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
Without a doubt, the greatest thing I get asked about as a pastor is something along the lines of, “How do I know God’s will for my life?” It’s a fair question. And it’s one that I’ve wrestled with most of my life, also. People have often asked me stuff like the following:
- How did you know which college to go to?
- How did you know Tiffany was “the one”?
- How did you know God was calling you into ministry?
- How did you know God was leading you to start a church?
- How did you know God was sending you to California?
- How did you know you were suppose to wear that shirt? (ok, this one, less often.)
Well according to Heb. 11:1, “knowing” any of these things is a stretch at best. You cannot “know” for sure anything God calls you to accept on faith. But the bigger reality check is that, despite all of the mystery and wonder we put to knowing the specifics of God’s will, what God really wants for each of us, is very clearly spoken to us in His Word.
No, God didn’t answer any of the above questions for my life in the Bible. He gave me answers to more important issues than the details of His specific will for the “what” to do with my life. He gave me the divine ways for the “how” I should live my life.
In Romans 12, Paul tells us quite clearly -even begging us- to submit ourselves as a “living sacrifice” to God, and that doing so is both “holy” and “pleasing” to God. When we do this, we live in such complete submission to the ways of God, that we understand this is our “true and proper worship.”
He goes on to contrast this way of living a life of worship by telling us not to be conformed to the “pattern,” or ways, of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. This “transforming” comes from our regular submission in our hearts to God’s ways.
But we want DETAILS! How do I find the answers to all these important life questions?!? Paul tells us that as we submit ourselves as living sacrifices to the ways of God, “then“ He will lead us into the perfect will of God. In other words, as I obey God in what He has revealed, He will guide me in what He has concealed.
God’s will is a subject too broad for me to understand in my own life, let alone explain it in yours. But what I do know is this: As I walk in God’s ways, I will always be in His will. That’s why Paul can tell us later in 1 Cor. 10:31, “whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If you want something for reasons that give God glory, go for it!
It still might not work out the way you think it will. But Romans 8:28 reassures us that, “All things work together for good, to those who love God, and are called according to His purpose.”
When we were first telling our kids that we were moving to San Jose to start a church, my little girl, Kali, asked, “I thought we were going to California?!” I had to explain to her, “When you’re in San Jose, you’re in California.” The same is true of God’s will – when you walk in God’s ways, you’ll always be in His will.
So what should you do with your life?! Whatever you want to,… as long as you are doing so out of a love for God and a desire to bring Him glory. He’s got the details of getting you to His will under control.
Recently I’ve been preaching a message series at Edgewood’s Sunday night service on The Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Specifically, I’ve been focusing on the implications of God referring to Himself through the Scriptures as the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. Last night I preached on a particularly favorite story of mine among the patriarchs: Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32. Yes, God. Not an angel, but the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ Himself, in this preachers humble opinion (Gen. 32:30).
In order for Jacob to receive the blessing from this peculiar visitor that he had so desperately been seeking his whole life, really, the “Man” asks Jacob, “What is your name?”
For real?!? Don’t you know who you’ve been wrestling with all night? Of course He does. When God asks us a question, it isn’t because He doesn’t know the answer, it’s because He wants us to think about something. Jacob had to relive the last time he asked a different man for a blessing… his father, 20 years earlier. Only, that time He lied to his father and duped him into thinking that He was his older brother, Esau – who under normal circumstances would receive his fathers blessing, not Jacob.
But as Jacob confesses his true identity, simultaneously admitting to being the “heal-cather,” or “trickster” that his name implies, God tells him that he will no longer be called Jacob, but Israel. God gave Jacob a new name. This one exchange alone changes the rest of the Bible! Israel would become the name of God’s people, Jacob’s descendents – ironically, of whom Christ would be incarnated into.
Then Jacob – very humbled and curious, I believe – returns the question, “Tell me your name, I pray.” And the Man, a.k.a. Christ, simply says, “Why is it that you ask about my name?” and then He blessed him.
Interestingly, God would later reveal Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… Not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. Why? Is it even important? I think so. Though God took away Jacob’s old identity as the “heal-catcher” which would have betrayed his past life, and gave him a new name, representing his new identity in Christ, He kept the name of Jacob’s past for Himself. But why?
