I don't know if anyone in the world gets asked more life questions than a pastor. Lawyers get asked questions, mostly regarding legal matters. Doctors get asked a lot of questions, mostly regarding medical issues. Therapists get asked a lot of questions, mostly regarding mental stability. But pastors have a monopoly on questions regarding life and all its challenges.
By answering life's questions, I feel as though I get to really make a difference. These questions follow you to the grave. They are often gut-wrenching, agonizing, momentous questions. The way we answer them will determine whether we waste our lives or invest our lives. The answers can literally save lives or take them.
Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Karl Marx answered life's questions one way, and their answers cost millions of lives, trillions of dollars and enough heartache, misery, and grief to last a thousand years. On the other hand, George Washington, Jonas Salk, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Thomas Edison answered life's questions another way, and they helped found a great nation, eradicate polio, end slavery, elevate civil rights and bring light to the darkness.
Of all the questions I am most often asked, I don't think I get asked any question more than, "How can I find God's will for my life?" I always begin answering with some great news: God wants you to know His will! God does not play cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek, or lets you try and guess what is behind door number three. God is more anxious for you to know His will than you are to find it. In fact, it is not really your responsibility to find the will of God; it is your responsibility to do the will of God.
Fortunately, God has given us some tools to help us understand His will. He has given us a map called the Bible. He has given us a guide called the Holy Spirit. He has given us a heart to read the map and hear the guide. But if your heart is not right, either you will not consult the map or you cannot hear the guide. I believe the question is not, "How can I find God's will for my life?" but, "How can God's will find me?" For these reasons, I always focus on human responsibility instead of God's.
Any parent knows from watching their children learn to walk before one can take a second step, one must take the first. The first step to knowing the will of God is the step of surrender. Paul writes, "Therefore I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." (Romans 12:1, NASB)
You cannot say to God, "You tell me what you want me to do and then I will decide if I want to do it." Before God will reveal His will to you, you must surrender your life to Him. This verse says you must literally "make a present" of your life to God. In fact, someone once said that you can never truly know God's will until you have absolutely no will of your own. God only writes His will on a contract that you have already signed at the bottom!
That is exactly why Paul begins this verse with the word "therefore." Paul spends the first eight chapters of Romans discussing the mercies of God. For example, Paul talks about the mercy of God that moved Him in love to sacrifice His Son for our sins; to then forgive our sins and give us eternal life. He then makes the transition from mercy to sacrifice. Why? Paul was telling us that because Jesus dies for us, we ought to live for Him. Because Jesus gave His life for us, we ought to give our life to Him.
Interestingly, we are told to present our bodies as "a living sacrifice." The phrase "living sacrifice" is an oxymoron or a figure of speech in which two words that are mutually contradictory work together to provide meaning. For example, some common oxymorons are "pretty ugly", "same difference" and "government organization."
In the same way, Paul uses this oxymoron to teach us profound meaning through contradiction. You see, when you sacrifice something, you give up possession and all ownership. In the Old Testament, there is no such thing as a partial sacrifice. When you sacrificed a lamb, you sacrificed all of it. It was always a total sacrifice with no strings attached. That is precisely what the Lord demands every day of those who are seeking His will.
Have you ever shopped in a store that is going out of business? I was in a store one time that was having a going-out-of-business sale. As I walked through the building, I noticed many signs reading, "No refunds. No exchanges. All transactions are final." That is what God wants from us, and it is why we are called to be a "living sacrifice."
Now, sacrifice doesn't sound all that fair, but Paul calls the sacrifice "a reasonable service." The word for service here also means "worship." When you offer God the sacrifice of your body, you give God everything you have. When you give to God all that you have and all that you are, that is worship. This worship is one key to knowing God's will.
I believe the intention here was to communicate the double meaning of "service" and "worship." Modern Americans make the mistake of differentiating between service and worship. We think of worship as those motions we go through on Sunday morning. It is singing praise songs and listening to the preacher for 30 minutes. But we should think of service as something completely different. That is what we do during the week when we help others and go the extra mile. However, God has bound the two together. We serve the Lord as we worship Him, and we worship Him when we serve others.
How can you apply this radical thought? You can worship God in school by doing your best and obeying your teachers. You can worship God by giving an honest day's work for an honest day's wage. If you are kind to your boss and go above and beyond your duty from nine-to-five, you worship God. Surrendering to worship is something that we can do every day, and it is the first step to discovering God's will. In order to find God's will, you must surrender to it.
It is apparent that the world doesn't seek the will of God- it seeks a will of its own. That is why Paul goes on to say, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2 NASB)
This verse points out two important concepts: transformation and conformation. At this very moment, as you read this, you are either being transformed or you are being conformed. When you go to work or school tomorrow, you are going to be either transformed or conformed.
