Robert Munger’s talk on "Knowing God’s Will"

When a person has come to believe in God and that God calls people to follow him, the often asked question is, “How do I know what God wants me to do?” At Urbana 81, Robert Munger talked about “Knowing God’s Will.” Here are my notes:

How do we make right decisions (that is, the decisions that God wishes for us to make) and is there a process that assures us that we are doing God’s will for us?

Basic Principles of Guidance Found in Jesus’ Call

Jesus, while physically here on earth, called people to follow him. And he calls people to follow him while he is physically absent from the earth.

  1. “The call of Jesus is first and always to himself, to walk with him and be at this side.” Our response should be to make a “wholehearted, irrevocable decision to follow Jesus Christ, to live for him, to be his.”
  2. “. . . the greatest work in all the world is to make Jesus Christ known as Savior and Lord.”
  3. Jesus is our shepherd. “Sheep are stupid animals . . . [but] the shepherd’s call and encouragement, his rod and staff, make sure that every sheep in the flock will arrive safely.”
  4. The key to guidance: “we must be willing to do God’s will before we know what it is. To trust ourselves to him. To be taught, shaped and led as he shall choose.”

Some Practical Procedures

  1. “Offer yourself to daily to God.”
  2. “Pray for guidance and grace. Ask him to make his way plain to you and put his desires within you.”
  3. “Inform the mind . . . People are guided by what they know, not by what they don’t know.”
    “We are guided by the truth of God’s word.” We can learn much in the Bible about what is important to God as we study his actions in history and as we study his words spoken to people in the past.”
    “We are guided also by the facts of God’s world.”
  4. Spend time with other Christians who are wise and know God’s word who can provide support, encouragement, wise counsel, and accountability. [Greg’s addition: But be careful of those who seek to control your life and imply that to do God’s will you must do what they say.]
  5. Start where you are. Don’t think that this or that has to change before you can start. Jesus said that he would be with us and never leave us. Give yourself to God, pray for his direction, study his word, get wise counsel and take that next step.

Not The Wisdom Of Men, But The Power Of God

Some friends gave me a voucher for a free United Airlines ticket that they were going to be unable to use. This was a real blessing because I was going to purchase a plane ticket to attend an ACMI (Association of Christians Ministry with Internationals) conference in Minnesota at the end of May. My friends were leaving the country (the next day, in fact), so I went over to pick up the voucher at their house. He told me that this voucher could be used for any flight in the 48 states and that he could also give it to someone else and that I would have to go the airport to get it exchanged for a ticket.

As grateful as I was to have the voucher, as I envisioned myself going to the ticket counter with this voucher (made out to someone else), my thinking was along the lines of “they aren’t going to let me use this.” I said, “Why don’t you write out a note that you are giving the ticket to me and sign it,” which he did.

So finally, on a day when I was already going to the airport to pickup an incoming Chinese student, I went a little early to exchange the voucher for a ticket. As I drove to the airport, in my mind I began to go over the various scenarios that I could imagine unfolding as I try to exchange this voucher with someone else’s name on it. If they said this, I would say that.

Then I began thinking about how when Israel would go out to battle, God did not want them to take too many into battle “lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me'” (Judges 7:2). Later, this verse also came to mind:

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:3-5 (ESV)

So then I stopped preparing for possible lines of defense, and began asking God to help me. As I stood in line, there were two agents taking people from my line, both fairly pleasant looking. Then a third one came on duty–Miss Grumpy. So naturally I began to worry that I would get her. I continued to pray, but I also thought, maybe God wants me to get her to make sure I know that this was his doing.

Sure enough, she called me up. I handed her the voucher and, as she began typing, asked where I wanted to go. I figured that I should tell her that I was not the person listed on the voucher. She said, “Oh, well, he should have come with you to sign this over.”

I pulled out the scrap of paper with my friend’s note and signature. She looked at it and said, “That’s good enough for me.” And then she issued me my ticket for Minnesota. She didn’t even keep the note.

Thank you, Lord!


Happiness Versus Joy

When you see someone who is happy, it is normal to wonder why they are happy. Likewise, it seems abnormal for someone to have a big smile on their face for no apparent reason.

In thinking about “Joy” and “Happiness,” some would make a distinction. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Eleventh Edition) defines happiness and joy in the following ways:

1 a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight
b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion :gaiety
2 : a state of happiness or felicity : bliss
3 : a source or cause of delight

1 obs : good fortune : prosperity
2 a : a state of well-being and contentment : joy
b : a pleasurable or satisfying experience

In each case, the other word is used in the definition. I am not sure that it is helpful to try to see a substantial difference. I think it is more useful to realize that happiness or joy always has a context or a cause; it is a state brought about by an underlying (or perceived) reality. (Pity the person who is happy for false reasons.) A person is joyful or happy because they are in a certain situation or they understand something about that situation. The big question is, will this situation or state endure? Is it temporary or lasting?

I think that a typical child living with affluent parents experiences a high degree of joy on Christmas morning; but that joy is short-lived. A young man who has just become engaged to the love of his life experiences a joy that will surely last longer than the joy of Christmas morning, but even that joy will find itself fluctuating as time wears on and circumstances change.

Only someone who is good, eternal, and unchanging could provide a context for a happiness or joy that is superior and lasting. In Psalm 16:11, David says of God,

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

So, if you are seeking your joy (or happiness), why settle for anything less?