How Do We Get the Answers to Our Prayers?

May 18, 2017 at 9:24 am | Posted in Q&A, Where There's a Way There's a Will | Leave a comment
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Question: When you’re praying for a specific thing, how do you know what the answer is? Is it like a sign, a gut feeling, an unexpected blessing? How do you really get or “see” the answer to your prayers?

Answer: That’s a good question, and one that is often asked. When we ask God for a specific thing, He may or may not give it to us or show us the answer in a specific way. Our task as Christians is to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6), with the idea that God’s will would be done (Matthew 6:9-10), asking Him for wisdom to help us see the answer or know what He would have us to do (James 1:5). Do not seek a sign (Matthew 12:39); do not trust gut feelings (Jeremiah 17:9); and attribute all blessings – expected and unexpected alike – to God (James 1:17). Our task is to pray about it, determine whether what we are asking for is permitted or forbidden by the Scriptures, and trust that God will work out the “answer” for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

God knows everything, but Ephesians 5:10 indicates that we are supposed to discern the will of God not by expecting mystical clues, but by going to the Bible, and asking ourselves, “Is what I’m asking for, or what I’m thinking about doing, in line with what the Bible says I should be getting or doing?” If you have a Bible reason for doing something, do it. If not, don’t. Our job is not to “get answers.” Our job is to “prove God’s will” (Romans 12:2).

Causality and God’s Will

October 28, 2015 at 12:20 pm | Posted in Where There's a Way There's a Will | 1 Comment
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Although God’s will is sovereign, there are passages of Scripture that make it appear as though He sometimes chooses to sovereignly blend together His divine will with the will of human beings. To put it another way, God, as the primary agent of cause, uses man’s will as a secondary cause to work out His decretive, absolute sovereign will.

For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;

II Corinthians 8:3

Here, the Bible acknowledges that human beings have a “will” and that our will does exercise a certain power.

Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.

II Corinthians 8:4

These Christians wanted to financially support Paul and his missionary team, even though they couldn’t “afford” it.

And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.

II Corinthians 8:5

The wonderful thing is, they didn’t just give money – they gave themselves. These may be the two hardest things for Christians to give, and yet they did it willingly, or “voluntarily” we would say, but also, at the same time, they did it by the will of God.

So, regardless of how “spiritual” the issue is – from putting a check in the offering plate all the way to deciding to trust Christ for eternal salvation – we recognize the Biblical reality that God’s will is at work, and it may well be said to overrule, but it does not obliterate man’s will when it comes to obedience to Christ.

Ephesians 1:1-9 is another example:

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:

Ephesians 1:1

Paul did not become an Apostle because that was his goal and he worked hard for it. He recognized that God’s decision and God’s action caused it to happen.

Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,

Ephesians 1:2-5

If you are truly a Christian, God chose you to be His child in Jesus Christ way before you ever did anything – even before you exercised your own will. He did it because it pleased Him – but not because it “arbitrarily” pleased Him. Rather, it was done according to His good pleasure. In other words, if you are truly a Christian, He chose you despite the fact that you were undeserving and ill-deserving, and yet it was still good and right for Him to do it.

To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.

Ephesians 1:6

It’s for His praise that we were chosen, not for our praise.

In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:

Ephesians 1:7-9

Beyond saying that His choices were and are “good,” we must be content to accept them as “mysterious” to us. Usually, a “mystery” in the Bible is something that was hidden, but is now revealed. It is when the absconditus becomes the revelatus, but it is not revealed so that we can subject it to human scrutiny or criticism. It is revealed so that we can rejoice and glorify God for it.

God’s Will and Our Will

September 18, 2015 at 9:26 am | Posted in Where There's a Way There's a Will | 5 Comments
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Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;

Romans 2:17-18 (emphasis added)

One of the distinguishing features about sometimes categorizing God’s will as preceptive, rather than decretive or secretive, is that God’s preceptive will is clearly revealed.

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.

Romans 7:18

There is nothing good in our flesh. Have you come to grips with this in your life? Have you preached this to yourself and to the children entrusted by God into your care? God’s will can sometimes be described as dispositive, as can ours, but, in a stark contrast to His, our disposition, apart from His Spirit controlling us, is toward evil.

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

Romans 7:19-25

Our wills are always subject to God’s decretive will, but they are often in abject rebellion against His preceptive will. Our wills are subject to our desires, but there is hope in Christ, for He can change our desires and thereby make our wills subject to God’s will.

One important thing to remember about God’s hidden will is that it is intentionally hidden. God has His reasons for not revealing His secret will to us, and those reasons are good. Historically, though, this has not sat well with everyone who claims to be a Christian. There were those in the early Church – including ascetics, gnostics, and legalists – who wanted to add their beliefs to Scripture’s teaching about God’s preceptive will, and to insist that their additions were binding, when in fact God had not revealed them to be so.

Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

Colossians 2:23

The “things” referred to were possibly things like refusing to eat and wearing itchy clothes – things that appeared to mortify the flesh in an attempt to exercise “self”-control over the will. These denials of self and comfort were supposed to ““prove” how spiritual the practitioners were by demonstrating their own “will power,” but they were basically worshiping their own will by pretending it was God’s will.

