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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:The Lord reveals to us His will - and He calls us to pray that we might do it.
Text:LD 49 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Liturgy from 2010 Book of Praise

Bible Translation:  NKJV

Psalm 86:1,4

Psalm 25:2

Psalm 119:37,38,40

Hymn 63:4

Hymn 65:4


Read:  Deuteronomy 29:14-29; Colossians 1.

Text:  Lord’s Day 49.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When we pray “Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”, what do we mean?  What is God’s will – and what is God’s will for me, in my life and in my situation? 

Many Christians tend to treat the discovering of God’s will for their lives as a bit of a treasure hunt.  “God has a special plan for my life”, they will say, “and my job is to find out what that plan is.  Once I discover what that special plan is, then I will be living according to God’s will, and all will be good.”  And those who think this way will often base this on Jeremiah 29:11 says, quoting from the NIV, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”  That’s a great Bible verse, by the way, to be understood in the context of God’s promise to Israel when they were in Exile in Egypt that after 70 years He would bring them back to Jerusalem.  But then this Bible verse is seen to be a blanket promise for prosperity  and for a good life, hope and a future – so long as you find out what God’s special plan for you really is.

But what a sad way this would be to live your lives!  How uncertain and anxious we would be if were always trying to figure out what God’s special plan, His will for us was – and never really knowing if we got it right!  But brothers and sisters, when we pray to the LORD “Your will be done”, we are not asking God to help us discover “His plan” for our lives.  But rather, as we confess in Lord’s Day 49, we are praying

“. . . that we and all men may deny our own will, and without any murmuring obey your will, for it alone is good.”

We are not called to discover special signs to learn God’s will, but rather we are called to obey what He has revealed to us in His holy Word, the Bible.

And that is what I wish to preach to you this afternoon as we consider the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”  I preach to you the Word of God under the following theme:

The LORD reveals to us His will – and he calls us to pray that we might do it.

  1. Hear God’s will.
  2. Obey God’s will.

1. Hear God’s will.

So how does God make His will known to you today?  Have you ever heard someone say something like, “God sent me to live here?”  or, “God told me to take some time off and take a holiday,” or “God told me to start this new job”?  Some people speak with such conviction that “this is what God told me to do” and some are even able to tell you verbatim what God exactly said.  What are we to think about this?  How does God reveal His “good will” to us?  How can I be sure that I am following His will and not my own?  In the Old Testament, God spoke to people in dreams, there was the Urim and Thummim, there were seers or prophets, there was the written Word of God, and God spoke directly to people.  But what about today?  Does He have a special message for each one of us individually that we need to follow in order to obey His good will for our life?  How does God let His will be known to us today? 

Some people practice what we could call a mechanical way to discover God’s will.  When they are faced with a dilemma or they want to know God’s will for a certain situation, they will open the Bible and either pick the first verse that they set their eyes on, or read parts of the Bible until a particular verse hits them in a special way.  This then, is God’s special message for their situation.  But the Lord does not give us His word to use it in this way!  And the problem is that Bible texts may quickly be taken out of context.

Others will speak about “hanging out the fleece”, which is a reference to how Gideon put out a fleece to receive a sign from the Lord that he should fight against the Midianites and would win.  Based on Gideon’s request for a sign, many Christians will seek special signs from the Lord, for direction or confirmation for a decision to be made.  But the LORD did not say that we ought to follow Gideon in this manner, not will He give a special sign for every major decision we need to make.

Another, perhaps more popular approach to discerning God’s will is to listen to His “still, small voice.”  That idea comes from 1 Kings 19:12.  When God spoke with Elijah, He was not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but spoke in a “still small voice.”  The idea then is to put all other thoughts out of your mind and quietly wait for the Lord to speak to you.  And tying this in to 1 Samuel 3, where the Lord calls Samuel, it is appropriate to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”  And then through this method, God will give you feelings or intuitions or hopefully he’ll even speak in a clear, audible voice.  And then you are well on your way to discovering God’s secret will for your life, and so you will prosper in all your ways.

However the Catechism does not give us such lessons in how to discern the will of God.  The Catechism sticks to what is confessed in article 7 of the Belgic Confession:  “We believe that this Holy Scripture fully contains the will of God and that all that man must believe in order to be saved is sufficiently taught therein.”  Which means:  since the Bible fully contains God’s will, we do not need to, or – more strongly – we should not seek special signs and omens or a direct revelation from God so that we can discern God’s will and act accordingly.  All we need to know regarding God’s will for our lives can be found in the pages of the Bible.

But what then can we say about seeking God’s will for our lives?  When we talk about our will and God’s will, we need to make some distinctions. 

  First of all, we need to distinguish between God’s mind and our minds.  In Romans 11:34, the apostle Paul asks in wonderment, “For who has known the mind of the LORD?  Or who has become His counselor?”  What we need to understand is that we are human and God is not.  And when we compare our human smallness to God’s greatness, then we can not even pretend to begin to understand the full mind of God.  And from that it follows that we will not fully understand what is in God’s will for what will happen in our lives. 

