Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pass it on – 2 Tim 1:3-6

I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. (NKJV)
Godly Parents
Have you ever asked people about their faith only to listen to their pedigree? I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about their great grandfather who was a circuit-rider preacher. Then his son was a preacher or daughter who was a missionary. But they say nothing about their own faith. They seem to feel confident that their entrance into heaven will be based on their ancestors’ faith.
They may also tie their faith to their infant baptism. Their “faithful” parents were careful to make sure they were baptized soon after they were born. Their names were registered in the church and that proves that they are saved even though their parents never took them to church after that and they barely believe in the existence of God. Even Mafia gangsters do that.

I came from a long line of Catholics. I can look at pictures of our family on my dad’s side and see several women who were nuns. Church attendance was a ritual, catechisms were drilled into us, and we were told that salvation started with baptism. However, I lived in fear of dying with a mortal sin before going to confession so it could be absolved. I can relate to the Pharisees.
Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don't just say to each other, “We're safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.” That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. (Luke 3:8 NLT)
This isn’t something that is new to our generation. The concept that salvation comes from being in a long line of faithful religious people was the same problem John the Baptist confronted. The religious Jews believed that they were saved simply because they were born into the Jewish race. The idea that their faith had to be based on a relationship with God was foreign to them. Like most Catholics of my time, they believed that if they obeyed all the external rules and were of the correct pedigree, they were OK. The need to repent from sinful hearts and seek a relationship with God didn’t register on their spiritual thermometers.
Does this mean that godly parents are of no value? Absolutely not! Paul speaks of his ancestors and his clear conscience in serving God. He also speaks of the sincere faith of Timothy’s mother and grandmother. If our faith is sincere, if we have a clear conscience, then we will teach the truth to our families as they grow up. If we are teaching a dead religion by rote and not showing in our lives the kind of faith that saves, then our religion will be of no value to our children.
For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them … (Ps 78:5-6 KJV)
It’s really quite simple. We are to teach our children about God. We are to demonstrate in our lives our devotion to God. This will show up not only in our speech but also in our actions. This is personal and not an intellectual exercise out of a book. Our children will see our faith as well as hear about it. This is the whole concept of Deut 6:5-7 where we talk about our faith (and demonstrate it) when we are at home (how we treat one another), on the road (no room for road rage or cheating at work), when we get up to the time we go to bed (all that we do in our daily lives).
Even if we follow this command it will not guarantee that our children will have faith and walk with the Lord. One day my pre-teen daughter admitted to me that she wasn’t sure she believed in God. We had a good conversation about that. I explained to her, that up to that time she believed in God because I had. Like most children, she believed whatever her parents told her. But now it was time for her to make up her own mind and believe not just because I did. Some time later, she did make up her mind and was baptized. Like many, she had a time of falling away but now, she is teaching her children about Jesus.
I just finished reading a book that addresses why so many young people abandon their faith in high school or shortly afterwards. It is the same issue that I discussed with my daughter. It’s the same problem the Pharisees had. They called it secondhand faith.[1]
Pray for Your Kids
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Prov 22:6 KJV)
I know that some believe that Prov 22:6 is a guarantee that any child who has been trained in a Christian home will eventually return if he or she wanders from the faith for a period of time. Unfortunately, proverbs are usually generalizations, not promises. They are used to teach us the best way to go but are not hard and fast rules.[2]
That’s where prayer comes in. Timothy was constantly in Paul’s prayers even though he was walking with the Lord. How much more should we keep our children in our prayers throughout their lives? Paul prayed day and night. He didn’t offer up one prayer and let it suffice for the day.

