Forget God’s Will for Your Life

Here are my notes for the sixth session of The Forgotten God, by Francis Chan, which includes questions for my Poster-TheForgottenGodsmall group, quotes from the book, and other observations. Remember these are notes, and not a complete article on the topic. Please purchase the book to support the author.

What might you accomplish with your life? How often is this just asking about your five-year or ten-year plan? Sadly, we often focus only on the future rather than on the here and now.

1. Why might it be safer to follow “God’s will for your life” than following God in what he may lead you to do today?

2. If you were absolutely, 100% submitted to the will of God at this moment, what do you think he might ask you to do?

Read Romans 8:1-13

That which is impossible to do, and live up to, in Romans 7 is possible in Romans 8. What makes the difference?

3. In Romans 8:5-8, Paul writes about the difference of the mind set on the flesh and set on the Spirit.

4. In Romans 8:9-13, what does Paul mention that set the Spirit-filled person apart?

5. What do you think it means to “by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). The process of following the Spirit’s leading is walking according to the Spirit (Romans 8:4, Galatians 5, 16, 25).

6. The analogy of walking: We don’t really think about the getting from point A to point B when we walk, we are focusing on the next step. Practically, what would it mean for you to walk by the Spirit in your daily life?

  • Walking by the Spirit means we are moving in a particular direction, and that direction is set by the Spirit.
  • What is the real difference between adding the Spirit to your life and actually following him step by step?
  • When you just add the Spirit to your life, you are not open to change, you want the Spirit to enhance what you are already doing.
  • When you follow the Spirit, you will find yourself changing, maybe letting go of some things that were once important to you, maybe even giving up some good things in your life.

7. Which is more frightening? Giving up everything you own or going through life without the Holy Spirit?

  • Remember the rich, young, ruler (Mark 10:17-22). He didn’t realize what was keeping him from Jesus until Jesus asked him a similar question.
  • By definition, submitting to the Spirit leading means giving up control. This is not a one-time act but a lifelong process. Walking by the Spirit comes down to daily dependence on God. Falling into sin means you are disregarding the Spirit’s leading.

Identify a particular sin in your life. What would it look like to be Spirit-led in a moment of temptation?

There can be real pressure to try harder to produce the Fruit of the Spirit. Truth is, you can’t try harder! Obedience comes through the power of the Spirit.

Quotes from The Forgotten God book:

