13 "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin."
The thought here is about keeping your will in check, at least, when it comes to God’s. We may plan or even wish to do something, but it is the Lord who wills it. We just saw what James wrote, but let me give you another example from a story Jesus told in response to a man arguing over an expected inheritance. The story is in Luke 12.13-21, but we will pick up the story in verse 16.
16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.
This parable is referred to as the parable of the rich fool. He didn’t get rich by being a fool. And I don’t even know that he became a fool when he got rich. But I can tell you, based on this story, that he was foolish thinking that just because he wanted something, he thought it would happen. "I will do this…"
We have already seen two instances of how what we say is less important than what God decides. But how does that fit this sermon series? Well, today, I want to show you that God does invite us to know His will, and wants us to be a part of what He is doing. So, first we head back to Matthew 16.18 where we review Jesus promise: "I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH." (Matt 16.18)
The Authority Behind the Will
Last week, our focus was on the word "I" of that statement. We saw that Jesus has the authority to use the word I because He is, indeed, God. So, this week, we can begin with the idea that when Jesus says I will, it is virtually the same as God saying, I will.
But I use the word virtually, because Jesus submitted to the Father’s will by dying on the cross. Jesus came to do it. That was His purpose. That is why He came. But when the actual time came, Jesus prayed for another way to be made. He pleaded to the point of sweating blood, as Luke describes, for God, the Father, to provide another option. But even in that plea, Jesus submitted to the Father’s will when He said, “not My will, but yours.”
The truth is when we argue against God and His will, it is like biting the hand that feeds you. CS Lewis said it like this: "When you argue against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on."
A Need for Prayer
So, rather than arguing, what about praying? A lot of people say that we should get prayer back in our schools. That might be nice, but we should first get prayer back in their church. And let’s be honest, we (Fairfax Baptist Church) have to admit our own negligence here. We still meet in homes on Wednesday for our Community Groups. But our Wednesday night prayer meeting here died. It reminds me of something I heard or read many years ago:
"You can tell how popular a church is by the crowd on Sunday morning. You can tell how popular the pastor is by the crowd on Sunday night. But you can tell how popular Jesus is by the crowd on Wednesday night."
Take that as you will, but I think some truth exists in that statement.
And when we pray, what is the purpose of our prayer? It is often to get what we want – our will.
But ideally, prayer is meant to invoke God’s power. Think about it. Why else pray if you aren’t seeking help from God. But too often, we seek help on our terms, not His. Instead, what if we prayed for His power to be made known in and through us? Again, as we saw last week, in Matthew 5.16, that our good works would cause other people to glorify our Father in heaven. What if that was our purpose in prayer?
Ronnie Floyd says it like this. To invoke the power of God, we should:
- Pray in His name.
- Pray for His purpose.
- Pray with His permission.
- Pray to be His people.
When we do, we invoke the power of God. It may not happen right when we want it, but it will happen just when we need it. And again, since we are considering the idea of God’s will, His response is when He determines we need it, not us!
Now, God can invoke His power on people without them specifically praying for it. Acts 1.8 makes the promise that God’s power will come upon them, and it did at Pentecost. That same power is available to us. Because like the early disciples, we are to carry out the same purpose – make disciples in all of the nations.
Let me show you one place where the will of God was made known to all because they invoked His power through prayer. Acts 4.31 is one of the most amazing verses in the Bible for what happens when God's people prayed!
"And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness."
Is that what we want? Let’s be honest, our prayers are about being kept safe, not being made bold. Ladies and gentleman, I think that is what is wrong with this church and most every church across America. We are more concerned with our will, here described as safety, than we are in carrying out God’s will, regardless of what it takes.
This prayer was on Facebook the other day. I think we have probably all prayed a prayer similar to this, right? Do you see the problem? Nothing in this prayer is about God, it is all about me. But to make us feel like God should do it we add, In Jesus' Name. OK, good now He will bless us. But that is not what that means. Praying in Jesus' name is to pray in His character...for His purpose...in His will!
What Is the Mission?
What are the purposes of Fairfax Baptist Church? The purpose is not to be a large church in a small town. That is what we believe God will do if we are faithful to execute the purposes that have been adopted by this church many years ago. Now, we have simplified how we remember them since I came, but the three three-word phrases have been around since the summer we came, and have been on every bulletin, and nearly every handout, letter, or other document that has come from the church since. Say them with me. The objectives of Fairfax Baptist Church are to:
- Exalt the Savior
- Equip the Saint
- Evangelize the Sinner
In order to follow, or should I say, observe them, we must know that they are. The title of this post is "A Significant Purpose." These three ideas are our purpose. They are significant. But how often are we engaged doing this with other people apart from Sundays? As it relates to the idea of prayer, these objectives are about what we do, but each one is for the benefit of another. In terms of English grammar, The Savior, the Saint, and the Sinner are the direct object of the verb. And, in this case, each of the verbs, Exalt, Equip, Evangelize speaks of action. So, our actions, not just words, help us to fulfill our objectives which are ultimately for the benefit of others (though we are a part of the saint and/or sinner group). And again, these objectives are biblical so they are a part of God’s will. We just need to choose to do them.
