Jesus WON'T take the Wheel...
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best…(Philippians 1:9-10, NRSV)
If you have read the last couple of posts, then you know that we are in the middle of a series called “Prayer that Changes Things”. And as we have learned together “prayer that changes things is prayer that changes us.”
Together we have been trying to develop a prayer life that is built on creating still spaces to listen to the Lord, and to respond to God’s Spirit that is at work in every circumstance leading us to live more filled with gratitude, joy and consolation, and with less despair, sin and desolation.
But here is the question I want to begin with today. Once we have found some moments of stillness and once we have begun to pay attention to those moments that seemed to be more faithful with God’s will for our lives, how do we in fact, know that it is God’s will for our lives? How do we “discern the will of God” as so many people talk about it?
The Will of God is always a popular topic because all of us want to make good decisions that God will bless. As Christians, we believe that in order to be happy and successful, to live blessed, we have to live according to God’s will. And that is true.
But when most of us talk about God’s will, we couldn’t be further from the truth. Most of us think of God’s will as a clear, step by step blueprint or map for living. That God has every detail of our lives completely and utterly mapped out and that our job is to find out what that will is and live accordingly.
We think of life like an Amtrak training heading from “this world to heaven” And that God is the conductor of the train and our job is make sure that whenever we have to change trains or make a decision that we are on the right train so that we never get off track. Getting on the wrong train or making a decision outside of God’s perfectly mapped out will is a tragedy, leading to missing what God wants for us.
So then, we spend a lot of time fussing over the perfect decision. If God has every part of my life mapped out like a cross-country train track then there must be one perfect will of God for which school I attend, which person I marry, which job I take, how many children I have, when I retire and so forth, right? I mean if we miss the will of God in these decisions we are doomed, right? We might eventually make it to have eternal life with God, but we won’t experience the blessing of living God’s will here and now, right?
Wrong. There is absolutely no place in the Bible where we are told that God’s will is about figuring out every single detail in your life according to some master plan. Indeed, there isn’t one master plan. Not one place in the Bible are we told to discern the will of God as we make decisions in our lives.
In fact, the Bible says that God’s will for us is really just one thing and is the same for all of us: To make us more like God. To change our lives so that we are in every way like Christ. This is what it says in 1 Thessalonians 4:3: For this is the will of God, your sanctification… or as it says in another translation, “God’s will is for you to be holy…”
You see God’s will is that we would be changed, transformed, become more like him. And when we make decisions in life, when we pray for God to be at work in our lives, God’s concern is that we would be transformed people, sanctified people, holy people. God’s will is not in the details of the journey but in the end point, the goal.
Some of you are going to be troubled by this. What? Some of us say. You mean there ISN’T God’s perfect will about which school I attend, which church I join, which career I enter? There isn’t one perfect person to marry, one perfect will to live as a Christian following Jesus? Doesn’t God love me and have a wonderful plan for my life? Yes. That plan is that you would become like Jesus in every way. That your life would reveal God's saving work to the world in every aspect. That you would become sanctified. (Romans 8:29, 1 Thes 4:3)
That’s right. I know for some of us this is a shock. Some of you would say to me, you mean, that you don’t believe that marrying Beth and coming to your church was God’s perfect will for your life? No. Don’t misunderstand me. I love Beth so much that I can’t imagine a better wife for me. And I love being pastor of this mychurch so much that seems like God picked it out especially for me. But neither marrying Beth nor coming to SCPC was the only choice I could have made. Indeed, I didn’t make them alone, both Beth and my congregation chose me also.
You see, the will of God for our lives is not like an Amtrak train with one way to the destination, it is more like a cross-country ride in an old VW Bus. God’s will is for us to make it to the final goal—to become like him. But frankly there are many ways we can get there. God invites us join him on a journey, while we steer the bus.
If we let him, God will be with us in all the decisions of life. He knows the best routes, the safest, the most exciting, the most beautiful. He is a great guide and good companion. But for some of us, this amount of freedom is a bit daunting. This means we have responsibility and that a good deal of our blessedness in life is based on our decisions.
Every now and then when I do something that makes Beth want to pull her hair out, she’ll say “You are so strange.” And I look at her and say, “Yeah, maybe so, but I was born this way. You chose me.”
Our choices then are very important to our happiness and success in life, so the focus of the Bible is not to seek God’s perfect will in every circumstance, but God’s present guidance for making decisions in every circumstance.
