July 15th, 2018

When God Makes No Earthly Sense
Part 1 of 4: Discerning God's Will
Isaiah 55:6-11

Have you ever struggled to know God’s will? I know I have. Even when we sincerely desire to be in God’s will, it’s not always easy to know God’s will.

I wish you could have known my father. He was a gentle, humble man with a caring heart who did his best to live his life according to God’s will.

Dad grew up in Hancock County, on Newman’s Ridge, just outside of Sneedville. At the end of the depression, he and his family moved to Maryland to find farming work because there were no jobs available here in Tennessee.

At first, Dad felt so out of place in Maryland. The people and customs were so different than those in Hancock County. In fact, for the most part, the Sneedville folks tended to stick to themselves, shying away from social interaction with “Those Maryland Foreigners.”

When Dad was 39, he fell in love with my mother who was 15 years younger than him. He considered asking her to marry him, but because of the big age difference, he wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to do, he wasn’t sure if that was a part of God’s will for his life.

Because of his concerns, he talked to his pastor, and his pastor told him about a local doctor who was good at advising people about marriage. He suggested my dad should make an appointment with him. And so my dad did, hoping this doctor could help him find the will of God.

On the day of his appointment, he walked into a waiting room filled with people. After he sat there for a few minutes, a nurse came out and began putting drops in people’s eyes. Obviously, my father was dubious about having drops put in his eyes, but because he didn’t know the customs and didn’t want to draw attention to himself, he allowed the nurse to medicate him as well.

You can imagine how shocked my father was when he discovered that he was in the wrong office, the office of an ophthalmologist, not a counselor. Despite having his eyes fully dilated, he high-tailed it out of there convinced that there surely must be an easier way to know the will of God.

I guess my dad’s experience brings new meaning to the old hymn, “Open My Eyes That I May See.”

Of course my dad is not the only one who has struggled with knowing God’s will. We all do, and some of us have stories that may be as outrageous as my dad’s.

In today’s sermon, and in the following three sermons, I will be preaching a series of sermons on “Discerning the Will of God;” but before I begin, let me confess. I am no expert, but I am someone with considerable experience, experience that comes from the struggles of my own life and experience that comes for walking with others as they seek God’s will for their lives.

And let me also say this. If you’re looking for some simple formula to find God’s will, you’ll be disappointed. God doesn’t have one magical formula for discerning his will. God discloses his will in a variety of ways, and he may choose to reveal his will to you in a different way than He chooses to reveal his will to me, or to anyone else.

Even in the Scriptures, God disclosed his will in a variety of ways. To Moses, he did so in a burning bush, to Gideon he did so with a wet and dry fleece, to Nebuchadnezzar He wrote his will on the wall, and to Balaam, he revealed his will by having a donkey talk. (I guess that confirms that Balaam was a Baptist). Yes, God has chosen a variety of ways to reveal his will, so the way he chooses to reveal it to you may be unique.

Today’s text addresses some of the problems we have in understanding the will of God. Listen, as I read from Isaiah 55:6-11. The prophet Isaiah writes:

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Today’s text begins with a command to seek God’s will. Isaiah writes, Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. But even before these words stop echoing in our ears, Isaiah points out the first barrier that prevents us from seeking the Lord and his will. It’s the most obvious barrier. He writes, "Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts."

Clearly, knowing God’s will is predicated upon the way we live our lives. If we are entrenched in sin, if we are caught up in selfishness and unrighteous living, it’s going to be awfully hard to discern the will of God? To discern God’s will, we must first deal with the sin in our lives. We must confess and repent, and demonstrate to God that we are more interested in going where he leads than in following our own selfish way.

But, having said that, Isaiah also explains another reason why we have difficulty discerning God’s will. Too often we cannot understand God’s will because we want God’s will to fit into our human norms. In other words, we expect God to be sensible. We expect God to adhere to human logic.

But Isaiah quickly explains that God’s way of thinking is not like our way of thinking. Listen again to verses 8 and 9. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Yes, whenever we expect God to make sense by human standards, we immediately set up a barrier to understanding God’s will. God’s ways are not our ways. They don’t conform to our human logic; and God thoughts are not our thoughts. They’re not limited by human constraints.

