Facing Failure

This past week, a show named Survivor came to an end. How many people watched the finale? For 3 months, North Americans were glued to their TV sets watching Richard, Rudy, Susan, Kelly, and others duke it out for the million-dollar prize. If you're like me, you're a little sick of it by now. But it's turned us all into experts on what the contestants should have done. We all have opinions. If there's one thing I've discovered, it's that we are all experts on how other people should be living their lives. We may not be sure about our own lives, but we've got ideas about everybody else.

Today we're going to be looking a character in the Bible on the subject of failure. His name was Peter, and he was one of Jesus' twelve disciples. It seems that as we read about Peter's life, everyone has an opinion. Everyone knows what he should have done differently.

Peter was one of these characters that lived life loudly. There was never any guessing about where Peter stood. Peter would say what he thought, often before he thought it. I like Peter. I like his intensity, and I like his honesty. Peter had no time for passionless living. Peter lived his life with an exclamation mark.

Today we're going to look at Peter's failures. Why? Because Peter failed so often. And yet, despite his failures, God used him greatly. God never wrote him off. In fact, at one point Jesus turned to him and said, "you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church" (Matthew 16:17). Peter's failures never disqualified him. Peter is an example of how God can use a person despite their failures.

Now, Peter never failed halfheartedly. When he failed, he threw himself into it. I think Peter would say to us, "If you're going to fail, you may as well fail with a splash." I think we can learn a lot from Peter and his failures. I think we can learn from how Jesus handled Peter's failures. So we're going to look at how we can face our own failures, using the lessons that we learn from Peter's life.

The reality is that all of us fail. In our culture, we hate losers and we love winners. We canonize champions; we adore achievers. We worship winners, and we sanctify the successful. The royalty are the rich and famous. And everybody wants to be a success, and no one wants to be a failure.

What do I mean by failure? I'm talking about sins - bad moral choices that have offended God and done damage to our souls. The Bible tells us clearly that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. Peter's a good example of that. Sometimes he deliberately chose to disobey God and do his own thing. Many of our failures are sins: they're violations of God's command.

But not all failure is sin. Sometimes we just mess up. Peter did this all the time. He opened his mouth when he shouldn't have. He blurted out comments that weren't always appropriate. Peter's failures went beyond sins. Sometimes he just messed up.

This morning, some of you are here having messed up in your lives. The truth is that some of you thought about not coming today. You're not feeling on top of things. You may have made a bad decision this past week. You might have made one years ago that has affected you every single day of your life.

Let me tell you about someone who made a bad decision that will impact her for the rest of her life. She lived a storybook life. She was beautiful; she was talented; she was brilliant. She ended up in the finals of America's Junior Miss competition. She started doing television commercials and some television programs, and she started to get some parts in movies. Her photograph was featured in People magazine and Glamour Magazine. She earned a college scholarship from a prestigious university to study chemistry. She had it all. And she credited her strong, southern values from keeping her out of the fast lane of sex and drugs. She wanted to do life right.

Then she fell in love. She fell in love with a famous race car driver. One day he invited her to come to New York City to visit him, and so she did. He wined her, and he dined her, and he proposed marriage to her. And that weekend, despite her strong convictions against sex outside of marriage, she had her first sexual encounter. And that's how she got AIDS. If only she could go back and change that one weekend.

You have failed too. Your failure might not be as catastrophic as that, but it might be. It might be about your children, your marriage, your job, your health. But there's likely some decision that you wish you could change. You wish you could go back and relive a certain portion of your life. You need to learn how to face your failure.

Looking at Peter's life, we discover a pattern of how to look at our failures. We're mainly going to look at what he didn't do. We're going to learn from his mistakes. Peter's life gives us four steps that we can take to face our failure. Here's the first one:

A - ANTICIPATE FAILURE

That's the first lesson. Don't act surprised when failure comes. Failure's inevitable, so you may as well begin to anticipate this. Peter didn't do this. Let's look at why it would have been smart for him to do so.

This week, I counted up this week the number of times that the Bible records one of Peter's failures. Do you know how many I counted? Eleven. I may have missed some, but at least eleven times in the Bible, Peter is recorded as either saying or doing the wrong thing.

