This is the eleventh installment of Suggestions From A Searcher. It is about action plans for implementing your goals.
This is the eleventh installment of Suggestions From A Searcher. It is about action plans for implementing your goals.
The link below is to the 4th segment of Suggestions From A Searcher. It is about seeking God’s wisdom.
The link below is the second chapter of Suggestions From A Searcher. It is probably best to read the chapters in order. The link to Part One was posted May 4th.
I wrote a little book, initially for my children when they were teens. It is called Suggestions From A Searcher. Others asked for copies. Last year, when I started this blog, I published it in a serial fashion. Now that I have more followers, I am repeating that process. Tomorrow I plan to pull Part Two out of the archives, and continue daily by posting links to the Suggestions From A Searcher blog. Below is the link to Part One.
This is the ninth installment from Suggestions from a Searcher.
A. Mission in life — What is your (unique) reason for being?
“ Average performers are goal-driven.
Peak performers are mission-driven.”
“The primary reason we don’t achieve our goals is that we don’t love them enough.”
Susan Woodring, quoted above, identifies it as a problem that we not love our goals enough. One obvious solution would be to simply do what you love to do! There is something to be said for following your passions in life. In fact, I believe that your worthwhile positive passions were planted in you by God! However, as we live our lives we take on certain responsibilities and encounter various challenges that might cause us to follow a different path than what we intended. That too can be the Lord guiding our footsteps. The beloved movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart, makes that point. “In his heart a man plans his course but the Lord determines his steps.” Proverbs 16: 9
I am recommending that you consciously allow the Lord to guide your steps. Everything we have been working on in this book so far is about how you discover God’s purpose for your life — your mission. The goals of this workbook are to help you understand how you fit into God’s sovereign plan. He has uniquely equipped you with certain gifts, such as talents and opportunities. Use those gifts in serving Him where you are. But having said that, I must caution you that there will be unplanned problems that may re-define the mission you earlier perceived to be your part in accomplishing God’s sovereign (big picture) plan. Therefore, be flexible. Let the Lord use you as His instrument. Do not try to manipulate Him to be your tool for accomplishing your own plan.
I find myself repeating myself as I go along and I think I know why. It is because these concepts, these truths, are inter-related. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Do you first identify your areas of giftedness or first recognize God’s purpose in your circumstances? I do not have a totally clear or satisfactory approach, but let me suggest this:
Spend time with God to discover your gifts.
Use your gifts in following His plan.
Trust in Him when things don’t go as you want.
Remember Who is in charge. (Hint: It’s not you!)
Recognize that challenges are part of life.
Dr.Blackaby offers the following advice to people who wonder about what God wants them to do: “Look around and notice where God is at work; then jump in.” The potential disciple who hesitated to respond to the call to immediately come and follow Jesus apparently failed to recognize that God was at work in Jesus. He was awaiting the coming of the Messiah but the Messiah was already present and inviting him to join in the work of the Kingdom of God.
Mission statements are popular devices in the business world today. In the secular use of mission statements, God is often not an acknowledged factor. In our law firm mission statement, we tried to incorporate our shared belief that God has called us to serve Him as lawyers who see our work as a ministry. Then we stated what that work consists of for us: advocacy, counseling and peacemaking.
This next exercise is intended to help you come up with a mission plan for this stage of your life at least. Considering your past success factors, current interests, life-long passions, God-given talents, and core values, think about and pray about these three important questions:
1) What are you going to do?
2) Who are you doing it for?
Write your own personal mission statement, incorporating your answers to the three questions above. Your mission will perhaps change at various stages of life. Think about where you are now. What is your present mission? Why did God put you where you are right now? Where do you see God at work around you in your current circumstances?
D. Taking Up Your Cross (The Choice)
God’s will will be done, but will it be done by you? Here again, I think we should distinguish between God’s sovereign will (His plan of salvation and how He acts in human history in the “big picture” sense) and God’s will to have a relationship with each person He made and loves. I suppose the link comes when, because of a person’s relationship with God, that person chooses to participate in the “big picture” plan by acting as God’s instrument.
I can imagine that God weeps when someone fails to respond to His call to have an intimate relationship with Him. If you fail to respond to that call to walk with Him, that call to let Him into your heart, then you are stuck with your own selfishness. Thus handicapped by your personal limitations, you miss the opportunity to fully be who God intended for you to be as His child (in the relationship sense).
When you are not available because you are not seeking that intended relationship, I believe God simply uses someone else to fill assignments necessary to accomplish His sovereign will in the “big picture” sense. In a later section about developing your unique mission, I will ask you to identify your talents and opportunities. It is God’s will to use us as His servants in accomplishing His work on earth so He gives us talents and opportunities to equip us for His assignments.
