May 20, 2012

Pastor Joe Wittwer

GPS: Finding your way in life

#2—Where am I going?


ILL: Marti Ensign, a missionary to Africa, told of bringing some African pastors to the United States for a big meeting.  During their free time, these Africans wanted to go shopping. Even though they were in a small town, Marti knew there was a chance someone might have difficulty or get lost. So she gave them her phone number for such an emergency. In less than an hour the phone rang and the African said, “I am lost.”

Marti said, “Lay the phone down, go to the street corner, find out the names of the two streets at the corner, come back and tell me, and I will come and get you.”

In a few minutes he returned to the phone and reported, “I am at the corner of ‘Walk’ and ‘Don’t Walk.'”

Today we’re going to answer the question, “Where am I going?”  What is God’s will for me?  So is anyone here trying to figure this out and the signs don’t make sense—you’re at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk?  You came to the right place!


Introduction and offering:

    This is part two of “GPS: finding your way in life.” I said last week that God made you for a purpose.  What is it?  What is God’s purpose for your life?

We have GPS’s to help us find our way around; wouldn’t it be cool if there was a GPS for God’s plan for you?  There’s not.  So how do you discover your purpose and calling?  We are using GPS technology to help us think about this question.  If you want to use mapping software or a GPS to go somewhere, there are three questions you must answer.  Where am I?  Where am I going?  How do I get there?

Last Sunday, we talked about “where am I?”  I said that the most important clue to your destiny is your design.  Take a look at how God wired you—because He wired you for His purposes.  We talked about our SHAPE:

  • Spiritual gifts.

  • Heart.

  • Abilities.

  • Personality.

  • Experiences.

What has God given you?  Use it to serve Him.  Who has He made you to be?  It will fit what He wants you to do.

    Today, we are talking about “where am I going?”  What is God’s destiny for me?  What is my calling, my purpose?  I want to talk with you about the ideas of calling and God’s will.  What is God’s calling for you?  What is God’s will for you?  These are two different ways of saying the same thing.  You’ll see lots of Scripture on your outline—these are a sampling of the hundreds of verses that talk about calling and God’s will.  We’ll look at a sampling of this sampling.  What I am going to say may surprise you.  I think that God’s will is more about what I do today than 5 years from now.  I think if I do what God asks me to do now, I will end up where He wants me then.  Here’s:

The Big Idea: God’s calling is both general (for everyone) and specific (for you).  When we do what we know, then we know what to do.  

When I do what I know God wants me to do right now, then I end up knowing what He wants me to do later.  When someone says, “I don’t know what to do with my life,” I ask them, “What do you know God wants you to do right now?  Start there.”

    Let’s talk about:

1. The idea of vocation: each of us has several callings.    Offering here!

    What do you think of when you hear the word “vocation”?  Our work, job, or career.  But the word “vocation” means “calling”—it comes from the Latin verb vocare, “to call”.  The word “vocation” came to be used of a religious calling: serving in the priesthood or a religious order.  It is unfortunate because we have reduced the idea of calling to the religious life alone.  Pastors are called, priests are called, but not bankers, teachers, mechanics or moms.  This is just plain wrong.  Everyone has a calling.  In fact, everyone has several callings.

    Your calling may include your career, but it is much bigger than that.  Your career is the work you do to earn an income.  Your calling is how God wants to use you to serve Him in the world.  So maybe your calling is to educate and influence young people for God, and your career is teaching school.  Even though these two are closely related, your calling is bigger than your career.  You are called to do more than they pay you for.  I believe this is true for all of us—our callings are bigger than our careers.

    This is especially clear if we understand that each of us has several callings.  God calls me to do not just one thing, but many things.  As an example, here are some of the callings in my life:

  • I am called to be a Christian.  This is my first and highest calling.  I am called to follow Jesus.  My friend, Jerry Sittser, says in his book, The Will of God as a Way of Life, “The primary calling of every Christian is to follow God, regardless of ability, position, opportunity, or background. Whether young or old, ordinary or extraordinary, poverty-stricken or pampered, everyone is called by God to trust, serve, and obey him. This is our primary calling.”  (p. 158).

