Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Christian living

The journey and the destination

Journey 1 400pxRecently I travelled from Australia to Europe to spend time with some family members. It was good to see them after a trip of over 26 hours. The people at the destination made the tiring trip worthwhile.

Before leaving Australia, I attended a funeral where it was said that it’s not our destination that matters, but the journey along the way. This was probably a creative way to say that life is better than death. Or focusing on the present and enjoying the present instead of worrying about what will happen at the end of life.

Bible journeys

Abraham travelled from Mesopotamia to Canaan, a distance of about 1770 km (1100 miles). His descendants, the Israelites, travelled from Egypt to Canaan. This took 40 years and most of the adults died along the way. Later, after their exile in Babylon, the Jews travelled back to Judah. The purpose of these journeys was achieved when the people reached their destination.

Jesus travelled within Palestine preaching the good news about the kingdom of God. Then He travelled to Jerusalem to give up His life sacrificially. After the resurrection and ascension of Christ, Paul and the apostles took missionary journeys across the Roman Empire. For Paul, sometimes the journey was difficult (2 Cor. 11:23-33). Likewise, the purpose of these journeys was achieved at their destinations.

The journey of life

A journey is also a great metaphor for life. Life is a difficult journey and a time of testing, challenges and maybe persecution. Like Job we have many questions about life and its unfairness. But God steers His people through difficult times (Isa. 43:1-7). May God help us trust in Him for what we don’t understand (Job 42:3). And may we take up the opportunities to trust in God’s faithfulness over and over again.

But the busyness of life can distract us from the important things of life like being aware of God’s presence and His willingness to help in times of need. Life is a journey in history, with a past, present and future. As time goes by our present becomes past memories and our final destination comes closer. Death and life after death is our ultimate destination.

Lessons for us

Let’s face the reality of our journey of life. Few of us would think of taking a two-week vacation without any plans as to where we will go or what we will do. But we often forget to consider our personal destination.

Many opinions about this topic are available on the internet. But the best ones are in the Bible because God is the “author” (or “source”) of life (Acts 3:15). And Jesus is the “word of life” and the “bread of life” (Jn. 6:35, 48; 1 Jn. 1:1). These metaphors describe God’s role in physical and spiritual life.

Although the journey of life is better than death, it isn’t better than eternal life. Physical life ends, but spiritual life doesn’t end. And the purpose of life isn’t to enjoy ourselves or accumulate wealth or possessions. Instead our spiritual destination is more important than the journey. Is our future destination secure? At the end of our earthly life journey we will leave everything physical behind. So our enjoyment, wealth, and possessions provide no security for our future destination. But if we put God first instead of material things, we will be rewarded in heaven for the things we do that have eternal value (Mt. 6:19-24). Have we started on that spiritual journey? Do we focus on things of eternal consequence? Do we follow Jesus? Do we help other people to follow Jesus? Do we live by faith, and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7)? Are we motivated by what lies at the end of the journey (Heb. 11:13-16)? Are we progressing spiritually (2 Cor. 3:18)? Are we becoming more Christ-like (Phil. 1:20-21)?

Written, August 2018


3 essentials of Christian leadership

Cardianl McCarrick 1 400pxPope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, DC following allegations of sexual abuse. This is the latest in a series of sex abuse scandals involving leaders in the Roman Catholic Church. So, what does the Bible say about the behavior of Christian leaders?

The letter of 1 Peter in the Bible shows us how God can help us get through hardship, trials and suffering. In chapter 5, it includes instructions to the elders of churches, which would apply to the leaders of any Christian ministry. This passage is written in the context of suffering. It is preceded by a passage on suffering for being a Christian (4:12-19) and is followed by a reminder to have an eternal viewpoint when they are suffering (5:10).

The passage says “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Pt. 5:1-4NIV).

It’s a message to those living between the two advents of Christ. The first was when Christ suffered and the second is when He will come in great glory. We live in this time period.

When churches (and ministries) experience persecution and suffering, it is primarily the responsibility of the leaders to provide help, comfort, strength and guidance. Peter urges them to do this in view of the persecution they were enduring. He supports this by saying that he is also a Christian leader (elder). So he’s speaking from experience. He also saw Christ’s crucifixion at the first advent and he told others about it. And he knew that there will be no more suffering when Christ returns in great power and glory to rule over the earth at the second advent and he told others about it.

Main message

The main message was that they were to “be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them” (5:2). Here leaders are likened to shepherds and those they lead are likened to sheep. This is a common biblical metaphor. The shepherd is the dominant leadership metaphor in the Old Testament. As sheep need a shepherd, people need leaders. And Jesus was “the Good Shepherd” (Jn. 10:11).

Peter says to take care of and watch over those you lead like shepherds take care of and watch over their sheep. A shepherd’s care is physical, while a Christian leader’s care is spiritual. Leaders are “shepherds of God’s flock” who do this work for the Good Shepherd. Then he gives them three important characteristics of a Christian leader (or church elder). These are given as three negatives (“not because you must”; “not pursuing dishonest gain “; and “not lording it over those entrusted to you”), each of which is followed by a positive (“but because you are willing”; “but eager to serve”; and “but being examples to the flock”). So Christian leaders are to be:
– willing leaders
– eager leaders, and
– examples to follow.

  1. A willing leader

The Bible says, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be” (5:2). There’s a wrong way and a right way to lead. In this case, not reluctantly or under coercion or compulsion, but voluntarily. This is like Paul’s advice on giving, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Our attitude is important to God. It’s wrong to lead because there seems to be no alternative or because of exerted pressure.