Significance Through Sacrifice
To do God's will requires that we sacrifice our personal desires and ambitions for the sake of God’s. Paul sacrificed his personal ambitions for something greater. (Read Philippians 3.1-16). But he also gave us instructions to do it as well. A passage that is familiar to many people is Romans 12.1-2.
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. 2 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.
We are to be a living sacrifice – the plural as singular. We, the collective, are to sacrifice ourselves as a singular entity, so that we may learn to know the will of God – specifically, the good, pleasing, and perfect (complete) will of God. In the context of the passage, God’s will includes harmony among differing types of people. But the point is that these verse show not only that we can know God’s will, but that we must sacrifice our personal, and even, the worldly desires of the group (in this case our congregation) to do so. Which finally, brings me back to our central passage of Matthew 16.18. And within that passage, we see the word WILL.
How do we know what God wants? We spend time with Him? Remember, that is the recurring theme of Jesus question. Those that spend more time with Him know who He really is. And thus, knows what He really wants. We are not perfect in this by any means. But we become closer to perfect, and thus perfectly understanding Him as we spend more time with Him.
To Say, To Know, or To Do?
As we have talked about the idea of God’s will and prayer today. I want to mention one final piece. What we do is important, but why we do it is more important. Do we do what we do for ourselves or for God? If we do it for ourselves, it might be important, but it might not be significant. If we do it for God, it is both important and significant. Think of it this way. Jesus came to do both important and significant work. And now He has called us to serve Him. So if you think that you are not significant, or that what you do might not be significant, or that your purpose is not significant, consider this little bit of logic.
His purpose was significant. He chose us to do His work. Thus, our purpose is significant.
And, simply, but radically, that purpose is to carry out God’s will on earth. We even pray these words to be true, but do we mean it? "Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6.9-10, ESV). Again, do we mean it? Sure, but often only if it means someone else is responsible for the work, or especially the sacrifice! If you are like me, then perhaps you can relate to what Jesus said to His disciples in the Garden the night of His arrest, "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 27.41).
Are you willing to follow? Are you eager and willing to Exalt the Savior, Equip the Saint, and Evangelize the Sinner? Everything we do should be evidenced by one of those purposes, and doing every one of them should lead us to fulfill our vision. But that is the rub, we must not just say them or memorize them, we must DO them.
And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is: O - Observe. Jesus told His disciples, just before He ascended to heaven to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe, and to baptize, with the promise that "I WILL be with you" like His earlier promise that "I WILL build my church."
The reality is that we are going to do something. But are we going to follow our own purposes and desires or those of God? In light of Valentine’s Day I developed a little poem for the thesis of this message today. "God has a will. And a will have we. One will prevail. Which will it be?"
If we are going to observe all that He commanded, then we are giving ourselves to His will, not enforcing our own. The objectives set by our church (to Exalt, Equip, and Evangelize) are certainly biblical and, thus, are a part of what He wants us to do (observe). They are also attainable. But we don’t just want to do them for the sake of doing them. We don’t just want to observe for our own purposes. Rather, we do them for the Creator who has given us life. We do it for the Redeemer who rescued us from death. And we do it for the Sustainer in whom we have our Hope. We do it for God’s glory, not our own. And thus we must strive to do great things in a great way because He is a great God. But as I saw this week, if you faith does not have you prepared to do great things yet, then "if you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way." (Craig Stumpf)
So, what about our next steps?
Well, our next steps must build on our previous steps in this series. We need to be ready to see what opportunities God brings our way. And we need to be ready to respond. How do we do that?
First, we must remove the obstacles. What obstacles in our lives keep us from giving ourselves to God?
Second, we need a plan of action. For this church, we are in the process of creating at MAP Team. (MAP stands for Ministry Action Plan). This team will find, develop, execute, and evaluate the opportunities which come our way as a church.
Third, we must pray for faithfulness to God’s leadership. We ask Him to lead, and we respond by obeying. We can express our willingness. And we can develop plans, but until we are ready to submit to God’s will and respond to His call, then we are going nowhere. The plan will provide direction for us to meet our objectives with the goal of fulfilling our vision. But it only matters if it is God’s will. That is why one of, if not the most critical, person on the team will be the Prayer Guide who will help to coordinate not only the prayer on the team, but of the church to determine what God is leading us to do in some particular area, and even how we might do it.
That is an awesome opportunity! But we all have the opportunity to respond. And we must all respond to the opportunity. We must do more than say we will, we must actually do something. The choice is your will or His will. Like the story of the rich fool at the beginning of this message, the rich fool and Jesus made an "I will" statement. Both had their lives demanded of them before they could accomplish their goal. Yet, Jesus’ is still building His church and expanding His Kingdom through people like you and me. And we must respond by living out our mission. We must Exalt. We must Equip. And we must Evangelize. We must, in the words of Captain Picard, from Star Trek, The Next Generation, "Engage!"