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

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

January 20 – God’s Will – God’s will and my surrender

Read Matthew 26:36-46

To this point, the ministry of Jesus seemed to have focused on the needs and struggles of others.  Selflessly and sacrificially, He gave attention to those around Him.  But here in this tender Gethsemane moment we get a brief glimpse of this sensitive combination of the seemingly contradictory fact that He was 100% human and 100% divine.

Having left the Upper Room, He now led His posse of sobered apostles to this quiet garden.  Eight of them were asked to wait while He prayed.  Three of them were invited to go further with Him, to watch, and to pray.

With the three, He shared His anguish that reached to His very soul.  Though they likely did not understand it and though we cannot fully fathom all of His despair, it certainly included the anguish of the death He was to endure, but, deeper still, the wrath of God that was to be unleashed against Him as the perfect sacrifice for a sinful world.  Surely, none of us can grasp the full gravity of what He felt deep within.

And then, it was with the Father that He shared His request that reached to the heavens.  The first part of the request is obvious and easy to voice.  “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”  When seemingly faced with a health, relational, circumstantial situation that is undesirable, this is the prayer each of us lifts up.  Rightfully, we come to the Father who is mighty to save.

But it is the second part of this prayer that is unnatural and difficult to embrace.  “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  What if . . . and we hate even the thought of it . . . what if it is God’s will that we not circumvent the situation, but that we go straight through it and all of the undesirable aspects we assume to be part of it?  That requires deep surrender and a tenacious grip on His faithful hand!

Is that a prayer you need to pray today in sincerity?

Steve Kern

January 19 – God’s Will – God’s Word and His will

Read Psalm 40:1-17

In this devotional series, we have already examined some of the specific expressions of God’s will.  We have seen that it is God’s will that all be saved.  It is His plan that His children live a life set apart from sin . . . especially sexual immorality.  His will is that our moral character demonstrated in submission to authority will eliminate accusations from outsiders.  These are just a handful of the clearly stated expressions of God’s will.

But now, let’s change the camera angle from telephoto to wide angle.  Let’s ask ourselves the more general question, “How might we go about discerning God’s will?”  The psalmist offers us insight.  In Psalm 40:8, he says:

“I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”

Two key insights give us a good starting point.

  1. My willingness – The author genuinely desired to do God’s will.  That is important, and, surprisingly, it is not a given.  As you seek to know God’s will on an issue, are you really willing to do what He asks of you?  Many of us seeking God’s will approach the process with our own preferences and reservations.  It is as if we are willing to do His will as long as He doesn’t ask us to ____________.  Depending on the issue something different may go in the blank.  As you seek God’s will, are you eager to do it no matter what it might be?
  2. God’s word – The psalmist seems to almost draw an equal sign between God’s will and His word.  Indeed, God expresses His will through His word.  Without asking God to somehow speak uniquely to us in a spectacular new way, we must see if He has already spoken clearly in His eternal word.  This will require a sincere effort to study the Bible.  It necessitates that “His law is deep within our hearts.”

Is there an issue about which you are seeking God’s guidance?  Begin by surrendering to God.  Are you really willing to do what He wants; no strings attached?  Continue, then, by searching God’s word.  Has He spoken about the very question you have?

Steve Kern

January 18 – God’s Will – God’s will and freedom

Read Romans 14:1-23

In these twenty-three verses, there is much more at stake than a first-century conflict between vegetarians and carnivores.  No, this has everything to do with the proper use of or restriction of freedom.

But let’s understand their context first.  Some of the “weak believers” had been so influenced by their past exposure to Old Testament laws of regarding “clean” foods, that they chose a vegetarian diet in order not to violate the law.  Other “weak believers” had been so influenced by their past exposure to pagan sacrifices and worship that they abstained from meat just so they would avoid inadvertently eating meat offered to idols.  Unfortunately, these people did not understand that they had been set free from those demands of the law.  They did not realize that there are no real gods behind the idols.

In some ways, then, their abstinence from eating meat was unnecessary.  Even though they didn’t know it, they had the freedom to enjoy a hamburger.

Meanwhile, others in the church understood that God’s will gave them latitude in this area.  They enjoyed meat.

Over time, this use of freedom and lack of understanding of freedom created tension.  Those who ate meat looked down on those who abstained . . . and vice versa!  But rather than sternly correcting the abstainers or coming to the defense of the eaters, Paul encourages them to be sensitive to each other.  That is an interesting thought.  Although God’s will allowed them latitude to continue to indulge, there was another principle at work.  Both were to pursue peace.

