In the midst of the Nazi blitzkrieg bombing of England during WWII when 43,000 civilians were killed and 1 million private homes were destroyed, Methodist preacher Leslie Weatherhead preached a series of five sermons on the Will of God. His messages ultimately became a book by the same title and sold 800,000 copies over the next 50 years and today has been reformatted into a workbook.
This is our second and for the time being the final sermon on the will of God, based largely on Weatherhead's work. You will recall if you were here last week that Weatherhead names three aspects of God's will.
God's intentional will: This is God's original plan for the good of his children. God's intention, before sin entered, was for all of his creation to be good and that he would share a relationship of love with all his children.
God's Circumstantial Will
This is God's plan within certain circumstances, often created by sin and evil. It is the will within the will of God. When our relationship with God is broken by sin or evil God works with us and through those circumstances to bring us back into loving relationship with himself.
God's Ultimate Will: That there is nothing and no one that can ultimately prevent God's will from being fulfilled.
We established last week that God's intentional will for our lives is good -- always good. Yet, we are so clearly reminded in a week like this past one that bad things do happen. The are many things that interrupt or divert us from the goodness that God desires to pour out upon us.
Human sin and foolishness: keep us from living in the intentional will of God. When a child is left unsupervised with a gun in the house that is, frankly, foolish. If the child finds the gun and it fires, injuring or killing the child, that is not God's will. God never intended for the little ones he loves to suffer.
A teenager texting her boyfriend while driving veers across the center line and hits an oncoming car. She's been warned time and again about the dangers of texting and driving. She made a foolish choice that results in tragedy for herself and the other driver.
We all abuse our God-given free will at times to make foolish choices. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God.
We are diverted from living within God's intentional will by the fact that we are united as one great family of God. We are impacted by the actions and circumstances of others. Look at this picture:
Like me, you probably get a clenching in your gut when you see this image. This is because even though most of us were ½ a continent away from New York City on September 11, 2001, we are a family. As a nation we are a community. Spiritually we are the family of God. When one member of the family suffers heartache we all share the pain and tears.
Evil perpetuated by other members of the family of God create circumstances that disturb God's intention for us.
We are also diverted from living within the intentional will of God by the laws of nature, especially when those laws are used for evil purposes.
So rarely are these laws set aside that when they are we call that a miracle.
If you pound a nail into a very dry piece of wood carelessly, the wood will likely split.
If you pound a spike or large nail into the flesh of a man being crucified, he will bleed, suffer and eventually die.
What hope is there then when we make foolish mistakes, commit sins or are brought to our knees by the suffering of others whom we know as brothers, sisters and neighbors?
Our hope is that there is a will within the will of God.
It was not the intentional will of God that Jesus should be murdered, but rather that he should be followed. If the nation had understood and received his message, repented of sin and realized his kingdom the history of the world would have looked very different. Jesus' crucifixion was not the intentional will of God. It was the will of evil men who sought to destroy Jesus. God knew that even these circumstances could not thwart his ultimate will of redemption. Not inspite of the cross, but through the cross, God would see his will fulfilled. In that context Jesus prayed, "Thy will be done."
Jesus did not JUST submit to crucifixion with resignation. He grasped hold of the situation. In the gospels it tells us that Jesus "set his face toward Jerusalem" He knew the threat of the Teacher of the Law and Temple authorities, but he intentionally set course for the very city where he would be most vulnerable to their threat. Given the circumstances evil produced, it was God's will that Jesus should not die like a trapped animal. Rather, he should react to evil in a way that was positive, creative and courageous and would bring good out of evil circumstances. In this we see that the fulfilling of God's circumstantial will often requires our cooperation.
Weather head gives three criteria for our cooperation:
1. How can I respond to these circumstances in a way that benefits my community?
2. How can I respond to these circumstances in a way that is satisfying to me personally and in keeping with my God - given attributes?
3. How can I respond to these circumstances in a way that is in harmony with my personal values and ideals?
Christ is the inspiration for these criteria. His willingness to go to the cross so that the greater good of humanity's redemption might be accomplished through the cross, not in spite of it. His actions embodied the values of sacrificial love and service that he taught to his followers.
Last week I told you about how difficult it was for me as a young mother to come to terms with the potentially life threatening heart conditions of our children. One of my greatest fears after Richie was born was what I would do if the worst happened and Richie died. I couldn't imagine how I would survive that, let alone how I would help 3 year old Amber through that. I wondered, how do families do this? How do you help your children grieve when you are already overwhelmed with the pain of loss yourself? God had allowed the laws of nature and heredity would not be set aside for my family, thrusting me into circumstances that caused me heartache.
I could have chosen many paths. I could have given in to anxiety and fear. I could have said it was all too much and run away. I could, and I hope I did, cooperate with God's will in these circumstances by becoming the best mom I could be and finding a way to use these circumstances that would serve humanity and bring glory to God.