There are tasks which are part of that big picture plan of salvation that God has equipped you to do but which He does not need you to do.
An earthly analogy might be that you would be perfect for a certain role in a school play, but if you don’t try out for the play, the school will perform the play anyway. No one will ever know that you could have played the role very well because someone else did it. Likewise, God’s assignments will be completed regardless, but we have the opportunity to join in and the Lord wants us to say “yes” to those opportunities. God’s will will be done, so “go with the flow,” His flow.
According to Dr. Blackaby, it is your character which determines what God will place you to do. It is your relationship to God which molds your character.
Dr. Blackaby warned that “God does not show you His will so that you will discuss and debate it. The window of opportunity is small because God’s timing is right. God says, ‘You belong to me, let me show you what to do!'”
When Jesus called his disciples, He did not give them much time to decide. Jesus did not wait for those who made excuses. He said they were not fit. Those who did not come when Jesus asked them to follow Him just plain missed out. Compare Peter and Andrew, who responded to the call of Jesus to follow him by leaving their nets “at once” (Matthew 4: 20) and James and John, who also “immediately left the boat and their father and followed him,” (Matthew 4: 22), with the man who said he had to first bury his father (Matthew 8: 21). That guy just missed out. The request to first bury his father sounds reasonable to me. However, the Lord wanted him to follow immediately and he did not respond to the call when it came. He probably did not recognize the call for what it was. He might have spent the rest of his life waiting for another call. Jesus wanted Him for a particular task at a particular time. He missed his calling, at least that one calling. He missed being a disciple while Jesus walked the earth. Perhaps he became a believer later, but he missed a special opportunity.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a Lutheran pastor in Germany, imprisoned and eventually executed by Hitler, wrote a book called The Cost of Discipleship. I recommend it to you to read.
Jesus was very clear that there is a cost of discipleship. He said, “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10: 38 & 39.
Again, in Luke 9:23 & 24, we read: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
God gives us a choice. He calls us and we get to choose how to respond. He called you to have a relationship with Him. He promises that the reward is even greater than the cost of discipleship.
Follow the example of Joshua, who said: “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24: 15
This is the fourth installment of Suggestions From A Searcher.
2. Special Revelation
In the Bible there are some notable times that God revealed His will to individuals through dreams, visions, angels, and signs. But even in Bible times, that was rare, and not usually in response to the person asking to know God’s will, but more often in situations when God took the initiative to intervene in history. For example, Moses was not asking God about whether to leave Midian to go back to Egypt. Rather, God came to Moses and called him to fill the role of leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Joseph and Mary were not planning to raise the Messiah; angels appeared to them to tell them of their roles in history. Certainly it is very rare for anyone throughout history to have the kind of dramatic experience that Moses and the prophets did. Most of us are not “called” in that manner.
Since it is so rare for the Lord to specially reveal His will to an individual, how unrealistic to expect to be one of those individuals. I realize now that it is very pretentious of me to expect a burning bush experience or a call such as to the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 36:2. I am not Moses. I am not Jeremiah. I am not a prophet. I am John’s and Betty’s son from Omaha, Nebraska. Still, I sincerely want to know what I am called to do. How does God advise us non-prophets?
Apparently, I can’t realistically expect a kind of “sign from heaven” answer to my every question about decisions I face, nor does the Bible tell me that God requires one to seek a “sign” of His will before making each everyday decision. Even Moses and David and Paul and everyone else I can think of made most decisions without the guidance of a miraculous sign.
We can distinguish between minor and major decisions. Even though God’s answers to my prayers for guidance usually will not come so dramatically as to the prophets, that does not mean I should not seek to know God’s will as I make important decisions. I still want God’s guidance. Frankly, I would like to have a foolproof system for knowing God’s will in making major decisions, but I don’t.
Well, there is not a simple solution. The simple techniques, such as flipping a coin, do not seem to involve much communication with God. It is silly to make important decisions that way. Heads we get married, tails we don’t. Heads I take that job, tails I don’t. Heads I move to California, tails I don’t. Ridiculous! Yet many people almost use such a technique and call it “putting out a fleece” in reference to Gideon asking God for a sign before going into battle. Judges 6:36-40.
The ancient Israelites also used something like dice called Urim and Thummin, which were carried by the high priest in some kind of a special sack or box called the ephod. King David used that method to ask about the advisability of going into battle. See 2 Samuel 2:1 regarding “inquiring of the Lord.” Having something like that greatly appeals to me. I’d like exact instructions when facing major choices that demand clear decisions. However, since Jesus replaced the high priest, we can go directly to Him and skip the dice.
When we look for a sign from dice or coins it shows we do not understand the way God reveals His will today. Don’t trust the flip of a coin. Don’t test God by putting out a fleece of some sort. Remember that God calls us to a relationship. That is the fundamental concept we must understand before we move to wondering about being called to particular assignments or making particular decisions.
