Discerning God’s Will – May 4, 2008
Psalm 109:1-8, Acts 1:15-26
May 4, 2008
When last we met, the disciples were in that “in-between time.” It was after Easter. It was after all the wild ups and downs of their recent lives. And it was before Pentecost. They were hopeful again. But they still didn’t know exactly what was going to happen next. As I said last week, they had to be wondering, “Where do we go from here?”
Very soon they would find out! But in the meantime, we have this story in the second half of Acts chapter one. And this has always seemed a weird story to me. The apostles have been spending their time together. They’d been praying. They’ve been worshipping. They’d been sharing their stories. And then Peter stands up and says, “Guys, I’ve been thinking. We’ve got to replace Judas.” “We need to be twelve again.” And as strange as that sounds, they all agree. And they put up a couple of candidates, and they vote. (Kinda like American Idol!) And the lot falls on this guy named Matthias.
Well, it’s a funny thing about Matthias. This is the only time we ever hear about him. Matthias is never mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, or in Church traditions! In fact, the Bible would tell us that God had other plans for making their number to be twelve again. He would do it in the most unlikely and amazing way! God would find the most bitter enemy of the early Church, and make him the twelfth apostle. What a story! As I said last week, the disciples couldn’t begin to imagine all that was about to happen to them!
That’s something we need to remember. (And this is hard to remember sometimes!) God is able to do and often does “far and above all that we could ever ask or think!” We need to learn to expect that! Because sometimes we don’t give God enough credit! We need to learn to expect God’s glory on God’s level! I can’t say that strongly enough. If I were a pulpit pounder, I’d pound hard on that one! Because too often I’m afraid we limit God in our thinking. We choose the mundane and the ordinary. And God wants to do the extraordinary!
I want us to think along those lines this week as we prepare for Pentecost. The disciples were trying to see what happens next, and they decided to take this action in choosing Matthias. And I want us to see what God had in mind and how that’s in great contrast with that seemingly mundane act of the apostle’s seeking a replacement. I think that’s a huge and glorious contrast!!!
That’s the first thing I want us to think about. The second thing is that this story is a wonderful example of something that’s important – yet elusive – to all of us. This is a great story about “discerning the will of God.” I promised you last week we would think about that. And I know it’s important to you. Some of you even asked if I would preach a sermon on the subject. How can we know God’s will for us? Well, this is a perfect example of that!
So how do we do that? How do we discern the will of God. And I like the word “discern.” It means things like “distinguish,” “be aware of,” “discover,” and “catch sight of.” When we’re thinking about God’s will, I like those words. They’re upbeat, they’re positive, they’re forward thinking. Sometimes when we think of the will of God, we think it’s all about “submitting.” We think of “grudgingly agreeing” to do what God wants – forsaking, of course, what we’d rather be doing! Do you see the difference?
Take a look at how this happened in the disciples’ case. First, they did what they thought God wanted them to do. They weren’t sure. But they acted on what they believed. And it didn’t turn out to be what God really had in mind, because God had Pentecost in mind!! But they still acted! And I want us to see how that’s important.
Sometimes we feel that in discerning God’s will, we need to see it spelled out in huge letters written across the sky. And we’d better not take any action until we’re that sure. But again, this is discerning. This is “catching sight of.” We may not get God’s will dictated to us in clear words and sentences. But we aren’t to wait until we have perfect clarity before acting! Because often it is more a matter of “catching sight of” God’s will.
Then, as the disciples were considering what they thought God wanted them to do, they were in prayer. They were trying to stay in relationship with God as they moved forward. That’s the key. Discerning God’s will is not a matter of getting a written message from heaven. It’s more like taking action, and moving forward on a project, while being on the phone with the project manager. It is in dynamic, regular, close relationship with God that we discern his will for us! I can’t stress that enough.
