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DIVINE DIRECTION – Wisdom to Discern

DIVINE DIRECTION – Wisdom to Discern

Scriptures

1 Corinthians 16:6-9
Perhaps I will stay with you for a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.

James 1:5
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

Psalm 32:8
The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.

Sermon Outline

How Can I Know What God Wants Me To Do?

  • People constantly ask how they can know God’s will, and apparently some have decided there must be an easy answer.
  • “He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not.”
  • Astrology

Common Errors In Wanting To Know What God Wants Us To Do

  • we seem to believe that God has our lives mapped out on a blackboard in heaven
  • While she was on her knees, she glanced up at her digital clock; it read “7:47.”
  • The history of our world resembles a high-stress poker game.
  • nowhere in the Old Testament, the teachings of Jesus, or the New Testament epistles do we see any description of a step-by-step process by which we can determine God’s will.
  • God is working out all things according to His purposes.
  • The difficulty with God’s sovereign will is that we do not always see Him at work.

What God Does To Help Us

  • God’s heart on decision making is to help us with our decisions.
  • “How can I know the will of God in this decision?” then you may approach the issue with your mind set on signs or impressions.
  • “How can I make a wise decision that honors God?” you ask a question that focuses on the process. How you frame your question, therefore, determines the information and advice you will seek.
  • Advice from Christians
  • Bible – daily companion – not an echo
  • Pray – Correct my heart – one vs many
  • – God continually brings us more and more help

Vision for us – That is the design of needs

  • Our needs are designed by God to draw us into a deeper dependence on Christ.
  • Lord’s Prayer- acknowledge God’s sovereignty. In all our decisions, that attitude must be primary.
  • Ask God to shut all doors to opportunities that are not His choice. Ask God for a heavy heart if you are making the wrong choice and peace if you are making the right choice.
  • Our decisions are to be led by Him and not by selfish desires. Our desire in decision making is to please God by following His will for our lives.
  • Decision making is an exercise in trusting God by choosing to follow Him.
  • It is free of any expectation except that of glorifying God by yielding our will to His will.

Random Sermon Resources

Books I used

Just Do Something – Kevin Deyoung
Decision-Making by the Book – Haddon Robinson.
Decision Making, Discerning the Will of God – June Hunt

Leo Oppenheimer, in the department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago, estimates that about ninety percent of the ancient cuneiform writings from Sumer, Assyria, and Babylon have to do with divination—the attempt to understand the mind of the gods when making important choices

Other people in the ancient world consulted the stars. Astrology, as we know it today, came into existence around the fifth or sixth century b.c. in Persia. Astrologers divided the heavens into houses, and depending on the date of your birth and the time of day you were born, you had a place in a particular house. As the stars moved your stars were sometimes in a position to bring you luck. These provided the most fortuitous seasons for kings to sign treaties, for armies to go into battle, and for businessmen to enter into special contracts.

When we understand the ancient world’s preoccupation with various practices of divination, it’s surprising to note that nowhere in the Old Testament, the teachings of Jesus, or the New Testament epistles do we see any description of a step-by-step process by which we can determine God’s will.

I have a friend who tells me that when he wants to find the mind of God, he sits down in an easy chair, clears his mind of every thought, and asks God to direct him. This friend believes that the first thought to come into his mind is divinely prompted. Now, I have no quarrel with somebody sitting in a chair to think as he’s making a decision. But when we lift our inner impressions to the level of divine revelation, we are flirting with divination.

Other people play “biblical roulette” to seek God’s direction in their decision-making.

People constantly ask how they can know God’s will, and apparently some have decided there must be an easy answer.

But the answer to the “whom” question often remains, “God chooses best for those who leave the choice with Him.”

When it comes to God’s individual will, we seem to believe that God has our lives mapped out on a blackboard in heaven, and that we must see it to make the choices God desires for us.

Undoubtedly the early church had very clear guidance. Three passages from the book of Acts make that evident.

One striking similarity in these three instances of divine guidance is that they pushed the early believers to share the gospel with people they may not have thought of reaching.

This is important. This God-breathed book is not only inspired, but when we understand and apply it correctly, it is all-sufficient, giving us all we need for all life’s decisions so that we might be all that God wants us to be. For us to live according to the Scriptures is to live in the will of God.

The history of our world resembles a high-stress poker game. At least that’s the way American historian Samuel Eliot Morison saw it.

Morison observed that things are the same for individuals as nations. How we fare in life isn’t merely a matter of the cards we are dealt, but how we play the game.

Throughout history people have thought, “If only we could anticipate the future, if only we could know the cards coming into play, then we would feel much less vulnerable when making decisions in life.”