3. Walking With The Lord
Jesus certainly prayed for God’s guidance. Even He did not live as if each choice is inevitable. He prayed long and hard and often. “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” Luke 6:12. “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5: 16. It was His habit to talk to His Father in consistent and persistent prayer.
I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Henry Blackaby speak at a conference. He helped me see some things about seeking God’s will from a new perspective. Dr. Blackaby said that the Holy Spirit does not usually take the initiative. He is available but He waits for us to ask and seek and knock, after having already invited us to come to Him. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7: 7 & 8. When we sincerely seek God, He allows us to come to Him. The Holy Spirit, the Helper, helps us know the Father’s purpose for each of us. That purpose is not to get stuff. The passage refers to seeking God.
Since it is a relationship, God should be in on our little decisions as well as our major decisions. If we are walking with God, listening to Him will be a constant process and should not be reserved only for special events, like the good plates and silverware.
Daily decisions should be made in accordance with God’s moral will, of course, but as my friend and Sunday School teacher, Mark Notess, says, “There is a realm of freedom within God’s moral will, which is why so many prayers are for wisdom.” For decisions that do not involve morality, God just wants us to make wise choices. Often there is more than one wise choice. That is the fun of freedom. When surprises arise, as they inevitably do, it will be natural to turn to the Lord because you already know He is by your side. If we include Him in the little decisions, it will be natural to include Him in the big decisions. If we include Him in deciding whom to date, then He will be there in the decision about whom to marry. If we include Him in considering what classes to take in order to best develop our talents, He will be there in the decision of what career to pursue. The little decisions are the building blocks for the big decisions.
a. Seeking God’s Wisdom
As we seek to live as His people, it does help to have a process of decision-making in place for those major decisions. I want to share with you a method of decision-making used by George Mueller to seek to know God’s will (with my interpretations in parentheses).
“1. I seek at the beginning to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in regard to a given matter.
(Be open to God’s will rather than trying to reach a given outcome.)
2. Having done this, I do not leave the result to feeling or simple impression. If I do so, I make myself liable to great delusions.”
(Do not rely just on feelings.)
3. I seek the will of the Spirit through, or in connection with, the Word of God.
(Read the Bible.)
4. Next, I take into account providential circumstances. These often plainly indicated God’s will in connection with His will and Spirit.
(Look at opportunities. God may be opening a door for you.)
5. I ask God in prayer to reveal His will to me aright.
6. Thus, through prayer to God, the study of the word, and reflection, I come to a deliberate judgment according to the best of my ability and knowledge.”
(Through all the parts of the process, come to a deliberate decision. Which is to say, don’t wait for a “sign.” Sometimes you just hold your nose and jump.)
Here is another approach, which is probably saying the same thing a slightly different way, that I have in my notes from a Men on Target seminar I attended:
Pray that God will reveal His purpose for you when you read the Bible.
While you study God’s Word, listen for the voice of the Spirit.
Seek wise counsel from professionals as well as from people who know you well.
Do not ignore current circumstances. God would not ask us to ignore our family responsibilities. He will open doors and He will close doors.
Although I am sharing the above steps to take for making major decisions, I do not want you to interpret that to mean there is a set formula to follow in order to come up with the one and only correct answer about God’s will for your individual life in general and for each specific decision along the way. There is no magic formula. There probably is not even just one and only one correct answer. But such an approach will be valuable because it causes you to focus on God and consider moral values and seek to make a wise decision within those values.
Let us say I followed such a process when I chose the college I attended. Does that mean there was only one right college for me to attend? I don’t believe that. I believe God wanted me to make a wise choice but I do not believe there was only one right choice. There are lots of colleges it would have been fine for me to attend. There are lots of jobs in which I could serve Him. Maybe I would have been a better pastor than lawyer. Maybe I did not make the very wisest choice. Maybe I should have chosen a different pair of socks for today. But having made the choices I made, there are consequences, good and bad. That is the adventure of life.
I think God just wanted me to walk with Him as I made those choices, trusting in Him and seeking to obey Him as I chose my college and decided whom to marry and selected a career path.
What I am trying to say is that you need not worry so much about making the one right decision as making a wise decision. The Bible gives us lots of guidance about wisdom and how to live as God’s people. We live differently when it is our perspective that we are indeed God’s people.
Finally, I do not want to discourage you from thinking that God does still get specific sometimes. It is amazing to me that as I pray for help and answers, the help or answers come. In fact, I have compared myself to the Israelites in the desert who, after being delivered from Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, got manna from heaven, water from a rock, and still grumbled. God has delivered me from bad situations. I give Him the credit one minute and then worry the next about whether He will come through again. Oh, me of little faith! I must constantly remember to trust and obey. Praying is an important part of trusting and obeying.