  • And to expose our hearts to truth and consistently refuse or neglect to obey the impulses it arouses is to stymie the motions of life within us and, if persisted in, to grieve the Holy Spirit into silence. – A.W. Tozer
  • It makes sense that Jesus would say it’s to our advantage to have this “other counselor.” After all, Jesus merely walked beside the disciples; the Spirit would actually enter their human bodies (John 14:17).
  • To be honest, I believe part of the desire to “know God’s will for my life” is birthed in fear and results in paralysis. We are scared to make mistakes, so we fret over figuring out God’s will. We wonder what living according to His will would actually look and feel like, and we are scared to find out. We forget that we were never promised a twenty-year plan of action; instead, God promises multiple times in Scripture never to leave or forsake us.
  • My hope is that instead of searching for “God’s will for my life,” each of us would learn to seek hard after “the Spirit’s leading in my life today.” May we learn to pray for an open and willing heart, to surrender to the Spirit’s leading with that friend, child, spouse, circumstance, or decision in our lives right now. To say that we are not called to figure out “God’s will for my life” does not mean God doesn’t have purposes and plans for each of our lives or that He doesn’t care what we do with our lives. He does. In both the Old and New Testaments He tells us that this is true. The key is that He never promises to reveal these purposes all at once, in advance.
  • Nowhere in Scripture do I see a “balanced life with a little bit of God added in” as an ideal for us to emulate. Yet when I look at our churches, this is exactly what I see: a lot of people who have added Jesus to their lives. People who have, in a sense, asked Him to join them on their life journey, to follow them wherever they feel they should go, rather than following Him as we are commanded. The God of the universe is not something we can just add to our lives and keep on as we did before. The Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is not someone we can just call on when we want a little extra power in our lives. Jesus Christ did not die in order to follow us. He died and rose again so that we could forget everything else and follow Him to the cross, to true Life.
  • I think repentance is one of those words we hear a lot but maybe don’t incorporate into our lives very often.
  • Jesus is calling us to be willing to suffer anything and forsake everything for the sake of the gospel.
  • I say I want to give it all to God, to truly submit myself to the leading of the Holy Spirit. But I won’t lie, sometimes the reality of what that means leaves me wanting to hold back a little. There are things on this earth that I really enjoy, like surfing, golfing, eating out, and laughing with friends. I know what you’re thinking: that those things are not sinful. And you are right. But that doesn’t mean the Spirit will not lead me to forgo those things occasionally or maybe even permanently for His purposes and the glory of the Father.
  • Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not limited to the day we first meet Christ. Instead, throughout Scripture we read of a relationship that calls us into an active pursuit of the Spirit.
  • Imagine I buy a treadmill to lose some weight. Three months later I take it back to the store and complain to the clerk that it didn’t work, I didn’t lose a pound. He would asked me, “What’s the problem? Did it not work properly?” I respond, I don’t know if it works. I never ran on it. I just know I didn’t lose weight, so I am done with it!
  • Receiving freedom and healing in answer to prayer is generally not something that is done to you, a situation in which you are just a passive participant. Occasionally God works this way and simply heels or freeze a person outright. He is certainly capable of this. But in my experience, he typically asks us to play an active role in the journey toward wholeness. He doesn’t need our help but invites us to participate. Also this journey to freedom takes time, sometimes a very long time.
  • Have you been stuck in a cycle of sin for a long time? Have you given up on the Holy Spirit and resign yourself to thinking that he doesn’t work or doesn’t have the power to bring freedom, at least not in your life? If this is you, then maybe you have not internalized the reality that walking in the spirit requires action on your part.
  • The hopeful part in all this is that even when I do ignore the Spirit and sin, the Holy Spirit convicts us of that sin. Though at times we sin, we are not ruled and enslaved by sin as we once were.
  • The Holy Spirit will not, cannot, lead you into sin. If the Holy Spirit is in you, as a believer, then when you sin you are not listening to the Spirit’s leading.
  • Living by the Spirit implies a habitual, continual, and active interaction with the Holy Spirit. While this sounds exhausting, it really isn’t because all of this living and action is done in the power of the Spirit. It is not by your own strength.
  • I love the apparent contradiction in Philippians 2:12-13. Paul says in one breath, work out your own salvation, and then the next, it is God who works in you. The both-ness here doesn’t allow us to escape a simple conclusion. Yes, it is God who works in you. And yes, there is work for you to do. Yes, the spirit empowers you to do the work. And yes, you do the work.

Leaders Ask Application Questions

The point of this post is to challenge leaders and teachers. To be effective in leading your class, make sure to ask application questions that lead your group to spiritual growth. This is perhaps one of the most quoted passages in the Bible Study business:

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. (James 1:22-25)

To study the Bible, or to take a class on prayer, or discuss compassion for the poor but not do anything about what one has learned, is a waste of time.

The Word of God holds up a mirror in which we can see our own face: our character, values, attitudes, and habits. It offers us a perspective on our situation and relationships that we can’t get on our own. It also opens up a window into the realm of God, in which we see the face of Christ looking back at us. We get to compare our face to that of Christ, noting the similarities and differences. The Bible promises that we can change (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Extensive psychotherapy doesn’t change most people all that much. When change does happen, something on the order of a miracle is occurring. But the gospel insists that the Spirit of God (through the Word of God and with the help of the people of God) can and will perform this miracle in any person willing to cooperate.

So many study groups settle for educating people about God and the Christian life, but they don’t believe it’s possible for them to really become like Jesus. People like the idea in theory, but the actual process scares them.

  1. Do we really want to take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror, week after week? Can we bear to see and examine the face of Christ?
  2. Do we really want to give up our familiar paths and strike out on the uncharted territory of God’s ways?
  3. Do we really want the Spirit breaking up our concrete habits with a jackhammer?

Likely, your group contains decent people who sort of want to follow Christ but aren’t all that eager to see their lives disrupted. They are busy people who have jobs, families, bills, and housework that don’t leave them hours and hours to contemplate Christ and their lives. Discussion questions that invite them to apply the Word of God to their lives need to take into account both the mandate of the gospel (big changes) and the realities of the human condition (big obstacles to change).

Go Slow and Deep: People who are asked to take drastic action too often and in too many different directions eventually go numb in order to survive. Consider the person who hears a Sunday sermon, reads the Bible even once or twice a week, and attends Sunday School each week. If this person encounters three, four, or more calls in one week to change drastically, it’s overwhelming. Over time, people learn to tune out the guilt feelings triggered by such calls.

In your small group, learn to ask, “So what?” regularly and systematically, but ask, “Now what?” sparingly, yet with focus and detail.

