The following is a speech I made at a high school graduation for one of the students from my youth group. He graduated from a small home school co-op.
Graduates, you are about to enter the biggest roller coaster ride of your life. It will be full of transition for both you and your parents. Over the next 5-10 years, you will meet new people, go to new places, and face new challenges. You will make decisions that could have ripple effects throughout your entire life. And you will likely be making these decisions with a lot less oversight and a lot more freedom than you have been accustomed to in the past. You are growing up, and it is time to wrestle with the joys and the challenges of freedom.
The good news is that even when you make a mistake or even outright commit sin, God can forgive you and turn around things for good. But you don’t want to make too many bad decisions and dig yourself into a big hole — right?
So, when I was in your shoes and faced the challenge of making decisions for myself with minimal parental involvement, I struggled with the question, “What is God’s will for my life?” As I have wrestled with that question through the years, I have learned a few things.
First, we tend to focus on the who, what, when and where of any situation. We want to know which career to pursue, what girl to date and eventually marry, or which place we should live. While those are all good questions, they alone won’t answer God’s will for our lives. God is more concerned with the how of our decisions. He focuses on primarily how we go down whatever path we choose. And more importantly, God cares about the kind of person we are becoming. God’s will is about more than just what we do — the focus should be on who we are — our identity in Christ.
A good question to ask ourselves is, “Do we have the heart and the mind of God about whatever we do?
Let me make a radical statement. You might find this hard to believe. I know what the will of God is for everyone in this room! You might think, “How could this guy know that? He hasn’t even met me. Is he a mind reader? How could he possibly know God’s will for all of these people?”
Those are good questions. But the reason I am so confident in my statement is that I can read. And while Scripture shows many instances of God’s will being done and revealed, only a few times does it make broad statements about God’s will. And the more I studied this issue I discovered how critical is this one thing to accomplishing God’s will for my life.
So, are you ready for the secret? It can be found in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” While this statement was written to a specific group of people at a specific time. I believe it has relevance to every believer. Because no matter what we face in life, if we develop a thankful heart, we will be able to overcome any obstacle and move on toward God’s goal for us.
Being thankful can be hard because most people face some challenges in life. How can we be thankful in all circumstances? What about the boring, life-draining droll of adulthood? What about the time you spend waiting in line at the grocery store when the checker is moving beyond slow, and a child is screaming behind you? To make this worse, all you can think about is how your wife is waiting at home with a long honey-do list after your tiring day at work, and you just want is to be left alone.
Or, what about when your hard-to-please boss yells at you for not doing what he said should seem like common sense, but you had no idea he wanted it done that way? How can you rejoice when a difficult family situations arises, such as a rebellious child or an aging parent?
Or what about when God ”doesn’t come through” as you expected? You thought God had promised something, but He delayed in fulfilling your expectation. Or, just like Job in the Bible, maybe God never answers the question you want answered most? Or how about when you are sick and don’t feel like moving? There are many tough situations that are difficult to rejoice about.
Do we need to deny how we feel or dismiss the pain that we encounter in this life? I believe the answer to that question is a big fat NO. That attitude would not be real nor would it lead to a truly thankful heart. It would merely be putting on a fake mask before God and acting religious. That might work if all God cared about was the outward appearance at any one moment. But God’s heart is not just that we would do the right things; He is more focused on us becoming the right kind of people. Jesus want us to have His heart and mind about our lives, the world and others. We must become who we are already in Christ.
So how do we develop a thankful heart?
Well, for starters, a thankful heart is born long before the moment of challenge. Most of the time I simply react out of the storehouse of experience, personality and perspective that I have obtained over my life. I don’t usually stop and carefully thing through every incident that arises. Honestly, neither do you. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. If you develop a thankful heart — realizing how much God has already done for you even if He never answers another prayer, then you are more likely to default to a more godly response. If you realize that God is sovereign and ultimately does care about you, that can bring hope in even the darkest hour.
A thankful heart is not overcome by hardship even though it is free to mourn loss. Just as Jesus cried in the Garden of Gethsemane, we are free to express our true emotions to God. But we can’t let those feelings be all there is to our internal process. We have to realize that truth is bigger than our perspective or even our challenges in life.
A thankful heart has a godly perspective and sees beyond the moment. But this is hard — even impossible to accomplish on our own. This faith response is rooted in God’ work. We just have to believe it and submit to it.
I believe the answer to how we develop a thankful heart comes from a very familiar passage. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect.”
The Apostle Paul called early Christians to think differently from the world. Instead of being conformed to the world’s perspective, we are to have the mind of Christ. We are to be less like water that conforms to the shape of whatever cup it is in, and we are to be more like ice that is molded under cold temperatures into a solid block and will retain its shape in different types of containers. While it will melt over time, the ice takes its shape from the mold it is formed in, and for Christians, that mold is our new lives in Christ.
Also, this passage doesn’t just say our actions are transformed. The Lord wants to renew our minds and our hearts. Remember, this transformation is not just about what we do. Our actions should flow from who we are, and our identity in Christ. We are a thankful people because we are aware of how much God loves and has done for us. We are thankful because we realize the truth that he who has been forgiven much loves much.
So how do we have the mind of Christ? We take on the mind of God by reading Scripture and letting it challenge us. Through prayer, including listening prayer, we give our heart to God and position ourselves to hear directly from the Holy Spirit. By allowing God’s truth to change how we look at our situation, we find that He fashions our heart anew to rejoice despite whatever we face.
We praise God in the midst of the storm because He is worthy regardless of what is going on around us. This requires faith as well as reliance on God’s ability to transform and change the things we can’t do anything about.
So, God’s will for your life is to give thanks and rejoice in who He is. The Lord wants all of us to find our hope in Him and not in our situation. If you allow God to build this heart attitude in you, you will be able to realize the fullness of God’s plan. Until then, you may get frustrated, disillusioned or confused when things don’t work out like you had hoped or expected.
There are too many so-called Christians who have found that their faith wavers when God’s will turns out to be something far different than what they expected. There are many situations and decisions where the Lord may give you lots of freedom to make whatever choice you want. There may not just be one perfect person for you to marry. Nor is there one ideal place to live. Your career and work may change a lot through your life. But I can guarantee you that if you allow the Lord to create a thankful heart in you — you always will be able to navigate whatever comes up, and at least in one way you will be living out with certainty God’s will for your life.