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Posts Tagged ‘counsel’

A lot of Christians talk about the will of God.  Whether they are talking about a “call” for their lives, or direction for day to day choices, a lot of people are curious how they can know God’s will.  Part of the mystery is that whatever process we use for determining the will of God doesn’t seem to work.

We pray, sometimes using a specific method or for a scheduled amount of time.  We submit ourselves, “Thy will be done.”  We seek counsel.  We study.  And then a choice comes, and we listen closely.  Nothing.

We throw out a fleece, like Gideon, and still get nothing.  We put God in a box, making deals with Him, and however it works out we take it as confirmation that we should do whatever we want.  “God, if you want us to build that new sanctuary, supply the 1.2 million dollars for the down payment.”  Only $750,000 comes in, and we decide that God wants us to step out on faith. “I mean, it’s a big thing for God to bring in so much money for the project.”  Or we say, “God, if you don’t want me to do this, close the doors; stop me.”  And months later, we look back thinking, “The devil sure was resisting me in my service to God.  Look at all the persecution I went through!”  Which is the correct view?  Should we make deals with God?  Which voice is limiting Him?

Some people claim to know the will of God.  They get a sign.  They have dreams.  A quiet voice whispers to them.  How can we trust these mystical revelations, when the Bible has so many examples of people being influenced by other powers in the spiritual realm?

Why did the life of a prophet seem so much simpler?  How did he hear God’s voice?  When the early church gathered to pray, what did it look and sound like for the Spirit to say, “Set apart Paul and Barnabas”?  Men in the early church could not be stopped by chains or prisons or even stonings.  We see in these instances the disciples pressing forward, confident that God desires them out on the streets and in the courtyard, preaching the gospel.  What does it mean when Paul said that He tried to go to Bithynia (Acts 16:7) but the Spirit prevented Him?  If Paul wanted to bring the gospel somewhere, but God wouldn’t let him, he was obviously not just trusting that his desires were from God.  So how did Paul know?

But keep reading, because in 2 easy paragraphs, I’m going to solve the problem of the will of God!…  No, I’m not making that claim.  I think part of our problem is that we don’t want to walk by faith.  We want to know every step way in advance.  We want a list of do’s and don’t’s.  When we wait to hear from God, we get impatient and conclude that we won’t hear from Him.  God gave us brains.  Maybe we should work it out.  Or maybe God doesn’t care what we decide.

Some people really do take finding the will of God that far.  Should you give $50 to feed the poor, or $50 to send a missionary, or invest the $50?  None of those uses are sinful.  All can be good and God-honoring.  So it doesn’t matter which you choose.  God will bless you anyway.  God has a will for the big things, but the little things are up to us.  (People have to decide where to draw the line between big things and little things:  Prophecy must be a big thing.  Jesus coming to die for us had to happen.  Sometimes big things are whom we marry or where we go to school.  For other people, they consider those life-changing decisions to be some of the little ones where God leaves us to decide on our own.)  In any case, it takes a lot of study and extreme moral clarity to make sure that one of the options we’re considering is not sinful.  We’re left to make a score sheet for each choice.  And how do you add in factors like selfishness or vanity, good stewardship or discernment?  What is wisdom anyway?

Or maybe we should stop worrying about the will of God.  God’s in control, so everything that happens is what is meant to happen.  We’re not going to change that, so why stress?  Que sera, sera.  There’s an easy way to figure out God’s will: hindsight.

Here’s what I believe.  God is in control, and no one will change His plan.  His plan covers the details, even the details of how we decide and that we sought to please Him in our decisions.  His plan includes His guidance and revelation.  Wisdom is not knowing the tally sheet for all the different options.  It is a dependence on God’s perspective, even when His way doesn’t seem to be practical or likely to work out.  Part of having a relationship with God is waiting on Him.  He is faithful to provide the guidance we need, and merciful enough that, if we are seeking Him and asking for His help, our feet will not stumble; our lives won’t be ruined by our God-submitted choice.

Some things are clearly revealed as the will of God.  He desires our sanctification.  He desires us to be thankful and to pray to Him.  He tells husbands to love their wives, and disciples to preach the word.  To trespass those instructions would be sinful.  So the possibilities are narrowed down.

Duty is another way to make our decisions easier, by limiting our options.  We make a commitment (according to the will of God), and follow through.  A father may wonder whether to take a job in New Jersey or Texas, but he knows he must provide for his family.  A conference speaker may get to choose his topic or his wording, but he’s obligated to speak.  A mom must change a diaper.  My friend volunteered at an orphanage.  Once she was there, she had to do what she was told.  Her duty made the will of God for her simpler.  When Paul decided to heed his vision and go to Macedonia, he didn’t have to ask God:  “Should I move my left foot?  Now right?  What about my right foot?”