Again, I remind you, God has called you to a relationship with Him. You have heard that before. When you sufficiently grasp that concept you will understand why I don’t need a burning bush and why you don’t need a burning bush. Dr. Blackaby takes that truth that God already called each of us to a relationship with Him and goes on to say that, “Depending on where your relationship with God goes, your assignment will match the development of your character. God does not call people with little character to large tasks.”
In the past, have you prayed to know God’s will about a decision you have faced? If so, did God reveal His will to you? If so, how was it revealed? If not, how did you decide? Do you think you made a wise decision pleasing to God? BINGO!
This is the third installment from my little book, Suggestions From A Searcher.
C. God’s Will Revealed For You (In Particular)
God wants to have a relationship with every one of His children. God wants us all to serve as we are able. God wants us all to follow the Golden Rule. That is His will for all His people. What about you, as a unique individual? What about His plan for you, specifically? Is there a definite plan for everything in your life? If so, how do you know what it is?
Dr. Friesen has studied the concept of God’s will for an individual and concludes that the traditional view that God has a particular plan for each individual for each individual decision is not clearly supported by scripture. In other words, he does not believe that God has a detailed, pre-ordained script for your life. Instead, with free will, you have opportunities to walk with God and follow His moral will as He goes about accomplishing His sovereign will. You also have choices to not live that way, despite God’s invitation. We have flexibility because we have the right to make choices, good and bad. In making those choices, however, it is altogether fitting and proper to seek God’s guidance.
1. Predestination versus Free Will
I have struggled with this issue. On the one hand, I want to believe that God had a special plan for me. On the other hand, I want to believe that I am free to make choices. Let me briefly relate my struggle.
The idea of predestination troubles me for two reasons.
One reason is that we know from scripture that God gave mankind a lot of freedom. If that were not so, we would be pre-programmed robots and we know that is not the case by both experience and logic. Dr. Joseph Sittler was a favorite professor of mine in seminary. I once asked him about predestination. He said he didn’t worry much about it. “When I get up in the morning, I have to decide which socks to put on. Even if it is pre-determined, I still don’t know which socks I am predestined to put on, so whether or not I am really making the decision, I think I am making it and still have to go through the decision-making process. So, why worry?”
The second reason has to do with fairness. It is illogical to be responsible for choices we make if we are not truly making the choices. It would be unfair of God to operate us as puppets and then hold the puppets responsible for behavior controlled by Him. How could there be sin without free will? I believe in both sin and free will. Free will gives us the ability to sin. Free will also means we can choose to draw near to God.
However, I can’t ignore that there are references in scripture to certain things being predestined. Liz Hand, a member of my Sunday School class, pointed out to me that predestination can make sense if you remember the timelessness of God. His knowledge is not limited to the sequence of time. He is outside of time. He invented time. For God it is already determined who will be saved because He knows already how we will make our choices. However, that does not mean we are not actually making the decisions. Even acknowledging that God knows everything, I still don’t think He is making the choices for us. The reason God already knows is that God is timeless. We don’t know what decisions we will make because we are not timeless. We live finite lives moment by moment. We get up in the morning and make decisions about how we will live each moment. God designed His creation to allow us such freedom.
It doesn’t make sense to me that there is only one specific plan for my life because then the first move off course would ruin that plan so I either blew my whole life in an all or nothing gamble or I didn’t. What are the odds of any imperfect human making all the right choices? Don’t bet on it! Rather, I believe it is more a matter of going with the flow — God’s flow. Many paths can follow that flow. The important thing is to go the right direction. I guess I am saying that I do not believe that God has just one perfect plan for my life. Dr. Friesen says that is not Biblical, and based on my experience and my reading, I agree.
Actually, it gives me more peace to believe that there is not just one script to follow because I, for one, need more chances. I have blown many opportunities. What if….? I believe that even having blown opportunities, I can try, try again. I can ask for forgiveness and I will be forgiven. I can again seek to make decisions as a man after God’s own heart because of my relationship with the Almighty God, and maybe next time I will be ready for another task God has for someone to do in His sovereign plan. Then I can be aware of that task and, like Isaiah, say, “Here am I! Send me.” Isaiah 6: 8b.
So, should I feel less “special” because God does not have a detailed plan for me but instead lets me make choices? No! I should feel more special because He gave me that opportunity. Wouldn’t you rather be invited to a event than to be ordered to attend? Teenagers talk a lot about wanting parents to trust them and parents do need to give their children increasing freedom as they grow up. God, our Heavenly Father, loves us as His children and, accordingly, does not force us to do His will. Yet, as children look to their parents to learn how to live, and often need advice, I believe God wants us to look to Him when we make choices. By what means does He advise us?