The amazing thing about Peter is that he wasn't always failing. He also showed moments of brilliance. One minute he's confessing that Jesus Christ is God, when nobody else realizes it. The next minute he's talking Jesus out of going to Jerusalem and dying. One minute he's zealously cutting off a soldier's ear - a mistake, but at least a brave one. The next minute, he's denying that he knows Jesus. You never knew what to expect with Peter. He was either brilliantly succeeding or dismally failing.

Now, do you think that when Peter failed, the other disciples were surprised? Do you think that Jesus ever said, "I never saw that one coming!" Of course not. Why? Because Peter was predictably weak. You could count on Peter showing his weaknesses at least some of the time. Peter's failures were not a surprise - except to him. We should anticipate our failure.

The first step you can take in dealing with failure is to expect that you're going to fail. It's not that you want to; it's just that you're going to. I'm not talking about making excuses or even about accepting your failures. But you need to expect them. They're going to happen.

You made mistakes? Welcome to the human race. It just means you're alive. James 3:2 says, "We all make many mistakes." We're all living proof of this verse. We all fail. You failed yesterday, and you're probably going to fail today. Ecclesiastes 7:20 tells us, "There is not a single person in all the earth who is always good and never sins." We all fail. We all sin. We should never accept it, but we should never be surprised by it.

Let's review the facts of life:

1.You have already failed many, many times in your life already.

2.Right now you are failing in some areas of your life

3.You're going to fail many, many times in the future.

The Bible says, "All have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard" (Romans 3:23). We all fall short. Nobody makes God's standard. Even after we begin to follow him, we fail him in many ways. God's not surprised by your failure. You shouldn't be either.

Some days, I just don't treat my wife right. I don't always handle my kids properly. I make bad decisions. I shouldn't be surprised by my failures. That's why I need a Savior. My failures are an indication of my need for Jesus.

I want to be part of a church that accepts the fact that we're all pretty much messed up. I don't want to pretend. Nobody has it together. We're all struggling. As somebody has said, at best we're fellow patients in the same hospital. The only difference is that some of us were admitted sooner than others.

But don't be surprised by your failures. Don't be surprised by the failures of others. Expect them. Don't accept them, but expect them. Anticipate them.

It's helped me to realize that Jesus knew, before I was even born, how much I would let him down. A lot of couples get married, and they don't have a clue how tough marriage is going to be. They aren't aware of all the quirks that they've now invited into their house. But before Jesus initiated a relationship with me, he knew. He knew what he was getting into. He anticipated that I would fail. I should too. Don't be surprised by your failures, because God's not.

Step two:

B - begin to prepare for your failures

This is the second step that you can take. Begin now to prepare for your failures. When you actually fail, it's going to be too late. Peter is an example of someone who didn't prepare for failure.

One day, Peter told Jesus, "I am ready to die for you" (John 13:37). Jesus turned to him and said, "Die for me? No, before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me." Jesus gave Peter a heads up, but Peter chose to ignore it.

The next day, just as Jesus predicted, Peter denied Jesus three times. The third time, the rooster crowed. The Bible says, "Suddenly, Jesus' words flashed through Peter's mind: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.' And he went away, crying bitterly" (Matthew 26:75). Peter had lost the chance to prepare. He didn't take steps to deal with his failure before it happened. He was unprepared for failure.

Jesus said, "Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak!" (Matthew 26:41) How do you overcome temptation? Two steps. First, stay alert. Be aware of the dangers of temptation. Know where you're weak. Become sensitive to the subtleties of how Satan works. Stay alert. If you don't, you'll fall asleep and be completely unprepared for when temptation comes. You've got to stay alert. That's what I call preparing for potential failure.

The other step you can do is to pray. Tell God that you need his help. Pray that you'll have the strength to deal with the temptation.

I've noticed in my life that my failures tend to happen in three or so categories. It's not that I don't fail outside of these areas. It's just that most of my struggles seem to be in these two or three areas.

Now, it doesn't take a genius to detect a pattern. There are some areas I struggled in twenty years ago, and they're just as much a struggle today. I've come to realize that there's probably never going to be a day that I don't struggle - at least a little bit - in these two or three areas.