Of course God is helping us just as much to accomplish what we know He wants us to do as He helps us find out what He wants us to do.  It is easy to be relieved at knowing we are where God wants us, and forget to excel, forget to walk in the Spirit as we obey.  We think God sent us on an errand and now our own intelligence and strength will get it done.  There’s danger in duty, the danger of empty legalism.  But there is peace, too, in knowing what one ought to do: what must be done.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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It’s January, and the only reason I’m bringing this up is to immediately draw some relevance to your life.  In January the custom is to make at least one New Year’s resolution, something you’re intending to accomplish or change in the upcoming twelve months.  Have you ever made a resolution that was not fulfilled, through no fault of your own?  

“A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.” ~ Proverbs 16:9 

“There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.” ~ Proverbs 19:21 

About eight weeks ago I saw the movie Bella.   “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” ~ Proverbs 3:5-6 That day I had a list of things to do a mile long.  The theater I chose was across town, the one offering the cheapest tickets. (Even though we only broke even for gas, I like to exercise my rights as a capitalist and boycott expensive movie tickets.) By the time we got across the city, we were about ten minutes early. But being out of our neighborhood, we didn’t know where the theater was. I saw one on the left side of the street; Mom turned right.

Finally I explained I saw the sign across the street, so we made it over there. Like a theater ashamed of its existence there was no marquis. We parked and went in, but did not see Bella listed. Sighing, I asked the cashier, “There’s another theater across the street in the mall, isn’t there?”

Back in the car, we returned to the exact spot we had accidentally visited earlier, but still there was no theater in sight. You know how malls work, though; you can start anywhere and get anywhere, especially in this one, which has a shortcut through the food court. So we parked. I hurried in and analyzed the map while Mom followed. At this point the listed start time of the movie was already upon us. I found the theater on the directory and took off in the direction, hoping my recent venture into map-reading would pay off.

The whole race I was coaching myself, “God knows what He’s doing, Lisa. This is for a reason. Relax.” Finally through the mall and across a little drive, we entered the theater, bought our tickets, and were at last standing just inside the door for screen 12. And everything was pitch black. The movie was just starting. Once there was a little more light, we found our seats and heard the line, “…tell God your plans.”

Hang with me, I’m not done. About twenty minutes into the movie the entire screen went black. Small fluorescent emergency lights began to flash and a calm voice informed us that an emergency had been reported in the building; everyone should move toward the exit. Outside we moved back across the little drive.

My brother has this laugh and dance he does when life is so unbelievable. Rosalee on Win a Date with Tad Hamilton says, “Yikesabee.” I sit down and watch with a smile ready to burst into a laugh. Some people say, “You just can’t make stuff like this up.”

In the end we got free movie passes for anytime, any in the family of theaters, with no expiration date or restriction – and we got to finish our movie after a mere 15 minute intermission. I would have been fine if they carried sodas and popcorn to us on trays, but then they were already over the top on customer service.

That day God was driving home a point.  Maybe I needed to lighten up, to laugh at surprises, to recognize that He is in control and I’m not, to trust that He is in control, and to be at rest with that.  In fact, that is pretty much the way I’ve learned to live life.  I learned because the Bible teaches all those things; in fact I’d say it emphasizes the need to submit our plans to God.     

Look at the parable Jesus told in Luke 12:16-33.  Remember, it’s a story.  Pretend you’re reading what happened to your uncle last week.  What reactions do you have to the word “fool”?   

Mark Schultz wrote in a song, “I’ve dreamed my dreams; I made my plans.  But all I’ve built here is an empty man.”  The word fool, that God used in the parable, makes me think of emptiness.  The rich man was only an empty man.  Jesus called His disciples to something better.  What was it?   

How many of your decisions are made based on the concerns Jesus said to give no thought?  Do you encourage your husband, or your kids, or your friends and family to gauge their decisions by those things?  What does Jesus teach about God in this passage?  

Next time you find yourself thinking about those things, ask yourself what part of God’s character you’re doubting.  Is He unable to take care of you?  Does He love sparrows and lilies more than you?  Does He not know your needs?  Does He not want to take care of you?  Does He want you to make those decisions?  Now?   

“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee. Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the LORD, mercy shall compass him about. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.” ~ Psalm 32:8-11  

Psalm 32:8-11 compares the kind of faith God is looking for with a life of utter dependency.  God is not expecting us to never think of the future; He wants us to make decisions.  But He wants them made by His wisdom, even when we have ideas of our own.  What is possible when we trust God?   

