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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:A Prayer for Murmurers
Text:LD 49 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Will

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 86:3,4                                                                                  

Hy 37:1,2  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Exodus 16:1-8; Psalm 25; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Ps 106:1,3,6,22

Sermon – Lord’s Day 49

Ps 25:2,4,7

Hy 65:1,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say to our Father, “Your will be done.” God’s will: there are things that God wants and expects. For God has a definite plan for this earth, and a clear intention for those made in his image. He wants us to seek out his will, to obey it, and to accept it. He even wants us to love his will.

Yet what’s so often our response to God’s will? We resist it. Here the Catechism is right when it says we should pray to “deny our own will, and without any murmuring obey God’s will” (Q&A 124). When is the last time your murmured? You were reading the news, and you didn’t like some new government policy, so you murmured. Or your teacher assigned you a pile of homework over the weekend, so you murmured. And murmuring isn’t only done with the mouth, but often with the heart, when we have many complaints against things we don’t like.

We also murmur against God’s will. Here we can think of two aspects of God’s will: his secret will and his revealed will. God’s secret will is the unchanging purpose and plan that He has for our lives, and for this world. And it’s called “secret” or hidden because we have no idea what is coming next, whether it’s war with China, or cancer, or a promotion at work. What is God’s will for tomorrow? We’re in the dark. And sometimes we grumble about that.

But there’s a lot of God’s will that has been revealed. Through his Word, God has told us many things. He has given his holy commandments and his steadfast promises. We like most of his promises, but his commandments can be hard to put into practice. I have to forgive someone? I should give my hard-earned money away? Turn the other cheek? Sometimes we grumble.

So we need to pray every day, “Your will be done.” And as we pray, we know: God’s will “alone is good” (Q&A 124). His will is many other things—eternal, perfect, unchanging—but God’s will is also good. This confession changes how we pray, and how we live. So let’s consider the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer on this theme,

“Father, your will is good” – a prayer for when we murmur:

  1. and want to disobey God’s will
  2. and search for God’s will
  3. and struggle to accept God’s will


1) we murmur and want to disobey God’s will: When children are told to do something they don’t want to do, they can have a hard time hiding it. Mom tells Junior to clean up the hazardous materials in his room, or to set the table for dinner, and he’s not pleased. He’s busy with something else, so Junior resists his mom’s will. And when she presses him, he lets it be known. He sighs as he gets up, drags his feet and wears a long face. And the mood of his heart isn’t any brighter. Junior murmurs.

We’re better at hiding it, but when we’re told to do something that doesn’t suit us, we can still grumble. We show subtle disagreement by our body language, by our words—or we just enjoy the quiet satisfaction of grumbling under our breath. We murmur against our spouse, our manager at work, our elders. And we also do it against God.

For when we have a relationship with God, He commands us. It’s not just about receiving good things from the Lord, but He places obligations on us. We hear them in the law, and we read them throughout the Bible. God wants us to live his way: in our thinking, our speaking, our doing; in our family life, our business dealings, in the leisure activities we choose.

God has laid down rules, told us plainly that this is his will: “Do not treasure anything above me. Do not seek revenge on those who have done you wrong. Do not slander.” Like a parent who gives his child a clearly worded instruction, the Father has told us what He wants.

But we’re inclined to disobey, and we do disobey. For instance, we’re more excited about shiny plastic things than about the glorious and everlasting God. We commit adultery with our secret thoughts. We waste what God has given. And sometimes we obey outwardly, but inside we’re still grumbling.

Like Junior, we can have our excuses. But whatever excuse we latch onto—whether our rough upbringing, or our fatigue, or the bad behaviour of other people—our sin still amounts to a murmuring against the will of God. By our actions we complain that God’s will is too demanding, too black-and-white, too unrealistic. Maybe God doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a human on this earth.

And we’re not the first children of God to murmur against the Father. The people of Israel often complained. Especially in the wilderness, traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land, their griping almost constantly filled the air.

We read about one incident in Exodus 16. Israel had been on their way for a month. Not long at all, but the people were already getting frustrated with God’s timing and God’s plan. We read in verse 2, “The whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron.” In the old King James Version, it says “the whole congregation murmured against Moses and Aaron.”

What was their complaint? “The Israelites said…‘Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger’” (v 3). It was aimed at Moses and Aaron, but it was really a rebellion against the will of God. The Israelites were doubting the whole purpose of the journey.

But God is gracious. Despite their rebellion, He showed his goodness: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you’” (v 4). And so He did, sending manna six days a week to feed the people. So far, so good. But keep reading in chapter 16, and you see how even when God sent food, some of the Israelites ignored what He said. Some tried to stockpile the manna in case God didn’t keep his word to provide every day. Others failed to gather double before the Sabbath day. After all, they knew better than God.

Exodus 16 wasn’t unique, we said, for the Israelites often murmured against God. When the Egyptians were chasing them at the Red Sea, they complained. When they ran out of water, they grumbled. God even named a place in the desert in Israel’s honour (so to speak), Meribah, which means quarreling or arguing. For there the Israelites contended with God.

