Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Are You In it to Win it Spiritually?

"I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:"

This phrase came to me as I was running.  Or some might call it jogging.  Or wheezing.  Or stumbling.

On a cold, winter's night as my back grew sweaty even as my hands turned to ice...(weird how that works...) as it grew dark, and I heard a dog lunging at a broken fence wanting to eat me, and I thought about how easy it would be for me to slip on an unseen patch of ice on the sidewalk, the question came to me, as it has to many, "Is there really a good reason for me to be doing this?" 

When one asks that in a residential Antarctic miles from home, the mind has a tendency to draw blanks. (...okay, okay, I wasn't miles away. We all know I'm not in that good of shape...it doesn't take far once running in the cold and darkness for me to start wheezing and asking philosophical questions related to runner's nihilism.)  As my mind grasped for intelligent reasons, I tried to think if the Bible had anything to say about this, and my mind went to the above phrase.

"I therefore so run, not as uncertainly..."

Why do people run?  Or exercise or engage in any kind of athletic activity?  It's certainly not because it's always fun.  A lot of times if someone were to ask me how I was feeling after running, the phrase that might spring to mind is: "I'd have to get better to die."  But you see people doing it all the time!  Especially in Colorado.  It's because there's a greater payoff.  People want to be fit.  They want to be in shape.  They want to lose weight.  Etc.

Then there are the really serious runners who run races and stuff.  I've only run in a couple charity 5ks, so my track record (get it? track?) doesn't bear a lot of experience in this arena.  But I knew, even in those, that if I really wanted to win it was going to take a lot more effort and commitment than I had.  You can't just mosey fresh onto a racetrack without any training or discipline and expect to win.  You have to bring your body under subjection.

To win, you have to put forth a little more effort.

To win, a runner will train himself (or "herself" to be politically correct, notwithstanding being grammatically correct) and forgo the luxuries afforded by ordinary people who don't care about winning races.  They eat certain things and buy certain types of clothing and shoes and supplements and don't eat certain things and don't do certain activities and do insane things that others wouldn't.

To win.

But that's only if you want to win.  And I'm afraid, spiritually, many have latched onto our culture's "Everybody is a winner!  Medals and ribbons for everybody!" mentality.

I think sometimes we misunderstand the grace of God, and even do dishonor to the concept of the grace of God, by lowering the bar for people as much as possible.

We mistakenly think that because God's grace extends to even the lowest, dirtiest, most unqualified sinner that we need to make allowances for people's sin.  After all, that's what God does, doesn't He?  We're all winners in Christianity!  Everybody's welcome to come as you are!

Or is that a misunderstanding of God's grace?

I fear that we see grace as a cover-up rather than an enabling force.  And when we see it like that, I believe we mock it.

God's grace is so powerful, not because it lets just anybody in, but because when it lets anyone in, it is able to raise them up to a position of power and strength and confidence and victory to truly walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ!  (Or run, if we want to stay with our analogy.) 

I want to submit to you that God's true grace doesn't say: "Aww, I know you're pathetic.  But that's okay, because we're all pathetic here!  Just come on in, and don't worry about wiping your shoes on the mat!"

What if, rather, God's grace says: "I know you're pathetic.  I know you're weak.  I know you're weighed down and that sin easily besets you.  But you don't have to stay that way.  Come!  Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that easily besets us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God!"

What if God's grace says that?  Does that change your concept of it at all?

Now let me throw something else at you...

What if we had the attitude in Christianity of running to WIN?

Rather than worrying about leaving others behind, or trying to make people feel better for not being as good, what if we were striving to WIN?

"Whoa, whoa, now just hold the phone there Johnny Raincloud!  That doesn't sound very Christian!  We need to make people feel good so they keep running!  We fall behind to run with the rest of the pack to make sure everybody crosses the finish line at the same time!  How could you be so unloving?  Somebody take away his participation trophy!"

Before you haul me off to be tarred and feathered, take a look at this verse from the Apostle Paul.

1 Corinthians 9:24  "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain." 

Paul tells us to run to WIN!  That's my translation of the last part of this verse.  And he compares it to a race in that everybody runs, but only one receives the prize.  That's what makes it a competition!

So in Christianity, obviously we're not running for wealth or fame or accolades or selfish reasons...or at least we shouldn't be.  So what is our motive?  What is our goal?

Interestingly enough, the Scriptures leading up to this familiar one are familiar but for another reason...

