January 27 – God’s Will – God’s will and enough grace

Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

In the previous chapter, Paul gave quite a list of difficulties he had experienced as a servant of Christ.  But, rather than whining about them because God owed him a bed of roses, he seemed to embrace them, even boasting in them.  From that chapter, we pointed out that adversity is often part of the will of God for us.  We can accept that, knowing that He loves us infinitely.

Still, there was yet one thing that didn’t make Paul’s list in the eleventh chapter.  It sees set apart as if it hit deeper, hurt more, and held a different purpose.  We cannot be 100% certain of its exact nature.  Paul only describes it as a “thorn in the flesh.”  It was Satan’s little messenger to him.  It harassed him, perhaps causing him relentless discomfort.

About this particularly burdensome malady Paul prayed.  There was apparently no response.  He prayed a second time.  Again, the thorn seemed unchanged and heaven remained silent.  Have you ever experienced the silence of heaven?  You are calling, but no one is picking up.  Perhaps you don’t even sense the reassuring voicemail that promises, “. . . I’ll get back with you, as soon as I can . . .”

And then, Paul prayed a third time.  This time, a response came.  It wasn’t the one for which Paul had prayed.  Nope, the thorn was still there.  But, neither was it a hardened, “Quit complaining and deal with it!”  Instead, it was a statement that reassured him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Sufficient grace.  Perfecting power.

Was that a promise unique to this single thorn of the apostle Paul?  Paul certainly didn’t interpret it that way.  In the next two verses, he is quick to apply it to every adversity he faced.  He was comforted in knowing that, though God’s will may take him down a path other than he would prefer, still, at his greatest point of weakness, there would be divine strength.

And that same strength-giving grace is available to you when God allows you to go down a path you would not plan for yourself.

Steve Kern

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January 26 – God’s Will – God’s will and my troubles

Read 2 Corinthians 11:16-33

“And this is what I get as one of your children?”  “This is the thanks I receive for the ways I served you?”

Though you may have never verbally expressed those statements to God, they may have crossed your mind or you may have heard others essentially say those words.  Generally, they are contemplated/whispered/spoken in the aftermath of some undesirable experience.

Funny, isn’t it, that those kinds of remarks didn’t seem to cross the Apostle Paul’s mind in 2 Corinthians 11 or 12?  Talk about one who had served . . . indeed, he had done so.  He spoke to countless people about Christ, saw many of them come to faith, discipled them in their walk with Christ, developed leaders from among them, and coached them as growing congregations.  He did this over and over again.

And what did he get?  Sounds like, prison cells, bodily scars, near death experiences, and an occasional empty stomach.

Rather than voicing the lines suggested above . . . the lines voiced by many . . . he listed off his experiences as if they were medals of honor hanging on his jacket as a soldier of Christ.  He seemed to remember what we often forget.

  • “In this world you will have trouble . . .”  (Jn. 16:33)
  • “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  (Matt. 5:11, 12)

As one who has pondered the kind of responses written above in the throes of the realities of life, I want to clearly include myself in a collective “we.”  Is it possible that we have wrongly assumed that life or God somehow owes us only sunshine, smiles, and ice cream cones?  Is it possible that one of the most important steps we may ever take towards understanding the world in which we live might be grappling with this?

God will sometimes allow us to experience things that we would not choose ourselves.

And I can be OK with that because I know that He loves me.

Steve Kern

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January 25 – God’s Will – God’s will and my value

Read Acts 17:16-34

If you are familiar with the writings of Paul or with other sermons that he preached in the book of Acts, you know that the words expressed here were different.  His listeners in the Areopagus had little to no biblical foundation.  They were apparently unfamiliar with the Old Testament.  They had not heard about Jesus.  Nevertheless, they were deeply religious people.  The influence of pagan gods was symbolized by the numerous idols that filled the city.  These were men and women who enjoyed a good debate and philosophizing about life.

