Knowing God’s Will

YHC shared a sermon from 2014 just before leaving for Spain about knowing God’s will. The text is below. Enjoy.

On Graduation Day in May 1992, Gene Cloutier and I cobbled together some groceries out of our college apartment pantry, loaded our laundry bags with whatever clothes we wanted, jumped in his Chevy Corsica and headed to the Hess gas station in downtown Clemson, because they had the cheapest gas. After we filled up at 89 cents per gallon, Gene looked at me, and I looked at him. Finally, he said, “Which way do you want to go?” To which I replied, “I don’t know. Which way do you want to go?”


You see we were embarking on a trip around the United States. Both of us had jobs lined up for August, so we had the entire summer to explore our great country. And that’s about the extent of our planning for the trip. We had an endless set of possible directions and destinations. So endless, in fact, that we couldn’t decide which way to go. Have you ever been paralyzed by possibility? How do you know which way to go in life? Or to put it in more Christian terms--How do we know God’s will for our lives?


For Gene and me, we opened the map, the paper kind. This was before Google Maps and GPS. The one piece of technology we did have was my dad’s Motorola bag phone. That was high tech back in the day. Remember, this is 1992, which is before the internet. So we looked at the map and decided to go somewhat in a northerly direction and head toward St. Louis. That started a journey of 10,000 miles and over 20 states.


A lot of people try to divine God’s will the same way. They open the Bible and start looking at the first thing they see. I call it the “dart method”. The results could be disastrous. Let’s look at some potential Bible verses:


  1. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matt 27:5)
  2. Go and do likewise (Lk 10:37)
  3. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” (Jn 13:27)


I was speaking to one of my mentors the other day, and he told me that we get hung up on thinking God’s will for our lives is this little narrow path, and we have to go find it. He said it is more like a wide plane, with a vast array of options. Only when we look back on the path that we chose, can we see that God had already ordained it for us from before the beginning of time. Looking back we can see the little path, but looking forward we have limitless possibilities. That’s where we can often get that Possibility Paralysis. Gene and I had absolute freedom to go in any direction we wanted, or no direction at all.


Knowing God’s will has been a burning question since the beginning of time. I do not have any illusions about my ability to answer that for you today, but I think Scripture can be our guide. Let’s look at some examples of people in the Bible.


The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

If God came up to you today, and you knew it was God. I don’t know how you would know. Maybe He would be wearing a name tag and look like Morgan Freeman. If God showed up today and told you to “start walking toward the land that I will show you...” how many of you would do it? Of course all of us say yes, but really I don’t think most of us would budge until we had some more details. Not Abraham. He took off walking and brought others with him.


“Hey Lot, let’s go for a walk.”


“Okay Uncle Abe. Where we going?”


“I dunno. Let’s just start walking and find out. Better bring a change of clothes.”


“Uhhh. Okay.”


Abraham heard from God. Lot just heard from his uncle. How many of you would sign up for that? Your crazy old uncle comes to town and says he wants you to go on a walk with him and to pack your bags.


Was it God’s will for Lot to go? Absolutely. Did Lot have any idea where he was going or why or what would happen when he got there? Nope. But he went. God said go.


So Abram went. (Genesis 12:4)


Abraham was faced with a Go/No Go Decision. Military guys have these at the beginning of the mission. NASA has a point at which they say, “We are a Go for launch.” Airplanes have a point on the runway where, if they don’t takeoff, they will crash. It is the Go/No Go line. Abraham faced a Go/No Go Decision, and he chose to Go.


Abraham made a choice out of faith in the One who gave the command. He obeyed. But what if he had chosen otherwise? Remember, we stand on a vast plane of possibilities. He could have stayed put, or walked in the opposite direction or walked further than God wanted. We can go our own way, and we can get ahead of God’s timing. That’s where the sovereignty of God comes in. God will achieve His divine purposes with us or in spite of us. Either way God’s will is accomplished.


  • Abraham
    • Go
      • Obedience
    • Don’t Go
      • Running ahead of God
      • Making your own way
    • God’s will is accomplished
      • With us
      • In spite of us


Let’s look at Jonah. Not such a great example for us. God gave him a clear message to go to Nineveh and proclaim God’s impending judgment on them. Jonah hated the Ninevites. He would have been fine delivering a message of judgment and condemnation. The problem Jonah had was he knew God was going to offer them grace as well. He knew God’s will was for all of us to experience His grace and forgiveness. He knew the Ninevites were going to “get off the hook”.


When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life,for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 3:10 to 4:3)



So Jonah made a Go/No Go Decision. He No Goed. Jonah went in the exact opposite direction. He knew God’s will and decided to do something else. That’s why I love the story of Jonah. It reinforces the fact that we really don’t stray from God’s will, even when we stray from God’s will. Remember we are standing on a vast plane of possibilities with lots of potential options. It is only looking back that we see how God is ordering our steps.


So Jonah tried to make his own way. He resisted what he knew to be the right thing to do. That’s where the sovereignty of God comes in. God will achieve His divine purposes with us or in spite of us. Either way God’s will is accomplished.


  • Jonah
    • Go
      • Obedience
    • Don’t Go
      • Running ahead of God
      • Making your own way
    • God’s will is accomplished
      • With us
      • In spite of us


How about the Apostles? What decisions did they face? Matthew 28:19 is their Go/No Go.


Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19,20)


They had a clear directive from God. Get busy and tell everybody about Me. They could have obeyed. They could have gone where they did not belong. Or they could stay put and do nothing. They chose the latter. God had to send in the Jewish leaders and the Romans to bring in persecution to get them off their duffs and into action.


Remember we are standing on a vast plane of possibilities with lots of potential options. It is only looking back that we see how God is ordering our steps. That’s where the sovereignty of God comes in. God will achieve His divine purposes with us or in spite of us. Either way God’s will is accomplished.


  • Apostles
    • Go
      • Obedience
    • Don’t Go
      • Running ahead of God
      • Making your own way
    • God’s will is accomplished
      • With us
      • In spite of us


What about you? What is God telling you to do? How will you respond?


This is not intended to be a carte blanche to do whatever you want. It is, however, meant to be a release from paralysis. We get stuck in our everyday-ness. We need to be freed from the idea that whatever we are doing right now must remain the same for all eternity. Sometimes we need to GO!


The other side of the equation is that we often GO without really going. Half-hearted obedience is no obedience at all. So what are we to do?


“In the absence of further commands...ATTACK!!”


God has given us our marching orders. He told us to GO and make disciples. He told us to GO to the ends of the earth. He told us to get busy building his kingdom. So how are we doing? Too often we resemble the remnant that returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel . They started out to rebuild the city and the temple but gradually their ardor faded and they ended up just building their own houses with the construction materials that were slotted for the temple.


In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest:

2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”

3 Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

5 Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

7 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. 9 “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”

12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.

13 Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. (Haggai 1:1-13)


The idea is that we get a direction from the Lord and start off real excited about it. At some point, though, about the time the blisters start showing up, we begin to question what God really meant. Maybe He just wanted to us to do a little remodel on our own houses. After all we live in them and spend more time in them. It is very easy to redirect God’s will into our own.


That was Paul’s struggle in Romans 7.


So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25)


How does that look in our lives? We initially come to church to serve others, but we leave saying that we are not being fed. We faithfully attend Bible studies but never share what we learn. We drink from the fountain of life and never offer a thirsty person a cup.


Peter in Galatians is an example of good intentions gone astray. He was more than willing to accept the Greek believers as full-fledged members of the Body of Christ, until the Judaizers showed up and wanted to impose other standards upon them as requirements for salvation.


When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. (Galatians 2:11-13)


It is so easy to retreat from the battlefield. It is so easy to redirect our focus on ourselves and away from God. Truthfully my default position is “Me”. Eliminating “Me” is vital to maintaining focus on “Him”. In order to move forward, we have to get rid of the back door. We can’t GO forward and look backward at the same time.


Hernan Cortes is credited with defeating the mighty Aztec empire, whose capital was present day Mexico City. Cortes is no hero of the Christian faith, but he did know some things about human nature. One of his smartest moves as a commander came at the beginning of his campaign. After his men got off the boats and unloaded all the cargo, Cortes had all his whole army assemble on the beach, facing the boats. Then he gave a signal, and the boats began to burn up. The message was clear. If we go home, it will be in their boats. He got rid of the back door. The Aztecs, who had reigned supreme for centuries fell within two years.


Maybe it’s time for us to burn some boats. What are you holding onto that is keeping you from moving forward in your faith? What stronghold does the enemy have in your life that continues to be an abiding weakness, a default position? Where are you stuck in NO GO?


I can think of a few in my life. Maybe they will strike a chord in yours. Each of you has a notepad in hand, and I invite you to write down those things that come to mind. At the end of the service, we will be doing some boat burning of our own, so please open up your heart to hear from the Lord:




If you closely examined your life, I am sure you would find some areas of sinfulness that keep creeping up and pulling you down. When you are tired, alone, depressed, bored, lazy, whatever the trigger might be, you seem to always fall into this particular sin pattern. You are not alone.


If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:9,10)


Perhaps it is time to burn that boat.




When I first became a Christ-follower, I had to abandon all my friendships. I knew that I was not strong enough to resist the temptations of my former life. It was painful, and I knew that many of those friends would be hurt by my stand.


Are you involved in toxic relationships? Do you hold onto people that poison your relationship with Christ and other believers? Are you the toxic person? I have Good News for you. Jesus Christ wants to redeem your life. He is the God of “Do Over”.


Perhaps it is time to burn that boat.




What is your normal day like? Your routine? How many of your habits are building up the kingdom and other people, and how many are just tearing you and others down? When you get upset, do you reach for Christ or ice cream? Is that TV show you are hooked on really filling you with the Gospel? Do you find yourself checking updates on Facebook rather than making a date to spend with Christ?


Perhaps it is time to burn that boat. And don’t forget to write the things down that God is bringing to your mind. I really need your participation.




