Once there was a horrible hurricane. It rained for days and days. The National Weather Service had warned people in the path of the storm to evacuate. The National Guard sent a Humvee through a town to evacuate people. One man replied, “No, thank you. God will save me.” The rains continued to come and the man was forced to take refuge on his roof. Again the National Guard sent a boat to rescue the man. Again the man proclaimed, “No, thank you. God will save me.” The water continued to rise. It was almost to the roof now. So the National Guard sent a helicopter in a last ditch effort to rescue this man. Again the man replied, “No, thank you. God will save me.” Finally, the flood overtakes the man and he drowns. The man winds up in heaven and is a little upset. He asks God, “God, why didn’t you save me?” God replies, “Well, I sent you a Humvee, a boat, and a helicopter. What more do you want?”
Some of you may have heard this joke before. I think there is a positive side and a negative side to this joke. The positive message is that God has given us common sense, which I often call uncommon sense since it doesn’t seem that common sense is that common among most folks. God has given us common sense, so we should use it. Turning down a Humvee, a boat, and a helicopter during a flood isn’t having faith in God; it’s being stupid. There is the eternal question, why do bad things happen to good people? And I admit that there is a lot of mystery to suffering. But I must also admit in my own life that a lot of my suffering is because I was being stupid, not because God was out to get me.
The negative side of this joke is an assumption I think many good Christians today hold. This is the idea that God doesn’t speak to people today, or at least that God doesn’t speak to someone like you or me. During the season of Advent, we talk about Christ coming into the world. We sing about “Emmanuel,” God with us. We rejoice in the miracle of the incarnation. But in our everyday life, we act like God isn’t there. It’s not wrong to rely on common sense, but if His ways are not our ways, it stands to reason that sometimes our common sense won’t cut it. But often we only use our reason because we think it is unreasonable that God would speak to someone like you or me. We don’t believe we can know God’s Will. God’s Will for our individual lives, for our church, for our nation. We’ve been hurt by quacks. Quacks who claim to know God’s Will for your life, and if you would just give more money and have more faith, God would make you rich or heal you or give you the perfect partner to marry or build a Chick Fil A in your neighborhood.
The negative side of this joke is a Spirit of Cynicism towards hearing God. Practically, we believe we are on our own when the floods of life hit. On our own to figure it out by ourselves. Because there are many confusing and serious situations where we really do need a Word from the Lord, but that Word didn’t seem to come, so we have just given up on the idea. There are many situations in our lives where the answer isn’t obvious and the path is not clear, where we don’t know where the car, boat, or helicopter is. And when things don’t work out, we just throw up our hands and say, “I guess it was God’s Will.” I guess it was God’s Will that my loved one died suddenly and unexpectedly. I guess it was God’s Will that I lost my job. I guess it’s God’s Will that I am sick and in pain. I guess it is God’s Will for me to stay in a broken marriage or to divorce my inconsiderate spouse. We turn God’s Will into fate. If it happens, it must be God’s Will, even though the central prayer of the Christian Faith suggests that not everything that happens on Earth is what theologians call God’s Will of Precept or God’s Moral Will. It seems the most important parts of God’s Will, the part known as God’s Kingdom, God has given us a part in completing it. Today, I want you to understand three points. 1. God is the God who speaks. Even to little Old Me. 2. God’s Will is to develop our Character. 3. What all of this means for us here at Pierceton Presbyterian Church.
First, we must note that while the Bible tells us that the Scriptures are the inspired and authoritative Revelation of God, nowhere in the Scriptures does it say that God does not speak outside of the Scriptures. The idea that God had stopped speaking arose after the completion of the New Testament to protect and respect the Scriptures. But the assumption throughout the New Testament is that God does speak outside the Scriptures and that we can know what part of God’s Will applies to our own journey – as long as we test what we hear from God and compare it to what is revealed in the Scriptures.
Not only is knowing God’s Will a good idea, it is something we are commanded by the Scriptures to do. As Paul says in Romans 12, “I appeal to you therefore brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Saying that we can’t know God’s Will may be common sense, but it is not Kingdom Sense. Much like learning a foreign language where we must learn to think in that language to understand it, to hear from God we must learn to think like the only man who was God. We must learn to think like Jesus.
This leads me to my second point that God is concerned with forming our character. God is not concerned about how important we are but he is concerned with forming our character. This is what the Scriptures would call having the mind of Christ. Before we can hear what God has to say, we need to think like Jesus. I believe there are four characteristics of having the mind of Christ. 1. Being Spirit Filled. 2. Desiring God’s Will. 3. Being on the Move.
First, what does it mean to be Spirit Filled? Well, we believe that if we confess that Jesus is Lord, we receive the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Christians don’t have a temple because every heart of a believer is a temple of the living God. But the Scriptures often talk about being “filled with the Spirit” as opposed to being filled with other thinks like alcohol. So while every Christian may have the Holy Spirit, we may not be letting him into every area of our life. Now, I don’t think there is a problem with having a few beers. I know some of you make some good homemade wine, as well, and I believe it is the Lord’s Will that you keep providing that free of charge to your pastor. But I do believe if it is easier for us to be filled with earthly spirits than the Holy Spirit, that is a problem. The problem is this: We may be containing the Holy Spirit in certain aspects of our heart and not letting him into others.