“How do we know the will of God for life’s tough decisions?” isn’t a biblical question! God does not encourage us to ask the question and even more significantly, God gives us no answer.

How can that give us any help for today? we wonder. But that reaction indicates we’re not taking the Bible very seriously. One of the things that the Bible teaches us, for example, is that God is working out His will. The God whom we worship is sovereign in the affairs of men and nations, and He works out all things according to His purposes. God is at work in our lives, and He is at work in the world.

The difficulty with God’s sovereign will is that we do not always see Him at work. It is hidden, removed from our observation. But we know it’s there—particularly after an event happens and we think we can see His purposes more clearly.

Someone has said that life is what happens to you after you’ve made your decisions. There are times when we make our decisions as best we can, and suddenly life crumbles in on us.

God’s direction is clear and unambiguous. We are to act in love and kindness. We are not to be self-serving. We are to have integrity. We are to be faithful and generous. And we are to act out of proper motives. If we apply the characteristics of God’s sovereign and moral will to every decision we make, we will be well on the road to glorifying Him and living a fuller, happier life.

In other words, if what I want to do conflicts with what is best for someone else, then I will go with the other person’s best. I still have my freedom. If I’m the only Christian at the feast and nobody brings it up, I can eat the meat.

The moral will of God when it comes to marriage is that you marry another believer.

Several years ago I spoke with a woman—a new believer—about a decision she had made to visit some relatives in California. She told me she had not been sure that going to California was in God’s will, so one morning she went to her room and prayed for God’s direction. While she was on her knees, she glanced up at her digital clock; it read “7:47.” She knew that “747” was the name of a jet airplane and was sure that God had told her, through the numbers on the face of the digital clock, to go to California.

And James, entering the room, points to the men gathered around the table and says, “Look, fellas. What you’re doing is very dangerous. All these charts, calculations, and predictions display a boastfulness that totally ignores a crucial reality—our plans are not under our control. With all of this planning, you have not planned on God.”

We don’t know what tomorrow holds. Certainly we don’t know about next year. Our knowledge is limited. But James went even further. Not only are we unknowing, but we are also impotent. We can’t even be sure we’ll be here tomorrow! “What is your life?” James asks. “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

When I was growing up, my mother would often write letters. When her letter described some future plans, she would always add the letters “DV” for deo velenti, which means “the Lord willing.” I don’t think she knew much Latin, but she understood the inevitability of life. And certainly it is a wise and prudent thing for Christians to cultivate that in their speech. More followers of Jesus Christ should pepper their conversations with the comment, “If God wills.”

It was Napoleon Bonaparte who, early in his life, said, “God is on the side of the biggest artillery.” Years later, when he was exiled on an island, he reversed his opinion, and conceded, “Man proposes, but God disposes.” Napoleon learned the attitude of “If it is the Lord’s will” the hard way. May we learn it now.

This concept is basic to the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus teaches His disciples to pray. The first three petitions have to do with God—personal needs aren’t even addressed until later! Listen to His prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9–10). All too often we go to God to get His confirmation of plans we’ve made for our own kingdom, glory, and honor. But when we really bow in prayer before God, we acknowledge God’s sovereignty. In all our decisions, that attitude must be primary.

That allows us to enter life’s most frustrating experiences with a sense of holy optimism. No matter where I am, I can be confident that God can use each situation to make me more like Him.

Submission to God’s will is a prerequisite of learning all that God’s Word has to tell us. We should not come to the Bible for confirmation of what we’ve already decided; instead, we must come to gain God’s insight into each decision so that we can make it wisely.

The Bible becomes an echo and not a revelation—it tells us what we want to hear.

Most cults and heresies quote the Bible. We can go to hell with a Bible in our hand. We can be destroyed with a Bible verse on our lips. No. We must come to this book determined to submit to its teachings; only then does God make His will known. This point is, of course, illustrated in the Bible.

Don’t miss the force of that story. If we want to believe a lie, we will get the lie to believe. If we come to the Word of God determined to do what we please, we can get from the Bible anything we desire. We must come in submission to the Word, in submission to its teaching, in submission to the moral law of God.

A well-known British scholar was once approached by a woman who said to him, “Professor, it’s marvelous to have a man of your intellect who takes his stand on the Word of God.” The scholar responded, “No. I don’t take my stand on the Word of God; I do all that I can to take my stand underneath the Word of God.”

But there’s a second reason that making decisions is difficult. We often face a decision with uncertain consequences. Not knowing how things will turn out, we are reluctant to decide. We stand at the crossroads and consider the paths before us. We’re aware that each path will lead us in a different direction, but we can’t be sure where.

