Dr. Richard L. Strauss
November 17, 1974
After a Christian learns some of the fundamental truths of the Christian life--how to walk with God and grow in Him, as we've been studying these last few weeks--one of the questions that often comes to his mind is: How can I know the will of God for my life?
He wants to know God's will. How can he find it? He's a Christian: a genuine child of God by faith in Jesus Christ. He's put his trust in the finished work of Christ. He's been born into the family of God. He understands the amazing miracles God performed in his life the second he put his faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. And now he wants to grow spiritually. He's beginning to enjoy victory over sin as he's yielding his life to the Lord and he's fleeing from temptation.
He knows what to do when he fails--and we all do fail. He knows how to acknowledge his sin and confess it to God, and then enjoy the forgiveness of his sin, which Christ paid for on Calvary's cross. He's learning how to rest in the Lord and find peace of mind and spiritual growth through the trying circumstances of his life. He's learned how to decide doubtful things in areas of life that the Bible doesn't speak on--in manners of Christian conduct so that He can please God in His life. He's growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as Peter exhorted him to do in 2 Peter 3:18.
Now suddenly he becomes aware of his tremendous desire to know God's will for every little detail of life. Not just about matters of doubtful conduct, but every detail. He wants to please God. He wants to be in the center of God's will and the place of God's appointment. That's the ministry of the Holy Spirit in his life.
"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Romans 8:14).
Those first experiences of finding the will of God are the evidence that you're God's child. That inner longing to know the will of God in every detail is put there by the Holy Spirit.
"The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:16).
That's the Spirit of God--dwelling in our hearts, witnessing to us that we are God's children, and putting in our hearts the desire to please Him.
We want to know how to find the will of God, and that is the point of today's lesson. How do we know God's will? How do we get directions from God?
In order to get into the subject of knowing God's will, we have to establish that God does have a plan for our lives. If we don't believe that, then the question of how to find God's will becomes an unnecessary one. God has a plan for your life.
That's a beautiful thought to me. God is sovereign and omniscient. In eternity past He knew that a fellow named Richard Strauss was going to live, and He knew what would be best for his life and He had it all planned. God's very best for me was laid out in eternity past.
Now, not everybody follows God's plan. They go their own direction. But God knew that would happen, too, or He isn't sovereign and omniscient, right? So even if they can't go back and change things, and go back and find God's best, God has a "best" from that point on, or He isn't God.
So wherever we are today as believers, God has a plan for our lives. You say, "I've missed God's will." I've had many people tell me that. They come into my study and sit down, and the thing that's eating at their soul and gnawing away at their very being is something like this: "God called me into Christian service when I was a young lad, and here I am 40, 50, or 60 years old. I know God called me but I turned my back on Him and now here I am. My whole life has been wasted. What can I do to remedy it?"
What can you do? Say, "God, here I am." At whatever age and whatever stage of your life, tell God, "Here I am. From this point on, You've got a best plan for my life and I want to know it. I want to know Your will for my life."
God has a plan for our lives--one that involves every detail of our lives. And He is willing to reveal that plan to us. Let me show you a few passages from the Bible to establish this fact, and then we can move on and discover how to find God's plan for our lives at this point in our experience.
This is a promise of God: "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye" (Psalm 32:8).
That's a good promise to memorize.
You want to find direction from the Lord? God says, "I'll show you which way to go." As Christians, we can know the very mind of God concerning the direction of our lives.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6).
These are probably the most famous verses in the Bible relating to finding the will of God. Did you see the promise? "He shall direct your paths."
God says, "I have a plan. I will reveal it to you. And you can know it with assurance."
"The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail" (Isaiah 58:11).
There is satisfaction, peace and joy, and abundant life in the center of God's will. He promises to guide us continually, if we want guidance.
"Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Ephesians 5:17).
I said God had a plan that involved every detail of our lives and He is willing to show it to us. Now He says, "Don't be a fool; understand what My will is."
If we are exhorted to understand God's will, obviously God is not playing games with us. We can know His will for our lives.
"For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:9-10).
Paul prayed that the Colossians would know the will of God for them. And we see here that the will of God involves pleasing Him in every detail.
"Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God" (Colossians 4:12).
We can know God's will. We can do God's will and stand in the very center of His will. Now we need to know what God's plan entails at any given moment.