I don’t consider myself a hoarder. I tend to not buy things, and I like to think that I can get rid of things pretty easily. That lie dissolved before my eyes as Susan and I starting preparing to leave for Spain. I knew we had a lot of stuff, but I really didn’t know how much until now. There was not a square inch of unused space in our home. The tragedy is that now that all of it is gone, I don’t miss any of it, so why did we get it in the first place? Sometimes I think we are stymied by the sheer weight of all we have. Our possessions begin to possess us. We are literally dragged down into a NO GO position by them.


When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:22-25)


What are you holding onto? What is holding you back? You know you need to GO but you can’t with all this stuff.


Perhaps it is time to burn that boat.




Church is a place of growth and nurture. It is an opportunity to serve. Sometimes, however, it becomes a hindrance to those things. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the institution that we forget the whole reason we come. We go through the motions, because it is the right thing to do. We continue in some ministry because nobody else will. And we expect to get the “Good Christian” merit badge for our efforts.


“But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

But Samuel replied:

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:20-23)

Rebellion and arrogance are not two words we like to associate with ourselves. When we practice half-hearted devotion to God’s commands and serve with wrong motives, that is exactly what we are--arrogant rebels.


Perhaps it is time to burn that boat.


I told you that these were what the Lord was working on in me, so you might have some other ones to write down.



Bad parents

School bullies



So let’s get real with each other. All of us have something that is holding us back. All of us have situations where we fail repeatedly. All of us need to burn the boats. Up front here, we have a fireplace that needs your cargo of sin. We are going to burn it up outside.


God wants to free you up from your self-imposed possibility paralysis. Ships were not made for the harbor. They were made for the open seas. They were made to GO. So where are you headed? We are going to Spain. And that’s all I know at this point. Everybody wants to know what we are going to do when we get there. I have no idea. How long are we going to stay? I have no idea. What will we do when we come back? I have no idea. All I know is that God wants us to GO. And that’s where the sovereignty of God comes in. God will achieve His divine purposes with us or in spite of us. Either way God’s will is accomplished. As we go, we are burning up some boats of our own, lightening the load and moving ahead. What about you?

As we go into communion, take your boats outside first to be burned up, then join us at the table for communion.


  • What about us?
    • Go
      • Obedience
    • Don’t Go
      • Running ahead of God
      • Making our own way
    • God’s will is accomplished
      • With us
      • In spite of us
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Is you is, or is you ain’t?

I have lived a long time in my 45 years. Many people can’t believe how many adventures i have had. My girls know that every story from my youth ends with, “I almost died.” Up until I was 19 years old, I was pretty dedicated to living a short but wild life. I distinctly remember a conversation in the 6th grade on the way back from recess at Carolina Elementary School. Somehow we got on the subject of heaven and hell. My response was, “I know I’m going to hell, and I’m ok with that.” It had the intended shock and awe effect I was after. The sad part was it was also true.

Most people assume they are going to heaven by default. Something along the lines of, “I’m a pretty good fellow.” or “How could a loving God send anybody to hell?” or “I’m not as bad as that guy.” I was different. I knew where I was headed and didn’t care, which bore out in the things I did. By high school, I was heavily involved in drugs and alcohol. I routinely got high or drunk during school and took crazy chances with my life, never fearing the consequences. This continued into my freshman year at Clemson.

Then she dumped me. My high school sweetheart left me for another man. And he was a loser. I was devastated. Losing her sent me into an emotional and spiritual tailspin. I was depressed and borderline suicidal. One night at a keg party, I was standing against the wall, minding my own business, waiting for a turn at the keg. All of a sudden, I looked up and it was like I was Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”. I could hear and see what was going on, but nobody paid any notice to me. It was truly a scary experience. I instantly sobered up and walked out of the building, wandering aimlessly across campus and weeping uncontrollably for most of the night.

Overnight I quit drinking, smoking, cussing and living dangerously. Nothing seemed to matter. I knew my life up to that point had been a huge waste. I knew I wanted something different, but I didn’t know what it was. I even read the entire New Testament, just in case, but it was just a bunch of meaningless words on a page. This state of spiritual fence-sitting came crashing to the ground at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting one Thursday night. The speaker, Danny Buggs, asked a very important question:

Is you is or is you ain’t?

For those of you who are non-Palmetto state people, he was asking on which side of the fence are you sitting? There is no middle. You are either with God or against Him. I had led a pretty rotten life, so I knew I was against Him back then. The fact that I had cleaned up some parts of my life didn’t alter my place on the wrong side of the fence either. I knew where I stood, and I knew I needed Jesus to help me get to the other side. I walked up and surrendered my life to Christ, accepting His payment for my sins. I was free of the chains that dragged me down.

Something happened inside me. I had a hunger to read the Bible, and now it made sense. I found a whole new set of friends who supported me in my journey, and I began to grow in my relationship with God.

I was a new creation in Christ.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Tough Questions

  1. What does it mean to be a new creation?
  2. Am I a new creation?
    1. Is I is or is I ain’t?
  3. How can I be a new creation when I still do bad things?

Closed in prayer.

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