Are you waiting on direction from God?
A lot of times in life it really does come down to: Is it this way or that way? Is it this relationship or that relationship? Is it this school or that school? Is it this job or that job? And we really need direction.
Direction is something the human race is desperately hungry for. People have tremendous anxieties about the future.
So this Sunday look at what to do while we wait on direction from God. We walk through practical steps that will help those of us who legitimately want direction from God.Read More
This is week three of our Wait For It series. If you weren’t here last week, Justin taught on, “How we wait.” It was a great message if you want to go back and listen to the podcast.
What I want to focus on today is: waiting on direction from God.
How is it possible for fallen, sinful human beings to wait patiently when we need direction from God?
How many of you would say you need direction?
We all have times in life when we’re waiting on direction from God.
Direction is something the human race is desperately hungry for. People have tremendous anxieties about the future.
Just think about it for a moment.
Wouldn’t you like to know the future?
Wouldn’t you like to be able to see just a few miles down the road into your future?
Sometimes people play little games about the future:
You’re approaching a stoplight at an intersection, and you’re concerned about something in the future. Say, you just took a test or interviewed for a job. So you say to yourself, “all right, if the light turns green by the time I get there…”
Or, you’re wondering, “Does she love me or not?” And so you say, “If the light turns green by the time I get there she loves me,” or “If this particular song comes on the radio she loves me.”
Or I pick pedals from a flower to find out if she loves me.
We do that sort of thing don’t we? Because we’re curious about the future.
And the reality is, our concerns about the future can lead us toward God or they can lead us away from God.
There’s a story in the bible in the book of Acts about a young slave girl who had a spirit in her so she could predict the future. And she made a great deal of money for her owners by fortune telling.
In other words, people in that day wanted so desperately to find direction — to know about the future — that they would pay money to get some poor, spiritually misguided soul to predict their future.
Now, it’s only 2,000 years ago that people would do something that naive and superstitious, right?
It’s an amazing thing — there are thousands of psychics in San Francisco who want to be your psychic friend, who will give you direction for your future.
They’ll read your palm
They’ll read your Tarot card
They’ll read your wallet
They’ll look deeply into your eyes or into their crystal ball or whatever else they look at, and they’ll say they can give you counsel on your career, on your relationships, or they can help you find the purpose of life. And people flock to them for direction.
Listen, if they were really psychic, they would have called you.
Now, the truth about all of this is — people who look to psychics and horoscopes and do these sorts of things — they don’t particularly want direction.
What they really want is inside information for the future to accomplish their own ends.
They want to pursue pleasure and avoid pain, and they want a road map for how to do that.
And they want it disconnected from moral direction. They want it disconnected from the need to have a submitted character or a surrendered heart.
Direction from God is a whole different matter.
And it’s so important that we get this one as right as we can.
So we’re going to look at what we should be doing while we wait on God for direction. And I want to make this as concrete and practical as it can be.
I’ve discovered there are a number of things we can do while we wait on God for direction.
A lot of times in life it really does come down to:
Is it this way or that way?
Is it this relationship or that relationship?
Is it this school or that school?
Is it this job or that job?
And we really need to know where God wants us to go.
So we’re going to walk through some steps that I think will help those of us who legitimately want to wait on God’s direction.
The first one is this:
And these will come up on the screen for those of you who want to take notes.
Actually, they may not come up on the screen; I’m not psychic; I don’t know; they may come up on the screen, they may not.
The first thing I need to do, if I want to find direction from God, is:
Decide in advance that I’m going to do what God says.
What I’ve found is – God speaks to people who decide in advance that they’re going to do whatever God tells them to do before He even tells them.
God speaks to the people who say, “God, tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”
It’s an attitude of saying yes before we even know what it is.
It’s like we’re writing a blank check. “I don’t know what You want me to do with my life. I don’t know what You want me to do with my career, my family, who to marry, where to work, where to go to school. I’m just laying it out before You. Whatever You want.”
God says, “That’s the person I’m ready to speak to.”
This is the first step to receiving guidance from God. I must decide that I want to know and do God’s will more than anything else.
Alright, next step:
Reflect on the teachings of Jesus.
If you have your bible, turn to Acts 20, verse 33.
The apostle Paul here is saying farewell to the leaders of the church at Ephesus.
I want to you to notice how his life has been transformed by the teachings of Jesus. His life has been transformed by Gods principles for life. Look at verse 33. He’s talking to the leaders of the church:
I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.