1 Corinthians 9:18-19, 22-23
(18)  What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
(19)  For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
(22)  To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
(23)  And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.

Paul said he had no choice but to preach the gospel.  That wasn't an option for him.  His reward was to go above and beyond the call of duty.  So what did going above and beyond the call of duty look like for him?

He made it very plain in the verses leading up to this that it is the right of a minister of the gospel to live financially off his work of preaching the gospel.  There is practical and Scriptural precedence for this.  But Paul didn't use this right.  Why not?  

"Paul, people are taking advantage of you!  Surely you could get more done if you stopped working and preached the gospel full time!  It's your right!  Use it!" ...  

The reason Paul didn't take advantage of this right was because he didn't want ANYTHING to be a hindrance to people receiving the gospel.  He went above and beyond for the sake of the gospel that had saved him, the gospel he loved.  Like Jonah, he was constrained to preach and at least give the message as a good watchman.  Anything beyond that, he did willingly and from his heart.

Why was Paul saying any of this anyway?  Sometimes we compartmentalize Scriptures so much to illustrate certain truths and principles that we miss the larger heart issues of what was being said.

He uses the example of the way he handled the ministry to back up the point he was making about how the Corinthians should live in chapter 8.  "Michael, this is getting a little out of hand...next you'll be taking us all the way back to Genesis..."  Wait!  Don't leave!  Stay with me!  I'm going somewhere and we're almost there!

He didn't HAVE to work and support himself.  He COULD have taken money from the Corinthians.  But he didn't use this right.  Why?  For the gospel's sake.  To save more men's souls.  He was free from all men!  Yet he saw himself as a servant to ALL.  Why?  That he might gain the more.  Paul wasn't just trotting down the racetrack to get by.  He wasn't content with settling with the bronze.  He was running with purpose.  He was running to WIN!  If his job was to save souls then he wasn't going to cut corners and just do what it took to get by!  He was going to bring his body under subjection and do what it takes!  He would become all things to all men!  Whoever they were!  That takes discipline!  That takes courage!  That takes determination!  That takes an attitude that's in it to win it!  And why not?  This is for the sake of Jesus!  The One who died to save us!  For the sake of the gospel that brought us this freedom!  Paul wasn't in it just to skate by...he was in it to win.  Win souls.  Win for Jesus.  Win for the gospel!  To maximize his potential!

Paul was desperate for the Corinthians to understand this.  They knew how to be Christians.  Look back to chapter 1 ("Augh, I knew he was going further back!") and you'll see that they didn't come behind in any spiritual gift and that they were enriched in utterance and knowledge.  They were good at what they did.  They had an answer for everything they were allowed and not allowed to do.  To the point where they were arguing and causing division (chapters 1-4) and even justifying fornication (chapters 5-6)!  By knowing so much, they were starting to miss the point.

And that brings us to meat offered to idols.  ("Of course...where else would it bring us?")

I've heard a lot of people use the mentality that the Corinthians had in 1 Corinthians 8 (and even use those particular Scriptures) to justify odd things.  Here's the point: the Corinthians had studied and come to the correct conclusion that it didn't matter if they ate meat offered to idols or not.  Idols weren't real gods...the meat is better anyway, and by golly, if we eat we're not any better, and if we don't eat we're not any worse!  It's just meat, after all!  And we shouldn't have to give up OUR meat for some superstitious nonsense about it being offered to idols.

A lot of people end there.  What they don't realize is that though Paul agrees with this assessment about the meat itself, that wasn't his point in writing 1 Corinthians 8.  His point (as is shown everywhere else meat offered to idols is mentioned) is that they shouldn't eat it.  Why?  Not for their own sakes, who could eat the meat with a clear conscience...but for the sake of others who couldn't.  In other words, he was asking the Corinthians to give up the RIGHT they had to eat that meat to save and uplift more souls.  To keep ANYTHING from getting in the way of the gospel.  The Corinthians were technically right.  They had the knowledge from studying it out about how the meat would or wouldn't affect them.  But how would their freedom and knowledge affect others with less knowledge?  Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

A modern example (which, if you're inclined to be rubbed the wrong way, skip this paragraph), that I've heard people use the Corinthian reasoning on is modesty.  When talking about certain specific modesty standards and giving girls the reason that guys minds might be tempted to lust because of something a girl wears I've heard girls say phrases like: "Well, then they need to get their minds out of the gutter!  They can't choose my clothes for me!  I've prayed and I'm not convicted by this particular issue!"  Technically, they're right.  Many are knowledgeable about the issue and have good reasons for why they allow what they allow and are very convincing and correct that it won't send them to Hell.  But knowledge puffs up, while love builds up.