Some people decide not to decide. But if we wait for a 20/20 vision of the future, we’ll never decide. We will stand immobilized at the point of decision, and instead of making up our minds, circumstances will control our lives. We will have abdicated responsibility.

Agape love is an act of the will in which we put another person’s interests before our own. This means that making a decision is more than simply looking at the bottom line. An important part of every decision we make is our motives as they relate to the welfare of others.

But interestingly enough, there is no action in the Bible that is ever declared in itself to be right. Good deeds must flow from good motives or they are not good. For example, it is a good thing to pray, but even prayer can be corrupted by bad motives.

Any number of actions, in and of themselves, are neither right nor wrong. They are made right when we act in love. They become wrong if we act in selfishness.

It’s like playing the piano. There are no right or wrong notes. There are only right or wrong notes in the context of the musical score.

The Bible teaches that godly decision-making requires knowing our strengths and then exercising those strengths.

The bricklayer said, “Boy, you’re telling me! That violinist brother of mine doesn’t know a thing about laying bricks. And if he couldn’t make some money playing that fiddle of his, he couldn’t hire a guy with know-how like mine to build a house. If he had to build a house himself he’d be ruined.” If you want to build a house, you don’t want a violinist. And if you’re going to lead an orchestra, you don’t want a bricklayer. No two of us are exactly alike. None of us has every gift and ability. Each of us has a responsibility to exercise the gifts we have—not the ones we wish we had.

And when it comes to making decisions about your own life and the direction it should take, focus on your strengths—not your weaknesses. Know yourself. Know what you do well, and then go with your strengths and shore up your weaknesses.

The answer—and I believe Mary saw this—is that you cannot confirm God’s will by looking at circumstances. By reading circumstances, you do not necessarily understand the workings of God. Sometimes you might as well read tea leaves.

In 1906 an earthquake virtually destroyed the city of San Francisco. San Francisco has always existed on the edge of morality—some would say it has fallen over the edge. When that great earthquake came, many preachers in this country declared that the destruction of San Francisco was the righteous judgment of God. A cynical poet questioned the assumption. “If, as they say, God sank the town for being overly frisky, why did He burn down the churches and leave standing Hotling’s whiskey?”

Don’t misunderstand. I am not saying that God does not work in and through our circumstances. Certainly He does. But we’re not always aware of how God is working. And the fact that God is at work in our lives doesn’t remove our ever-present responsibility to make decisions.

Many of these letters were written under the worst possible circumstances in a prison cell, chained to a soldier. But God worked in and through those circumstances, and the entire church was edified. Circumstances, whether good or bad, do not determine the will of God. They often bring us to the point of decision, but we must still decide and carry out our own predetermined spiritual priorities. Circumstances must be weighed if we are to make good decisions, but they shouldn’t be given more emphasis than they deserve.

Recently, a businessman took a golf pro to a local golf course. It was obvious that the businessman wanted to improve his swing. So he would stand and hit the ball and the golf pro would try to correct his swing, his stance, the direction he looked, and his overall approach to the game. But each time the golf pro tried to correct him, the businessman—who was a successful C.E.O.—kept insisting that the way he was doing it was more comfortable, and in fact better. Before long, the golf pro began agreeing with what the businessman was saying. A man standing nearby watched this whole scene. Seeing the businessman pay the pro and walk off with a smile, he approached the pro and asked, “What happened? In the middle of that session you just began to tell him what he wanted to hear.” The golf pro responded, “You know, I’ve been at this long enough to know what people want. That man wasn’t paying me for counsel; he was just paying for an echo.” If we surround ourselves with people who echo our own opinions, that is not wise, and that is not good counsel. We’ve seen how leaders, even presidents, have fallen because they were surrounded by yes-men instead of insightful men and women who give thoughtful, unbiased counsel.

Let’s add one caution about seeking experienced counsel: It’s dangerous to rely on just one person’s experience. Mark Twain used to tell about a cat who sat on a hot stove lid. That experience taught the cat never to sit on a hot stove lid again. But further, that cat never sat on a cold stove lid either. He took more from the experience than it had to offer. If we’re going to talk about experiences, we would be wise to talk with a number of people who have faced similar decisions and extract direction from their combined counsel.

But, having said that, I think that seeking God’s special revelation is generally the least effective method of discerning God’s will. That’s why I have placed it last. It is clear that God’s major way of speaking to His people today is through His Word.

Many people look back at the first century as a time of unique spiritual unity between God and man. Some see God mysteriously directing each action of the early believers and their congregations. But when we look at most of the decisions the apostles made, we find a surprising thing; they made decisions the way we make them. They looked at their circumstances and came up with the best solution available.

