When Life Sends You Mixed Signals
Choices, Decision-Making, God's Will, Jacob
It would be nice if the decisions of life was always clear cut. We wish we always knew where God wanted us to turn and what God wanted us to do. But that is not always the case. In fact, there are times in our lives when we aren’t sure which way to turn. There are times when we face a major decision and we seem to be pulled in different directions.
Maybe this isn’t such a big deal to other people. But it is to us. We want God’s guidance because we feel that if we walk in the path God desires for us . . . life will be more enjoyable, and it will result in greater blessing to us, and greater honor to Him. But we also know,
- Satan is at work to trip us up. Sometimes he makes bad things look good.
- We tend to lead with our impulses rather than with our brains. We often make decisions based on instinct rather than good sense.
So at those times in life when our decisions have a lot riding on them, we are especially concerned to make the right decision.
- when choosing a mate
- when selecting a college
- when choosing an occupation
- when considering a job change
- when relocation is an option
- when making decisions involving our children
- when you must make medical decisions
- when you are making estate decisions
- when you are trying to decide where to be involved in ministry
- and even when you are making a major purchase
Because of the nature of these decisions we want to be sure we are in God’s will. And that is why we pause at these verses in Genesis 46. Here we see Jacob at a crossroads. He is facing a major decision to move his family out of the land promised to his fathers. . . .to the land where his son Joseph was ruling. But Jacob has mixed signals and feelings. On the one hand, he wants to see his son and it seems that God has blessed him greatly. On the other hand, he is living in the land that God has promised to his forefathers . . . is it wise to leave that land and go to another country. Jacob is torn. And at this time of confusion Jacob shows us how to handle those times in our lives.
Perhaps what I have today is overly simplistic. . . I prefer to think of it as foundational. We must get these three steps clear in our head before we add other qualifiers to finding God’s will. So, let’s dig in.
STEP ONE . . . ASK FOR HELP
And when he came to Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father, Isaac. During the night God spoke to him in a vision. “Jacob! Jacob!” he called. (46:1,2)
The fact that Jacob stopped in Beersheba is significant. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had all lived in Beersheba for a period of time. There was an altar in Beersheba at which Abraham and Isaac had both worshipped. It is thought that it was at Beersheba that Abraham was told by God to sacrifice Isaac. And Beersheba was also considered a boundary line of Israel. The phrase “from Dan to Beersheba” was used in later days to denote the boundaries of Israel. So, while Jacob was in Beersheba he was still in the promised land. When he left Beersheba he was facing the desert which led to Egypt. And at this final checkpoint Jacob stops to talk things over with God.
The first lesson is the most basic. If we want to know what God wants us to do . . . we should ASK HIM. I know that sounds silly. But it is so simple that it is really quite profound and enlightening.
Let’s strip off the pretense. Let’s be honest. When do you turn to God for guidance and help? Think about it. If your life is like mine tends to be, you earnestly seek God when you are at the end of your rope.
- you’ve exhausted everything you can think of
- you’ve asked every expert you can find
- you’ve read every book on the issues
- and maybe you have even made a decision and discovered it was the wrong one
It is when we have no other recourse that we turn to the Lord. Why is that? Why don’t we stop FIRST? Why is it that we seek guidance from every place but the Lord? I thought about this some this week. I tried brainstorming reasons why I don’t turn to the Lord at the beginning of the decision making process. And these are some of the possibilities I came up with,
- We have a faulty view of God . . . We believe He doesn’t care, or He can’t help, or He won’t help. Maybe we believe that God doesn’t want to be bothered with the decisions that weigh on my heart. Certainly we would never profess these things . . . but maybe it is what we really believe.
- We have a faulty view of our own ability. We think we can do it on my own. We believe that we can make our own way. We think that we can avoid the Devil’s traps and find the right way without help. But surely we can’t even say those words without realizing the foolishness of them. We am prone to make decisions based on emotions. We are shortsighted and tend to live for the moment.
- We do not see the great disparity between the philosophy of the world and the wisdom of God. At times we figure that what God wants is for us to be “happy”. So, we conclude that we should do whatever will lead to that end. But that is the world’s approach. What God wants is for us to be holy. He wants to lead us to faithfulness and to prepare us, not for a life of indulgence but a life of faithfulness. God doesn’t want to lead us to momentary happiness . . . He wants to lead us to an abiding joy.
If we stop and really think about our slowness in seeking God’s wisdom we see how foolish it is. God is honored when we seek Him. The Bible says this again and again.
1 Chronicles 28:9 [David to Solomon] “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.
Jeremiah 29:13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD,
Matthew 7:7-8 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Acts 17:26, 27 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
James 4:2,3 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
Do you see the common denominator in these passages? It is simple . . . God invites us, encourages us, and maybe even pleads with us to ask Him for help. God wants to guide us, to lead us, to bless us. The best thing you and I can do, is learn to ask . . . BEFORE we act. Because if we wait, we have a tendency to make up our mind and to then ask God to “approve” what we have already decided to do. God won’t give direction to a person who is not really seeking direction.
Max Lucado writes,
Don’t go to God with options and expect him to choose one of your preferences. Go to Him with empty hands–no hidden agendas, no crossed fingers, nothing behind your back. Go to him with a willingness to do whatever he says. If you surrender your will, then he will “equip you with everything good for doing his will.” (Hebrews 13:21) It’s a promise. [On the Anvil p. 96]
SECOND STEP: WAIT FOR AN ANSWER
Not only did Jacob check things out with God. God was pleased to assure Jacob.
