“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.
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.