Discerning the will of God is not a matter of sitting and waiting. It’s often a matter of getting up and moving, and then allowing God to direct. The old cliché is that you can’t steer a boat unless it’s moving. If we do that, if we take that approach, if we move forward in the way we think God wants us to, and we stay in contact with him, then he can direct us. Sometimes we’ll see God’s will in hindsight. We’ll look back and see how he guided us and how he nudged us this way and that and he was able to do that because we were in relationship with him!
I remember something I once heard in my Christian fellowship group in college. The leader said, “When we’re trying to find God’s will, our prayer should not be so much be one of “God, I’m waiting. Show me, and then I’ll act on it.” It should be more, “God this is what I think you’re leading me to do and I’m going with it. So, if it’s not the right way, close the door, and lead me to the right door.”
Ever since then, I’ve liked that metaphor of closed and open doors. These disciples were moving forward with what they thought God wanted them to do. They were taking a practical step. They were completing their number. They were finding a replacement for Judas. And I think we have to honor what they were seeking to do. They knew they would be moving forward. They knew God had important work for them to do. They believed they needed to have their “full contingent.” And so they choose Matthias.
Of course, the reality was, as I said, we would never hear about Matthias ever again. They took a step they thought was right, and that door seems to have been closed. But as our fellowship leader said, “When God closes one door, he often opens another door. (But not always. Because sometimes he is telling us to wait and be patient!) But in this case, we see the disciples moving forward in chapter one, and God seems in retrospect to be closing that door. But then he opens another door in chapter two. And that one was an amazing door! It was the door of Pentecost!
That’s often how God works with us, and I commend that understanding to you. As you think about God’s will for your life, be willing to move forward. Then watch for God to guide and steer you. Be open to the spirit nudging you one way or the other. (Maybe he’ll even give you a little kick! Think of the old Biblical image of sheep. Think of the sheep moving forward, with the shepherds crook gently guiding, prodding, perhaps restraining if there’s danger ahead.
As I said last week, I like the thought of “Where do we go from here?” And the more I’ve thought of this, the more it has grown in my mind that we should all be in a constant state of “What’s next?” We shouldn’t be sitting back and thinking, “If God wants to do something with me, I’ll just be sitting here waiting – in my “spiritual easy chair.” We should all be thinking of “what’s next?” We should be expecting that God has something more for us – around the next bend of this journey. To that end, we should be moving forward, anticipating God’s actions in our lives. We should be looking for those “open doors.” And watching for the closed doors!
As I think about this, I know I can’t really give you a “set formula” for discerning the will of God. He works with so many people in so many different ways. But I think this is one good one! God’s will isn’t something that you can have emailed to you. It’s something you get directly from him from being in contact with him!
So many people want to have God in their lives – devoid of God in their lives! They want to know the things they need to do to have their heavenly reward, though they don’t care to be all that close to God himself. And if they do want to know God’s will, they would rather have it sent to them in the mail, so they can just “follow the instructions.” But seeking, discerning, and following the will of God is first and foremost done in the context of knowing God. We know the will of God best in relationship with God.
If you’re already in a close relationship with God, my guess is that you don’t have so much of a problem with discerning his will for you. And if you’re not, that’s the place to start. Sure, we can talk about such things as, determining your gifts, observing others, seeking council, “trying doors,” sharing with others where you think God is leading you. And all of those are good things to do in determining God’s will. But nothing will substitute for drawing closer to him.
I would remind you again as we close, that God “is able to do far and above whatever we can ask or think.” I’m reminded of that more and more all the time. When we seek his will for our lives, we will experience more and more of his glory. When we are more and more in tune with his spirit, we will experience more and more of God’s fullness in our lives – no matter what the circumstances. When we know him, when we know his will, we will also know his glory here in this life. And it will be nothing compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Eternal God, we want to know you more. We want to hear your voice, we want to seek your will, we want to know your glory. Help us, as we strive to draw closer to you, to feel you drawing closer to us. Help us to know your guiding hand, to seek your “open doors,” and to feel ourselves constantly moving forward in our faith. We know life is a journey, Lord. May we know we are on that journey with you. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.