To finish up our series on Discovering God’s Will I asked the Boy Scouts for some help on how to use a compass. While I have done a lot of hiking in my life, I have always hiked on marked trails so I never knew exactly how to work a compass so Don Reed was kind enough to give me a quick lesson. The key to using a compass is that you need to know where you are starting and where you want to end up. Once the compass points north and you orient the map you can set your bearings on your destination and then just move in that direction. It is important to keep coming back to the compass to make sure you are walking in the right direction – if not you get off course and end up lost or in the wrong place.
So the key to using a compass is knowing exactly where you want to end up, you have to know the destination in order for the compass to show you the direction to go and the same is true with discovering God’s will – when we know our destination the path God sets before us is much clearer to see. So to really understand God’s will for our lives we need to have a general idea about our destination and we are going to call that VISION. A vision is a picture or image of where were we want to be or what we want in our lives. We might have a vision of what kind of marriage we want, or what kind of parent we want to be. We can have a vision about the kind of career we want and how we want our finances to look in 5 years or 10 years or when we retire. We might have a vision of the kind of disciple or follower of Jesus we want to be by the end of this year or how we want to share our faith with our children. Having a vision of where we want to be or WHO we want to be is important because that vision not only helps us discover the direction we need to go today but it helps us know God’s will and make the right decisions every day. Andy Stanley says, as our vision get’s clearer, the options we have get fewer so the decisions we have to make get easier.
Let’s examine how this works using the example of a marriage. If you are single, think about the kind of marriage you want. If you want a marriage where you can share your faith and have a partner that will work with you in mission and take seriously living out your faith then that vision will narrow down the choices you have in dating. I have to say that in my time as a pastor I have seen a lot of people fall in love with someone who doesn’t share their same passion or priority for faith and yet they go ahead and get married anyway thinking that things will change and then a year or so later wonder why they don’t have the kind of marriage they want. They are upset that their spouse doesn’t want to go to church or join a bible study or go on a mission trip with them, but they didn’t hold on to their vision of marriage while they were dating so they got off course and ended up in the wrong place or with the wrong person. If we have clear vision of what we want and stick to that vision it will show us God’s direction for our lives today.
If you are currently married, let me ask you this, do you have a vision for where you want your marriage to be 5 years or 10 years down the road? Do you have a vision of the kind of relationship you want with your spouse? If you want to be able to communicate more or be stronger in our faith together or be better able to work through your problems then it will mean you will need to do some things today and tomorrow to get there. Again the clearer the vision is for your marriage the more that vision can give direction to the choices you make today.
Think about how this works with our finances. If our vision is to get completely out of debt in 5 years, then there are some decisions and choices we need to make today to make that happen. If we have a vision for what we need for our children’s education or for our retirement, then again, that destination will give direction to our financial choices today. It will help us decide what kind of car to buy or how often we go out to eat or how much of a mortgage we are willing to enter into. You begin to understand how having a clearer vision of where we want to be and what God wants for our lives helps narrow down the options that are truly viable for us which makes the decisions we face today easier. The clearer the vision of what God wants for us the easier it will be for God to direct us.
Now my guess is that most of us have some kind of vision for our lives. If I were to ask you what kind of family you wanted to have in 5 years – you would have some idea of what you want. Maybe it is having children or another child or maybe it’s seeing all your children out of the house and off on their own. It may not be detailed and specific – but you would have a general idea of where you want to be. You might have a general idea of where you want to be financially or in your career or in a new career but most of us would be able to say something about the vision we have for the future. The clearer that vision is, the more we will discover God’s will and if the vision we have for the future needs to come into focus there is something we can do about it and the first thing we can do is write the vision down.
Take some time this week to write down where you want to be in the key areas of your life like your marriage or as a parent. Where do we want to be in our finances or in our faith? As we being to identify this vision and bring it into focus, the second thing we do is to ask God to give it shape and God can do this through his word. Last week we looked at how God’s word can help us discover God’s will by showing us principles to follow. For example in trying to clarify what kind of parent we want to be, we might say that we want to be the kind of parent who helps our children grow up to have a strong faith because a principle of God’s word that we want to hold to is totrain a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it (Proverbs 22:6).
So there is a Godly principle that can shape what kind of parent we want to be which in turn gives direction to the choices we make today. To train a child in the faith means bringing them to worship on a regular basis and maybe coming to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. Maybe it means we start praying together as family when we sit down to dinner – or maybe just making time to sit down to dinner. It might mean finding ways to serve God together as a family or even think about going on a mission trip together.
So you begin to see the importance of God’s vision for our lives and how it helps us understand the will of God for today. But it is also important to have a clear vision because that vision keeps us moving in the right direction so we don’t wander away from the will of God. A compass helps keep us moving in the right direction so we actually get to our destination but the compass will only work if we are willing to keep it in front of us and check it often and the same is true with God’s vision. We need to keep God’s vision for our lives in front of us and check it often so we don’t get distracted and pulled away into other directions. There are so many things out there that we could be doing and many different paths we could be taking and a lot of those things are good, some of them very good, but they may not be the best thing for us and so we need to stay true to the vision God has given us. Let’s look at a story from the Old Testament that teaches us this principles of staying focused on the vision, it is the story of Nehemiah.
