Is God's will top-secret? When it comes to God’s will, you may live in fear that He is holding out on you somehow. Yet, the Bible clearly reveals God’s will for your life. You only need to listen. When it comes to discovering God’s will, author and pastor James MacDonald finds historic misunderstandings among Christians: • "Can you ever be sure about what God wants you to do?" • "What if you discover you’ve been doing something other than His will?" • "If you somehow stepped out of God’s will at some point, can you ever get back on track, or is your situation hopeless?" Are you in God’s will now? Is a confident answer to that question ever possible?
|Publisher:||B&H Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||3 Months to 18 Years|
About the Author
James MacDonald(D. Min. Phoenix Seminary) is the founder and Senior Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel. James also founded Harvest Bible Fellowship, a church-planting ministry, and his practical exposition of God’s Word is broadcast around the world on radio and TV through Walk in the Word. James has authored several books and Bible studies, including Act Like Men, Authentic, When Life is Hard, Always True, and Vertical Church. He and his wife, Kathy, live in the Chicago area and have three adult children.
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The Will of God is the word of God
By James MacDonald
B&H Publishing GroupCopyright © 2017 James MacDonald
All rights reserved.
Who Needs God's Will?
DO YOU WONDER about God's will for your life personally? Do you ponder specific decisions you need to make and if they are in line with God's will? It might reassure you to know that most believers frequently wrestle with God's will for their lives. Welcome to the puzzle party!
But wait. Should exploring the topic of God's will be a party? Or do we have to relegate it to a serious, dusty, library crusade? Fear not, whenever we're with Jesus, we need not lose the idea of celebration. Jesus was constantly attending parties with His friends. In fact, He was accused of too much frivolity (Mark 2:16). Understanding God's will is not the absence of celebration; it is, in fact, a much better way to get there. The joy of knowing what God's will actually IS and doing it far exceeds the shallow pleasantries of what we typically mean by "party time."
So where do we begin? "Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord IS" (Eph. 5:17, emphasis mine). How well do we actually understand God's will? Take the following quiz to find out how clear or fuzzy God's will seems to you. Mark each statement TRUE or FALSE.
____ 1. God has a specific plan for my life that I should discover and follow.
____ 2. The little intuitions or promptings I feel are God's way of revealing His will to me. When I feel a tiny twinge or a holy hunch, that's God talking to me, guiding me into His will.
____ 3. Feeling a sense of peace is a key factor in making godly decisions.
____ 4. It is wise to use a "fleece" in determining God's will. (If you are unfamiliar with the term "fleece," then skip this question. We will address it later.)
____ 5. God's will can be divided into two categories: God's perfect will and God's permissive will.
____ 6. When faced with two good options, I must be careful not to make the wrong decision.
____ 7. Some people are called to full-time ministry; others are called to non-vocational, "lay" ministry.
The Answer Key
Let's quickly review the answers to the true/false statements from the quiz. In later chapters, we will address these issues in greater depth, and the answers will become clearer as we examine what God's Word teaches about His will. For now, a biblical answer and brief comments.
1. God has a specific plan for my life that I should discover and follow.
And the Bible says ... False.
God does not have a one-track route for your life devoid of meaningful choices that you must figure out. While some popular verses are used to support the "specific, detailed plan" approach to God's will, when we study those passages more closely, we will see that they don't support that conclusion.
2. The little intuitions or promptings I feel are God's way of revealing His will to me. When I feel a tiny twinge or a holy hunch, that's God talking to me, guiding me into His will.
And the Bible says ... False.
How can we tell if that pit-in-our-stomachs feeling is a holy hunch or last night's pizza? Our feelings can be so misleading. The advice to "just follow your heart" is not just bad counsel; it's also dangerous! Your heart (and mine) "is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). Our hearts are terrible leaders, so filled with variance and vacillation.
And here's a little heads-up: Doesn't it seem as though people who rely on hunches and promptings to discern God's will end up doing what they wanted to do all along?
3. Feeling a sense of peace is a key factor in making godly decisions.
And the Bible says ... False. (This is beginning to seem like a pattern, isn't it?)
I am amazed at how often I hear people claim to be completely "at peace" about directly disobeying what God clearly says in His Word! Christians say these things so often we cease to even question their legitimacy. It reminds me of the guy who said, "When I die I want to go peacefully in my sleep like Grandpa, not screaming and alert like the people in the car he was driving." Get it? Peaceful isn't always good and isn't always God's will.
4. It is wise to use a "fleece" in determining God's will.
And the Bible says ... False.
