#889. New Season with an old focus - Romans 12:1-2 (1/9/23)
September, for many people, feels like the beginning of a new season and so it seems appropriate to think about God’s will, and Romans 12 is the perfect vehicle for this. Many of us love new things and we get excited about them. However, listening to God’s will is nothing new but it is the key to fullness of life.
‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.’ (Romans 12:1-2)
Lesson: God is the living God who speaks and leads those who are willing to listen to Him in the ways that He speaks to us.
Many people wonder about how they can know God’s will. Many feel worried about getting it wrong and going out of God’s plan for their lives and this can lead to inaction and worry. Others judge this or that to be God’s will by their emotions and what they are excited about at the moment. Others say that it’s all about obeying the Bible and there are no other factors. This is a big subject but today I want us to consider, very briefly, the main ways that we come to know God’s will so that we can walk in it.
i. He (principally) speaks through His word
Roman 12 teaches us to ‘renew our mind’ and this is done, principally, by studying God’s Word. We are told that in so doing we will be able to ‘test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect.’
All the different ways that God speaks are taught by His word and will always concur (are in accord) with it.
All of scripture is God speaking
Firstly, it’s vital to remember that all of scripture is God’s word to us and is to be obeyed. If we want to learn about, for example, how God speaks to us, we can study the Bible and hear God’s voice to us on this subject.
However, there are also specific things that God wants to speak to us as individuals or churches. Maybe we have a decision to make or need direction and we’re not sure what to do. As we read the Bible or hear it taught we let's pray for God to speak to us and ‘listen’ for the Spirit’s prompting. Does God cause any aspect of scripture to stand out that leans you toward a decision? Does a narrative story give us conviction on the right way to take?
ii. He leads through prayer
I know it seems obvious, but let’s pray about all decisions and ask God to speak and lead. Pray for things specifically and clearly. You could also pray with a friend or leader and ask their advice; do they have any wisdom or sense of leading from God? I’ve heard it said, and it’s very challenging to me, that if God gave you all that you asked for last week, what would you have? If we cannot define what we are asking God for, how will we know if He’s answered? So let’s be specific and let's be specific about asking Him about directing us.
iii. He speaks through providence (Divine appointments)
God speaks through providence. Providence is the belief that God controls all things and, therefore, we can 'read' His will through the circumstances of our lives: ‘Coincidences’, circumstances, provision, ‘open/closed doors’, serendipitous meetings... can all point to God's will.
(See 1 Samuel 14:8-10 for an example from the life of Jonathan)
iv. He speaks through prophecy
God also speaks through the prophetic, through dreams, visions and prophetic words. As we are seeking direction we can ask for and listen for God speaking through the inspired speech of others. We can also ask ourselves if we have past prophecies that help and confirm a decision (That's why it's good to write things down!).
v. He inspires desires
God’s leading can be as simple as an inner compulsion to do a certain thing. What do you want to do? A pointer to God’s will can be a desire that He’s put in us; compassion or zeal for God’s will to be done are particularly powerful signs of God’s leading.
(See 2 Chronicles 6:7-9 for a cautionary example)
vi. God leads through wisdom
The Bible is full of encouragement to live wisely and to seek advice (See Proverbs 15:22 for example). Taking a wise course of action may sound boring, but it is the most common way of discerning God's will.
Questions like, what will this cost in terms of money and sacrifice? Does this opportunity fit with my gifts and capacity? Is this relationship going to help me to 'love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength'? Is this decision going to hinder or promote the most important things - loving God and loving His people? All forms of guidance need to be weighed thoughtfully and prayerfully.
'Confirmation bias' (seeing the signs that we want to see) are a constant threat. Therefore, it's vital that we seek wisdom. We often fail to do so because we don't understand its value (our popular culture certainly doesn't) or we don't want to be challenged on our decisions. As this Proverb teaches us,
'How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver! The highway of the upright avoids evil; those who guard their ways preserve their lives. Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.' (Proverbs 16:17-18)
As we go into September and a new season, let’s reset our faith to the old truth that God is the living God who speaks and leads those who are willing to listen to Him in the ways that He speaks to us. The Bible - our only authority - teaches us that God speaks in various ways. The devil wants us to be too busy and distracted to have a living relationship with God. Richard Foster writes:
“In contemporary society our Adversary [a biblical title for the devil] majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in ‘muchness’ and ‘manyness,’ he will rest satisfied.”
The foundation of hearing God is making time to hear the word taught, studying it, and pray out of it. May we as individuals and churches learn to know and do God’s ‘good, pleasing and perfect will’.
Together in September
In September, we are having two Together Evenings, on Wednesday the 6th and Wednesday the 13th from 7p.m. (When there will be a light meal provided).
We will be using this time to come together for worship, teaching and prayer with a view to re-launching community groups afterwards.
Please put these dates in your diary, we would love to see as many people there as possible.