When Paul was in prison, he sent Onesimus back to his master rather than have Onesimus’ help without the approval of his master; “I did not want to do anything without your (Philemon’s) consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary” (Phile. 14). Paul sought the help of volunteers, not those who had no choice in the matter. Likewise, God wants those who lead Christian ministries to do this voluntarily, and not out of a feeling of obligation or a desire of recognition or status. It’s not just a job to do, but a calling from God.

Nehemiah led the project to restore the walls of Jerusalem after they had been ruined for 150 years. His team faced mockery, attacks, distraction and temptation to sin (Neh. 4:3, 8; 6:10-12). Nehemiah understood that God had appointed him to the task and his sense of purpose invigorated the people to follow his leadership despite incredible opposition. God equips Christian leaders to overcome the challenges and obstacles and complete the tasks He’s given them to do.

  1. An eager leader

The Bible also says, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them— … not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve” (5:2). Not greedily looking for reward or recognition or some other benefit, but eager to serve others. They are “not a lover of money” (1 Ti. 3:3). 83% (5/6) of the warnings to the church about greed and the love of money are addressed to leaders (1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Tit. 1:7, 11; Heb. 13:5; 1 Pt. 5:2). They gladly serve without reward or recognition. They are outwardly focused, not self-focused. They desire to give, not get.

In this verse “eager” means ready, prepared, passionate and enthusiastically willing to lead. They anticipate the needs of the people and gladly initiate action to address these. They are eager to lead in a way that Paul was eager to preach the good news about Jesus to the Romans (Rom. 1:15). And in the way that the Christians in Corinth were eager to help needy believers in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 9:2).

  1. An example to follow

The Bible says, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them— … not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (5:3). Not as a dictator, tyrant or bully with a desire for power and control. Not like a boss who commands, dominates, intimidates, manipulates and coerces his people. Not like the leaders of Israel who “ruled them harshly and brutally” (Ezek. 34:4). They were interested in themselves and not in the welfare of the people. And not like Diotrephes who loved prominence and expelled from the church those he disagreed with (3 Jn. 9-10). Christian leaders must not abuse their authority.

Recently Hun Sen was re-elected to lead Cambodia in a sham election. The leaders of Cambodia’s main opposition were jailed or exiled, and their party was dissolved and was banned from competing in the election. And independent media in Cambodia is largely silenced. So Cambodia is governed by a dictatorship, not a democracy. And its neighbors (Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar) are also governed by repressive regimes.

Instead Christian leaders were to be a model or pattern to follow. Paul told young believers to “set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Ti. 4:12). And he told the Corinthians to “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul’s example was not to lord it over others (2 Cor. 1:24). Christian leaders are not to drive God’s people, but to lead them by their examples of mature Christian character. The ancient shepherd walked in front of his sheep and called them to follow him. They showed the sheep which direction to walk.

Jesus told His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man [Jesus]did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:25-28). Christian leaders are to serve and give, not demand and get. It’s self-giving, not self-serving.

“Those entrusted to you” are the people that God has given the leader to lead. God specially assigns people to leaders. They are the leader’s sphere of service. The leader is to manage these people for Jesus Christ who is the Chief Shepherd (1 Pt. 5:4).

Lessons for us

If we are a Christian leader, let’s be willing and eager to care for people and be an example they can follow. This means not abusing others like Cardinal McCarrick is alleged to have done or any other form of abuse.

If we are under the authority of Christian leaders, let’s accept their leadership, accept their care, and follow their example (1 Pt. 5:5).

Written, July 2018

Also see:
Old Testament shepherds
New Testament shepherds
The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd is always near


Lest we forget

Lest we foget 8 400pxLast Wednesday was ANZAC Day, which is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand of those who served and died in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. Did you know that the phrase “Lest we forget” used to commemorate those who died in warfare came from the Bible? It came via the poem “Recessional” (see Appendix A) by Rudyard Kipling which was written towards the end of the 60th anniversary celebrations of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1897. These turned into a celebration of the power of the British Empire.

The poem was written to be sung as a hymn at the end of a church service (see Appendix B for an explanation of its meaning). It acknowledges that God helped establish the British Empire. But all human power is transient and empires eventually decline and disappear. It urges the English to be humble instead of boasting about their achievements. The main warning is not to forget God. The chorus is:
“Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!”
So the context of “Lest we forget” is God, not those who have died.

The title “Lord of hosts” comes from the KJV of the Bible (1 Sam. 1:3), which can be translated “Lord Almighty” (NIV), “Lord of Armies” (CSB), or “Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (NLT). It means that God is sovereign over all other powers in the universe, including the British Empire.

The phrase “Lest we forget” comes from a warning given to the Israelites after they settled in the promised land. It says, “Then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Dt. 6:12KJV). Or, “be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt” (NLT). They were not to forget what God had done for them. But we know that the Israelites did forget God and followed idols.

So, in Recessional, “Lest we forget”, was a call to not forget God. But this song was also sung at remembrance services for those who died in warfare. And in this context, it was a call to not forget those who had given their lives for their country. In this context, the meaning of “ancient sacrifice” in the song changed from Christ’s death to the death of soldiers. This is an example of how words and phrases can change their meaning over time.

Lessons for us

As the Israelites were God’s people in Old Testament times, Christians are God’s people today. And like them, we are not to forget what God had done for us. We too can easily forget God and the ancient sacrifice of Christ for us. He gave up His life so we could have eternal life.

Let’s not be like the Israelites who forgot about God when they followed idols. Anything we can’t live without or must have is an idol that needs to be removed or put back in its place. An idol is anything that we give higher priority than God. Or anything that we think about more than we think about God.

“Lest we forget”. Don’t forget God!

Appendix A: Recessional

A poem by Rudyard Kipling (1897)

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law —
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Appendix B: Exegesis of Recessional

Kipling was a British poet who wrote verse for English readers. This poem was written over 120 years ago when the British Empire was a major world power. Some of the imagery used in the poem is drawn from the KJV Bible.