Although "fleece" rhymes with "peace," that's not why this statement is also false. It is false because God never prescribes fleeces as a way to determine His guidance. If you are curious about the origin of this notion of fleeces, read the story of Gideon in Judges 6–8. While Gideon's fleece is interesting and memorable, we have to remember as we read his story that Gideon already knew God's will before he set out a fleece! He had heard God's will from the mouth of the angel of the Lord. The fleece was an overly needy confirmation that God graciously granted, but Gideon was failing to live by faith in what God had said. Remember that story portions of Scripture record what actually happened, which is not always instructive on what should happen. Too often making precepts out of narrative gets us confused about what God's will actually IS.
5. God's will can be divided into two categories: God's perfect will and God's permissive will.
And the Bible says ... False.
You may have heard those terms before, and they sound so meaningful and theological that you may have accepted them as correct. But our standard of measurement is biblical, and those terms aren't supported by the Bible. Often those who use these terms are motivated to protect God's reputation, but God can protect His own reputation. We have to avoid being foolish and instead chase hard after what the Bible actually says about God's will.
6. When faced with two good options, I must be careful not to make the wrong decision.
And the Bible says ... False.
This concept alone can be crippling for Christians who want to please God. The thought process goes like this: I see two good choices, but only one of those can be God's will. If I choose the wrong option, I end up in a scary place outside God's will.
Although this sounds like sober thinking and gives our choices significant weight, the Bible does not teach this. Every day you face multiple, good alternatives from which to choose. If every step, every turn, every door you open has to be the single one that matches God's will, then life will quickly feel like a nightmare. The Christian life will feel like a field full of land mines. As we will see clearly and refreshingly, God's Word actually teaches that God's will has a ton of freedom within it.
7. Some people are called to full-time ministry; others are called to non-vocational, "lay" ministry.
And the Bible says ... False.
How does this fit into our exploration of God's will? Some people use this line of thinking to justify a wrong approach to God's will. They reason that certain "professional" Christians need to worry about following God's will, while the rest of us can take it easy discerning God's will because we are only doing ministry "on the side." Fortunately, our job description is more straightforward than that. We are all simply Christians, servants and followers of Jesus Christ — and the Bible nowhere distinguishes between professional and amateur Christians.
When I present these statements to people, I can almost feel the heated objections rising from the crowd. Some of these viewpoints are long-held, cherished guidelines in people's approach to life. When I call these ideas false, they struggle not to fold their arms, signaling their resistance. It can be very unsettling to rethink some of our deep, foundational concepts about God, what it looks like to follow Him, and what His will actually IS.
But at this point, we need to gently remind ourselves that we must base our principles on what God says — not on what other people say about and for Him. I readily include myself in that "other people" category and challenge you to check everything I write against your Bible. As always, compare what you hear and believe against God's never-changing Word.
As we begin to untie the knots in our view of God's will, let's consider three reasons we should explore the topic of God's will (besides just our own burning curiosity on what God's will actually IS).
Motivation #1: Because there's so much misunderstanding on the subject. As our quiz likely revealed, even many well-meaning, thoughtful Christians who have been walking with God for years have some distorted ideas about God's will.
Motivation #2: Because there's widespread abuse of this subject. Many of us have discovered the almost magical power of using the phrase, "It's God's will," when we are talking about our plans or desires for the future. Too many Christians drop the phrase in a conversation like a trump card, overruling all other opinions and viewpoints. After all, who can argue when someone asserts, "It's God's will"?
When someone claims, "This is God's will for me," it is a definite verbal straight-arm! Another variation of that claim is, "This is what God told me to do." Are we allowed to ask any more questions when someone drops the "God told me" grenade in front of all objection to their new life trajectory? Were we not just told to back off? Nobody wants to be accused of trying to contradict God, if in fact He has spoken — but has He? It can't be God's will for me to block someone else from doing God's will.
But does announcing our new plans as God's will make them unaccountable to others we are supposed to be living in community with? Is it possible that we have, in some cases, used the phrase "God's will" to make getting our way easier?
When I hear claims like these, I don't feel reassured that God's will is faithfully being done; I feel uncomfortable. How can anyone offer caution or counsel to someone declaring divine direction without equivocation? My discomfort grows even worse when people look me in the eye and tell me, "God told me to tell you to ____." Interestingly, this message often relates to what our church is doing wrong, and the warning they are delivering for God is the exact same as their known assessment of our ministry. God handily confirmed their personal evaluation in the exact same words they use? With backup like that, who can argue? I have learned not to engage this line of argument, as people playing this trump card are not really interested in mutually enlightening dialogue.
Especially important is avoiding anyone who proclaims a directive from God about His will that blatantly contradicts Scripture. My prayer is that some carefully studied teaching from Scripture can help us all avoid these kind of abuses, choosing instead to live in the glorious liberty of what God's will actually IS.
