God’s Plan

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September 22

Thursday, September 22nd, 2022

This will be the last post based on The Trail by Ed Underwood. I’d suggest if you want to pursue this look at how to know and follow God’s will that you buy the book. It’s old enough now that you can find it for $5 or less. It obviously take a more in-depth look at God’s will and discerning it.

For this last entry, I’d like to “borrow” from the book the great recap that the author uses one of his characters to make. BTW this is written as a story of a couple who goes backpacking with a crusty, old firefighter turned pastor named Sam. Sam gives these lessons to them along the way. Anyway, here is the recap from pages 177-178.

#1- TRUST. God doesn’t need your strength to guide you, but you do need His strength to recognize His guidance.  Pr. 3:5-6

#2-RELATIONSHIP.  Make sure you’re all in for Jesus. Ps. 25:14

#3- INTIMACY. Stay within the circle of intimacy with God, and trust Him that you’re on the dot of His good and perfect will.  Ps. 139: 23-24

#4- TIMING. Live expectantly; God’s signature on events is timing. Eccl. 3:1

#5- PROTECTION. God’s will is a flashlight, not a crystal ball; walk to the edge of the darkness and wait.  Ps. 119:105

#6- ENCOURAGEMENT. When you wonder if you’re on the right path, ask God for a sign of encouragement.           Ps. 86:17

#7- COMMUNITY. Loners lose their way; trust the guidance of those who love you enough to tell you the truth. Pr.12: 15

#8- GRACE. All is grace; put one foot in front of the other. Pr.16: 9

My take? All is grace. If I follow Jesus with a heart that seeks Him, no matter what I do, He is there. I may bob and weave. I may totter. I may stumble as I follow. I may lose sight of the path. But He will be there for me and with me. He will protect me. He will encourage me when I need it. I need to surround myself with a community, a group/person I can count on to tell me the truth. And then trust that all is grace.

So ends the series of posts on The Trail. I pray it has helped you to clarify some things. I also pray it has challenged you to seek God’s desire (will) for you. I don’t need to say each of us are different, so one size doesn’t fit all. Carve out your own path in following Him.  And remember: All is grace.

The Trail: A Tale about Discovering God's Will

September 21

Wednesday, September 21st, 2022

The final principle is here. But before I give that to you, let’s stop here for a moment to think. Whenever the will of God is talked about, many tend to lean toward the mystical. They look for a “sign” or an “open door” or a “word of knowledge” (cringe), or a dream. Something. Anything.

Meanwhile, many figuratively sit in a chair, put their feet up on the desk, and say, “OK God. Lay it on me.” You know what I mean with that picture. It is way too common for people to simply “hold out” for God to WOW them. Rather than go about their daily business with a heart open to God’s leading, they just sit around and expect it to fall into their lap. It has been my experience that doesn’t happen.

Is that saying God doesn’t surprise us sometimes? No, not at all. But to sit and rely on that is wrong. Unless we are Zechariah who receives a visit from angel in the Temple; or a Mary who receives a personal visit from Gabriel to give her some phenomenal news; or a Paul who had an angel appear in his room and tell him he was to go to Jerusalem; or a Joseph who was warned in a dream to hightail it to Egypt, God simply shows up in our daily activities, a timely word while reading His Word, or some good advice from a friend.

Principle #8 is the final one:

All is grace; put one foot in front of the other.

I’m going to close out this study on God’s will tomorrow. See you then. Until then, remember: All in grace; put one foot in front of the other.

September 15

Thursday, September 15th, 2022

After a day when we contemplated an issue that tested our willingness to trust and surrender (Thanks Ryan S.), let’s move on…to more of the same. 🙂

I think one of the hardest times for many of us is because we may not, or don’t, see the clear path, we have trouble moving forward. Sometimes we act paralyzed. Sometimes we simply hesitate following.

Let me revert to an illustration from the book. Many firefighters survive because they know a key truth: a meadow, brush, or even trees, can only burn one time. Many of them will run to the burn. It seems weird, but it is true. Many firefighters have been saved because they ran to the burn.

That brings up an important point. There is a positive side to adversity. Let’s be honest: most of us would like to avoid adversity. Avoid it like a plague would not be too far off. We see adversity as incongruous to a loving God and that said loving God would place adversity in front of us, let alone have us go through it. We do all we can to avoid it! We are far more interested in what will make us happy; God is far more interested in what will make us holy.

Instead of our natural aversion to pain and adversity, maybe we ought to embrace it. Instead of looking for a way around it, let’s stop trying to avoid it. Suffering can actually give us a greater platform for sharing the truth of God’s love.  Instead of running away, maybe God is saying, “Follow Me into the burn. You may not understand. In fact, you probably won’t. But follow Me anyway and I will lead you to safety. You will get to see what I can do.”

