Monthly Archives: July 2017
“What is God’s will for my life?”
That is one of the most frequently asked questions by Christians, often in a voice tinged with anguish, confusion, longing or fear – sometimes all of them at once. It is a legitimate question because as sincere Christians we want to honor God in all that we do. Knowing His will is an important part of that.
The question is often asked by young people in college or soon after graduation, when they realize that the real world awaits. Is it God’s will that I take a job in the secular world or that I go into full-time Christian work? And if so, is it God’s will that I attend a seminary or go onto the mission field? Is it God’s will that I marry that cute girl I saw in church but whose name I don’t even know yet?
But older people ask it as well, sometimes with even more angst because there are families, bills and prestige to consider. Is it God’s will that I go back to school? Is that job offer three states away God’s will for my life? Is it God’s will that I buy a motorcycle instead of car because of the better gas mileage? (Yes, I’ve actually heard that one.)
I’ve wrestled with the question myself and I’m sure you have too. Doing God’s will is important. So what if I told you a sure-fire way to determine God’s no-doubt-about-it will for your life? Interested?
OK, here’s how you do it – read the Bible.
Oh, did that disappoint you? After all, the Bible says nothing about going back to school, or job offers in other states, or marrying cute girls, and is especially silent on the motorcycle vs. car debate.
God has made it abundantly clear what His will is for our lives – He’s stated it and in most cases restated it more than once.
But it is chock-full of passages about God’s will for your life. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
It is God’s will that you:
- Love God with all your heart, soul and strength. It says so in Deut. 6:5 and Jesus emphasized it in Matt. 22:37, Mark: 12:30 and Luke 10:27.
- Love your neighbor as yourself. Lev. 19:18, Matt. 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27
- Love one another as believers. John 15:12, 1 John 4:11-12
- Make disciples. Matt. 28:19, 1 Cor. 11:1, Heb. 13:7
- Be generous. Mal. 3:8-10, Luke 6:38, 1 Tim. 6:17-19
- Live in victory. John 10:10, John 16:33, 1 Cor. 15:57
- Keep His commands. John 14:15, 1 John 2:3
- Be thankful. 1 Thess. 5:18, Eph. 5:20
There are a number of other things that are God’s will as well, such as prayer, submitting to one another and being filled with the Spirit. If you are a married man, it is God’s will that you love your wife unconditionally as Christ loved the church; if you are a married woman, it is God’s will that you submit to your husband as the church submits to Christ.
Maybe we should start by asking, “Am I doing God’s will that He has already revealed to me in His Word?”
The point is, God has made it abundantly clear what His will is for our lives – He’s stated it and in most cases restated it more than once. So before we ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” when facing new situations, maybe we should start by asking, “Am I doing God’s will that He has already revealed to me in His Word?”
If we’re not already loving and being generous and living in victory, etc., then maybe we should concentrate more on those things before wondering about that out-of-state job or the cute nameless potential marriage partner. It’s not that God doesn’t care about those things, or that He doesn’t have a will for those areas of our lives. He does. But it seems rather self-serving to seek His will in the unknown if we’re not already living in His known will.
Plus, there’s a good chance that once we start following His will as outlined in His Word, the path of His will in those other situations, even regarding motorcycles and cars, will become much clearer.
One of my all-time favorite movies is The Princess Bride (Men: This is not a chick-flick movie. It has sword fights, great feats of strength and overcoming overwhelming odds to rescue a damsel in distress – plus it’s funny). One of the main characters in the movie is Inigo Montoya, a man obsessed with revenge.
When Inigo was a boy, his father was killed by a six-fingered man and he has spent most of his life training so that he can one day exact his revenge. He even has his introduction to the six-fingered man down pat:
“Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
And (spoiler alert) he does just that. Once he has exacted his revenge, though, he is left with a conundrum because his entire identity had been tied up in one thing.
“Is very strange,” he marvels in his Spanish accent. “I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.”
Our identity, even as Christians, is almost always based on the work we do for a living. Yet we are many more things.
Many Americans are in the same situation about their identity, although they may not realize it. When you ask someone, “Who are you?” (or sing it, like The Who, “Who are you? Who, who?”) the person is likely to reply with something like this:
“I’m an office manager.”
“I’m a school teacher.”
“I’m a rock star (if you happen to ask a member of The Who).”
Our identity, even as Christians, is almost always based on the work we do for a living. Yet we are many more things. For example, I could answer the question, “I’m a husband,” or “I’m a father,” or “I’m a baseball fan.”
Still, my identity is not tied to my occupation or my marital status or my devotion to the New York Yankees. My identity is that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am a child of God.
Paul wrote a lot about this identity. He said we are now citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), our old self was crucified and we now live by faith in the Son of God (Gal. 2:20), we were chosen for adoption into God’s family (Eph. 1:5), we are children of God (Ga. 3:26) and we are no longer slaves to sin (Rom. 6:6). John adds that our new identity as God’s children is a result of God’s great love (1 John 3:1).
When you think about it, shouldn’t our identity be the same as our top priority in life?
