Following the will of God can be very mystical in nature, ambiguous in content and obscure in discernment. Christian entertainer Dan McBride composed a song with this line: “It must be the will of the Lord because it seems so right to me.” Humorously, he accentuates the personal feeling and reasoning in determining God’s will.
More importantly, taking the mystery out of God’s will involves understanding God’s revelation in Scripture and knowing who we are in regard to our spiritual gifts endowed by God’s Spirit.
I once read the story of a farmer who was invited to a conference on terracing. He declined by saying, “Why should I go? I already know more than I am doing.” For most who speak often of the will of God, we already know more than we are doing. Not knowing can be a convenient excuse or confession of biblical ignorance.
In the practice of our priesthood, our personal responsibility in our relationship to God, the preponderance of evidence is that Baptists can be accused of dereliction of duty in knowing and living out God’s will.
On the other hand, we give God too much credit for intervention in our affairs through misdirected doctrine. I recall sitting in chapel at Southwestern Seminary listening to Charles Stanley, a nominee for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention, saying, “If God wants me to be president of the convention, I will be president.” Such an austere statement makes God’s will nothing more than fate, a kind of Calvinistic, “what is to be will be.”
My mind went to the free choice of individuals who would cast votes and the power of Satan in our world to bring havoc to the denomination and individuals. I asked myself, if life were so easy and God always gets his way, why are there so many adulterous pastors, divorces among church members, drug abuse with young adults and Baptist criminals in prison? Is it fair to God to give him credit for our bad choices.
We may give God credit for things he has no part with but then miss the real actual involvement of God in our world. This lesson explores some familiar concepts of the will of God that many have ignored. The Christian is responsible to make him Lord and to obey his guidance revealed in Scripture and spoken to the heart through the Holy Spirit.
Chapter 29 begins as a “Woe to you Ariel.” Ariel is a poetic, encrypted name for Jerusalem, “the city where David settled” (v. 1). Ariel most likely means “hearth of God,” referring to Jerusalem as an “altar hearth” (29:2,6), the place of fire and slaughter (Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible). Isaiah, through this symbolic name, is saying God will bring great stress upon Judah (vv. 2-4). Jerusalem, though besieged as part of God’s judgment, suddenly and without warning, would be delivered by God (vv. 5-8) from the military might of the Assyrians. God was not through with Judah. His divine, long-term purpose would find fulfillment in time.
God’s will for heartfelt worship (29:13-14)
God’s lament over and affliction of Judah and Jerusalem had serious cause. Their worship was heartless, insensitive, vain and superficial. Though the people continued to gather for worship, they came out of duty as instructed by the human rule and law (v. 13).
There was ritual without reverence, practice without principle, and words without worth. The leadership of government and the masses of the nation had no dependency upon God and therefore no genuine heart to worship him. They continued to go through the motions but pretense misrepresented reality. Presence before God was but shameless hypocrisy where words were offered without truth or meaning (see Isaiah 6:5-9; perhaps Isaiah refers to worship with the lips only as “unclean”). Their hearts were contradictions of their orthodoxy, not unlike those who tout inerrancy which they will not practice and cannot sufficiently measure.
Unauthentic worship is abhorrent to God who knows the heart inside and out. Each Sunday morning the stench of such worship sends an unpleasant smell to the nostrils of God. Some worship is jaded and ritualistic, some lazy and inattentive, and for others just another sermon to endure.
Without authentic worship, how can the people of God expect to move the community and culture toward the true and living God? When human wisdom and intellect (v. 14) replaces the heart, worship becomes perfunctory and sterile. Worship, like faith, is getting both the heart and mind in focus.
God’s will for submission to his authority (29:15-16)
These verses refer to Judah’s leaders who are planning and maneuvering national relationships as though God did not know: “Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord,” those who say “Who sees us? Who will know?” (v. 15). They “turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay” (v. 16). Can the created say to the Creator that “He did not make me”? Such is like the clay telling the potter what to think and do.
God had spoken through Isaiah a message for the future and it had been ignored. The clay pre-empts the authority of the potter. The king, expressing the self-sufficiency of human wisdom, goes his own way and leads Judah, God’s chosen people, away from the authority of God. Rather than submit, he defied God and turned a deaf ear to the message of Isaiah.
God intends for his people to seek him and to listen to his wisdom and guidance. Man never can be more wise or brilliant than his Maker. Does not America act as though God is inconsequential to life, that his wisdom is but foolishness and that his way is for the weak, dumb and incapable. America is dominated by the “Me Generation,” where the self becomes the center of the universe and the source of all knowledge of good and evil. What is good is what one desires and what one finds pleasurable. Reducing the wisdom of God to a subservient status, below that of man, subjects the nation to ultimate demise and failure.
God’s will for the best (30:1-3)
God’s authority rests in his holiness and justice. His grace and steadfast love always seek the best for his people.
A few years ago, I was in Princeton, N.J., sight-seeing. I happened upon the home of John Chancelor, a national news commentator who was dying with cancer. On his front lawn was a sign that said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” God may laugh, but most often he weeps over our uninformed and selfish plans.
Chapter 30 begins with a lament, “Woe to the obstinate children … to those who carry out plans that are not mine” (v. 1). Upon the death of Sargon, king of Assyria, Judah saw an opportunity to make an alliance with Egypt and revolt against her arch enemy. Judah did so without seeking the will and wisdom of God. Isaiah, God’s spokesman, contended the “Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame” and “Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace” (v. 3). Rebellion against Assyria is, at worst, a rebellion against the authority and will of God.
Why do Christians ignore the wisdom and instruction of God to follow after personal impressions and to be led by the carnal, sinful nature? Not seeking God’s way and listening to his words by tapping into the resource of Scripture, the still quiet voice of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of mature Christian leaders is a grave mistake.
Sermons on the will of God most often are met with blank stares as though the mystery is too deep and foreboding. Moving along in life without God’s leadership is like a ship with no rudder. God’s will is bent toward our welfare and good. Everyone gets hit by calamities, hardships, pain, misfortune and catastrophe. The journey of life in the will of God brings life’s best here and eternally (John 10:10), regardless of the stress.
God’s will should be done (30:15-18)
The Sovereign Lord suddenly becomes tender and hopeful, clearly defining the answer for Judah—“in repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” To this brief, simple and profound resolution, God adds that he “longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion” but Judah chose to have none of either.
The secret to security is to trust in the wisdom of God, and follow his guidance. God longs for everyone to repent and rest in his great salvation for the good of all. God desired Judah to repent and return to the covenant relationship and to abide by his gracious leadership. By doing so, the nation would heal and God’s purpose could proceed. Judah should stop its irrelevant worship, its mockery of the covenant, its arrogant and secret plans, its dependence only on human wisdom, for there is a “voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (v. 21). This is a worthy word for all, in any age and culture.
Disciples of Christ know all of these are God’s will.