerusalem and managed to rebuild the wall in a very short period of time because he was a man of prayer. Nehemiah is an excellent book in teaching one to pray to achieve one’s goals.
As you pray clarify with the Lord what it is you are actually praying for. During a High School football game between two Christian Schools is the right prayer to win the game? Perhaps instead it would better to see the game as an opportunity to play to the best of one’s abilities and pray for that and then let the outcome of the game just happen.
When it comes to a relationship and hopes of marriage many may pray for the “right one”. In prayer it may be helpful to pray for a “good one” which leaves room for the joy of discovering a relationship rather than looking for someone who fulfills a personal checklist. The “right one” may be too narrow and one may become too “picky” and unable to see a “good one.”
What about financial decisions? We all live on fixed incomes. When we want something like a new car really bad it’s good for the Lord to grant clarity so one can know their true limits. For instance, is this a want or a need? Can I just fix the old car? Financial decisions need prayer and clarity because often the wrong emotions get mixed up in the decision making.
When it comes to jobs a prayer of patience helps in clarifying what one is really praying for; “a good paying job”, “a job that is fun”, “a job that meets my expectations”, “a job worthy of me”. Pray in steps if necessary. Maybe pray for one’s resume to be seen by fair people. Pray to have a constructive interview and allow an opportunity to be seen. When you pray be specific but also when praying remember to seek the Lord’s will.
TURN TO THE WISDOM OF THE WORD.
Let the Word of God dwell in you richly. This is the advice of Colossian 3:16. When the Word dwells in us richly it gives us an advantage over the world. This was also Paul’s advice to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3. “14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. The goal of being the Word is that we first know the Lord Jesus but in knowing Jesus we also may be “thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
After one goes directly to the Lord in prayer then go to God’s Word. When we make decisions it is fair to say that the Bible does not specifically answer questions like “Which job is best?” or “Whom shall I marry?” The Bible does however give us some criteria worth considering. First, will my decision become an obstacle to my faith? Second, is my decision going to violate my conscience? When Martin Luther stood before all the powerful people of his day at the Diet of Worms he believed that he may not leave that event alive. He was prepared to give his life if necessary for the Gospel. As part of his famous declaration; “Here I stand…” he also made note of the fact that it is not good to go against one’s conscience. Third, your decision should not cause anyone to stumble or fall, including oneself. Finally, one would do well to glorify the Lord and avoid any decision that creates or elevates oneself or something else to become an idol. Idols always demand sacrifice (the church and faith being the biggest). Idols work as a thief to pull us away from the living Lord and Savior, Jesus. Regular Bible Reading and study will help to keep one focused on godly wisdom through even the toughest decisions. There really is no substitute.
Nobody likes asking for directions. Over the years I have however, learned that stopping to ask most often takes less time than trying to figure out the right way to go. Let’s say I go on vacation to Disney World and have never been there before. Would it not help to talk to someone that has lived in Florida and has season tickets, and who has been there countless times? Of course! This only makes sense.
Consider personal example. When I worked in Yosemite for a season years ago I was fortunate enough to have a cabin-mate that had been in the park almost twenty years. He knew everything. So each weekend he would take me to places in the park that were rarely seen and helped me discover unknown swimming holes, hot springs, abandoned trails with spectacular views, waterfalls that few venture out to see, and more. He was like a living encyclopedia full of information about the park which he Himself had learned from years of experience.
Similarly, to find someone who is wise can provide the same opportunity in helping us to make a good decision. Besides many of our decisions are often layered under many emotions that often make deciding more complicated. Talking with someone offers us an objective view and may help us to sort out the pros and cons of any direction we choose. It is good that we hear from someone that won’t just tell us what we want to hear. And if this person is someone we know, like a grandmother, or a friend from church, they are more likely able to give us honest advice in a way that is firm and straightforward. And if this person is knowledgeable in the scriptures and is one who discerns the wisdom of the Word well then we may discover a better way to discern options in a godly manner. So, getting good solid counsel from a person who is wise in the scriptures, familiar with us but yet able to weigh things honestly with us, and is a person who is objective—this person is a valuable resource for making our way through decisions large or small.