James brings up a twin aspect of the foolishness from which Jesus taught about faith: James talks about pride, assuming like the foolish man that we know what will happen and can control our futures.   

“Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:  Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.  For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.  But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.  Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” ~ James 4:13-17  

What happens when we spend so much time planning our future?  Is there something else we should be doing?  

I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing this lesson everywhere I look.  God’s plans, not our plans.  Again and again.  Not only am I seeing the truth of this; I’m seeing the vastness of God’s plans.   

“Rejoice in the LORD, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright. Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings. Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise. For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth. He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD. By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast. The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect. The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. The LORD looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men. From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth. He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works. There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength. Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name. Let thy mercy, O LORD, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.” ~ Psalms 33:1-22 

Also these past few weeks I’ve been reading a book on chess.  Do we have any math geniuses in the room?  Has anyone heard the legend of the chess board and the rice grains?  Does anyone know how many board positions are possible on the 64-square, 32-piece chess board?  I guessed you wouldn’t.  I’m not sure I can even read it properly, but I’m going to try.  This is from The Immortal Game p.68-70:

“It all starts out so simply: in the first move, White is limited to twenty options…  Black has the same twenty possible moves with his first response…  there ar eactually 400 possible board positions in herent in those moves.  That’s because for every one of White’s twenty moves, Black’s response can lead to twenty separate positions…

“…the total number of distinct board positions after the second complete move (two moves per player) is – you’ll have to trust the number crunchers o nthis – 71,852.  

“…After three moves each, the players have settled on one of approximately nine million possible board positions.

“Four moves each raises it to more than 315 billion…

“The total number of unique chess games is… in scientific notation, 10120 

“… In conversational English, it is a thousand trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion games.”   

I read that passage and something struck me.  God is working on a board the size of the universe, and He has billions of pieces at any given moment.  I don’t think we have numbers to express all the possible combinations that entails.  But God knows when each sparrow falls; He has a plan for every individual.  Out of all the possibilities, there is one that will happen.  Wow.  How great is our indescribable God!   

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” ~ Isaiah 55:8-11 

God doesn’t give us problems in which there is insufficient information to find an answer or make a decision.  He likes us to know how the world works.  One good Law of the Universe to keep in mind is in Isaiah 55:6-11.  What is the difference, according to this passage, between our thoughts/plans/ways, and God’s?  I would say the difference is that God’s plans always happen  

Jeremiah 29:11 was preached originally to the Israelites.  What does it tell us about God’s plans?  “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11  

Is God out to get us?   

We all remember Romans 8:28, that all things will work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose.  Again: God works things out.  God wants good.  God called us.  God will accomplish His purposes.  When God makes a resolution, it cannot fail to be kept.   

So how should we live?  Luke and James warn us against worrying about and planning over our futures.  Psalms forbids us from being like animals, which are so dumb that they need to be dragged wherever their master wants them to go.  There must be another way to live.  All of the books mentioned it.   

“Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.”  ~ Proverbs 16:3 

John records Jesus’ words to Nicodemus about this different sort of life.  Chapter 3 verse 8 says, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”   

2 Corinthians 5 is not alone when it commands Christians to walk by faith.   

“Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:  (For we walk by faith, not by sight)  We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.  Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:6-9  

What is the motivating factor of the life Paul describes?  Where does a Christian’s confidence come from, if he never knows where he is going (as in John 3)?  Did Paul plan to live his life walking by faith?  What did Paul plan as a young man?   

What did you plan?   

By the end of Paul’s life, he had discipled successors, spread the gospel, led churches, written part of the Bible, and stood before kings.  How did Paul get from what he planned to those things?   

When Paul was saved after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, did he understand: we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians), or God works all things together for good (Romans), or God shall supply all your need (Philippians)?  

Philippians, perhaps one of Paul’s most personal and mature letters, contains Paul’s confessions that he learned.  (Philippians 4:11) He didn’t hit perfection and run on through life without any problems.  But he pressed forward.  (Philippians 3:12-13)  He learned in whatever state he was, to be content.  And because he knew who God was, and believed those things, Paul could rejoice.   

How has God taught you to walk by faith?   

Are you empty?   

I am overwhelmed by the possibilities for my life, for one piece, and the implications for those around me.  No wonder people go crazy.  No wonder humans end their own lives, especially if they don’t acknowledge that God is directing this world.  A philosopher once said, “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe, or we are not.  Both are equally terrifying.”  The terrifying God of power and wrath and holiness relates to us in grace proportional to His awesome understanding and might.  He is a God worth trusting in a life that cannot be peacefully lived any other way.  

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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