Tag Archives: Working

How to Know God’s Will Without Guesswork (From Acts 1)

“They prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen 25 to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.” Book of Acts 1:24-26

I know a young man who put his ipod on shuffle mode, and prayed to God that if a certain love song came up first, he would ask out a young woman he liked.

The song did not come up first, so he shuffled again. It still did not work.

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On the third try, the magic song came up, and he asked me if he should ask her out or not, or if his trick was a good indicator of God’s will. I will tell you what I told him, but first I want to look at something in the book of Acts, which was quoted above.

What you just read in the few verses above was the last time in the Bible that people had to guess God’s will. It was the last time they had to cast lots, shuffle their ipods, or use generic tricks to find out God’s will.

In the Old Testament, there was a lot of guesswork in finding God’s will. In those days people frequently did something called “casting lots” to find God’s will. This was a practice similar to drawing straws or shuffling your Mp3 player. They would each toss a pebble into a sack, and then someone would pull out a pebble. Whoever’s pebble it was was the winner (or loser as the case may be, see Achan and Jonah).

Other times they would make a series of concentric circles on the ground, or a grid, and whichever pebble landed in the right area would be chosen.

Now, in most cases in the Old Testament the Bible is clear that this trick worked. God would bless the casting of lots to ensure that the right person was selected, and the people seemed to trust God on the matter.

However, at its core this system is nothing but a lottery, and always impersonal. It was pebbles and sacks and grids, and the results were the results. It was math, it was luck, it was a roll of the dice, it was pure chance… It was a lot of things, but it was not personal.

If God was behind it, fine, but it had the appearance of superstition and dumb luck. It is not a system that a personal God would devise. It is a system that would be used by someone who had no idea what God wanted, and had no personal connection with him to find out.

The passage in Acts 1 is the last time the Bible discusses casting lots as a viable means of finding God’s will.

Why do you think that is?

Think of the context of Acts 1. Jesus had just ascended into heaven a few verses prior, and the disciples were sitting alone wondering what would happen next. They waited there for a few days at least, going nowhere, having very little direction, and not knowing what to do next.

Peter, always the first to action, announces that they have to find a new disciple to replace Judas. He finds a scripture that supports him, and, having nothing else to do, they set out to find a 12th disciple of Jesus, who is not actually among them anymore.

The command had been clear ” You will be my witnesses throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.” But in the meantime they didn’t have anything to do, so they found another disciple.

Their technique was as good as you could ask for from a group of people who didn’t know what they were doing. They knew they needed someone who had followed Jesus from the beginning and was trustworthy. (This was higher standards than Jesus had when he selected them, but they felt they had to start somewhere.)

They found two guys, Matthias and Joseph, and couldn’t decide between the two.

So they decided to cast lots. They had never seen Jesus cast lots, but Jesus was gone now, and what else were they going to do?

The lot fell to Matthias, and that was the end of that.

In the next chapter the Holy Spirit comes upon them, they preach boldly, and the church is begun. There is never another mention of Matthias or Joseph again, and nobody in the Bible ever has to cast lots again.

The Holy Spirit is the game changer. There is no magic in having a 12th apostle. There is no magic in rolling dice. The only thing they needed was the Holy Spirit, which is probably why Jesus told them to wait for the Holy Spirit before they did anything.

The Holy Spirit convicts of sin, the Holy Spirit sets the direction, sends visions, gives the power and ability to speak in other languages for the purpose of evangelism, gives prophecy, knowledge, discernment, and all other necessary giftings that the church needs to function. The Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead, the Holy Spirit gives life to our bodies, the Holy Spirit knows the will of God. The Holy Spirit is personal, indwelling us. We don’t need to roll the dice or shuffle the ipod. We need to be connected to the Holy Spirit.

We don’t need to cast lots anymore.

Back to the confused young man with a crush.

I told him to look for a woman who loved the Lord, lived honorably, and was compatible with the call of God on the young man’s life. He told me this girl was all of the above.

I said, “then why are you shuffling songs on your ipod instead of running full speed after her?”

You see, with the Holy Spirit we not only have the wisdom and word of God indwelling our hearts and minds, but we also have and obligation towards boldness and courage.

By the power of the Spirit we do not have to live in uncertainty and timidity. We can look over our situation, analyze it by the Word of God, pray for wisdom and courage, and then go and DO THINGS. In fact, when it came time for me to propose to my wife, I did not really have to pray about it at all. I prayed that God would bless our marriage, that we would pursue him in it, and that we would honor him. But I didn’t pray “is this the girl for me?”

I prayed, “God I want this girl, she is right for me, and I know it. Bless our marriage with Godliness.” I prayed that a lot. I still pray it. I didn’t need to pray a tentative “is this your will?” kind of prayer because by the grace of God and the Power of the Holy Spirit I knew very well how to honor God and what Jennifer was all about. It was a no-brainer. Why make it harder than it needs to be?

The apostles did not hesitate once they had the power of the Spirit. They rushed out of their house in Acts 2 and immediately began the work of building the church. From that day on they never hesitated, even in the face of fear and strong opposition.

You can know the will of God in your life simply by having the Spirit in your life, listening to him, and obeying him directly. It is a skill, much like any other, that if you consistently listen to the Spirit, you will grow in your understanding, and if you consistently ignore or fail to hear the Spirit, you will lose your bearings, and before long you will be casting lots, shuffling your ipod, and failing to live the victorious life God has planned for you.

