Sunday, February 28, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
What does God want for me?
#1—God wants to know you.
Have you ever wondered, “What is God’s will for my life? What does God want for me?” Well, in the next four weeks, I’m going to tell you! I’ll answer all your questions! If you believe that, I’ve got a set of steak knives I want to sell you! Ok, I can’t answer all your questions, but I’m going to answer some of the most important ones and get you pointed in the right direction.
What does God want for me? That’s the question I want to answer. Of course, God has specific and unique things that He wants for each of us. We are each gifted and called differently. But God also has some things that He wants for all of us. I think we can get so hung up on the particulars that we miss the universals—the big things God wants for all of us. And I think that when we focus on the big things, the little things begin to sort themselves out and become clear.
So here is the universal, what God wants for all of us: We are called to be disciples of Jesus and to make disciples.
Matthew 28:18–20 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This is called the Great Commission. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus. And of course, our calling is to be disciples of Jesus.
So this begs the question, “What is a disciple?” A disciple is a learner, or a follower. But what does that look like? Years ago, a group of us asked that question, and we scoured the New Testament and created a list of characteristics of a disciple of Jesus. It was a long list that had about 40-50 things, and we thought, “Oh no, that’s a little overwhelming!” But as we looked at it, the list sorted itself into four broad categories:
- Relationship with God: God wants to know you. He wants a love relationship with you.
- Christ-like character: God wants to change you. He wants to make you more like Jesus.
- Relationships with others: God wants to socialize you. He wants your relationships to be healthy.
- Service to God and people: God wants to send you. He wants you to serve effectively.
The whole thing starts with a relationship with God. And as I know and love God, the next thing that changes is me—I become a different person, more like Jesus. Then as I change, my relationships with those around me are transformed. I become a better spouse, parent, friend, employer, employee, and neighbor. When you have a relationship with God that transforms you and your relationships with people, you have something worth giving away, so God sends you into the world to serve.
A relationship with God, a new you, transformed relationships with people, and service to God and people. We summarize it with “God, me, we, world.” Or you could say, “Up, in, around, out.” Or “know, grow, yo, go.”
This is what we’re trying to do here at Life Center. We are making disciples—helping people find and follow Jesus. These four things are what we’re working toward together: we’re helping each other get closer to God, become more like Jesus, have better relationships and serve the world in Jesus’ name.
I want to take four weeks to unpack these, to cast a vision for what God wants for you, and to challenge you to take your next step and keep growing in each area. So let’s start at the beginning.
The Big Idea: The first thing God wants is a love relationship with you! He wants to love you and be loved by you.
We’re look at what God wants for you, and how it happens.
- God wants a love relationship with you.
This is the theme of the whole Bible, cover to cover.
It starts in Genesis. God created you in His image—like Himself—to have a relationship with you. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that God was lonely—He wasn’t. If He was, He would have been better off making a puppy. God wasn’t lonely. God is a relationship—this is the mystery of the Trinity. Father, Son and Spirit have always loved each other. God is love, and that love was shared and expressed long before God created us. God didn’t create us because He was lonely, but because He is love. We were created for His pleasure, to be loved by Him and to love Him back.
God placed the first humans in an earthly paradise where they enjoyed personal relationship with Him. But here’s what happened after Adam and Eve rebelled:
Genesis 3:8–9 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
God is walking in the garden—He has come to walk with Adam and Eve, to enjoy their company in the cool of the day. Imagine yourself sitting on your porch on a warm summer day, enjoying lemonade or iced coffee and conversation with good friends. That’s the picture here—God is dropping by for evening coffee. This is what God wants—face-to-face fellowship with us; this is why God created us. God comes calling, but Adam and Eve are nowhere to be found. They’re hiding. “Where are you?” God calls. Don’t think hide and seek: “Where are you?” Hear this as God saying, “I’ve come to be with you; where are you?”