The truth is that there are certain areas where Scripture grants liberty and the application of personal conscience – for example, exact clothing choices, which holy days to observe, and what to eat or drink. In these areas, we ought to acknowledge that, where God has chosen to close His holy mouth, we ought not to be loud with ours.

God’s Secret Will

July 20, 2015 at 2:53 pm | Posted in Where There's a Way There's a Will | 4 Comments
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The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Deuteronomy 29:29

The Deus absconditus, meaning the hidden or obscure or secret will of God, would include the decretive will of God. The Bible is a huge book, and it reveals more about God than we could fathom in this lifetime, but, in addition to that, there is an eternity of information about God that we cannot know.

The Deus absconditus is contrasted with the Deus revelatus, meaning God’s revealed will. Certainly, what God has revealed is trustworthy and true, even when it appears to be in conflict with what is really happening. God is not harassed into mutability by human actions, nor can His ultimate plans be thwarted or frustrated by human actions, although from the finite view it may sometimes appear that way. One Biblical example of this is Moses’s intercession with God when he came down from Mt. Sinai to see the people worshiping the golden calf. It appears that Moses “changed God’s mind,” but from the perspective of God’s hidden and decretive will, everything that happened was subject to God’s own sovereign control. The parade example of this is the unfolding and culmination of the life of Joseph.

But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

Genesis 50:20

A lifetime of ups and downs caused by the sins of others was used to weave a beautiful tapestry of redemption and salvation.

God’s Preceptive Will

June 3, 2015 at 12:53 pm | Posted in Where There's a Way There's a Will | 2 Comments
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God’s preceptive will refers to precepts and specific orders that are spelled out in the Bible – and to principles pertaining to the application of God’s will in circumstances that are not spelled out word for word in the Bible. We encounter God’s preceptive will when we read what He has commanded people to do in order to be obedient to Him, and what He will hold them accountable for failing to do. The parade example is the Decalogue.

God’s preceptive will is our way of thinking about God’s commandments of righteousness and His commandments against unrighteousness. Unlike His decretive will, the preceptive will can be resisted. God allows unrighteous choices and actions to come from man’s will, but is not morally culpable for allowing them. This bothers people. We like to imagine a God who wished to prevent people from committing evil acts, and then we apply our understanding of His power to do just that (which He often does), and then we are upset because He doesn’t it all the time. Our challenge instead is to be grateful He has the power to overrule the consequences of our own evil actions, and, again, He does in fact choose to overrule vast numbers of evil intentions on the part of those who would like to carry them out. Then we recognize that He is sovereign and powerful enough to control the whole thing to show off the greatest good. It is a challenge to our faith, but that is definitely the God you want when you are thinking correctly, and, regardless, it is the true God Who exists, and it is better for us to know the reality. God wishes to use evil – for reasons we admittedly don’t understand – but at the same time He is in absolute control and is incapable of making mistakes.

God’s Decretive Will

May 20, 2015 at 1:41 pm | Posted in Where There's a Way There's a Will | 11 Comments
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There are two main ways to think about the will of God. One is to think about His will in general. What is He doing? What is He accomplishing with His existence? The other, more common way, is to think, “What is His will for my life?” I would like to offer some ways in which we can think about God’s will systematically.

The first of these falls under the heading: God’s Decretive Will (His will of decree), meaning what He has decreed or commanded to come to pass. Or, to put it another way, what He has ordered, or spoken into existence. This is sometimes called His absolute sovereign will. This is how we think about God’s will in the sense that it can not be resisted. For example:

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Genesis 1:3

God’s decretive will can not be resisted, much less overcome. Other examples of this kind of exercise of God’s will would be: the speaking into existence of all of creation; the manna falling from Heaven; and the unredeemed and Satan being cast into the lake of fire at the final judgment; just to name a few.

God’s decretive will often acts through the means of human agency, and sometimes completely overrules human choices. In Acts Chapter 4 Peter and John healed a lame man, and ended up being brought before the council. The authorities could not deny the divine healing, nor even the truth of their message, but they threatened them to stop preaching, to which they responded that they could not. They had to obey God even if the government said it was illegal. Then they went back and reported to the other disciples what God had done, and here is what they said:

And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is:

Acts 4:24

God did the acts ascribed to Him in Verse 24 by His decretive will.

Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?

Acts 4:25

The people who instigated and demanded Jesus’s execution were furious at Him for claiming to be God.

The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ.

Acts 4:26

The people in charge summoned all their authority and effort. The Jewish leaders and Roman authorities worked together for one evil, united purpose.

For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.

Acts 4:27-28

But, despite their total assumption of the control they wielded, they ended up doing exactly what God wanted done.

Practical Sovereignty

January 12, 2015 at 2:30 pm | Posted in Habakkuk | 1 Comment
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God is steadfast. He keeps His Word. God is strong. He is also sovereign.

But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.

Habakkuk 2:20

He is on the throne and in complete control of all events and people in the world. Once we realize this, we can stop fearing the future – the fear of the unknown.

