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Living the Life God Has Planned
A Guide to Knowing God's Will
By William D. Thrasher
Moody PressCopyright © 2001 Dr. William D. Thrasher
All rights reserved.
God's Purpose for Human Existence
Tom and Becky left the pastor's office with decidedly different ideas running through their minds. Engaged to be married in a few weeks, they had come to the pastor's office for premarital counseling at his request, since they had asked him to conduct the marriage ceremony. Becky was already a believer. Everything Pastor Jenkins said about marriage being ordained by God and being holy made sense to her. She was beaming.
Tom, on the other hand, was not so excited. In fact he was deeply troubled. Growing up outside of a Christian home, he was taught that organized religion was a foolish and obsolete contrivance for simple minds. Surely, his teachers at all levels of school had taught him, man is a product of evolution, of random chemical and electrical processes developing over millions of years. Hadn't science proved that over and over again?
The two had met at college and fallen in love. When they decided to get married, Tom agreed to become "a churchgoer" to gain the approval of Becky's parents. He decided that Becky was worth putting up with this nuisance, at least until they were married. Later, he would let her go to church if she wanted to, but he would stay at home. Right away, though, his carefully laid plans began to crumble. Many things he heard in church, things that challenged his years of secular education, moved Tom. Many "truths" he had learned were challenged in church in ways he couldn't counter or disagree with.
But he was an engineer by profession. Science was the god of his life. If it couldn't be worked out on a computer or in a laboratory, it wasn't real. The Garden of Eden was a fairy tale. It had to be. "Look at the fossil record," he told himself repeatedly. "Man is descended from crude, simple amoebae, developing over billions of years. Countless generations of life forms demonstrate that truth."
Inside, however, he couldn't reconcile himself to the troubling sense that there must be more to life than being an accidental byproduct of certain chemical energy processes. Life must have purpose and meaning. Becky was certainly no accident! And Tom's own life must have some meaning apart from his own impulses. That part of the scientific argument didn't compute.
The scientists just ignored man's inner self because they couldn't see it under a microscope!
It continued to bother Tom that he couldn't fit all the pieces together, and it bothered him more than he would admit that the whole picture seemed to make sense to Becky. But one day he realized, "Science is always coming up with new answers. They can't be far away from answering this one too." After that it bothered him less that Becky's answer still seemed more satisfying than his, but it still haunted him sometimes as he prepared to spend his life with her.
THE MEANING OF LIFE
The age-old question jokingly debated in all entry-level college philosophy courses is "What is the meaning of life?" Not a few unfortunate students have been asked to write short but succinct papers trying to answer this simple but all-encompassing question. But a question that should be asked first is "Does God exist?" If we conclude that there is no God, then we are condemned to the hopeless task of finding meaning in a world that evolutionists readily admit is a product of random accident.
If, on the other hand, we conclude that the world could only have come about as a result of some creative force, a force beyond the imagination of men and their myths, a real and omniscient, omnipresent God, then the search for human meaning goes in an entirely different direction. If we accept the God of the Bible, revealed to us in His holy Scripture and in the world around us that He created, then we may take the question a step further and ask, "What is God like?"
Dr. Howard Hendricks is a renowned seminary professor who has taught Bible study methods to hundreds of men and women preparing for the ministry. Dr. Hendricks was asked one day, "What is the most helpful insight that you have ever learned about studying the Bible?" He replied with this simple answer: "This book teaches me about a Person." We can so easily lose sight of this truth as we study the Bible and learn principles and doctrine, but forget the Person to whom the principles and doctrines point. One can even seek for God's will and forget to seek God.
OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
The book of Genesis makes it clear that God, despite His limitless power and ability, is a Being with a mind, will, and emotions, much like us. When He created the universe we live in, His crowning accomplishment was to create man in His own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26–27). He created man with the capacity to enjoy His companionship. Such a statement tells us two important things. First, it tells us there were (and are) no other gods like the Creator in the beginning, thus declaring His own uniqueness. Second, He made man with a special care and design, apart from everything else, to be able to enjoy Him in all His perfection. To talk, to walk, to think, to play together. It may be hard for you to imagine going for a walk in the park with God, but that's exactly what Adam and Eve enjoyed.
Of course, the Fall and Adam and Eve's ejection from Eden ruined the harmony of that perfect relationship. A frightful pall of death now surrounds man. Man is stained in his relationship with God since Satan's tempting, for evil cannot coexist with a supremely good and pure God. By seeking to become like God, Adam and Eve violated the one rule they could not break: acknowledging God as Master. Loving, caring, friendly, but still Master.
And yet man was not completely abandoned by God, for God continued to be a presence in the lives of succeeding generations of men and women. Through God's Son, Jesus Christ, who walked among us, we have been given a Savior, a way out from the despair and death that now haunts our lives. During His ministry on earth, God in human form revealed Himself to us and told us how we might know Him and His will for our lives.