ILL: A couple months ago, I scheduled to meet a friend at Starbucks near Shadle. Unfortunately, I got my wires crossed and went to the Starbucks near Northtown. I waited and waited, and finally my friend texted me and said, “I’m here; where are you?” I texted back, “I’m here, where are you?” We were in looking for each other; I was just looking in the wrong place!
“I’m here; where are you?” I think God’s sending that message to us. He wants a relationship with you. He’s come to walk with you through your days. But because of our sin and shame, like Adam and Eve, we hide. We run. Here’s the good news: Jesus came to take away our sin and shame, and to restore us to a relationship with God.
The Bible says that our sin pushed us away from God; we became God’s enemies. Jesus came to take our sin away and reconcile us to God, to make us God’s friends again.
2 Corinthians 5:18–21 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
To reconcile is to turn enemies into friends. God reconciled us. He sent Jesus to take our sin that had come between us. God was never our enemy; we were God’s enemies, even though it was our problem, not His that broke the relationship. Yet God took the initiative to reconcile us.
ILL: A few years back, I had a friend and I made the mistake of loaning money to him. At first, everything was kosher. But then I noticed a distance growing between us. When I asked him about it, he got angry and defensive. It turns out that he wasn’t able to repay me. He soon stopped talking to me and avoided me altogether. I could tell that he was angry with me.
What had I done? I thought I had done him a favor—I tried to help him. And I hadn’t demanded the money back—in fact, I hadn’t even mentioned it to him. But suddenly, I had become his enemy. What was going on? His anger toward me was coming from his guilt. I had become his enemy not because of what I’d done, but what he’d done.
When I figured this out, I contacted him and forgave the debt. I told him, “I don’t care about the money; I care about you. You’re my friend, and I want to keep you as my friend, and not lose you because of some money. I don’t care about the money. Forget about it.”
I wish I could tell you that he accepted my forgiveness and everything was cool again. Instead, he still insisted that he would pay me back, even though I said he didn’t need to. And the coolness persisted between us, despite my efforts to reconcile.
This is what God did for us. It was our problem, not His. We were His enemies, He was never ours. Yet He took our problem—our sin—on as His own, and reconciled us to Himself. You have a choice: to accept His forgiveness and be reconciled, or insist on paying your debt and remain alienated.
God wants a relationship with you! And He has gone to incredible lengths to reconcile you, to make you His friend. Cover to cover the Bible shows that God wants a relationship with you. “I’m here; where are you?”
When Jesus was asked the most important or greatest of all the commands, He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. This is the first and greatest commandment.” So what does God want for you? Or more accurately, what does God want most for you? That you love Him with all you’ve got. He already loves you with all He’s got and now He wants you to love Him back. He wants a love relationship with you! “I’m here; where are you?”
Cover to cover—Genesis to Revelation—God wants a relationship with us.
Revelation 3:20 (Jesus says) Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
Jesus is inviting Himself over for lunch! He’s knocking on your door because He wants to hang out with you. In Biblical times, to open your home and share a meal was a sign of true friendship, deep fellowship. Jesus wants you to invite Him in for a meal—He wants to fellowship with you. The Bible starts with God dropping by for an evening walk and coffee on the porch; it ends with Jesus knocking on our doors, hoping we’ll invite him in for a meal. God wants a relationship with you. “I’m here; where are you?”
Christianity is fundamentally relational. Religion is all about what we do for God; Christianity is about what He has done for us so that we can know Him. Religion is about rules and regulations; Christianity is about a relationship with God—a relationship that God Himself made possible. This is the gospel: in Christ, God has done everything necessary for you to have a relationship with Him. How much does God want a relationship with you? Enough that He would take on human flesh and die for it.
“I’m here; where are you?”
So how do we get to know God?
- How do we get to know God?
There is more to this than I can cover in the next 15 minutes, so I’m going to simplify it and talk about three things that we do with anyone we want to get to know. First, spend time together.