Motivation #3: Because there's widespread consternation about this subject. As a pastor, I hear frequent frustration from God's people about the elusive subject of God's will and the false guilt people feel for not confidently finding what God's will IS. While those feelings of frustration aren't fun, they are a hopeful sign. People who are fed up with confusion are hungry for the truth.
Most Christians I know are deeply desirous of God's direction — if only they could grasp what His will IS. Tying to Ephesians 5:17, they feel foolish because they don't yet "understand what the will of the Lord is," but they want to understand! They are frustrated with a view of God's will that sounds holy but is wholly elusive and unlivable.
Jesus said, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work" (John 4:34). Is that your desire? Do you want to know and live according to God's will?
Then welcome to our traveling band on the journey to discover what God's will IS.
For those who feel confused about Your will, I ask You for clarity.
For those who feel abused by human teaching about Your will, I ask You for healing.
For those who have abused the topic of Your will by using it as leverage, I ask You for honest self-evaluation.
And for those who are flat-out frustrated and determined to understand Your will so they can obey it, I ask You for light, truth, and power.
Fill all of us with a growing desire to know and love You and to live out Your will.
In the name of Jesus, who came to give us abundant life. Amen.CHAPTER 2
God's Will from God's Word
DOES GOD HAVE a will for each individual? Has God actually designed a specific, detailed plan for every person? Does God have an unpublished paint-by-number canvas representing your life, and the only way the picture is going to look exactly right is if you discover the intended colors and paint them on the correct numbers?
This certainly sounds like something God could do — after all, He is God — but is that what He would do? Has God actually structured our lives like a mystery puzzle we have to piece together?
Consider this classic example of the God's will question: "What does God want me to do regarding further education?" That's both a personal question and a family question. It's a bank account question and a test scores question. But is it a God's will question?
If you spend time with believing high school seniors, you can almost feel the tension in their rapid-fire thoughts. Where does God want me to go to college? I can't figure it out. I've visited a dozen campuses, and I can't decide where I'm supposed to go. Does God have a will for me? Has God chosen the specific college I should attend? Will He tell me? If not, how does He expect me to figure it out? How many colleges are there in this country anyway? What if I pick the wrong one? What happens if I make a bad choice? This string of all-too-common questions haunts students who want to follow God but don't know how.
And that's just the start. A few years later, a new set of questions crops up. Who should I marry? Who should I spend the rest of my life with? What if I'm here, but that person is somewhere far away? Or what if we are passing each other every day but just haven't been introduced? I want to marry the person God chose for me. My parents have been praying for that person ever since I was a little kid. Somewhere out there is the person I should marry, and it's like finding a needle in a haystack. How many people are in this country anyway? But what if my person is in Bolivia? How will we meet? Do I have to wait for God to work it out magically, or is there something I'm supposed to be doing?
Maybe you've moved beyond these issues to home, career, and health choices. Or perhaps looking back at your decisions, you feel waves of regret as you wonder if you missed God's will. Did you make a quick pick (or several), and now you live with the awful sense that you are on a different path than the one God intended for you? Is it like you took a permanent detour, and you can't seem to find a route back to the narrow way of God's will?
If we're honest with ourselves, many of us have wrestled with these questions. We have worried and wallowed at times in this confusion. The burning question lingers in the back of our minds: What is God's will for my life?
So now I have to ask you a question: Do you really want to know the answer?
Knowing God and what He wants for your life isn't a casual endeavor. It's not for the weak person who loses interest after five minutes, distracted by the next thought that flies past. The answer isn't packaged in 140 tweet characters or in a catchy slogan to sing in the shower. It's laid out in depth, in detail, in God's Book — but you have to spend time digging it out.
Let me tell you that God does, in fact, have a will for your life. If you want to know it — if you really, really want to know what God wants for you — then read on.
But first, before we consider specifics, let's step back for a big picture perspective.
What Is a Will?
Rocks don't have wills. Trees don't have wills. Humans have wills. A will encompasses a person's awareness, desire, planning, decisions, and actions. Another word for will is volition, which is the capacity to weigh options and discriminate based upon assessed value. It's the ability to choose based upon perception of advantage or disadvantage.
We have wills. Because we are made in God's image, our wills are an imperfect reflection of His. As the Creator, God has the supreme will; as creatures, we have limited wills. God wills the advantage of others in Himself. We too can choose beyond immediate gratification or the pure self-advantage of animals.
A defining characteristic the Scriptures reveal about God is that He has a will and gave you a will to exercise. Is understanding His will something revealed in Scripture or merely a human construct?
Excerpted from The Will of God is the word of God by James MacDonald. Copyright © 2017 James MacDonald. Excerpted by permission of B&H Publishing Group.
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