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Prayer: How To Know God’s Will

John 14:12-14

I wish to set before you now just a single verse from the prophecy of Isaiah. It’s found in the thirtieth chapter of Isaiah. It is the fifteenth verse. This is the Word of God. “For thus, said the Lord, God the Holy One of Israel, in returning and rest, you shall be saved. In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.

Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh God, our Rock and Redeemer. Amen.

Dr. F. B. Meyer, a great biblical scholar of another day, tells of sailing once in a ship across the Irish channel. As the ship was en route, Dr. Meyer said to the ship’s captain, “Tell me, sir. How do you know where to find the Holyhead Harbor on so dark and starless a night as this?” And the captain replied, “Dr. Meyer, do you see those three lights burning on the distant horizon? When as we sail, those three lights move until they are in perfect alignment so that they no longer appear to be three lights but one. When we see them so united, then we know the precise location of the entrance to the harbor.”

Dr. Meyer borrowed the words of the ship’s captain and proceeded to apply them to our search for God’s will in our lives. And Dr. Meyer said, “There are three things which must be lined up in agreement. God in the heart, impelling you forward. God in the Bible, confirming what He says to you in your heart. And God in the circumstances, opening up to you His way. Never start until all three are in agreement.”

Well, I think he’s right. And because Dr. Meyer borrowed the words of a ship’s captain to apply them to God’s will in our lives, I want to take Dr. Meyer’s words and borrow them and apply them to this sermon. For there are indeed three things which must be in perfect alignment if we are to see God’s will for our lives. Let’s take a closer look.

First, there is God speaking in your heart.

Now that is a call to the discipline of stillness and prayer. Do you remember what Isaiah said in his prophecy? “In returning and rest, you shall be saved. In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” Rest and quietness are two key elements necessary for discerning God’s leading in your life. This is a call to stillness and to prayer.

It was Thomas Carlyle who said, “It is in silence that great things fashion themselves.” I believe that to be true. But that is especially true, I think, in the realm of the Spirit. For you know as well as I do that ever since Elijah, we have known that God’s voice is a still small voice. When God speaks, God speaks gently. That’s His way. When God delivered to us His most profound Word, that is, when the Word became Flesh at the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, that event was not accompanied by sounding brass and thundering drums. No. As a matter of fact, it took place in the birth of a baby, in a stable, on the backside of an inn, in a little out-of-the-way place called Bethlehem, in the middle of a quiet, dark, starless night. That’s God’s way. When God speaks, God speaks gently.

And God can be best heard in stillness. Now do not misunderstand me at this point. In this call to stillness, I am not advocating some kind of wholesale return to nature; not at all. I’m not suggesting that we all go out and become 20th Century Henry David Thoreaus. And I’m certainly not talking about such meaningless and petty diversions as transcendental meditation and the like. No. I’m not talking about that at all. I am simply saying to you today that every single one of us ought to have some quiet place in our lives. Oh, it doesn’t matter where it is. It may be in your bedroom or at your office or out in your backyard or in a wooded glen or on a park bench or in our chapel at the church. It doesn’t matter where it is. But all of us ought to have some quiet place where we can go every single day and spend just ten or fifteen minutes sitting there in stillness to let the silence begin to sweep away the litter that is in our minds, thus clearing the way for God to be able to speak to us.

And do not misunderstand me in this call to prayer, because you see I’m not advocating here some kind of false Gethsemane. You know, that’s one of the things that troubles me about so many Christians. In their search for God’s will in their lives, they have a tendency to want to try to dictate to God what it is they want in life. They go to God and they lay out all of the list of their desires. And then almost as an afterthought, they kind of hook on to the end of their prayer those holy words from Gethsemane, “nevertheless not My will, but Thine be done.” It’s just an afterthought. They regard God’s will as being one of life’s extras. Well, I’m not talking about that at all. For I do not believe that God’s will is one of life’s extras. And we are not to pursue God’s will just as an afterthought. Oh, no. No.

Do you remember what Jesus said? It’s in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, the 34th verse. Jesus said, “My meat is to do the will of My Father who is in Heaven.” My meat, My food, My sustenance is to do the will of God. “My daily strength,” He says, “comes from pursuing God’s will in My life.” I’m talking about making the pursuit of God’s will in your life the very center of your life, not just your prayer life but your everyday life. I’m not talking about seeking God’s will because you’re forced to do it. No, I’m talking about pursuing God’s will because you want to do it, because you want to know what His will for you is, and because you want to live that will in your experience. I’m calling to you to ask God earnestly in prayer to reveal His will to you, to ask Him to intervene into your daily experience. And then I’m asking you to wait patiently for the infilling of the Holy Spirit to lead you in the path where God wants you to go. That’s the call that I think we find in the pages of Scripture. Jesus says, “My meat, My daily life is to do the will of My Father in Heaven.” That’s the first thing that needs to line up in our pursuit of God’s will. God in the heart, speaking to you through prayer and stillness.