Here's my point...what rights are we willing to give up to win spiritually?

A runner can technically have whatever they want and still maintain a level of health and ability to run well.  But the ones who want to WIN will give up things that others may allow.  For the sake of the race.  To win.

If we want to win souls, we have to have the mindset of being in it to win it.  Ironically, I've heard people use the verse where Paul says "I am become all things to all men, that I might by some means save some" as a reason for lowering the standards of the church to look more like the world.  I don't believe that's what he's talking about there.  Grace doesn't lower the bar.  Grace trains people and enables them to reach above and beyond the bar!  (Whatever the bar is...I'm just using the phrase because I've heard it before.)

We do what it takes to win people!  We become all things to all men out of love, but that might mean disciplining ourselves a little more than we want to!  But are we in it to win it spiritually?

This isn't only about winning souls.  It's about winning in our Christian walk.  It's about winning in this life lived for the gospel.  It's about running as hard as we can, regardless of what others are doing!  I heard someone say once when it comes to an attitude of leadership, "Don't keep looking behind you, trying to bring others up to your level.  Then you're taking your eyes off Jesus.  Lead by keeping your eyes focused right on Him and running towards Him with all your might!  Then people will see your example and follow!"  I really like that.  Let's lead by running!  Running to win!  It doesn't mean we're selfish or self-focused.  It means that we are in this to win it.  We're not focused on anything but the face of Jesus and we're running towards Him with everything we have!

In closing, let the words of the Apostle Paul sink in.  And hopefully, his mentality will become each of ours.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27
(24)  Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
(25)  And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
(26)  I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
(27)  But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

Me in it to win it at a 5k!...in the ladies category, at least...
Okay, I never said I was the best example of this concept in my personal running life.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Second Nature

I began to wonder the other day what my role would have been if I had lived in an area of Nazi-controlled Europe as a Christian.  Have you ever thought about that?  Of course, most of us who have read The Hiding Place or heard about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, automatically think, "Well, of course I would be one of the ones helping the Jews to escape out of Europe!"  But would we really?

I recently read The Auschwitz Escape by Joel Rosenberg (an excellent book, by the way...highly recommend it!), and this section jumped out at me.  It's a conversation between a Jewish boy (Jacob) and a Christian pastor (Luc) who have both been caught and taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Jacob changed the subject.  "You sound like a good Christian."
Luc shrugged.  "I've tried to be."
Jacob stopped his work and looked Luc in the eyes.  "Then what are you doing here?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean Abby says you've been rescuing Jews, giving them a place to stay, feeding them, putting their kids in your schools, giving the men jobs. What for? Why take such risks?"
"How could we not?" Luc asked.  "My Savior tells me to love my neighbors.  The Jews are my neighbors.  It's not complicated."
"But you're a Gentile," Jacob said. "Look at you.  You're blond-haired, blue-eyed.  You could pass for an Aryan, for crying out loud.  Why not just blend in?  Why not pretend you're one of them, at least until the war is over?"
"Who, the Nazis? I could never be a Nazi."
"Why not?"
"Because they hate the Jews," Luc said.  "And I could never hate a Jew."
"Why not?"
Luc stopped working, straightened up, and looked Jacob square in the eye.  "Because, Jacob, my Savior was a Jew," he replied.  "The Bible teaches me to love Jews.  To bless the Jews.  And anyway, if you ask me, the question shouldn't be 'Why are you, a Christian, here in a death camp, condemned for trying to save Jews?' The real question is 'Why aren't all the Christians here?'"

That last question is haunting, isn't it?

"The real question is 'Why aren't all the Christians here?'"

Because the truth is that all of them weren't.  Some of them had bought into Nazi propaganda.  Some of them even justified their lack of action because the Jews had persecuted the early Christians (an insane form of anti-Semitism in light of Romans 11!).  And some of them had just blended in.  Not really helping the Nazis or hurting the Jews...but not really stopping the Nazis or helping the Jews either.  Just kept going about life in the middle of one of the greatest spiritual battles of modern times.

So again I ask: which would you be?