Often just making a big decision brings relief and at other times it brings none. You should be prepared that often it’s common to second guess yourself especially when the decisions are health related or when end-of life decisions are made. Sometimes even when the decision is made the results may be painful or unsatisfying. Usually because the circumstances are so imprecise because they fall into the realm of best guess one can only make the best decision one can by using the information one has at the time one has it.
In the realm of jobs a decision is often made based on money or benefits. On deciding on a relationship a decision is always highly emotion driven. It’s hard to back away from a bad decision because we have invested so much of our energy and our emotions. When a large number of people are telling us that the love our life does not seem to bring out the best in us just the idea of failure, or starting over, or having no one motivates the heart to try one more time—prove that it can be done. And when a job takes more time from the kids then planned or the job somehow “nags at us” because something just seems out of alignment and we can’t put our finger on it but it’s there—maybe we need to reexamine. Good money works for a while but one’s contentment often weighs in as a higher priority eventually.
However, if a consensus of people agree and it begins to feel right and it all seems to make sense and align as a good thing then we should probably take that as our “sign” that it is good. If however, a consensus goes the other way and things seem like it is being forced somehow then maybe it would be better to try a different choice.
When one of our members decided to move from his current Assisted living facility to a newly constructed facility it only took him one day to realize he had made a mistake. He was sold up to that point but later realized that the new location just wasn’t going to meet his needs as he first thought. So he and his wife moved back after only six days. Remember if we evaluate our decision and somehow if it just doesn’t seem to be right—that little voice is telling us we made the wrong choice then remember it’s ok to make a different decision. That’s often part of growing in the Lord and in wisdom. We are bound to make a bad choice at some point in spite of all of our efforts. The Lord can forgive bad choices.
So, as we close things out please know three main things about seeking the Lord’s will in our choices. First, the Lord absolutely wants us to succeed in our faith. This is not necessarily the same thing as a successful career. Blessings are good but to succeed in our faith means that Jesus remains the center of our life and salvation is our hope. So turn to the Lord in prayer. Secondly, the Lord wants us gives us opportunity for sound advice from His Word and from people who can discern His Word. When Mature, godly people, are sought our decisions have a better chance of being objective, honest, and have a greater opportunity to be a blessing over a curse. Finally, honestly evaluate your decision. Sometimes we just do the best we can given our circumstances—Lord forgive us. In any case when we make an effort to please the Lord in our decision making, and we seek to do right by Him and loved ones the Lord’s Will will be served and He will be glorified. I hope that this series has been helpful and a blessing in your decision making process. The Lord be with you
PART II: DOES GOD HAVE A PLAN FOR YOUR LIFE?
In part one of this series I suggested that God does in fact allow more than we can handle but He is not necessarily the source of those things that trouble us. I also mentioned that our sinful state keeps us in over our heads. I then, shared that regardless of the source of what we face the Lord makes it a point to provide grace to meet it such as with Paul’s famous thorn in 2 Corinthians 12. God’s will therefore is served when we lean into our challenges with confidence in the Lord that we can meet even the sharpest of thorns with grace. Our challenges are bigger than we are but not bigger than the grace that sustains us. Paul himself boasted that when He is weakest God is doing His best work. The lesson is that we learn to depend on the Lord. This time however, we are looking at God’s will from the point of view of another cliché that makes the rounds. It comes in variations like, “God must have a plan for your life.” When making decisions does the Lord have a specific direction in mind? How do you know you are even on the right track?
START WITH WHAT WE KNOW THE LORD WANTS
God wanted this. He wanted Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. It was the Father’s will to allow His son, Jesus to be spit upon and punched in the face. It was the Father’s will to allow the scourge to tear Jesus’ back to shreds. It was the Father’s will to allow the Betrayer to betray Jesus. It was the Father’s will to allow the disciples to abandon Jesus, even deny Jesus three times. It was the Father’s will to allow battle-hardened soldiers to callously nail another perceived criminal to the cross—they had done it before and death was their business. As the lots were cast for Jesus clothes it was the Father’s will for Jesus to suffer the cruel words of the mockers. It was the Father’s will to forsake Jesus as our sins saturated His person and darkness covered the land. It was the Father’s will for Jesus to drink the cup of His wrath down to the very dregs. This is what God wanted.