Behind all their complaints was a spirit of rebellion. They wouldn’t trust God’s will—because it made no sense. They wouldn’t obey God’s commands—because they were too hard. They would go their own way instead.

We love to wag our fingers at the Israelites for being such terrible complainers. But it’s far better if we take a warning from them and learn from their mistakes. Very naturally, often just quietly, we too murmur against the will of God.

When God tells us to trust in him, we say that we just can’t, and we need to find our own sense of security. When He tells us to do life his way, we say that our way just might be better. We reckon that a little disobedience can be excused, depending on the situation. Just bend the truth a little. Put yourself first for a change.

This angers God, for it amounts to murmuring against the LORD’s will. That’s why Paul even warns us, “Do not grumble, as some of the Israelites did—and were killed by the destroying angel” (1 Cor 10:10). Grumbling usually doesn’t end well.

Thankfully, we have a better role model than the Israelites. For instead, the Catechism says that we must obey like the “angels in heaven” (Q&A 124). The angels are God’s loyal servants. These are the beings around God’s throne who stand constant and ready to perform his will. They show us what it means to do God’s will faithfully and eagerly and consistently.

And we can obey because of that one sparkling truth: “God’s will alone is good.” What God commands us is always right, and it will always be shown to be right. That’s a core principle of the Bible, that disobedience is cursed, and obedience is blessed. When we start changing what God has commanded, it’s guaranteed: no good thing can result. But when we do God’s will, humbly and sincerely, blessing comes. Because God is good, He’ll show his favour to those who do what’s right. It might be hard, it might stretch us, but it’s right, and He’ll bless.

When we next face a temptation, when we next have to make one of those immediate choices between sinning and doing what is right, let us humbly return to this prayer: “Father, your will be done. Your will alone is good—please give the strength to obey it!”


2) we murmur and search for God’s will: When we’re faced with a decision, it is sometimes obvious what we must NOT do. Should I stay home from church this afternoon? No, I should go. Should I keep watching this stupid movie on Netflix? No, I should turn it off. Should I share this bit of gossip? No, the story should end with me. Straightforward: we all know God’s “big rules” about what’s wrong and right. We don’t always listen to them, but we do know them.

But apart from the parts of life clearly directed by the commandments, how do we find our way? How can I learn God’s will more specifically? In this unique place that God has put me, how can I put his Word into practice? To us that’s not always clear.

There’s the complicated relationships in your family, and in the church. There’s the question of how to interact with the hostile world, a world that doesn’t treat us fairly, but who still needs to hear the gospel. If you’re in business, there can be questions about God’s will about money and making a profit.

When we ask these questions, and we’re genuinely searching for God’s will, we might begin to murmur. You don’t notice it at first, but it’s there: a bit of unrest on the inside. It’s frustrating not knowing exactly what God wants. I want to do God’s will in family life, but God isn’t exactly revealing what I need to do here. Or I’m trying to choose a career path, but He hasn’t given me any good insights. So we wish for God to speak to us directly. If I really desire to do God’s will in this situation, why doesn’t God say what his will is?

First of all, let’s trust that God will tell us his will. We won’t hear a still, small voice. There may not be a bright flash from heaven lighting our way, or a special sign on the fleece. Yet we can ask our God for guidance and direction. He promises wisdom to those who ask him.

That’s what David does in his prayer, in Psalm 25. David prays, “Show me your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation” (vv 4-5). David isn’t asking to see a heavenly sign, or to hear a special whisper. Rather, He asks for knowledge, for truth, for teaching.

What’s he asking for? He’s asking for insight into God’s Word. For whenever Scripture speaks of God’s “ways,” it means the ways of his covenant law. When Scripture speaks of God’s “paths,” it’s describing those paths mapped out in the Word. Show me your ways! It’s a powerful lesson, that David begins his search for God’s will in the place where God has revealed his will, the Scriptures.

So we pray Psalm 25 together with David. “Father, teach me your paths.” And that verb teach means we have to learn. The students all know that learning takes work. There’s no automatic download of information that you can buy: you have to take the time and do the work. So with God’s will: it requires attention, deliberate study, time—to learn it from the Scriptures.

 For Scripture reflects the mind of God in a flawless way. Not that we understand every word. And not that every word of God impacts us the same. But the more we fill our minds with his revealed will, the more we begin to think like God. It comes through the daily habit of reading the Word, spending time with God through Scripture.

Then we can start to say, “This is what God wants—He told me in the Word. I know that He wants me to deny these wrong thoughts. I know that He wants me to use my gifts in the best way I can. He wants me to serve my family. And be part of his church. And love other people in a Christ-like way. God wants me to put him first.” These are general guidelines, principles for life, yet somehow specific enough to direct us if we’re willing to listen. God doesn’t reveal everything, but He reveals enough.

This is what David says, “The secret of the LORD is with those who fear him; and He will show them his covenant” (v 14). That’s a powerful statement. When we fear the LORD, when our eyes are fixed daily upon him, God takes us into his confidence. He tells us his “secret,” shares his wisdom for our lives.