Get courageous, get to work, and keep in step with the Spirit. Don’t go back to Old Testament pebble tricks. Go personal. Go with God.

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I Am Working. (Especially on the Sabbath)

In the northeast corner of Jerusalem, just behind the back end of the temple, there is a gate known as the sheep gate. It was built in the time of Nehemiah for the purpose of herding sheep into the temple area for sacrifices without having to herd them all the way through town. Just outside of this area was a large and deep pool, known as the Pool of Bethesda.

In New Testament times, sick, crippled and disabled people would gather at this pool waiting for an angel to come stir up the waters. Whenever this happened, the first one into the pool would be healed. It was ironic that the gate for sacrificial lambs to enter the temple was just beside them, while they languished in pain and disability. The spotless, unblemished and healthy sheep were herded straight past on their way to the slaughter to cleanse unrighteousness from the people, but did nothing to serve the cripples they walked past.

Jesus, of course, is the fulfillment of the sacrificial system. In John 5 he entered Jerusalem and went to the pool of Bethesda. He, the final atoning sacrifice who takes away the sin of the world, passed by the pool of invalids. The difference, of course, is that while he was there, he healed a man rather than simply passing by.

At the pool was a particular man who had been sick for 38 years. It is obvious that this man is living in a nearly hopeless state, and will never be able to get into the water ahead of the others. He has been there 38 years. He has never been the first one into the pool, he tells Jesus that it is virtually impossible, and he has no one to help him get in. He is alone, helpless, and hopeless. For 38 years he has seen spotless and healthy lambs herded past on their way to be sacrificed for sin, but these healthy animals do nothing for him. They are not able to transmit their health onto his sickness. If anything, when the lambs come, he would have been herded away from them, lest he touch one and make it unclean.

It is important to understand the setting. He is only feet from the temple. More than that, he is feet from the back end of the temple, the end where the Most Holy Place was sheltered. He saw the spotless lambs, he heard the prayers of the priests and the confessions of sin. It all took place right over the wall on the holy and clean side of the temple. He was on the unholy side, among the other invalids. He has waited there for 38 years and nobody has helped him.

Now Jesus is there, asking if he wants to get well. The man has no idea who Jesus is, which becomes evident later, and therefore does not know that Jesus can heal, or that Jesus even cares about him at all. He explains to Jesus that in order to get well he will need someone to help him get into the pool. That means someone who is willing to wait around all day, everyday, alertly watching the water and able to grab that sick man and throw him in the water ahead of all the others. It would be a huge favor to ask a complete stranger.

Jesus simply tells him to pick up his pallet and walk. It is remarkable. The sick man thinks the healing process is hard. He thinks it will require a constant companion who is willing to stay by his side 24/7. It is so difficult that he has found no one willing to do it for 38 years. This indicates that he has no family and no friends whatsoever. What he needs is simply too hard for anyone to be willing to do. He has tried for 38 years. Now Jesus heals him instantly with a spoken word and no effort whatsoever.

Of course, the story is not over. There are legalistic Jews hanging around the temple looking for people to condemn. These people seem to be around every corner in Jerusalem, doing nothing but nitpicking and thinking of trick questions to catch people with. They are frequently demonstrated to be fools, cowards, and, at times, demonic.

They see the man carrying his pallet and condemn him, saying he is not allowed to carry his pallet on the Sabbath. The situation is absolutely ridiculous. That is the only way to read it. Try to imagine being the sick man who had just been healed. What would go through your mind if, after 38 years of disability, you were suddenly healed, and a couple of religious people who have walked past you everyday on their way to the temple inform you that you are not allowed to carry your pallet, because it is the wrong day. Apparently they would rather that he had remained by the pool all day, acting like a sick man, and stood up and walked away the next day.

The man simply says he was healed, and the guy who healed him told him to carry it. He doesn’t know who Jesus is, and Jesus had slipped away before he could find out. The zealous legalists are stymied for the moment.

Then Jesus finds the man again and the man reports to the legalists who Jesus is. They begin to persecute him for daring to heal the man on the Sabbath.

His response is fascinating.

John 5:17 – But he answered them, “My father is working until now, and I myself am working.”

They charge him with working on the Sabbath. He responds that he is working.

He does not deny it, he does not explain a loophole about why he was allowed to heal, or argue with legalistic points of the law about what constitutes “work” and what doesn’t. He simply, and matter-of-factly, states that yes, he is working, and his father has been working too.

What is the lesson to be learned?

Simply that God is always working, and Jesus is always working, and our job is to keep pace.

The old system had people working continually, hunting for spotless animals, sacrificing them according to all the regulations, and constantly keeping everything clean. They were always working, but they were not keeping pace with God. They were on a legal structure rather than a grace structure. Not only that, but their policies and practices got directly in the way of God’s work. When Jesus healed, they condemned him for it, and condemned the man he healed. Not only were they working on the wrong thing, but they were actually working directly against him.

In order to keep pace with him, we must know what he is doing. We must re-evaluate what we are doing and make sure it aligns with what he is doing. We must make sure that our sacrificial lambs are not walking directly past him on the way to the slaughter. Instead, we follow him to his sacrifice, remembering to serve rather than to be served, and to forgive rather than to condemn.

Am I keeping pace?

Application: Keep pace

Prayer: God thank you for your spotless and holy son, who not only takes away my sin for eternity, but also gives life and healing in the present. Help me to keep pace with your work, and thank you for your grace and forgiveness when I fail