Imagine a young man who wants to marry a non-Christian. He explains that his situation is an exception to God’s rule. “I really have this deep sense that God has spoken to me, and that we are to marry each other.”

A second-best decision, diligently pursued, will often beat a first-best decision that is not diligently pursued.

I’ve discovered that often, as we look at problems and questions, we waste a great deal of emotional energy trying to change the facts of life. Even though it’s not as easy as it seems, we need to separate the facts of life from the problems.

A third principle worth mentioning is that a second-best decision, diligently pursued, will beat a first-best decision lackadaisically pursued.

When a decision looks good from several different perspectives, it is usually your best decision.

One of the biggest decision dangers is beginning without deciding where you want to go or how to get there.

Often we are tempted to ask the questions that are easily answered rather than the harder, more crucial questions. For example, it is simpler to ask if I should marry Andy rather than to ask if I should get married at all. Or if I should get married now.

This whole danger zone of answering the wrong question forces us to go back to an issue we discussed earlier in the book. Namely, if you ask, “How can I know the will of God in this decision?” then you may approach the issue with your mind set on signs or impressions. You place yourself in a vulnerable position where you are susceptible to the influence of coincidences. On the other hand, if you frame your question, “How can I make a wise decision that honors God?” you ask a question that focuses on the process. How you frame your question, therefore, determines the information and advice you will seek. It’s important to ask, “Does my question really fit the problem?” Or, “Are there other ways to frame it?” If you state your question in several different ways, each new frame may throw new light on your decision. Let’s be specific and show how different ways of framing a question can lead to different answers and different ways of seeing the whole problem.

For many years Alfred P. Sloan led the powerful General Motors Corporation. Once after the board made an important decision, Sloan said, “Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here. So I propose we postpone the decision until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop some disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about”

The seven last words of a dying church are usually, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Often we come to believe that our own personal approaches to life or ministry are as inspired and permanent as the Bible. They are not.

America’s Supreme Court has an interesting custom. The newest member of the court speaks his or her mind on a decision first. Then the next-newest speaks. This continues until all of the members have spoken; then the Chief Justice speaks last. In that way, no one is held back by fear of differing with the opinion of a more experienced judge. This wouldn’t be a bad idea for most of our churches or business committees to follow.

Dr. Erich Klinger at the University of Minnesota conducted a study several years ago in which he determined that all of us face between three hundred and seventeen thousand decisions every day.

“Looking at those shoes every day taught me a lesson,” said Reagan, years later. “If you don’t make your own decisions, somebody else will make them for you!” The sovereign God has made us people, not puppets. We have His Word to guide us, His love to redeem us, and His assurance to make us capable to make choice choices.

“He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not.” Through the ages, children have played this simple game of deciding whether someone loved them or not by plucking petals from a daisy one-by-one. The last petal supposedly reveals the answer—but what an unreliable way to make decisions! And just as unreliable is making choices based on changeable circumstances or the cries of a crowd. Wise decisions are made by discerning the will of God, and God delights in revealing His will to those willing to do His will. And His will is clearly revealed in His Word.

Many bad choices are made in life because we do not take the time to discover God’s perfect will for our lives.

Your decisions are ultimately determined by what you desire the most. The fundamental principle for each of us becomes, “Do I choose to please myself, or do I choose to please the Lord?”

God’s heart on decision making is to help us with our decisions.

Rather than being in bondage to expectations and basing our decisions on desired outcomes that are dependent on the decisions of others, God wants us to trust Him with the ramifications of our decisions.

God gave us these inner needs so that we would come to know Him as our Need-Meeter. Our needs are designed by God to draw us into a deeper dependence on Christ. God did not create any person or position, or any amount of power or possessions to meet the deepest needs in our lives. If a person or thing could meet all our needs, we wouldn’t need God! The Lord will use circumstances and bring positive people into our lives as an extension of His care and compassion, but ultimately only God can satisfy all the needs of our hearts.

When faced with a decision or deadline—tell God that you want only His will. Ask God to shut all doors to opportunities that are not His choice. Ask God for a heavy heart if you are making the wrong choice and peace if you are making the right choice.

However, having expectations of people puts us at their mercy in the sense that we are powerless over the decisions others make. To choose a course of action based on the expectation that it will bring about some desired outcome is not the basis on which God wants us to make decisions.

Our decisions are to be led by Him and not by selfish desires. Our desire in decision making is to please God by following His will for our lives. Decision making is an exercise in trusting God by choosing to follow Him. It is free of any expectation except that of glorifying God by yielding our will to His will.