Paul was a tentmaker, and that’s part of the way he supported himself, even when he was involved in missionary journeys. Now look at verse 35:
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ “
God wants to give us direction. And most often, he will do that when we reflect on the teachings of Jesus.
This is what was happening to Paul as he reflected on the words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Today, that has become a common phrase: “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” And, pretty much, everyone in this room, I suspect, would say that they believed that it’s more blessed to give than to receive.
I think, pretty much, everyone in America would say that. I think if we took a nation-wide poll on it, everyone would vote: “Yes, give; you’re more blessed.”
But let me ask you a question: Do you think everyone in America, really, at the deepest place in their soul, believes it?
Now, you’re programmed, and so am I, in ways that we don’t even know — by our society, our culture, our media, and our own fallenness — programmed to believe that it’s better to receive.
We all spend enormous amounts of time and energy figuring out ways to acquire.
So the Apostle Paul takes this idea, this teaching — that it’s more blessed to give than to receive — which is the opposite of the wiring of everyone in this world. He takes this idea, and he ponders it.
He reflects on it so that it just becomes part of his mind.
And he watches people who focus on acquiring, on receiving.
And he watches other people who focus on giving.
And he looks at who is content.
And he looks at his own life.
And he does experiments with giving.
And he prays about it.
And he practices it.
And, in time, Paul discovers that he really does believe that it’s more blessed to give than to receive.
It’s become a part of his thinking. It becomes part of his world view.
And the Spirit calls him to live with very little. And he works hard, but he’s content.
He says in another place in the Bible, ‘I’ve learned the secret of being content. Even when I have very little – I’m content.’
He really has come to trust that it’s better to give than to receive. And if you look at his life, you see evidences of it everywhere.
He says in Acts 20:33, “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.”
He has become free from envy and jealousy. He’s not saying that he’s morally superior or anything. It’s just a description of the way things are.
He discovers Jesus was right. Jesus was wise. Jesus knew what He was talking about. It really is more blessed to give than to receive. And the Spirit just leads him to give and give and give.
Now, if we want to to find direction from God, one of the things that we must do is expose our minds to the teachings of Jesus.
This is a theme that runs all throughout scripture.
There’s a verse on it in the Old Testament – Joshua 1:8, and it has to do with this idea of allowing our minds to be transformed:
Do not let this book of the law depart from your mouth. Meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
Now think about this for a minute: “Don’t let this book of the law” — don’t let God’s principles for life — depart from your mouth.
Think about your mouth for a minute. What things will never depart from your mouth?
Only a few things — your lips, your tongue, your teeth. Well, for some of us, our teeth.
The writer is saying, allow God’s word to be on your lips, in your mind — so often that they just become a part of you.
And as we meditate on God’s word, it starts to become like a filter in our minds so that everything we do run’s through the filter of God’s word. So eventually, as we think about how we’re going to handle our money, one of the thoughts that is just a part of our mental framework is: “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”
It just simply becomes a part of the way we think.
And it’s then that the Word of God is not departing from your mouth. It’s in your mind day and night; it’s just become part of what you believe — like you believe in gravity. You never violate the law of gravity, because you really believe it’s true.
Alright, so if we want to find direction from God, one of the things we must do is reflect on the teachings of Jesus.
The third step in this process of waiting on direction from God is:
Ask God for direction.
Over twenty times in the New Testament we are commanded to ASK.
God says I want you to ask in prayer. “Ask and it shall be given. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened unto you.”
The writers of scripture say, “You have not because you ask not.”
Now, if we want to find direction from God, we need to cultivate the habit of talking to God, not just at a set time — like in the morning or at night — but continually throughout the day.
The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5 that we are to pray continually. Pray without ceasing, throughout the day.
Paul was writing this to the church in Thessalonica while he was in Corinth. It was a time in his life when he was weak. He was alone. He was discouraged.
At a time when he was at his lowest, he wrote, “Pray continually, pray without ceasing, throughout the day.”
when you’re confused about something
when you’re upset
when you don’t understand
when you’re stressed
when you’re anxious
when you lack wisdom
Take these moments — take the experience of anxiety or confusion as an invitation from the Spirit to lay out your concerns to God.
James 1:5 says:
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
That’s a very important verse because it tells us three truths.
First of all, God wants us to ask him for advice. We’re not bothering God. He’s interested in every detail of your life. You’re not bothering Him. He’s waiting for you to ask.