“I am God,” the voice said, “the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will see to it that you become a great nation there. I will go with you down to Egypt, and I will bring your descendants back again. But you will die in Egypt with Joseph at your side.” So Jacob left Beersheba (Genesis 46:3-5)
God honors those who are concerned to do His will. I wish that every time we were confused God would audibly speak to us. I wish every time we were at a crossroads in our life we could hear God say, “don’t be afraid . . . I’m with you.” But that is not our usual experience.
But, I think God does speak. It may not be audible (though he has spoken audibly in the past . . . just not to me) but He does communicate with us through His Spirit that dwells in us. The problem is not that God doesn’t speak . . . it’s that we don’t listen.
Henry Blackaby in his best-selling book, Experiencing God writes,
I think God is crying out and shouting to us, “Don’t just do something. Stand there! Enter into a love relationship with Me. Get to know Me. Adjust your life to Me. Let Me love you and reveal Myself to you as I work through you.” A time will come when the doing will be called for, but we cannot skip the relationship. The relationship with God must come first. (p. 30)
Have you ever had the experience of walking down the street when you see someone you know? As they approach they say, “How are you?” but before you can begin an answer they are already down the street. Now what do you conclude from this scenario? Of course, you conclude that even though they asked . . . they really didn’t want to know.
And we pray like this. We use great sounding words: “O God, please show us the way you want us to go.” Or “Lead us according to your will” . . . but then we rush on without ever stopping to hear what God is saying. Does it surprise you that you don’t get any direction in those situations? Sure, you asked . . . but you didn’t really want to know.
So, after we ask we must wait and listen. God will make His way clear. It may be an appropriate passage of Scripture . . .an obvious turn of circumstances . . . an open or closed door . . .or the whisper of His Spirit to our heart. I believe the Bible teaches that if we ask . . . and really want to know, we will wait and we will listen. And if we ask in this way . . . God will show us His will.
STEP THREE: GO FORWARD WITH CONFIDENCE
So Jacob left Beersheba, and his sons brought him to Egypt. (Genesis 46:5)
Jacob faced an uncertain decision. Instead of forging ahead (like he had done in the past) He stopped and sought God’s guidance. Then he listened for God’s answer. When he heard the answer . . . he moved forward obediently and with confidence. That’s the sequence. It’s not complicated. We must ask, listen and obey. And if we do that, God will lead us, protect us, and give us the strength to face the future. God’s counsel is flawless. His plan is perfect. His ways are straight.
But, if it so simple, why is it so difficult? I’m sorry to say, that it comes down to a simple fact: we love the world and it’s pleasures more than we love the Savior of the world. Ouch! That hurts doesn’t it? But whether it hurts or not, it’s true. We choose things over Him. We choose the world’s applause over His “Well Done”. We choose the present over the eternal.
How do we change this course that leads to heartache? We must begin by learning to love the Lord more. And we do that in several ways,
- We must learn of Him through the scriptures. Spend time daily reading in the Bible . . . but don’t read to gain information and facts. Read to get better acquainted with the Lord. Look at how He dealt with His people. Ponder the coming of Christ, the things He taught, the way He lived, His death and the reasons for His death. Allow yourself to dwell on the resurrection. Get to know God! See His love, His wisdom, His power, and you will find it easier to trust Him.
- We must spend time with Him in prayer. And in these times of prayer, we must go beyond praying for others. We need to bring the searchlight of God’s Spirit upon our own lives. I heard a good suggestion this week. One person suggested that we spend a month praying a simply prayer: Search me O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23,24) And after you have done this . . . listen. And then deal with the things that God brings to your attention. Use your time of prayer to build a relationship with God.
- We must learn the habit of obedience. By this I mean that we need to learn to obey God in little things. For example, God tells us to “put others above ourselves” . . . so deliberately let someone go in front of you in the checkout line. Give someone else the bigger piece of pie. Let someone else hold the remote control for the television. Begin to obey in little things. Don’t expect to be able to obey God in the big things if you haven’t learned to obey Him in the little things.
I don’t want to “beat you up” or discourage you today. That’s not my intention. Please remember several things.
First, Jacob was not always this wise. He foolishly agreed to manipulate circumstances to get his father’s blessing. He made a foolish deal with Laban for the hand of Rachel. He made a mistake in not taking some action when his daughter Dinah was raped by Shechem. He surely knew that it was wrong to treat Joseph so much differently from his other boys . . . but he did it anyhow. Jacob made mistakes . . . and they were costly. But he grew from those mistakes. He learned to turn to God and trust His guidance . . . and you and I can too.
Second, please note that God can even take our foolish choices and use them to accomplish His purposes. God used even the bitterness and hatred of Joseph’s brothers to accomplish His purposes. God will accomplish what He has set out to do. You and I will not “mess up” God’s plan. God is able to bring good even from foolish people. But foolish people don’t enjoy the journey. Foolish people are generally miserable.
So, maybe you have made foolish choices. Maybe things are really messed up in your life . . . and it’s your fault. You can continue to wallow in self-pity, you can continue to put your trust in schemes and resign yourself to worldly wisdom, or you can trust God to lead you out of the muck and into the life He wants for you. He did it for Jacob. He’ll do it for you. All you have to do is: Ask, Listen and then do what He tells you. It won’t always be easy. It won’t always be popular. It won’t always be what you want to do. But it will always be the best.