Senior pastor at Chicago's Jesus People USA and founder member of Rez, GLENN KAISER ponders the difficulties of discerning God's will
Frankly, I hate formulas. Formulas seem to be the rage in many Christian circles, a sort of automatic and absolute "do this exact thing and THIS exact thing will happen as a result." If the Bible (which I strongly believe is absolutely true, perfect and the written foundation for my life) offers support for a given formula, great, but many times it does not. This is where people must think carefully before accepting a teaching - mine included. Yet I offer here one of the few "formulas" I have found to hold lasting sway in my own life over the years. And it relates to perhaps the single most asked question for many of us who serve in ministry: how can one reasonably know God's will for his/her life?
If we - individually and corporately - have only "partial" knowledge (1 Cor 13:9,12) our understanding as well as formulas are certain to be wrong at times. Furthermore, though the Bible is thoroughly sufficient for us all, it does not contain ALL God knows. God indeed knows all. Consider the following from apostle Paul:
"I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine sounding arguments." (Col 2:2-4)
In Jesus are "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Yet there are many who put more stock in the words of imperfect man than in the word of God. The "wisdom and knowledge" of mankind has limits. But God KNOWS - and directs us according to his will. But this calls for a heart after God above all else, and that's up to us!
If there is a God, and he is the God of the Bible, does he not have a mind? And does he not have specific plans for each of us? Or does he have a "general, over all" plan without specific deeds for us to perform at specific times? This is an on-going issue I hear raised (at least on this side of the pond) fairly often. Some think God gives various gifts and skills, and then leaves it entirely up to us as to what we do with them. One thing is sure, God has a will that includes every human being.
"Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed - not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence - continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." (Phi 2:12,13)
"You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised." (Heb 10.36)
But what of this issue of a "general" vs "specific" will for you and I? My own position is this: in the biblical record, God spoke to his people in a number of ways. He spoke directly to many individuals and even entire nations, telling them specifically what to do and even when to do it. Examples of this are too numerous to list, but I invite the reader to research the Book (both Testaments) on the issue, because it very much relates to the subject of "God's will" for our lives.
"It is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Eph 2:8-10)
Firstly, it is GRACE - unearned favour and mercy - by which God shows us his favour. In fact, the word "workmanship" can be translated "masterpiece". That's how God views every Christian! He has prepared various works for us to accomplish BEFORE we were born. Yet, though we are accepted totally, if we by faith trust in Christ's sacrifice for our sins as THE ONLY way of salvation, our works will NOT automatically be accepted as well. Consider Paul's teaching on this in the New Testament:
"By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames." (1 Cor 3:10-15)
Still think God doesn't CARE about WHAT as well as HOW you do things while in your earthly body? Yet, there is grace even here... for notice that it will be some of the believer's works and not the believer's themselves that will be burned up. Praise God for his mercy!
Saved by grace, not works. Yet, the "works" we do are clearly important to our Lord.
My understanding is that God has ONLY a "perfect will" for each of us. And there is God's mercy for the Christian who has missed small or large portions of it due to honest mistakes.
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