This can be a very difficult thing.  Depending on your background and understanding, it can be hard to recognize freedom . . . or if you enjoy freedom, you may find it difficult to grasp how others could have a more restrictive view.  In these areas of freedom, there is something bigger at stake than whether or not you personally choose to restrict or enjoy the freedom.  There is the impact that your decision has on others in the body of Christ!  In those areas, you must choose wisely and pursue peace.

Steve Kern

January 17 – God’s Will – God’s will and our plans

Read James 4:1-17

We have all done it.  It doesn’t matter if you are a business executive charting out a course for your division that will keep things moving up and to the right.  It doesn’t matter if you are a person making arrangements for your annual vacation.  It doesn’t matter if you are a “list person” who rights down all of the things that you will do tomorrow.  Every one of us has, at some point (and probably regularly), made plans for the future.

Do you incorporate the Lord into that process of making plans?  Ouch!  Guilty as charged.

The imaginary person in the last verses of James 4 somehow looks similar to the person I see when I look in the mirror.  This business person had developed a clear plan.  Perhaps his colleagues and his boss even applauded him for it.  His departure and return were pretty clear.  His strategy for doing business was in place.  The profitable outcome seemed guaranteed.

But there was one thing he had not included in the planning . . . God’s will.  That is one thing that we can easily overlook.  We make plans for tomorrow’s tasks, next year’s vacations, and even what retirement will look like while often forgetting that we do not really know what tomorrow may bring.  We make plans for the future without calculating in the fact that there is but one who knows and holds the future.

So what needs to change?  Do we give up all planning and strategizing?  Certainly not.  That is not the point that James is making.  Instead, we should seek to incorporate God into the planning process.  And, even once we have arrived at a tentative plan, we must hold onto it loosely.  We must remember that it is only “if it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (v. 15).

So what plans do you have for today?  How about tomorrow?  What about next week?  Later this year?  Years from now?  Do you need to surrender all of those things to the Lord and to His will?  Now is a great time to begin to do that.  And the rest of life will provide a great opportunity to continue to practice that surrender.

Steve Kern

January 16 – God’s Will – God’s will and fleeces

Read Judges 6:1-40

As a child, I used my own share of “fleeces” in attempts to discern the outcome of future events or to determine the will of God for my life.  I can remember standing in front of our house waiting for a ride to a Little League baseball game and saying to myself, “If the next car that passes by is red, that is a sign that we will win.”  There were also times when I prayed, “God, if you want me to ________, then You __________.”  In the end, I guess I didn’t place much value on these thoughts and prayers, because not a single outcome really stands out . . . only a few of the bargains and requests.

But Gideon did it.  He used a fleece . . . twice.  First it was, “God, if you are in this, then ‘fleece wet, ground dry.’”  And God answered with clarity.  But Gideon wanted further confirmation.  Next it was “ground wet, fleece dry.”  Once again, God answered with clarity.

Before you go out and buy your own patch of sheepskin and corresponding wool, take note of two things:

  1. God had already clearly spoken.  He had already clearly expressed to Gideon the fact that He wanted to use him in the upcoming conquest.  And He had already guaranteed a victorious outcome.  God had already communicated with Gideon in miraculous and spectacular ways.  In that regard, Gideon’s “fleeces” reflect a lack of faith that God was really going to follow through on His promises.
  2. God did not reprimand Gideon for the fleeces.  That is important to note.  Even though God had made Himself clear, He did not express displeasure with His servant.  Instead, He gladly responded to Gideon’s requests and confirmed and reconfirmed His original statement.

So what should we glean from this story?  First of all, when God speaks, you can trust Him.  He won’t change His mind or back down on His promises.  You can trust Him and act in faith.  Secondly, He seems sensitive to our doubt.  While we need to be careful in declaring to God our terms for how He should make His way clear, we can cautiously read and reread His promises and His will.  We can sensitively seek His leading through the Holy Spirit.

Steve Kern

January 15 – God’s Will – God’s will…submission

Read 1 Peter 2:1-3:7

While there are individually unique aspects of God’s will that may differ from person to person, there are certain facets of His plan that apply to all people and/or to all Christ followers.  Already we have seen that His will is that every person comes to faith in the Son, Jesus Christ.  We have observed that His will includes the sanctification or setting apart of His children from the ways of the world . . . especially with regard to sexual purity.  But today you also read another clear “it is God’s will that” statement:

“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.”  (2:15)

If you isolate that verse from the context, you discover a general principle . . . A morally upright life is like a Teflon skillet. That’s true, you know.  When you do right, accusations of wrong don’t stick.  It is God’s will that you live that way.