I began to think about how I would even have started helping.  If they weren't targeting me to begin with, would I have gotten involved or would I have kept going about my daily life?  I hear about atrocities in the news all the time, but I usually don't do anything about it.  I don't feel like I can.  Would I have felt that way about the concentration camps?

Then I thought, if a Jew came to my door specifically and asked for help, what would my response have been?  That seems to be how several of the players in the Nazi Resistance got started.  And what would make me say "Yes, I'll help, at the cost of my own personal safety."  The only thing would be if Christ's commands were so ingrained in me that it was second nature.

After all, what separated the Christians who helped from the Christians who didn't?  If Christianity is true and Jesus's teachings are true then like the Christian pastor in the death camp said, ALL Christians should have been in there!  But they weren't.  Not because they didn't have Bibles.  Not because they hadn't heard the teachings of Jesus.  But because it wasn't PART of them.  It wasn't second nature to them.  Just like it isn't to many of us.

2 Peter 1:4 says, "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust."

That means that through the promises of God, we can develop a second nature that goes against our own human survival instinct and selfish nature.  We can be partakers of a second nature.  And that second nature is The Divine Nature.  That's the only way we can escape the corruption of this world.

I began to pray after I had read that book, "God, I want what you say to be written in my heart, so ingrained, so part of me, that it's second nature."  I want to act like Jesus.  I want His Nature!

Whenever I'm around someone that's hurting, I want my second nature to kick in.

Whenever I'm around someone in need, I want my second nature to kick in.

Whenever I'm around something evil, I want my second nature to kick in.

When I'm going through daily, menial chores, I want my second nature to kick in.

When my family is driving me crazy and I want to lash out at them, I want my second nature to kick in.

If a Jew ever knocks on my door asking for help, I want my second nature to kick in.

What are the promises of God Peter is talking about?  If the promises of God are the means by which we are partakers of the Divine Nature then I want to know what those promises are!  I won't pretend to know exactly or limit Peter's words to certain promises.  But there are a couple promises God makes in Scripture that apply here, I believe.  Titus 1:2, for example, says we have hope of eternal life, which God that cannot lie promised before the world began.  So one of those promises has to do with salvation.  And what happens at salvation?  Let's look at another promise of God from the Old Testament.

Jeremiah 31:33  But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 
Jeremiah 31:34  And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. 

Do you grasp the meaning of this?  The LORD is saying that in the new covenant that He's making, He will write His laws on the inward parts of people, in their hearts, so that they won't have to refer back to someone else to know what God wants, because they will know God themselves!  God promises a personal relationship with each individual in which He writes His laws on their hearts.

In other words, His laws become second nature to them.

That's part of what Peter was saying.  By this great and precious promise of God of salvation, we become partakers of The Divine Nature, the very nature of God so that what HE wants becomes second nature to us.  Natural to us, rather than what WE want.

I encourage you to read the rest of the chapter to get context, for the promises God gives us to be able to live this life by His Spirit.  2 Peter chapter 1 is so rich in depth with the practical instruction about how to live life with the character of God growing inside of us.  Diligence is required on our part, make no mistake, but also make no mistake that it is only through the power of the Spirit that we accomplish it.

So I ask again: are God's laws written on your heart so that they are second nature to you?  I ask myself this question over and over.  I pray that God makes it so.  And another of His promises remains true: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."  That is the only way we will be able to develop this second nature.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Luxury of Prejudice

There are times when conviction hits you harder than at other times.  This happened to me several weeks ago, right when we were getting the news about the 90+ Christians who had been kidnapped by ISIS in Syria.

I was working on some website stuff for the church, and collaborating with a friend via Facebook, when he asked me if I'd heard the news about the kidnappings and sent me a link to a news article.  It had an instant sobering affect.  Here I was, in my pajamas...sipping a cup of coffee, with an episode of the Beverly Hillbillies loaded up on YouTube as I worked on a church website while 90 Christians halfway across the world were concerned for their lives.  Like I said, it sobered me.  It sobered me, not necessarily because I wasn't being persecuted and was enjoying the comforts of America, but because I wasn't even considering those who were under the threat of dying for their faith.  And it sobered me more because my first inclination was to ignore the news article because there was nothing I could do about it anyway.