It's been liberating for me to accept that I struggle, and then to begin to prepare to do battle in those areas. I've enlisted the help of some of my friends, who know where I'm weak. I've removed some of the opportunities to fall into certain temptations. Because I know that if I don't prepare, I'll be vulnerable.

You ought to have a list of the top two or three sins that you're prone to commit. It shouldn't be a private list, either. There should be at least one or two other people who are in your life helping you deal with your areas of weakness. You should be preparing right now for the next time you're going to be tempted in a particular area.

Where do I get this from? Am I making this up? James 5:16 says, "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other." Galatians 6:2 says, "Share each other's troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone in need, you are only fooling yourself." Stop trying to pretend that you have it all together. Begin to receive loving support as you struggle with sin. Confess to others who will be able to provide that support.

How do you do this? Start with some close friends. Or you can join a small group. In fact, if you want more information on joining a small group where you can do this, then fill out the Communication Slip in the bulletin. We'd love to place you in a group that can support you and pray with you.

So anticipate failure. Begin to prepare for dealing with your weaknesses. The third step we can take in handling failure:

C - challenge your thinking about failure

The main thought that we have to challenge is this: we believe that failure is final. We think that once we've failed, God can't use us. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God uses people who have failed him. The greatest heroes in the Bible were failures.

Who did God use? God used Abraham - a man who doubted God's promises, took matters into his own hands, and lied to protect himself. God used Moses - a person who was sidelined for forty years because he killed a man. He used David - an adulterer and a murderer. He used Peter - an impulsive man who denied Jesus three times. God uses weak people.

Jesus said, "Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it" (Matthew 16:18). Jesus specializes in taking weak people - pebbles - and turning them into rocks.

Why does God use weak people? For one thing, he has little choice. All of us are deeply flawed. If God looked for people who had it all together, he wouldn't be able to find a soul. God uses weak people, because that's who we all are.

But another reason why God loves to use weak people is because it brings glory to him. When God accomplishes something through a weak person, we all look around and conclude, "That person didn't do that. It had to be God." God gets the glory, because there's no other rational explanation.

So your failure is not final. Peter denied Jesus three times. Yet just a few weeks later, God used Peter to preach, and three thousand people began to follow Jesus. God loves to use weak people.

Some of you have disqualified yourself from being used by God because you've failed. You think that you've blow it so bad that God could never use you. You're dead wrong. Nobody has failed enough to be useless to God.

The failures that you're thinking of may not even be sins. You may have tried to serve God and failed so miserably, you'll never try again. But all great people fail.

  • Napoleon graduated 42nd in a class of 43. Then he went out and conquered Europe. Maybe grades don't matter that much. You may have done poorly in school. God can still use you.

  • Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs during his career but he also struck out 1330 times. Nobody talks about that. He struck out almost twice as many times as he hit home runs. Yet he once said, "Never let the fear of striking out keep you from taking a swing at the ball." Some of you are so afraid of failure, you're never going to succeed in ministry because you don't try. Or you try something then you give up. You don't hang on. You don't hang in there. But that's how you get good at something. You've got to fail in order to succeed.

  • English author John Creasy received 753 rejection slips from publishers who wouldn't publish his books. But at the same time he published 564 books in his lifetime. He wouldn't let rejection stop him. If someone didn't like it, he'd try somewhere else.

  • R. P. Macy, the guy who founded Macy's department store, failed seven times at retailing - seven bankruptcies before he started Macy's, which was obviously a big success.

You may have given up on yourself, but God hasn't. God longs to use you. You need to challenge your thinking about failure. Failure is not fatal. God can use you.

One last key to dealing with failure:

D - DEPEND ON GOD'S GRACE

God isn't surprised when you fail. The whole of the Bible is about how God deals with fail ures. God understands when you fail. Psalm 103:14 says, "For he understands how weak we are; he knows we are only dust." God knows how you're wired up. He knows your frailties and your shortcomings. And you can depend on God's grace to deal with them.

Peter is a great example of this. At Jesus' lowest point, Peter denied him - not just once, but three times. It doesn't get much worse than that. How would Jesus react? John 20 tells us how. Peter denied Jesus three times. Three times, Jesus asked him, "Simon of Jonah, do you love me?" And, each time as Peter answered in the affirmative, Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. Take care of my sheep." What was Jesus doing? Jesus was helping him to deal with his failure. He was confronting it right on. He was asking Peter to give it up. And, most of all, Jesus was saying, "My grace can handle your failure. Love me and serve me. Let me deal with your failures."