But now pause and consider it in the broader context of what Peter was writing.  This challenge to do good is specifically planted in the soil of submission “to every human authority.”  It is God’s desire that you willingly yield to others around you.

You can demonstrate that in how you relate to government regulations and elected officials (2:13-17 cf. 1 Tim. 2:1-7; Rom. 13:1-7).  Do you gladly abide by their requests?  Do you pay the taxes to which you are obligated?  Do you demonstrate respect for the people in the offices, even praying for them?  All of these are a reflection of God’s will.

You are to yield to others in your work relationships (2:18-25 cf. Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22-24).  As a supervisor, you are to treat your employees fairly.  As an employee, you are to serve as if serving Christ Himself.  Again, this is part of God’s will for you.

That kind of submission is also to characterize life at home (3:1-7 cf. Eph. 5:21-33; Col. 3:18-21).  How husbands and wives and parents and children interact is outlined by God.  He has expressed His will for us.

In short, we do God’s will when we do the right things in relationships!  And, as a byproduct, we have eliminated any grounds for accusation.

Steve Kern

January 14 – God’s Will – God’s will…sanctification

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

At times, discerning God’s will isn’t nearly as hard as we might think.  We don’t have to spend long periods of time in prayer and fasting in hopes of discovering the obscure.  We don’t need to seek the counsel of others who, we think, have insights to which we have no access.  It isn’t necessary for us to ask for some kind of miraculous sign that will point us in a direction we couldn’t have otherwise known.  No, sometimes God makes His will abundantly clear, and He does so through His written word:

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God . . .”  (1 Thess. 4:3-5)

God desires our sanctification . . . that we are set apart from sin; especially regarding our sexuality.  Meanwhile, here are other clear passages:

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality . . .”  (Eph. 5:3a)

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.”  (Matt. 5:28, 29a)

God’s will is clear.  He wants you and me to live lives of sexual purity.  He wants our actions to be characterized by self-control, holiness, and honor.  His plan is that we steer clear of passionate lust.

But while His will in this arena of our lives is clearly expressed in His word, it is clouded by our culture.  Even while I was accessing an innocent Internet site while writing these words, I was invited to view pictures of singles in Wooster.  Try standing at the check-out at Wal Mart, and the magazine covers will invite you to compromise.  Television and the movie industry seem to pepper even “good” entertainment with suggestive language and scenes that can be burned on the hard drive of our minds.

Before we place God’s call to sexual purity in thought and action under the category of “impossible,” we must ask ourselves:

  • How committed to God’s will do I really want to be?
  • What radical steps am I really willing to take?
  • Which thought patterns do I really need to take captive?

Steve Kern

January 13 – God’s Will – God’s will…salvation

Read 2 Peter 3:1-18

As we move from our teens into our twenties, most of us wrestle with burning questions like:

  • What career should I pursue?
  • Should I attend college?
  • Should I marry?  If so, whom?
  • Where should I live?

During that time, many people earnestly desire to know God’s individual and specific will for them.  But there are dimensions of the will of God that are even more fundamental than these.  Although the need for answers to these aspects of God’s will may not be felt as intensely, they are arguably much more important.  And rather than being unique to an individual, these are universal for all.

In these first few days of the study of God’s will, we want to explore these more universal expressions of God’s will for people.  The first of these is captured in the words of 2 Peter 3:9:

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

God wants all people to repent and spend eternity with Him.

The reality is that everyone has sinned.  Each one of us has violated God’s moral plan for mankind.  The consequences of sin are vast.  As a result, we are spiritually dead, separated from God, and deserving of eternal punishment.  Turning over a new leaf, just won’t resolve this problem.  As a result, reconciling our relationship with God represents a human impossibility, and it marks the biggest need of our lives . . . bigger than the understanding of what job to take or the person to marry.

But God has made that possible.  Through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, He offers to reconcile our relationship.  His desire for all is that we experience that through repentant faith in Christ.

Thankfully, He is patient with us.  He gives each of us an entire lifetime.  He brings circumstances, messengers, and reminders of His powerful glory into each person’s life.  All of these prompt individuals to surrender to Christ in repentant faith.

That is His will for you and for everyone you will encounter today!

Steve Kern