The word "conform" comes from the root word that gives us "scheme." So Paul is saying, "Don't let the world force you into living in its scheme of things." In other words, don't allow yourself to be squeezed into a world-made mold. If you conform, you give an outward expression that does not reflect an inward condition.
To illustrate this, think about a chameleon. Chameleons are amazing lizards that change colors with their surroundings. It takes on the color of whatever is around. In other words, the chameleon conforms. We are not to be like the chameleon. We must not let the world make us look on the outside differently than we look on the inside.
To be honest, the church is full of chameleons. These are people who come to church and take on the colors of sanctity, holiness, and righteousness. They grin with hands lifted high, bow their heads to pray, throw a couple of dollars in the plate and shake a few hands on their way out the door. They seem to look just like the rest of their surroundings, but when they leave, they take on the color of carnality and worldliness. They gossip and backbite with the world, tell the world's jokes and selfishly live for themselves- just like the world. They squeeze into the world's mold and, after conforming, wonder why they can't find God's will for their lives.
God's will is available. God makes it available. And God is offering clear communication to people who will live on Monday what they claim they believe on Sunday. That is why a big step to knowing God's will is transformation.
You may be saying, "Okay, I get it. But how do I go about experiencing this transformation?" When Paul speaks of transformation, be uses a word that is translated in English as "metamorphosis." As you may remember from grade school, metamorphosis is a change on the outside that comes from the inside.
An example of metamorphosis is the butterfly. It's hard to believe that the beautiful butterflies that tickle the flowers in your garden originate as slimy, grimy caterpillars. But the caterpillar, destined to be greater, forms a cocoon around its body and, before long, wings, legs and a new body sprout forth. Out of that cocoon comes a new creature- a beautiful butterfly. It was changed on the outside because of a change on the inside.
When Jesus comes into your life, a transformation takes place. If Jesus lives in you and you desire to know His will for you, the world should see on the outside of you a reflection of the new life that is inside of you.
So, how can you test to see if you are being either transformed or conformed? Ask yourself one question: "When the world looks at me, what does it see?" If the world sees a mirror with its own reflection, you are being conformed. But if the world sees a window, a window through which they see Jesus, you are being transformed.
An important part of the transformation and, likewise, of knowing God's will is your mind. Notice that Paul says that the transformation must be by a "renewing of your mind." As Zig Ziglar says, we need to get rid of "stinking thinking." So, we must saturate our minds with the Word of God because it is the Word of God that fills our minds with the wisdom of God, and it is the wisdom of God that enables us to discern the will of God. Begin walking the road to understanding by taking the steps of transformation and the renewing of your mind. Seek God's will today.
So, what is the motivation for all of this? These steps are necessary in order "that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2b NASB) So the end of this confirms what we noticed from the beginning. It is the will of God to reveal His will to anyone who is willing to do His will.
We notice several things about God's will. First, God's will is profitable. We read that God's will is "good." So you should never be afraid of God's will. Not only is God's will good, but it is better than anything that lies outside of that will.
Secondly, God's will is pleasing. We read that God's will is "acceptable." So, God's will should be both good and acceptable to you. If you are right with God, then the only place you will be happy is in His will.
Lastly, God's will is perfect. The last time I checked, you can't beat perfection. Perfection is the ace card, the penthouse, the boss's chair. There is nothing higher than perfection. So, this is the real crux of the issue with understanding God's will. Your Heavenly Father loves you so much that He does not want what is just good for you. He doesn't even want what is better for you. He wants what is best for you. His will for you is the perfect plan for your life.
Not long ago, I was in New Orleans. New Orleans is a city that shows its age. Old houses, old traditions, and old recipes adorn every nook of the city streets. One thing that fascinated me was the massive graveyards, known as "cities of the dead." My curiosity led me to walk into one and I took the time to read a couple of the headstones there.
On every headstone, I noticed the deceased person's name, their date of birth and date of departure. Then it hit me. No one ever notices that short horizontal line between the two dates. It is called a hyphen. That hyphen represents the individual's entire life, that person's stay on earth, whether long or short, good or bad, glorious or shameful. You and I tend to notice the two dates, the beginning, and the end, but the real story is in the hyphen.
Right now, you are moving along that hyphen between your birth and your departure. The key question is, "Does that hyphen represent the will of God or not?" Jesus said He came to earth to do one thing- His Father's will. We should be doing the same thing. We need to live out our brief, hyphenated lives in transformation and renewal. We need to live under the motivation of His mercy. When you do that, not only will your questions be answered, but you will abide within God's perfect will for you.