  1. “So what?” invites group members to think about the implications of what they are studying. “Now what?” asks them to take action individually or together, to do something concrete about those implications.
  2. “So what?” is theoretical, general application. “Now what?” is practical, specific application.
  3. “So what?” helps people think an issue through. “Now what?” guides them step by step in a realistic plan to be doers of the Word.
  4. “So what?” questions work in at least two dimensions.
    1. The first dimension is when: helping the group bridge the gap between when the passage was written (then) and our current situation today (now).
    2. The second dimension is who: discerning how a passage applies to people in general, to them as individuals, or to them as a group.

Then and Now: One common error in Bible study is to assume that something God told someone to do in 605 B.C. is what God wants each of us to do today. A related error is to assume that God wants us to imitate everything the first Christians did without regard to the differences of situation. These errors overlook the fact that God deals both in timeless principles and in unique situations.

  1. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) is a timeless principle.
  2. “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household” (Genesis 12:1) is an instruction to a particular person, Abram.

When we get the particular and the timeless confused:

  1. We may conclude that God wants all men everywhere to be circumcised and all women everywhere to cover their heads.
  2. We may conclude, like many 19th-century Americans, that because Paul treated slavery as OK in A.D. 50, it was still OK in A.D. 1850.
  3. We may decide that since God told Joshua to practice genocide against the utterly degenerate Canaanites, then maybe our enemies deserve genocide, and maybe we have been called by God to imitate Joshua.

1. “So what?” questions always begin with what was then. The first “So what?” question should point to the original purpose of the writer or speaker in the passage:

  1. What do you think Jesus wanted His audience to do in response to this parable?
  2. What action does Paul tell the Galatians to take?

With a story, it may be more helpful to ask about how the various characters responded to the challenges they faced:

  1. How did Abram deal with his doubts?
  2. How did the apostles handle the conflict between the Greek- and Aramaic-speaking believers?

2. Next we look for bridges between then and now by asking how our situation is like and unlike the situation addressed in the passage:

  1. What conflicts do we face in our ministry? In what ways do they resemble the conflict described in Acts 6? In what ways are they different?
  2. Do you identify with the Galatians in any ways? In what ways are you similar or different?

As the leader, you should always ask yourself, “How is our situation different?” This question will help you guide the group away from erroneous applications. Joshua’s conquest of Canaan was in many ways a unique situation. The founding of the first Christian community in Jerusalem was also unique in many ways.

3. Finally, with the similarities and differences between then and now in mind, we can ask whether the passage offers any timeless (always) principles, like, “What can we learn about good and poor ways of handling doubt from Abram’s example?”

Principles can include a sin to avoid, a promise to trust, an example to follow, a command to obey, or a truth to believe. It is essential not to generalize a universal principle from a specific situation without careful thought about the differences between then and now.

Sometimes you’ll want to help people apply the passage to their personal lives. At other times, you’ll draw out a group application. Most of the Bible was written not to individuals, but to groups. The “you” in many passages is plural.

Another way of asking, “So what?” is to point people toward listening to the Holy Spirit:

  1. What do you sense the Holy Spirit is saying to us about how we relate to others in our lives who don’t know Christ?
  2. What is one key truth from this passage that you sense the Spirit is urging you to embrace?

Set aside 15 minutes at the end of your group meeting to contemplate questions. Pray, asking the Holy Spirit to speak. Then talk, with ears open.

Now What? “So what?” questions are general and ask for relevance. “Now what?” questions are pointed. They ask us to take action.

  1. How can you put this insight into practice this week?
  2. What can you do to cultivate this into a habit?
  3. What will it mean, in practical terms, for you to seek God’s kingdom first this week?
  4. How can we, as a group, obey Isaiah’s call to a true fast?

Many of your discussions will end with “So what?” questions. It is not a waste of time to help people think and feel more biblically. But sometimes, action is called for.

“Now what?” questions require specific, realistic, and measurable answers.

  1. Specific means that definite actions, rather than general goals, are specified.
  2. Realistic means that the person has devised a plan he can reasonably carry out within the limitations of his life, with the power of the Holy Spirit and the help of the group to back him up.
  3. Measurable means something concrete will be done, and at the end of a month or a year, the shift in the person’s attitudes or actions will be noticeable by an observant outsider. We shouldn’t become obsessed with measuring spiritual growth, since the most important changes are internal and may take time to affect our behavior dramatically, but it is possible to ask ourselves. What can I do to become a significantly more compassionate person by this time next year?

Bear in mind that questions about the future are often more intimate than those about the past or present. Most people don’t talk about their hopes and goals casually. When the group has been together for about six sessions or more, members will find it extremely bonding to begin discussing their hopes for who they want to become and how they plan to pursue their goals. One way of formulating this question is, “In what ways do you want to be different as a result of our studying Philippians?”