And that brings us to another distinction:  we must distinguish between the secret  or concealed will of God and the revealed will of God.  The secret will of God has to do with His providence, with the way He governs and directs this world.  We do not know who God has elected from eternity.  We do not know why a tower fell in Siloam in the days of Jesus and killed 18 people. (Luke 13:4)  We do not know why HIV/AIDS is decimating Sub-Saharan Africa.  We do not know why this one was killed in a car accident or that one suffered at the hands of an abusive uncle.  God has not promised to reveal those things to us.  We can not comprehend the mind of God.  And it is not for us to pry into these matters nor wait for some “still small voice” to let us know what God is thinking.

An old heresy that was already there in the time of the New Testament (Gnosticism), is the belief that there must be some sort of secret to unlock, some sort of key to find so that we can understand the mind and will of God.  And if only we could work out what that key was, if only we could discover how He could speak to us today, like man-to-man, and to let me know what is on God’s mind and what He wants to do, then I would know and understand God’s special plan, His will for my life.  And then I would indeed prosper and all would be well.

But what does Deuteronomy 29:29 say?  “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”  There is the distinction.  The secret will of the LORD is secret:  we do not know it and we do not need to know it.  But He has given to us His revealed will, the “words of this law.”

The Third Petition is, “Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”  This will of God is not His secret will – what God has decided does and will happen.  Rather, it refers to God’s revealed will – what He has already told us and commanded us to do!

In Colossians 1:9 the apostle Paul prays “that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.”  What does it mean to be filled with the knowledge of His will?  To have that still small voice speak to you?  To have a dream?  To receive some special revelation from the LORD?  No, says verse 10.  It is “that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”  That is God’s will for your life.

The way we discern what is the will of God for our life is to be filled with the knowledge of God as He has revealed it to us in His Word.  It is God’s Word that teaches us what the Lord’s will is for each of us.  It is the Holy Spirit that makes it clear to us what God’s will is.  And He works that in us through the preaching of the Word.  God’s good will has been revealed to us in His Word, and when we pray “Thy will be done” we are praying that through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, we might obey the will of God as it has already been given to us in the Bible.

But what about those texts in the Bible that are used to promote the need to hear God’s voice speaking to us directly?  Gideon putting out the fleece in Judges 6, Samuel praying in   1 Samuel 3, “Speak LORD, for Your servant is listening”, and 1 Kings 19 where God speaks to Elijah in that still small voice?  Don’t they teach us that there must be more, that there is a key, a way to discover more, to learn how God wants me to live my life? 

No, they do not.  The mistake that people make when they use these verses to promote a method to discern God’s will is that they confuse the facts of the history of salvation as given to us in the Bible with the commands in which God tells us how we must live and act.  Samuel was set apart for a special purpose.  The Word of the LORD was rare in those days and there was no widespread revelation.  (1 Sam 3:1)  Samuel wasn’t trying to channel his spirit to be in tune with God’s so that he might receive some special message from the Lord.  He was asleep!  But in that time and place in the history of salvation God spoke to Samuel, and Samuel in turn humbly told the LORD that he was ready to hear the Word spoken to him and that he would receive it as the Word of the LORD.  In the same way, 1 Kings 19 was never intended to teach us that God will speak directly to us in that still small voice, just as Exodus 20 does not teach us that God will speak to us through thunder, lightning, a smoking mountain and the sound of a trumpet.  And that fleece that Gideon put out is not a lesson in how we must ask for a sign from the LORD to tell us which way to turn.  Rather it was a message to Gideon that God had the power to save His people from the hand of Midian.  These events of Gideon, Samuel and Elijah are all facts, things that happened in the history of salvation.  They are not a blue-print for how the LORD will speak to us today.  In fact, the New Testament teaches us that the normal, ordained way for God to speak to us by His Spirit is through the Word (Rom 10) and the sacraments (Matt. 28:20, 1 Cor 11, Eph. 5:26).

So these are not ways to understand God’s will for our lives.  But there are times in our lives – particularly times when we need to make a large, life-changing decision, that we really do want to know what God’s will is, so that we can follow it.  And there are some questions to ask that will help you make godly decisions.  For example,

  • Is it lawful?  Does the Bible forbid it? You obviously do not have to ask if you should marry or date an unbeliever – the Bible is clear about that.  In cases such as that, accept the answer that God has already given you in His Word. 
  • Another question to ask is, Is it wise?  Is it helpful, is it a good use of resources?  Will it build you or others up in your service to the Lord? 
  • And another question, Will it open me up to temptation?  If you move somewhere or take a particular job or go to certain places, will it encourage you in your walk with the LORD or will it place you in a spiritually dangerous place?
  • And another question, Will it hinder or serve my main purpose or goal in life to live for the glory of God’s name?
  • And then there are further questions to consider such as your God-given gifts, where the need is, what you like to do, whether or not doors are open for you to do what you wish to do. 

