Just Let God LeadErwin W. Lutzer | December 31, 1995
Selected highlights from this sermon
In this sermon, Pastor Lutzer discusses the popular issue of pursuing God’s will through Jesus’ words in Matthew 7.
Without fearing what God might say, we are encouraged to prayerfully ask of God, seeking the Lord in the Scriptures as they clearly show us God’s ways. In addition to asking and seeking, we are led to keep knocking, putting aside all distractions. We must investigate and pursue the holy desires that we believe that God has given us, being willing to submit to God’s direction.
Our daughter, Lisa, has sent applications to a number of universities and schools, and they are accepting her. What’s confusing to her is she does not know which one she should attend. It has to do with this thing that we call God’s will. It would be easier, you know, if you sent in three applications and were only accepted in one school, but when you’ve got three or four or five then it becomes more difficult.
Some of you don’t know whether or not you should get married, and you’ve been in a relationship and sometimes it’s on and sometimes it’s off, and that’s very normal. It’s only proof that you are very human. The problem is yours has been going on for seven years. It’s about time that you made up your mind I would suggest. But you don’t know God’s will. Right?
You’re given a job offer and it seems reasonable enough and it’s in the south where it’s warmer and you’d like to go. You’ve got some relatives that live in the north. That’s another reason why you think that it might be nice to go to the south, but you’re not sure about God’s will.
You may have illness and you don’t know what kind of medical treatment to have. After all, we have so many options, and you don’t know what is God’s will.
This elusive thing that we keep calling the will of God! Don’t you wish that at the beginning of every year God would send us a Day-timer with every day laid out? You simply go through it and flip through it and you know day after day what it is you are supposed to do, and it would be even better if every single appointment and every single decision that you have ever been asked to participate in would already be written out and then you could just do it. It would be easier, but you know I think that God even has something better than that, though it does require some faith. But oh how we wish that He would just come down from heaven and say, “This is the will of God.”
Well, we are going to talk about that will today, and I want to begin with five presuppositions that are going to govern everything that I have to say. Five presuppositions – five underlying truths that will support everything else!
Number one, God is willing to guide us. He really is willing to guide us. I know that that is hard to accept because we’ve all been in situations in which it is as if God has folded His hands in heaven and says, “You’ve got four options. I dare you to choose the right one. I just dare you.” And so what we’d like to do is to read His diary and get out a magnifying glass and see what the fine print has to say, and we’d like to peer into the mysterious hidden resources and recesses of the Almighty’s mind. But the will of God is a mystery that is wrapped in an enigma, we say to ourselves, and now we’re supposed to find it. It’s easier to find a needle in a haystack. Well, I want you to know today that God is willing to guide you. He’s not playing hide and seek. He’s not trying to play hard to get. He does not delight in our confusion.
It was Archbishop Trench who said regarding prayer that prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance but laying hold of God’s highest willingness. So get over this idea that God is reluctant to guide. He is not reluctant to guide you.
The second presupposition is that God is able to guide you. See, it would be one thing if he would be willing but then He’d be incapable of doing it. God has so many different ways that He can guide us that it’s just unbelievable. He can close a door or He can open a door. He can give you peace or He can give you unrest. He can lead you to people who give you ideas and people who can give you wisdom, and He can work out all these things according to the counsel of His own will. In my experience God has often guided me, though I have been totally unconscious of it. Specifically God has guided me when I haven’t even prayed for guidance. I was just doing what you’re supposed to do when God guides you because most of the will of God is that clear.
Some of you have heard this story before, but I should tell it at least every five years. A year before I became the pastor of Moody Church I was coming here and dropped my family off. We had never attended here before and you know the story of that man. I can still see him today with his hand in his pocket. It was clear to me he was getting his keys out, and then he was walking across the street and I waited for him to get a parking space. And he drove out and I backed in. Have you ever had the difficulty of finding a parking space? Not around Moody Church, have you? Don’t you know that that’s the will of God? Why don’t you rejoice when that happens? You say, “This is God. This is proof that He wants me here.” We usually think the opposite, don’t we?
But anyway, then I came in and Pastor Wiersbe saw me in the lobby as I was trying to find my wife and kids because we had never been here before. And he said, “I am sick. I’m on my way home. Will you preach for me this morning?” And I preached that morning and I’ve been preaching here almost every Sunday morning ever since. That was a very important piece in God’s leadership and guidance, but I was unconscious of being guided. I was just doing like everybody does – looking for a parking place. But God said, “I’m going to guide you.”