I believe that as Romans 5:8 tells us that, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” this name exchange is a beautiful portrayal of Gods love toward all “Jacobs”. By identifying Himself as the God of Jacob, It’s as if God is declaring His love for us in our imperfect, broken, sinful state. He is not just the God of the forgiven, healed, and whole. He doesn’t just love us once we’ve come to His Son in faith. He loves us when we are lost in our sin, held hostage by our past, and empty on the inside… just like Jacob.
God took for Himself the name of Jacob’s past and gave Jacob a new name representing his future. Just like Christ took our old life with Him to the grave, rising again to give us a new life, a new future, and a new identity. And one day, He will give us a new name as well. Jacob just got his early – a promise to all of us who confess to God our brokenness in sin and our need for Him who can change us.
I’m grateful that He is not just the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but the God of other sinners, too. Like me.
The biggest thing that God has taught me in 20+ years of following Jesus, is the most basic:
It’s not about what I do. It’s about who He is.
The implications of this simple thought, however, are far-reaching and profound. You see, religion, of any flavor, is a human attempt to appease a Deity(ies). It’s biggest question ultimately is “How do I not get in trouble?” This is why getting churched-up doesn’t change your life for the positive.
Getting religious only demonstrates how broken and far from God we are. It accentuates our failures and minimizes our successes. And no one stays in that situation for long… unless they fake it. And those who are not willing to fake it begin to see the hypocrisy of those who are. Eventually they come to the conclusion that religion is full of fakers. Sadly, they are correct.
But God knew our broken status and our inability to affect lasting change. His solution was not “do these things and not those things.” Instead it was “Come unto Me all you who are weary and heavy burdened… You’ll find rest for your soul.” You see, it’s not about what you do. It’s about who He is. The best thing we can do, is get close to the Person who makes change happen in our lives for His glory and our good.
Try as you may, you can’t chase away the shadows from your life. So stop attempting to clean your act up and just open the blinds and let the Light come pouring in. And interestingly enough, as we get closer to Jesus, and farther from a list of Do’s-and-Do-Not’s, the darkness that once entangled us becomes far less appealing. We do not overcome our faults by trying harder than we’ve ever tried. We overcome by drawing close to the One who overcame for us.
This past week at our Saturday night worship service, I preached on 5 things you must do to make this year better than last year. I thought it would be good to share them with everyone following the blog, so here you are:
- Leave the past behind. Phil. 3:12, 13. God cares more about where you are going than where you’ve been.
- Do something difficult. Phil. 4:11-13. God is calling you to do things that require Him.
- Find yourself in God’s story. Eph. 2:4-7. Start seeing yourself through God’s eyes.
- Focus on people. Eph. 4:32. Start seeing other people through God’s eyes.
- Start today. 2 Cor. 6:2. Do not hesitate to do what God is calling you to do.
I’ve heard many people that I’ve met in person and online who have railed against “religious” people in church who brain-wash their kids to believe the same things. I’ve heard it in movies, sitcoms, the news, and even billboards. Some have declared that my children should get to choose whether they believe what I believe for themselves and I should not try to influence them otherwise.
As a parent, here’s the truth…
- Your kids are being influenced. By their friends, musicians, advertisements, facebook, major corporations, the government, and Lady Gaga. All of whom have an agenda. I trust my beliefs and values a million times over any of the above influences. And honestly, I trust your instincts to the same degree when it comes to your children.
- Parents make decisions for their kids. My kids go to school, eat vegetables, answer adults with respect, go to church, take baths, and get shots from the doctor. We taught them to do those things. We make them do those things. Because we know what’s best for them more than they do. My kids may not always like school, but I hope that one day, they’ll appreciate the value of their education. The same is true of church and spiritual values (although, my kids love church).
- You can’t teach what you don’t live. Just because you tell your kids that God, faith, community, and church are important doesn’t mean that you’ve taught them so. You teach what you do, not what you say. What are your actions teaching your kids? Does it tell them that God has control of your life? or your friends? or your job? or the NFL season schedule?
I am completely convinced that you as a parent are perfectly equipped by God to raise your children better than anyone else (especially the media). If someone says you’re brain-washing your child, than at least they’ll have a cleaner mind than if you didn’t.
See my post on 5 Ways to Make your Kids Hate Church, for more.