Saturday, February 14, 2015

Do You Want God’s Best?

Photo by Horia Varlan 2008

Do you want God’s best that He has planned for you, or do you settle for what you think is best?

As we grow from babes in Christ to mature Christians through daily Bible study and prayer (Acts 17:10-11), joining a church (Hebrews 10:25), and getting involved in regular service, we may fall into the trap of thinking we’ve mastered our role in Christ, or at least that we have a good handle on it. We may fall into the routine of a “spiritual checklist,” mentally giving ourselves a gold star for sticking to our Scripture reading schedule, church attendance, and ministry opportunities.

In our flesh, we may have shaped our behavior to the point that we can at a moment’s notice put on our Sunday face, give appropriate words of encouragement and perhaps Scripture verses, and even prepare a lesson or write a blog post. But have we forgotten that without Him, we can do nothing? (John 15:5) Do we decide on a plan of action for our Christian service and ask Him to bless it after the fact, or do we pray first about seeking His will?

The apostle Paul clearly had a sincere desire to follow God’s plan for His life (Acts 9:6,18,20), which he understood was to preach the Gospel of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only way to Heaven (John 14:6). Jesus Himself had revealed to Paul the mystery that he was now to spread this message to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews (Romans 16:25-26). Paul was prepared to endure great hardships and sufferings to fulfill that mission (2 Corinthians 11:25-27).

God was clear in His directive; and Paul was obedient, faithful and sincere in following it. So I imagine that Paul may have felt frustrated when God seemed to be blocking Paul’s plan to carry out his mission. He and his fellow missionaries had started churches in Phrygia and Galatia, and these were starting to grow. He then intended to preach in Asia, but he was “forbidden” by the Holy Spirit. So they tried to take God’s message to Bithynia, but once again the Holy Spirit did not allow it (Acts 16: 5-7).

Why? God knows everything, past, present, and future, including things we can’t possibly know (Psalm 139:1-18). He sees the whole picture unfolding in the context of time, while we only see a single puzzle piece, and often from the wrong side, at that. God always knows best, and going to Asia at that time was not part of God’s plan for the early Christian missionaries.

Paul was practically God’s right-hand man on earth, at least at that point in church history, and yet God still revealed information to him only on a “need-to-know” basis. It reminds me of Abraham, taking the first step of faith, and then the next, without even knowing where God was leading him (Genesis 12:1-4). But Abraham was a pagan with no track record (Genesis 11), and Paul had a long pedigree of the best ancestry, religious education, and fervent zeal to serve God, albeit misdirected until he saw Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:3-10).

Nonetheless, God did not spell out all the details of His plan for Paul’s ministry. We may grow impatient when we don’t understand the overall picture of where and how God is leading us. But if He showed us the whole plan at once, one of two things would happen.

Either we would back away terrified at the enormity of the plan, realizing correctly that in our flesh we could not accomplish it, but forgetting that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26; 2 Corinthians 12:9). Or we would be filled with pride that God chose us for such an awesome plan, again forgetting that it is all about His glory, not ours (Acts 12:23).

He strengthens our faith by ensuring our reliance on Him each step of the way. He gets the glory by choosing those who have no hope, by earthly standards, of accomplishing the plan. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit within every child of God guides us to want what God wants for our life, and to actually do His will, for our good and His glory (Philippians 2:13).

With His perfect timing, God sent Paul a vision of a Macedonian man asking for Paul’s help (Acts 16:9). God often used visions and dreams in Bible history to direct His children, and He still may, if we take the time to seek stillness in His presence. When testing these visions, we can rest assured that God would never contradict His Word, so that a “vision” commanding us to sin cannot be of God.

From this vision Paul understood correctly that God wanted him to set sail immediately for Macedonia, which he did (Acts 16:10). How often do we clearly understand what God is asking us to do, yet we delay in following Him? Sadly, delayed obedience is the same as disobedience (Psalm 119:60). If a parent asks their teen to take out the trash, and they obey – three days later – can we say they honored their parent’s command?

Because of Paul’s willingness to follow God’s plan and his immediate obedience, God promptly found him passage and gave him a straight course to the appointed country across the sea (Acts 16:11). If we trust in God completely rather than in ourselves, and acknowledge God in all our doings, and not just in what we consider to be most important, He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).