Years later I founded RHOH. RHOH meant a lot of things to me, but in part it was a way for me to take my own encounter with vulnerability and mortality and create from them something good and hopeful for myself and the community at large. Taking pain and fear and anxiety, continuing to walk by faith and converting those painful circumstances to good is what is meant by the circumstantial will of God.
As I watched the special programs on 9-11 I was reminded of the circumstances of Flight 93. Our Heavenly Father whose intention is our good, saw all that was happening in the days leading up to 9-11. On that morning, our God - who gave up some of his own power so that we might have free will --saw the abuse of that will and the evil plot of terrorists coming to fruition.
You remember the story: On United Flight 93 terrorists hijacked the plane and took over the cockpit. Multiple crew members were stabbed to death in the initial takeover. Passengers were forced to the back of the plane. They began to phone their loved ones to tell them what was happening and to say I LOVE YOU - knowing it could be for the last time. In those phone conversations they learned about the planes that hit the twin towers and the Pentagon earlier that morning. They knew their plane was probably going to be used in a similar attack (in fact now we know the terrorist intended to fly United 93 into the capitol building in D.C.)
What was God's will in these circumstances?
The 44 passengers on Flight 93 took a vote - they would fight to take back the cockpit from the terrorist now flying the plane. Their revolt began at 9:57. Certain passengers stormed the first class section of the plane where the terrorists were. A great struggle broke out. In the cockpit, a hijacker named Jarrah, heard the struggle and began to roll the plane from side to side in an attempt to thwart the passenger revolt. A few moments later he changed his tactic and pitched the plane up and down.
Amidst sounds of screams, crashes and the shattering of glass and plates, Jarrah called, "Is that it? Are we finished? Do I put it down?" His cohort responded, "No, Not until they all come." More struggle. And again, Jarrah called, "Is that it?" This time the other hijacker yelled, "Yes, put it down."
And so it was that amidst the continued sounds of the continued struggle, the aircraft picked up speed. The sounds of whooshing and shrieking wind picked up on the flight recorder, then finally plowed into an empty field outside of Shanksville, PA about 20 miles flying time from Washington D.C.
As far as I can determine, the passengers of Flight 93 never gave up their attempt to re-gain the cockpit, which would have surely saved their lives as well as unknown lives in DC. They embraced the risks and in the end sacrificed their lives for the good of the nation and to save the lives of others -- a sacrifice Jesus called "the greatest love of all."
It may seem callous to say that God allows tragedies that are not his intention for us. This is a mystery and a stumbling block to us.
Think of a small child who comes running into the house all hysterical and dramatic wailing: "Daddy, look at my knee," because she has fallen down and skinned her knee. The father, while good and kind, responds calmly and comfortingly, but definitely not with the same level of concern because he sees the situation from a different perspective. He knows that in the grand scheme of the child's life a skinned knee is a pretty minor event.
The child may think the father doesn't care. The child may think the father should leap into action to deal with such evils in the world as cracks in the sidewalk that cause people to trip and fall. When the parent fails to respond like this the child may think he's callous and uncaring. The the child and the father just see things from very different perspectives.
Perhaps childhood tragedies are to us what our tragedies are to God--not that God is uncaring anymore than the father in our story was uncaring. If the child thought about it, he might say, "There is much I still don't understand, but I know my father loves and cares for me."
I don't know if you'll ever face a situation as drastic as the passengers of United Flight 93. I hope not. But sometime in your life you are going to be confronted by heart-breaking circumstances. A loved one is involved in a tragic accident. A friend betrays you. Your child or grandchild is suffering. And your heart breaks too.
Studying and thinking about the will of God before these circumstances arise will help you to keep faith that God's will for you is good. It will prepare you to embrace your circumstances with creativity and courage. It will help you to trust the truth that there is nothing and no one that can ultimately separate you from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.
This faith is possible! As I worked on this message this week I encountered story after story of people who are doing this very thing.
America's Got Talent British Version. Shaking and crying with nerves. Judges kindly talking to him and try to calm him, but expecting the worst. Then he opened his mouth to sing and the judges jaws fell. The audience raved their support. He embraced his fear. Used his God-given talents. The audience was blessed and God's will for him moved toward fulfillment.
A widow's life is literally saved when she falls in love for the second time. Her life is filled with blessing and goodness. Then her second husband contracts a fatal illness. She says, "the good Lord has seen fit to put me in the role of caregiver twice in my life."
God has given you many good things. God wants to bless you even more abundantly. The trials and struggles of this life can deter us from God's will for a time. Even in the midst of those circumstances, God will work to help you grow, to bless you and the community around you. Ultimately God's desire to live in love with you will be satisfied.
If you are willing to accept these truths by faith I invite you to pray this unison prayer with me: