How do we find and experience the will of God? Is it simply asking for Divine guidance and God’s blessing upon our life? Or, is the will of God something much deeper that is revealed in the process of living?
Many sincere Christians express their desire for the will of God in their life with comments like, “I’ll pray about that” or, “I‘m asking God to know His will in such and such a matter.” Then after prayer and sometimes fasting, the petitioner emerges with a directive to move forward with a particular task, or perhaps a check in his or her spirit to NOT move forward. It is good to prayerfully consider the decisions that are before us, but is this really what it means to find the will of God? Is it possible there is a depth to the will of God that far exceeds following simple directives? For example, what about those times when we are sure we heard the voice of God and yet the results were disastrous? Did we miss it or was the will of God somehow revealed in the unfolding calamity?
The earthly-minded believer thinks of the will of God in terms of the preservation of the natural life. That is why his or her prayers are usually focused on a desire for God to either change a situation, or to give a divine endorsement of something they desire. Whereas, the spiritual man recognizes how all things, whether good or bad, work together to reveal the will and purpose of God for us and in us.
If we spent less time rebuking the devil and more time praying, “Father, not my will, but thy will be done,” we would discover the will of God is most often revealed when we are led like a lamb to the slaughter. In order to embrace the resurrection life of the Spirit we must first be made willing to grapple with the Cross. I have found that the hand of God intervenes in our life with the necessary obstacles needed to make us willing.
Many years ago Diana and I were facing some difficulties with a hair salon we owned. My intentions were to grow the business and step from behind the chair into a management position. We had a great business model and were attracting a clientele of mostly professional types. In my mind’s eye I could see every detail and so I worked diligently toward the fulfillment of our goals, but there were hurdles we could not overcome and so we were unable to achieve our plan. The stress began to have an affect on my health. I prayed for wisdom and for the Lord to bless the work of our hands, but the response I received was not at all what I expected. One afternoon while at work I clearly heard the Holy Spirit speak to me: “Many have known me as their provider but I desire that you would know me as your provision.” The reality of what the Spirit said that day hit me hard. I was a very ambitious and determined young man who wanted to make his mark in the world. In an instant I realized that the will of God for my life was far different from what I had imagined and that His chosen path for me would not include the promotion and recognition that others enjoyed.
I was looking for the will of God through the lens of my hopes and desires, expecting God to give His blessing upon them. I wanted Him to provide for me, and in turn I would offer up the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for my blessed life. Certainly God has written into His will a place for such provision. Many sincere believers live out their lives, never aware there is anything beyond knowing the Creator as their provider. In all honesty, I was content to do the same and had expected to do so. My understanding of the will of God had much more to do with His blessing upon the natural man than it did with the spiritual man. I was looking outward to the needs and desires of the natural man while the Spirit was looking at the heart and the kingdom of God within.
So what does it mean to know God as our provision instead of provider? First off I can testify that it requires a different way of seeing things. As we learn to know Him as our provision we come to recognize that all things come from Him. I did not come to this understanding by revelation – it was more like trial and error, for I did not willingly cooperate with the plan of God. I didn’t know how to cooperate. Besides, can you imagine a drowning person not struggling for air? Instead I turned to the left and I turned to the right, trying to make our business a great success. The result of all my efforts placed me in a bed of hell and turmoil. Much to my surprise I could not escape the purpose or plan of God. Every effort of self-will became like dung, which was the fertilizer, causing the seed of God in me to flourish.
After six years of struggling I felt defeated. God’s purpose for the situation I was in was accomplished and it was time to move on. We were considering closing down the salon when I heard: “When you leave it will not be like a dog with its tail between its legs.” A short time later one of our wealthier clients offered to buy the salon. We sold it for a profit that I didn’t think possible and used the extra money to start a specialty food business. My prayer for the blessings of God upon my efforts to create a booming hair salon went unanswered. Instead, the will of God was revealed in my failure to achieve my goals. You see, though I had prayed, “Lord, I want your will,” I was looking for the will of God within the confines of my own interests and desires.
Years ago a small group of us were praying when one of the brothers broke out in prophesy over a dear friend of mine, Dorothy McCracken. In the prophecy, there was one part in particular that stood out to Dorothy, which she recalls to this day, “I must take everything, I must take everything, because nothing of the old can enter into the new.” Dorothy was well thought of, with many friends in the church, where she and her husband attended and sang regularly. Then after the Spirit of God began to call her to a deeper walk her husband left. It was about the same time the Lord called her out of the church she was attending. People didn’t know what to think of her anymore. One friend asked her, “Dorothy, where do you go when you come out of the organized church?” Dorothy replied, “You go to Him!” So it didn’t take long for her to become the topic of many conversations and in a short time she lost her favorable reputation. Then Dorothy lost her job and did not find regular work for ten years. She was in a place where she had no choice but to live moment by moment. Her reliance on herself to make her own way was taken from her. In the process of her experience, Dorothy was stripped of everything that she had valued in this earthly realm, but in the process she was brought to a place of rest and trust in God.
Dorothy did not have to go looking for the will of God in her life for it unfolded before her according to His design. The will of God was for her to be brought to a place of spiritual maturity. If you were to ask her if it was worth it she would answer with a resounding, yes!
There is a song I liked as a young boy called, “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young. In one of the lines Neil sings, “I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold.” I can’t help but think that in each of us there is a desire and hunger for a heart of gold. Where do you think this desire comes from? I believe this deep desire is a glimmer of what God desires. We are made in His image and likeness and so this desire for authenticity comes from Him! I assure you that the Spirit of God is a miner for a heart of gold!
There is golden treasure buried deep within us and the Spirit of God continues to excavate the dirt and chisel away the rock that holds this treasure captive. He must take everything that we have come to rely on that is not founded upon trust in Him. Sometimes that requires a few sticks of dynamite to break away sections of our life that are in the way. We have assurance though that He will finish the work He has started in us. No matter what we may live through it is nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed in us.
We may search for the will of God in our many petitions for His blessing upon our lives, but we won’t experience the depth of His will until we have spent time with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. It is easy to say, “Father, not my will, but thy will be done,” when everything is going our way. It is quite another experience when we stand to lose our job, house and retirement savings. Unlike Jesus, who submitted willingly, we often experience the will of the Father while kicking and screaming. Eventually, our protests are quieted and we submit to the inner working of the Spirit.
The Transformation of Peter
One of my favorite characters from the New Testament is Simon Peter. When the disciples saw Jesus out on the water it was Peter who cried out, “Lord if it is you, tell me to come out to you on the water” (Mt 14:28). Peter was a man who was not afraid to get his feet wet, both figuratively and literally. He was also the first disciple who said to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus explained to Peter this wasn’t something he figured out on his own, but the heavenly Father had revealed it to him (Mt 16:18). Then Jesus went on to say: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church …” (Mt. 16:18)
Jesus obviously saw great potential in Peter – a disciple who was greatly dedicated to serving his Master. What is fascinating though is the conversation that ensued immediately afterward. Jesus is telling his disciples all that He must suffer and how He will be killed and raised from the dead. Then Peter takes Jesus aside and in a rebuking tone says, “Never, Lord ’ This shall never happen to you!’” Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mt. 16: 22-23)
How is it possible that Peter, who had received Divine revelation that Jesus was the Christ, would stand in opposition to the very thing that would fulfill this reality?
When Jesus said, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” He was not speaking to Peter, the natural man. Jesus was addressing the seed of God that was in Peter and the process of revelation, whereby the Holy Spirit illuminates the truth of God. This is in contrast to Simon Peter, the natural man, who opposed any harm coming to Jesus.
The natural MIND always looks to the interest of the natural man.
“[That is] because the mind of the flesh [with its carnal thoughts and purposes] is hostile to God, for it does not submit itself to God’s Law; indeed it cannot.” (Rom. 8:7, Amplified)
There was a duality at work in Peter. He zealously desired to serve God and He had received Divine revelation that Jesus was the Christ, but for the most part his perspective was from an earthly vantage point. There is a vast difference between receiving a revelation and comprehending the depth of what the Holy Spirit has said. Peter’s failure to grasp the will and purpose of God continued to the very end when he drew his sword and cut off the servant of the high priests ear when Jesus was arrested.
It must have been quite upsetting to all the disciples to hear Jesus describe the suffering and violent death that awaited Him. It was especially difficult for Peter to grasp the will of God in all that Jesus was saying to him. We can see Peter’s love was misguided, because it caused him to oppose the will of the Father, and that is why Jesus rebuked him. Peter was concerned for the preservation and well being of the natural man, Jesus, and so his eyes were blind to the will and purpose of God. Peter did not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.
Most of Christendom is like the natural man, Simon Peter, worshiping and adoring the natural Jesus. It is the worst possible kind of idolatry. IT IS THE WRONG JESUS! And the Spirit of God continues to say, “GET BEHIND ME ADVERSARY!” Peter was sincere in wanting no harm to come to Jesus, but he was sincerely wrong, for his natural man with all its good intentions was in opposition to the purpose and plan of God. The will of God was hidden from Peter’s natural mind just as it is hidden from our earthly minds, for the Father’s kingdom is not of this earthly realm.
It seemed that Peter was a slow learner and so Jesus told him and the other disciples that they would all fall away the night Jesus was arrested.
“ Peter replied, ‘Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.’ ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’ But Peter declared, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the other disciples said the same” (Mt 26: 33-35).
You would think since Jesus gave Peter a heads up on what was going to happen that a determined Peter would have avoided at least one of the denials. The truth is Jesus wasn’t telling Peter so he could prepare himself to resist the temptation. To the contrary, Jesus was telling this to Peter ahead of time to underscore that Peter was approaching the things of God in his own strength and that Peter had in mind the things of man instead of the things of God.
There is something for all of us to learn about self-determination, failure and the working of the Spirit as we examine Peter’s experience. It is the Spirit of God working in our lives that allows us to fail and make mistakes. As Ray Prinzing said so many years ago, “God uses the interplay of good and evil in our lives to accomplish His purposes.”
Douglas B. Clark