Second, he wants us to be specific about what we need. If it’s wisdom, ask for it. The more specific we can be the better.
Third, he wants us to expect an answer. In fact he says don’t pray and ask me for help unless you expect that I’m going to help you.
Did you know that whenever we expect something big from God we’re actually complimenting God? We’re actually giving God a compliment.
Because we’re saying, “God, I believe you’re so powerful that you can take care of this and I’m expecting you to answer this problem or this need in my life in a way that could never be done on my own power.” That’s a compliment to God.
Alright, so ask God for direction.
And then, number 4 is very important, because what I find is, often people will do number 3 — they might do it sporadically, but they do number 3.
They don’t do number 4.
Number 4 is this:
Listen for promptings from God.
How do I listen for promoting from God? Some of you may have never thought about that before.
Now, when I need direction — what works for me — this is the format I follow.
I’ll pray to God about my concerns. And then, because I have a hard time just sitting still and listening — my mind wonders, so I’ll spend time doing things that allow my mind to be fairly free without obsessing on my concerns.
I’ll work on projects around the house, or I’ll clean, or I’ll read, or I’ll drive in the car with no music on, that sort of thing.
And, my experience is, generally, at some point during that time, there will come a thought or an idea.
And generally — I’m not infallible on this one, but generally by the Spirit of it, and the tone of it, and the content of it, and if it’s consistent with God’s Word — I can generally discern: this seems to be how God is guiding me.
For me, God speaks to me when my mind is fairly free from concerns and distractions and things like that. That’s when I’m most receptive to hearing that still, small voice.
And this is something that we need to practice. We need to work at it.
For you, it may be getting out in nature or going for a drive.
But we need to — as well as speaking to God — we need to think in terms of spending some time listening for promptings from God.
Let me give you something else to think about with this. When you’re trying to listen to God, be aware of his presence.
We have the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives everywhere we go, and that presence is an incredible guiding factor.
A person’s presence can have an incredible impact on us. Just their presence and their person influence the choices we make. It’s amazing how it works.
A pastor friend of mine was playing golf one day in Hawaii. He was on vacation so he planned on going out by himself. But when he got to the golf course it was really busy. There was this threesome getting ready to tee off, and the guy in the pro shop asked him to join them. So he went out with three guys he didn’t know.
These guys had horrible mouths. They would cuss whenever they hit the ball. Especially one guy — and he was a terrible golfer. He would hit the ball 30 yards — and just cuss.
Well, on the third hole, they asked the question — so what is it you do?
It’s so funny how behaviors change. The next tee, the same guy tees off, hits the ball about 10 feet, and says, “Oh man.”
A person’s presence can influence another person’s decision.
Now let me ask you:
What if Jesus was in your foursome?
What if Jesus dropped by your house?
What if Jesus was hanging out in your office at work?
What if Jesus wanted to go along to the party?
Would it have an impact on your decision?
His very person would influence the choice that you make: If Jesus can’t go this direction with me, then that’s not the direction I need to go.
See, one of the wonderful things about God is he’s with us every day all day. There is nowhere we can go to escape from his presence.
Look what Jesus said in John 16:13
But when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.
For every believer in Christ, the Holy Spirit of God takes up resident in you. IN you.
He starts producing things on the inside of you that the Apostle Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit — love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and gentleness — all those things that we can’t manufacture on our own.
And he speaks deep in our hearts — sometimes convicting us, sometimes challenging us, sometimes encouraging us or comforting us; but always leading us, always prompting us to do the right thing.
He leads us gently sometimes by saying, “Hey, come on, you need to cool down right now. You need to walk away from this argument. You’re getting way too angry. Come back when you’ve cooled down and apologize.”
Ever hear that? That may be God speaking to you.
He speaks to us sometimes and says, “Hey, pull the car over. Help her change that tire.”
He speaks to us sometimes and says, “Come on, you’ve got the money. Give it to that family.”
He speaks sometimes and says, “Pick up the phone and call your dad. You need to make things right.”
Sometimes he just encourages us and says, “You know what? It’s been three days in a row that you’ve haven’t looked at pornography. I’m so proud of you. Let’s make it four.”
The Holy Spirit of God guides us every single day of our lives. We just need to listen for His promptings.
Alright the next step in this process of waiting on God for direction is:
Seek counsel from spiritual mentors.
I mentioned earlier, the Bible tells us that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God, and God will give it to us. So I pray for wisdom all the time. And one of the ways that God often gives it to me is through the advice and discernment of spiritual mentors.
