(NOTE: This is a compilation of my sermons from 9/20 and 9/27. Basically, it was a do-over. I did not find I liked the way I had approached things on the 20th, so I pushed the reboot button. This lengthy message is those two sermons combined, edited and even expanded).
God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. That is the famous opening line of perhaps the most-used evangelistic tract in history, the “Four Spiritual Laws.” A whole generation of Christian witnessing efforts has been based on this evangelistic strategy. It has also been criticized as too man-centered, too focused on the personal benefits of salvation, not serious enough about sin and lacking in a treatment of the Lordship of Christ.
The cartoon above encapsulates those criticisms. It depicts Christians in the Roman Coliseum, awaiting a martyr’s death at the jaws of a lion. The caption sarcastically promises them that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives. It is hard for American Christians to realize the suffering that our brothers and sisters have experienced through the years and, in fact, are now experiencing around the globe. On August 3, 2009, The New York Times carried a chilling story of a family of seven Pakistani Christians brutally murdered by a Muslim extremist group. They died for no other reason than the fact that they were followers of Jesus Christ. Did God not have a wonderful plan for their lives?
But I am here today to affirm that God does love us and does have a wonderful plan for our lives. In Jeremiah 29:11, God promised
But here’s the rub. Too often, when people talk about God’s wonderful plans for our lives, they can get the idea that “wonderful” implies a life of ease, comfort, freedom from suffering, pain, sickness or hurt of any kind. We assume that God’s wonderful plan for us is that we will have all we want, succeed in all we attempt, enjoy every day and have all our dreams come true.That is a very human form of wonderful.
God’s wonderful plan for your life may have a very different outcome. His plan is that you will have a significant life of service to him, that your life will count for all eternity. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul recounted the details of God’s wonderful plan for his life. It involved being beaten, shipwrecked, stoned with stones, and all sorts of assorted sufferings. But he reveled in the plan of God, because in his weakness, he became strong. In his suffering and hardship, Christ revealed himself in a powerful way and used him to make an impact on the lives of other in the name of Christ.
Does God love you? He proved that at the cross when he sacrificed the body and shed the blood of his beloved Son to pay for your sins. That question is settled. Does he have a wonderful plan for your life? Absolutely. But you cannot define “wonderful” by your own standards.Wonderful to God is something very different.
God loved Noah and had a wonderful plan for his life. That plan required that Noah work hard, without reward and under intense ridicule and disdain, for many years until the ark was complete and God made the animals come and the rains fall. God loved Moses and had a wonderful plan for his life. That plan required Moses to walk on the edge of death for many years, to go to the most powerful man on earth and try to tell him what to do. God loved Abraham and had a wonderful plan for his life; a plan that required Abraham to wait patiently for 25 years until God fulfilled his promise about Isaac’s birth. God loved David and had a wonderful plan for his life, but David still had to face a giant, then spend years running from the king who wanted to kill him. He hid in caves and among the Philistines until God delivered on the plan and David became King of Israel. God loved Elijah and had a wonderful plan for his life. That plan put Elijah on
Today, we will look at the perfect plan that God reveals in the lives of his followers – that wonderful plan that he has for each of us who has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. In our last session, we focused on the threefold purpose that God has for his followers. He works to glorify himself by redeeming a people for himself from among the sinners of this wicked world.He then transforms those sinners to be just like Jesus Christ. That is what he is doing in your life.Your job is to die to self, to die with Christ to the life you had without him, to all the human goals, purposes, dreams, desires and ambitions that came from your sinful heart. You are then risen to walk a new life with Christ and to serve the eternal purposes of the Father.
Now, it is time to explore the plans that God has for his servants.
God’s Wonderful Plan Revealed
The church in
There are some pastors and church leaders who have the arrogance and temerity to believe that they have the right to determine the vision and direction of God’s church. They ignore the fact that God has already given us his vision (to make disciples in all the world) and has revealed his purposes for the church. We are simply to bring our lives in line with what God has revealed. We cannot alter that or improve on the purposes that God has set.
But there are many who, while they understand that they must submit to God’s purposes, then make the false assumption that God has given us his purposes and then told us, “Now, go figure out how to get the job done.” He reveals his purposes, then leaves it up to us to figure out how to accomplish those purposes.
I do not find that model revealed in scriptures. In this study, we are looking at the great acts of God in Scripture, looking for a pattern that we can follow. If there is a pattern to the significant work of God in the lives of the biblical heroes, then perhaps there is a pattern that we can follow to become significant in the service of God. We have already looked at step one in that process – submitting our lives to the eternal purposes of God. Now, we will examine the second step as God reveals the wonderful plans that he has for those he loves. If we submit to God’s purposes and follow God’s plans for our lives, we are on our way to significant service in his name.