It is not however what his mother wanted—no mother should have to see her son die. It was not what Peter wanted even when He was denying him. It was certainly not what the other disciples imagined when they gave up everything to follow Jesus. This was not the vision that most had in mind when thinking about a Messiah. I can just hear the disciples; “So, now what do we do?” “Do…?” “Hide in the upper room because there is nothing we can do.”
This may not be what Mary or the disciples wanted but this was not only God’s plan but God’s will. The “will” and the “plan” are the same thing. Jesus says as much in John 3 when teaching Nicodemus. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent on a pole so shall the son of man be lifted up so that all who believe in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15). The death of Jesus was what God wanted because it was necessary for us to have the forgiveness Jesus’ death brought. This is what Jesus wrestled with in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Father, if it is possible take this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42) It is now God’s will that we know Jesus through His Word—this is what the Father wants most for us and from us as stated in 1 Timothy 2:4. “Our Savior wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Is this not part of why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Father, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? Regardless, the fact remains from scripture that the plan of salvation is the same as the will for salvation. This makes sense. From Genesis 3 God made a plan and a promise to provide a Savior to fulfill His greatest desire for humanity which is to be saved from sin. It also reveals the loving character of our God.
“THE LORD DID SAY . . .”
The will of any human being is an expression of one’s desire. When we write out a last will and testament we are expressing our final wishes; usually this means we define who we want to get our stuff when we die. When it comes to a Christian life the problem we face is that our will is still in bondage to sin and still resists the will of God. Our nature is always chafing against God’s desire for us to live holy lives. Paul refers to this internal battle in Romans 7 when he offers a very tongue tangling explanation: “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. This is a problem that goes all the way back to the beginning when free will was still free. Apparently when the sin living in each of us does its doing it leads to a lot of do-doing of the things that are contrary to God’s will — even for the great Apostle Paul who knows better — doesn’t always do better.
But how does one know what God’s will is in one’s life. Sometimes the Lord is explicit and specific. For example consider what happened in the Garden of Eden. From Genesis 3 we hear: “2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” Remember this was a conversation in a moment of perfection: Perfect memory and perfect recall. You tell me, was Eve aware of what God’s will is?
Now I realize that we do not have perfect recall but let’s look at a few examples of other things. Numerous times the scriptures tell us to avoid immorality especially sexual immorality (Ephesians 5:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Corinthians 6:9 to name a few). We have heard the command to avoid adultery. How are following these scriptures? Love and sex are not the same thing but many Christians act as though these scriptures no longer apply. Numerous places in scripture speak of speaking in truth and living in truth (Ephesians 4:15; Proverbs 28:13; 2 Timothy 2:15 to name a few). Are we always truthful?
The scriptures also speak of how God’s will is to keep our responsibilities to Him and one another. 1 Timothy 5:8 speaks of providing for our families. “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” If you are part of the family you should be contributing to its well-being.
In parables like the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus and the Parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus makes it clear that we are responsible for our neighbor’s well-being. In fact if we do not act we are denying our own faith. And 2 Corinthians 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” We will answer for our actions. Truth be told when we know what we should be doing and do not do it we are responsible for our actions. Eve knew what God said and then put her desire for gaining wisdom above God’s will to keep them from falling.
The very first way to know God’s will for our lives is written very plainly in the Word of God. Romans 12 sums it up well when it says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Read and digest the Word like it was your next breath. When we are struggling to find the will of God in our lives the first step is written down. Prayer alone is not enough if you need true wisdom. You must become familiar with the wisdom of the Word which expressly states God’s will for us–to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. It is by the grace of God that I can even say this. God’s grace is with you. God’s Word is in itself an expression of God’s desire for you to know Jesus fully.
Often however, our sinful nature distorts our will and listens to the lie and temptation which Satan uses: “You shall be like God….God is holding out on you. You have a right to get what you want out of life!” God is not holding out on us. It is we who hold out on Him and then blame Him when it turns out badly.
An antique mousetrap displayed at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) has proven that it may be old, but it’s not obsolete. The 155-year-old contraption was recently found with an unfortunate mouse trapped inside, according to a MERL blog post.
The mousetrap, first patented in 1861, has rusted, warped metal bars and a faded label that reads “Perpetual Mousetrap,” aptly adding that it “will last a lifetime.” Apparently it’s capable of lasting even longer than that.