Look what Proverbs 13:20 says:
Whoever walks with the wise will become wise; whoever walks with fools will suffer harm.
Let me ask you:
Who do you walk with?
Who do you go to for wisdom?
Who do you take advice from?
Who do you share your dreams with?
Do you have a network of spiritual mentors?
I have found that God speaks and leads and shapes my thought processes through those people who are closest to me — people who are also following the Spirit and who want to build into my life.
It’s huge to have people in your life who can help you navigate big life decisions.
Look what the writer of Proverbs says:
Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory. — Proverbs 11:14
Now I don’t think that means you can’t make a decision in life unless you’ve passed it by 15 people to get their feedback.
It just means that we have to have voices in our lives to help us determine whether the direction of our heart matches up with God’s direction for us.
It’s good to have a few mentors who know and love Jesus and who know and love you and who are not afraid to tell you the truth.
Now we still have to run the idea through the filter of God’s Word and prayer and listening and so on, but when we bounce the idea off mentors and ask them to pray; and if they come back with a check in their spirit, it should force us to kind of step back and take another look at it.
Now, let me say this: it’s good to get counsel from trusted friends and mentors. But it’s important that we DON’T make decisions based solely on that counsel.
Because very often, people who love us channel their sense of direction through a perspective based on their fears, and their concern for our safety.
It’s hard for some of us to imagine that God would direct someone we love to face trials and difficulties.
We wrongly assume that God only leads us toward that which is happy and easy and to our advantage.
Let me say a word of caution to those of you who care about your friends — we need to be so very careful about using phrases like: “God is telling me that this is what you should do.”
We just need to be very, very careful.
More often than not, I think we should use phrases like: “It seems to me that,” or, “As I look at the situation, this is what I’m concerned about.”
But as soon as we say, “God told me” or “the Spirit has led me,” we’re in very risky territory, especially if the person is resolved in their spirit to go another direction.
And don’t assume, as I sometimes do, that if it’s requiring some kind of suffering or if it’s not going to be easy for the person I love, then it must not be God’s will, because sometimes it just is.
Justin talked about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane last week. He begged God, asking if there was any other way and if this is something he needed to do.
And God made it clear that in spite of all that Jesus would face the next day, THIS was his will, and he needed to walk in it.
And Jesus prayed to the Father, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
So, don’t make assumptions that because there’s danger it’s not God’s will. I think it’s more dangerous to say, “God told me…” when God didn’t.
Alright, so we need to seek the wise counsel of our close spiritual mentors, testing what they say through the filter of God’s word, through prayer, through listening to God and so on.
The next step in this process is:
Look for the convergence of circumstances.
Sometimes when you’re looking for direction in your life…
if you look back at your life
and you look around you
and you look at certain conversations
and past experiences
and chance meetings
and family situations
and new opportunities…
Sometimes they all seem to be converging into one direction.
So you look.
What opportunities are there?
What doors does God seem to be opening right now?
What doors seem to be closing behind me?
How do my past experiences seem to be preparing me for this direction that I sense God is leading me in?
How does it match up with who I’m becoming?
And, one more question: How does it align with my unique giftedness?
Because often times, if it doesn’t align with your giftedness, you shouldn’t be doing it.
How many of you like the show American Idol?
I like the auditions of American idol, because there will be voices that are just painful to listen to. There are people with delusions of greatness and misguided passions with misguided people in their ear.
And when they get the door slammed on them, they’ll say in the interview, “This is not going to stop me. I know I can sing. This is my dream; and if you dream it, you can be it.”
Well, you know what? No, you can’t. You can’t sing.
Now granted, sometimes when a door closes, God is saying he just wants us to persevere through the situation; but most of the times he’s saying, “Seriously, come on, this is not you. Go another way.”
It’s possible that God did not put that gift mix in you. And sometimes God will say to you, “That door is closed.”
That relationship door, it’s closed.
That career path, that door is closed.
That new house, the door is closed.
And if that’s the case, then you start the process all over again where you go back to God and say, “You know what, God, I just want to lay it all before you again. Maybe the reason I’m standing here pounding my head against the door is because it’s really my agenda, it’s really my plan and my will. So I’m going to start all over. I just want to do what you want me to do with my life. And until you open those doors, I’m going to trust in you.”
Now on the other hand, sometimes a door opens and you kind of cautiously walk through it. Sometimes something happens to affirm the direction that you just started walking. Then all of a sudden, another door opens and you walk through it.
