Seek the Lord
Seek the Lord
M. Blaine Smith, author of Knowing God’s Will: Finding Guidance For Personal Decisions, tells the story of a friend of his named Brock who was seeking God’s Will for his life. Brock lived in Washington D.C. He had a female friend named Kelly, who lived in Texas. They would talk by phone and visit one another. But for a while it was strictly a friendship.
But over time Brock began to have romantic feelings for Kelly. And he began to wonder if she might feel the same. Finally, a week before Kelly was scheduled to visit Brock, he decided to ask God for a clear indication as to whether he should try to take it to the next level with Kelly. To quote Knowing God’s Will, “ He prayed that if God intended the relationship to become a serious one, he would allow Brock to see a deer sometime during the next week. Brock was on a retreat at the time where the possibility of encountering a deer was good.” (pg 159). On a side note, asking for a sign from the Lord it always helps to ask for a sign that you know you are likely to see anyway that affirms what you already believe to be God’s Will.
The weekend passed and a deer never appeared. Brock returned home without the sign he had asked for. Then, two days before Kelly was to arrive, Brock spotted a deer near the Tyson’s corner exit on the D.C beltway. Deer are not exactly common near Tyson’s Corner. So Brock took this as a sign that the Lord had given him the green light to step out of the friend zone with Kelly.
But when Kelly visited it did not seem like God had given her a revelation about her new found feelings for Brock. She was just as content to spend time with other friends as she was to spend time with Brock. Finally, Brock confronted Kelly, and told her his feelings. Kelly, rather surprised by Brock’s change in heart, told him that she did not feel the same way, nor did she see a possibility that her feelings would change. To quote Knowing God’s Will, “Brock was understandably crushed. Not only was there the pain of rejection, but also the baffling experience with the deer……. How could God have allowed this mess to happen?” (pg 160). And perhaps we have all asked such a question at some point of in our lives.
Blaine has a theory as to why this unfortunate experience happened to his friend Brock. To quote Blaine, “ Sometimes, I believe, God mercifully allows us to continue with a spiritual practice which is less than the best. He is patient with the elementary state of our faith and not willing to push us to a higher level before we are ready. Yet when he knows that we can handle it, psychologically and spiritually, he may allow us a hard experience with that same practice- not to break us down but to build us up.”-pg 61. After reflecting on this disappointing experience Brock told his friend M. Blaine Smith, “ I realize now that I was dictating to God how he should reveal his will to me.” (pg 61).
“What is God’s Will for my life?”
“Does God speak to me?
“How do I know if God is speaking to me?”
These are some pressing questions that Christians and even folks who are not sure God exists ask themselves. And as I taught my recent Wednesday night study on the book Knowing God’s Will, I came to see how much I enjoyed helping others seek God’s purpose for their lives. I came to see that part of God’s Will for my life is to help others discern God’s Will for their lives. God’s Will is my favorite subject. That’s right Pastor Will’s favorite subject is Knowing God’s Will. Talk about predestination. Finding God’s Will for our lives can be confusing. But I believe in our passage from Isaiah today there is good news.
When we become willing to do God’s Will we will seek the Lord and we will find His will for our lives.
How do we become willing to do God’s will?
- By Accepting Christ’s Invitation to the Wedding Feast
- By repenting of our wickedness and turning towards Christ’s willingness
First, we become willing to do God’s Will by letting someone else pay for our wedding feast. We see this in the opening passage of Isaiah 55, “ Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”
In life we know there is no such thing as a free lunch. If a service is going to offered someone has to pay for it. If we are going to be offered a free celebration of wine and milk someone else has to pay for it. But in our scripture today it does seem like God is offering a free meal. We see this in the opening passage of Isaiah 55, “ Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” Not, only is God offering a free meal the wine and milk, which were luxury items in Isaiah’s day, suggests that God is inviting people to a celebration, a feast. I believe God is inviting people to the wedding feast of the lamb, the wedding feast of His Son, at the end of time. This is a feast that we get to partake in every time we gather to worship Christ. The Father is allowing us to crash his Son’s wedding. And he tells us how he paid for this wedding. He had His Son become the suffering servant.
Isaiah lets us know who paid for this celebration in Isaiah 52-53, “ Behold, my servant shall act wisely, he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you- his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind-so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand. Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him as stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our inquities ; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned-every one- to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of all.” (Isaiah 52:13-53:6)
The suffering servant has prepared a celebration for us, a great wedding feast. The Father has basically made a plan to let us crash his Son’s wedding. We are invited to the marriage feast of the lamb who was slain, Jesus Christ, and his bride the church. He is not a shepherd who locked himself in an ivory tower, instead he came down from heaven and he acquainted himself with our sorrows and our woes that he may lead us gently through the valley of the shadow of death. All he requires is that we acknowledge our own depravity, our desperate need for him. All he requires is that we ask for help. For first part in Knowing God’s Will is asking God’s help to become a Christian. Because it is God’s Will that the world honor His one and only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
First, we become willing to do God’s Will by asking Jesus to pay for our wedding feast, to pay for the celebration of our salvation. Second, we become willing to do God’s Will by repenting of our wickedness and turning towards Christ’s willingness. To quote our text today, “ Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him and to our God for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7).
In life, not all of our suffering is our fault. Sometimes things happen to us that have nothing to do with us. Sometimes circumstances beyond our control may cause us pain in our emotional, spiritual, physical, and professional lives. But sometimes the suffering in our lives is due to our own sin and unhealthy practices. The LORD gives us over to our sins that through our pain we might come to a point of surrender and turn to him, that we might repent of our wickedness. Our wickedness consists of two parts, ignoring our own sins, and magnifying the sins of others. To quote Jesus, “ Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3). Translation, we all have blind spots in our judgments. And it is a universal human tendency to be more generous with ourselves in our judgments than with those around us.