God's grace is enough to deal with whatever failures you bring to him. The amazing thing is that nothing you do could ever make Jesus love you more. If you were better than you are - if you hadn't failed God ever - God wouldn't love you any more than he does. He loves you unconditionally.

The other side of his unconditional love is this: nothing you do - no failure - could make God love you any less. God loves you despite your failure. There's nothing that you could do to earn his grace.

Every one of you - every one of us - have an area of habitual failure. That's the sin you keep stumbling over. It's that habit. It may be your temper. It may be your words. It may be lust. It may be impatience. A million different things. The Bible says in 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong." No matter how many times you fail, you can come back to God and say, "God, I've failed you. I've let you down. Now please forgive me." And God will cleanse you - not just once or twice, but the fiftieth, the hundredth time you come back to him. God can cleanse you. He can deal with your sin. God never gets tired of forgiving you.

Colossians 2:13-14 says, "He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ's cross." When Jesus died on the cross, he paid for every failure you'll ever commit - past, present, and future. You can depend on God's grace. No matter what you do - know matter what you've done - God's grace is big enough. You can never fail too much for God.

Romans 5:20 reads: "But as people sinned more and more, God's wonderful kindness became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God's wonderful kindness rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Today, you may come with a lot of failure. But I'm here to tell you that God's grace is more abundant than your failure. Today, you can receive God's wonderful kindness. You can have a right standing with God, resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

There's only one mistake you can make. Hebrews 12:15 says, "Look after each other so that none of you will miss out on the special favor [the grace] of God." That's the only mistake you can make. You can go through life rejecting Jesus, God's Son, and what he's done to deal with your failure. Or, you can come to him today and have all your failures nailed to the cross and forgiven.

I don't care what failure you've gone through. I don't care which one you're going through right now. It hasn't changed God's love for you. And it's a love that you can receive right now.

Let's pray.

Father, I know without a doubt that there are people who are suffering under an intense load of guilt and shame and regret from personal failures. For some, it's been eating away at them for years. Let this day be their day of release and relief and the freedom that comes from understanding and accepting the grace of your son, Jesus Christ.

I'd like to encourage you to talk to God. Say something like, "Dear God, I know you know everything about me. You know the failures in my life big and small. And you already know the things that I'm ashamed of. You know my regrets, my sins, my mistakes, my bad habits, the things that I've said and done and the failures I feel bad about."

"Today, I'm giving you all the pieces. I admit that I need your forgiveness and I ask you to forgive me right now. Clean the slate. Jesus Christ, I thank you for dying for my sins on the cross so I can be forgiven. I want to commit my life to you. I want to follow you as best I know how. Thank you for forgiving my failures instantly and completely and repeatedly and freely. I want to spend the rest of my life living in your grace and I want you to use my failures to help others. Thank you for your grace. In Jesus' name, Amen."

Hot Potatoes: God's Will

This morning, we're going to wrap up our series on hot potatoes by looking at a more personal hot potato: God's will. If you could ask God any question, what would you ask him? According to one survey, the number one question people want to ask God is, "What is God's will for my life?" It's a question that most of us have. Nothing is more important than knowing God's will. Success is knowing the will of God, and doing it.

Now, knowing God's will is important for a number of reasons. Nobody wants to get to the end of their life and hear God say, "Bad choice! Too bad you didn't make another choice. Too bad you didn't pick curtain number two."

Ephesians 5:15-17 says, "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is" (NIV).

These verses tell us that we are designed to live with precision - to know and to live God's will for our lives. Why? Because time is going by, and evil will use it if we don't. Life is not aimless, nor is it a series of random activities followed by down time. You were meant to live your life on purpose. You were meant to live according to God's will for your life. And there's urgency - we need to make the most of every opportunity that we face.

If you don't live according to God's will, you're wasting your life. Paul writes, "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise." Can you think of another word for unwise? It begins with an s! If you don't understand and live God's will, what are you doing?