So let's find out how to know the will of God. I'd like to share with you four principles for getting directions from the Lord. These principles have been very, very meaningful in my life. God has used them to direct me on a number of occasions, in a number of important decisions I've had to make: such as the decision to come to Escondido two-and-a-half years ago to pastor Emmanuel Faith Community Church. I think God will use these principles in your life because they are principles for knowing God's will that come right out of His Word.
I don't think you can find God's will unless you know what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to walk in the Spirit.
We already read verse 17 of Ephesians 5. It is no accident that verse 18 follows it. These two ideas are linked more closely than most people ever admit.
"Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:17-18).
I don't think it's possible to know God's will without being filled with the Spirit. You remember two important elements for being filled with the Spirit you'll think back on our messages thus far in the Christian Adventure series. One of them was that we be living in victory over sin. Oh, I don't mean that we never sin--we won't come to that place until Jesus changes our old sin nature when we meet Him in glory. But when we do sin, we acknowledge it to God and we admit that it's sin, and we ask Him for victory over it, so that at this point in our lives, there is no known sin in our lives that we have not confessed to God and asked Him for victory over them. That is one important facet of the Spirit-filled life. It's a life where we are enjoying increasing victory over sin and growing in the Lord.
There was another facet we studied. It was that we had to yield our wills to the Holy Spirit--in other words, let Him take control of us. That's the whole idea in Ephesians 5:18. Wine controls a man. Don't be controlled by wine, but be controlled--filled, occupied, dominated--by the Holy Spirit. In order to do that, we must yield our will to God and say, "God, I don't want my will; I want Yours. I want You to take control and steer the ship of my life." The absence of self-will is part of the Spirit-filled life.
Now think of these two things in relationship to God revealing His will to us. The first one is obviously necessary. Sin produces that cloud of guilt, which hinders our open fellowship with the Lord. God is in the light, but we're in the darkness of that cloud of guilt so open communication is hindered. We've got to be in fellowship with the Lord. Those sins are a problem when it comes to finding God's will.
The second thing is even a greater problem, and I don't think we recognize it often enough. I don't think God really wants to show us His will when He sees in our hearts a deep-seated resistance or rebelliousness or defiance against His will. In other words, God is not interested in showing us His will so that we can check it out to see whether we like it or not. He wants to see on our hearts an absolute surrender to Him. We must yield our own wills to His; then He's going to reveal His will to us. This is very clearly established in the those famous verses in Romans 12.
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:1-2).
There it is: the will of God. How do you find it? First of all, give God your body. Yield your body to Him and all that your body contains. Your very person, your emotions, your intellect, your will. Your desires, your ambitions, your motives. Give them to Him and don't let the world press you into its mould. Stop letting Satan fill your mind with the philosophy of the world so that it directs your thinking--whether it's by music and entertainment of the world, or literature of the world, or anything else. I'm not saying we can never listen to secular music nor read secular literature, but there is some that is designed to reshape our thinking according to Satan's world system. Don't let him do that.
Be not conformed to this world but be continually transformed by letting God pour spiritual truth into our minds through the Bible--by the renewing of your mind. Now, when we yield our bodies to Him and stop letting the world conform us to its way, and when we're growing in Him renewing our minds through spiritual truths, then we can prove--that word means to discern accurately--we can prove what is that good and perfect and acceptable will of God.
You want to know God's will? It starts right there in Romans 12:1-2. Then you'll have the capacity for accurately judging what God wants you to do.
Frankly, the command is there and it's laid down as a condition. We do one thing so that we may know the will of God. If we haven't done it, I'd have to say that it's impossible, really, to know the direction God wants us to take. He Himself has revealed this principle. So if that sin nature is in control of our lives and the flesh is dominating us, we aren't going to know God's will. We've got to get this basic matter settled before we're ready to decide any specific issue that we need to decide in our lives.
I am convinced that some folks want to know God's will so they can decide whether or not they like it. If they don't like it, then by attitude if not by actual words, they say something like, "Well, thanks God. I appreciate You showing me that but I've got my own plans that I like a little better." And they go their own way. God isn't interested in that kind of a relationship. The Bible says He's the potter, we're the clay (cf. Jeremiah 18:4-6, Isaiah 29:16, Isaiah 45:9, Isaiah 64:8, Romans 9:20-21). Unless all traces of what we want are removed, we may never be able to find out what God wants in any specific decision of our lives.