The trap, on display, wasn’t baited, but that didn’t matter. It’s designed to work via a seesaw mechanism that uses the pest’s own weight to tip it, sealing the mouse inside. It’s a simple mechanism, that is noted to be “timelessly effective.”
Satan is completely opposed to the will of God and uses the same timeless trap he has always used…and found effective. 1 John 2:15 warns us “Do no love the world or the things of this world.” If we turn to the idols of this world then Satan can spring his trap on us. Idols are anything we love more than the Lord. Therefore, the greatest temptation is to get us to focus on ourselves; money, comforts, expending energy to control or manipulate someone or something to suit our personal desires, and ultimately chasing anything that makes “me” happy. He finds our deepest weakness, holds our secrets sins over us to motivate us to hide from God in our own personal gardens of failure. And then Satan works to convince you to defend your sin by insisting it’s your life to do what you darn well please. Know anyone that’s thought this way?
Satan’s goal is to get you to stop thinking about what God has said and focus on your personal desires as though your desires are always the best standard. Satan’s job is to get you to be purely emotional, to be irrational and impulsive—to doubt God’s character in the process. Usually, fear or anger become part of this picture so that we feel justified in our rebellion, convinced that we are in some way actually doing something just. Then hurting others or ourselves is also justified often causing relationships to crumble and a community unravels. In fact, one of Satan’s biggest lies is to convince you that if you are successful and happy then God’s will is always being done. This thinking puts happiness and success on par with God’s will. Satan wants us to create idols of these things and then follow them. Problem is, idols always demand sacrifice even if that sacrifice is your relationship with your spouse, your relationship with your church, and especially your relationship with Jesus. If Satan can get you to doubt God’s character then maybe he can convince you to doubt the plan too. He is opposed to the God in every way.
The good news is God’s will is done whether we agree with the Lord or not. It is done no matter how much Satan chaffs against or acts to undo it. Nowhere is this more true, then in the cross. Evil men crucified Jesus for selfish reasons and in so doing they served God’s desire for the cross to pay the penalty for sin. We also know that in our weakest moments Jesus seeks out the lost, or as in the case of Adam and Eve, he goes searching for the lost when they try to hide—in order to bring grace in the weaknesses.
IF . . .THEN . . .
The Lord seems to offer a choice to His people which is marked with the formula “If…then…” even though the word “then” is implied. For example, in Deuteronomy 28 as Moses addresses a new Israel poised to go into the Promised Land we see the formula. If the Israelites obey the commands of the Lord (then) the people will be blessed and if they do not follow His commands (then) they will curse themselves. Even though “then” is implied the formula applies. Jesus finishes His Sermon on a Mount in the same style in Matthew 7. He says, “If anyone hears these words of mine and puts them into practice (then) he is like a man who built his house on the rock. If one does not put them into practice (then) he is like a man who builds his house in a place vulnerable to the shifting sands of the seashore and it will crash with a great crash.” (Paraphrased). The actions of the people lead to a result that will bless or curse. We reap what we sow — we’ve been taught this by the Lord Himself.
CONCLUSION: THE PLAN FOR OUR LIVES STARTS BY APPLYING THE WORD TO OURSELVES
Can we say we really don’t know what’s God’s will is — at least His primary will? The Lord spells it out more than we often give Him credit for. If as Christians we read His Word, then we at least know that His will is to save us through Jesus Christ. We also have a better sense of God’s character—gracious, loving, generous, forgiving, and kind. We also learn about ourselves — that our sin is regularly warring within our conscience to resist God’s will in our lives. In this we discover our weaknesses and learn how to defend them. The benefit here is knowing God’s intention for us. He wants for us to be saved—think about that. Our heavenly Father wants us to succeed in the highest way. As we read the Scriptures we know that God’s desire is for us to know Him completely, fully, and . . . eternally. It stands to reason that when we are commanded to follow His will He has our best interest in mind here on earth as well. Does God have a plan for you? The answer is yes. But how individualized does His plan for me or you go? Does one exist specifically for me or you? That’s the question for part III.
Series: Determining God’s Will in Our Lives
Part III How do we determine God’s will when making decisions?
PART I: DOES GOD GIVE US MORE THAN WE CAN HANDLE?