I have noticed that in life there are common sayings that we apply to ourselves and common sayings that we apply to others. When we say, “ you can’t judge a book by it’s cover,” we phrase this saying in a universal way but I think we are actually applying it only to ourselves. The counter saying to you can’t judge a book by it’s cover is, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Both these statements are common sayings in our culture and yet they contradict one another. We say both because we have double standards in judgment. For ourselves we don’t want to be judged by a snap judgment based off our appearance. But for others we are more than willing to make snap judgments based off first impressions. Because it is a busy world and we don’t have time to get to know everyone. Also, some people just annoy us because we lack the patience to accept people who are wired different from us. Jesus calls us to repent of shrinking our sins and magnifying the sins of others. He calls us to forsake our own way and our own thoughts and turn to the thoughts of the LORD. He encourages us not to depend on our own wisdom but on God’s wisdom.
The Good news today is God is generous with his wisdom. To quote the book of James, “ If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is double minded, unstable in all of his ways.” (James 1:5-8).
You as parents know, as I demonstrated in the children’s sermon, when your kids grow up, you don’t want them to call them all the time, in every decision that they make. Sometimes they call you and you speak into their lives. You want to raise them up in the fear of the Lord, and give them wisdom they can use for themselves. And perhaps God doesn’t speak to us in all the decisions we make because he wants us to grow up and not treat us like children, he wants us to use the wisdom he gives us. And if we lack wisdom, our Father says he is generous and he doesn’t find fault. And isn’t that why we don’t ask for help? Because we are afraid that people will find fault in us and shame us. But that is not how our heavenly Father is. He gives wisdom without finding fault. If that is the case why don’t we receive his wisdom? The scripture says we are double minded in all our ways. And more than having different learning styles. More than being left or right brain, I think that has to do with the state of our hearts. I think that has to do with our willingness. And we must repent of our wickedness and turn to Christ’s willingness.
Blaine Smith argues that the willingness to do God’s Will is the key to doing His Will. To quote Knowing God’s Will, “ It’s often thought that our main role in guidance is to try to figure out what God’s will is. But without in any way belittling our responsibility in that area, it must be stressed that biblically our primary responsibility isn’t an intellectual but volitional one. Before all else we are to strive for an attitude of willingness to do God’s will; it’s only in the context of such an attitude that we can truly see clearly what God’s will is. I’m convinced that in a majority of cases when Christians experience long term confusion over God’s Will, the problem isn’t that his will isn’t clear enough but that they simply don’t want to accept it.” (Smith, pg 76).
We see this struggle in the life of our suffering servant, in the life of Jesus Christ, in the Garden of Gethsemane. We think that if we knew the future or if we knew what other people were thinking, that would solve all our problems. But Jesus knew the future. And he knew the heart of every man. And yet he still struggled with willingness in his humanity. And if that is the case with Jesus that will be the case with us.
Of course the perfect example of how to seek the Lord is our Lord Jesus Christ. During this season of Lent we remember his trials in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knew that it was the Father’s will that he die and rise again. He knew the heart of every man. He only did what he saw His Father doing. His was a sinless life. A life of perfect obedience. And yet, even though Jesus was without sin, even though he had some sense of future events, he still struggled in his flesh with willingness. He knew what the Father wanted him to do. But he needed to pray for the willingness to do it. To quote the Gospel of Mark,
“And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:32-39).
Blaine Smith makes the connection between willingness and prayer in Knowing God’s Will. In reflecting on the Garden of Gethsemane Smith says this,
“ It’s striking to note that nowhere in the Gospels do we discover Jesus for all his emphasis on prayer, ever praying for knowledge of God’s will. Because Jesus was God, he apparently didn’t need to pray in this way. But he did find it necessary to pray for willingness to obey; and if Jesus needed to pray in this fashion, it forcibly underlines the need for this kind of prayer in our own lives. When facing a major decision it is critically important to spend concentrated time praying for the strength to do God’s will-even more important than praying for a knowledge of God’s will.” ( Smith, 94).
In life we are more generous towards ourselves than we are towards others and pastors are included in that. If someone else fails we think that is because they are lazy, inept, unable, or unwilling. But if we fail at something often we will say it was because the odds were not in our favor. Our own failure we attribute to bad luck and circumstances. The failures of others we attribute to character flaws and their own unwillingness. And sometimes yes we get dealt a bad set of cards and there is nothing we can do about that. But Jesus says with the measure we judge others is the measure with which will be judged (Matthew 7:2). Because he knows our tendency to magnify the sins of others and to minimize our own sins.
We all get dealt a bad hand in life sometimes. But we have also all wandered from our Good Shepherd to go our own way. We all struggle with unwillingness. And we are all willing to see unwillingness in others and how it has contributed to their pain but we are all unwilling to see unwillingness in ourselves and how it has contributed to our pain.
The time has come to repent of our wickedness and turn to Christ’s wounds for our healing because if he is not ashamed of his scars why should we be ashamed of ours? The time has come to ask our Heavenly Father for wisdom, for he is generous and He gives wisdom without finding fault. And we should pray that we become like that, giving wisdom without finding fault. The time has come to take our shepherd’s hand and ask him to guide us, not twelve steps ahead, but step by step. For he prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies, he anoints our heads with oil, and our cups do overflow with blessing, but if that cup should be a cup of suffering, and if that be the Lord’s will for us, let us bear that burden for the joy set before us.
Seek the Lord while he may be found. He is not playing hide and seek with us. Because in him we live and move and have our being. The only question that remains is are we willing to do God’s Will? The only question that remains is are we willing to Seek the Lord?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.