I don't know if you've ever had the sense of wasting significant opportunities. We make decisions everyday - important ones like who we're going to marry, what we're going to do for a living. There are medium ones - what house we buy, what car we buy. And then there are everyday trivial decisions - what pants are you going to wear? How will you handle a situation at work? Life is a series of choices and decisions, and your success in life is largely determined by your decisions. Some of you today are facing major decisions in your life: decisions about your marriage, your career, your business, your future, or your health. You don't know what to do. How can you know God's will for your life?

The good news is: God wants to reveal his will to you. God doesn't play games with us. He isn't playing cat and mouse, hide and seek, what's behind door number three. God wants you to know and understand his will for your life. This morning we're going to look at how to do this.

I want to look at two questions. The first is, "What is God's will?" I want to ask this because there are a lot of different theories about God's will. And then I want to ask the question, "How can I discover God's will for my life?

WHAT IS GOD'S WILL?

What is God's will? First, let's look at what God's will is not.

1. IT'S NOT A MYSTERY

I love the story of a lady who was trying to decide if she should go on a trip or not. She prayed about it, but she still couldn't decide. So, one night, before she went to bed, she prayed that God would give her a sign. Sure enough, she awoke the next morning and looked at her clock, and it said: 7:47. So she went on the trip.

Is God's will a mystery? Does God hide his will, so that we have to discover it using all sorts of methods and secrets? Absolutely not. God doesn't hide his will for your life. He isn't playing a game. He's not like a celestial Easter bunny, who hides his will so you have to go and find it. He's not a game show host, asking you at every turn, "Is that your final answer?" God's will is not a mystery.

2. IT'S NOT NEGATIVE

Some people think that God's will is a negative thing. All my life, I've wanted to be a pastor. When I was a little kid, I would line my sister up and preach to her. I sold sermon tapes when I was five years old. I'm not making this up. But I had serious doubts, as I got older, that God wanted me to be a pastor.

Why? Because I believed that God's will wouldn't be something that I wanted to do. Somehow, I equated God's will with doing something I didn't want to do. I had set my will up against God's will.

A lot of you here today probably think that God's will involves a lot of choices that you wouldn't necessarily make. Listen to Jeremiah 29:11: "‘For I know the plans I have for you,' says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'"

Don't dread God's will. God isn't a cosmic killjoy. God doesn't delight in squashing dreams. The Bible says that when we obey God, and let him change the way we think, " Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is." God's will is good, it's pleasing, and it's perfect.

3. IT'S NOT A FEELING

Some people "feel" their way into every decision. They're always looking for that feeling, that emotion, for quivers in their stomach. They're waiting for God to pull their heartstring before they make any decision. When asked how they knew God's will, they reply, "I felt God telling me..."

The main problem with this is that feelings are highly unreliable. Feelings can tell you something today, and yet completely disagree with that decision a day later. If you base your life on your feelings, you're going to have a lot of regrets and a lot of mistakes. Feelings don't tell the truth.

We've been told, "If it feels good, then do it." Remember the song, You light up my life? The words said, "It can't be wrong when it feels so right." Oh yes it can. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Your heart is deceitful. It plays tricks on you. The devil can create feelings. Deciding by your feelings is not a good way to discern God's will.

4. IT'S NOT A FORMULA

On the other side of the right-brained people are all the left-brain logical thinkers. They like to get a formula all figured out. They want to follow a series of steps to get to a decision. Put in all the right data, and presto! Problem solved. You'll know who to marry, which car to buy, and what socks to wear. There are a whole lot of complex steps for you to follow in order to determine what to do.

Now, I need to say that this is probably the most popular approach out there. Most of the books that are written on God's will follow a formula approach. It's a very neat approach to God's will. There really aren't too many loose ends. Usually, the end result is that you know with certainty that you're in the bull's eye of God's will. Somebody has called this the "dot" theory: that out of all the choices you could make, God has chosen just one for you. Your job is to find it.

There are a number of problems with this approach. First, the Bible doesn't teach it. The Bible never teaches that God has a bull's eye for every decision in your life. I really don't believe that God's will is that definite on whether or not you get a CD or a tape player in your car. Sometimes God just lets you choose.