Verse 1

Their ancestors worshipped the God of the Bible.

Their armies trusted in this God.

They were in awe of the greatness, power and majesty of God.

They acknowledge that God helped them establish the British Empire.

They acknowledge God’s sovereign power and pray that He will continue to help them.

They are warned not to forget God.

Verse 2

The 60th anniversary celebrations for Queen Victoria will end. They are transient.

The military leaders will stop parading and the visiting dignitaries (kings of Europe) will return home.

But Christ’s ancient sacrifice endures.

God wants us to be humble rather than proud and boasting. We need to confess and repent of our arrogance and boasting. This may be derived from, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17KJV). “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (NLT).

They acknowledge God’s sovereign power and pray that He will continue to help them.

They are warned not to forget God.

Verse 3

Although their Navy travels to far-away places, they can’t sustain their presence in these places.

Watch-post fires are extinguished as military personnel leave.

The 60th anniversary celebrations and the might of the British Empire is transient.

Like Nineveh and Tyre, the British empire will eventually decline and disappear. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire whose destruction by the Babylonians was predicted in the Bible (Nahum 1:1 – 3:19). Tyre was a powerful Phoenician city whose destruction by Alexander the Great was predicted in the Bible (Ezek. 26:1 – 28:19).

They acknowledge God will judge the nations and pray that He will spare them from judgment. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness (Gen. 18:20 –  19:29). The Bible teaches that God will judge nations according to their treatment of the Jews (Joel 3:1-16). And in many cases, sin brings its own judgment (Rom. 1:18-32).

They are warned not to forget God.

Verse 4

They are intoxicated with the idea of colonial power.

They have no awe of the greatness, power and majesty of God. Because of these two things, they say things they shouldn’t say.

Like the Russians and Germans, they boast of their achievements.

They also boast like the heathen in other lands who don’t have the benefit of knowing the Bible.

They acknowledge God’s sovereign power and pray that He will continue to help them.

They are warned not to forget God.

Verse 5

They are acting like the heathen in other lands who don’t have the benefit of knowing the Bible.

They trust in military might.

But all this is futile because it will end in dust! It is insignificant compared to the eternal nature of God.

They leave God out of their lives.

They claim to be God’s people. And they pray to God for forgiveness for their boasting and their foolish language.

Verses 3 and 5 say that they shouldn’t trust in human achievements because these don’t endure. They are fleeting.

Written, April 2018


Teamwork

Teamwork 1 400pxWhy do more than five million people a year in the US pay money to run several miles over an obstacle course where they must ascend vertical walls, slog through mud, and climb up inside a vertical pipe with water pouring down on them? Some see it as a personal challenge to push their limit of endurance or conquer their fears. For others, the attraction is teamwork where competitors help and support each other. One person called it “a no-judgment zone” where people who are strangers will reach out to help each other finish the race.

The Bible urges us to pursue teamwork as a model of living out our faith in Jesus. “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His (Christ’s) return is drawing near” (Heb. 10:24–25NLT). We are to encourage and motivate each other and not give up meeting together.

Our goal is not to “finish first” in the race of faith, but to encourage others by setting an example and lending a helping hand along the way. We should run together (not individually) in the race of faith. God urges us to spur each other on, be ready to help, and keep working together every day.

Examples of teamwork

A good example of teamwork is found in rebuilding the wall and gates of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3). Forty-two teams of workers each repaired a section of the wall. It wasn’t just done by the servants. The high priest, priests, levites, rulers, nobles, city officials, craftsmen, and women worked on the project. Everyone who was able to worked on the project. They worked alongside each other – the word “next” is mentioned 26 times in this chapter.

Jesus used teams. He trained a team of 12 men (the apostles) to lead the church in Jerusalem after He returned to heaven. He sent these and the seventy-two out “two by two” (Mk. 6:7; Lk. 10:1). They worked in two-man teams. And a team of women supported Jesus (Lk. 8:1-3; 19:25).

Paul used teams on his missionary journeys. Barnabas was on the first journey. Silas and Timothy were on the second journey. And Luke was on the third journey (Acts 20:5 – 21:17).

In the early churches that Paul established, a team of men (elders) provided the leadership and a team of people (deacons) served (1 Tim. 3:1-13).

Other examples

Others biblical verses that support the idea of teamwork are given below.

Peter urged Christians to love each other, share resources with those in need and serve one another. “Continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another” (1 Pt. 4:8-10).

Paul says that like in a human body (or a sports team) each Christian has a different role but we are to combine together harmoniously. As the body is comprised of many parts that work together, the church is to be comprised of many Christians working together and dependent on each other. “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body (the church). We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (Rom. 12:4-5). “If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body.” (1 Cor. 12:17-20).

Proverbs says that we benefit when we interact with others by sharing opinions and asking questions. “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Prov. 27:17).

Solomon also notes the advantages of working together, rather than individually. This enables people to work more efficiently, rescue one another, and defend one another against attack. A team is stronger than an individual. “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble … A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken” (Eccl. 4:9-12).

Conclusion

We need teamwork in our marriage, in our family, in our church and in our ministries. That’s the best way to negotiate the obstacles and complete the projects.

Reference

This post is based on “Our Daily Bread” 13 March 2018.

Written, April 2018

 


Don’t forget to remember!

Anzac day 2 400pxAfter the British lost many soldiers in the early days of World War 1, this poem was written by Laurence Binyon.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

It’s an extract (called the “Ode of remembrance”) from a poem titled, “For the fallen”, that will be recited today across Australia. Today is ANZAC Day when those who died in warfare are remembered. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

The phrase “Lest We Forget”, which was taken from “Recessional”, a poem written by Rudyard Kipling, will also be mentioned in Anzac services today.

