Acts 16:6-10 (NIV) – 6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Congratulations to Pastor Dana on her ordination yesterday as an elder in the United Methodist Church. It’s a major milestone after decades of making herself available to God. At the end of today’s message, I’ll share a bit more of Pastor Dana’s story in her own words.
This morning’s message seeks to answer a question: “How can I discern God’s will for the big decisions in my life?”
Earlier this month I posted an informal poll on Facebook: “In deciding to marry your spouse, did you ask God if this was the right decision for you? Or was your decision based on other factors?
I receive 26 responses. Of these, sixteen (62%) were “Yes.” One person said that after two failed marriages, she had definitely prayed and received the Lord’s direction in marrying her third husband.
One person said, “I struggled with God trying to discern yes or no.” Rusty Kight (from the 9:30 service) said “How else do you think I got the wife I have? She’s a saint.”
I received ten “No” responses (38%). Several said “No, but God provided what I needed.” One friend from eastern Canada said, “My parents did the praying; I did the chasing!” Someone else said “Totally hormone-based decision.”
Most of us have made (or will make) important life decisions: Which career path to follow, which job offer to take, which college to attend, which community to live in, which house to buy. In each of those situations it’s wise to ask God which decision is right. It’s wise to listen carefully for His answer.
And in choosing a spouse, a life partner, a person whose DNA may combine with yours to produce another human life – the life of your child – I urge you, I warn you, I implore you – ask the Master of the Universe for His help and direction and wisdom and blessing!
So today we wrestle with the topic of Discerning God’s Will. Please join with me in the wrestling!
Let’s frame our thoughts under four headings:
Get all the Wisdom and Knowledge You Can.
Make Prayer Your Daily Friend.
Marinate your Heart and Mind in God’s Word, the Bible.
Make Yourself Fully Available to God.
Here we go!
First, GET ALL THE WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE YOU CAN.
This is so basic that I hardly need to elaborate on it. The Bible says, in the book of Proverbs (4:5-8):
5 Get wisdom, get understanding… 6 Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you… 7 Though it cost all you have, get understanding. 8 Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you.
Gather as much wisdom and knowledge as you can. Don’t be lazy when it comes to learning. Make truth your lifelong pursuit! Ask wise people for advice. Ask God for common sense.
Then, Second, MAKE PRAYER YOUR DAILY FRIEND. It’s important to build a PRAYER LIFE because your daily conversation with God is life’s most important dialogue. Your PRAYER LIFE is infinitely more important than your FACEBOOK life or TWITTER life.
If there is a God of infinite power and wisdom, and if this God is interested in the personal affairs of your life, then nothing is more important than that relationship.
In your prayers, ask God for wisdom and direction.
James 1:5 (Living Bible) – If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; he will not resent it.
Do you want to know if a decision you’re about to make is a good one? Ask Him: “God, is this the right decision? Is this the right way to go?” Then listen. Is He saying YES or NO?
Tim Leber sent me an article on the Fellowship of Christian Athletes website, titled Quick Word of Prayer — “…Most church meetings begin with these words: Let’s have a quick word of prayer. I believe these seven words grieve God’s heart, because He desires a lasting conversation—not lip service. The underlying message is, “Before we get to the important stuff, let’s rush through the God stuff.” Prayer isn’t something to rush through to get to the work. Prayer is the work!
Then third, MARINATE YOUR HEART AND MIND IN GOD’S WORD, THE BIBLE. Develop the spiritual discipline of BIBLE STUDY. The Bible is a special book (actually a library of 66 books).
In the Bible God’s will is revealed – His plans and purposes. In the Bible that we learn right from wrong. In the Bible that we learn about Jesus, the Master of the universe who came to earth 2000 years ago as a humble man from Galilee.
In the Bible we learn God’s will. We learn what God wants.
We learn that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4 – NIV)
We learn that God “is not willing that any[one] should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9 – NKJV)
In light of this, your Brook Hill pastors are calling you, reminding you, imploring you to put your trust in Jesus Christ. Believe on Him. Believe that by His sacrifice He has done everything necessary for your salvation. He wants to change you, to turn your life upside down for the good of the world. Become a follower of this God who calls out to you, who comes seeking after you.
