Sermon: "Seeking God's Will"

Third in a YAFI (You Asked For It) Series,
Delivered June 20, 1999 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8

Sermon Text: Ephesians 5:15-20
15 Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise,
16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.
18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,
20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Many of you have requested a sermon on seeking God's will, because you know that even as a committed Christian, it is not always easy to know exactly what it is that is God's will for you life.

Like the middle-aged farmer, who always wondered in the back of his mind whether God really wanted him to be a great evangelist. One day working in the fields, he took a break and laid down under a tree. Looking up in the sky he saw the clouds form what seemed to be the letters P and C. So, he hopped up, sold his farm, and went out to P-reach C-hrist; knowing now that this was God's will for his life. The only trouble was, this guy was a terrible preacher. One night at one of his crusades after a horrible, horrible sermon, a compassionate friend of his who knew the story of how the farmer got his "calling" went forward and whispered in his ear, "Could it be that God was just asking you to P-lant C-orn?"

What is God's will for your life, and in mine?Before we get into the text this morning, I want to say something that is very important about understanding the will of God and our ability to discern what it is.

You can divide God's will into his general will and into his specific will. His general will is always, always very clear. We find his general will clearly revealed in Scripture in the area of what you and I are to believe; ethics, morals, life-style, how we are to behave.

But most of our questions about the will of God don't come in that general area, do they? They come in a specific area. Who should I marry? Should I take this job or that? Am I to move? Should I continue chemotherapy or not? A lot of times, we get worked up in tizzy over what God's specific will for our lives is, without grounding ourselves and being sure we understand what God's general will is for our lives.

Like the Christian guy who was fretting over 'Should I move in and live with Mary, or Sue?' Well, if he knew the general will of God, that would not have been a question at all. That is why I exhort this congregation every year to read through the Bible with me in its entirety; so that over the years as you and I rub up against the clearly revealed general will of God, it becomes our anchor. It becomes our guidepost. It becomes the lens through which we can better discern the specific will of God. I can tell you this morning what God's supreme will for your life and mine is: its that we have an intimate personal relationship with him through Jesus Christ.

If you ask me what Anne's will, or her preferences are in a lot of different areas, I can pretty much tell you. Why? Because I know Anne. I know her at more than second hand. I know how she thinks. We communicate. I know her heart.

God never has very much communicated with people through burning bushes. He chooses chiefly to communicate through burning hearts. Hearts passionately in love with Jesus Christ. If you are really, really serious about finding God's will for your life, but you don't know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then that is the place to begin. You will have an opportunity to do that later on in the service. But if you do know Christ as Lord and Savior, and you are struggling to find out what God's will is in light of his lordship and under the authority of his word, then the Apostle Paul has some clues for you and me here, as he writes to some early Christians in the city of Ephesus.

I would invite you to turn with me in your Bibles, and keep those Bibles open during the sermon, as this morning we look at Paul's letter to the Ephesians, the 5th chapter, verses 15-20. This is the Word of God. Paul writes:

Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Join me as we pray: And now Father, as my words are true to your Word, may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray from your Word, may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Early in 1989, I found myself in total agony over what God's will was for my life. I had been extended a call to come and be the Senior Pastor of this congregation. But was it God's will for my life? I was not really sure. Was it God's will that I uproot my family, and move them 1,500 miles across country from Texas to Maryland? Was it God's will that we should leave behind us all of our dear friends there? And especially our support system because it had been just over a year since we had gone through the drowning death of our daughter Anna? Was it God's will for my life to come and be the pastor of this congregation?

What if it is not God's will? What if it is my ego pulling at me? I could go from being a Youth Minister to a Senior Pastor. What if it is not God's will, and I go up there and I kill that church?