By worldly standards, Paul’s arrival in Philippi (Acts 16:12), the chief city of Macedonia, looked like a mistake. But God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9).

Paul’s usual practice was to find a synagogue and ask the faithful Jews if he could tell them about the Messiah (Acts 17:1-3,10). But Philippi had no synagogue, meaning that there were not even ten Jewish men living there, which was the minimum number needed to start a synagogue. God led Paul to the river, where people sometimes gathered to worship so that they could use the water in their cleansing rituals.

There Paul found a group of faithful women praying (Acts 16:13), which emphasizes the role that women have had since the early Church Age of gathering together as prayer warriors (James 5:16), to study the Scriptures to faithfully teach their children (2 Timothy 1:5), to encourage one another by sharing their joys and burdens, and to serve and support fellow believers (Galatians 6:2).

Among these women at the river was Lydia, a well-to-do business woman who was a seller of purple cloth, available only to wealthy buyers because of the large numbers of a special, small shellfish needed to concentrate the purple fluid used as a dye. She already believed in God (Acts 16:14), as so many people claim to even in our present world.

But sadly, believing in God is not enough to be saved, for even the demons believe in God and tremble (James 2:19). Salvation requires faith that Jesus Christ is God and God’s Son, Who came to earth in human form as the perfect, sinless sacrifice to pay for all our sins, to reconcile sinful man to Holy God (John 1:29; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Hebrews 2:17). Only when we are born again (John 3:3-7; 1 Peter 1:23) by believing this, turning from our sins, and asking Jesus to be our personal Lord and Savior can we receive God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life.

Faith comes only by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17), which Paul preached to Lydia and the others. When she was saved by believing the Gospel, she evidently led her household to Christ, for they were all baptized (Acts 16:14-15), not for salvation but as an act of obedience. Often one person being born again leads to salvation of the whole family, even though each family member must make a personal decision for Christ.

Lydia offered her time, talent and treasure to Christ, opening her home to shelter the missionaries for as long as they needed and to hold worship meetings (Acts 16:15, 40). Through her efforts and those of Paul’s other converts, the church at Philippi became a prominent center of Christian ministry and evangelism.

God used Paul at Philippi to show His awesome power in casting out demons (Acts 16:16-18); showing that joy in the Lord allows His children to sing His praises even after being whipped and then imprisoned (v. 23-25); and in freeing His children from jail by sending a great earthquake. Even better, this gave Paul and Silas the opportunity to preach to the jailer, who accepted Christ, as did his family (v. 27-34)

The book of Philippians, Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, is crucial to the Christian’s understanding of joy in the Lord, and of how we can rejoice always (Philippians 4:4) knowing that we have abundant, eternal life in Him (John 3:16; 10:10), no matter what our earthly circumstances. Paul himself wrote this joyful epistle from the gloom of a prison cell!

Had Paul not trusted God’s direction, paid attention to the vision God sent him, and obeyed God immediately in changing his destination from Asia to Macedonia, none of these blessings may have come to pass.  What we perceive in our limited understanding to be good may not be God’s best. We must believe that God knows what we need before we ask Him and that He wants to give us His best (Matthew 6:8; 7:11).

If we delight in Him, He will give us our heart’s desires (Psalm 37:4). This doesn’t mean that we’ll win the lottery just because we’re saved! But it does mean that as we become more like Christ, we want to submit to His will (Luke 22:42) and to fulfill God’s perfect plan for our life, which is the best blessing we could possibly have (Jeremiah 29:11; 33:3). He answers our prayers “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

Charles Stanley tells the story of desperately needing a car in his early days as a pastor. He prayed about it, searched diligently for a used car, and finally found one he could afford. He thought it was a good deal and would serve him well, but he did not have a real sense of peace about it. As he sat in the car dealer’s office and was about to sign the papers, he had a clear perception of God saying, “Do you want this, or do you want my best?”

So he got up from the table, apologized to the dealer, and told him he could try to explain why he had such a sudden change of heart, but that the car dealer might have a hard time believing him! Charles Stanley decided to put off his car search for a while. Three days later a wealthy member of the congregation gave him a free gift of a brand new, high-end car! 

Instead of deciding on our own what we’re going to do, and then asking God to bless our plans, may we pray to Him first, listen for His still, small voice, and immediately follow His guidance!