In this post we will look at what God wants us to remember and not forget.

Monuments

Explorers tree Ktaoomba 400pxAt least six monuments are mentioned in the book of Joshua. A stone monument was commonly used in ancient times as a memorial to remind future generations of what had happened at a particular place.

And monuments still exist today. When we drive to my hometown in central New South Wales, we pass at least three monuments. Near Katoomba there is the Marked Tree that reminds us of the explorers that crossed the Blue Mountains in 1813. West of Orange there is a monument to Thomas Mitchell who explored inland Australia in 1836. And near Eugowra there is a monument at Escort Rock where outlaw bushrangers robbed gold from a stage coach in 1862.

Thomas Mitchell monument - Escort Way Orange 400pxAfter they crossed the Jordan River, the Israelites set up the first stone monument at Gilgal. The stones were to be “a sign” for them. “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Josh. 4:6-7NIV). This monument reminded the Israelites that God miraculously dammed the Jordan (even though it was flooded) so the Israelites could cross over into the promised land on dry ground.

Escort rock monument - Eugowra 400pxSecond, after Ai defeated the Israelites and Achan was stoned for disobedience and lying, “they heaped up a large pile of rocks” (Josh. 7:26). This monument reminded the Israelites of the seriousness of sin and the need to judge it.

Third, after they finally destroyed Ai, they “raised a large pile of rocks over it” (8:29). This monument reminded the Israelites that they could have victory over their enemies if sin was judged.

Fourth, on Mount Ebal, “Joshua wrote on stones a copy of the law of Moses” (Josh. 8:32). This was in obedience to a command of Moses, “Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people: “Keep all these commands that I give you today. When you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. Write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster … And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up” (Dt. 27:1-8). This monument on Mount Ebal reminded the Israelites to obey the law of Moses. It had the ten comandments written on it.

Fifth, when the army of the eastern tribes of Israel returned home after helping the western tribes to conquer Canaan, they “built an imposing altar” near the Jordan River (Josh. 22:10). When the western tribes saw this they thought that the eastern tribes were engaging in idol worship. But the following reason was given to them, “We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the Lord. “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the Lord at His sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the Lord.’ “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the Lord’s altar, which our ancestors built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you’” (Josh. 22:24-28). This monument near the Jordan reminded the Israelites on either side of the Jordan than they worshipped the same God.

Sixth, after the covenant was renewed at Shechem near the end of the life of Joshua, “he (Joshua) took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord. “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us.
It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us.
It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God” (Josh. 24:26-28). This monument reminded the Israelites of their promise to obey the law of Moses.

Other monuments in the Bible include:
– Samuel set up a monument near Mizpah to remind the Israelites of how the Lord gave them a great victory over the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:7-12). It was named Ebenezer, which meant “stone of help”.
– After his victory over the Amalekites, Saul “set up a monument in his own honor” at Carmel. He wanted the Israelites to be reminded of his greatness.
But because he disobeyed God, his reign was taken away.
– David’s son Absalom built a monument to himself in the King’s Valley because no sons survived to carry on the family name (2 Sam. 18:18).
– The Pharisees built monuments over the tombs of the Old Testament prophets, but they plotted to kill Jesus (Mt. 23:29; Lk 11:47).
These last three monuments are memorials of humanity’s self-centredness and hypocrisy. While the others were mostly reminders of what God had done.

Berry_War_Memorial 400pxIn most Australian towns there is a monument to those who died in warfare. Many of these monuments list the names of those who died. They are reminders. I think that the Bible is the biggest reminder to us of what God has done.

But there are other examples in the Bible of remembering besides monuments. We will look at some in the Old Testament (OT) and some in the New Testament (NT).

Remembering in the OT

After interpreting the dream of Pharaoh’s cupbearer, Joseph told him, “when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison” (Gen. 40:14). But the Bible says, “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (Gen. 40:23). He only remembered Joseph after Pharaoh had a dream.

Jesus said, “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). She was offered deliverance from the judgment of Sodom. Although she left the city, she wasn’t delivered because she turned back towards Sodom.
This is a warning to those who trifle with God’s offer of salvation through Jesus.

Moses commanded Joshua to remember past victories and trust God for future ones (Dt. 3:21-22).

Moses instructed the Israelites to remember the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai and to teach them to their children (Dt.4:9-14). God remembers His covenant with the Israelites. And Israel is to remember the words and deeds of God, such as the deliverance from Egypt. They are told to “be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.
Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb (Sinai) (Dt. 4:9-10).

In ancient times lessons from history were remembered when one generation told them to the next. For example, “things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which He commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep his commands” (Ps. 78:3-7). If this wasn’t done, the lessons of history were forgotten.
Fortunately, today we have the written version in the Bible.

Israel was urged to remember that God had delivered them from slavery on Egypt. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Dt. 5:15). This is also summarized in statements like, “Remember the days of old” (Dt. 32:7).

If Israel were ever tempted to fear their enemies, they were told to remember God’s mighty deliverances in the past, especially the deliverance from Egypt (Dt. 7: 17–19).

To remember means to not forget. If they got comfortable and satisfied, the Israelites were warned, “be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Dt. 6:12). Prosperity leads to forgetfulness (Dt. 8:10-14). And the psalmist wrote, “Though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law” (Ps.119:61). He was committed to remembering the law of Moses.

Gideon rescued the Israelites from the Midianites. But after he died they went back to idolatry. They did “not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side” (Jud. 8:33).

When the ark of the covenant was brought to Jerusalem the Levites sang “Remember the wonders He (God) has done, His miracles” (1 Chron. 16:12; Ps. 105:5).

Solomon said, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth”, before you face the difficulties of old age (Eccl. 12:1).