My wife has had those kinds of high-fives, and yours has too. My situation is not unique. You could look back and you can say, “Yes, God was there though I didn’t know it.” I sometimes have felt like Jacob. I was in the presence of the Lord and didn’t know it. That’s the second presupposition. God has many different ways to guide us. He is capable of it.
Third, God’s priority isn’t first of all our happiness. Our happiness isn’t his first priority. What He’s interested in is what is best for us and not necessarily what makes us the happiest. Now there’s another way in which we could say that certainly there is no place to be as happy as within the will of God —but what I’m trying to say is that sometimes the will of God is very difficult and sometimes it involves death. You think of the martyrs over there in first century Rome, or in this century, and you find out that the will of God for them was to die young.
One day Jesus said to the disciples, “I want you to get into this boat and I want you to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.” Were they in the will of God? Ho, were they in the will of God. Wouldn’t you like to have that kind of guidance with Jesus talking to you and saying, “Get in that boat and go across this sea?” It couldn’t get any clearer than that. Finally you’ve got the guidance that you’ve always been looking for. It’s the Day-timer, right? And it’s right smack in the middle of the will of God. In obedience to Christ they encounter the greatest storm that they have ever experienced.
I want you to know today that just because you are having difficulties does not mean that you are outside of the will of God. Just because you have a job you don’t like doesn’t mean that that isn’t God’s place for you. Moses had a job that he didn’t like for forty years and it was God’s place for him. Just because you’re struggling in your marriage doesn’t mean that you married the wrong one. You see, sometimes in the will of God there are difficulties. So it’s not always easy.
Presupposition number four is a little more difficult to accept and that is that ordinarily God does not show us His will until we are willing to do it. Ah, that’s the catch. Ordinarily God does not show us His will until we are willing to do it. You see, most of us look at the will of God this way. We say, “Well God, so You have a will. Fine! Tell me what it is and then I’ll decide whether or not I’m going to do it.” We do it a little bit like we do a job search. If you have a number of different options, you want to know what the salary is, you want to know what the benefits are, you want to know what perks come along with it, and you want to have them fax all that material to you. And then you negotiate a little bit and you encircle some of it and you say, “I’d like to have this changed and this changed,” and then they give you a final offer and then you write back and say, “I don’t think I’ve had your best offer yet.” And that’s the way in which we wish God would do it.
“Lord, show me your will and if I like it I’ll do it,” and God says, “No. What you have to do is to do this a little differently. You agree to do whatever I’m going to show you. You sign on the dotted line and then you let Me fill it in.” And that’s the difficulty with us. We don’t like to do it that way, but ordinarily God does not show us His will until we are willing to do it. He doesn’t guide us unless we are willing to be guided first.
And finally, the will of God is a lot clearer than most of us think. We think that it is this mystery wrapped in an enigma, but actually so much of the will of God is clear. It’s only sometimes when there are some big decisions, it is true, where we wrestle, but most of life is very clear. In fact, the Bible has a lot to say about God’s will, and a lot of things are clearer than we would like to believe. It’s just that we struggle with giving up control of our lives. That’s the problem, but there is so much that is clear. In fact, by the time this message is over you’ll know exactly what to do. You won’t be able to leave here today and say, “Well, you know, he preached but he didn’t tell us what to do.”
Today you are going to find out exactly what to do and I don’t want anybody coming up to me afterwards and saying, “You know, it was a nice message but I don’t know what to do.” No, if this was a nice message then you know exactly what you are supposed to do. All that you need to do is to get on with it. That’s the agreement so you hang in for the next 15 or 20 minutes.
The passage of Scripture that we are going to look at is Matthew 7:7. Jesus is in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, and someday I’m going to preach a message entitled “”. That’s before we have an offering. But this is the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is in the middle of it and He says these words, and He’s talking about prayer, but certainly this includes guidance. Isn’t guidance what a lot of our prayers are all about?
Christ says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” It’s very clear.
What Jesus says first of all is, “I want you always to learn to ask. You ask.” So those of you who are confused with God’s will because you don’t know what to do, I begin by asking you if you have asked. Now you have to ask with the right motive because you just can’t ask for anything. You can’t be like the schoolboy who was heard praying after an exam, and he kept mumbling, “Tokyo, Tokyo.” And somebody said, “What are you praying about?” And he said, “I’m praying that God will make Tokyo the capital of France.” (laughter)
You know God doesn’t answer all of our prayers even if they are absurd or silly or just plain selfish. James says, “You ask and you receive not because you ask amiss that it might be consumed upon your own lusts.” So you ask, but you ask for wisdom, you ask for guidance, you ask for all those things that will make you holy. That’s what you ask for. And you ask for guidance.