What do you do when you wake up in the middle of the night? Do you lie there as your brain starts going over the day or what you need to do when you eventually get up? As you lie there, do you ever become frustrated that you are becoming more awake and know that you really need to bet back to sleep? That only keeps you awake. How often do you use that time to pray for your children or others who need God’s work in their lives?
I think everyone should have a midnight prayer list. For me, it started as a list of the kids of friends who had wandered from the faith. I prayed that they would not get a good night’s sleep until they repented and turned back to the Lord or were saved. I had to add my own children to that list and they have returned.
Stir up the Gift
What was Timothy’s gift that needed to be stirred up? 1 Tim 4:14[3] says that the council of elders also laid hands on him, probably at the same time that Paul did. But it isn’t until 2 Tim 4:2 that we see Paul admonishing Timothy to preach the Word. It is very possible that this was his gift. However, Timothy’s gift isn’t as important for us to know as it is to see that Paul admonished him to fan it into flame or stir it up.
Many people believe that once you have a gift, that’s it. You are like the Incredible Hulk who suddenly becomes super strong whenever there is a need. Preachers who believe this often step into the pulpit without preparation.
And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. (Col 1:29 NASB)
Stirring up our gifts or fanning them to flame requires work on our behalf. Paul put all his energy and life into proclaiming the Gospel. Even though he acknowledged that God used his weakness, he didn’t sit back and expect God to make up for his laziness. Paul encouraged Timothy to be prepared or ready to preach in season or out of season (2 Tim 4:2). That means that he had to be ready when he spoke during scheduled meetings or whether he had a chance meeting with another person. While the Holy Spirit certainly guides and directs us, He also usually guides and directs us in the work and efforts of preparation.
As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace. (1 Peter 4:10 RSV)
I like the way Peter described our responsibility. We are to be good stewards of God’s grace, the gift that we have received. A good steward doesn’t sit back and wait for the spirit to use his gift miraculously. He is vigilant to see what needs to be done. He actively pursues improving the things in his care. This is what the good stewards of the talents did in Matt 25:15-17.
Let’s not be negligent in using our gifts, especially when we are using our gifts to teach our own children. Let’s leave them a legacy of godly parents so that they can see how God works and make their faith firsthand. I pray that they will be able to pass it on to their children and others as they use their gifts for God’s glory.

[1] Shook, Ryan, and Josh Shook. Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own. Colorado Springs: Watterbrook, 2013. Print.
[2] As an example, look at Prov 22:11. He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend (NIV). Try to tell the prophets who were killed or mistreated by kings that this was a promise that would always hold true.
[3] See http://ray-ruppert.blogspot.com/2011/11/using-your-gift-1-tim-414.html for my previous comments about laying on of hands.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Grace, Mercy, and Peace – 2 Tim 1:2

To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (KJV)
Paul’s Son
Have you ever mentored a younger person who was not your own? Big Brothers and Big Sisters is a secular program that provides this opportunity for many people. However good the program is, if you aren’t able to disciple the person in Christ, in the long run of eternity, you will never be able to call him or her your beloved son or daughter. The bond that Paul formed with Timothy can only be accomplished when you are both walking with Christ.
Timothy traveled extensively with Paul on his missionary journeys. While Paul certainly taught him intellectually from the Scriptures, he was also able to see the principles lived out daily in Paul’s life. As a result of that training, Paul also called Timothy his fellow worker, brother, and servant of Jesus Christ. Paul was able to entrust Timothy to encourage believers while Paul was in prison and unable to minister himself. At some point, Timothy began to pastor one of the churches.

