Today’s Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4
God’s will is the exact place God wants you to be at the right time. It’s being in the right relationship, the right job, living in the right city, reading the right book of the Bible. As Elisabeth Elliot said, “The will of God is not something you add to your life. It’s a course you choose. You either line yourself up with the Son of God . . . or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world.”
First Thessalonians 4 teaches us something very valuable about understanding the will of God for our lives. God’s will is the safest place on the planet. It is safer for me to be in the most anti-Christian country (such as North Korea) in God’s will than it is to be living in a mansion in Cabo San Lucas outside of God’s will. There is peace and safety and confidence in God’s will, but it’s not always easy. As missionary Joanne Shetler said: “God never said doing His will would be easy; He only said it would be worth it.”
But how do we know if something is God’s will? I know of people who have tried flipping through the Bible and whatever passage they land on is what they are going to do. The story is told of a man who used this flip-open-the-Bible method to see what God wanted him to do in his life. The first verse he landed on was Matthew 27:5, which says Judas “went away and hanged himself.” Since he was not sure how this verse applied to him, he flipped to another passage. The Bible fell open to Luke 10:37: “Said Jesus unto him, ‘Go and do the same.’” The man was quite upset and did not know how he could ever obey that, so he decided to turn to one more place. Again he opened the Bible at random and to his horror his finger fell on John 13:27: “Jesus said to him, ‘What you do, do quickly.’”
Not a good way to figure out God’s will.
I think it is a lot simpler. The problem is that the will of God always seems to be this treasure hunt that everyone is on.
Where should I live?
What should be my career?
Should I go, should I stay?
Do I buy this house?
Do I rent this apartment?
Do I date this guy?
Do I marry this person?
We treat the will of God like God whispers it one time and if we miss it, we’re left on our own to figure it out. I wonder if we don’t know more of God’s will for our personal lives, because we have not done what is clearly spelled out. Sometimes we don’t get more specific future instructions because we have not obeyed what is clearly written for us right now.
There are two will-of-God verses that Paul clearly spells out for us in the Bible. We know this because Paul says, “for this is the will of God.” Let’s look at one today and one tomorrow. I believe if we follow these two verses, other future decisions will become clearer for us.
After reading each of the verses, ask yourself: Am I doing this? If you aren’t, here’s something to ponder: why would God entrust you with more if you won’t do what is right before you?
Here is the clear will of God for our life: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Let’s be really clear and define sexual immorality: it is having sex outside the boundaries of marriage.
“I love him” or “I love her” does not make sex outside of marriage right. “We are engaged” does not change what God has said. To engage before the marriage commitment is to sabotage your marriage before it happens. Why? The Bible says that “love is patient.” That is the first definition of love in the long list. If you can’t be patient till the wedding day, then love is suspect. The will of God says abstain from sexual immorality. You will prove your love to the person you love by your patience to do things the right way. And great things come from the fruit of the Spirit—patience.
Around 1970, Walter Mischel launched a classic experiment in which he left a succession of four-year-olds in a room with a bell and a marshmallow. If they rang the bell, he returned and they could eat the marshmallow. If, however, they didn’t ring the bell and waited for him to come back on his own, they could then have two marshmallows.
In videos of the experiment, we can see the children squirming, kicking, hiding their eyes—desperately trying to exercise self-control so they can wait and get two marshmallows. Their performances varied widely. Some broke down and rang the bell within a minute. Others lasted fifteen minutes.
After the experiment, Mischel continued to follow and study them. The children who waited longer went on to get higher SAT scores. They got into better colleges and had, on average, better adult outcomes. The children who rang the bell quickest were more likely to become bullies. They received worse teacher and parental evaluations ten years on and were more likely to have drug problems by the age of thirty-two. Mischel concluded that children may be taught “that it pays to work toward the future instead of living for instant gratification.”
God is always thinking about the big picture. When God tells us to wait until marriage, it’s because He realizes waiting for sex within those boundaries has really good things that happen for our future across the board—and we get to know more and more of His will for our lives.
Wait for two marshmallows. You get a lot more cool stuff in the future.