What really made this an impacting moment for me (rather than just a passing pang of guilt) is due to what happened later in the day.  As I was praying later on, I began asking God what was on His heart.  What He was thinking about.  And those 90 kidnapped Christians instantly came to my mind.  But as I began praying, rather than just mumbling a prayer that God would Sovereignly take care of the problem and rescue them, I think I got a deeper glimpse of one of the aspects of Jesus' nature.  The following two portions of Scriptures kept coming to me:

Acts 9:4  And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? Acts 9:5  And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 

Matthew 25:40  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 

And as I thought of those verses and the suffering of those Christians in Syria, I began to empathize with them rather than simply praying for them, because I believe that's exactly what Jesus was doing.  When Christians were being persecuted in Saul's day, Jesus took it personally.  He didn't just look down on them with sadness...He spoke of it as if HE was the one being persecuted.  He doesn't just shake his head at people who do wrong and reward those who do good...He identifies with those in suffering as if it were being done to Him.  He suffers WITH them.

I know this probably seems like it has nothing to do with the title of this post.  But I wanted to underscore the importance Jesus places on the "least of these" and the importance of identifying with people in their suffering rather than just ignoring it because it makes us feel uncomfortable and guilty.

I'm not saying you have to constantly be depressed because somewhere in the world someone is suffering...but I AM encouraging us to broaden our perspective and see the bigger picture of what is happening in the world and focusing on what Jesus focuses on and care about what--or rather WHO--He cares about.

We're going through the gospel of Mark in the Junior High Youth Class I teach on Wednesday nights, and over and over again as I've prepared for these lessons, I've noticed how much Jesus cares for people.  Take chapter 5, for example.  Jesus goes way out of his way, across the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm to a Gentile region where people don't even accept Him (they ask Him to leave shortly after He arrives), in an area that is unclean and dedicated to devils...just to reach out to one man who was bound by a legion of demonic powers.   Then when He gets back to the other side, He stops on His way to a very important, righteous man's house just to acknowledge a poor woman who had the faith to push through the crowd to touch the hem of His garment.  The Jesus I serve is a man who will go out of His way or pause whatever He's doing...no matter how inconvenient or strange to the people around Him...just for one soul.  That's pretty remarkable.

At this point, you might be thinking, "Yeah, yeah, Michael, but we already know all this.  We know Jesus is like that."  Yeah...but are you like that?

I've noticed a disturbing trend in some of the Christian circles I frequent, particularly with young people.  I call it "the luxury of prejudice".

Although we know that Jesus came to save sinners and that our most important job on this earth is to make disciples of all nations and try to reach the lost to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to the power of God...sometimes it's too easy to sink back into our comfortable church cliques and to enjoy the Luxury of Prejudice.

The Luxury of Prejudice says something like this:  "I know I have to love everybody as a Christian...but that doesn't mean I have to LIKE everybody, or hang out with everybody!  There are some people whose personalities just don't jive with mine, and some people just really get on my nerves, and trust me...you DON'T want me to be around those people too long, cuz things will get meeeeesssssyyyy and I will end up not representing Jesus at all.  So I'll try to be nice to them but I don't necessarily want them coming to all of our get-togethers."  Does that sound familiar at all?

Don't get me wrong--some of that might be reasonable...if you're not trying to follow Jesus' footsteps.  But, as Christians, we are supposed to give up our right to the Luxury of Prejudice.  I know that some people are annoying.  I know that some people have obnoxious personalities.  I know that some new converts can say and act in ways that just make you cringe.  And I know that there are people who are very high-maintenance and self-absorbed and want to talk about themselves all the time or absorb the spotlight.  We may feel justified in ignoring or brushing those people off.  But for just a moment I would like you to identify people in your life that may fit that category and then think about how Jesus feels about them.  Try to identify with them the way that Jesus does.  Stop claiming your right to the Luxury of Prejudice.  That is one luxury as Christians that we simply cannot afford.

I started out this post with the story about how I tried to more intentionally identify with the suffering Christians in Syria.  I realize that there is practically nothing practical that I could do to help them.  I can't swoop in in a helicopter to rescue them or anything like that.  There will be people in your life that you may not be able to help for various reasons.  Sometimes it's not appropriate.  All I'm saying is that we need to try to adopt the attitude Jesus has towards people, and let that be our top priority.  I hope this makes sense and helps us in some way.  I promise I'm still working on it too.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Understanding What the Will of the Lord Is

I believe there are times of waiting.

There are times when the Lord does not want us to take action, but rather, would have us to be still and know that He is God.