And Fourth, MAKE YOURSELF FULLY AVAILABLE TO GOD. Do Something! Offer to help in in Sunday School, or with the Special Friends ministry, or with Youth ministry, or go on a Work Team or a Mission Trip. Visit a Nursing Home. Visit a shut-in person. Volunteer at Frederick Rescue Mission.
Do SOMETHING! God cannot steer your car while it’s parked by the side of the road. You’ll probably need to try several ways of serving before you find the ministry that’s right for you.
And look for closed and open doors in the circumstances of your life. In the scripture we read, the Apostle Paul and his co-workers were evangelizing in what is modern-day Turkey. They wanted to go into a province called Asia, but the author of this book (Luke the physician) says that in some way the Holy Spirit prevented them from doing this.
So they said, “Well then, let’s go into the region of Bithynia.” But Luke says that the Spirit of Jesus (which is another name for the Holy Spirit) would not allow them to. So they went in another direction, to the seaport of Troas. God was closing certain doors for Paul and his team, and getting ready to open an important door for them to walk through.
Sometimes we can discern God’s will by the opening and closing of “doors”.
And sometimes God calls us directly.
After the doors to Asia and Bithynia were closed to Paul’s team, God gave Paul a dream, a vision in the night of a Macedonian man saying “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
God gave this team a pretty clear direction, so they went to Macedonia in northern Greece. This was the beginning of their ministry in Europe.
Sometimes we can discern God’s will because He speaks to us directly and plainly.
Right now, I’m trying to discern God’s will regarding a possible fourth Brook Hill weekend gathering in downtown Frederick. This would be a Saturday morning gathering bringing together street people (displaced persons, homeless people) and those who have homes. We would invite people (including ourselves) to commit to a 4-step “Discipleship Process”, and the goal would be for every person to be growing in Christ and regularly serving Him somewhere.
Is it God’s will to begin this downtown weekly gathering? I’ve asked Him repeatedly whether this is a door I should walk through. And I cannot sense God telling me to put the brakes on this idea.
So I said, “God, I can’t do this by myself. I will need a team of committed people.”
I specifically “put out a fleece” before God. I said, “God, if you want me to do this, give me five people who will commit to help me for the first year. And without really recruiting, I now have four people committed to help and another three who are interested or highly interested.
I’ve shared the broad outline for this ministry with the Brook Hill Church Council. I’ll be sharing with them again.
Is this God’s will for Brook Hill and for me? Maybe. I think probably.
The point is, there is a process for discerning such things, and I am pursuing that process.
Here’s part of Pastor Dana’s story, mostly in her own words:
“… I was baptized at age 12, committing my life to Jesus as my Lord.
Later, during a college retreat, I made a commitment to go wherever God led me and to be whoever God created me to be.
“At that time, ‘pastor’ wasn’t a word in my vocabulary because leadership options for women were limited in my denomination. But I knew that when I taught the Bible, when I organized people for ministry, when I helped people connect more deeply with God, I was being my authentic self.
“I attended a Walk to Emmaus weekend in 2005. One of the speakers was Teri Sweeney, a woman pastor. Teri said that God wanted her to share something different than what she’d prepared. She told of how God called her to pastoral ministry after many years as a teacher. Teri said, “There’s someone here whom God is calling. You’ve put this on the back burner of your life, and today, God wants you to respond.”
When she heard that, Pastor Dana burst into tears and left the room. Later Dana spoke with Pastor Teri, who asked her what she sensed so strongly. Dana said she knew that God had called her to be a pastor. But she didn’t know how to do that.
Pastor Teri said, “Dana, I sense God is asking you if you are WILLING to be a pastor. If you’re WILLING, God will take care of the “hows.”’ And Pastor Dana answered, “I am willing.”
What is God saying to YOU this morning? Are you willing? Are you available to become all that God wants?