  • I am called to be a husband to Laina.  This is a very high calling.  I am called to love her like Christ loves the church; I am called to give my life for her, to help her become everything God wants her to be.  I am called to be the husband God’s wants me to be for her.

  • I am called to be a father and grandfather.  This is another very high calling.  My children and grandchildren are a sacred trust from God.  He called me to be the best parent and grandparent I can be for them.

  • I am called to be a family member.  I am a son to my mom and to Noel, a brother (to my five sisters and spouses, and to Laina’s 5 siblings and spouses), an uncle (to my 30 nieces and nephews and their spouses and kids), a cousin (I have 50 first cousins on my mom’s side, and their spouses and kids).  There were almost 300 people at our last family reunion on my mom’s side!  These relationships are an important part of who I am and what I’m called to be.

  • I am called to be a friend.  I have many close friendships that I consider to be an important part of my calling, my assignment in life.

  • I am called to be a servant.  This is a calling that all of us share as Christians.  We are called to serve God and people, and are gifted to do it.   The word “minister” in the Bible means “servant”.  Everyone has a ministry—a service to offer to others.  Everyone is a minister—a servant to God and people.  How many ministers are in the house?  Everyone.  God calls you a minister, a servant.

  • I am called to be a pastor.  That’s my job or career—but it also my calling.

Can you see how my calling(s) are bigger than my career?  Take a moment and write down your callings on your outline.  What has God called you to do or be right now?  (Ask for some examples that are different than mine.)  Each of us has several callings—these are central to God’s will for our lives.

    When the Bible talks about our calling or God’s will, it talks about it generally (what we’re all called to do) and specifically (what you are called to do).  When we do the things we know to do, that are clearly spelled out in Scripture, then we know what to do beyond that.  Let’s break that down.

2. God’s general calling: what we’re all called to do.

    As I said a moment ago, our first and highest calling is to be Christians.  We are called to follow Jesus.  I hope you all know this verse by now:

Luke 9:23 If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

Who is called to follow Jesus?  Anyone!  Anyone means anyone.  Anyone means you.  This is our first and highest calling.  Do you wonder what God’s plan for your life is?  It starts here: follow Jesus.  As you follow Jesus day by day, He will lead you into all of what God wants for your life.  All the other callings flow from this one: follow Jesus.

    Following Jesus is a relationship.  This is clear in the call of the first disciples, recorded in Matthew 4.  When Jesus called them, “Follow me,” they left everything behind to follow Jesus.  It meant that they hung out with Jesus 24-7.  The call to follow is an invitation to relationship.  

John 15:15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

Jesus called them friends.  And what do friends do?  They share everything.  “Everything I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”  The call to follow is an invitation to friendship with Jesus.  This is a pretty cool calling!  

ILL: Is there anybody here that is friends with someone really important or well known?  Who is it?  I got you all beat—I’m friends with Jesus!  

James 2:23 says that Abraham was called “God’s friend” and God didn’t say that about many people.  But he says about you.  He calls you His friend too—I don’t think you get a much higher calling than that.  Well—there is something higher than being a friend—it’s being family!

1 John 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

God calls you His child!  Think about that!  After all you’ve done, after ignoring Him for years, after disobeying Him time and again—God calls you His child.  God lavishes His love on you and says, “You are my son, my daughter.”  I don’t think you can get a higher calling than that.  And God has a plan for all of His children.

Romans 8:28–30 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

God calls us according to His purpose.  What is His purpose?  To conform us to the likeness of His Son.  To make us like Jesus!  How is this for a high calling?  You have been called to become more like Jesus, your older brother in the family of God.  And it says that God is working in all things in your life to accomplish this purpose.  God doesn’t waste anything—God uses everything to shape you into the likeness of Jesus.  

Romans 1:5–7 Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. 6 And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the opening verses of his letter to the Romans, Paul says they are called to three things.  They are:

1. Called to obey.  Paul called people to the obedience that comes from faith.  We are called to trust God so deeply that we do whatever He says.  Do you know anyone that you trust so completely that you would do whatever they say?  “If that person tells me to do it, I’ll do it.”  If we refuse to obey God, it may be a trust issue.  When you disobey, it may be because you don’t trust God to know what’s best for you.  We are called to trust and obey.  