Counting the Cost: Jesus told a parable about two sons, in which one son agreed to do what his father asked but then didn’t follow through, while the other balked but eventually obeyed (Matthew 21:28-32 ). People frequently talk about how a passage applies to them but don’t do anything about it after the discussion. One reason for this is that they don’t consider the risks and costs of living the gospel. Jesus urged His followers to count the cost and to be sure they knew what they were getting themselves into before embracing the kingdom of God. Here are some questions you can use when studying a passage that you know asks something difficult, such as turning the other cheek:

  1. What are the risks of doing what Jesus says here?
  2. What would it cost you to do that?
  3. What obstacles hinder you from living that way consistently?

Then, having looked squarely at the downside, invite people to weigh it against the upside:

  1. What would be the benefits of living like this?
  2. What would motivate a person to take those risks?
  3. How can you overcome those obstacles? How can we help?

Not Just the Facts: Application questions provide the potential for spiritual growth. They take us beyond learning facts about a passage of Scripture. We discover how the passage applied to its original readers, how that ancient situation connects with our modern world, and how to do something with what we’ve learned. This process helps us become doers of the Word, not merely hearers, and as the Scriptures promise, such people (and such small groups) “will be blessed in their doing.”

Thanks to Karen Lee-Thorp, Discipleship Journal, July/August 1998 [print_link] [email_link]

Loving When It’s Hard

We are called to love God and love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39), and by our love all men will know that we are His disciples (John 13:35), and we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), but sometimes it’s pretty difficult to do all this. Isn’t it great that God doesn’t leave us to do it on our own? He wants to live through us (Galatians 2:20).

Quotes:

Our love to God is measured by our everyday fellowship with others and the love it displays. — Andrew Murray

There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread. — Mother Teresa

Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them? — Abraham Lincoln

Top 10 Ways to Love When It’s Hard:

  1. Pray regularly for that person, even if he feels like an enemy.
  2. Look for practical ways to serve him, even if he doesn’t know.
  3. Be available; time is the most precious gift you can offer.
  4. Take opportunities to honor and speak well of that one.
  5. Include him, when appropriate, in special activities.
  6. Sometimes a hug or brief touch can communicate what words cannot.
  7. Take the risk to share your heart with that person; be the real you.
  8. If possible, worship or pray together or in a small group.
  9. Journal your desire for God’s good in his life.
  10. Thank God for changing your thoughts about that person.

Cultivating Courage

Men are supposed to be brave. We are supposed to be like Jack Bauer (on the TV show 24), willing to step up when the need arises, no matter what the cost, no matter what the pain, just because the mission is more important than any personal comfort or safety. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is essential.

Courage makes a good theory, but sometimes we need help to practice it. We have many opportunities each day to step out of our comfort zone to serve God. When we don’t have courage, we need to be reminded of God’s promise in 2 Timothy, and we need others’ encouragement to take the leap of faith.

Perhaps you need someone to tell you: Volunteer for that job at church because they need you. Teach that class. Have lunch with your co-worker to discuss matters of faith. Maybe you should join that small group, or the Men of Steel. Remember the mission that Christ gave to us, to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). First we seek the lost (Luke 19:10), because God is seeking true worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23).

We recently read the book of Esther, which tells a story of love, sacrifice, and God’s timing. Mordecai, a Jew in exile, refused to bow to Haman, second in command to King Ahasuerus. Haman became furious and plotted to destroy Mordecai and all the Jews. So Haman deceived the king and persuaded him to issue an edict condemning the Jews to death. When Mordecai told his cousin Queen Esther about the edict, he urged her to intervene. “Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” he said (4:14). Approaching the king uninvited was punishable by death. But Esther seized the moment to save her people!

When we are able to rescue others, we should do so at all costs. Ask God for His direction and act! He may have placed you here “for such a time as this.”

Be courageous for Jesus. Be obedient to the point of risk. Sometimes it takes just that first step of courage to serve our wonderful Savior.

Erwin McManus has something to say about courage.

Try these steps for size:

  1. Identify your calling.
  2. Identify your fears.
  3. Consider how your fears will thwart your calling.
  4. Consider the authority of Christ over your fears.
  5. Trust God’s ability rather than your limitations.
  6. Decide whether you want a life of compliance or rebellion.
  7. Always choose obedience in the face of fear.
  8. Join forces with others of similar calling.
  9. Remind yourself that God’s side wins.
  10. Embrace the adventure of a life of significance.

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