Times when we must put aside our own plans and wait to hear a word from the Lord.

But I also believe there are times when we use this as an excuse.  Times when we know what the will of the Lord is, even if we haven't received a specific word from Him giving us detailed instructions about our next step.

I was thinking about the wait-staff at a restaurant.  They are supposed to wait on the customers, right?  They are supposed to be ready to take their orders and be watching for when they may need a refill or their check.  And yet, it would seem strange to us if we just saw them leaning against the wall, texting, or laying back on the lounge chairs, watching the game, or hovering around our table whistling.  Oftentimes, a good waiter will see when my water needs to be refilled before I'm even aware of it, and yet, they are not just waiting for me to snap my fingers.  The best waiters are those who are actively waiting.  In service and fetching things before I even realize I need them.

I know that seems like an odd preface to a post about understanding the will of the Lord.  But I believe that our concept of waiting on the Lord can sometimes get in the way of us doing the will of the Lord, which is why I began that way.  The will of the Lord so often seems like such a mysterious concept to us.  Sometimes it may be.  But it doesn't always have to be that way.

I used to think the command in Ephesians 5:17 was an odd one.  Look at it with me.

Ephesians 5:17  Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. 

The ESV says: Ephesians 5:17  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 

My initial thought was: Easy for you to say, Paul!  Don't you have a direct line to heaven?  With visions telling you to go to Macedonia and angels appearing to strengthen you and tell you to keep everybody on the ship with you so that nobody will be lost despite the storm?  How can you just cavalierly command us to understand God's will?  Aren't God's ways above our ways?  Aren't His thoughts above our thoughts?  Isn't He the one who chooses to reveal or hide His will from us?  Isn't the impetus on HIM to help us understand His will?  But Paul says, "Hey, don't be foolish.  Understand God's will."  Oh sure.  Don't be foolish.  Great.  Thanks.

My confusion with this verse came from the assumption that there was nothing we could do to facilitate an understanding of God's will.  You probably already realize this, but that isn't the case!  I realized that as we were studying the context of this chapter in our Bible study on Ephesians.

Paul has been explaining the way the members of the church of God ought to conduct themselves prior to this in Ephesians.  In chapter 5, he makes it very clear that no sexual immorality should be a part of our lives, because we are children of the light and should be exemplifying CHRIST'S love, as opposed to the world!  And at the tail end of this discussion, he instructs not to be unwise, but to understand what the will of the Lord is.  And that's when it dawned on me. He's not introducing a new thought, telling us to go try to figure out God's will. He's saying, "Hey, I'm telling you God's will right now.  Don't be foolish and ignore this.  Understand that God's will is for you to walk as children of light, and not to partake of the works of darkness!"  Don't be stupid and do the wrong thing.  Understand that this is GOD'S will. The will of the LORD.  Don't confuse that with your own will.  And with that little revelation, I realized that there are a lot of places where the Bible explicitly tells us what the will of the Lord is!  Let's look at a couple of them.

1st Thessalonians 4:3  For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: 
1st Thessalonians 5:18  In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 
1st Peter 2:15  For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 

There are some things we don't need to pray about!  We don't need to pray about whether or not we should move in with our girlfriend, even if we're unmarried!  We don't need to pray about whether we should give thanks to the Lord in this specific circumstance!  We don't need to pray about whether it's the will of God that we do well, even in the face of criticism and false accusations!

Let me give you a little more controversial, sensitive, personal example.

I've found recently, that as a Christian young man who is trying to figure out his career and future life situation, that it can be daunting and scary to step out and do something without having a specific word from God about something.  My temptation is to wait and take a very passive position to see how God works and what opportunities He opens up and what He drops in my lap.  Yet, I know from His Word (Proverbs 6 and 1 Timothy 5 and 2 Thessalonians 3, specifically) that it is His will that I be working.  That I'm diligent and saving for the future and preparing myself.  I can't see specifically where I'm supposed to go or what I need to be preparing for and I may not even be able to do anything right now that I really like, but I know that that's what I'm supposed to do, so I should take steps of faith to do what is honoring to God, even though I have fear and trepidation at the result.

Hopefully, this post is helpful for someone.  Please don't take this post in the wrong way, contrary to the spirit it was written in.  Some things you can't help and you have to wait on God for them.  Others, you can certainly do something about, and should have the integrity of character to act upon those things, even if it's uncomfortable.