THE REVELATION OF GOD IN HUMAN FORM
How does Christ reveal God's nature and will to us? Jesus was talking to a group of "biblical scholars" of His day when He stated that the Scriptures bear witness of Himself (John 5:39). Jesus taught a Bible study on another occasion to His followers and explained how every part of the Bible pointed to Himself (Luke 24:27–44). Jesus is the climactic revelation of "who God is." Christ is "the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature" (Hebrews 1:3). He is "the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15). He is for this reason called the "Word" (John 1:1, 14). As our words reveal our hearts, so the "Word" revealed or explained the heart and character of God (John 1:18). For this reason, when his disciple Philip asked to see the Father, He replied, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). In Jesus, one learns the answer to the question "What is God like?"
God's purpose was not to abandon man in his pride and idolatry but rather to redeem man. First Peter 1:18 states that God has redeemed man from his futile life of independence from God. God's purpose for you is to bring you into a relationship with Himself. Redeem is a word that denotes an act of purchase. In New Testament times slaves were purchased from the slave market. The Lord redeemed man from being a slave to his own self-will. The purchase price is one of great and personal cost, for the Lord gave Himself in order to free us (Titus 2:14).
This act of redemption brings to those who believe eternal life, which is defined as an experiential knowledge or relationship with God (John 17:3). To be separated from Him is to experience death (Ephesians 2:1). But God's purpose is that a relationship be developed so that we experience the life that He describes as satisfying and "abundant" (John 6:35; 10:10). Such a relationship necessitates communication.
We could never know God's will apart from His communicating to us through the Bible. We would live in continual darkness apart from the light of His revelation. Although we can see signs of God in nature, it is only through Scripture that we can come to a truer and more complete understanding of Him. God's will for you is to develop your relationship with Him. It is God's will to expose sins such as pride and idolatry in your life.
The first step in knowing God's will and understanding His purpose for you is to trust Jesus Christ as your Savior. In Jesus we see not only that God is holy and demands that sin be punished but also that God is loving and gracious. In Jesus, who took God's punishment for sin for you, you can find a way to escape God's wrath and have peace with God (Romans 5:1).
God is seeking to reveal Himself to you as you seek His will. Let me offer a simple suggestion that I have found to be very helpful. This idea came to me when I set aside a special time to seek the Lord concerning the dryness in my Sunday worship experience. I had ceased to have a sense of anticipation in regard to the Lord's day. It had dwindled to a mere duty.
As I sought the Lord concerning this situation, I walked away from that day with a solemn personal conviction. The conviction was to never have a Lord's day in which I would not seek to share my heart with God. This requires preparation and the enablement of God. I take time during the week to write down the three greatest concerns of my heart, finalizing it on Saturday night. Then, going into the Lord's day, I lift up these concerns to Him. It may be an upcoming responsibility, an area in which I need direction, a relationship that needs His gracious aid, or a temptation. I write down any insight that God gives in response to the request, and I review it the next week. These sheets of paper are filed away and would be worthless to anybody else. But to me, they are a reminder that my God is a living God who knows my name and address and is willing to be involved in the affairs of my life. God reveals Himself to us in the context of the needs of our hearts. He wants to open His Word to us and show us what He is like as we seek His will.
THE PURPOSE OF OUR REDEMPTION
God has redeemed you to be "zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:14). He has a place for you. However, all of our good works are to be an overflow of abiding in Him (John 15:5). Our relationship with Him is the primary thing. Our service for Him is secondary. If we aim at the primary thing, we will get the secondary. If we aim at the secondary thing, there is no assurance that we will get it, and for sure we will miss the primary. Jesus was encouraging His followers not to be anxious about food and clothing in Matthew 6:25–34. He concluded His teaching by encouraging them to seek first His kingdom and righteousness and to trust Him with the secondary things of His provision.
I have written to encourage you not to seek God's will in an anxious spirit but rather to let your pursuit be after the primary thing of building an intimate relationship with God. A person who wants to know God must understand God's purpose for his or her life. God's primary purpose for your life is to build an intimate, loving relationship with Himself. This focused devotion will lead you into the full experience of every facet of His will for you.CHAPTER 2
Satan's Scheme to Thwart Man's Harmony with God
A student came to me one day after class and said, "I don't want to ride public transportation anymore." I was puzzled by this unexpected pronouncement. I knew the student didn't have his own car and lived too far away from college and work to walk. My curiosity piqued, I asked him, "Why are giving up on public transportation? Are you buying your own car?"
His reply was not what I expected, but I understood his anguish at once. He said, "Every time I sit down on a bus and don't witness to the person next to me I feel so guilty, that I have failed God."
Was this young man failing to honor the Great Commission every time he sat next to strangers on a bus or train? Was God sending him warning signals to get his act together and present the Gospel, or else? Naturally the Lord wants us to talk about His Word with others, but He doesn't expect us to carry a loudspeaker with us everywhere we go, yelling, "Accept Christ as your Savior today, before it's too late." He provides opportunities for us to be His agents of witness to others when conditions are right for both parties. And He doesn't convict us with guilt unless we have genuinely sinned or failed Him in some way.