Now in the Old Testament David and Saul had a lot of interaction. There were many differences between David and Saul. There’s a whole message actually on how they handled crises in their lives, but one of the things about David is whenever he came across an important decision it says he inquired of the Lord. Yesterday I took a concordance and I looked up the meaning of the word inquired and discovered that sometimes it is spelled with an “i” and sometimes with an “e” but David inquired of the Lord. David said, “Lord, shall I go to battle against the Philistines?” and the Lord said, “Yes,” and then some of his advisors tried to talk him out of it. And so it says that he inquired of the Lord a second time. He just wanted to get it straight. Now in those days God spoke to David directly, you see. David actually heard words, so that was a little different because God doesn’t do it that way today because He has already given us enough of the Word, but the point is that David kept asking. On the other hand it says only once that Saul inquired of the Lord and the Lord did not hear him because Saul was living in disobedience. He was into his own agenda. He wanted God now to come along and to help him in his own rebellion and God didn’t hear him.
So interestingly the very next verse says that he went then and he inquired of the sorceress. You remember he went to this witch at Endor. And I thought yesterday that that’s a reason why many people are into the New Age movement today. That’s why so many people read the “horrorscopes.” It’s because they pray to God and they think, “Well, you know, God isn’t listening.” God does not hear them. That is true. They are not coming to God in the name of Christ. They are coming to God on their own terms and so God is silent and the heavens are silent and so they turn to all of these other occult forms of guidance, which God, incidentally, abhors.
Well, what does it say? It says, “Ask.” Why is it that we don’t ask? There are two reasons. Number one, we think in advance that we know what the will of God is. I’ve often thought that. I’ve just thought, “Well, this is the will of God. This seems like a reasonable decision,” and it turned out that it was quite unreasonable. The other thing - and I think that now we are getting to the heart of the matter - is the reason that we often do not ask is because we fear that God is actually going to give us an answer that does not agree with what we really want to do. We would rather not ask.
What’s the most important decision that you could ever make in life? It is whether or not you become a Christian. What is the second most important decision? It is whom you marry. That’s the second most important decision.
Now it’s interesting that in the process of time when you do some marriage counseling and you try to help couples solve their problems, I sometimes ask them a question which you can’t ask unless you ask in the right way. And unless you’ve built the relationship and unless you have really gotten close to the situation, you don’t want to just ask a question like this. But I’ve sometimes asked people later on in reflection, “Did you really pray about your decision? Did you ask and give God a good, sane, decent chance to break you up?” See, unless you do that you’re not really asking. You are only pretending to ask.
Here are some of the answers as I remember them. “No, we didn’t. I felt uneasy about it but I had invested so much in the relationship I couldn’t back out.” Here’s somebody else. “No, I didn’t ask because I assumed that because she was a Christian it would work out all right.” And then here’s the real winner here. “Yes, I did ask. I didn’t have peace about the decision but I prayed until I did.”
I want to tell you something today. Peace is only one part of the puzzle of the will of God and if you really want to do something and you are determined to do it you can pray yourself into peace. Even the devil will give it to you if you want it bad enough. I’ve seen people do some very foolish things because they had peace about it. They had disregarded some good counsel and they’ve thrown it all out and they’ve said, “Well, I have peace.” Watch that peace because it’s only one piece of the puzzle.
Now you say, “Well, what do you do then if you didn’t pray about it?” Well, guess what! God has a whole brand new will for you. Those of you who never prayed about whom you are to marry and now you are married -smile. God has a whole new will for you, and that is to be faithful and to see Him work a will within your marriage because, you see, we have to get over this idea that the will of God is somehow this path that we must tread very, very carefully, and should we ever fall to one side or the other, or should we ever take a wrong path when we come to the fork in the road, that God suddenly gives up on us and says, “Well, you know they’ve taken this wrong path and there’s nothing I can do with them now.” No! After you take the wrong path and you begin to submit to God, the asphalt under your feet turns out to be the will of God. God has as many possibilities as there are messes in this world. Don’t we serve a great God? In fact, I don’t care where you are at today, if you are willing to submit to God and do whatever He wants you to do, no matter whether it is a mess of somebody else’s making or your making, today you can look into the mirror and say, “I am doing the will of God.” That’s right, and we’ll explain how that is in just a moment.
But Jesus says first of all, “Ask!” Have you asked God for guidance? Have you asked, telling Him that no matter what He shows you, you are going to do it?