Step 2: God Reveals His Plan
How did God’s people come to understand what God wanted them to do? Did God reveal his noble purpose and then say, “Now, figure out a strategy and come up with an action plan to get the work done?” I would argue that there is not a single instance in scripture where God did anything that in any way resembles that. In fact, it was just the opposite. When God revealed his purpose, he also revealed a detailed and complete plan for what his servant was supposed to do.
In Genesis 6:13 God revealed his sovereign purpose to Noah. “I have determined to make an end of all flesh.” Then, verse 14, God revealed his plan. “Make an ark of gopher wood.” Note how specific God was. He told Noah the length, width and height, the building materials and the design. Not only did God reveal his purpose, but he also revealed a specific, detailed plan for how to get the job done. All Noah had to do was obey.
In Genesis 12, God spoke to Abraham, revealing the purpose he had determined for Abraham’s life. Abraham would be a great nation, a nation through which the entire world would be blessed. The revelation of the purpose of God was accompanied by a revelation of God’s plan.In Genesis 12:1, God ordered Abraham, “Go from your home and your country and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. As is always true when God reveals his plans, Abraham’s life was going to change dramatically. “You cannot stay where you are and go with God.”Blackaby’s words are so true. God’s purposes and plans for our lives require a new direction and new plans – big changes for significant service.
God revealed to Moses his purpose to deliver
Over and over this same pattern is seen. God reveals his purposes – what he is doing here on earth. Then, he reveals his plan for how that work is going to be accomplished. You cannot accomplish the purposes of God with your own plans. If we would serve the purposes of God, we must do it God’s way, following his plans and purposes.
How Do We Find God’s Plan?
The problem for many of us is very practical. How do we discover those noble plans that God has for us? It does not do any good to say we can only follow God’s plan if we do not have a way of discovering those plans. I believe that each of us is called personally by God, called to God and to a life of significant service in his name. And, I also believe that we can look at the life of the Apostle Paul, the most significant figure in the New Testament (other than Christ) and see a pattern for God’s revelation of his plans for all of us.
There are three clear parts to God’s call on Paul’s life. Those same three calls go to each of us. As we respond to the gracious call of God, the threefold call, we will find ourselves on a path to eternally significant service in Christ’s name.
God Called Saul to Salvation
On the road to
Saul of Tarsus died that day. The name change did not occur until later, but the life-change began then. Saul of Tarsus was devoted to a purpose – the destruction of “The Way”, those who followed Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel. He headed to
A new man was born that day. Paul the Apostle emerged slowly from the death of Saul of Tarsus. He had new life in Christ and a new purpose for his life. He now lived for the glory of God, for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for conformity to the image of Christ. It was a startling transformation; one that others like Ananias had trouble adjusting to, but it was real.
Saul experienced salvation in all three tenses. He experienced the grace of God at a point in time and was saved (past-tense) on the road to
For most of us, salvation is not that dramatic. I was not cast to the ground when I was six, I did not hear a voice from heaven, nor was I cast to the ground by a heavenly light. But the same thing happened to me. I was called to salvation by the sovereign grace of Jesus Christ. The first call of God is the call to salvation and sanctification which each of us must receive.
God Called Paul to
I hear the word “missional” a lot today, but I have never been able to get a firm fix on what it means. In my day, we talked about being “mission-minded.” Today, missional is the buzz-word. If I understand it at all, I think the idea behind the word is broader than what mission-minded has implied. Being mission-minded means supporting missions work with prayer, offerings, education and perhaps a mission-trip now and again. Missional means that we see our lives as being lived on mission, by the purposes and plans of God. If that is accurate, then Paul was missional and you and I should be as well.
When God called Saul to salvation, he was also calling Paul to a mission which he had designed for his life. It was a significant ministry, unique to Paul; one God had prepared specifically for him. There were two aspects to Paul’s call to be on mission.
Paul Received a General Call
You do not need to pray about whether God has a mission for you. It has been revealed clearly. We have all received the same general call from God. It came just before Jesus Christ left this earth. Our commanding officer left us orders that we must follow obediently. We need no new revelation or leading of the Spirit for these. They are our revealed and binding marching orders, recorded in Matthew 28:18-20. While we are going on our way throughout this world, we are to make disciples of all nations, first by baptizing them (representative of evangelism) and we are to teach them obedience to all Christ has commanded (the process of discipleship). Jesus added in Acts 1:8 that we would give constant testimony (be witnesses) to the life-changing power of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.
These are not suggestions, they are commands. They reveal the plan of God for each of our lives. If your sins have been paid for by the sufferings of Christ, if the blood of Christ has been applied to your heart and Jesus Christ has forgiven you of your sins, raised you to a new life in Christ and given you life eternal and abundant, you have life-defining orders from him today.You are to be involved at some point in the Great Commission. It is not an option. Your life is not meant for temporal things, for the pursuits of the world. God has a purpose and a plan for your life that is incumbent on all believers, a plan to take part in the Great Commission.