David Brainerd, the great Presbyterian evangelist to Native Americans, in 1742 received a letter urging him to be a part of the gospel mission work to Indians. He began to agonize. Was this what God wanted him to do or not? So, he decided to do this. He immersed himself in the Word of God, and in prayer. Then he invited some of his wise, close, Christian companions to come one evening; and then he read that letter to them; and then he asked them for their prayers, their wisdom, their counsel. Over a period of time, it seemed that all of the lights turned green, and David Brainerd stepped out in faith.

Back in 1989, that is pretty much what I did too. Let me tell you, God's will is always, always crystal clear in hindsight. But you and I need some foresight as well don't we? That is what Paul gives us in this letter to the Ephesians in the text we just read. He lays out some points that are actually part of God's general will for our lives. But if we can look through them as a lens, I think you and I will be better able to discern what also is God's specific will for us as followers of Jesus Christ. Let's take a look at these verses in some detail.

What is God's will for my life? In verses 15-17 of our text, Paul reminds the Ephesians and you and me here today, that that is a very important, crucial question to ask. You are a wise person if you ask it; you are foolish if you don't. Look at how he begins the text. He says, 'Be very careful how you live.' That is another way of saying, make sure that your life is in accordance with the will of God. He says, 'Make the most of the time." In other words he is saying, invest yourself into asking this question. Ask it over and over and over again.

Is this God's will for my life? He says you need to be asking that all the time, "because the days are evil." If you and I are not asking that question, then we are going to be seduced. We are going to be seduced by the days. The world will capture us with its will. So he says, 'Don't be a fool. Be wise, ask the question.' Then he goes on in verse 17 of our text to say that you need to understand what the will of God is. You and I need to go through life continually asking. "Am I in God's will in this area? Am I in God's will in this area? That area?" Asking the question and asking it again, and again, and again.

But Ron, how can I be sure? How can I be positive that I am in the will of God? Even when I am asking that question? Well, in verse 18-20, Paul lays out four points. Four points that are a part of the general will of God for your life and mine; and four points that direct you and me, I think, into what God's specific will might be in certain areas. Let's look at those.

In verse 18, Paul begins by saying, 'Don't get drunk. Don't get drunk on wine.' Now, I don't think is Paul's "Carrie Nation" crusade against the wine industry back in the first century. What I believe he is addressing here is a far larger problem. That is the problem of escapism. Bottom line, when you are a Christian, you are supposed to deal with reality. You deal with reality with a capital "R", which is God. But we are to deal with reality in life. Even in all the pain and suffering that comes our way in this life. We are not to run away from our problems. We are not to seek escapism. We are not to try to anesthetize the pain, be it with drugs, or alcohol, or illicit sex, or psychological denial, or running off into a fantasy world somewhere.

We need to deal with reality. Because when you don't, you are not dealing with God. When you and I are out of it, that is just it, we are out of God's will. Nowhere in scripture does it say that God's will for you and me is to be happy or pain free. It does say that God's will is that you and I deal with reality. When we are dealing with reality, you and I are more apt to understand exactly what God's specific will is for our lives.

Secondly in verse 18, he goes on to say, 'Instead, be filled with the Spirit." That is the Holy Spirit. That is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Now what does that mean to be filled with the Spirit? It means to allow God to pour into you everything that he wants to give you in the context of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. To be filled with the Holy Spirit means that you make it a point of your life to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in your life, not all of the myriad spirits of darkness that come to you and me disguised as angels of light, and want to lead us astray. It means knowing Jesus Christ at more than secondhand. Knowing not just about God, but knowing God. To be filled with the Holy Spirit means that I open my life to the Spirit. Not just up to my waist, where it just appears like I am walking with Christ. Not just up to the neck, where my heart is usually in the right place; but up to the very top of my head, where my heart and mind and my entire being is being shaped toward the mind of Christ. As you and I grow toward the mind of Christ, we begin to think like God. We begin to think God's thoughts after him. And when you and I start thinking like Christ, we are more apt to discern what the specific will of God is for our lives.

Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. You and I are to examine our lives, in the light of the Holy Spirit, and ask the question, "What is God's will for my life?" When we are filled with the Holy Spirt, we are more liable to figure out the answer.

Thirdly, in verse 19, Paul says that you and I are more apt to be in touch with God's will for our lives when we immerse ourselves in the worship of him. He says, 'Speak to each other with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music unto the Lord.' He is talking about worship.

Bottom line, the Christian faith is a singing faith. But life with all of its difficulties and tragedies tries to steal the song from us, doesn't it? We have a lot to learn from our black brothers and sisters, chained in slavery, oppressed on every side. Wondering, 'Where is God's will in all of this for us?' What did they do? They sang! Gospel music and spirituals and the blues, that all comes out of that experience. The Christian people are a people of song.

Oh, but life is always trying to snatch that song from us. Like Chippie the parakeet. One minute singing peacefully in his cage; the next minute, sucked in , washed up, blown away. It all started when Chippie's owner decided she would clean his cage with a vacuum cleaner. She was vacuuming the cage, and the phone range, and she reached over to answer it; and swoosh, there went Chippie into the machine. Well, she quickly flipped it off, opened the canister, ripped open the bag, and there was Chippie still alive, but stunned. Covered with dirt and soot. She ran into the bathroom, put him under the tub faucet. Now he was sputtering, soaked, and shivering. So she ran into the bedroom and this time hit him with a blow dryer. Well, a few days later a friend asked her how Chippie was doing. She said, "Well, he doesn't sing much any more. He just kind of sits on his perch and stares."

Life has a way of knocking the song out of you and me. And that my friends, is why worship is so important. That is why music is such a vital part of worship. Every week we come and we gather here, and we learn to sing again, and then to take that song out into the world.

The Christian faith is a singing faith. When you and I make our way through life singing, singing chiefly praise to God - it is then that we are more likely to hear God singing back.

Fourthly and lastly, verse 20. Paul says that you and I will be more likely to get in touch with the will of God, when we cultivate thankful hearts. He says, ' . . . giving thanks to God the Father for everything." For everything?

Matthew Henry, the great Biblical scholar, one night was walking home and he was mugged, beat to a pulp, his wallet stolen. That night in his journal, Matthew Henry wrote these words: "Lord, I thank you. I thank you that I have never been robbed before. Lord, secondly I thank you that they took my wallet, but not by life. Thirdly Lord, I thank you that I was the one who was robbed, not the one doing the robbing."

The word "thankful." In the Anglo-Saxon it means "thinkful." When you and I examine our lives, when we think out our lives, when we think about our lives in the light of God's grace and our personal relationship with Christ, it is then we ought to be thankful for a whole lot of things. We have such a God of grace and mercy. Isn't it wonderful that he blesses our lives, not just in those areas where we are thankful. When was the last time you and I gave thanks for our spleens?

He continues to bless us, even in areas when we are not thankful. But you know what? When you and I are thankful, our heart beats more closely in sync with God's heart. When that happens, you and I are much more likely to discern God's specific will for our lives.

Part of me says, 'Who in the heck, who are we to presume that we can know God's will? We have a tough enough time trying to figure out what we even want in our lives.' But I'll tell you this, you and I are on the right track when we deal the reality that God has a will for our lives. It is not always painless. It is not always easy. It doesn't always make us happy. But I'll tell you this, it is always fulfilling. You and I are on the right track when we come to grips with the fact that God's will is often times not very efficient. It is not safe. It doesn't always seem logical. But at the bottom of God's heart, at the bottom of God's will for your life and mine, is always, always our best.

Martin Luther once said that, "If it were the will of God, I would plant an oak tree today, even if I knew Christ were coming tomorrow."

Join me as we pray.
Oh Lord, dispose my will to will thy will. And then to will is well. The willing will that wills thy will, within thy will, will dwell. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© 1999, Dr. Ronald W. Scates
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org