It’s like the openness that is enjoyed between two friends. If you rarely spend time with another person, you’re not really going to understand one another, or share anything meaningful. Hard to open up with a stranger. But if you see each other a lot, and you express a care for each other, the words start to flow. You find out each other’s views, and you even feel safe enough to share your secrets. In the same way, as we spend more time with God in prayer, more time in his Word, He shows us what to do. He gives that precious insight when we walk with him, and guides us in what is good. “The secret of the LORD is with those who fear him.”

He does it through his Word, we said. But God also teaches us his will through the people He’s placed around us. So we should be humble enough to listen to our parents, to your godly friends. Pay attention to the wisdom of those whom you know are blessed with the Holy Spirit. Through them, God can give you good insight.

Yet the struggle can remain. Even after many days of searching for God’s will—searching humbly, intensely, prayerfully—it can still be unclear about what God wants you to do. That’s discouraging. But know this: the Father will answer the prayers of his children!

I like what David says in verses 8-9: “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He teaches sinners in the way.” See that connection, the “therefore.” Because God is upright, He’ll instruct us in his ways. Because God is good, He’ll guide us in what is right. It is God’s character of steadfast love. This is who He is: He’s faithful to those who call on his Name.

Think of the one who taught us the petition. Christ our Saviour too, needed the Father’s guidance. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism, and then the Spirit led him for the next three years, and taught him the Father’s will. Now Christ in heaven sends the gift of his Holy Spirit to the church.

And the result of this gift is something amazing. Paul says: “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). When you have the mind of Christ, you begin to apply his way of thinking to every situation that you face, every relationship, every hardship and joy. I should be eager to serve, because Christ became a servant. I should forgive those who hurt me, because Christ forgave. I should be gentle with the weak, because that’s how Christ was. I should thank God, and depend on God. Christ’s Spirit will lead us in the ways of truth.


3) we murmur and struggle to accept God’s will: There’s another kind of grumbling response to the will of God. It’s not because we don’t like God’s will as revealed in his commandments (first point). It’s not because we couldn’t find out God’s will for some decision or dilemma we’re facing (second point). But sometimes we grumble because we just don’t understand God’s will. Especially in times of strain and hardship, we struggle.

Now, many children of God can speak of the peace the Father gives in accepting his will. In the days after a diagnosis of cancer, or in the shock that follows a sudden death, God can give great peace. We know his will is good.

Other times, though, we’re filled with questions that just don’t go away. We wonder: “What is God doing in my life? Why is He bringing these things upon me? What is his perfect purpose in all of this? I know it’s there, but I just can’t see it.” We’re allowed to ask questions of God. We can ask God, “Why?” and “How long?”

But sometimes questions turn into accusations. After months and years of pain, you begin to grumble about what God is doing. Our hearts slowly fill up with bitterness against him. For we’re faced with the reality of the secret will of God: no idea of what is coming next, and sometimes no idea of what the point is.

Yet God always invites us to turn to him. The apostle Paul knew this too, that he could always turn to the Lord. Paul was a man of prayer, also because Paul was a man of sorrows. In his work of ministry, he had to endure much suffering. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul describes them: floggings, beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, attacks, fatigue, hunger, cold, and on and on.

Then in chapter 12, he tells about how God had allowed Satan to give him “a thorn in my flesh” (v 7). There’s been much debate over what this “thorn” was, whether it was blindness or mental illness or some kind of struggle with sin. Whatever it was, this thorn was oppressive.

So Paul says that “he pleaded with the Lord three times” that God might take it away (v 8). When Paul says he pleaded three times, we shouldn’t imagine Paul mentioning it a few times in passing. Likely this means that Paul intensely prayed and agonized about his thorn for days on end, on three separate occasions. Three times, he laid his life before God in desperation. Three times, he asked God to relent and to take the thorn away.

To Paul it must’ve made little sense. Why would God give him, the great apostle, this terrible burden? Why? Think of how much more work Paul could’ve done without this thorn! Think how much more effective Paul could’ve been if God freed him from this weight!

Paul struggled with God’s will, and then God gave his answer. He would not take it away. Instead, He said to Paul, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness’” (v 9). Healing might’ve meant better strength, more effective labour. But God’s will was for Paul to be weak. Because then the Lord’s strength was seen more clearly. That’s always true: whenever human ability is diminished, whenever we show how fragile we really are, that’s when divine strength is ramped up, grace abounds, and God is praised.

In those times when we wrestle with God’s will, we shouldn’t expect to figure out God’s reasons. We’d love to know all the inner workings of providence, the whys and the hows. But let’s acknowledge that sometimes things won’t make sense. Sometimes we won’t see “the good” that God is working on for those who love him.

And in our difficulty, we won’t get a direct word from God like Paul got. But the message Paul received from the Lord Jesus is still a message for us: “My grace is sufficient for you.” His grace will sustain us. His grace will never fail us.

So whatever happens, we can pray, “Father in heaven, your will be done. For your will alone is good.” We may pray it with halting voice. We may pray it in tears. We may pray it, feeling like we’re being pierced with thorns. But we pray, knowing our good God. Whatever happens, God’s will is good, and his grace is enough!  Amen. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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