That is a general call that goes out to each believer. But it does not end there.
Paul Received a Specific Call
He also received a very specific call from God. God has a plan for all believers, but I believe he also has an individual call for each of us. Paul’s was revealed first just after his conversion on the
The Apostles had focused their ministry on
This call was made clear to Saul in Acts 13:1-3. “Now there were in the church at
It was “go-time” for the gospel to be given to the Gentiles. God was not content that the disciples huddle in Judea and
But, I’m Not Paul
You may be objecting at this point that you are not Paul or an apostle of any kind. I would argue that God has such a personal plan and specific call for each of us who is called into the
I have neither the time nor the inclination at this point to get into all of the theological and practical difficulties of the study of spiritual gifts. But look at 1 Corinthians 12:4-7. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Verse 11 goes on to sum this teaching up. “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”
Whatever else one would say about spiritual gifts, the clear implication of this passage is that God gives each of us the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in a unique way. The Spirit apportions to each one individually as he wills. You have a gift or gift set, a calling that is unique to you. God has specific plans, goals and aims for your life. Your job is to figure out what it is that he is wanting for you and from you.
How do you find those gifts, that specific calling? It is more of an art than a science, but I believe that you begin by serving. When I got right with God, I was drawn toward teaching the Bible. When I began to teach it, people seemed to be blessed by that. It became clear to me that the primary call of God on my life was to teach the Word of God to lead God’s people to obedience.
You may be someone who has a call to focus primarily on evangelistic ministries. Leaders from one of the nation’s key evangelistic ministries observed that in most church they go into, 10% to 15% of the people who go through evangelistic training come to sense that they are called into a ministry that focuses on evangelism. How effective would the church be if it identified, trained, funded and supported 15% of its people in ministries outside the walls of the church – reaching out in the name of Christ to those in need.
Others of you may focus, as I do, on Bible-teaching ministries. Some are devoted to service in the name of Christ – meeting the practical needs of the church and the people of the church. Many have a gift of mercy or exhortation – helping the hurting, the needy, the oppressed to find strength, comfort and healing. Some are given the gift of giving – a special call to financially support the ministries of the church. Others have gifts of administration and organization that pastors like me need desperately.
Each of us must identify our specific gifts and realize the call that God has placed on us, then begin to minister with power and grace in the way God intended.
Paul Received a Detailed Call
Paul was called to salvation by God’s grace. We were called to that same cross and that same Savior. Paul was called to serve God as an apostle to the Gentiles. I was called to be a teacher of God’s Word. You (if you are saved) have a gift set that God has given you to serve the Body of Christ.
But I believe that the call goes a little farther. Paul was not only called to be an apostle to the Gentiles, but God also gave him very specific and details instructions about that call. I was not just called to a ministry of teaching, but I believe that I was called to a ministry of teaching at Southern Hills Baptist Church in
Look at the detailed instructions God gave Paul in Acts 16:6-10. “And they went through the region of Phrygia and
This is a fascinating passage. There are some today who say that God has given us his Word to guide us and that we should not expect anything beyond that. We are to read the Bible, study it, follow its teachings and not expect specific leadings, promptings or guidance. God may have a general will for my life, but they do not believe he has a specific will. I can marry whom I desire to marry, as long as she is within the bounds of scripture. I can minister where I wish to minister,
That belief runs afoul of the revelation of Scripture. God gave specific plans – detailed unique and personal – to his followers. Look at what happened to Paul in Acts 16. He was on the road doing his ministry and was warned by the Holy Spirit that he should not go to
Your challenge is to find your own Macedonian ministry. You must be born again by God’s grace, called to salvation in Christ. You must be submitted to the powerful, eternal purposes of God – his plan to glorify himself by redeeming sinful people and transforming them to be like Christ. You must also accept his plan for your life, to be a servant of the Great Commission, making disciples by testifying by your life and words that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. You need to find out what your gift and calling is, that which the Holy Spirit has apportioned to you for service in the Body. Those steps are crucial; none of them may be skipped without nullifying the entire process. But, once you have received the call to salvation and submitted to God’s purposes for your life, and accepted the general plan of God to be a testimony of Christ’s transforming power, you then need to seek out the Macedonian ministry that God has for you.
It should never be enough to just do whatever the nominating committee pressures you to do. Seek God and be led by him. I am convinced that there are many Christians who have never left
And it is not just Paul. God called Noah to build a boat then gave his detailed directions.God sent both Joshua and Gideon into battle with unique, odd, but specific and detailed plans.Both the tabernacle and the temple were built according to very clear directions of incredible detail revealed by God. The idea that God gives us general principles and calls us to live obediently by them, without specific direction has very little biblical support.