Truth: He does not want us to run ahead of Him; He wants us to follow Him. Even if that following has us meeting adversity.

And for your encouragement this morning, stop and read Psalm 86: 11-13. You’ll be glad you did.

September 14

Wednesday, September 14th, 2022

{Spoiler alert: longer post than normal}

After my September 12 post, Ryan S. responded with the following words:

“I can’t deny that I tried a number of methods to seek God’s will. Though, I have never tried the obvious “fleece method”, I suspect my results would have been similar. Whatever happens, I would find a way to justify my desire. I think if I am honest with myself, I know what I “should” do before even asking most of the time.

The Bible has pretty clear instruction regarding relationships, finances, and our actions. I think if I look close enough, I can find what I am looking for there.
The question really then becomes… Do I like the answer?

When thinking about trying to discern God’s Will, I often come back to the parable of the talents. Seems like a strange connection, but let me see what others think.
God has provided His endless wisdom throughout the Bible. If I choose to live my life according to the His written word in all areas, then perhaps, God would provide me more insight into His unwritten will. I believe He does this through the Holy Spirit living inside us. I think this understanding and knowledge may be shared based on how we handle the direction He has already shared….”

I’d like to give my response by reinforcing what he said. We, as Christ-followers, often underestimate the power and purpose of the Holy Spirit. We freak because of obvious abuses associated with Him. I was in that camp at one time. I was so ignorant of the Spirit and admittedly somewhat naive, that the first time I was in a public worship and someone raised their hands, I broke out in a cold sweat. I was sure some wild stuff was about to happen. It didn’t. In time, I came to study the ministry of the Holy Spirit and was no longer afraid. Eventually, I learned the joy, praise and freedom of raising my hands in worship.

The Holy Spirit is not some mystical force.  He is not some impersonal being. In John 14> 16-18 Jesus gives some important insights into the Holy Spirit:

  • Verse 16– He is our Helper.
  • Verse 17– He is the Spirit of Truth. He is given “human” characteristics. He cannot be seen or touched but He is real.
  • Verse 18– He is Jesus’ representative. Paul calls Him “Christ in You.”
  • Verse 26– Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit will teach you all things.” One young man, who eventually left the church with his family for various reasons, always referred to Him as “of Holy Spirit.” Impersonal.  I never had a chance to ask him why he left out the “the” when referring to the Holy Spirit. Jesus does. Anyway…

The Spirit is Jesus in us. He’s our Helper. He is our Guide. As such, He is given a place in our hearts. I/you invite Him to make Himself at home. (In ancient times, the word for “ghost”-the old King James word- meant “invited guest”). I tell Him to make Himself at home in my heart. He leads. He guides. He protects. As I submit my heart and life to Him-hopefully (and ideally) more completely each day-He is able to reveal more of Himself and more of God’s will for my life.

The big question that arises time after time is this: Am I willing to submit to His influence over my life? Am I willing to go where He wants me to go and do what He wants me to do? If so, I do believe (as Ryan says) that God’s will is made clearer, even that which has been hidden. Even then, it may be unveiled a little at a time.

Here’s the kicker though: Even if God does not reveal His will so I can see clearly the path ahead, I must be willing to follow Him regardless. That is the real influence of the Spirit within me. He is within me to give me the strength to do whatever it is God wants me to do.

Your thoughts?

September 13

Tuesday, September 13th, 2022

A recap of the first 5 Principles:

#1- God doesn’t need your strength to guide you, but you do need His strength to recognize His guidance.

#2- Make sure you are all in for Jesus.

#3- Stay within the circle of intimacy with God, and trust Him that you are on the dot of His good and perfect will.

#4- God’s signature on events is timing.

#5- God’s will is a flashlight, not a crystal ball; walk to the edge of the darkness and wait.

Now for Principle #6: Ask for a sign of encouragement.

We all need encouragement from time to time. We all need to be assured we are on the right path. A sign of encouragement is not a fleece.  It is a reassurance, not a bargaining chip.

Stop for a moment and read Psalm 86 (I will come back to it).

There are times we just need to know we are on the right path. Life is full of disappointments and heartaches and when they rear their ugly head, it is good to know God has got our back.  I don’t know about you, but those roadblocks can become stumbling blocks if I allow them to. They can cause me to hesitate, even doubt, I am on God’s path.  This, I believe, is a ploy of the enemy.

What better way to stop forward movement than to put an obstacle in the path of a vehicle? What better way to stop a follower of Jesus from moving forward than to take away his/her assurance that one is following God’s path, to cause hesitation and doubt to arise.