- Spend time together.
There is no shortcut to spending time together. The more time you spend with someone, the better you know him. If you don’t spend time with someone, you don’t know her. It’s that simple.
Mark 1:16–18 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
When Jesus called His disciples, what did He call them to do? “Follow me.” What did they do? They dropped their nets and literally followed him, meaning that they went wherever He went. They were with Him all the time. They followed Him around and hung out with him.
The call to follow Jesus is a call to relationship. It’s a call to live with Jesus 24-7, be companions of Jesus all day every day.
ILL: There is no better way to get to know someone than to follow them around, to be with them 24/7. When you are with someone 24/7, you see the good and the bad; you see who they really are, because it’s pretty hard to fake it 24/7.
It’s one reason I love to go on mission trips with people from our church. You get to know each other; you see each other under stress; you see each other without your makeup—raw and unvarnished. I always come back feeling bonded with my trip mates. We know each other—it’s that 24/7 thing.
“Follow me!” It’s an invitation to a relationship—to be with Jesus 24/7. It shows up again when Jesus appointed the 12 apostles.
Mark 3:14–15 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons.
Jesus chose 12 to be His apostles, and notice the first thing they were to do: “that they might be with him.” Job 1 was to be with Jesus. Before they were sent out to preach or heal or help people, first, they had to be with Jesus. All ministry flows from your relationship with God. If you are hanging with out God, you’ve got something to offer others. Job 1 is to be with Jesus.
So how do we spend time with Jesus? I’m going to give you three very practical suggestions.
First, practice the presence of God. Being with Jesus is 24/7—he is always with you. But if you’re like me, I can breeze through my day without ever being aware of His presence. I can live like a Christian atheist, as though God’s not there at all. I can be oblivious to His presence. I think God is often saying to me, “I’m here; where are you?”
ILL: I’ve tried all kinds of things to help me be more aware of God’s presence. For awhile, when I did my daily time with God, I would pour a second cup of coffee and set it next to the chair opposite me. God never drank the coffee, but it reminded me that He was there and we were having a conversation. For awhile, when I went places, I would open the passenger door of the car for the Lord. I’m sure the neighbors thought I was a nut case! I’ve set reminders on my watch or phone to beep and remind me to pray through the day.
The ancient Christian practice of praying the hours is another way of reminding yourself that God is there and communicating with Him. I also use “arrow prayers”—short in-the-moment prayers about whatever I’m doing right then. The most common prayer: “Help me Lord!” Many people use the Jesus Prayer: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
The whole point of all this is simply to remind yourself that God is there, and to live in His presence 24/7. That’s what He wants—He wants a 24/7 relationship with you. Practice the presence of God.
Second, have a daily time with God. We call it PBJ time—prayer, bible and journal. Some call it the quiet time; others call it daily devotions. Whatever you call it, the purpose of this daily time with God is to know Him, to love Him, to be with Him.
ILL: Laina and I spend lots of time together—we live together 24/7. But every day, we make time for focused conversation. We stop doing together, and we just “be together.” Without this focused time, you could be around each other but still not connect deeply.
The same is true with God. You can practice God’s presence, but you still need times of focused attention and conversation.
Each day, I read my Bible—I use our Bible reading plan which is on our website, on the app, and available in our journals and at the info center. I read my Bible and I ask God to speak to me and give me one thing. I write that one thing down in my journal with a response: here’s what I am going to do. And then I pray it back to God. I go on to spend some more time in prayer and listening.
ILL: Many years ago, when I was first learning about the importance of this daily time with God to build our relationship, I missed a few days. When I showed up again at our meeting place (a small room in my college dorm), I felt like God spoke to me. “I’m glad you’re here; I’ve missed our times together.” It blew my mind! God really wanted to spend time with me! It’s kind of like He was saying, “I’ve been here; where were you?”