To understand the story of Nehemiah we first need to remember some of the history of Israel. In 586 BC the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians and all of Israel was forced into exile. The Jewish people were taken away into Babylon where they lived among foreign people for close to 50 years. Eventually Babylon was overtaken by Persia and the Persian King, Cyrus, allowed some of the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem. In 538 BC people returned to rebuild the Temple, and in 516 BC the Temple was completed. People settled into the area around the city of Jerusalem, but there were no city walls so the people were not safe from their enemies. In 445 BC news of the city walls in ruins comes to Nehemiah and he gets a vision of rebuilding the walls. That vision leads him to Jerusalem with all the supplies he needs to rebuild the walls and he begins the project.
Now as Nehemiah is rebuilding the walls there are people all around who are threatened by this. When the people of Israel were in exile the region was inhabited by many foreign nations who were not happy to see Israel returning and fortifying itself as a nation so they began to taunt and harass Nehemiah and his project with hopes of keeping the walls from being built and that is where we pick up the story. Nehemiah 6:1-4.
So 4 times Sanballat (an enemy) tried to pull Nehemiah away from his work with the hope that if he could pull him away and cause some disruption to the process the entire project might fall apart. Look at Nehemiah 6:9. So Sanballat was trying to do anything he could get Nehemiah to focus on something other than the vision God had given him but Nehemiah remained steadfast. He checked his compass – he went back to his vision which was rebuilding the walls so again and again and again he said to Sanballat, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.”
The principle we find here is that if we want to discover God’s will and walk in it then we need to stay focused on the vision God has for our lives and not allow ourselves to be pulled away from it at all. Nehemiah knew clearly that God’s purpose was for him to rebuild the walls and he remained faithful to the vision. Whenever someone or something tried to pull him away he reminded himself of the great work he was doing. This is why clarity of vision is so important, so we don’t get pulled away to other things – no matter how good those things might be – and not arrive at our destination.
Jesus shows us this principle as well. At the very beginning of His ministry Jesus had great success as a healer, in fact, in Mark 1 it says that the entire town of Capernaum was camped outside Jesus door waiting for him to heal the sick and drive out those possessed by demons, but then look at Mark 1:35-38. Jesus went off to pray and when he came back he was clear that the vision for his life was not just to heal the sick and drive out demons but to proclaim the message of God’s kingdom. Jesus checked his compass, he returned to the vision God had given for his life and he used that vision to keep him moving in the will of God. This is why we need to have clarity about the vision for our own lives. If we don’t have a clear vision it is too easy to get pulled away to other things.
There are many good things that try to pull us away from what God wants for us. Many opportunities that come our way are good but if they pull us away from God’s best or God’s desire for our lives – then we need to learn to say no to them. Think about our children, there are dozens of opportunities for them to be involved in good things: sports, music, hobbies, clubs, dance, drama… the list goes on and on and they are all good – but if we say yes to them all then there will be no time for the things that are important like time together as a family, or time together in worship. Sometimes we have to say no to some very good things in order to stay focused on the things of God. We have to keep checking the compass, or looking to the vision, to make sure we are staying on the right path.
Keeping this kind of focus can be difficult because it can call for sacrifice. The vision we have for our family might mean giving up a job or turning down a promotion because it will pull us away from our children. At a point in time when my niece and nephew were younger my brother in law quit his job and took a job at his church not only because he heard a call to ministry but because he wanted to get off the corporate fast track and spend more time with his children.
Sometimes the vision we have for our families and finances means we need to downsize our homes and cars so that everything can be re-prioritized in ways that helps us reach our goals and experience the fullness of God’s vision. There is often sacrifice involved in staying true to the vision God has for us but if we believe the vision of where we want to be and where God wants us to be, then those sacrifices are worth it.
So I would encourage us all this week to identify the vision God has given us for five key areas of our lives: Marriage, Family, Faith, Finances, Job. We need to begin to write down what that vision is and where we want to be in the future so we can keep that vision before us. If our vision needs clarity then we need to ask God to give it to us and then spend time thinking about the principles we learn from God that might give some shape to our future. Then we need to act according our vision. We might need to say yes to some things and no to some other things to make sure we are going in the right direction and then once we are sure abut the direction we are going and the work we are doing we need to remember and recite the words of Nehemiah.
I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.
Knowing God’s providential will, walking in God’s moral will, asking for directions from those who are where we want to be in life and faith, applying the principles of God’s word and having a clear vision of who God wants us to be are all resources God gives us to discover His personal will for our lives and if nothing else, I hope we will remember this. God gives us these resources because He wants us to know His will for our lives even more than we do.
Discovery God’s Will ~ Checking the Compass
1. In a sentence or two, write out what you believe to be God’s vision for these key areas of your life:
• Spiritual Life
• Marriage/Significant Relationships
If you don’t feel you have a God given vision for each of these areas, then ask God to give you one. Pray:
Heavenly Father, I want to know Your will.
Please begin to give me a vision of Your will for my life.
I ask this in Jesus name. AMEN
2. In what ways are you being distracted from God’s vision?
• What good things are pulling you away?
• What bad things are pulling you away?
3. In what areas do you need to use the words of Nehemiah (found in Nehemiah 6:3): “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.”
4. What one thing can you do right now to help move you towards God’s vision?