© 2015 Laurie Collett
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Janis Cox said...

Great thoughts and Scriptures. I love your last sentence. I am trying very hard to do this.

Frank E. Blasi said...

Dear Laurie,
I'm back!
Your analogy of the jigsaw puzzle is a good one. I can see it this way: The early weeks/months/years is like fitting all the edge pieces together, which would give us the size of the finished artwork, but with a massive hole within, no idea of what the finished picture will look.
I fully agree with you about God not revealing the finished plan, for this would either bring fear or pride. But I also don't believe that the picture is complete by the time we die either. For example, Paul initially wanted to reach Spain to set up churches there, which would have resulted in the entire Roman Empire evangelised. Instead, the Jews succeeded in having him arrested and brought before Felix, Festus, and eventually the Roman emperor. In human terms Paul died with his mission unfinished, but God did not see it that way. I think this will be the same with all of us - being called home when we think we still have much to accomplish.
God bless.

Brenda said...

Hi Laurie,
we certainly don't need to worry about anything, that's right. Jesus says that in the world we have tribulation, but in Him we have peace because He has overcome the world, and that if we first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness then everything else will be supplied, His word proves itself true, and brings joy as we 'eat' it.
God bless you Laurie.

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks so much, Janis! It's a daily challenge for me also to live by that last sentence!
May you have a blessed week in Him,

Laurie Collett said...

Dear Frank,
Welcome back! You were missed indeed!
I love your extension of the jigsaw puzzle analogy. I agree also that God starts works in His children that will only be completed by others. They may think they died too soon or in vain, like a great artist who dies unrecognized and penniless, but God's timing is always perfect. What a blessing it will be when we finally see the completed picture!
God bless,

Laurie Collett said...

Amen, Brenda! We have no need to worry, and worrying is actually a sin of unbelief, because it means that at some level we don't trust Him to do what is best for us. Praise God for His Word, which is truth!
God bless you too,

Michele Morin said...

Great to run into you again here at Weekend Brew. I'm your neighbor on this snowy Sunday, and was glad to get another cupful of truth from your blog.

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks, Michele! I appreciate your kind words of encouragement.
In Florida we're enjoying beautiful sunny day in the low 70s. I came from up north, though, so I feel your pain! Stay warm and God bless,

Gayl Wright said...

Hi Laurie! It is so true that God always knows best. We may not always understand His timing but it is always right. It is also my prayer that we seek His guidance in everything. Though I may fail, He always forgives and sets me back on the right path. (As an aside, my husband and I spent a week in Redington Beach, FL, with his siblings. Just a week ago on our way home we ate breakfast at the Denny's on Fowler Ave. in Tampa.) Small world.

BARBIE said...

What I think is best, is not always God's best for me. I've been humbled by a few situations in my life lately that have shown me that God really does know best. Thank you for sharing at The Weekend Brew each week!

Laurie Collett said...

Hi Gayl!
Small world indeed! We're just a few minutes away from Denny's on Fowler, although we've never been to Redington Beach. Hope you had a wonderful trip!
Praise God for His perfect timing, forgiveness, and guidance, and for working all things together for our good.
Love in Christ,

Laurie Collett said...

So true, Barbie -- when we lean on our own understanding, we tend to get into trouble. I am thankful that He wants what is best for us and has all power to accomplish it, when we let go and trust Him!
Thank you for hosting & for your lovely comment!
God bless,

Ifeoma Samuel said...

Hi Laurie, This is a very thoughtful post. I had to settle in and read. Quite a number of scriptures here too as a reminder. God's best for our lives is all we need.
Thank you for sharing at MOM THE WORD LINK UP.

Donald Fishgrab said...

Another great post, Laurie.

It seems that few learn to truly walk in the spirit in our day, and walking in the flesh, in our own understanding and logic, only leads to frustration and defeat. So often we don't even realize when we move from walking in the spirit to walking in the flesh. I recently completed a book, BEING SPIRITUAL, a study of I Corinthians dealing with how to tell whether we are walking in the Spirit or in the flesh.

Laurie Collett said...

Hi Ifeoma! Thank you so much for your kind words! So true, that His best is all we need!
May you have a blessed week in Him,

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks, Donald! Great point, that the more we are walking in the flesh, the more we become blinded to that fact. It's like the prodigal son who doesn't realize how far he's fallen until he finds himself wallowing in the pig sty and craving their food. Your book sounds like a great read -- is it available as an ebook?
God bless,

Lisa notes... said...