Another problem with this approach is how nervous it could make you. If God has a bull's eye for every decision, and you end up on somebody else's bulls eye, then you've just messed everyone up. If you marry the wrong person or take the wrong job, just think of the domino effect. You could have bumped dozens of people off their own bull's eyes.

A third problem with this approach is that formulas just don't work. They don't work in relationships. They don't work in life. I've been reading a lot of books, "The 21 Qualities..." "100 ways to do this." I always wondered what would happen if they di scovered a twenty-second quality. That's the problem with neat formulas. Everyone has a different one. If you happen to follow the wrong person's formula, or leave out a step, then you could be in big trouble.

God's will isn't a mystery, and it's not negative. It's not a feeling, and it's not a formula. What, then, is God's will?

5. GOD'S WILL IS A RELATIONSHIP

God's will is primarily about a relationship. It's not about rules or maps. It's about knowing and living with God. That's why there are very few verses in the Bible about the technique of discovering God's will. And yet there are thousands of verses about developing a love relationship with Jesus Christ. Why? When you get close to Jesus, the better you get to know him, and the more you will be able to be guided by him in every decision.

When I first got married, I thought that marriage was about rules and formulas. We actually made a rule that all purchases over $50 were joint-spouse decisions. That was a good rule, but I found that it didn't cover enough. I learned that I could forget about a lot of rules if I just focused on the relationship. The relationship mattered more than any of the rules.

The Bible teaches that God desires a love relationship with you. 1 Corinthians 1:9 says, "He is the one who invited you into this wonderful friendship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." Jesus said in John 15:15, "Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me." That's why you can't know God's will for your life until you've reciprocated. You need to respond and enter into a friendship with God. God leads those who have entered into relationship with him.

If you're here and you've never committed your life to Jesus Christ, you cannot expect anything from God. He owes you nothing. But if you enter into that relationship, then God will lead you as you watch his eyes and hear his voice. John 10:14-15 says, "I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep."

HOW CAN I KNOW GOD'S WILL?

So how do I know God's will? Let me give you 5 A's - four principles from God's Word on how to know his will.

1. ACCEPT A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD

That's the first step that you need to take. God's will is that you enter into a relationship with him. 2 Peter 3:9 says, "He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent." What is God's will? God's will is that nobody should perish. God's will is that you know him, love him, and worship him.

How do you do this? Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us. It says: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths." The first step is to trust the Lord. You can't know God's will until you establish that relationship with him.

Some of you don't want to do this because you're not so sure that you want God's will. A lot of people think that if they enter into a relationship with him, they'll be miserable. Their philosophy is, "Let's do my will for a few years, and then just before I die I'll do God's will. Why spoil life until then?" One person said, "I'm not sure I want to give my life to Jesus Christ, because I'm afraid of what he will make me do."

But if you think that, you're missing the point. God is not a cosmic killjoy. God's will is not something that will make you miserable. God's will is one that will lead you into greater levels of peace than you've ever known before. You don't have dread entering into a relationship with him. It's the first step to true success. It's the first step in knowing God's will for your life.

Don't be scared. Don't be nervous. Don't doubt God's love. There will never be anyone who loves you more than God does. There will never be anyone who wants what's best for you more than he does.

In John 10:9-10 says, "Those who come in through me will be saved. Wherever they go, they will find green pastures. The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness." If you want to know God's will for your life, this is the first step. Come to Jesus. In your programs, there's something called a communication card. I'm going to ask you to tear that off and fill it in if you want to take that step. At the back of the card, there's a box where you can check, "I'm committing my life to Christ." If you fill that card out and leave it with us today, we'd love to send you some material so that you can get established as a follower of Jesus Christ. That's the first step you have to take. I'm going to lead you in a prayer, in just a few minutes, so that you can take that step. Accept a relationship with God.

Here's the second principle on how to know God's will:

2. ADMIT THAT I NEED GUIDANCE

You may have watched events unfold at the political convention in Philadelphia this week. My sister-in-law lives in Philadelphia, so I started to wonder how long it would take to get down there. I plugged in some data on the Internet, and discovered that from the front door of the church to downtown Philadelphia, you would have to drive 842.9 km, for a total drive of 9 hours and 19 minutes. For those of you with kids, it's roughly 18 hours and 38 minutes. For some of you speeders, it's considerably less.