Secondly, seek and you shall find. And how do we seek? We seek through the Scriptures. We seek God through the Scriptures. Beyond the sacred page I see Thee, Lord. Now when we begin to search the Scriptures, by the way, we suddenly discover it is filled with references to what God’s will is. Romans 12:1-2 say, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Now there’s something that you can do today. You don’t have to wait for a light in the sky. You don’t need a revelation. You don’t need a Day-timer for that. You submit yourself to God. You pull yourself onto that altar and then you stay there and if you crawl off, you crawl back on to it.
How do you like this? “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ concerning you.” I am convinced we will never overcome temptation unless we give thanks for it and see God’s hand in it as an opportunity to test our loyalty. The giving of thanks transforms the way in which we see reality. Now there’s the will of God that you can do today. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is what I quoted, but also 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says, “This is the will of God, that you abstain from fornication.” Now there’s something that is the will of God that is clear and unambiguous. And here’s the point now. If we are willing to walk in those areas that God has revealed, He will give us guidance in those areas that He has not revealed. You walk in the light and God will give you more light. You walk in this light and God will give you the ability and the wisdom to make those decisions about which the Bible has nothing directly to say. So we seek God through the Word and then we wait on God. “My soul, wait thou only on God for my expectation is from Him.”
We wait on God with the full expectation that He is going to give us guidance and leadership and He will show us the way in whatever way He chooses to do that. And then you know what we discover. When we begin to seek we suddenly see the will of God in an entirely different way. No longer is the will of God simply making the right decision, but it is the right devotion. And no longer is it this mysterious path. Suddenly the will of God becomes a person, namely our relationship with God and that becomes the important factor in our decisions. And we begin to see that knowing the will of God is basically, at root, knowing God - and so we seek.
And then we knock. And I’m sure that Jesus was still thinking about us knocking at the gates of heaven. And we keep knocking, and we knock and we knock. Bunyan in his Pilgrim’s Progress (which incidentally is going to be available to be purchased in a new English translation) said that when Christian was knocking on the gate there was a dog barking. You’ve had that experience. You know, you come to a mansion and you’d like to think that this is where your friend lives, or you are looking for some kind of guidance or direction or something, and you feebly begin to knock, and your knees are knocking because you are scared, and then all that you need to do is to hear this wild sounding dog come running out. And you know, you are just terrified.
You know, that’s the way the devil does it. We come before God and we begin to knock and we hear all of these voices, and there’s all this anguish and there’s all of this opposition and there are all of these questions, and there are all of these doubts. It’s the dog barking but if you continue to knock the owner comes to the door and as soon as the owner comes to the door the dog backs away and minds his business. The owner says “Shhh,” and you discover that it was worth knocking.
That’s the way it is when we pray. All hell seems to come loose, and all of the reasons as to why we shouldn’t be praying come to mind. When you are praying, if you are like I am, you sometimes have to keep a notepad because it is then that everything comes to mind that you have to do. Anything that you have forgotten in the last week suddenly begins to surface. And what you need to do is to write it down (so it no longer bothers you) or pray about it. Pray about every distraction that you have in prayer. Give every distraction that you have to God. So you keep knocking.
But I’d like to extend this and say that you not only knock now in the presence of God, you begin to knock in terms of opportunity. In Revelation 3 (I believe it is), the Lord is speaking to the Church in Philadelphia, and He says, “I am the One who opens doors, and when I open them nobody can close them, and when I close them nobody can open them.” And it’s a door of opportunity. And so you begin to pursue various avenues. Are you inclined to be a nurse? Then you begin to search out nursing and you begin to move in that direction fully telling the Lord that if you are going the wrong way that He has every right to stop you, and when you live that way, He will stop you. I’ve often made decisions like that.
I’ve often said to myself, “You know, Lord, I’m going to choose to do this. This is what I’m planning to do but if I am wrong you let me know,” and God has brought all kinds of roadblocks into my life to give me guidance. And He will do the same for you. I only mention that that you might know that God is faithful if we seek the wisdom for that guidance.
Do you want to be an accountant? Aren’t you thankful that there are people in this world who want to be accountants? I thank God for them because each of them must be a very, very unique person. Do you want to do that? You pursue that.
Do you believe that God might be leading you to some remote part of the world as a missionary? You begin to investigate missions. You begin to knock. You begin to seek opportunities. You begin to send out applications. You become active where you are and God will begin to give you guidance and leadership because He doesn’t want you to just spend the rest of your life in this no-man’s-land of “I don’t know what in the world I’m supposed to be doing.”
