Discerning God’s Will

There is an old preaching story about a man trapped on the top of his house during a flood. Perhaps, you have heard it in the past. The water is swiftly rising. As this man sits on his roof, fearful of being swept away by the current, he cries out to God, “God, please deliver me.” A few moments later, a farmer friend arrives with his boat. “Hey, friend, want a ride to safety?” he asks. “No,” replies the man on top of his house. “God is going to deliver me.” An hour later, the water is up to the gutters. A person comes by in a yellow raft. “Hey, let’s get you off of there—and on to safety,” he yells. But the man on top of his house refuses to go. “God is going to deliver me.” Another hour passes and now the water is halfway up the roof. Roof Man is now on top of his chimney, nervously looking down at certain death and destruction. Fortunately, a Red Cross volunteer swings by in a canoe and offers to ride Roof Man to safety. But Roof Man refuses. “No, God is going to deliver me.” A couple of hours pass and the water sweeps over the top of Roof Man’s house. He is carried away by the current and drowns. When he gets to Heaven, he meets Jesus and says, “I thought you were going to deliver me.” Jesus looks down at Roof Man and says, “I sent a boat, an inflatable raft, and a canoe—but you refused each one.” We know that story for one reason. It resonates in our souls because we all hunger to know God’s will. If you have ever desired to know God’s will, then this blog will speak to you.

We find ourselves in the tenth chapter of Acts, verses one through eight. We found ourselves in Caesarea. That community was named in honor of Augustus Caesar and was the headquarters for the Roman forces that occupied that land. For this reason, the military was well represented in the population. One of the soldiers stationed there was a man by the name of Cornelius. We are told that he held the rank of centurion, so he oversaw one hundred men. That was an important position in the Roman army; they offered stability throughout the entire empire. However, there is more to Cornelius than his job.

There was his spiritual side. Verse two tells us that he and his family were “God-fearing.” What does that mean? It does not mean that he is a Christian. He had not yet been completely enlightened. He had not yet claimed Jesus as his Lord and Savior. However, he was close. He prayed to just one god and gave to the needy. Those sincere acts impressed God. According to the text, at 3:00 in the afternoon, the time for Jewish afternoon prayer, Cornelius had a vision. He is told to get Peter and bring him to Caesarea. The centurion followed his orders and Peter came. The two men are united. The story is easy to understand. However, I must make a confession.

When I read the text for the first time, one thing stood out. Cornelius’s understanding of God at this point is limited, but his communication with God was perfect. God told him what to do and he did it. I read the text countless times, and each time I became more jealous of Cornelius. He didn’t even see the big picture, but God spoke clearly to him. Why doesn’t God speak clearly to me? Why doesn’t God speak clearly to you? It isn’t just true of Cornelius.

It is true of so many in the Bible. God is always communicating clearly with Biblical characters. How many examples do you need? In the story of Adam and Eve, the Bible says God walked in the garden with them. God talked to Adam and Eve face to face. In the story of Cain and Abel, God spoke directly to Cain and asked him why he was upset. God spoke directly to Noah. God said, “I am going to put an end to all the people.” God spoke directly to Jacob and Joshua. God spoke directly to Samuel and Solomon. God even spoke directly to Hosea and told him to marry a prostitute. God spoke directly to the crowd at Jesus’s baptism. Do you remember? God said, “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” God spoke directly to Peter, Andrew, James, and John at the transfiguration. He said, “This is my Son. Listen to him!” God even spoke directly to that heathen, Saul, on the Damascus Road. God is always speaking to people in the Bible, but seldom speaks directly to us.

The more I read about Cornelius and the others, the more I wondered why God doesn’t speak to us. It is almost like we are being ignored by God. A word occasionally, wouldn’t hurt. Wouldn’t it be nice for God to say, “Good job,” when you were driving home from a soup kitchen? Wouldn’t it be nice if God said, “Thanks!” on the way home from the trustee workday? Wouldn’t it be nice to have God to say, “Thanks for remembering,” early on Easter morning or late on Christmas Eve? Wouldn’t it be nice for God to say, “I am proud of you,” at the instant you wrote a generous check to help feed someone in the Third World? A word of encouragement is always accepted. A word of acceptance is even better. The problem is, God doesn’t say a single word. We spend our lives struggling to discern what God wants us to do. We spend our years struggling to hear God for one reason, Satan. The Adversary does an excellent job of frustrating our communication with God. That brings us to a very interesting question. Do you really want to know what God has to say?