Isn’t this the way we should be replicating the life of Christ in us?
Grace
A concordance doesn’t show many uses of the word grace in the Old Testament. However, a study of one word translated gracious (chanan) is extremely helpful. This is a root word for grace and is used extensively.
OT:2603 chanan (khaw-nan'); a primitive root; properly, to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior; to favor, bestow; causatively to implore (i.e. move to favor by petition):[1]
Please take my gift which has been brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have plenty … (Gen 33:11 NASB)
It is often used to describe God’s attitude and provision for us as Jacob described how God had shown him favor while living with his father-in-law, Laban. It is also translated as having mercy and showing pity. If you look up gracious in a concordance, you will find that it is used abundantly. When speaking of God, His graciousness is often accompanied by God’s kindness, compassion, and mercy.
What impresses me is that God’s graciousness establishes an order that I need to remember. When I think of God’s grace I must understand that I am the inferior one. He is Almighty God and I must implore His favor. There is no room for demanding or presuming on it. He extends His grace when He stoops to provide kindness. He must lower himself to deal with us.
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:6-7 ESV)
Isn’t this exactly what Jesus did? He had to lower Himself to our level to be able to show us the ultimate extent of God’s grace. He died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, something that we couldn’t do. That is the New Testament’s demonstration of grace.
In the New Testament, the word for grace and gracious translated from Greek conveys three different concepts.
NT:5485 charis, charitos, grace: 1. properly, that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech, 2. good-will, loving-kindness, favor: Luke 2:52, 3. what is due to grace: a. the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace, b. a token or proof of grace, 2 Cor 1:15, 4. thanks 1 Cor 10:30.[2]
In John 1:14, Jesus is described as being full of grace. Jesus is gull of good-will, loving-kindness, and favor. While in Luke 1:30, Mary is described as having God’s favor (the same word for grace), His good-will and loving-kindness was on Mary. In Titus 2:11-12, God’s grace is shown not only in His good-will and loving-kindness in providing salvation but His grace is shown to govern or train us to live upright and godly lives.
So what does Paul mean when He speaks or pronounces grace from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord?
To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; (Eph 1:6-7 KJV)
We have already received His grace when we are saved, as God has accepted us in Jesus by His shed blood. We have our sins forgiven in accordance with His grace. The big work has been done. Perhaps Paul is thinking about definition 3.a – the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace. God wants our spiritual condition to be one in which we are continually governed by His power. That implies a whole lot more than just considering what His grace has done for us when we are saved (Titus 2:11). We’re talking about living godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:12) in which we get rid of worldly passion and become self-controlled or better yet, spirit-controlled.
Mercy
Do not withhold your mercy from me, O Lord; may your love and your truth always protect me. (Ps 40:11 NIV)
Mercy is an attribute of God that is often mentioned in the Old Testament. When I looked up mercy in Strong’s Concordance, I was blown away by the definition.
OT:7356 racham (rakh'-am); from OT:7355; compassion (in the plural); by extension, the womb (as cherishing the fetus); by implication, a maiden:
OT:7355 racham (raw-kham'); a primitive root; to fondle; by implication, to love, especially to compassionate: [3]
Compassion, I expected, but I didn’t expect to see and the heart of mercy is the sanctity of life – cherishing the unborn child. Thirty six times in the King James Old Testament, this specific word is translated as God’s mercy. Each time these verses are read we should have a word picture of cherishing unborn children. How can we call upon God to remember His mercy and protection for us if we don’t uphold the lives of unborn children?

In Matt 18:22-35, Jesus tells a story about a servant who owed his master millions of dollars. There was no way on earth that this man could repay such a large debt. The master forgave the debt but the man was unwilling to forgive another servant who owed him a few dollars. The master confronted the unforgiving servant.
Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you? (Matt 18:33 NASU)
This is a great demonstration of what mercy means in the New Testament. The master showed mercy to one who didn’t deserve it and had no ability to repay his debt. That is exactly what happened when Jesus died for our sins. We didn’t do anything to deserve or earn God’s forgiveness, but He has granted it through Jesus.
Mercy is something we should pay forward. Pay forward means to pass on to others something we have received but haven’t earned. God expects us to be merciful to others because we have received mercy. If we are not, then we are in danger of incurring punishment. Notice that the master was first going to sell the servant before forgiving his debt. Once the debt was forgiven, there was no recourse to get it again. The punishment for being unmerciful was to be jailed. In the same way, Jesus paid our debt but if we are not merciful we will be in bondage to bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness. The punishment for being unforgiving is not lose of salvation but a miserable life.
Paul doesn’t want us to be living that way but to have God’s mercy continually showing in our lives by extending it to others.