God chose the people for his worldwide mission (Barnabas and Saul). He revealed the purpose (carry the gospel to the Gentiles). He gave them directions (
The Voice of God
I do not often hear voices in my head (comforting to all, I hope). But there have been times in my life when I sensed the strong leading of God. I was about a week away from leaving for seminary, when I sensed God speaking strongly to me that I should marry Jenni and take her with me. I did. After two years at
How did I know? It is hard to say for sure. There is no question that the doctrine of the subjective leading of the Holy Spirit has been badly abused in the modern church. I would guess that every reader can call to memory an encounter with someone who claimed God was telling them to do something that you knew they shouldn’t be doing.
I had a friend who had a new girlfriend. He came to my house bubbly one day, because God had told him that he and Sheila (not her real name) were supposed to be together. A few days later, he told me that God had spoken to him that he and Sheila were not right for each other. Strangely, every few days over the next few weeks, God seemed to change his mind. Yes.No. Yes. No. The leading of God changed often. We all know what was happening here. My friend was being led by his conflicting emotions and calling them the leadings of God.
This concept is badly abused; I will not deny that. But the abuses of a doctrine do not negate the doctrine itself. If some abuse the liberty we have in Christ, it does not negate the fact that we have liberty. If hyper-Calvinists abound, that does not change the fact that God’s sovereign grace is our only hope of salvation. And if people abuse the idea of the subjective voice of God, that does not change the fact that from Genesis to Revelation, God spoke to his people and revealed personal, specific and detailed plans for their lives.
Hearing God’s Voice
How do you know when it is the voice of God? I cannot give you and hard and fast rules, but there are some principles we can follow. First, be in the Word of God regularly and diligently.The Bible is God’s Word – its pages are the voice of God to our hearts. The more you are in the Word, the more likely you are to hear God’s voice clearly and to identify those voices that try to imitate the divine voice to lead you astray. There is no one in more spiritual danger than the person who claims to hear the voice of God while the Bible is a closed book in his life. He is likely to be led astray and deceived. The spiritual predators in this wicked world will find him easy game. An active Bible study and prayer life is crucial to finding the personal plan of God for your life.
It is also crucial to note that when God spoke to Paul, he was on the move, actively obeying the commands that he had received from God. He was not sitting on the shore of the Mediterranean sipping lemonade with his feet up waiting on God’s direction. He had the command of God to be a testimony of Christ’s grace to the ends of the world, and he was obeying it. As he was on the road, God led and directed him. God does not speak his clear voice to the disobedient and lazy. He guides those who are following his revealed purposes and plans. Do not expect to hear the voice of God clearly if you are walking in disobedience, rebellion or for selfish purposes. The only voice you might hear there is the call to repentance.
It is also a good idea to listen to the wisdom of the body of Christ. Ultimately, you must obey God whether anyone else agrees or not. Paul was warned repeatedly by church leaders and even a prophet not to go to
The simple fact is that when I hear my wife’s voice on the phone, she does not have to identify herself. A simple “hello” is enough for me to know who she it. I have heard her voice frequently (no joke intended) since I met her at a Halloween party in 1975. I know that voice.The more I walk in the Spirit, the more I immerse myself in the Word, the more obedient I am to Christ, the easier I will find it to identify the Voice of God and recognize the whisperings of imposters.
The Straight Path
Proverbs 3:5-6 gives us a template for this process. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” My job is to trust God, not my own wisdom. I am to submit to his purposes and follow his plans for my life. I must acknowledge his right as Lord over me in all things. When I do this, I have the promise of God that he will direct me; that he will straighten the path before me and make my way plain and sure.
It is the master’s job to direct the obedient servant. It is the servant’s job to obey the master. If I do my job and live in obedience and submission the will of God, I can be assured that God will do his job and faithfully guide me on the path he has set for me.
I may not receive a detailed itinerary of the rest of my life. It seldom works like that. It is often more like walking hand-in-hand with him, step-by-step through life. When God makes his will plain, I obey. As I take that step of faith, God reveals the next step. Day-by-day I walk with him on the path to glory. I believe that is the way God works. He guides us day-by-day as we walk step-by-step hand-in-hand with our Father. That is an exciting way to live, and adventure of faith. Walking by faith is never as easy as walking by sight, but it is the path to the power of God and significant service in the name of Christ.
God loves me and he has a wonderful plan for my life. It may be a plan that involves pain and suffering. It may not be an easy road that God has called me to walk. But if I trust in him and acknowledge his rights over me, I know he will lead, guide and direct me to my own Macedonian ministry, to a place of significant service to him in which my life, under his hand of power, will make a difference in this world.
My redeemed friend, I know he will do the same for you!