Online-only readers: This is part 3 of a series based on Adam Hamilton’s Book called Why? Making Sense of God’s Will. You can buy the book here. Quotes in this sermon are from that book unless otherwise marked.
Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:9-10, CEB)
So this week, our question is “Why can’t I see God’s will for my life?” Now this was a huge question for me in high school and college, but it was an even bigger question for my fiancé, Lauren. Lauren is an Occupational Therapy student at the University of Findlay, working on her Master’s in that. She just finished her summer class, and she’ll be starting her fall semester in a couple weeks. So things are looking good for her right now – she’s been working toward OT school for a while.
But Lauren didn’t get into OT school on her first try. During our senior year at ONU, 2014-2015 school year, Lauren applied to four or five Occupational Therapy schools and was actually rejected from each of them. She thought the Occupational Therapy was God’s will for her life, she really felt like that’s where she should be and where God wanted her, but when she tried to pursue it, she was faced with a whole bunch of rejection and disappointment and frustration.
So once she got through the initial disappointment, she knew that she needed a job after graduation. So she applied at a preschool and became an assistant at this preschool. It wasn’t ideal, but she really likes kids, and she figured it’s be a good enough job while she figured out what to do.
But this actually made her situation more difficult because she saw almost all of her friends who graduated with her either get into grad school on their first try or land their dream jobs, or at least find work in their chosen field. But here she was, with a degree in biology working at a preschool and wondering why she couldn’t see God’s will in her life.
But she eventually was accepted at the University of Findlay and she’s now feeling a lot more on track. So now she’s just wondering how she’s going to get through OT school while still working, planning a wedding, and dealing with her weirdo fiancé without going crazy. But for a while, Lauren was really struggling with this question: Why can’t I see God’s will for my life?
And that’s our question for today. Now, I know that Lauren and I are not the only people who struggle with this. It’s a big question for a lot of us: How can we know God’s will for our lives? And it gets more specific, right? How can we know God’s will for our careers, our families, our marriage, our church, everything? Many of us are scared about missing God’s will and living outside of it. If we’ve missed God’s will, stepped outside of it, can we get back in? How can we get back on track? A lot of times, we’re just left frustrated and wondering why God doesn’t just drop down a divine billboard with God’s will for our life written on it, right?
Why can’t we see God’s will for our life? Colossians 1:9-10 was read to you earlier. In that passage, the Apostle Paul was praying that the church in Colossae would be “filled with the knowledge of God’s will…so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way.” Paul was praying that this church would know God’s will so that they could live lives that would be worthy of God and pleasing to God. Now that’s a great goal to have, right? And that’s really why we want to know God’s will, that’s at the bottom of our desire. We want to know and follow God’s will so that our lives can be worthy of God and pleasing to God, right? What a great goal!
But…how exactly can we be “filled with the knowledge of God’s will”?
When we think about God’s will, we often think of it as a secret formula that you have to figure out, a secret code you have to crack, a predetermined path you have to find and simply follow. Something that’s already written down and completed, like a script to a play. And if we just follow it, we’ll be following God’s will and everything will be ok. Right? But maybe we’re going about this the wrong way. Maybe God doesn’t have the whole script of our lives all written down.
Maybe, instead, God invites each of us to collaborate with God on the grand story of our life.
Collaborative writing happens all the time in the world of books, documents, papers, essays. Maybe two people want to work on a story together. Maybe one person comes up with the basic scope of the story, the setting, the main characters, the general themes they want to see in the story, and maybe they come up with the conclusion. Then maybe they partner with someone and they say “Here’s what I want to see in a story. How about you flesh it out – give it a specific storyline, dialogue, interactions, plot twists, character quirks, all of that.”
Maybe that’s how God’s will works with us. Maybe God has ideas for what God wants to see in our lives – the general themes, the setting, the main characters, and God definitely has the conclusion in mind for our lives. But maybe God invites us to sit at the proverbial table with Him and fill out this barebones outline. And God says things like “I want the themes of love and forgiveness and peace to come out in this grand story of your life. How are those going to be fleshed out? You write that part.”
Now, if we continue this metaphor, sometimes in our life we hog the work and we don’t really work with God. Sometimes there are whole chapters in our life story in which we do all the writing. But those aren’t really the best chapters. The best chapters are the ones in which we work with God together, where we work each day to flesh out the outline God has given us.
Adam Hamilton says it like this: Maybe “God’s plan for our lives is not so much a manuscript already completed but an idea and outline for a story that God hopes we will choose to follow, filling in the outline with God each day.” (62, emphasis mine)
Now, that’s a pretty idea. I like thinking about that. But still…how do we figure out the outline?
One of the best ways is to dive into our Bibles. You see, there are timeless principles that we can discover in the Bible that reveal pretty plainly God’s will for our life. The most famous of these is the 10 Commandments, right? Don’t worship idols, don’t use God’s name in vain, keep the Sabbath, honor your father and mother, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t covet. Right? Timeless principles that reveal God’s will for our life. Jesus summed up all the commandments with 2: love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Again, timeless principles that reveal God’s will for our lives. If we just follow those principles, we’ll be following God’s will for our lives.