All the circumstances seem to be converging. This is it. This is what God wants for you and it becomes clear.
Now peace is not the absence of fear. It takes faith to step out into the unknown.
Peace is the deep assurance that God is in this and that he will walk with you through this new challenge in spite of your fear.
I want to give you a verse to reflect on. This verse could really help you through some of those tough decisions you have to face.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
And I want to tell you, this is not some mystical experience for only a few select individuals. As you seek God, he gives you direction in that still, small voice inside of you.
Alright, let me give you one last thing. I know this is a lot of information. Last thing: what do you do if you don’t get a clear sense of direction? What if there isn’t a convergence of circumstances or an overwhelming sense of peace?
Any of you every wrestle with this one? You have a big decision coming up and you’re just not sure — you just don’t get a clear sense of direction?
If direction doesn’t come — this is very important — don’t force it. Don’t try to manufacture a false sense of certainty… that this is what God wants you to do.
Instead, last step:
Choose what seems best.
If direction doesn’t come, choose the best thing to do, and have great confidence in God’s goodness.
Now here’s the principle behind this one – and, again, it’s very important that we understand this one: very often, at key decisions in your life, God’s will is going to be for you to choose what to do.
Let me say that again. Very often, in your life, when you face a key decision, God’s will for you will be — you choose what to do.
And the reason God wants us to choose is God wants us to grow into fully functioning, healthy, discerning adults. That’s what God wants us to become.
Now, how is God going to accomplish this? How will he make us into people of discernment?
Well, think about it from a human perspective for a moment.
When Kathy and I had toddlers, we did everything for them. We fed them, we dressed them, we bathed them, we brushed their teeth, we took them to the potty.
Now, we have a 12 year old, 9 year old, and 7 year old. If they were still in the bathroom calling, “I’m done! I went potty, I’m done!” Something’s wrong.
Imagine our oldest coming up to me and saying, “Dad, what is your will for me to wear today? What is your will for me to eat today?”
Do you think I want that? No! I don’t want my kids to grow up to be little robots. I want them to become responsible young people who make wise decisions.
My kids need to make their own decisions because they need to learn to think for themselves. They need to learn to weigh the consequences; and in the process of doing that, they’ll get smarter. And they’ll start to take responsibility for their decisions — and in the process of doing that, they’ll become more responsible.
And, of course, they’ll make mistakes. And, if they learn from them, they’ll become wiser.
It’s just necessary that if my kids are going to become healthy adults, they need to make decisions on their own and they can’t always be told what to do.
And, in that process of making decisions, they will grow in ways that they never would have grown otherwise.
So, if my kids are to become fully developed young people, often my will for them as their father will be: you must decide.
And it’s exactly the same way with God. Often, in our lives, God’s will for us is going to be: you decide.
God’s not going to tell us exactly what to do because God’s not interested in just creating robots; God wants people.
Some of us are facing decisions, and we may not get clear direction. And we need to understand…
It doesn’t mean God’s not interested in what happens in our lives.
It doesn’t mean we’ve failed.
It doesn’t mean we’re not spiritual enough.
It doesn’t mean what we’re doing is less important in God’s eyes.
It means God wants us to become healthy people.
Now I don’t want to close this message without saying this — we’re not going to get this right all of the time. I know I don’t.
We can use Psalm 143:10 as a frequent prayer.
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.
Learning to receive direction from God is — well it’s just that — we learn to receive direction from God. It’s a process. It’s a dynamic relationship and there’s growth involved.
And if you make a mistake and you don’t get all the factors just right, it’s okay. You’re learning. You’re growing.
And I guarantee you, if you keep pursuing direction from God you will grow to recognize it more accurately and you will have fewer and fewer times when you veer off course.
We can actually come to know what the prophet Isaiah was describing when he wrote in Isaiah 30:21
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
If we listen, I believe we can learn to hear that still, small voice.
I’m going to ask you to bow your heads and close your eyes for a moment.
Would you just take the opportunity right now to reflect on this question? Do you really want to hear the still, small voice of God, even in the most ordinary of days?
Are you open to his leading? He’s not going to barge in where he’s not welcome.
So, if you mean it, I just want you to take a moment right now to ask God to be your leader. Tell him he’s welcome and you want his direction.
Say something like: “I need you’re direction here, and tell him the situation. I need your direction in my home, I need your direction in my career, I need your direction in my school, in my neighborhood.
Just invite him to be fully present in your life.
Just take a moment to pray.