Let me ask you, how do you make the decisions of your life?
Especially the important ones. The decisions that determine your direction, and maybe your destiny. When two roads diverge in a wood, how do you decide which road to travel? Whether the decision between good and bad, or even harder, between good and best, how do you decide what is good and what is best?
In Philippians Paul writes, “this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best..”
Okay, how do we do it? How do we develop knowledge and full insight so that we can “determine what is best”. What’s the secret?
Prayer that changes things results in a habit of wise decisions.
And the key words here are “habit” and “wise”. The Bible does give us a framework for making most important decisions, particularly moral decisions. Some of them are obvious: the decision to follow Christ, the decision to obey the law even when others flaunt it, the values and worldview we look for in a mate and teach our children, and especially the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice.
But some may be less obvious but no less important. Who do I choose as friends? What vocation should I pursue? What business practices do I use? How do I fire an employee or treat a customer? How do I raise my kids? How do I care for aging parents? What medical treatment do I choose for myself? How do I spend my money? How do I spend my time? How do I prioritize the many things that are important in life? How in a world with so many good things, do I find the wisdom for choosing the best thing?
In his best selling book, Good to Great, business leader Jim Collins says that great organizations are built around one great decision. A great company doesn’t come up with one great idea. A great organization doesn’t make one great hire, or start one great program. No, Collins writes. A truly great organization becomes that way by making multiple wise decisions, by developing a habit of making wise decisions. And this is exactly what the Bible says about each person.
In the Bible, wisdom is less about a particular decision, than an overall disposition of life built through many decisions. Wisdom is about character that is developed though the habit of faithful decisions.
And I believe this is demonstrated in Proverbs 3.
My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments;
2 for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you.
3 Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of people.
Here we see two principles joined together for building the habit of wise decisions. Word and community. God’s commandments and loyalty to God’s people. Wisdom is the result of many choices that have been made with two clear values: to obey God’s word, and to live faithfully within the community of God’s people.
You can’t separate one from the other or pit one against the other. Wise decisions demand both. So, when you are making a decision here are two questions to ask:
• Is it consistent with the Word of God?
• Does it contribute to well-being of the Community of God’s people?
So that we’ll really understand this let’s separate them for a minute and look at each of them.
Is it consistent with the Word of God?
The first place to look if we want to make wise decisions is to the scriptures.
First things first. Ask in every circumstance: Does the Bible speak clearly about this? Is there a clear command to obey, a clear word to follow. Very often, we talk about difficult decisions when we should be talking about hard decisions. Difficult decisions are those where we don’t have clear guidance. Hard decisions are those where the guidance is clear but the choice is not our preference.
I had a man come to see me once who was interested in starting a relationship with a co-worker and he wanted me to help him sort out the biblical perspective for this kind of romantic entanglement. He was fretting over the decision, very confused and unsure. An office romance could be problematic and this was a difficult decision. I listened to him for awhile and then pointed out to him, that while there are some decisions that the Bible doesn’t seem to address directly that in his case, it did. You see, the Bible is very clear that a man with a wife and three kids should not start another romantic relationship whether it is with a co-worker or not.
This was a hard decision for the man: his marriage was not very fulfilling, he was falling in love with the co-worker, his emotions were in an upheaval. But it wasn’t very difficult. It was actually quite clear what he was to do. He just really, really didn’t want to do it. I understand this. I remember once talking to a pastor friend about a decision I needed to make here at the church. I spoke for ten minutes about how tricky the decision was, how easily it could be misinterpreted by others, how many of you I thought would be angry with me. Finally, my friend said, “Well, those things are hard, but are you at all confused about what the right thing is to do?” No, I said. “Then, Tod, do that.”
When we pray to God for guidance, God’s answer will always line up with the Scriptures. If we think the Spirit of God is telling us to do something that contradicts the written Word of God, then we need to better tune in the spiritual receiver of our hearts.
But what do we do when Scripture doesn’t offer explicit commands? Is this where we trust our guts? Listen to our hearts? Or let our conscience be our guides? Well, yes and no. You see, even when the Bible doesn’t command directly with a “thou shalt not”, it usually offers principles and tenets on which we can build good decisions.