Satan, on the other hand, doesn't want us to witness, ever. He can place false and oppressive burdens on us that hinder us from experiencing the freedom to love the people around us. His trick is letting us believe the guilt comes from God. Such a view of God leads one to a life of paralyzing fear. Only the truth of God can set us free (John 8:32).
As you seek to understand God's will, you will discern that you are in a spiritual battle. Ultimately your opponent is in the spiritual realm (Ephesians 6:1112). The Bible teaches that long ago, an angelic creature rebelled against the Creator. This creature is referred to by a variety of names in Scripture; Satan and the devil are probably the best known. Satan means "adversary," and devil means "slanderer." Because Satan is at war with God, whose supremacy Satan's pride will not accept, he seeks to thwart God by destroying or corrupting His creation, principally man.
The Scripture warns us not to be ignorant of Satan's schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11). He has a variety of strategies to separate man from God, but his most basic one is to distort our understanding of God. If the basic message of the Bible is the answer to the question "What is God like?", it is logical that His adversary would seek to distort this message and slander His character.
SYMPTOMS OF FOLLOWING SATAN
We see Satan using this ploy from the outset in the Garden of Eden. As you read Genesis 3:1–6 you can clearly see his attempt to distort Eve's understanding of God. An examination of this passage reveals the strategy to distort God's faithfulness. The serpent declared God to be a liar by stating "You surely will not die," in contrast to God's statement "You will surely die" (Genesis 3:4; 2:17). A casual stroll past the neighborhood cemetery will convince you who was telling the truth and who was lying. He also attacked God's goodness by implying that God wanted Eve's obedience in order to withhold something from her (Genesis 3:5). You and I would never sin unless we thought something good would come out of it. At this point, we are deceived by the lie that seduces man into a life of independence from God for one's own apparent greater benefit.
Satan understands clearly that he must use slightly different tactics to subvert the believer than the unbeliever. He is subtler, simultaneously aware of the message of the Gospel and human weakness. He plays upon our fallen nature, particularly in those persons less filled with the power of God's Word, to trick us into putting our thoughts on ourselves and our failures rather than on God and His ability to work in our lives. Another related temptation, especially for those who do know the Word, is thinking that they come closer to meeting God's standards than other believers do. Pride and self-reliance are still some of Satan's most powerful weapons. How can we recognize that other people, or we ourselves, are being distorted by Satan's subtle lies and mind games? Here are a few examples of those temptations.
Symptom #1: Giving God Only External Service
Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 15:8 when He said, "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me." In Tedd Tripp's book Shepherding a Child s Heart, the author reiterates that the goal of parenting is not only to get a child to conform to a correct behavior but to win the child's heart. God, who is a perfect heavenly Father, is not interested in performance Christianity that lacks true heart love. Even in relationship to our giving, God loves a cheerful generosity that arises from the heart as opposed to giving grudgingly (2 Corinthians 9:7).
When confronted with the symptom of external service in our own lives, our response should be to give our hearts unconditionally to God. We must grant Him the freedom to work in us to do His will, not our will. Although He is a good God who desires that we prosper, we must never forget that we are His servants, not the other way around. We judge others by external appearances; God judges us by our hearts. We may not know when others' motives lack integrity, but He does. That's how He measures our real love for Him.
Symptom #2: Believing That God's Commandments Are Burdensome
Most individuals at some time in their spiritual pilgrimage will struggle with this idea. First John 5:3 clearly states that God's commandments are not burdensome. Jesus, the climax of God's revelation of Himself, invited people who were burdened down with religion to experience His yoke. His yoke speaks of His loving control that He said was easy to wear. He declared His load to be light (Matthew 11:28–30).
I argued with God about this verse. I felt that the only way to have a light load was to purpose to live asuperficial Christian life. But that is not what Jesus said! I used to pad my daily schedule with "Christian stuff" to convince myself that I was serving the Lord and in order to experience that "light burden." But the reality was that I was burdening myself with others' agendas and problems and not always the Lord's. When I recognized that my time was not spent effectively serving the Lord, I changed my daily habits and concentrated on what the Lord wanted me to do in order to serve Him and build my relationship with Him. Almost overnight, my burden became lighter.
I also discovered that it is possible to sense that God's commandments are burdensome when I do God's will with the wrong motivations. I read 1 Peter 5 one day, and it was as if the Spirit of God underlined one of the phrases of verse 2. Peter was telling the elders of the church how to shepherd God's people. One of the three comparisons he gives is not to do it "under compulsion, but voluntarily."
Excerpted from Living the Life God Has Planned by William D. Thrasher. Copyright © 2001 Dr. William D. Thrasher. Excerpted by permission of Moody Press.
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