When the Jews were threatened when rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah encouraged them by saying, “Remember the Lord who is great and awesome” (Neh. 4:14).

What do you use to remember things? A calendar?
A notebook? Post It notes? An alarm?

There are also examples of remembering in the NT.

Remembering in the NT

Christians are told to celebrate the Lord’s Supper “in remembrance” of the Lord Jesus (Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11: 24-25). It’s the way that God has told us how to remember what Jesus has done for us.

Paul reminded the Ephesians to remember their hopeless situation before they trusted in Christ (Eph. 2:10-11). They had no hope of eternal life. They were ignorant of the true and living God.

The book of second Peter was written to tell believers how to deal with false teachers within the church. He describes the aim of his letter as follows:

“So I will always remind you of these things (now in the Bible), even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure (death) you will always be able to remember these things (now in the Bible)” (2 Pt. 1:12-15). Here we see that God’s purpose for the believer is to be constantly reminded of the importance of God’s Word. Churches should teach the crucial doctrines of the Christian faith. We need to be diligent with God’s truth. We need to be constantly reminded of the importance of God’s Word. This knowledge gives us stability and resilience to absorb the shocks of life. The Bible gives us stability (Mt. 4:4). We can’t live the Christian life without the Bible. Peter alludes to his imminent death. He was taking stock of himself and those to whom he was writing. He wanted them to remember certain truths about going to heaven.
At death the soul is released from the body. As a Christian he has the expectation of eternal life. Our only assurance about eternity comes from the Bible.
Peter wants to leave a lasting legacy. And it has lasted because we can read it today in the letter of second Peter in the Bible.

Paul said, “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand” (1 Cor. 15:1). He then summarises the gospel and focuses on the resurrection of Christ. And he told Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead” (2 Tim. 2:8). We need to focus on the divinity and sacrifice of Jesus. That can help us face suffering and death.

Jude said, “But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires’. These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit” (Jude 17-19). We are reminded that things are not going to get any better in the professing church with time. The Bible says we are to expect the opposite. We are warned of this so we can be prepared.

The message to the church at Sardis says, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent” (Rev. 3:2-3). It was like they were spiritually asleep and needed to be woken up. God wanted them to get back on track and be spiritually mature. He had a purpose for them. The entire church needed to repent.

Discussion

We have looked at some monuments and some examples of remembering in the Bible. The things to be remembered under the Old Covenant in the OT, now need to be translated into equivalent things under the New Covenant in the NT. When this is done, we see that these examples show us God wants us to remember these things.

Remember our guilt and the penalty that is owed because of our sinfulness.

Remember that God has provided Jesus to be our Savior who paid that penalty – that’s the gospel (good news) message.

Remember that if we fail to accept God’s provision, we are doomed to face God’s judgement.

Remember our hopeless situation before we trusted in Christ as Savior.

Remember that people of all nationalities and cultures can worship the same God as us.

Remember to obey the commands given to Christians in the NT.

Remember that God helps us.

Remember past examples of God helping us.

Remember what the Bible says.

Remember the characteristics of the triune God.

Remember that unbelievers will infiltrate into Christendom and cause strife.

Remember to stay spiritually alert and mature.

Let’s remember these 12 things. And if we forget, let’s remind ourselves again from the Bible.

If our cell phone goes flat, we need to connect it up to the charger so the battery can be recharged. Likewise, if we are spiritually flat, we need to get our brains reconnected to the Bible so that it’s content can recharge our minds.

Lessons for us

As we pause on Anzac Day to remember those who gave their lives so we can have peace in our land, let’s remember God who sacrificed Himself to bring a future peace in heaven and earth.

God has given us the Bible “Lest we forget”. The Bible is a great reminder. Can we say, “We will remember its message”?

I use a phone alarm to remember some things. But it doesn’t work if I don’t set the alarm! I think the Bible is like an alarm. But it doesn’t work if we don’t read it!

So, don’t forget to remember!

Written, 25 April 2018 (ANZAC Day)


Rebooting ourselves

reboot-7-400pxRecently when I had a problem with my phone, I was advised to do a reboot (restart). I’d forgotten that many computer problems are fixed by a restart. Turning your computer off and on again fixes a lot of problems because you’re removing the junk that’s accumulated and starting over again fresh.

When too many programs and processes are operating they hog system resources like RAM, cause problems like slow operation, programs won’t open and error messages appear. A restart closes every program and process and wipes away the current state of the software. This includes any code that’s stuck in a misbehaving state. Once your computer starts back up again, it’s not clogged up and is often a faster, better working computer. Most computers need to be restarted at least every few days. Very few are designed to run continuously.

In the same way, we can get bogged down in the cares of this life. Our lives can become so cluttered with finances, careers, family, relationships, and the other things we spend time doing. These things can spoil our relationship with God and hinder our spiritual growth. At times like this we need to reboot and refresh our relationship with God.

Jesus often prayed alone in the morning (Mk. 1:35) or during the night (Lk. 6:12). It was like He was getting a fresh start each day. And He prayed whenever an important decision was to be made or a crisis was near. It was like He was getting a fresh start at important times in His life. So, prayer can be a way to reboot ourselves.

To refresh our relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ we need to get to know them better. The best description of the character and the acts of God the Father and Jesus Christ is in the Bible. This means reading the Bible, understanding it and applying it to our lives on a daily basis. So, the Bible can be a way to reboot ourselves.

And I think that the Lord’s Supper is like getting a fresh start each week. Like computers we get busy and our mind gets occupied with what we’ve been doing. The Lord’s Supper is a good way to clear our minds and get them working how God designed them to work. We dump the junk that’s accumulated during the week when we focus on all that God has done for us. It seems that the early church celebrated the Lord’s Supper once per week (Acts 20:6-7).

