Discerning God’s Will for Your Life
My kids’ favorite game is hide and seek. They are generous to take turns in the two roles of hider and seeker, but there is no doubt that the former is by far their favorite. There is just something about being sought after that is thrilling to them. Because they love it so much, I am now a seasoned veteran of the game, with countless hours of experience under my belt. I have learned from it that the best place to hide is right in front of someone. It’s a funny thing about humans, but we tend not to notice what is right in front of us, particularly when we are overly concerned with what is in our periphery.
That’s often how it is when we’re trying to discern God’s will for our lives. We get so focused on our circumstances that we completely miss what is right in front of us: what God is wanting to do in us and through us in the midst of them.
We get so focused on our circumstances that we completely miss what is right in front of us: what God is wanting to do in us and through us in the midst of them.
This was the case for the church in Thessalonica when Paul wrote his letter now known as 1 Thessalonians to them. These Christians were enduring persecution, and apparently members may have even been dying. Burdened by the stress of their situation, they became fearful and concerned that Christ’s return was delayed. In other words, they wanted to escape their circumstances. And who could blame them?
Paul, who apparently hadn’t been able to teach them about such things yet, took the time to lovingly address their concerns in his letter. Yet, with Heaven’s perspective, he was also very intentional to re-align their focus with God’s primary concern for them. In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-3 he states:
Finally, then, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification.
Progress Is Possible, but Not Automatic
Now, sanctification is a ten-dollar word, I know. So, let me unpack it a bit further: the Greek word is hagiasmos, which means “holiness.” What Paul is teaching here is that God’s primary concern for the Christians in Thessalonica in the first century and God’s primary concern for all Christians everywhere in all times is progress in holiness, or to put it another way, growth in Christlikeness.
God’s primary concern for all Christians everywhere in all times is progress in holiness, or to put it another way, growth in Christlikeness.
Because God is committed to seeing His will accomplished, as He was with the Thessalonians, He is working in and speaking to us through all of the circumstances of our lives. What is He up to? Two main things: revealing Himself and revealing our hearts. He is revealing Himself, for this is the essential ingredient in our development: we are transformed from one degree to another as we behold His glory (2 Corinthians 3.18). He is revealing our hearts because this is the core of our being, the seat of our wills, the government of our personhood and thus, the part of us that must be transformed if we are to experience any sort of fundamental change to our character.
Yet, there is something of a paradox at hand, for even though our sanctification is God’s will and He is committed to seeing His will accomplished, our growth in Christlikeness will not happen automatically. There is a difference between revelation from God to us, and an encounter with God. Revelation is not the end in itself. Rather, it is a means intended to lead us into an encounter with God. You’ve probably heard it said this way before: “Revelation demands a response,” and it’s true! This then begs the question: how are we to respond?
Revelation is not the end in itself. Rather, it is a means intended to lead us into an encounter with God.
The Way Forward: Opening to God
In some ways, God Himself is childlike – in His purity, joy, humility, and indiscriminate love. As such, He is the initiator of salvation and this is why He is continually pursuing us in our sanctification. He is always doing His part, but like my children, God also desires to be sought! And, as with my children, no half-hearted seeking will do. We’ve got to be all in. That’s the kind of seeking that comes with a promise, after all:
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13).
God also desires to be sought! And no half-hearted seeking will do. We’ve got to be all in.
“With all your heart” describes a matter that has been firmly settled, a decision that has been made so strongly that nothing is going to keep the one who has made it from acting upon it day by day, step by step, until its aim is reached. In order to make such a firm decision to seek God in this way, we’ve got to be crazy about Him!
My family and I moved into a new home recently, and one of our neighbors, a high school girl, asked to join us for church on Easter Sunday. She rode with my family and me and I couldn’t help but notice how many times she mentioned her boyfriend in such a short time. It was adorable, but it was also a poignant reminder to me of the relational dynamics of all love between persons.
Whether human to human, or human to God, relationship is a two-way street. Even though there is always one who is the pursuer, the other must reciprocate or the relationship will atrophy. This girl had made a firm decision to seek her boyfriend with all of her heart but she didn’t have to muster all of her willpower in order to make it. In fact, it was probably so easy for her to make that she’s not even conscious of it!
Whether human to human, or human to God, relationship is a two-way street.
It was this way because of how beautiful this young man is in her eyes, and this is right where all change begins – with a vision that captivates our hearts and our imaginations. Before we ever say yes to going deeper in intimacy with someone, we imagine the places we will go, the things will do, the people we will be, together. And if this vision is compelling enough, we will do our part in seeing it come to fruition.
If we find that our relationship with God has run dry, this means that we have become so hurried in our daily lives that we have tuned Him out, ever hearing but never understanding, ever seeing but never perceiving (Matthew 13:13-14). If this is the case, we’ve got to slow down and make space enough to be able to behold Him as He truly is, once again.
If we find that our relationship with God has run dry, this means that we have become so hurried in our daily lives that we have tuned Him out, ever hearing but never understanding, ever seeing but never perceiving (Matthew 13:13-14).
Once we do, not only will we become more aware of His presence and action in our lives, we will become enraptured with Him, and we will begin responding rightly to His revelations to us. We will express our thanks to Him, share our hearts with Him, talk about the things He is showing us about Himself and about us, just like we would with our spouse or a close friend. Only as we do this is He able to heal our hearts with His love and forgiveness in deeper ways, and only as this occurs will we know what it means to grow in holiness.
Copyright © 2019 Robert Naughton. All rights reserved.
Robert Naughton is the Director of Ministry Development for Strategic Renewal and The 6:4 Fellowship as well as one of the coaches for 30 Days to Personal Renewal. He is husband to Brie, and father to River, Beau, Shiloh, and Ruby. He holds a Masters of Divinity in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care from Denver Seminary.