How are we to be filled with the Spirit? I believe the keys are to pray and to study the Scriptures. We should pray as Jesus did, not out of duty, but because we are hungry to hear from our Father. We should study the Scriptures not only for knowledge but to have the Lord teach our Spirits. Every believer should be confident that their prayers are being heard and that they know the Scriptures well enough to give a reason for the hope that have in Jesus (1 Peter 3). If we are letting the pastor do most of the praying and the teaching, that is a sign that we don’t trust the Holy Spirit within us.
Second, the Lord desires that we desire His Will. If you read the Scriptures without discernment, you can get the sense that the Christian life isn’t all that much fun. That following God’s Will is an act of our Will devoid of all love and emotion. But anyone who has made a New Year’s resolution and has tried to keep it can attest to the fact that willpower is about as powerful as a twelve volt battery. It may power the Energizer Bunny, but it doesn’t get human beings very far. If we pursue things by our own Will, we become hard and legalistic. We lose the consolation of the Lord and we find the desolation of our souls. When we seek to love God’s Will, to love His Word over our life, our devotion, our love empowers our Will and keeps us from becoming rigid and not open to God’s Spirit. The ultimate example of this is Jesus’ prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane. Where He prayed that the cup would pass from Him, but “not my will, but thy Will be done.” Often, we focus on the struggle, on Jesus sweating blood. And yes, we must struggle when we are discerning God’s Will. There is no way around it. But Jesus couldn’t have prayed that prayer unless He loved His Father more than His life. Jesus didn’t go to the cross because He had some masochistic desire for sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. Instead, Hebrews 12:2 says that for the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the shame of the cross. He saw us, each and every one of us, on the other side of the cross, and He loved us. This shows us that sometimes our willpower is not enough. When we reach that point, only love can make us willing instead of willful.
Finally, if we are going to discern God’s Will, we need to keep moving. I believe the best description of the interaction of God’s Will with our choices comes from Proverbs 16:9: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” What this means to me is that God directs people who are moving and He rarely moves people who are not. John Macarthur, author of Found: God’s Will, puts it this way: “Imagine trying to steer and change the direction of a stationary tractor truck. Tough assignment. It would take huge cranes and chains to even budge. But once rolling, a truck weighing thirty six thousand pounds is not difficult to control” (Macarthur, pg 70).
The LORD wants us to keep moving, and generally, when you are moving, it helps to think ahead as to where you are going. As Jesus once said, you don’t start building a tower unless you know you can complete it. You don’t start a war unless you know you can win it (Luke 14:25). Now stuff happens, plans change. We can’t work out every detail. But not having a plan isn’t an act of faith, it is actually foolishness, it is against the Will of God.
When I think of someone I know who has followed God’s Will, I think of Julie McKeighen, our missionary to Liberia. It was an honor to meet her this past summer, to give up the pulpit and to let her speak. She spoke with such a Spirit of conviction and faith. A conviction and faith that I am sad to say I lack. I think the Bible calls us to be salt of the earth and light to the world. I believe the salt is a metaphor for character, for love, that which adds flavor to life. Light is a metaphor for the truth of the Gospel. Light is a metaphor for evangelism. Salt and light are connected. Our character forms our witness. And through a year of ordained ministry, I have found that I have a ways to go in the character department. I am not the light I need to be and I know that is because I am keeping the Holy Spirit locked up inside of me. That I am not letting Him go where He needs to go in my heart. I think we all have trouble being filled with the Spirit to varying degrees. But I think we take notice when we see someone who is both salt and light. I know I took notice when I met Julie.
I emailed Julie and asked her if she could tell me again her sense of call to the mission field. Many of you know and have heard her story. But for myself, and for those of you who have not, I thought it would be good to recap the highlights. Julie talked a lot about how the Spirit continued to speak to her over the years. She talked about how she wondered what she would do with the rest of her life because she is retired and a widow. She talked about going to a “Finisher’s Forum” in Fort Wayne. To quote Julie, “The crux of the program was, ‘How do you want to finish your life?’ Several obstacles presented themselves in such a way to prevent me from going and with each one I felt a strange conviction that this was something that I had to do.” And it was there that she met a representative from the Raifiki Foundation. She still had a while to go after that. Many of her friends and family saw in her eyes that she was going to Africa before she did. Her prayer had always been, “I really want to obey you Lord and go wherever you lead but I don’t want to go to Africa.” There are no buts about it, God finds a way to work around our “buts.”
This church is called to a mission field. Each and every one of us. It’s right outside these walls. It is good that we honor the hundred and fifty years of history in this place. Yet the right question is not where have been, or will the doors be open in ten years. The right question, for this church, and for ourselves, is how shall we finish? I don’t care what you have been through, where you have been, whether you feel worthy. The question is how shall we finish? For when we say with love to the Lord, “Thy Will be Done on Earth as it is in heaven,” then we will see the Kingdom and we shall see that everything that has come before has been preparing us to do God’s Will.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.