Learning to know God's will

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How do you continue to know God's will? What a great question.

This question was the last in a series of queries brought to me by one of the junior high youths in our church. She had interviewed me as part of the requirements needed for the God and Life Award through Scouting.

The question that begins this column assumes -- given the word "continue" -- that the person knew God's will at least one time before in his or her life. So, do you know God's will because a voice speaks authoritatively to you from a burning bush, a la Moses? That's never happened to me. Do you know it because God provided quail and manna (bread) when you got up in the morning, helping you decide to press on toward an uncertain future, a la the Israelites in the Sinai desert? Can't say anything even remotely like that has ever happened either.

So how do you know God's will?

It's time to look at the life of Jesus for an answer. Jesus, the Gospels tell us, "set his face" for Jerusalem. He went there believing that his life's mission was about to be fulfilled. But as the end game of crucifixion approached, he used the olive grove of Gethsemane to check in one last time to make sure he knew the Father's will.

Notice, however, that Jesus was proactive. He "set his face." He moved. He went. He did not wait for a sign or a signal. He needed no push. He took the initiative and acted.

He depended upon the Father, a God whom he trusted would intercede to stop him if he was not following his will. This intercession never came. The soldiers arrived, Judas planted his traitorous kiss and all was set in motion for Calvary.

Six years ago, our family was asked to consider Cape Girardeau as our place for ministry.

My wife and I walked to the Mississippi River and sat on a bench facing the river. As we looked across toward Illinois, we joined hands and chose to be prayerfully proactive.

At this juncture, I'd like to discuss the adverb "prayerfully." This is a word that gets used in a great deal of church literature. People are asked to "prayerfully consider" something -- an important decision, involvement in a certain mission or ministry, a financial gift.

But as I "prayerfully consider," I do not expect the answer to fall conveniently into my lap. In the business of doing, the answer (either continue or stop) will be provided.

Jesus set his face and kept moving toward the cross, checking in at Gethsemane for any last-minute course correction. That makes sense to me.

As we faced the Mississippi, we said to the Lord, "Stop us if we're not supposed to come here, O God. Make it plain, put up a barricade we can't ignore, if it's not your will." We didn't see a stop sign and we came.

How do you know God's will? Keep moving toward what your mind says makes sense, check in "prayerfully" for any course corrections and ask for God's intervention to stop you from making a mistake. That's my answer to the God and Life question -- and I'm sticking to it.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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