Imagine you were picked to play kickball. Maybe you don’t have to imagine like I do. Now imagine that your team is at-bat, or at-kick, or whatever. You are watching the other players, watching what they do, waiting your turn, wanting to be at-kick. However, you are doing so from over by the swings and monkey bars. You aren’t even on the field let alone with your team. Sometimes people follow Jesus like this. They are on His team, they want to be useful, they want to know what His will is, but they are off over somewhere else, goofing off, watching at a distance, yet wondering why they aren’t hearing from God more regularly. They want to know and do God’s will, but they don’t realize that they aren’t even in the game. If this describes you, I’d like to process through some things with you about learning and discerning God’s will for your life. It starts with this question; are you willing to live out God’s will?
There is a lot of language that people use when talking about knowing and doing God’s will. While these terms don’t appear in scripture, they describe patterns we see in scripture. They can be good and useful. They can also be bad and hindering, especially when people try to use them like a formula or a judgement system. Let’s not do that, shalln’t we? Also, I know the temptation for some here is to get bogged down in a sovereignty of God vs. man’s free will fight, er, discussion. We’re not going there today. It’s not one or the other, it’s both. All we can do, from our side of eternity, is function in such a way that we try to learn and discern God’s will and choose to do it, or not. At the same time, I’m perfectly fine with the idea that God is absolutely sovereign and we are living out a movie script that was written before the foundation of the world. But for now, let’s just focus on the learn and discern piece.
- God’s perfect will. This term usually refers to the idea of, “If everyone did things God’s way this is how things would look.” It’s the best possible outcome from God’s perspective. For example, when someone is faced with the option of having an affair and that someone chooses not to. It didn’t happen because it was not a part of God’s perfect and best will.
- God’s permissive will. This term usually refers to the idea of “It’s not God’s best or ideal outcome, but He permits it.” For example, when someone is faced with the option of having an affair and they chose to do so. It happened because God allowed it, but it isn’t His perfect will. He permitted it to happen for some bigger reason.
- God’s general will. This term, and the next one, are the one’s we are going to focus on here in this article. This term usually refers to the principles and patterns we see in scripture that tell us how God wants us to live our lives. Don’t murder, Don’t steel. Help others. Love your kids. It’s about things that apply to everyone. They never change and they aren’t applied differently to different people.
- God’s specific will. This term has to do with what God wants a specific person to do (or not) in a specific point in time. Take this job. Marry this person. Go to this school. Give this person money. It’s about what God’s will is for a person, or a group of people, who are looking for specific direction or have to make a specific choice. This can vary from person to person, situation to situation, but it never violates God’s general will.
Time to bring the kickball back in. Jesus has chosen you for His team, and you have accepted. There is a field with lines in and around it that defines what is and is not the playing area. While in the playing area there are general rules to the game. There is general etiquette that defines appropriate behavior. Those in the playing area are expected to abide by and participate in all of this. If you want to be in the game, if you want to be a part of the team, you need to be engaged in all of this.
This is what many Christians who are looking to learn and discern God’s will for them seem to be missing. They aren’t making any effort to live according to God’s general will for them, which is why their thinking is primarily about them. “What’s God’s will for me?” Until you start dealing with God’s general will for your life in the community of the world and the church, how can you expect Him to tell you anything? That’s like expecting to get directions from the Third Base Coach while off over playing on the swings but telling people you are playing kickball.
Whose will are you really living out?
By whose standards are you living your life; the culture’s or God’s? Are you out drinking, clubbing, sleeping around? Are you gossiping about those people at work? Are you spending money on your hobby instead of the things your kids need? Do you sit through church thinking about the game is on right now, and/or on later that day? Can you name the starting lineup but not the 12 apostles?
This is going to sound like a harsh question, but this is really where it all begins; do you even love Jesus? If you genuinely did, then you would automatically be seeking out what God’s general will is for you from His word, from other mature Jesus-followers, and enthusiastically living it out. If you are on the fence with this, but want the benefit of His love for you, it just won’t work.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do not murder. Do not covet. Do not commit adultery. Encourage one another, and build each other up. Pray for one another. Do not get drunk with wine but be filled with the Spirit. Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
These are just a few examples of God’s general will as found in the Bible. Focus on Jesus, His love for you, His sacrifice for you, and you will not be able to help but love Him back. As you do this better, you will begin to live better according to His general will for you.
You have to be willing to do this will before you are ready to do the next. Are you?
Back to kickball. Assuming you are in the playing area and engaged in the game, you will get specific directions when needed. There are coaches that give specific players specific instructions for the good of the team. Where to kick or throw the ball. When to take another base, or not. People in the playing area abide by the general rules, abide by the general etiquette, and pay attention for the specific instructions of the coaches. They can expect to get specific instructions from the coaches. If there was a player who was over by the swings and slides, it would be pointless to try to give them specific directions beyond, “Get over here if you want to play!”
What we see in scripture is reflected here. People who were on the outside and wanted the benefit of specific instruction were told by Jesus to “Follow me.” Get in the game and you will be coached. The closer people were to Jesus, the more often they received specific instructions from him.
Later in the book of Acts we see this as well. In Acts 13 a group of people were gathered, “ministering to the Lord” and seeking His will. In that moment it says that the Holy Spirit somehow communicated to the group, “Set apart to me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have for them.”
God speaks to those who are close to Him. He shouts to those who are far from Him.
Speaking the Language
I will say this; it isn’t always obvious. Have you ever watched a baseball coach use all those crazy hand signals? He isn’t trying to confuse the player, he’s trying to communicate with him using language they should understand, but its confusing to others. In Acts 10 Peter experiences something like this. It took Peter seeing the vision three times for him to get the message, and it was a weird vision using language he thought he understood.
The point is, more often than not, we simply have to know the language better and pay better attention. We learn the language better by being students of the Bible. We pay better attention by removing distractions. Distractions are removed by better living according to God’s general will, which is one the main points of His general will.
If you are one who wants to learn and discern God’s will for your life, take some time without digital distractions and reflect on these questions.
- Do you love Jesus above all other things in your life? Do you want to?
- Now look at how you spend your time, your money, your energy, what you think about the most, and consider; do these reflect a love for Jesus above all other things in your life?
- (Re)Discover God’s general will for life and living. A great place to start is Matthew 5-7, usually called the Sermon on the Mount. Consider what needs to change in your life so that your daily living is more in line with these principles.
- Are you actively looking and listening for God to speak to you, or are you waiting for the clouds to part and a face to appear and start talking to you? Keep in mind that it might be in unexpected ways but in a language you will understand.
- Be a student of there word and a person of prayer. If you are serious about wanting to know God’s general and specific will for your life, these are essential qualities.
[reminder]How has God spoken to you in the past? What did he say? What did you do with it?[/reminder]