Now, who here would think of driving that distance without consulting a map, or getting directions? That's what I thought. Only men. There's something genetic in most men that prevents them from ever asking for help. They believe it's not manly to ask for directions. They refuse to admit that they need help.

The Bible says that if you want to know God's will for your life, you need to ask for his guidance. James 1:5 says, "If you need wisdom—if you want to know what God wants you to do—ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking." Just ask. Take time to stop and ask God for direction for your life.

The reason that many of you don't feel God's direction in your life is that you haven't taken the time to ask him for it. You haven't paused and said, "God, tell me the way that I should go." Why? Because it takes humility. Psalm 25:9 says, "He leads the humble in what is right, teaching them his way." God leads the humble.

God is ready to help you in your life. He's ready to help in any area. He is ready for you to cry out to him with whatever is on your mind. All you need to do is to come to God and admit that you need his guidance; that you need his help. Psalm 32:8-9 says, "The LORD says, "I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control." Don't be like a senseless horse or a mule. Ask for God's guidance. Accept his advice. Don't let your stubbornness keep you from asking for God's help.

Accept a relationship with God. Admit that you need guidance. Here's the third principle in knowing what God's will is for your life:

3. APPLY WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES

That's the third principle. Apply what you do know. Here we're talking about God's moral will: obey what God has revealed as his standard for your life. Obey the clear teaching of Scripture. This is God's will for you.

Mark Twain said it best when he said, "Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture which they cannot understand. But as for me, I have always noticed that the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand."

God's Word is full of instruction on what God's will is. Many people call the Bible the good book. I prefer to call it the guidebook. God's Word contains guidance for h ow to live our lives. Psalm 119:105 says, "Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path." God's Word - the Bible - contains light for making decisions. It contains guidance for knowing God's will.

Now, following God's guidebook means two things. First, it means that we read it. I've found that guidebooks are a lot more helpful when you consult them on the journey, rather than when they sit on the shelf. God's Word was not meant for you to study and put away. God's Word was meant to be a guidebook for every decision in your life. It's something that's meant to be consulted as you live.

The Bible contains God's wisdom. Wisdom doesn't mean knowledge for its own sake; it means skill in living. God's Word exists to make you wise; to tell you how you should be living your life.

If you're not spending time daily in God's Word, you're missing out on his wisdom for your life. You're missing out on all that God has revealed. You're missing out on the principles he's given to guide us, and to teach us. The Bible reveals God's heart. It reveals his commands. It reveals his principles to live by. It's a guidebook to be consulted every day of your life.

Some of you need to buy a good version of the Bible you can understand, and to begin a daily reading program. You need to pick up a good topical study Bible. You need to consult God's Word for how to make decisions in your career, your marriage, and your life. God's Word contains the wisdom that you need. 2 Peter 1:3 says, "As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life." God gives us everything that we need.

Sometimes God will speak clearly in his Word about a situation. But even when he doesn't, he gives us guidance on how to make decisions. God tells us to listen to the advice of qualified people. He gives us stories of how other people, in similar situations, have followed God's will. Study God's guidebook.

But the other step that we need to take is in following the guidebook. God's Word was not given just to be studied; it was given to be obeyed. The problem with a lot of us is that we aren't applying what we already know. We know the directions, but we prefer staying lost.

What is God's will? God's will is very clearly communicated in the Bible. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says, "God wants" - it is God's will - "you to be holy, so you should keep clear of all sexual sin." What is God's will? God's will is that you be a holy person. People say, "I felt it was God's will for me to have an affair." It wasn't God's will. God wants you to be holy.

What is God's will? 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, "No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus." God's will is that you be a thankful person. No matter what your circumstances, you are called to be thankful. We don't need to ask what God's will is in this case. Just be thankful!

Every day we have a choice: will we be obedient to what we already know? Will we apply what the Bible teaches us? Will we accept the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Will we live under his control?

There are a lot of us here who know God's will, but we're not even on the journey. We're busy making excuses for not obeying God. James 4:17 tells us, "Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it."