2. Called to belong.  We are called to belong to Jesus.  Here’s the relationship again—Jesus calls me to Himself.  

3. Called to be saints.  We are loved by God and called to be saints.  What’s a saint?  A holy person.  The words “saint” and “holy” come from the same Greek word, hagios, which means “unique, different, set apart for special purposes.”  

ILL: What’s this?  An ordinary 5-gallon Rubbermaid trash can.  That’s what you think!  This is a holy trashcan!  It has been set apart for a special purpose.  I make my homemade root beer in it—just made a batch a week ago!  It has never had anything in it but root beer.  Aren’t you glad that I don’t use it as a trashcan and then make root beer in it?  This is holy—it’s an ordinary trashcan set apart for special purposes.

You are holy—a saint—an ordinary person set apart for God’s purposes.  We don’t think of ourselves as saints—we’re just ordinary folks.  But God calls us saints.  The word “saint” has come to mean someone of unusual holiness or piety: Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Noel.  But the Bible uses the word of all Christians.  If you are a Christian, you are a saint.  Saint Joe—they named a river after me in Idaho!  Turn to your neighbor and call them, “Saint.” God has called you to be holy; He has set you apart for His own purposes.  

1 Thessalonians 4:7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.

God called us to life a holy life—it’s the same word—to be saints.  But in this passage, Paul applies it to our sexual behavior.

1 Thessalonians 4:3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality;

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified—same word—holy or saint.  And that means that you avoid sexually immorality—which is any sex outside of marriage. To be holy means to be sexually pure: no sex outside of marriage—period.  No pre-marital sex; no extramarital sex.  This is God’s will for us.  God calls us to be pure and holy.  If you want to know God’s will for your future, start by doing what you know is God’s will now.  If you’re having sex outside of marriage, if you’re violating what you know is God’s will, don’t expect Him to show you something new.

Ephesians 4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

Listen again to these callings: we are called to follow Jesus, called to be His friends, called to be His children, called to become more like Jesus, called to trust and obey, called to be saints and live holy lives. These are high callings!  Here Paul says, “Live up to your calling.”  

ILL: If you play basketball for Gonzaga, you are part of a rich tradition.  When you put on the Bulldogs uniform, you are expected to keep up that tradition.  You wear the uniform and the name with pride, and you live up to it.  “I’m a Zag!”

I’m part of a great tradition too. I’m a Christian.  And coach Paul says, “Live up to your calling.”  

    There are lots of other verses there for you to explore that say, “This is God’s will” or “this is your calling”, and they apply to all of us.  If you want to know God’s specific will, start here.  Do His general will.  Do what you know and you’ll know what to do.

3. God’s specific calling: what I’m called to do.

God has specific callings for you that match the way He designed you.  How do you discover what those are?  By following Jesus.  By listening to the whisper of the Spirit.  By doing the will of God you already know.  

And here’s a big idea: when God calls us, He doesn’t give us the whole picture; He usually gives us enough for the next step.  We’ll see that in an example of a specific call from the verses on your outline: Saul, who became Paul.

In Acts 9, Saul was leading the persecution of Christians, arresting and jailing them and arranging for their execution.  He had gotten permission from the Jewish authorities to go to Damascus and round up Christians there and bring them to Jerusalem.  On the way to Damascus, he is ambushed by Jesus, who tells him to go into the city and wait; he will be told what to do.  

Three days later, God speaks to a Christian named Ananias and tells him to go to a particular house where a man named Saul from Tarsus is praying.  Ananias was to place his hands on him and restore his sight.  Ananias said, “Excuse me?  Do you have any idea who this guy is?”  Despite his protests, God sends him anyway.

Acts 9:15–16 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

At this point, Ananias knows lots more about Saul’s future than Saul does!  Saul is still in the dark—literally and spiritually.  Ananias obeys, and Saul is converted to the faith he was trying to destroy.  But he was not only converted, he was called to a specific task: he was God’s chosen instrument to take the gospel before the Gentiles and their kings, and the people of Israel.  Saul is going to become Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles.  The Pharisee who would never dream of hanging out with Gentiles was now being sent to them with the gospel he tried to destroy!  You gotta love it.  No one would have predicted this.  If Saul had done the SHAPE assessment, he wouldn’t have thought, “I’m going preach the gospel of Jesus to the Gentile world.”  Nobody around Saul would have dreamed he would become Jesus’ rep to the Gentiles.  In fact, they would have said he was the last man for the job!  