This is a heart-breaking thing. Over and over again I've heard Christians say, "Yes, I want the will of God for my life, but I'll never..." and then something follows. I'll never break off with that person I'm dating, even though he or she is not a believer. I'll never go back to my mate even though I left him or her with no Biblical cause. I'll never leave Escondido. I'll never stay in Escondido. (I've heard both of those.)
Don't expect to find God's will for your life if you have those reservations. Have you done what Romans 12:1-2 exhorts us to do? You've got to if you want to know God's will for your life. Yield your will to God. It's absolutely essential.
I know that's difficult to do. In fact, sometimes we're not even sure whether we've done it. We think we have, but we're not sure that self-interest is fully gone. What we want sometimes keeps cropping up, doesn't it? If we're considering a job, how much money we'll make or what part of the country it's in sometimes becomes the overriding question, rather than "God, what do You want me to do?" Right? Maybe God wants you to make the decision based on whether there is a good Bible-teaching church in the area for you and your family. Have you asked that question yet? And there could be other factors besides money and prestige and part of the country that God wants to introduce.
We've got to ask God to remove all of what we want. There's nothing wrong with money and there's nothing wrong with living in a nice part of the country. But God wants to know that we want His will above all else. Sometimes money is a factor--I'm not saying it's not a factor. In fact, for a given decision, it may be God's most important factor. The question is: Do you want God's will above all else? Whatever He wants for you: lots of money or no money.
Young people, someday you're going to make a decision concerning your life's occupation. For some of you, God may lead you into full-time Christian service. Satan is going to want to put things in your mind like pointing out that you're going to have to make some sacrifices. Those things will mould your thinking if you let them. Why not say, "God I want Your will, whatever the sacrifice"? You'll be the most satisfied if you are in the center of God's will.
Maybe you've been offered a position in the church to teach in Sunday School. And now you've got to make a decision. Are you telling God that you really want what He wants? Or are you telling yourself that you really don't want to be tied down on the weekends?
Maybe it's about giving. Should you really give a significant amount to the church building fund or should you invest it? Maybe if you invest it you can make more money and five years from now actually end up giving more. Maybe. Maybe not.
What does God want? I don't know which He wants. In these examples, I'm not saying one choice is better than the other. The point is in the question: What does God want? Have you asked Him?
Please don't misunderstand. I'm not saying or even implying that God always asks us to do the hardest thing. Or the least glorious or lucrative thing. Or the most sacrificial thing. As I stand here now two-and-a-half years later, I look back on the decision God led me to make to come to this place, I have to say that it wasn't any of those things. There were some questions in my mind and there were some problems and there was a matter of finances, but as I stand here now, I know that God put me here and everything has turned out for His glory and praise. And it certainly isn't the least glorious thing or the most sacrificial thing or the most difficult thing. It isn't those things at all. It's actually the most enjoyable thing I could be doing right here and now.
God does not always ask us to sacrifice. The point is that the sacrifice--the money, the prestige, the ease--is not the issue. The issue is whether you want what God wants.
Look at an illustration of this in the life of Isaiah:
"Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?'" (Isaiah 6:8a).
And what does Isaiah say? "Lord, how much am I going to get paid?" No! He didn't even know what God wanted him to do or where He wanted him to go and yet he said:
"Here am I. Send me" (Isaiah 6:8b).
Only then did he find out where God wanted him to go.
How do we come to that point in our lives? Principle number one for knowing the will of God: Be filled with the Spirit.
The second principle is to be familiar with the Bible. God's will is always in accord with His revealed and written Word: the Bible.
"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105).
God doesn't speak to us in audible terms today. He has spoken to us in His Word. If you want to hear what God says, read the Bible. That is the revelation of God's will.
Now I know that the Bible doesn't address every issue. I'm well aware of that. It doesn't tell us in specific terms, go here, go there, do this, do that. But God still speaks through the Bible. The Bible contains spiritual principles that can help guide us in our decisions. The Bible also contains direct statements concerning God's will for every Christian.
We need to begin right there with those direct statements. If we're not even doing that, how can we want to know God's will about other issues that are not revealed in the Bible? The Bible, in other words, is the only absolute known factor in ascertaining the will of God for our lives.
If we're groping in the dark and looking for direction and don't know where to go, it is the Bible that is the known factor. Whenever we are looking for an unknown factor, we have to have some known factors, right? If you're looking for x, you have to known some other factor. So if 2x=10, then you can know that x=5.