A lot of us are saying, "I want God's will for my marriage, for my career." God is saying, "Let's get back to the basics. Are you reading your Bible? Are you in a small group? Are you giving to me regularly, sacrificially, and joyfully? Are you praying to me?" We say, "God, I want to know about..." But God's not obligated to go to the next step until you first start doing what you already know to be the revealed will of God for your life.

Here's my question for you: What do you already know to do but you haven't done yet? What's your next step? What do you need to do that you've been putting off? Don't delay. Do what you already know to do. Apply what the Bible teaches. Read his guidebook, and follow it.

Two more steps in knowing God's will:

4. ALIGN YOURSELF WITH GOD'S ACTIVITY

Author Claude King recounts the time that he and his wife resigned their jobs and moved to a place near Atlanta, Georgia, to begin planting churches. They had sensed what they thought was God's will. They had read all the right books. They had the right attitude, and they were disciplined and energetic. Their plan was to work to support themselves while starting new churches. 6 months later, their furniture was still in storage. With a two and a half unemployment rate, they couldn't find a job. Their savings were depleted, their checking account was empty, and their debts were moving. And there were not even the beginnings of a new church. Devastated, they moved back home with their parents, not knowing what they had done wrong.

What went wrong? He found out later when another opportunity came up. He was called to serve as a volunteer. He decided to surrender his own plans, and refused to dream his own dreams of what he would do for God.

He and another person shared with churches the need to reach people with the Gospel. They shared their vision. And then they watched to see where God was at work so they could join him. Within three months, they had a list of 14 places or people groups that might need a church. After two years, they had six new churches with full-time pastors, and another group meeting that were planning to start as the seventh church. They found that God had far greater plans for us than they could dream.

When we follow our own plans, they can fail dismally. James 4 says:

Look here, you people who say, "Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit." How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog—it's here a little while, then it's gone. What you ought to say is, "If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.

I believe that God has greater plans than we do. God is able to do, as Ephesians 3:20 tells us, infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or to hope. But many of us let our plans get in the way. We're clinging so tightly to our dreams that we refuse to dream God's dreams, which are far better. We're not like Abraham, who was ready to sacrifice his own son out of obedience to God. Why did God ask Abraham to do that? Not because he wanted Isaac - God didn't want a human sacrifice, nor did he allow it. He did it because he wanted Abraham to give up his dreams for God's dreams, which were far bigger. Be prepared to release your dreams, and your plans, and align yourself with God's dreams for you.

Last step:

5. ACT AS YOU PLEASE

What's God's will for your life? Once you've accepted a relationship with God, admitted that you need his guidance, applied what the Bible teaches, and aligned yourself with God's activity, there's only one step left - act as you please. Somebody said it well - "Love God and do as you please." Once you're living a life of obedience and surrender to God, then do whatever you want! Because if you're living a life of obedience, guess who is running your wants? Who is giving you your desires? God is! God will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4-5 says, "Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart's desires. Commit everything you do to the LORD. Trust him, and he will help you."

One of the best gifts God has given you is your brain. Use it! Once you've surrendered to God, and are willing to let him guide your life, God gives you incredible freedom to make choices. God allows you freedom.

I don't know about you, but I want to be in that place in which I'm committing everything that I do to God. I want to be in that place in which I'm delighting in God, and he's giving me my heart's desires. And it begins today. It begins with the next step that we're going to take in livi ng out God's principles. Let's bow our heads and make a commitment to God to take that next step.

Let's pray.

I'm going to ask you to clench your fists tight, with every eye closed. And if you're here this morning, and for the first time you want to come to God and say, "I accept a relationship with you," then unclench your fist and say, "God, I surrender my life. I've been trying to live it my way for too long. Today, I give myself to you, and pray that you would become the manger, the CEO, of my life. I thank you for what Jesus did for me on the cross, and I pledge to live for you from this day forward, as best I know how. In Jesus' name."

If you've been following Jesus, and today you want to say, "God I want to know you more," would you unclench your fists and say, "Father, today I ask for your help in following your guidebook. Make me more open to your direction. Give me a heart that won't hesitate in asking you for help. Today, I surrender to you. I take delight in you, and ask that you would give me my heart's desires. I commit everything I do to you. I trust you, and ask for your help. In Jesus' name, Amen."