    I think Ananias must have told Saul what Jesus said to him—about the Gentiles and about being God’s chosen instrument…and about suffering.  That starts right away.  Saul preaches Jesus in Damascus and has to run for his life.  He preaches Jesus in Jerusalem, and has to run for his life.  

    Fast forward to Acts 13.  By now, several years have past.  Saul has spent 3 of them in the Arabian desert—we think he was alone with Jesus most of that time, getting straightened out!  Then Barnabas brought him to Antioch to teach a growing Christian movement there that was primarily Gentile.  Here’s what happened.

Acts 13:1–3 In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

There’s a clear calling!  It sounds obscure to us—“the work to which I have called them”—but Saul and Barnabas knew what it meant and took off on an extended missionary journey, sharing the gospel and starting churches of new believers across Turkey.  It was the first of at least 3 of these missionary journeys that took them into Greece and eventually to Rome.  The rest of Acts is the story of these Spirit-led journeys.  

Acts 16:6–10 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

So, let’s review.  At Saul’s conversion, he is called to take the gospel to the Gentiles.  But nothing like that happened for several years, and when it did—well, he was an assistant pastor in a happening Gentile church that someone else got going.  No one would have called him “an apostle to the Gentiles”, just “a helper in a Gentile church”.  Then in Acts 13, God speaks again and sends him to “the work to which I have called” him.  Saul the persecutor becomes Paul the apostle.

Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—

1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

2 Corinthians 1:1  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

Colossians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

2 Timothy 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

What was Paul called to be and do?  An apostle.  What was God’s will for him?  Be an apostle.  

Notice these two things.  God spoke to Saul and called him.  The plan unfolded slowly.  I think these are two key ingredients in discovering God’s specific assignment in your life.  As you follow Jesus, He will speak to you.  Listen for His whisper—we talked about that recently.  Look for signs of His work and His leading in your life.  Then when you think you’ve heard and you know what He wants, keep following Jesus and be patient.  The plan will unfold over time.

ILL: Thank you again for the incredibly generous offering you gave for our three Central American partners—that $90,000 is going to do a lot!

Those partnerships and our three partnerships in Africa came about because one man in our church heard the Lord whisper, “I’m going to use you in Africa.”  He was sitting in a Leadership Summit when he heard the whisper.  He had no idea what it meant or where it would lead.  He just kept following Jesus and months later met a lady at his work who was going to Africa and immediately asked if he could go along.  Dana and Susan went, and came back and told me about David Opap who was trying to bring clean water to his village.  I went with David and Dana and Susan to Adiedo, and while I was there I read The Hole in Our Gospel…and the rest is history.  

It started with a whisper from God—Dana heard it, then waited until God started unfolding his plan.

What is your specific calling?  Listen for God’s whisper.  Then let Him unfold it.

4. It’s more important to do the will of God today than to know the will of God for tomorrow.

When the Bible talks about the will of God, it usually is something we already know and need to do, rather than something we need to figure out.  The will of God is more about doing than knowing, more about today than tomorrow.  If I do what I know God wants today, I will be ready to do what He wants tomorrow.  When we do what we know, then we know what to do.

I think that most of our hand-wringing about figuring out our future is misguided.  We need to listen to Jesus today.  We need to be led by the Spirit today.  We need to do the will of God we already know today.  And if we do, then we’ll be ready to follow when Jesus speaks about our future.  

    In The Will of God as a Way of Life, Jerry writes, “We discover our calling not by thinking about the future but by attending to what God is doing and asking of us today.”  (Pg. 172)

Romans 12:1–2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Offer yourselves to God as living sacrifices—full surrender to Jesus every day which is reasonable worship in view of His great mercy!  And let Him renew your mind and transform you from the inside out.  Then you’ll know His will.  

    Did you catch the order?  Don’t start by fretting about what He wants for you.  Start by offering your life as a living sacrifice.  Do it today.  And every day.  Then you’ll know what He wants.  When you do what you know, then you’ll know what to do.