We do too often settle for good enough instead of God's best. Thanks for the reminder to wait for the Lord.

cairncottage said...

Hi, Laurie. The struggle to wait on God's timing to receive His best is one I've felt a lot lately. I have prayed for my son to turn his life over to the Lord since the day he was born. He made a decision and was baptized at a young age, but fell away. Now, at 22, he questions many things about the Christian faith, and his lifestyle shows no commitment to God, which breaks my heart. I still pray for him every day, and often question why God doesn't answer my prayers for his life. I trust God to be faithful, though,and will never stop praying for him. I want the very best of what God has for his life!!! Thanks for sharing and for stopping over at my blog!
Blessings, Ann @ Christ in the Clouds

beth willis miller's blog said...

Laurie, I live this post, especially this... "God knows everything, past, present, and future, including things we can’t possibly know (Psalm 139:1-18). He sees the whole picture unfolding in the context of time, while we only see a single puzzle piece..." Thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment also ❤️

Laurie Collett said...

So true, Lisa -- if we think we know what's best, we miss out on God's greatest blessing. Thanks for your comment, and may your week be blessed!

Laurie Collett said...

Dear Ann,
Thank you so much for sharing this testimony. Praise God for His promise that if you train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old, he will not depart from it. That being said, there are often many heartbreaking years in between! Our former pastor was a great man of God who was saved at age 6, but then fell away from the Lord during his teen years until a tragic accident took the life of 2 of his friends. He finally realized the Lord had to go to those lengths to get his attention and turned his life over to Him. He was not only an amazing preacher, evangelist and teacher, but a dear friend and example to his flock until the Lord took him home at age 40 from cancer. We won't understand until we reach glory, but we can trust that His plan is best. Praise God that He hears our prayers and will answer them in the best possible way, with His perfect timing, and that He loves our children even more than we do!
God bless,

Laurie Collett said...

Hi Beth,
I'm blessed to hear you enjoyed the post! May we trust Him to arrange the puzzle pieces to reveal His beautiful and perfect picture!
Love in Christ,

Trudy said...

"He sees the whole picture unfolding in the context of time, while we only see a single puzzle piece, and often from the wrong side, at that." Love this analogy. The whole picture will be stunningly beautiful. Thank you, Laurie, for reminding me He knows the plans He has for us and they will always be good and to follow Him, not to run ahead of Him. I'm your neighbor at Jennifer's.

s said...

That is a trap we all fall into isn't it...? We make plans and ask the Lord to bless them. We believe that we know our plans must align with His but we could be missing out on so much! I want God's best ... not what I think is His best :)
Thank you for this insightful message :) #RaRaLinkUp

blestbutstrest said...

Ah, so often we make our plans and ask God to bless them instead of asking God to make our plans. Thank you for the reminder that it's important to get the order right!

Laurie Collett said...

Dear Trudy,
Thank you so much for visiting and for your lovely comment. Praise God that His plans are perfect, stemming from His infinite, love, wisdom and power!
God bless,

Laurie Collett said...

Thank you, Sarah, for your visit & thoughtful comment. Father really does know best!
May you have a blessed week in Him,

Unknown said...

I think this is so true: Either we would back away terrified at the enormity of the plan, realizing correctly that in our flesh we could not accomplish it, but forgetting that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26; 2 Corinthians 12:9). Or we would be filled with pride that God chose us for such an awesome plan, again forgetting that it is all about His glory, not ours (Acts 12:23). -- I definitely resonate with this and know also that learning to trust Him with the whole plan is part of how we draw closer to Him.

Laurie Collett said...

You're very welcome, and thanks so much for your visit & comment! May we always keep our priorities straight and put Him first.
God bless,

Laurie Collett said...

Thank you, Jen, for your encouraging comment. I appreciate your words of affirmation -- you are a real blessing!
Love in Christ,

Mary Hill said...

Hi, thanks for linking up this great scriptural review study at Literacy Musing Mondays. I learned alot about Paul's travels and Lydia. ;)

Laurie Collett said...

Hi Mary! Thanks for hosting & for your lovely comment. I am blessed to hear you enjoyed the post!
Love in Christ,