God is not like us. He does not think like we do. He does not act like we do and, until we are willing to accept something that makes no earthly sense we will limit our understanding of the will of God.

One only needs a cursory glance at Scripture to realize that God’s will is often contrary to our human understanding. Human understanding dictates that when you put wood and fire together, the wood is consumed, but when Moses knelt before God at the burning bush, the bush wasn’t even singed.

Human logic tells you that people thrown into hot, fiery, furnaces cannot escape without bodily harm. But in God’s will, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego lived to tell another story.

Human logic tells us that virgins don’t conceive and bear children, but God brought his Son into the world though a virgin named Mary.

Human logic tells us to love our friends and hate our enemies, but in God’s will, we are called to love our enemies and to do good to those who hurt us and misuse us.

Human logic tells us that when you’re dead for 3 days, you’re sure enough dead. But an empty tomb tells us that in God’s will, death is just a prelude to everlasting life.

Now do you see what I mean? If you try to understand God by confining him to human parameters, you’re lost before you begin. The only way to understand God is to let God be God and to accept the fact that his will, at times, makes no human sense. For God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are God’s ways our ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than our ways and God’s thoughts higher than our thoughts.

Perhaps, an illustration will help you understand. Let me ask this simple question. Does 1 + 1 = 2? Of course it does. You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to understand that.

But you know what? Sometimes 1 + 1 does not equal 2. Sometimes 1 + 1 = a number that looks like 10.

Now, that may seem a bit strange, but I’m sure you’ll understand completely when I offer this simple explanation. You see, the answer to 1 + 1 depends upon your numeration system and its base. In the common algebra of natural, whole, integers, real and complex numbers with bases of 3 or more, 1 + 1 = 2, and it's unique. However, in Boolean algebra, with a numeration system of base 2, there are only two symbols, 0 and 1, so the number 2 doesn’t even exist in this binary system. Therefore, 1 plus 1 cannot equal 2, since 2 doesn’t exist. Instead, 1 + 1 = “one” and “zero,” or the number we would typically recognize as ten.

Now do you understand? Right? You don’t? We’ll don’t feel too bad. It took a while for my math teacher wife to explain it to me. You see you don’t understand this system of numeration because it deals with a higher level of mathematical thinking than you and I typically use; and even when I explain it, it still doesn’t make sense.

The same is true with the will of God. Sometimes we don’t understand God’s will because we aren’t at God’s level. Sometimes when we try to understand God’s will we’re like kindergartners trying to understand quantum physics and even if he explained his will to us in detail it still wouldn’t make sense. It wouldn’t make sense because God’s level of understanding is superior to ours. For God’s ways are not our ways, neither are God’s thoughts our thoughts.

When you venture beyond the limits of human understanding, sometimes God’s will just doesn’t make sense. In God’s will, sometimes failure makes more sense than success, and sometimes poverty allows us to embrace riches eternal. In the mind of God, sometimes our enemies are more important than our friends and sometimes death is better than living.

So what does that tell us about discerning the will of God? It tells us we must be open enough to think outside the box, outside the human box. It tells us that sometimes we have to accept ideas that initially seem foreign to us, ideas that make no human sense.

Even so, there will still be times when you don’t understand God’s will, even when you’ve tried your best to think outside the human box. And when that happens, you find yourself living in the land of ambiguity, a land without answers, a land where you simply have to trust, to trust in the love of a God you cannot understand.

Earlier today we sang an old gospel hymn that conveyed the same ideas I’ve tried to express in today’s sermon. Listen again to these words.

Trials dark on every hand and we cannot understand.
All the ways that God would lead us to that blessed Promised Land;
But He’ll guide us with His eye, and we’ll follow till we die,
And we’ll understand it better by and by.

So what should you do when God makes no earthly sense? You need to realize God is operating – not from your perspective – but from a heavenly perspective, a world where His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts.

And if you still don’t understand, that’s okay. You will understand it better by and by; and until then, simply walk the walk of faith. For when you walk the walk of faith, the destination is not nearly as important as the journey. So walk with God, even when you don’t understand him. Because it’s better to walk with a God you don’t understand - than to walk without him.