But secondly, there is God speaking in the Bible.

This is a call to the discipline of studying the Scriptures. Again, remember what Isaiah said? “In returning and rest, you shall be saved. In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” In returning, returning, that’s one of the key elements there. And when Isaiah speaks of returning, he means turning again to the Lord. And the best way for us to turn again to the Lord is to turn to His Word, His Book, which is this Bible. This is the Word of Almighty God.

Are you aware of the fact that there is a province in Southern France where when a boy and a girl become serious about one another, they are said to be talking to one another? Isn’t that interesting? But you see, that little bit of folk wisdom is very profound because that’s the way real love always begins. It always begins in conversation. Heart knowledge always begins with head knowledge. It is in the exchange of words that we build up our relationships with other people. And that’s also true of our relationship with God. And so when we go to a quiet place and there we give ourselves to prayer, well, that’s when we are speaking to God. We are talking to Him. But then if we’re going to build that relationship, there must be the exchange of words. And the way God speaks to us is through the pages of His Book, this Bible.

Again, do not misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting here that we are to use the Bible as some kind of a spiritual ouija board. You know, there are people who do that. I love the story about the fellow who wanted to know God’s will in his life so badly. And so he picked up his Bible, and he flipped it open. And then he took his finger, and he moved it around in a circle, and he put his finger down on the page, and then he looked to see what was written there. And it said, “And Judas went out and hanged himself.” Whoo. Well, well that shook him. And so he said, “Oh. I have to do that again.” And so he flipped open the Bible again, and he did his finger around, and he put it down on the page. And he read there, “Go thou. And do likewise.” Oh, he was in big trouble now. “One more time,” he thought. And so he picked up his Bible, and he flipped it open, and he did his finger all around. And he put it down on the page, and he read, “What thou doest, do quickly.”

Oh, yes. You get the point. We are not to use the Bible as some kind of book of magic. No. The Bible is to be studied. It is to be studied wisely, carefully, intelligently. For example, if someone you love has died, you do not simply flip open the Bible and start reading at any page. No. You go to those passages which will speak most clearly to your need. You turn to passages like Psalm 23 or John 14 or 1 Corinthians 15 or 1 Thessalonians 4. You turn to those passages which speak most clearly to your need, just so. Whenever in pursuit of God’s will, we give ourselves to the discipline of prayer and stillness and to the discipline of the study of the Scriptures – well, we ought to be studying the Scriptures in light of the things we’re praying about. It doesn’t matter what it is. It may be a vocational decision. Or it may be a marital difficulty. Or it may be some temptation we’re struggling against. It may be the consideration of whom we shall marry or where we shall go to college. Or it may be the discussion of how we’re going to spend our time and our money as responsible Christians. It doesn’t matter what it is. No. The Bible somewhere in its pages has an appropriate passage that will speak clearly to your need. That’s why I think it’s so important for us as Christians to have a topical concordance or a chain reference right alongside our Bibles so that we can take certain themes or thoughts or ideas and then follow them all the way through the pages of Scripture, thus giving God ample opportunity to speak to us.

So again, to a quiet place regularly, pray. Study the Bible. Read it wisely. Read it as it relates to your needs. And then think long and hard about what you have read. And I would suggest to you that in most instances, that will be enough. God’s Holy Spirit will move into your life and begin to sweep away the clouds of confusion, and God’s will for you will begin to come abundantly clear. Yes, that’s the second thing that needs to line up in your search for God’s will. God in the Bible speaking to you through His Word.

But thirdly, there is God speaking in the circumstances of life

This is a call to be sensitive to the way God works in the events which go on around us. Isaiah, remember? Remember what he said? “In returning and rest, you shall be saved. In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” In trust, that’s a key element. We need to learn how to trust God to use the circumstances in our lives to reveal His will to us. And He’ll do that. Make no mistake about it. God will begin to work in the circumstances of your life and begin to open up ways of opportunity for you. But I want to say to you at this point, if you give yourself to prayer, and if you give yourself to the study of the Scriptures, and if you take a look at the circumstances around you, and you’re still not absolutely sure what it is that God wants you to do, well, at that point, I would suggest that you lay out a fleece.

You know where that phrase comes from, don’t you? Lay out a fleece. It comes from the sixth chapter of the Book of Judges. Gideon. Do you remember Gideon? Gideon was being enlisted by God to go into his service. And Gideon wasn’t very sure as to just what God wanted him to do. So you know what Gideon said? Gideon said, “Lord, I’m not sure what it is you want me to do. So I’m going to set up a test for you. I’m going to lay this fleece on the ground tonight. And if you want me to do this, then overnight, call the dew to fall upon that fleece, but let the ground all around it be dry.” Next morning, Gideon got up, went out, picked up the fleece. It was soaking wet. And the ground around it, bone dry.