Peace
Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. (Ps 34:14 KJV)
The Hebrew word for peace is probably one of the more well known words. Even spell-checker recognizes it. It is shalom. It is currently used to mean both hello and good-bye.
OT:7965 shalowm or shalom — completeness, soundness, welfare, peace, a) completeness (in number), b) safety, soundness (in body), c) welfare, health, prosperity, d) peace, quiet, tranquility, contentment, e) peace, friendship, 1) used of human relationships, 2) with God especially in covenant relationship, f) peace (from war), g) peace (as adjective). [4]
As seen in the Psalm, peace is something that we should be actively trying to acquire. As you look a the definition, you can see how every aspect of it is the opposite of evil. If we don’t depart from evil, we will not be able to have peace.
As long as we don’t isolate the idea of peace to welfare, health, and prosperity, but look at it in its entirety, peace is something we can seek and pursue. There are many warnings in the Bible against making prosperity or riches the focus of our lives. We must especially pursue peace in our relationships. Ultimately, we must have peace in our relationship with God and that’s where the New Testament comes in.
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: (Rom 5:1 KJV)
The Greek word used in the New Testament has some of the same description but is expanded because of the emphasis we have as Christians to have peace with God.
NT:1515 eireenee, eireenees, hee  peace,  1. a state of national tranquility; exemption from the rage and havoc of war: Rev 6:4, 2. peace between individuals, i. e. harmony, concord: (Matt 10:34), 3. after the Hebrew  Shaalowm , security, safety, prosperity, felicity, (Luke 19:42), 4. Specifically, the Messiah's peace: (Luke 2:14), 5. according to a conception distinctly peculiar to Christianity, the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoerer sort that is: (Rom 8:6), 6. of the blessed state of devout and upright men after death (Rom 2:10).[5]
Most people are focused on the worldly concept of peace which is prosperity, quiet, and contentment. Even among Christians, this is the concept of peace and that we often pursue. It focuses on us and our feelings or comfort. However, Jesus said that He came to bring us peace but not like the world’s (John 14:27). Jesus brings us peace with God. Whatever may happen in the world is temporary, but our relationship with God is eternal. Either we will be at peace with God now and forever or we will be enemies of God now and for eternity (James 4:4). There is no middle road.
From God
Whether we are looking at grace, mercy, or peace, each comes from God the Father and Jesus. There is no way that we can conjure up these things in our natural selves. Unless we are born again by the power of the Holy Spirit because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, by the will of God the Father, we can’t have these in our lives. Sure, there are people in the world who exhibit these characteristics to some extent, but it won’t be forever without knowing Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
These come from God because He has called us to our salvation before the earth was even created (Eph 1:4). That means that before we existed, before we had breathed one breath, before we had sinned one sin, God decided that we should be saved by Jesus. That takes all the wind out of our sails to boast about how good we are or that we have somehow deserve to be save. That is grace and mercy. That provides us with peace.
They come from Jesus because He didn’t have to die on the cross for our sins even though it was predicted somewhere around 700 year before that He would take our sins upon Himself (Is 53). When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, He had the opportunity to seek another way, but knowing the will of the Father, He carried out the plan as originally designed (Matt 26:39).
Our hearts are changed by the power of the Holy Spirit who is given to us when we believe (Eph 1:13). That power is just as strong as God’s power. It is the same power God used to raise Jesus from the dead (Eph 1:19-20). Because our hearts are changed and we have the Holy Spirit living in us, we have that power now which enables us to have grace, mercy, and peace.

[1] Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.
[2] from Thayer's Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.
[3] Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.
[4] from The Online Bible Thayer's Greek Lexicon and Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, Copyright © 1993, Woodside Bible Fellowship, Ontario, Canada. Licensed from the Institute for Creation Research.
[5] Ibid

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Determining God’s Will – 2 Tim 1:1