In a world that is more influenced by Jiminy Cricket than Jesus Christ and tells to go with our guts or follow our hearts, let me offer that we should pause to hear Proverbs 3:5-6
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
My friends, let me suggest that if your mind is not filled with the Scriptures and your heart is not in the habit of obeying them, then to trust your gut or go with your own insight is to walk a crooked and perilous path. Or let me put it more positively, if you fill your mind and your heart with Scripture, then you can probably trust your gut.
Which of course leads me to ask bluntly and pardon me if this is too
blunt: “Do you know enough Scripture to confidently base your life
decisions on it?” Perhaps the first step toward making blessed
decisions is just learning more of the Bible and developing a
thoroughgoing, consistent biblical worldview.
When facing a decision first ask: Is that which I want to do consistent with the Word of God? But don’t stop there. Then ask:
- Does it contribute to well-being of the Community of God’s people?
- If we want to make really blessed decisions, then we must not only listen to the word of scripture, but we must also consider the impact on the Community of God’s people to which we have been called.
In other words, in every decision we shouldn’t just ask, Is this right for me, but also is this right for us? How does this decision contribute to the witness and well-being of my Christian community?
Before I was married I lived with a roommate who had been raised as an only child. He was a great guy, but because Steve was so used to only thinking about himself, he could literally go through the whole day only thinking about himself. We jokingly called it “Only Child Syndrome”. Steve was the only guy I knew who could make popcorn for one. I would be sitting on the couch watching Television and he would come through the door, not say a word, make popcorn for one, pick up the remote and change the channel.
He wasn’t really being rude. He just didn’t even consider that I may have been watching the TV already and that making popcorn for two was no more trouble than making it for one.
Many of us in our culture struggle with what I call “Me and Mine Alone Syndrome.” We make all of our decisions in life based at best on how they will affect me and my immediate family alone. But the Bible is written from a far more communally connected worldview. The Bible teaches that you and I are given to each other and are to live out our lives in Community together, that any decision I make will affect the larger Community of which I am part. So it calls us to make decisions always with an eye to how it will affect my Christian Community and to make decisions with the wisdom and input of the other believers that God has put in our lives.
I know this probably sounds radical to most of you. Most of us really believe that we are supposed to face this world alone. We don’t believe that we can rely on each other for support and wisdom and we don’t even consider that we may want to rearrange our lives or make decisions based on how it will affect anyone else outside our immediate family.
Let me ask you to consider: As you are making the decisions that make up your life, do you even consider how they will impact the greater community of God’s people to whom you have been called and given? When you decide how to spend each day, distribute your resources, or even spend your life, how much do you consider that God gave you each day, every resource and even your very life to be lived out in Community as you serve together as a witness for him?
And lastly, let me ask you: When you are praying about decisions that have to be made in your life, do you pray for them with other members of your Christian community? Do you have a small group or a prayer partner or a wise friend? Is there someone to ask you hard questions or help you look from a different perspective to see how your decision is impacting others?
As we pray and listen to God’s guidance in our lives, then we need to truly believe that:
Prayer that changes things results in a habit of wise decisions—if it comes out of being deeply rooted in the Bible and anchored in Christian community.
One of the biggest hit songs of the past year, was the country music award winner by Carrie Underwood, called “Jesus Take the Wheel.” It’s a sweet song about a young mom driving home for shelter at her parents house with a baby in the back seat when the car begins to spin on black ice. She prays,
“Jesus take the wheel, Take it from my hands
Cause I can't do this on my own, I'm letting go
So give me one more chance, To save me from this road I'm on.”
My friends, there just are times that we realize that we need to give control of our lives over to Jesus and let him lead us and guide us. Jesus take the wheel, we pray, with all of our hearts. But this is the truth. He won’t. Not really.
No matter how out of control you get, Jesus never takes over completely. It is a great thing to admit that you need saving from the road you are on. And the most important prayer in life is when we admit that we are lost or that we are out of control, when we pray and ask God to be in the journey with us.
But He really won’t take the wheel. This is your life. You have to
drive it. You have to make decisions everyday on how you are going to
spend it. Jesus won’t take the wheel from you.
But if you let him, He will “Back-Seat Drive.”
His word and his Spirit will guide you. He’ll fill that old V.W. bus you are driving with his people to give you support, keep you alert and help you make the wise choice at every intersection in life. But you have to keep on living. Keep on going, Keep on the journey. Just remember that God is always there to “back seat drive” if you will let him.
And every time you need to make a decision ask two questions:
• Is it consistent with the Word of God?
• Does it contribute to well-being of God’s people?