So how can we do a restart at the Lord’s Supper? When the Corinthians were treating each other poorly by discriminating amongst themselves and not respecting each other, Paul told them how to put things right before they took part in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34NIV). In particular, he said “anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup”. (v.27-28). The Bible says that they were to “examine” themselves before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. They were to practice self-examination before partaking of the Lord’s Supper. We are to be honest about sin in our lives in order to maintain a dynamic fellowship with the Lord. This can mean dealing with unconfessed sin by confession and repentance.

Confession and repentance

Confession is God’s reset button for our guilt. To confess is to acknowledge our sin to God and to those we have sinned against (Jas. 5:16). The Bible says, “if we confess our sins to Him (God), He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 Jn. 1:9NLT). Confession should lead to repentance. To repent is to change our direction away from a sinful way of behavior towards obeying God instead. It’s turning around to follow God (Acts 3:19). It involves action by reversing our direction and going opposite to the way of sin. For the Corinthians it meant to stop discriminating amongst themselves and to start sharing things amongst themselves and so respecting each other (1 Cor. 11:33-34). Confession and repentance help us to sustain our loving relationship with God.

We all struggle with sin. Let’s examine our motives. Are we self-centered? Are we carelessness towards sin because God “forgives” us when we sin?

Like a restart often cleans up our computer so that it can work again, confession and repentance of our sins cleanses us from all wickedness. We restart when we confess our sins. This renews our mind with the thoughts of God’s new creation so we can “participate in the divine nature” (Rom. 12:2; Cor. 5:17; 2 Pt. 1:4). It’s a good way to clear our minds and get them working how God designed them to work once again.

Lessons for us

A reboot is a simple way to fix some computer problems. But it’s easy to forget. A spiritual reboot is a simple way to fix some of our problems in life. And it’s also easy to forget.

We can reboot through prayer, reading the Bible and participating in the Lord’s Supper. It always includes confession and repentance of our sinful ways. How do you like to reboot?

Written, April 2018


How to find God’s will

man on roof 3 400pxHave you heard the story about a man trapped on the top of his house during a flood? 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, “Please deliver me”.

A few moments later, a farmer friend arrives with his boat. “Hey, 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 voluntary rescue person comes by on his yellow raft. “Hey, I’m here to help get you off 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. The man is now on top of his chimney, nervously looking down at certain death and destruction. Fortunately, a Red Cross volunteer comes along in a canoe and offers him a ride to safety. But the man refuses. “No, God is going to deliver me.”

A couple of hours pass by and the water sweeps over the top of his house and 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 replies, “I sent a boat, an inflatable raft, and a canoe; but you refused each one”. Don’t be like this man!

In the previous post we saw why it is important to know God’s will. Now we will look at how we can find God’s will for us. How does God guide us? We will see that God has given us several ways to find his plan, purpose and will for us.

First, we need to be aware of the conditions for finding God’s will.

Conditions for finding God’s will

Desire

Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own” (Jn. 7:17NLT). If we want to find God’s will, we must be willing to do it even before we know what it is. So, there must be a desire and a willingness to follow God’s guidance. If we are walking closely with the Lord and truly desiring His will for our lives, God will place His desires in our hearts. The key is wanting God’s will, not our own. A godly person’s desires are in line with what God wants them to do (Ps. 37:4, 23, 31).

Faith

Solomon answered the question, “How can I know God’s will in my life?” with a proverb, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6NIV). This means to trust in the Lord and not in ourselves. So we are to believe that God will reveal His will to us. And be willing to submit to Him in every area of life.

James says, “when you ask (for wisdom), you must believe and not doubt” (Jas. 1:6). We must believe that God cares for us and not doubt His goodness and power.

Daily fellowship with the Lord

Romans 12:1-2 has three keys for knowing God’s will. And they all rely on daily fellowship with the Lord. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:1-2).

The first key is commitment.

a) Commitment. Like the life of a sacrificial animal was offered to God, God wants us to be totally committed to Him. We are to place our lives before God as an offering. It’s to be an exclusive relationship, like marriage. Our goal is to please God (2 Cor. 5:14-15). And give up our will so we can follow God’s plan for us.

The second key is a renewed mind.

b) A renewed mind. Our thinking is to be according to a biblical worldview. Godly thinking. Paul had the mind of Christ and didn’t think about people from a worldly point of view (1 Cor. 2:16; 2 Cor. 5:16). It’s like marriage. Because they spend so much time together, a husband and wife get to know each other’s mind and ways. Daily prayer and mediation on Scripture can help us to learn God’s mind and ways.

Are spiritual factors included in our decision making? Do we have the glory of God and the extension of His Kingdom in mind? Do we desire what He desires?

The third key is a godly lifestyle.

c) A godly lifestyle. Not following the pattern of the sinful world. This comes from a godly mind directing obedience to Scripture. What controls our lives? Outside influences or inner convictions? Do we live as if this world is all that there is? Have we lost the eternal point of view on our lives? Are we always thinking about ourselves and disregarding the things of God? These come from the world system, which hates God (Jn. 15:9-19).

The final condition for finding God’s will is confession and repentance of sin.

Confession and repentance of sin

Unconfessed sin keeps us from closeness to God. We are to deal with sin by confessing it and repenting (turning back to follow God). “If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).

If we have disobeyed God in some matter, let’s turn to Him in repentance now, before it is too late. Like Jonah, we may be able to come back into the mainstream of God’s plan for our lives.

Times of uncertainty are used by God to sift our motives too. When unsure of God’s will, we should examine ourselves to see whether we have fulfilled the prerequisites for His guidance.

Before you get a driving licence in Australia there are some pre-requisites. You need to pass:
– The driver knowledge test.
– The Hazard Perception Test.
– 120 hours of driving, including 20 hours of night driving.
– The driving practical test.
Likewise, we have seen that there are some pre-requisites for finding God’s will.