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus. (NKJV)
Will of God
Have you ever read Acts 1:15-26 where the Apostles gather together and decide to elect another Apostle to take Judas’ place? When you read, ask yourself some questions. Were the Apostles at that time filled with the Holy Spirit? Did the Holy Spirit in them after Jesus breathed on them (John 20:22) function in their lives in the same way as He did after Pentecost? In other words, were they led by the Holy Spirit to appoint another Apostle or was this their own ideas. If you haven’t read it in a while, stop now and read it.
As you read and see the verses Peter picked from various locations, do you ever wonder why scholars today tell us not to randomly pick verses out of context and use them to determine God’s will? Did Peter do exactly what we are told not to do? Did the Holy Spirit guide Peter to these verses or was this His human understanding? Certainly, the Scripture must be fulfilled, but was it through the actions of these men or was it fulfilled later when Jesus picked Paul on the way to Damascus?
When we want to know the will of God, do we do the same thing that these men did by deciding the criteria and then narrowing down the candidates before asking God to choose? They ended up with two men and surmised that God had chosen one of them. They finally ask God to pick one of their choices by casting lots. They didn’t give God a third choice, none of the above.
Matthias may have been God’s choice to replace Judas, I really can’t be the judge, but there is plenty of room to believe he wasn’t. Many argue that since it was recorded in Acts that it must be. However, we also find the mistakes, sins, and failures of other recorded in Scripture without explanation. A good example is when Jephthah sacrificed his daughter to fulfill a vow (Judg 11:29-39). The Bible doesn’t record anything other than the facts, there is no judgment of whether it was right or wrong. God can teach us in positive ways as well as by showing mistakes.
We can make our choices based on our own understanding and ask God to choose between the options or wait for God to show His choices and accept His selection.
When Paul says that he was an apostle of Jesus by the will of God, he had a lot of experience and demonstrations of God’s work in him. He had the confirmation of Jesus’ words to Ananias that said he was a chosen instrument to carry the name of Jesus to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). He had miracles where people were healed when they had touched something that Paul had touched (Acts 19:12). Certainly Paul was proven to be an Apostle.
Many times, we have to wait for the outcome of our decisions to understand whether or not we have followed God’s will for life decisions. (These don’t include the decisions that are not clearly described in Scripture.)
We also need to be careful about using worldly methods to try to determine God’s will. These are very much like personality tests that use biblical terms but are really looking at our natural abilities, not our spiritual abilities or gifts. I would venture to say that many people have taken a spiritual gifts quiz and therefore think they know their spiritual gifts. I can’t find any place in the Bible where we are told to take a quiz to determine our gifts or God’s will.
What’s wrong with quizzes to determine our gifts or God’s will? I looked up some of the quizzes for determining God’s gifts. They are all based on answering questions about our desires, interests, or abilities relating to ministry. In that they are related to ministry, they are good. In asking about out desires, interest, or abilities is the potential for disaster.
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart's desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. (Ps 37:4-5 NLT)
Psalm 37:4 is often quoted as one of the reasons to use our desires as a way to determine our gifts. This is a great verse as long as we are delighting in the Lord. The problem is that we often don’t have our total delight in the Lord and our desires are corrupted by our sinful nature. In fact, our desires are quite deceitful (Eph 4:22). Seldom is verse five quoted along with verse four. Instead the emphasis is on my desires and my interests that are not necessarily committed to the Lord. Then there is the problem of taking the verses out of context. Psalm 37 it primarily about how to keep from falling apart worrying about all the evil in the world. While there is instruction for doing good in the Psalm, it is very general.
Then Moses said to the Lord, "Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since Thou hast spoken to Thy servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." And the Lord said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? "Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say." (Ex 4:10-12 NASB)
Should we focus on our natural abilities to determine our gifts? If so, then Moses should have never been chosen to lead God’s people out of Egypt. When we think that our natural abilities are so important in determining our gifts or what God wants us to do, we miss the obvious fact in Scripture that God can and will change our abilities as well as our desires. Moses couldn’t speak well and even though Aaron was provided to speak, Exodus records Moses’ words not Aaron’s. God changed this man so that he could fulfill the ministry appointed to him. He changed both his desires and abilities.
Moses isn’t the only example; Jeremiah was empowered by God (Jer 1:6-7). Even Saul, who departed from walking with the Lord, was a changed man after he was anointed to be king of Israel (1 Sam 10:9-12).
Bezalel, Oholiab, and others were given skills and abilities by the Lord to make the tabernacle and articles for worship in the tabernacle. God gave them the skills and He also stirred in their hearts to do the work. The confirmation that this was from God came when Moses called them (Ex 36:1-2). While it is possible that our natural abilities and desires are what God uses, there should be confirmation by being called either by a leader or directly from God.