Psalm 86 has some powerful thoughts. Here are a few:

  • Verses 8-10. There is no one like God. He stands alone.
  • Verses 11-13. God will teach us His way. I believe He wants us to focus on His  glory and grace, not on “Am I on the right path or not?”
  • Verses 15-16a. Right or wrong path (maybe less desirable is a better word), God is compassionate and gracious. He doesn’t get angry with us because we chose what turns out to be the wrong path to follow Him. (Not talking about sin here).

There have been times I chose a path (made a decision) I truly believed was the way He wanted me to go. Sometimes I got it right; sometimes I didn’t. But He didn’t turn His back on me either.

To wrap up today’s thoughts, please read verse 17 and take special note of that very first phrase: “Show me a sign of good.” Show me a sign of encouragement is another way to say that.

Note: In yesterday’s responses, Ryan S. asked for feedback on something he said. I encourage you to read what he said then possibly have some thoughts. I plan to give some of my thoughts in tomorrow’s devotion.

September 12

Monday, September 12th, 2022

I don’t suspect I’m alone when I say I have asked for signs. Sort of like Gideon’s fleece in Judges 6. Gideon seemed to be the “least likely to succeed” candidate to lead God’s people vs the Midianites. Gideon thought so as well. His fleece proposition is legendary and has served as a “go to” for many individuals seeking God’s will. The test was/is simple: “If the fleece is wet and the ground dry then I know it is You.” That wasn’t enough so next time around it was “If the fleece is dry and the ground wet then I know it is You.” It happened both times as Gideon proposed.

That “fleece method” has been the way of many over the years. I’m one of them. I now wonder about the wisdom of that. I have learned something about myself: I can make whatever happens to fit my narrative. Many years ago I did that with buying a car. “If this happens then I’ll know.” Well…it happened but there was another glitch. Again, I laid out that fleece and the same thing happened. The third time was the charm. I finagled and bargained until I was convinced the choice was right. I got the car. It was a dumb purchase and it laid the groundwork for misreading God’s will on a number of levels.

I think I would be correct in assuming what I did bordered on superstition. God’s will is a mystery and is not meant to be “found” by conjuring up mystical means. Maybe the important thing to do is to stop looking for “signs” and just start seeking and following God’s guidance.

And that leads me to Principle #6…tomorrow.

September 8

Thursday, September 8th, 2022

In yesterday’s devotion I wrote about Principle #5:

God’s will is a flashlight, not a crystal ball; walk to the edge of the darkness and wait.

That got me thinking how some approach God’s Word (GW) with what I called the “crystal ball” or “floodlight” approach. Before I go any further though, I need to say one or two very important thoughts:

  1. I firmly believe GW is inspired by God and is totally inerrant (without error). I base that on 2 Tim. 3: 14-17, especially verse 16.
  2. I also firmly believe it is God’s primary way of speaking to His people. All things, all claims of people saying, “God told me this or that” must have their foundation in GW. For someone to say, for example, “I killed those people because God told me to” is hogwash and the person is either psychologically delusional or fishing for a reason to justify sin. God will NEVER violate His Word.

With those thoughts in mind, there are those who treat GW like a crystal ball or expect a floodlight to shine down on them with a neon sign and say, “Do this!” Some even expect a floodlight to highlight a verse. You have probably heard the story of the man who used this approach by opening his Bible and pointing to a verse. It said, “Judas went out and hung himself.”  He hurriedly closed his Bible and opened it again and pointed to another verse. It said, “What your hand finds to do do it with all your might.” That wasn’t what he wanted to hear either so he closed his Bible, opened it and pointed and the verse said, “What your hand finds to do, do quickly.”  That is the shotgun approach many take to finding guidance in GW. It is like they are expecting the Bible to be a crystal ball, rub it and all truth will come out. It is like they expect that approach to give them all the insight they need to make a right decision and to know God’s will.

Nope. While I believe GW is living and active, I don’t believe it is a crystal ball telling us what to do and when to do it. God has given each of His children the Holy Spirit and that Spirit leads and guides us. But he will never lead us to act contrary to the Word. God guides us by His Word and shows me the path I am to walk, but there is no neon sigh that lights up, either in GW or in life, which says, “Choose me!”  I go back to my friend’s statement (see August 17 post) where he said, “Bill, choose the one. In any case, even if it is the wrong one, God will not abandon you.”  He was right.

God will never lead us astray. The Holy Spirit will never say, “Go your own way.” Pray. Seek His will. Read His Word for wisdom and guidance and strength to follow. Walk with Him to the edge and wait. To borrow a few lines from The Trail:

If God loves me, then He protects me. He guides me by His Word and shows me the path to walk. A safe path, because He knows where the danger lies. So I walk to the edge of the darkness and wait. (p.110)

God’s Word is a lamp not a crystal ball to rubbed, nor is it a floodlight that will shine down to highlight an action to take. We are given His Spirit and a mind to make decisions that will always be in line with GW.