Inner guidance via the Holy Spirit is the chief means by which God guides His people today.

The Holy Spirit

God guided Israel in the wilderness by a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, but that method ceased when they entered Canaan. In Acts there are a few examples of God using angels and visions to guide people, but these are rare. In this post we will look at the normal means of guidance.

Finding God’s will was easier in Old Testament (OT) times because God used external ways to indicate it. The Holy Spirit now lives in a believer as a Guide, and He replaces all the external means of guidance that existed in the OT. Jesus told the disciples, “He (the Holy Spirit) will guide you into all the truth” (Jn. 16:13). They wrote this down and we now have it in the New Testament (NT).

Early in His ministry, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Lk. 4:1). Jesus and the Apostles were led by the Spirit because they were said to be full of the Holy Spirit. And Christians are commanded to be full of the Spirit (Eph. 5:17).

The Holy Spirit urges us inwardly either to take or not to take a certain course of action. Normally, this is the result of much time spent in prayer, and weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed course of action. We can work through decisions with the wisdom God gives us through the Spirit. We can distinguish the voice of the Holy Spirit by the growing peace He gives to our minds, as we pray over the matter (Rom. 8:6; Col. 3:15). And the Holy Spirit will never lead us contrary to the teaching of the Bible.

Athletes and sporting teams have coaches to prepare them to perform at their peak. Mal Meninga coaches the Australian Rugby League team, Bert Van Marwijk has just started to coach the Australian Soccer team and Darren Lehmann has just resigned from coaching the Australian Cricket team. Fortunately, we have a coach who doesn’t retire, the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit also guides us through the following external means. The chief external means by which God guides His people today is the Bible.

Scripture

Paul says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The authors of the Bible were given the words to use by the Holy Spirit. Through it believers can be equipped for life, including leaning about God’s plan, purpose and will.

John Piper says there are three stages of finding God’s will.
– Using our renewed minds to understand and apply what God commands in the Scripture.
– The application of the Scriptures to new situations in life that are not addressed in the Bible.
– The development of godly character. Most of our thoughts, attitudes, and actions are spontaneous.
They are just spill-over from what’s inside.

ScriptureWhen we look at the commands in the Bible we need to realize who they were written for. This is summarized in a schematic diagram where time increases from left to right. Christianity started on the day of Pentecost after Jesus, died, rose back to life and ascended back to heaven. So the commands in Acts to Revelation (after the day of Pentecost) were written to Christians. This means that they usually can be applied directly to us. The OT was written to Jews who lived under the laws of Moses (the Old Covenant). So these commands don’t apply directly to us. For example, they were required to offer animal sacrifices. Instead these laws need to be interpreted though the NT. Some are repeated in the NT, like 9 of the 10 commandments. And others are not repeated in the NT, like the command to keep the Sabbath day and the commands to offer animal sacrifices. So be careful when applying the OT to today. It has many good principles and provides the background to Christianity, but it wasn’t written to us. Jesus lived under the laws of Moses and the gospels include the teachings of His to Jews. But much of His teaching carries over into Christianity (where it relates to the new covenant). The gospels were written to give Christians an account of the life of Jesus.

When interpreting a passage of the Bible we need to take the text and the context into account. Questions about the text include:
– Who was it written to?
– What did it mean to them?
– What’s changed since then? Are we living under a different covenant?
And questions about the context include:
– What happened before and afterwards?
– What is the situation?
Context is king because it reduces the possible meanings of a text to its most probable meaning.

For example, “By his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5;1 Pt. 2:24) could refer to either physical or spiritual healing. The context in Isaiah is “our transgressions”, “our iniquities”, “each of us has turned to our own way”, and “the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5-6). And the context in 1 Peter is “our sins”, and “die to sins and live for righteousness”. There is no mention in either passage of illness or injury. So, in these verses “healed” means forgiveness of their sins (spiritual healing), not physical healing.

The contents of the Bible can be divided into commands, models to follow and reports of events. A command is mandatory (not optional) and prescriptive (not descriptive). A model to follow is a practice that is described that is worth following today. Whereas, a report is a description of events (like in the news media) that is not worth following today.

Biblical commands to Christians are clear to follow. They are God’s revealed will for us. Are we faithfully seeking Him on a daily basis through Bible study and prayer? Are we active in ministry at a Bible-believing church? Are we sharing our faith? Are we doing our best to live apart from sin? Are we faithful to our spouse? Are we seeking satisfaction in Christ instead of the world?

Biblical models are examples to follow. Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Models are also clear to follow.

But what about topics not mentioned in the Bible? First, we can ask does it contradict the Bible? Nothing can be the will of God that is contrary to the Word of God. Although the Bible doesn’t give specific answers to many problems we face, it does give us general principles. We can apply these principles to the issues we face day by day. Spiritual wisdom is the practical application of the Bible to everyday situations.

Paul urged the Ephesians to “understand what the Lord’s will is” (Eph. 5:17). We understand the will of the Lord by reflective thinking on how principles of Scripture apply to our circumstances. We find the general will of God in the Bible; we find the specific will for an individual believer through the application of principles of the Bible. We do not find this will through experiences, visions, or coincidences. We find His will through the correct use of our understanding.

Tattoo 6 400pxFor example, what about a debatable matter like tattoos? This is a secondary matter that is not essential to the Christian faith. And Christians may have different opinions and convictions about it. Some biblical principles we can consider are: God’s honor, the welfare of others (like acting in love, acceptance, harmony, don’t quarrel, don’t judge, don’t stumble a weaker believer, and don’t hinder spiritual growth), and order in the church. Also, what is the motive behind the tattoo?