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor 12:9 RSV)
When we focus on our natural abilities, we usually take pride in our accomplishments. When God changes us and gives us the ability to accomplish His will through our weaknesses, He gets the glory and we get the blessing of knowing that is God working in us. I remember being given the task of organizing a church potluck as part of an evangelism weekend. This was so far out of my league that it would have been impossible if God hadn’t come through. I scoped out the fellowship hall and arranged tables for 250 people, at least one third more than had been to other potlucks. I blindly asked people to bring food based on the first letter of their last name. I’m not even sure where we found all the volunteers to help. It was an astounding success and it wasn’t because of me.
I would venture to say that there are more examples of God using people’s weakness than there are where He chose people because of their strengths, desires, or interests. A good contrast is between Gideon and Saul. Gideon was hiding in fear when he was chosen. God even reduced his vast army down to 300 men to make sure the glory went to God instead of Gideon or the people. Saul was chosen because he was the epitome of the perfect leader that the people expected. He was the big macho dude who was bigger and better looking than anyone else. Even though God changed him at the beginning of his reign, look where he ended up.
Perhaps we should be looking at our weaknesses to help determine our spiritual gifts or calling. What were Paul’s interests and desires when God knocked him off his horse? His desire was to persecute the church. His interests were to protect a corrupted religious system. God completely changed those desires and interests when He called Paul.
Promise of Life
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24 ESV)
God’s will is connected to His Word. The first thing we need to understand about determining His will for our lives is that it is according to the promise of eternal life in Jesus. The promise comes to those who hear and believe. Once we have become new creatures in Jesus (2 Cor 5:17), we are promised a life in Christ that is entirely different from what we previously had when we lived in sin. We know that obedience follows or proves belief so the first part of determining God’s will is to obey what is plain in the Bible. We stop sinning and start doing good. We start praying for others and rejoicing in the Lord.
Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." (James 4:15 NIV)
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10 KJV)
However, the daily choices don’t always change. We still have to go to work or school. We have to decide what to eat, where to live, etc. Our relationships with others should certainly improve but we often want to know what God’s plans are for us on a larger scale. We may not fully understand what He wants us to do with our lives but we start by committing our plans to Him. If we are prompted by God or circumstances, if we’ve examined our motives to get rid of selfish desires, then we can set out with confidence that it is God’s will for our lives.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10 NASU)
Jesus wasn’t talking about an abundance of things but the quality of our lives. The Living New Testament translates this as a rich and satisfying life. This is what Paul had after becoming a Christian in spite of all the suffering he endured. If we are daily (even moment by moment) walking with the Lord and, we will be satisfied in our life. If we are not satisfied, then we have to examine why. Is it because we have desires that are not being met because they are not what God wants? The Bible calls them lusts. Does He want us to be unsatisfied not because we are doing something wrong or have wrong motives, but He has something else in store for us? Paul’s desire to preach the Gospel was so strong that he knew it would be terrible for him if he didn’t (1 Cor 9:16).
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Tim 3:12 NKJV)
Don’t assume that having a rich and satisfying life means that everything goes the way we want and that we are happy all the time. Just as Paul faced obstacles in his ministry, we need to be ready to overcome problems in our lives. When we say, “If the Lord wills we will …” (James 4:15 ) then we need to be able to discern what He wants when we are prevented from doing what we thought was His will. It isn’t easy.
And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don't know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. (Acts 20:22-23 NLT)
 How did Paul know that the Spirit had constrained him to go to Jerusalem? Can we know God’s will in the same way? Later, Paul was warned by Agabus that he would be bound and turned over to the Gentiles (Acts 21:10). Luke and Paul’s traveling companions urged him not to go to Jerusalem but Paul said their counsel was breaking his heart for he was ready to be jailed or die for Jesus. They responded, “The Lord’s will be done” (Acts 21:10-14).
We can look at what happened to Paul and say that he was obeying the Spirit by going to Jerusalem. The result was witnessing to governors, kings, and eventually, Caesar. He spent time in dungeons and wrote several epistles from there. What would have happened if Paul had listened to Agabus and decided that the Spirit was warning him to stay away from Jerusalem rather than compelling him to go? What would the end of the book of Acts looked like? How would Paul’s letters to the churches been different? If we trust God completely then we know that the important things would have been accomplished exactly the way He wanted either way.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Prov 3:5-6 RSV)
I think that there are times when we simply have to trust God. If we are walking with Him and acknowledging Him in all our ways, then we trust that our decisions are what He wants. Let this bring peace to your decisions.