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“If It Is the Lord’s Will”
James 4:15


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Seventh Sunday of Easter—June 5, 2011

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

You are invited to follow along on the bulletin insert as we consider these words from the Apostle James: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” 

Point #1) We Pray for Spiritual Blessings Without Any Reservations or Qualifications

The Apostle John promises, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  How can we know what is “according to God’s will”?  God’s will for us is divided into two categories: spiritual blessings, and what we call “temporal” blessings, the earthly blessings of this world.

Regarding spiritual blessings, God has fully revealed his will for you.  Paul sums up God’s will for you spiritually this way: “God our Savior . . . wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

You don’t have to wonder whether God wants you to be saved, whether God forgives you.  The familiar promise of John 3:16 applies to the whole world, including you, personally: For God so loved you that he gave his only-begotten Son, that you would believe in him and not perish but have eternal life.

There’s no doubt that your sins are all forgiven, there’s no doubt that God wants you to be saved.  “God our Savior . . . wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 

Because God has revealed this, we pray for spiritual blessings without any reservations or qualifications.  We don’t have to pray, “Lord, if you are willing, forgive my sins.”  For God has revealed that he always forgives.  As John says, “If we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We don’t have to pray, “Lord, if you are willing, take me to heaven.” As Jesus promises, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.”

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  Because God our Savior has revealed that he wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, we pray for spiritual blessings without any reservations or qualifications.

Point #2) When Praying for Earthly Blessings We Pray “Thy Will Be Done”

Regarding what are called “temporal” blessings, God has revealed to us the ultimate goal, that he is somehow working all things together, according to his plan for our good.  As Paul says in Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”  That is the goal, that is where God is taking us through it all: somehow he is working all things together for our good.

However, God has not revealed to us how he is going to bring us to that goal.  Our lives in this world are like a GPS system offering many different possible routes through life.  We think we know the best route, the route that we would prefer, the route we would like God to have us take. 

But, we must always follow the example of our Lord Jesus himself as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Describing his looming suffering and death like a bitter, deadly cup, he prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” 

Like our Lord, a lot of us have been fervently praying this week that if it be possible somehow our looming cup of suffering may pass from us.  We are told Jesus prayed this so earnestly that his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. But, in the end, he concluded, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”

God wants you to bring to him your preferences, your desires, your hopes, your plans for the route you would like to take through life, just as his own Son did as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.  But, ultimately, the only sure GPS for your life is “God’s Planning System.”  That is why Jesus prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.  Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”  That is why Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer simply, “Thy will be done.”

Point #3)  When Bad Things Happen It Is Not a Sign That God Has Abandoned Us or Is Angry with Us

Paul says in Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  God is not against you, but for you, in all your struggles he is at your side and on your side.  Paul then tells us why God is not against us but for us: “He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.”  God cannot be not angry with you or punishing you.  There’s simply nothing left to punish.  His own Son completely wiped away God’s anger, he already suffered all the punishment for you, in your place.

Paul goes on with beautiful words of assurance based on this Good News: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . .  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The things of this world are called “temporal” blessings.  It’s from the same word as “temporary.”  The dictionary defines “temporal” as “not eternal.”  All the things that many of us spent last week boxing up and moving away, all the things we may now face losing, they are important, but they are temporal, temporary, not eternal.  What we are going through is traumatic and may get worse.  But, Jesus assures us that even if we lose those temporal things we have “treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy,” and Peter says you have, “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept for you in heaven.” 

“Therefore,” Paul says, “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  Fix your eyes not on what is seen, the troubles and traumas of this temporal existence, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

It used to be that when visitors would ask about the possibility of flooding in Dakota Dunes, I would confidently say that Dakota Dunes was safe as long as the Corps of Engineers was in business.  The plans and designs of men fail, but God is all-wise and all-knowing, and even when it seems things couldn’t be going worse, God’s plan for your life is failsafe and foolproof.  There’s a beautiful, comforting promise from the Lord in Jeremiah that puts it this way: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord.  ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Amen.

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