This is obviously quite a bit better than even our noblest professions or relationship statuses. This new identity comes with some pretty good perks – a new abundant life on earth, co-heirs with Christ in his glorious inheritance and eternal life.
When you think about it, shouldn’t our identity be the same as our top priority in life? And when we answer the identity question with our job function, what does that say about our priorities? If we truly make following Christ our No. 1 priority, then our identity will first and foremost be that of being a Christ follower. (This works even if the question is, “What do you do?” You can answer, “I follow Christ.”)
I’ve even thought of a catchy way to phrase it a la Inigo Montoya: “Hello. My name is Child of God. You have been saved by grace. Prepare to live.”
After his resurrection and just before his ascension into heaven, Jesus came up with an interesting option for Christians. He said that if a select few people felt like it, if it wasn’t too much bother, they could tell people about him. This is called the Great Suggestion.
Um, really, no, it’s called the Great Commission and Jesus was hardly suggesting it as an option. He was commanding it, to all of his followers then and now. Yet today, many Christians treat his final words as a nice suggestion that somebody should be doing, as long as it isn’t them.
The Great Commission is found in Matt. 28:18-20, although frequently it’s listed as verses 19-20, and often only verse 19 is quoted. But it is actually verse 18 that is the key to understanding the rest of the Commission. Here’s what Jesus said:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”
The very first thing Jesus states is that all authority has been given to him in heaven and earth. Not some authority, not just authority in heaven, but all authority in heaven and on earth – in other words, it’s all the authority there is, anywhere in the universe. No one has more authority than Jesus – not a police officer, not the president, not even your mom (sorry, Mom).
Jesus is saying that the reason he states his all-encompassing authority is to give us a command – not a suggestion, not an option, but a command.
What does it mean when someone has authority over you? It means they have the right to tell you what they want to have done. Someone in authority, ideally, will be someone who understands the big picture, understands what needs to be done, how to do it, and can give you the order to do so. We have learned to obey authority – if the blue lights start flashing because you chose to ignore the speed limit sign, you’d better pull over. If your boss tells you to get a project done by a certain date, you’d better get it done by then.
Why? Because we have submitted ourselves to these people as having authority over us – and because there will be consequences if we don’t obey that authority. Run from the cops and eventually you’ll be tasered and thrown into prison. Ignore the boss’s instructions and you’re soon standing in the unemployment line.
Yet how do we – how do most Christians – respond to Christ’s authority? Do we say, well, Jesus said it and he has all authority so I’d better snap to it? Or do we say, cool suggestion, Jesus; somebody better get busy on that, and then look around the room to find someone who should be doing it?
Jesus isn’t just telling us that he has all authority in heaven and earth to brag about it. It’s not, “Hey, I got all authority from the Father. What’d you get?” He is telling us this for a reason, and the reason follows in verse 19, which begins with Therefore.
Now, anytime you see the word “therefore” in the Bible you have to ask yourself, what is it there for? Because what follows the therefore is based on what was said in the previous sentence or paragraph. In this case, Jesus is saying that the reason he states his all-encompassing authority is to give us a command – not a suggestion, not an option, but a command.
And that command is to go and make disciples. There are two verbs that are connected here, “go” and “make.” Go means, of course, that you aren’t stationary. You aren’t sitting back waiting for these disciples to magically appear around you. It is an aggressive action on our part. But is that how we generally think of this process? I think most of us sit back, waiting for people to show up at our church and decide to become involved in the church activities. The closest we come to “go” is to occasionally invite someone to check out our church sometime.
So Christ, based on his absolute authority, is telling us it is absolutely necessary that we go make committed learners of every people group.
The second verb is make, and this is a modifier, describing the next word, disciples. Again, make is an aggressive action. Nothing is magically going to appear. It will take time and effort on our part. And notice what we are supposed to make – not more church members, not more people to sit in worship service, not even more people to lead Bible studies or sing on the worship team. The command is to make disciples.
For many years, this verse has been loosely and lightly interpreted as doing evangelism – simply telling people about the good news of Jesus and hoping they would attain salvation. But that is not what Jesus is commanding here. The Greek word for disciples is mathetes, meaning a student or committed learner. The two English words, make disciples, are actually summed up in one Greek word, matheteuo, which is in the imperative form in Greek – imperative meaning it is absolutely necessary, or a command. It also points to the words “make disciples” as the central focus of the sentence. The people to be made into disciples are every ethnos, or people group.
So Christ, based on his absolute authority, is telling us it is absolutely necessary that we go make committed learners of every people group. That hardly sounds like some passive action, or a suggestion.
But Jesus isn’t done yet. He goes on to describe what this disciple making will include. First, we will baptize these new believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then we will teach them. What we’ll teach them is to obey or observe everything he commanded, through his words while on earth and through his revelations to Paul and other writers of the New Testament. In Greek, the word commanded carries the connotation that we are aware of the purpose of the commands – in other words, we don’t just obey blindly, but we do so because we know the purposes behind them. Again, there is an all-inclusive word here – we are to obey everything he commanded; not just the things we like or we approve of, but everything he told us to do.