This changed the way I looked at that time. It wasn’t a law—something I had to do or I was in trouble. It’s an opportunity to be with God and get to know Him better—and He wants it more than me!
Third, come to church. I come to church to be with all of you, and to meet with God. I expect God to meet me, to speak to me and to work in my life every time I come to church. Jesus said:
Matthew 18:20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
Church is people meeting together in Jesus name—because of Jesus. And every time we do that, He is here. Jesus is here. He is with us always, everywhere. But the fact that He promised to be with us whenever we meet suggests that something special happens—we experience His presence among us differently than we do alone. In a very real sense, every time we come to church, we come to Jesus. I hope you come every week to meet with Jesus and expecting Him to do things in your life!
How do you get to know God? By spending time together. There are two more…they are going to be quicker.
- Observe Him.
How do you get to know God? You get to know anyone by observing them. This is a natural result of spending time together. When you’re with someone 24/7, you get to observe him in the wild, in her natural habitat. You see what she’s really like.
The disciples followed Jesus and observed all He did and said, and they got to know Jesus really well. This, by the way, is why the early church only accepted gospels from the apostles. They wanted the story told by the people who knew Jesus best, who observed Him and all He did.
So we want to know Jesus—how do we observe Him? He’s not here where we can see and touch Him. This is where the Bible is so important. God has revealed Himself in creation, in Jesus and in the Scriptures. When we read the Bible, we have the opportunity to observe God. We see God at work, we hear God speaking. We are observing God. The more we read, the more we know. Most importantly, the more we read, the more we know Jesus.
John 5:39–40 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
Jesus corrected the religious leaders of His day who read the Scriptures as an end in itself. The Bible points to Jesus. The Scriptures all testify about Him, and the point of reading the Bible is to come to Jesus to have life.
At one point early in my Christian life, I read the Bible so that I could win arguments. I used the Scriptures like a club to prove I was right and others were wrong. Later, I read the Bible so that I could know it really well. I used the Bible to show how clever I was—that I knew lots of verses. Later, I read the Bible so I could be a theologian—deep and profound. Now I just read the Bible to know Jesus. He said that’s the point.
If you are new to the Bible, let me help you get started. Read the gospels—the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are the story of Jesus. Read the gospels and get to know Jesus. When you finish, read them again. Then again. The whole Bible points to Jesus, so why not start with Him.
Set aside some time for God each day and read the Bible to observe Jesus and get to know Him. The more you read, the better you’ll know Him. You’ve got a Bible. Maybe God’s saying, “I’m here; where are you?”
How do you get know God? Spend time together; observe Him; and:
- Listen to Him.
How do you get know anyone? You have conversations, and you listen. When I’m talking, I’m not learning anything—especially about you. If I want to learn about you, I need to listen to you. Ask good questions and listen. This is so important that it’s all over in the Bible—so much, that I’m going to do a whole series on listening later in the spring. Jesus said,
John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.
Jesus used the metaphor of a shepherd and his sheep to describe our relationship with Him. Jesus is the good shepherd who cares for and leads His sheep. He knows each of us by name, and when He calls us, we listen to His voice and follow. Listening to Jesus is essential to know Him.
We listen to Jesus in the Scriptures. He speaks to us through the Bible.
We listen to Jesus in church. He speaks to us through the Word, the Worship, the Sacraments, and most importantly through people.
We listen to Jesus in prayer. Prayer is not just talking to God; it’s talking with God. Prayer is a conversation, and good conversation is both talking and listening. If you want to know God, learn how to listen. Develop a conversational relationship with God. I try to end my prayer times by simply listening. “Lord, is there anything you want to say to me? Anything you want to talk about?” I’ll be honest. It’s hard for me. It’s hard for me to be still and just listen. I’m not a great listener—just ask my wife. But I’m working on it. And the more I listen, the better I know God.
God wants a relationship with you. He loves you and want you to love Him back. He knows you and wants you to know Him. He’s calling, “I’m here; where are you?”