One of the most known stories in the Bible is the story of Jonah. He is remembered as the reluctant prophet. You remember his story. In the first few verses, God spoke to him directly. God said, “Go to the great city of Nineveh.” Jonah’s problem wasn’t that he didn’t understand the words. His problem was he didn’t like what he heard. He doesn’t want to go to Nineveh because the residents aren’t like him. He was a Hebrew, and they were Gentiles. The Hebrews hated the Gentiles. They were considered nothing more than kindling for the fires of hell. For this reason, Jonah runs away from Nineveh. He goes to Joppa and catches the first boat that is going in the opposite direction, Tarshish. With that story in mind, let me ask you this question.

Do you really want to know what God has to say? They may not just be words of love and acceptance. They may be difficult words. God may want you to do something you don’t want to do. Like Jonah, God may want you to love someone you have always hated. God may want you to forgive someone who has not forgiven you. God may want you to sacrifice for someone else’s child. God may want you to go to a place that can’t offer you security. God may want you to stay in a place when all you want to do is go. Do you really want to know what God has to say? Like Jonah, you may want to run in the opposite direction.

One of the great things I have in my life is my calling into the ministry. I don’t know why God called me. There are certainly people more intelligent and gifted. However, I do know God did call me and has given me the gifts to succeed. No one enjoys their job more than I did. No one is more passionate about their job than I was. If I look back on my life, I can hear my calling clearly from the very beginning. However, when I was younger, it wasn’t so clear. If I could live my life over again, I would go from high school, college, Seminary and out. That isn’t my story. When I graduated from college, I got a job. Do you know what I did? I worked in a bank. I can honestly tell you I hated every single day. I consider those days my “wilderness experience”. When I left the bank, I sold ad space for a newspaper. I found that to be pointless. However, I did enjoy the relationships I had with my customers. I surrendered to God when I was twenty-five years old and enrolled in Seminary. Do you know why I didn’t go to seminary right out of college? I was afraid of public speaking, and I was filled with self-doubt. Doesn’t God have a sense of humor? Now, I am now addicted to preaching, and am confident I will succeed. I have very few regrets in my life, but those lost three years are one of them.

The other night I read an article that spoke to me. I wish I would have read it years ago, when I was trying to discern God’s will for my life. It was written by a man by the name of Ron Edmondson (born 1955). The article was called Five Questions to Discern God’s Will. Edmondson says, when you are facing a choice to ask yourself five questions. If you answer them honestly, then you will be closer to God’s will. These are the five questions.

1. Does what I am considering conflict with scripture? That means you must read the Bible. There is something about reading the Bible that stirs us spiritually.

2. Does what I am considering conflict with the counsel of others? I am not just talking about any friends. I am talking about spiritually mature Christian friends – people who love you enough to tell you the truth.

3. Does what you are considering conflict with the spirit within you? In other words, how does it feel to you? To a point, emotions can be trusted.

4. Does what you are considering conflict with your life experiences? Life is one big classroom. You have experienced all kind of things in your life. Have you experienced anything like this in the past? What did you learn from that experience?

5. Does what you are considering conflict with your passion? Our passion and our purpose go hand in hand. Are you excited about it?

Those five questions remind me of the Wesleyan quadrilateral. That is how John Wesley, the founder of the great Methodist movement, discerned God’s will. They are scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Regardless, maybe if I would have asked those five questions years ago, I would not have lost three years of my ministry. Time should never be wasted. I believe, next to Jesus, time is our second greatest gift. God spoke to Cornelius, and he knew what God wanted him to do. We aren’t so fortunate. We are going to have to work on it. Lead Pastor of the Flesh Life Church in Utah and Montana, Levi Lusko (born 1982) once said, “Discerning God’s calling is more a relationship than a route, more journey than destination. It’s about who you are becoming more than where you are going. Perhaps it’s less about what you do and more about how well you do whatever you do.”

In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson (1843-1826) sent James Monroe (1758-1831) to France. The President was hoping to buy the city of New Orleans to open the Mississippi River for shipping. The French were willing to sell much more. They were willing to sell the entire Louisiana Territory. The territory covered 828,000 square miles at a cost of approximately $15,000,000. The problem was, the constitution did not give the President such power. Jefferson was in a difficult spot. He had to act quickly to seize the opportunity. Did he let all that land go at a bargain price, or did he follow the letter of the law of the constitution? In 1803, he bought the land, doubling the size of the United States. Over two hundred years later, I think it is safe to say he made the right choice. Is every choice you make, correct? Satan is doing an excellent job of frustrating our communication with God, but that does not mean God isn’t speaking. We just need to work on it a little harder!

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