Have you ever gotten into a situation that was bigger than you imagined? I know I have. Consider working on cars for example. I can do a lot of stuff when it comes to fixing a vehicle but I have my limits. Last year when my son, Josh was having issues with his truck engine we took it straight in for repairs only to find out that another truck was in the next bay for the same problem. Only, the other owner tried to fix it himself. The result was that it cost him much more to get it fixed right—-he messed up his timing chain and all kinds of internal stuff—-(“When it gets past what I know I just call it internal stuff”). Knowing my limits has saved me a bunch of trouble. But it hasn’t saved me from all trouble. Trouble finds everyone. And sometimes it can be more than I can handle.
“GOD PROVIDES A WAY OUT.”
So, as I write to you I just want to offer some food for thought. The statement, “God will not give you more than you can handle” is well-known. The idea is drawn from 1 Corinthians 10:13 which reads, “No Temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” The context is focused on the problem of temptation not trials or tribulations. Since scripture is clear that temptation comes from the devil and that it is “common to man” the Lord seems to limit the strength of that temptation as He once limited the damage Satan could do to Job. On the other hand the verse reveals that the Lord provides an escape route. In other words the temptation itself is never bigger than the opportunity to escape it. When temptation stalks us faith is given an opportunity for obedience and grace.
THE LORD IS NOT NECESSARILY THE SOURCE OF WHAT TROUBLES ME.
The context of 1 Corinthians 10:13 may be about temptation but the question remains. Does the Lord give us more than we can handle? For the sake of our time here I will not dive too deeply into the question of the Lord as the source of what we can handle or not handle. I will just say that the source of things is not always identifiable. Trouble can be brought on by poor choices. I could choose to smoke, practice an idle lifestyle, and eat unhealthy every day and then when my health fails I could say, “Why did God let this happen to me?” The Lord is not going to interfere with my choices but ultimately my choices may result in a problem.
Sometimes however, the source has no rhyme or reason to it. For example, consider a sudden failure of a digestive system resulting in the need for a transplant or an aneurysm on the heart which turns into life-saving surgery. These are much more random. Then again not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the knowledge of the Lord. So when I hear “God does not give” this assumes God has ordained something to happen. I do not believe God gives cancer nor desires illness for anyone even with the idea that He would test or discipline His children. In short, the source of things that are difficult are not necessarily from the Lord.
However, as I look at scripture I don’t have to look too hard or too far to see that His people are regularly in over their heads and facing more than they can handle. Noah was in over his head so Noah built an ark with explicit instructions. Noah certainly built the ark through many years of hard work, the Bible calls him a righteous man, but in the end it is the Lord who saves Noah and his family. Moses didn’t beat Pharaoh, nor bring about the plagues, nor cross the Red Sea by himself, the Hand of the Lord was with Him. Same can be said of Joshua and the Israelites. They did not bring down the giant walls of Jericho because they were strong, but because the Lord had given them the city. I would suggest to you that the Lord’s people are regularly over their heads and beyond the scope of their limitations and thereby allowed to be in a position where they must rely on the Lord even only for manna and water in a place where there is none. Which brings us back to my food for thought.
THE LORD IS THE SOURCE FOR GRACE
The Lord may not be the source for troubles but He is definitely the source for handling them without being overwhelmed by them. Even in Temptation as stated above the Lord provides an escape from temptation. For the Apostle Paul it was grace. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 gives a familiar text. “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul has more than he can handle with his “thorn”. Three times he begs to be rid of it but in the end the Lord allows it to remain. Paul calls it his “weakness”. He also makes clear that God did not give it but identifies the source as Satan who’s goal was to torment and break the spirit of Paul. The Lord does however gives something else—His grace. With this grace Paul is able to carry on without being overwhelmed. We also note that Paul develops a greater understanding of himself—it keeps him from becoming conceited. It keeps him centered on Jesus.
THE LORD IS THE SOURCE OF DELIVERANCE, CONFIDENCE, AND GRATITUDE
Consider another passages in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11. 8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.”
Here I would encourage you to consider the result of the experience. First, Paul describes dire circumstances. “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. It felt like a sentence of death.” Paul’s experience got pretty dark to the point death was assumed to be next, perhaps even preferred. Again the circumstances were allowed to exist but this time the source of events that led to this dark experience is not clearly stated. But what results is a greater reliance on the Lord for deliverance. Paul developed a reliance on the Lord not unlike David.