On rare occasions, God may confirm His guidance to us through some specific passage in our daily Bible reading. But care is needed for we are often likely to read into a passage what is not there. God may lead us through a verse taken out of context, but this is the exception rather than the rule. God may confirm His guidance through a passage in our daily Bible-reading. But this should never be made the sole basis for guidance in any matter.

Ikea 3 400pxHave you ever bought some furniture from Ikea? It comes as a flat-pack and the components need to be assembled before they can be used. It’s best to follow the instructions. Otherwise, you might have to go back to the beginning in order to assemble the components in the correct order. The Bible is like God’s instruction manual for living our lives.

Prayer is another external means of guidance.

Prayer

Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6-7). Prayer is the way to alleviate worry and experience God’s peace. God wants to know about our requests. There is peace in knowing that God is sovereign and loving.

James 1:5 says we don’t have wisdom because we don’t ask for it—so prayer is critical in seeking and living the will of God. He can use answered prayer to guide us through life.

Did you know that there is an Ikea flat-pack furniture assembly service for difficult projects? And what if we could phone up and get help with difficult Ikea projects? Prayer is like that – we get to speak with the author of the instructions.

Circumstances and opportunities are other external means of guidance.

Circumstances and opportunities

God is sovereign. He is in charge of this world. And the events that He allows are all part of His sovereign will. Nothing happens by chance. What happens to us is part of God’s sovereign will. He can control our circumstances and thereby indicate His will. God may use events in our life to point us in a certain direction. God can use circumstances either to confirm the guidance we have received or to prevent our taking a wrong step.

There are a number of cases of circumstantial guidance in the book of Acts. God used persecution to scatter the church from Jerusalem to spread the gospel (Acts 8:1). During Paul’s first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas moved from one place to another when they had to flee from persecution. And after Paul was arrested, he was given opportunities to preach in Jerusalem to the crowd and to the Sanhedrin. At his trial, he preached to the governor and the king. And when he was taken as a prisoner to Rome, he preached to the sailors, to people at Malta and to people at Rome (Acts 21-28).

God may prevent us from going into paths He has not chosen for us by putting us on a sick bed or by making us miss a train, an appointment or an interview. Disappointments can be His appointments for us, if we live under His Lordship. When we do not obtain something we greatly longed for and prayed for, we can be sure that God has something better in store for us.

God may also lead us contrary to circumstances. So circumstances are not always an indication of God’s will. They must be considered only in conjunction with the inner witness of the Holy Spirit and His witness through the Bible.

Is it right to ask God to indicate His will by a sign? After the advent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, there is not a single recorded case in the NT of believers seeking to find God’s will through a sign. This seems to indicate that it is no longer God’s normal method of guidance. It served a purpose in OT times, when the Holy Spirit did not indwell people – but not now. Don’t ask God for a miracle as a sign, and don’t ask God for something so common that it is not really a sign at all. And don’t ask God for a verse as a sign. It’s probably best to not ask God to indicate His will by a sign at all.

God also works through open doors and opportunities. To steer a ship or vehicle, it needs to be moving. If we are active in responding to the opportunities before us, God will direct us.

The advice of godly believers is another external means of guidance.

The advice of godly believers

Christians are urged to encourage each other in the local church (Heb. 10:24-25). Wisdom is available from others with more experience in the Christian life. It’s good to have a mentor or a spiritual counselor or a small group who can provide guidance and support.

However, there are two extremes to avoid. One is to be completely independent of the advice of godly people. The other is to be so completely dependent on their advice as to accept it without question as God’s will for us.

There are some occasions when we should pay attention to the advice of godly people, and some occasions when we may have to go against the advice of those same people, and yet other occasions when we do not have to consult anyone at all. In any case whether we accept or reject or do not seek the advice of others, the ultimate decision must always be our own, for we are personally answerable to God for our decisions.

Daily guidance

Building house 5 400pxHow do you build a house? One brick at a time. Or one part at a time. How do we build a life? One decision at a time. There is an old saying, “Sow a thought and you reap an act; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny”. The decisions we make about God’s plan purpose and will for us shape our lives.

God may sometimes show us His will only just before we have to make a decision, and may keep us waiting a long time prior to that. In any case, He will show us only the next step at each stage. He leads us step by step because He wants us to depend on Him day by day, and to walk by faith and not by sight. For example, the Bereans “examined the Scriptures every day” (Acts 17:11). When He shows us only one step at a time, we are compelled to depend on Him. Moreover, if God showed us the whole future, it is quite likely that we would not want to obey Him fully. And so, He shows us just one step at a time and gradually makes us willing to fulfil all His will. To find God’s will for our life, therefore, all we need to do at any time is to take the next step that God shows us. As we do so, we will find God’s plan unfolding gradually. He does not expect us to find out the details of His plan before we get there.

In the smaller details of daily life, guidance is not necessarily a question of making a conscious decision. It is a matter of walking in the Spirit. A right relationship with the Lord will lead to right action.

God’s will is not static. It is dynamic! It is not always an issue of choosing A or B. In fact, many times you can choose from A to Z, and any of them will be OK. It’s our choice. Why would God give us a brain and not expect us to use it? He lets us make choices, and he gives us second chances.

Summary

We have seen that there are seven conditions for finding God’s will, plan or purpose for us. These are desire, faith, daily fellowship with the Lord, commitment, a renewed mind, a godly lifestyle, and confession and repentance of sin.

Inner guidance via the Holy Spirit is the chief means by which God guides His people today. The Holy Spirit also uses Scripture, prayer, circumstances and the advice of godly believers. So God has given us several ways to find his plan, purpose and will for us. Let’s use these so that we will know, understand and follow His will for our lives.

Written, April 2018

Also see: Why is it important to know God’s will
Understanding the Bible