So what is known about the will of God? We have it right here, in the Bible. Inspired, authoritative, incontrovertible. Truth.
You want to know God's will? Then read the Bible. Start learning what God has to say from His Word.
Let me show you a few declarations of His will. There aren't many so clear as these, but this is the place to start.
"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality" (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Is it ever God's will for a Christian to have illicit sexual relations? Pre-marital? Extra-marital? Not according to 1 Thessalonians 4:3. So you don't ever have to pray and ask God whether it's His will. God is very clear on this matter.
"In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Last Sunday we learned that we're supposed to give thanks in every experience of life. Do we ever have to ask God whether it is His will for us to give thanks through some hard, trying experience? No. God says it's His will for us to give thanks in everything.
"Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men" (1 Peter 2:13-15).
What's the will of God? That you obey the law of the land. The only exception to that is if the law of the land made us disobey the Word of God. It's the only exception laid down in the Scriptures (cf. Acts 5:27-29). But is it ever God's will that we disobey the law because, even though it doesn't contradict the Word of God, it's a bad law? Not according to 1 Peter 2. We don't even have to pray about that. It's already known.
"Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator" (1 Peter 4:19).
We learned last week that all of our suffering is there because God permitted it to be there and He has a purpose for it. Should we complain about it? No. God's will is that we commit our souls to Him, who is a faithful and wise Creator. So we suffer in the will of God.
"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
It's God's will for everybody to be saved. Not everybody is going to be saved because not everybody submits to God's will. Is it ever God's will for us to pray for a specific unbeliever? Should you continue to pray for that persons salvation? Yes. If it's God's will that all be saved, then it's God's will that we pray for those who are not saved.
So you see there are clear declarations of God's will in the Bible. There are other ways of finding God's will in His Word. For example, there are clear commands in the Bible that say do this or don't do that. We know that's God's will for us even though the command isn't followed by the words "for this is the will of God." Look at a few important examples.
"Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Corinthians 6:14a).
If you are a Christian and you are considering marriage to an unbeliever and you want to know whether this is God's will, you don't even need to pray about it. God already told you. Marriage is a yoke; it's the joining of two people together. You say, "Well, I'm already married to an unbeliever. Maybe I ought to get a divorce." No, no. God has some things to say about that, too. That's over in 1 Corinthians 7. Don't ever use 2 Corinthians 6:14 as an excuse for a divorce. 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 tells you if you're married to an unbeliever, stay there and live the Christian life in front of him. God will use your life to set him apart for special treatment. But if you're considering marriage, you don't even need to consider whether to marry an unbeliever. God has already told you His will on the matter.
If you want to know the will of God, you'll look to the Word of God. It's the only known factor in finding the will of God.
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6).
Be anxious for nothing, that is, don't worry about anything. That's a command. Is it ever God's will for us to worry? No, not according to Philippians 4:6. You say, "I'm not really anxious, I'm just a little concerned." That's a good euphemism for "sin," isn't it? "Concern." God says don't do it. Worrying is not in His will for our lives.
Hebrews 10:25 says, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together..." There are some people who are becoming members of Bedside Baptist Church. They say they can get good worship services on television or the radio [or the internet]. But that's not what the Bible says. It doesn't say how often to come; I'm not saying you have to be here every time the doors are opened. But when your attendance with other believers to learn the Word and worship the Lord corporately begins to fade away so that it goes for months on end and you're not at church, then you're not obeying the Word and will of God.
I could go on and on. There are hundreds of commands in the New Testament, both positively and negatively stated. You want to know God's will? Read the Scripture.
There are clear declarations of the will of God in the Bible. There are clear commands in the Bible. And there are clear principles in the Bible. Let me show you just one of them.
"But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
Now there is a command there: Decide what you're going to give with purpose and give it. But you aren't actually commanded to give cheerfully. Still, the principle is there: God wants us to give happily, with a merry heart. And there is another principle: If you give sacrificially and cheerfully, God is going to allow you to reap bountifully. And if you don't, you won't. It doesn't command you to give cheerfully and it doesn't command you to give bountifully. Rather, these are general principles that are useful in guiding our giving if we really wanted to do the will of God in relationship to this matter of giving.
There are many others, such as 2 Corinthians 5:17. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."
This is not a command, but it is a statement of fact telling us what happens after we become Christians. Things take on a new atmosphere. All things become new.
[Sermon recording ends here.]
Continue to CA-07B: How to Know the Will of God (Part 2)