September 7

Wednesday, September 7th, 2022

Let’s recap Principles 1-4:

#1- God doesn’t need your strength to guide you, but you do need His strength to recognize His guidance.

#2- Make sure you are all in for Jesus.

#3- Stay within the circle of intimacy with God, and trust Him that you are on the dot of His good and perfect will.

#4- God’s signature on events is timing.

That’s the short version. The long version(s) can be found in past blogs beginning with August 15.

One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Psalm 119.  It’s the long one. Some of my deeply memorized verses from my childhood and on are from that chapter. Here are a few:

  • Psalm 119:9
  • Psalm 119: 11
  • Psalm 119: 37
  • Psalm 119: 105

The interesting thing about Psalm 119 is its mention of God’s Word.  Of the 176 verses, probably less than ten have no mention of God’s Word. It uses different words-laws, statutes, commandments, word, instructions, and others-but they all refer to one grand subject: God’s Word.

Stop for a moment and read verses 105-112. Notice the beginning and ending verses: “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” “I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes forever, even to the end.” The psalmist says God’s Word is a guiding light, but it’s a lamp or a torch NOT a floodlight or a crystal ball.

I have more to say on what I will the “crystal ball” or “floodlight” approach tomorrow. Until then Principle #5:

God’s Will is a flashlight, not a crystal ball; walk to the edge of the darkness and wait.

 

September 6

Tuesday, September 6th, 2022

The long weekend is over (Labor Day) and I’m back! I know that just has you jumping for joy!! 🙂  I had a nice weekend. Relaxing. A great meal with friends on Saturday (since we “rained out” for a bike ride. In quotes because it never rained like they said it was supposed to). So, I rode 21+ miles yesterday with Ryan S. instead of Saturday.  (It is the longest I have ridden since my surgery on June 14th). Then, he went home and rode 30+ more. He da man! I remember when I used to do those kinds of things. These 70 year old legs would protest that kind of feat these days and wouldn’t think of doing something like that…unless I don’t want to move the next day…and the next…and the next. 🙂

Okay, now for the devotion based on The Trail by Ed Underwood. Before I give you Principle #5, which will include a recap of the first 4 principles, I want to take a side road based on #4. #5 will come tomorrow.

When we talk about intimacy, I think one of the hardest things to do is to be honest. My mate must feel safe (enfolded if I may use that word) in a cloak of warmth and protection and security that comes from me.  After being a pastor for about 50 years, I have seen precious few marriages where safety and security were evident. If you have one, you are blessed.

With that intimacy comes the ability to forgive. No marriage is perfect because no person is perfect. Intimacy is a rare commodity anyway, but when the inability to forgive crops up…forget it!! I have seen marriages blow up over the littlest thing which became a great thing all because of the inability to forgive. Big or small offense, forgiveness is not an option. Someone has said, “To err is human; to forgive divine.” It seems like I have heard something on the order of “We are most like beasts when we sin; we are most like God when we forgive.” (If not, I lay claim to that! 🙂 ) Whether I heard it or made it up, it is true.

So before  I move on to Principle #5, let’s make a stand right here right now to forgive others-from the smallest to the largest offense. It starts with us, whether there is an apology or not.

I don’t remember there being an apology when Someone I want to model said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”

September 1

Thursday, September 1st, 2022

First, an aside. Can you believe it is already September 1?

Let’s continue with our discussion of Principle #4: God’s signature on events is timing.

In Eccl. 3:1a Solomon uses two Hebrew words that have a deeper meaning than our English words convey.  The words used for “season” means “an appointed time or hour.” They are used a lot in Hebrew wisdom lit to represent God’s appointed times in His plans or intentions.

Another word is the one used for “activity” or events in 1b. Strangely, this word conveys the idea of delight. There is a delight or a blessing in discerning the timing of God.

Would you agree with me that the statement/questions I asked at the beginning of yesterday’s devotion might be true? “I think the #1 answer would have to do with timing. Why wait? Why so long? Why didn’t God answer sooner?” We find ourselves fighting God, questioning His wisdom AND MOST DEFINITELY questioning His timing rather than submitting our hearts and minds to the quietness and peace of surrender.

I like the quote Gail used in her response to yesterday’s devotion: “Time doesn’t heal; God heals, in time.”

To end the devotion today and to conclude Principle #4, there are four words which show up big in our discussion: trust, relationship, intimacy, and timing.

There is a section from the book that plays into this ending: “You asked for guidance and God led you to a wilderness. You anticipated insight in your life, and God gave you the truth about your life. The timing of it surprises you, but God’s never surprised by timing. It’s His signature on events.” (p.84)

“Father, all four of those words are important in my need desire to find Your will.”