Many Christians are plagued by fear. “What if I get sick? What if people are talking negatively about me? What if I lose all my material possessions?” If we don’t really believe that God is in control – that He’s sovereign – then our anxiety has a rational basis. Or if we imagine that He needs our help – that there are some situations we’ve gotten ourselves into that He couldn’t have forseen, and therefore might not be able to rescue us. But if we act that way in a crisis – if we fall to pieces every time the car breaks down, every time the weather says a storm is showing up on the radar – then let’s at least be honest. Let’s admit that we think it’s kind of cool to be church-going people, but we only have faith in God when He’s explaining everything to us ahead of time.

God told Habakkuk, “I’m in control. I’m on the throne. I don’t owe you an explanation – and you couldn’t handle it if I gave you one.” When we grasp that – really grasp it and internalize it and not just not recognize it as a thought in our heads, but rather incorporate it into our hearts – then we will step out in true faith – a faith that goes beyond Christian CDs, Christian DVDs, key chains, bumper stickers, t-shirts, compartmentalized living. We will move from from saying, “What can Jesus do for me?” into saying, “Jesus, what would You have me to do?”

Give Good Advice: Content Yourself with God and His Plans

July 23, 2012 at 9:50 am | Posted in Biblical Advice, Selected Psalms | 12 Comments
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Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD.

Psalm 4:4-5 (emphasis added)

Someone comes to you for advice. “Should I do this or should I do that?” What you have to determine – and what this person has to determine – is this: Is the reason you are contemplating doing this thing because you are not content with what God has given you? Or not content with where He has placed you? Or not content with what He is doing with you? Or not content because of what He is not doing with you? Or not content with what He is allowing to be done to you?

If you believe that God is perfect, then you must also believe His will is perfect (Romans 12:2). Some of us need to stop trusting what everyone else is doing or what “common sense” says to do, and trust in the Lord. If you don’t have a Bible reason for doing what you are thinking about doing – then don’t do it. It might feel right or it might feel wrong, but:

“Feelings come and feelings go
And feelings are deceiving.
Our warrant should be the Word of God.
Nothing else is worth believing.”

A.void sin
D.elay taking rash action
V.ow to be sincere with God
I.nquire of your own heart
C.ontent yourself with God and His plans
E.

Lord Willing

November 28, 2011 at 11:31 am | Posted in Common Expressions | 2 Comments
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Have you ever qualified a promise to be at a certain place at a certain time with the condition, “Lord willing.” It’s sort of the Christianized version of the expression, “Weather permitting.” Some people say it all the time. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to say. There is some Scriptural support for it:

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

James 4:13-15 (emphasis added)

The Latin expression for “Lord willing” is “Deo Volente” and there used to be a practice of putting the initials “D.V.” on wedding invitations to indicate the possibility – however remote – of a last-minute cancellation. For some people it is almost superstitious to say “Lord willing” before committing to anything.

Considering the sovereignty of God, it is true that all our plans are subject to His overriding and supreme will. But does the Bible give us any clues as to exactly what the Lord is willing – or not willing?

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

II Peter 3:9 (emphasis added)

We need to keep in mind every day, every minute, that we’re totally dependent on God. In the sense that God has desires, He is “willing” that we do His will. Therefore, it is good to pray, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”

We are to put the will of our Heavenly Father ahead of our own will, so we have to to be very careful about saying what we do or don’t “feel” like doing. There are times when the providence of God hinders us from doing what it seems like He has called us to do, but, while it can be easy to deceive other people, it is impossible to deceive God. There are times when God wants my body to be used for His service, even though it is in pain. There are times when God wants me to go somewhere I don’t feel like going. There are times when He wants me to talk to somebody I’m embarrassed to talk to, or somebody I do not particularly like. There are times when He wants me to discipline my children even if it will disturb the peace in my home. I need to be even more enthusiastic about doing the Lord’s will when it feels bad than I am about doing it when it feels good. The remedy for a lack of enthusiasm about serving the Lord is not monotoning “Lord willing” every time I do my “Christian duty.” The remedy is remembering the Gospel and having it settled in my heart and in my mind that I really am excited and enthusiastic and zealous about doing what the Lord is willing – what He wants.

Working Like a Slave

October 22, 2010 at 8:54 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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The early Christian church developed in a culture of Greek and Roman influences. Among the ideals of this culture, hard work was thought to be the bane of servants, not a sign of nobility.

One of the greatest marks of affluence among Roman citizens was the ownership of slaves. Therefore, among the first Christians, many of whom were far from wealthy, there were a large number who were slaves.

When a legal slave received the spiritual freedom of Christianity, how was he to relate to his earthly master? The answer, which came from the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul, to the church at Ephesus, was:

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men:

Ephesians 6:5-7

Slaves were to relate to their earthly masters in much the same way they were to relate to their Heavenly Master. This principle applies to Christians today who work for an earthly employer. When Christians do the work of the Lord they must have the right attitude and motivation in their heart, for the Lord can read our minds. When a Christian works hard for an earthly employer, with a humble heart, even when no one else is watching, he or she has this promise from the Lord:

Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.

Ephesians 6:8

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