Now there are a couple of comments that I want to make. The first is that when we do this we should do it persistently and continually. In Greek, ask, seek and knock are present tense, and Greek scholars tell us that what it really means is you ask and you go on asking, you seek and you keep seeking, you knock and you keep knocking. And it’s a continuous thing. Every single day you begin to say, “Lord, today I want to do your will, and I seek your guidance and I ask you to lead me, and I want to do what you want me to do.” And it becomes a lifestyle. It becomes a habit.
I was reading yesterday where somebody said that he didn’t seal an envelope without breathing a prayer, and he didn’t get a glass of water without breathing a prayer. And if you ride the El you shouldn’t get onto it without breathing at least two prayers. And all the way along the line we live a life of dependence. Every day is a new day to say, “God, here I am. What will Thou have me to do?” So it’s continual.
Secondly, I want you to know that even though God may not give you what you want, He’s going to give you what is best. Let’s look at the next verses of the text. Jesus said, “Is there any man who, if his son were to ask him for a piece of bread, would give him a stone?”
Now you don’t understand that verse unless you realize that there are sometimes little stones that look like little loaves of bread. You’ve seen nice round stones, and there are sometimes some fish that look a little bit like some snakes. So Jesus said, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children….” It’s there in the text. “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children (Listen to this.), how much more shall your Father in heaven give what is good to those that ask Him.”
Now the reason we often don’t want God’s will is because we don’t believe that God is good. That’s the devil’s lie. That’s what he used with Adam and Eve there in the Garden. He said, “A good God would never restrict you like this,” and so he blinds their eyes to the hundreds of trees that they could eat from, and he concentrates on the one that they couldn’t eat from and said, “A good God would never do this to you.” And today the devil does the same thing, and says, “A good God will never let you do what’s going to make you happy and free. If you really want to do what’s best for you, you have to bolt out of His control and you have to do your own thing.” Listen! That is a lie and that is nonsense.
As a father I would never give my child a stone if one of our children had asked for bread. But you know there are times when we do that unknowingly because sometimes you and I can’t tell the difference between the stone and a piece of bread. But God will never do that. That’s what the text says. You see, God knows the difference between a stone and bread, and He will never give you a stone when you ask for bread. He will never give you something that is bad for you if you ask, you seek and you knock.
It doesn’t mean it’s always going to work out pretty. It doesn’t mean that God comes along and He takes all of our rosebushes and removes the thorns and just lets us be with the roses and the beautiful smell that they might have. You know it doesn’t mean that at all. I’ve already told you that the will of God is sometimes difficult.
There was a young man who wanted to attend seminary in America and he left Nigeria. He left a good job there where they wanted to promote him in a company in a land with a lot of poverty, but he had wealth. And he said no to it because God was giving him this strong impression that he was to come and to study in the United States of America. And he came to Dallas Seminary, and he died while a student there. It was the first time an international student has ever died while being in seminary. Now he had his wife and six kids in America.
Can we look at that and say, “Well, that was a foolish decision; God didn’t guide him?” No, my friend, looked at by the standpoint of eternity, there’s no question about it. That’s what was best, but God sees it differently than we do. And if we are evil and sinners, and if we know how to give good things to our children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to those that ask him?
Now, have you ever put God to the test? Have you ever asked Him? I told you that when you left here you’re going to know what to do. Well, you already know it. I hope that you have the verbs underlined in Matthew 7:7. I can’t tell you specifically God’s will but I can tell you that if you ask, and you seek and you knock, the promise is God will give you something good. He is willing to lead those who sign a blank check, but that’s where the rub comes.
Now there’s another category of people here today. Some of you do not know Christ as your Savior. I can tell you God’s will right now. You don’t have to say, “Well, you know I don’t really know what God wants me to do.” Jesus said to the people of His day, “This is the will of God, that you believe on Him whom He has sent.” There’s God’s will now. You can’t leave here and say, “You know, I’m confused about God’s will.” There it is. This is the will of God that you believe on Him whom He has sent.
Remember this. The issue never is to overcome God’s reluctance. We just need to get out of the way and let Him guide. Perhaps that’s the emphasis in today’s message. We let Him do the guiding, and guide He will if we come with open arms and an open heart, asking and seeking and knocking and trusting. The promise from the lips of Christ Himself is when you do that He’ll give you something good, and not something bad.
And if you will, let us pray.
Our Father, we do thank You today that many of us have experienced Your guidance, and hundreds of people are present today who could right now talk about Your faithfulness in guiding their lives. Many others are confused because they have very important decisions to make. We ask, Lord Jesus, that You shall show them that You’ve not abandoned them. You have not left them but You stand ready to give them guidance. Grant us that today we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.