The magnitude of conveying everything Jesus commanded, including the purposes behind them, indicates more than a one-time contact with someone. It requires more than a casual relationship with someone. It is an ongoing teaching process, one that Jesus took three years to accomplish with his disciples. But many of the early disciples took longer – Silas and Barnabas spent years pouring into Paul, who then spent years pouring into Luke and Timothy and Titus and others.
But just making disciples wasn’t the end goal. The end goal is to make disciples who make more disciples. After all, Jesus told us to obey everything he commanded, and one of those commands is to make disciples. So our disciples will have to obey that command as well.
His final words were to make disciples – to continue teaching what he’d taught to others, who would in turn teach others, who would teach others, throughout history.
Note also that making disciples is not listed among the gifts of the spirit. The gifts of the spirit are those special abilities that the Holy Spirit has endowed on some, but not all Christians. They are to be used together to build the body of the church. Among the gifts that some, but not all, Christians have are prophecy, teaching, hospitality, even evangelism. But discipleship isn’t listed because it is expected of all believers. It’s not something special endowed to just a few, but a command entrusted to all believers.
When Jesus came to the end of his time on earth, when it came time for him to say one last thing, to give one last command, to in essence to sum up everything he’d been saying all along, he chose to say this. It wasn’t to build big churches, to sing beautiful songs, to develop outstanding church programs, it wasn’t even to simply evangelize. No, his final words were to make disciples – to continue teaching what he’d taught to others, who would in turn teach others, who would teach others, throughout history.
The question now is, will we accept Jesus’ authority? Do we believe that Jesus has the right to tell us what to do? If so, are we willing to take action? Are we willing to enter into the long, involved process of making disciples rather than sitting in church letting words wash over us?
Perhaps the better question is, What authority do we have that exceeds Jesus’ authority to not do what he has commanded?
Years ago in college, I was privileged to see a show by a Christian illusionist. His act amazed and delighted me.
Among his magnificent tricks was placing his full-grown assistant into a box and shrinking it down to 1-foot-square cube, making objects disappear and reappear and levitating. Before each act, though, he would say something like, “Nothing you see here is magic. It is all just an illusion.”
Throughout the performance he kept reassuring us that he was an ordinary man who had no magical powers and everything he did was simply a trick of the eyes. I wanted to scream, “Noooo! I’m not that easily fooled!” I preferred to think the illusionist had some special powers rather than that he was fooling me by doing what any ordinary human being could do with the right training and preparation.
“Elijah was a human being, even as we are.”
There’s a verse in the Bible that reminds me of that magic show. It’s James 5:17, which begins with “Elijah was a human being, even as we are.”
Remember the testimony about Elijah in the Old Testament? He prayed that it wouldn’t rain and it didn’t rain for more than three years (1 Kings 17:1), he was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:2), he lived with a widow and her son and caused her meager food supply to never run out (1 Kings 17:13-15) and then raised her son back to life after he died (1 Kings 17:18-24).
But Elijah was barely getting started at this point. He defied the king and his wicked queen (1 Kings 18:17-18), called down fire from heaven in an awesome display of God’s power compared to false idols (1 Kings 18:21-40), brought the rain back (1 Kings 18:41-44) and outran a chariot pulled by horses (1 Kings 18:46).
Want more? He was fed by an angel (1 Kings 19:5-7), felt God’s presence and heard His voice in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13), prophesied the death of the evil Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 21:20-24), called down more fire from heaven (2 Kings 1:10-15), parted the waters of the Jordan River (2 Kings 2:8) and was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). And then Elijah appeared with Moses alongside Jesus (Matt. 17:3).
Yep, Elijah sounds just like every other human being I know.
Seeing the assertion from James that Elijah was an ordinary human with no special powers blows my mind, much like the amazing illusionist I saw. I prefer to think that he was some special godly creature.
Because if what James said is true, then it means any of us – including me – should be able to perform at least some of what Elijah did. Seem laughable? In our own power it is, but James’ prologue to his statement about Elijah is, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
What brought about all the miracles and awesome display of power by Elijah? His righteousness. What made Elijah righteous? His utter dependence on God and his willingness to allow the Holy Spirit to work through him (not that he didn’t have doubts – at one point he thought he was the only righteous person left in Israel and expected to die at Jezebel’s hands).
God is waiting for us to get out of our own way so he can work mightily through us.
Since Pentecost, all true followers of Christ have his spirit, the Holy Spirit, living in us. He is waiting for us to get out of our own way so he can work mightily through us. Can we raise the dead, call down fire from heaven and part a river? Absolutely not! But the Holy Spirit could through us.
In all likelihood, we won’t be called on to do the more showy works that Elijah did because we’re living in a different time. More likely, the Spirit’s work in our lives will be to give us joy and peace in times of turmoil, to give us the words to speak at the right time and to lead others to following Christ. But he also might give us the power to end travesties like sex trafficking, abortion and lethargy in our churches.
And that, unlike the amazing illusionist, would not be a trick of the eyes. It would be demonstration of God’s power that is as real and available to us today as it was to an ordinary human like Elijah.
Ordinary human beings rock – when we allow the Holy Spirit to move through us!