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
You already voted!

Ministry of the Everyday

Goldilocks did a great job today as the ALM Q. He shared his story and how he sees opportunities everyday to be a light in dark places, namely as a Christian attorney, which is the ultimate oxymoron. YHC's story is below. Every week YHC will post an ALM backblast for those too skeered to attend.

I began the application process for seminary three times. The first two times, it was evident that the timing just wasn’t right. We had a kid or something like that. The third time, all the planets were aligned. I was between careers. There was a great seminary in Charlotte that had what I wanted to study. I could go part time and still keep a decent job. I even had prospects for going to school with a buddy.

The only problem was I just couldn’t get peace about it. Something was missing. As the deadline for submission approached, the pressure increased. I felt a weight on my spirit that began to suck the air out of my lungs. Being supremely spiritual, I decided to do the godly thing and pray about it. I even fasted for 5 days. The weight just got heavier, to the point of being unbearable. Finally one Friday, in desperation, I told my wife that I needed to stay the night in a hotel and do some serious wrestling with God. One of us was going to say uncle.

I brought my guitar along, because all good Christians play guitar. I brought along my Bible, because all good Christians read the Word. I brought along my study materials for the Sunday School class I was leading, because all good Christians teach Bible studies. It was actually pretty exciting. I had that sense of anticipation. God was going to show up.

After checking in, I sat down in my hotel room and began to pray fervently. I don’t know about you, but praying is a pretty straightforward exercise for me. I say what I want, then Amen. It really doesn’t take that long. In this case, it took about 5 minutes. How many ways can you say, “Lord, I need some direction.” That told me I was in for a long night. The eager anticipation began to fade into resignation.

My next attack was to play some Christian songs on my guitar. The only problem was that I really don’t know how to play a guitar. I knew 5 chords. No strum patterns. No songs. Another 5 minutes. Only 23 hours and 50 minutes left to go. This sucks.

I started to open my Bible, but to what? Where do you go, when you don’t know where to go? In which chapter is there an answer for your particular question? Randomly opening the Bible and doing whatever it says can be pretty dangerous.

Then Judas went away and hung himself. (Matthew 27:5)

Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:37)

Therefore Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” (John 13:27)

Knowing the potential trap that lay ahead, I put aside the Bible. Another 5 minutes. The only thing that kept me from going home was the fact that I paid $120 for a room.

In an act of futility, fatalism and frugality (F3), I decided to make good use of the time and work on the Bible Study I was writing on Philippians. I had already paid for the room, so I might as well get some goodie out of it.

The background of the book was pretty interesting. Paul was nearing his death by beheading. Everybody knew it was coming. The letter to the Philippians was one of his last. What is interesting is that Paul is not sad or regretful or angry with his circumstances. Instead, this letter is often called the Book of Joy. He is beaming about the prospects of going home to Jesus, but he also feels an obligation to those who would be left behind.

“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.” (Phil. 1:20-26)

Paul was torn between two good outcomes. Die and go to heaven or live and serve the Lord. It was a can’t lose proposition. So which way to go?

“It is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.”

Paul landed on staying behind, not for his own benefit but for the benefit of others. At that very moment, God hit me between the eyes with a 2x4. There was no audible voice, but I “heard” Him loud and clear. God told me to be in the Ministry of the Everyday. I didn’t need a seminary education to be a “useful Christian”. I didn’t need to be a pastor to reach people and build the kingdom. All I needed was to make myself available while going about my daily life.

The weight lifted off my spirit. I was free from the burden of trying to please God and measure up to some ridiculous standard. And I still had 23 hours and 30 minutes left on my hotel room.

Over the next few weeks, several people literally entered my office, sat down and poured out their lives to me. Unannounced. Unplanned. They left with something they needed. Not from me, but from God working within me. Instead of trying to be a reservoir of holiness, I became a conduit of faith.


  1. Tell somebody why you think God bothered to make you.
  2. Do something about it.

Tough Questions

  1. Which plan are you living out?
    • What God has for you
    • What you have for you
    • What somebody else has for you


You already voted!