And those timeless principles that we see in the 10 Commandments and Jesus’ command to love God and love neighbor and in many other parts of the Old and New Testaments, those principles are the themes, the scope, the big ideas; they make up the outline that God wants to see in our life story that we’re collaborating on with God.
So that’s all great…but what does it mean for you?
Why can’t I see God’s will for my life?
How do I figure out God’s will?
Well first, if we want to know God’s will, we have to be familiar with our Bibles. There’s no way around it – we have to crack open our Bible and read regularly – ideally, every day. Not because there’s some secret code that we have to crack that will tell us the script of our lives, but because God’s timeless will is written on these pages. The themes that God wants to see in the story of our lives are written here, and most of the time it’s not really hidden. We just have to read it. God’s will is here for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear it.
So maybe you need to hear this as a call to commit again to diving into the pages of your Bibles each day, reading through the Daily Scripture Readings you have in your bulletins, so that you can read about God’s timeless will and flesh it out in your life.
But I think you can go further than that. Many of you here are familiar enough with the Bible that you know at least some of the themes that God wants to see in the story of your life, the one you’re collaborating on. If you’ve come to church at least kind of regularly and paid attention at all, I would hope that you at least know that God wants to see themes like love, mercy, forgiveness, humility, selflessness, and service to others in your life. That’s not really a secret, and it shouldn’t really be a surprise. So let’s look at one of those themes and see how God might be calling you to flesh it out in your life.
Let’s look at the theme of service. Now this was a big deal for Jesus. We read in Matthew 20:28 that “The Son of Man didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.” And we read the story of the Last Supper and see that Jesus went to the lowest level of service and washed his disciples’ feet. So through example, Jesus calls you to a life of service. Service is part of God’s will in your life, one of the themes that God wants to see in this story that you’re collaborating on.
So how is God calling you to flesh out the theme of service in your life? One way you can do this is by serving this congregation and the people in this congregation. Many of you here have decided to make some kind of claim to this church; you’ve decided to call this church your faith home of some sorts. So God is calling you to serve this congregation in some way, because God doesn’t really want freeloaders in God’s church.
Now I want to highlight specifically one area that we don’t normally talk about in worship outside of the announcements at the beginning – the committees of this church, and especially the chairpersons of those committees. The committee chairs of this church are people in this congregation who are committed to serving this congregation and doing the tasks that are required for this congregation to keep operating.
You see, there are a number of volunteer leadership positions that are required for Alger First to continue existing – the PPRC, Trustees, the Treasurer, the chair of Christian Education, the Worship Committee, Home Missions, and more. Now these aren’t glamorous positions for the most part – committees and their chairpersons do mostly behind-the-scenes work that no one really notices or knows about. Most of it is work that none of you would really choose to do on your own. But it is all necessary for the operation of this church. This church would crumble without these leaders and the committees behind them and their service to this congregation.
Service is a theme that God wants to see in all of your life stories, and these leaders have collaborated with God in the writing of their life stories by stepping into these leadership positions and serving this church with excellence.
Now, here comes the difficult part. We have a lot of leadership positions that will need new leaders in the coming year. Specifically, the PPRC chair, Trustees chair, the Treasurer, the Christian Education chair, the Worship Committee chair, and the Home Missions chair will all need new people in 2017. Like I said, these positions of committee chairs and leaders are necessary for this congregation to continue to exist and move forward in mission and ministry. And we need new people to step up and lead by serving in these positions.
You see, God calls all of us to lead lives marked by service to each other, and especially to our church and congregation. God’s will is for you to serve others, whether or not you want to. I know that you are all called. God calls for your life to be marked by selfless service. So here’s the challenge I’m laying before you today: Which of you here today are going to respond to God’s call by stepping up and serving in one of these leadership positions? Which of you are going to flesh out God’s will for your life by stepping up to serve in one of these leadership positions? I’m being absolutely serious – talk to me after worship or anytime this week if you want to respond to this call.
Now, along with that, there are many other ways to serve this congregation through the ministries that this church has. Our Commodities, our monthly food ministry, could always use help. September 21 is their next date. You could serve by coming on Sundays an hour earlier than normal and committing to a Sunday school class and growing into deeper relationship with the people of this church. Earlier, you heard a call for someone to take charge of the Christmas program – you could serve in that way. You could serve by looking out for other opportunities through the Community Outreach Center. And you could serve by praying for this congregation.
So there are many ways to serve. But I want to emphasize one: Which of you are going to flesh out God’s will for your life by stepping up to serve in one of these leadership positions?
But to return to our original question: Why can’t we see God’s will for our lives? Maybe we’re going about it the wrong way – it’s not a predetermined path or a secret code. Maybe God is inviting us to collaborate on the story of our lives. Maybe God gives us the themes, structure, conclusion – an outline. And maybe God wants us to flesh it out however we can.
Se we dive into our Bibles to find out what those themes are, those timeless principles that reveal God’s will for our life.
And then we figure out how we can flesh those out. How can we serve more? How can we love more? How can we be more humble?
This is God’s will for our lives – my life and your life. God has shown us the themes, God’s timeless principles for our lives. Now it’s up to us to figure out what exactly those will look like.