Thursday, February 13, 2014

Emphasis Matters: "My will is God's will"

It's a simple phrase. But it can have opposite meanings depending upon which word is emphasized.  "My will is GOD'S will" implies that the speaker desires for their will to be aligned with God's. That their desires, intentions, thoughts, words, and actions are submissive to and supportive and consistent with the Lord's sovereignty.

"My will IS God's will" implies a strong equivalency in a synonymous sort of way that what the speaker is thinking is by default what God's purposes are.  They will rarely ever directly say that. That's too over-the-top arrogant, but they use softer wording that is acceptable in the Christian culture.   They'll often refer to Psalm 37:4, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." as a proof-text for that belief. Obviously there is more to that verse than that.

Their emotions are the key tool they use to discern God's will.  "I have a peace about it" is a phrase often used to "prove" that it is the Lord's will in a particular situation. So basically, they think of something, have a peace about it, and then go for it.

It's a self-rationalizing approach to making decisions. It is also extremely dangerous to one's walk with the Lord and growth as a disciple. If a believer has decided that what they are planning to do is God's will for them simply because they have a peace about it, then the outcome is never questioned. There is no self-examination as to whether or not it truly was God's will (versus that person's desire).

One of the roles that the Holy Spirit has is a ministry of convicting. To compare the believer's thoughts, words, and actions against Christ's righteousness and the Word of God. When there is a disconnect, believers should experience righteous conviction or "good guilt".  But sin, primarily pride, can prevent us from hearing this conviction from the Spirit.  God is loving and He is patient. So when we don't respond to the Holy Spirit's convicting voice, He will bring people and circumstances into our lives to "get our attention".

God uses people as an agent of conviction. For David, it took Nathan speaking to David in a parable to break through David's heart for him to be confronted with his sin.  God uses circumstances as a way of getting our attention as well. For the prophet Jonah, it took being thrown overboard and swallowed by a great fish for Jonah to come to a full acknowledgement of his rebellion and to repent.

I've referred to Jonah's experience with the great fish as a "storm of correction". Jonah was in rebellion against the Lord and in turn the Lord used the storm and the great fish to get Jonah's attention.

When we have a self-rationalizing approach to seeking God's will we mistake the storm of correction in our lives as merely a storm of direction. We lose the opportunity to learn and grow from that correction and perpetuate a "when life serves us lemons, make lemonade". Had Jonah done that, he wouldn't have repented of his rebellion but instead made plans to redecorate his fish-belly condo.

If we don't examine ourselves and identify a storm of correction, then we simply "go with the flow" and embrace everything as being terrific and wonderful. On the surface it may sound super-spiritual, but it is simply stupid.

When the Lord brings people or circumstances into our lives to provide a corrective note, we should listen. It often means that the hardness of our hearts had prevented us from receiving the Holy Spirit's conviction. It is far better to receive and repent because of a whisper than because of a divine 2-by-4 upside the head.

So how can we re-calibrate our minds to be sensitive to the Spirit's stirring?

  • Be totally honest with ourselves and with God. He already knows everything so why try to hide the faintest seed of unrighteous thought?  Acknowledge it, confess it, and repent from it. We might make a decision partly for selfish or prideful reasons, no matter how small a role that thought played in the decision, confess it and repent from it.
  • Listen to those around you. When a dissenting opinion is voiced, listen.  Does that opinion line up with Scripture?  What is the motivation for the person holding that opinion?  Sometimes a dissenting voice inadvertently exposes a sinful motivation at the heart of a decision. Sometimes that opinion is not applicable. But that conclusion should only be derived after prayerful and brutally honest self-examination.
  • Ask yourself, "When was the last time I asked the Lord for something and His answer was 'no'?". Often times people who "have a peace about things" will find it extremely difficult to remember such a situation.
  • Review the outcome. We seek, we decide, we act. What were the results? Was the Lord truly glorified and people blessed? Were there things that could've been done better? What things were done correctly?  We need to extend to ourselves and to others, "grace to grow". We need to acknowledge that not every endeavor we undertake will be perfectly executed. We'll fall short in one way or another. When we acknowledge this truth and extend grace, then we are more comfortable in acknowledging shortcomings. And with that acknowledgement comes learning and growing.

Our greatest opportunity for growth as a disciple of Jesus is when we genuinely humble ourselves before Him, fervently seek His will, be faithful to do our best, and then listen and receive commendation and correction from Him.