Now, I want to tell you something. That would’ve been enough for me. But it wasn’t enough for Gideon. No. Old Gideon, he was no gambler. He wanted a sure thing. And so Gideon said, “Lord, that was very impressive. But Lord, I’m still not absolutely sure. So I want to do this again. Tonight, I’m going to put that fleece out. But this time, ah, this time, let the fleece be dry and the ground around it be wet.” Next morning, it was so. And the Bible says so beautifully, “Gideon obeyed the Word of the Lord and did magnificent things in the power of God.”

I love that. And what Gideon inspires me to say to you is this. You can lay out a fleece. A fleece is a test, by which you say, “Lord, I’m not sure what it is you want me to do. But if you want me to do this, then let such and such happen.” It’s a test. Now, I know the very minute that I say that, there’s going to be somebody here, there may be a lot of somebodys here, who want to say, “Preacher, that’s not right. You can’t put the Lord to the test.” Are you aware of the fact that the witness of the Scriptures is exactly the opposite? For not only does God say in Scripture, “Put me to the test,” not only does He say that, but all the way through the Scriptures, there are individuals who do, in fact, put Him to the test. Gideon tested Him. Thomas the disciple tested Him. The rich, young ruler tested him. Even Jesus, His own Son, tested Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Read the story and you’ll see it yourself. And what I want you to see is that God answered Gideon. And God answered Thomas. And God answered the rich, young ruler. And God answered His Son. Oh, it wasn’t necessarily the answer that they wanted. But God did answer them. And God will answer you.

Again, you must not misunderstand me. This business of laying out a fleece is serious. And if you’re going to do it, then I want you to know that there are certain rules that are going to have to be adhered to strictly and completely. Here they are.

Rule number one. You can lay out a fleece but only as a last resort. You can’t use a fleece to cover every question and every anxiety that you stumble across in the course of your living. A fleece has got to be a last resort. Because the fact is, that most often, God will be able to speak to you clearly through the discipline of prayer and the discipline of the study of the Scriptures. But it is in those rare occasions in life when you run slap into a brick wall which you can’t crack with your prayers or your study, it’s then on that rare occasion, as a last resort, that you lay out a fleece.

Rule number two. You must be sure that the test is one which will require God’s intervention. It can’t be something that just may happen in the natural course of events anyway. It must be a real test of God. But not only that. You must be sure that you never put God in the position of having to hurt someone else in order to answer your test. You must be very careful.

Rule number three. You have to be willing to take a risk yourself because you see, the fact is, that the great things you’re hoping for and praying for just may not come to pass, and you’re going to be left with nothing more than your bare face hanging out. You’ve got to be willing – if you’re going to lay out a fleece, you’ve got to be willing to take no for an answer and live with it.

And rule number four. You’ve got to be willing to obey God’s reply whatever it may be. This business of laying out a fleece is serious. It’s not something that we do casually. It’s certainly not something we do as casually as we sing our hymns. You know how we sing our hymns, don’t you? Are you aware of the fact that we sing these words sometimes? “I’ll go where you want me to go, Dear Lord, over mountain or plane or sea.” Now, just suppose, he took us up on that. Or what about this? “Take my silver and my gold; not a mite do I withhold.” Suppose the Lord said, “Okay. That’s a deal.” You see how casually we sing our hymns? Well, you can’t lay out a fleece and do it casually. It’s serious business. And when God replies, you must be willing to be obedient to that reply. Cost whatever it may.

Well, there they are. Three things which need to be lined up in agreement in our search for God’s will in life. God in the heart, speaking to us through prayer and stillness. God in the Bible, speaking to us through the power of His Word. And God in the circumstances of life, revealing His will to us through the events that transpire around us. Line them all up in your life, and I promise you, you will be well on the way to discovering God’s will for your life.

Just one final word. Once a man and his friend were walking along the streets of New York City. They were on Broadway. It was rush hour. And suddenly, the man said, “I hear a cricket.” And the friend said, “That’s ridiculous. You couldn’t possibly hear something like that in the midst of all this noise.” And the man said, “No. I hear a cricket.” He walked over to a garbage can near the sidewalk there, lifted the lid, and there on top of a pile of papers was a little cricket. The friend said, “That’s amazing.” And the man said, “No, it’s not. No, it’s not amazing at all. I’ll show you what I mean. Do you see this dime?” And he pulled a dime out of his pocket. He said, “When this dime drops to the pavement, the noise that it makes will not be a whole lot louder than the noise that cricket was making. And watch what happens.” He dropped the dime, and immediately, all of the pedestrians rushing along the streets of New York in that area suddenly stopped and began looking down for the fallen coin. The man turned to his friend and he said, “Do you see? You can always hear what you are really listening for.” That’s it.

In the search for God’s will in your life, this is the word I want to leave with you today. You can always hear what you are really listening for.

Let us pray. Almighty and most gracious God, lead us in the pursuit of Your will and reveal that will to us so that our meat shall become doing the will of You, our Heavenly Father. Amen.

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