Just before facing the giant he refers back to his experiences as a shepherd rescuing the sheep from a bear and a lion. David learns to rely on the Lord. In 1 Samuel 17:37 David confidently tells Saul, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
The result for Paul is similar. “If Jesus got me through the last thing He will surely get me through this too.” God did not send the problem but Paul certainly gives credit to the Lord for deliverance. He also expresses gratitude for those who prayed for him. In the end the better path was to allow the weakness in order to also find the strength in Jesus. Experience with weakness seems to develop a greater confidence in the Lord.
SOME ONLY COME LOOKING FOR THE “FIRE EXTINGUISHER JESUS” — SOME ACTUALLY MEET THE LORD THROUGH GRACE.
Not all have a faith mature enough to rely on the Lord, however. I’ve seen this in folks who normally don’t see the inside of a church will all the sudden walk through our doors. A major shift happens in their life; a job loss, a spouse suddenly leaves, facing criminal charges, or discovering something like inoperable cancer. The brokenness brings them to church carrying guilt, or fear, or desperation. And usually by this point they have at least realized that their trouble is more than they can handle alone. So, they come hoping that the church will somehow fix their problem.
Instead of looking to the Savior, too often people come looking for a kind of fire extinguisher to put out their personal fire. Fire extinguishers are great when you need them but most of the time they are ignored. A fire extinguisher hangs humbly in the hall until its needed to put out a fire. Otherwise most days folks just walk by it unconsciously. Somewhere in the back of their mind they know it’s there but if asked they are not even sure exactly where it hangs because they haven’t needed it. The Lord, if he is perceived as not needed most of the time will be treated a lot like this.
Here is a common pattern. Rather than looking for the Lord many persons who suddenly show up are really looking for a new resource to maintain control over their situation, to put things back where they were happy. A lack of quick fixes often then results in a resignation that the new reality is here to stay so they stop looking for help. Then what follows is a sudden absence along with a new resentment or at least a disillusionment toward the Lord or His church or myself as the pastor for not giving them the miracle then came looking for.
But once in a while we will see one who begins to lean on the Lord to the point that acceptance of their “weakness” leads to discover the sufficiency of God’s grace. They find wisdom as Paul did about the Lord and about himself. A confidence begins to grow in the Lord that may not have been there before. With this comes a greater appreciation in the Lord rather than a focus on self, or the trouble that started it all. The trouble doesn’t necessarily go away but the perspective changes. As Paul once said, “I’ve learned to be content in all circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). As long as we are willing to learn we will learn.
DEATH MAY BE MORE THAN WE CAN HANDLE BUT JESUS HAS GIVEN US A RESURRECTION TO PROVIDE THE ULTIMATE ESCAPE.
Perhaps then the ultimate form of facing more than we can handle is death itself. A time eventually comes when the brokenness of our bodies cannot be overcome by doctors, or good-diets, or medication. Eventually we literally come to the end of ourselves and our bodies stop working altogether. Death comes to us all. No one can overcome death without the Lord dying and rising again. He changed death from an ending into a gateway home to the Heavenly Father’s house. Easter is so significant because of this. The Lord’s resurrection is our resurrection from death. But here again are all the gifts. Jesus is not the source of death but He is the solution. He gives grace to overcome the grave. Hope is designed to instill confidence in Jesus’ resurrection. And we find ourselves more willing to trust in His deliverance. We find ourselves living a life of gratitude as Paul did while confident in a perspective of life that only faith in Jesus can maintain.
CONCLUSION—JUST FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Do we get more than we can handle? Often. Does the Lord give it? Not necessarily. Jesus does however, give us the tools needed when we face trouble all with the goal that we grow closer and more confident in our Savior. The benefit is the exercise of our faith to rely on and realize a fuller measure of Jesus working in our lives. To know Jesus more fully is certainly within the realm of God’s desire and will for our lives as we live out our days.
God’s Will part 1.PDF (For printing)
Series: Determining God’s Will in Our Lives
Part II: What is God’s will for us?
Part III: How do we determine God’s will when making decisions?