Recognizing his audience, Paul had a different starting point . . . the visible creation and its creator.  He punctuated his presentation with a quote from one of their own poets.  But, of course, he brought all of that to a close with a clear reference to the Savior who was raised from the dead and who will one day judge all.

In these few lines, however, I want to do more than point out obvious contrasts in Paul’s preaching style.  Instead, I want to express something very clearly:

You are deeply valued by God!

He is the ultimate source of your existence.  He gave to you life, breath, and movement.  It doesn’t matter if you were planned by your parents or a surprise.  It doesn’t matter if you felt loved, tolerated, or used by them.  God chose to give you life in the past and all that is necessary for you to carry on life in the present.  You are part of His will and an object of His love.

But, your Heavenly Father has purpose in your existence.  He has orchestrated the chronology and geography (the when’s and where’s) of your life with one intention in mind.  You see, He does all of that so that you “would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him” (v. 27).

You are part of His will and an object of His love.  He wants to be in relationship with you!

Indeed, you are deeply valued by God!

Steve Kern

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January 24 – God’s Will – God’s will and celebration

Read 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11

Cynical creatures that we are, we can falsely conclude that the will of God is . . .

  • Something that God only reluctantly reveals.  We may wrongly feel that we will have to beg and bargain in order to discern His will.  We may feel that we will need hyper-sensitive hearing aids in order to hear His almost imperceptible voice.
  • Something that we will always hesitantly embrace.  We may mistakenly consider Him a cosmic killjoy.  He may seem to be One who wants to put the kibosh on our dreams, sending us down a painful path we will dread every step of the way.

Friends, let’s identify those thoughts for what they are . . . wrong!  They are just not true.  He directs the path of those who trust in Him (Prov. 3:5, 6).  He gives the desires of the heart to those who take delight in Him (Ps. 37:4).

I wonder if Hannah had drawn those wrong conclusions.  There was nothing she wanted more than a child of her own.  But her nemesis taunted her with painful reminders of her barrenness.  And her God?  He seemed to be deaf to her pleas for fruitfulness.  Until one day, she poured out her heart in a way that she had never before.  She entreated God for a son.  If God gave her a boy, she promised to surrender him to the Lord’s service.

And then came Samuel.

Do not forget that the Lord does give Samuels.  Do not forget that at times He does give us precisely what we have dreamed of and asked for.  Do not forget that, in some instances, He even goes above and beyond what we asked or imagined and blesses us with more than we ever could have hoped for (Eph. 3:20).  Don’t forget that the greatest and richest blessings are ones that we have yet to fully realize and unpack because these are spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:15-20).

And, as a result, don’t hesitate to pause now to express to Him your gratitude that He is a gracious Father who has a good plan for His kids.

Steve Kern

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January 23 – God’s Will – God’s will and His Spirit

Read Acts 11:19-3013:1-12

“. . . the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’”  (Acts 13:2b)

So how did the Spirit of God express His call on Barnabas and Saul to the church in Antioch?  Was it through an audible voice that shook the heavens?  Did He express it through an individual?  Was it written on a wall?  These are all ways that God has spoken.  What was it like in this instance?  I would like to know.  But I suppose that it is good that I don’t because I would probably make it a rule that “this is the only way that the Spirit expresses His directive leading.”

Even though we don’t know all of what this looked like, there are a few things we can say about the Spirit’s guiding.

  1. This was guidance related to ministry for Christ.  Now, don’t take that simple sentence and run to an extreme.  Does the Spirit only guide with regard to ministry?  No.  But, I wonder, does the average one of us spend much time asking for God’s guidance in how He might use us for His purposes?  Don’t forget, the Holy Spirit has given each child of God a gift that we are to leverage to God’s glory and the blessing of others (Rom. 12:3-8).
  2. This guidance was consistent with past performance.  Barnabas and Saul had already developed a track record of faithful service for Christ.  This was not one like a lightning bolt on a cloudless day.  It wasn’t a situation where you couldn’t imagine it.  From their conversion until that day, they had proven themselves faithful and this was a new chapter in the same book.
  3. This was guidance directed to and affirmed by others.  The Holy Spirit directed the leaders of the local church in initiating this important next stage of the gospel ‘s global impact.  It wasn’t just something that only Saul or Barnabas sensed and later announced, “We have been called to go.”  The church and its leaders played an integral role.