So these questions can help you make a decision in conformity with God’s will.  But I’d like to point you to something more basic than that.  God’s will, His perfect will, for your life has been revealed.  It is this:  “To live in faithfulness to the covenant God established with us and so love the LORD Your God and love your neighbour as yourself.”  And in that of course is the command to worship the Lord your God in the manner that He has revealed in His Word.

There is no treasure hunt here.  No desperate searching to discover the “will of God.”  No being trapped in a circle of waiting for God to speak but never being quite sure if He really did speak to you or not.  It is simply an acceptance of the Word of God as He has revealed it to us and the acceptance that all decisions we make in life must be in agreement with that word.

2. Obey God’s Will.

The prayer “Your will be done” is one of the things that makes the Christian religion stand out from almost all other religions.  The reason why most pagans pray or sacrifice to their gods is to manipulate the gods to follow the will or the desires of the person praying!  When we pray, however, we ask that our will be brought in line with God’s. 

This is not a natural thing to do.  By nature we hate God and our neighbour.  By nature we rebel against God’s will.  As Christ said to the Jews in John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.”  Now thanks be to God, we have received a new nature in Christ.  We have been set free from sin and become slaves to God.  But what we now have is two natures – an old nature that still clings to us, and a new nature.  And for as long as we are in this life the sinful desires of the old nature will arise in our hearts in conflict to our desire to obey the will of God as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.  For as long as we are in this life, our selfish will and desires will be in conflict with God’s revealed will for my life.  And to overcome that struggle and willingly obey God’s will, we need the Holy Spirit to teach through His Word what His will for us is.

And that is a process.  It requires work.  In some ways it would be easier if we had a direct intercom service with God, and where He spoke directly to us and told us plainly what we should do with our lives.  But that is not the way God planned it to be.  Remember Colossians 1:9 – “We do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.”  The knowledge of God’s will is clearly knowing His revealed will, the manner in which we must live.  That’s outlined in the Bible and through the work of the Holy Spirit, it becomes clear to us.  But this is not just knowledge:  Paul also prays for wisdom and spiritual understanding.  This knowledge of God’s will is not some theoretical head-knowledge of the Bible – even Satan has that!  And nor is it a collection of secret knowledge or keys where we can unlock some code of the Bible to let us enter the mind of God and discover just what His will for me is in a specific situation.  Rather, this knowledge is an understanding of the Gospel, how God has redeemed us to a new life in Jesus Christ.  How God has chosen us to be a people after His own heart.  How God has called us to belong to Him, to follow Him, to obey Him, to praise Him, to glorify Him.  And with that knowledge of His revealed will, God gives us wisdom so that we might learn to discern and make decisions that agree with His will and glorify Him. 

So what do you need to do in order to learn to obey God’s will for your life?  Learn about God and His will by studying His Word.  No, do not pull individual texts out of their context and think that somehow God has mysteriously told you exactly what to do.  And also do not simply read the Bible at meal times and then put it to the side, failing to ask what it has to say about the decisions you must make in life.  There is something to be said about being quiet before the Lord, to put the busy-ness of life aside and all those thoughts that compete to crowd out God’s Word from your mind.  Ponder and reflect deeply on the Word, and wrestle with decisions in prayer.  And in this way we will walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him (Col. 1:10).  Everything we do and every decision we make will be in harmony with our new relationship to God.

So what then is God’s will for your life?  What should you be doing?  It is simply this:  Trust God, love Him and serve Him and love your neighbor as yourself.  And hallow God’s Name, directing your whole life so that His name is honoured and praised.  And be ruled by God’s Word and Spirit so that more and more you submit to Him.  And by doing this you will obey the will of God as it has been revealed to you in His Word.  And the better you understand God’s Word and the implications of it, the better you will understand what God desires.  But within those boundaries, there is a huge amount of freedom!  Within these boundaries, you can do what you like.  God gave each of us a brain, and He expects us to put it to good use.  We don’t have to wait for a special word from God, gently whispered in our ear.  All that we need to know has already been revealed to us and it can be found in the pages of Scripture.

We must learn to obey the good will of God by studying His Word, by being grounded and steadfast in it, by having it as the bedrock of our faith.  We pray that we might both know God’s will as revealed to us in His Word and carry out the work we are called to do as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.  We have a long way to go with that.  We have only made a small beginning of this obedience.  (Lord’s Day 44)  But it is a beginning.  And so we may press on in the power of the Holy Spirit, looking forward to the day when we will no longer struggle to both know and obey the will of God.  When all will be clear and we will join the angels to live in perfect submission to the will of God.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2014, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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