Let me close with a question or two.  Are you involved in serving Christ? Have you ever invited the Spirit’s guidance and the guidance of other believers to direct you into the ministry where the Lord wants you?

Steve Kern

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January 22 – God’s Will – God’s will and my peace

Read 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

Often when we desire to know the will of God, we are asking Him to make His leading clear to us.  Perhaps we are at a fork in the road, uncertain of which path to take.

Paul experienced that as well.  What were two options he faced?

  1. Open doors in Troas – This open door offered Paul the freedom to share the gospel and perhaps a fruitful harvest for Christ.  This was the very thing that Paul asked the Colossians to pray for (Col. 4:2-4).  This was something he reveled in while in Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:9).  This was what Paul as an apostle lived for.
  2. Heartfelt concern for Titus – Titus was a dear friend of Paul.  He was one of Paul’s spiritual children.  To Titus, he had passed along a rich spiritual heritage and he had entrusted great responsibility.  But Titus wasn’t there as anticipated.  Titus represented his information link with the struggling Corinthian church.

So, what do you do?  How do you make such a decision?  Which path do you take?

For Paul it came down to this:  “I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia” (v. 13).

His decision was based on a sense of inner peace.

Peace.  Now that can be difficult to gauge and measure.  If we allow it to happen, we can have false peace based on the wrong kinds of information.  If we aren’t careful, we can convince ourselves that we are at peace with a decision that is contrary to the will of God expressed clearly in the Bible.

Nevertheless, peace is possible.  If we are walking in the Spirit, we will possess that peace (Gal. 5:22, 23).  If we convert our anxious thoughts into prayerful requests to God, He delivers that peace (Phil. 4:6, 7).  This inner peace that is connected to the heart of God can be a powerful leading force in your life.

Do you need to pause and ask God for that now?

Steve Kern

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January 21 – God’s Will – God’s will and my surrender (2)

Read Romans 11:25-12:2

God promised a few things to Abraham long ago (Genesis 12:1-3).

  • His descendants would be numerous.
  • They would be given land.
  • They would be an instrument of blessing and cursing to other non-Jews.

For centuries, then, God’s focus was on this nation.  And then, Christ came.  He was the ultimate expression of blessing to the nations.  But, interestingly enough, He was largely rejected by His own.  Their rejection of Him, however, has allowed for a fruitful response within the Gentile nations over the last 2000 years.  It is true, the day will come, when descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will embrace Him.  For right now, however, Gentiles are front and center on God’s radar screen.

I am guessing that most who read these lines do not have a Jewish heritage.  You are among those who benefit from this aspect of God’s plan.  Even though you lack these Jewish roots, there is an almost “Jewish” response that you are to make to God’s merciful act of including you.  It is the response of sacrifice.  Not the sacrifice of a lamb, ox, or dove.   No, this sacrifice is you.  You are to surrender your body to Him.  As one infused with new life, you express worship and gratitude by giving yourself in God-pleasing holiness to Him.

As you pursue this life set apart from the world and as you seek to think differently, there is a wonderful byproduct . . . an ability to discern God’s will.  Perhaps this is the frustration of many.  They may yearn to know God’s will for a given situation.  They may be earnestly asking for wisdom for a major life decision.  They may be struggling to understand some of what “life” has dealt them.  But it seems that their pursuits lead them only to frustration or to anger with God.

I wonder . . . is it possible that the missing ingredient is that foundational surrender to the Lord?  Could it be that they are struggling to understand God’s plans because they are not allowing their thinking to be transformed?  Are they unable to understand God’s will because they are not committed to His ways?

Worth pondering.

Steve Kern

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