In order to thoroughly explore "night seasons," their origin and purpose, we need to go back to the beginning. What is God's basic will for our lives and how does He achieve it? In other words, why has He called us to be Christians in the first place?
As we seek to do this, it's important that we base our information only upon what the Word of God says, and not upon our own human understanding, because often they are contradictory. God's ways are not our ways. As He reminds us in Isaiah 55:8-9;
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.
This is simply saying that God's ways of doing things are often completely opposite to what we would do, and thus, can be very confusing to our own rational and logical mind.
In 1 Peter 4:2, it tells us that we are to "live the rest of [the] time... [no longer for] the lusts of men, but to the will of God." The question is: How can live the rest of the time to the will of God, unless we first understand just exactly what that will is?
According to the Bible, there seems to be four different aspects to God's Will:
1) His Sovereign Will - God's ultimate redemptive goals and purposes that are often hidden from mankind.
2)His Revealed Will - God's will already disclosed through His Word, the Bible.
3)His Will For Mankind - Salvation: union with Christ and thus, freedom from sin.
4)His Will For Believers - Sanctification: purification of the body, soul and spirit.
Over the next several months, we will review these four aspects of God's will in detail, because if we can understand what His basic will is and what He is trying to accomplish in each of our lives, then we won't struggle so hard when our night seasons come. We'll also explore our own personal free will to either follow God's will, or follow our own will and desires.
God's Sovereign Will
(His ultimate redemptive goals and purposes)
Ephesians 1:9-10 says;
Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself; That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth: even in Him.
This Scripture tells us that God's sovereign will is not only "a mystery," but also the redemption of all things. In other words, mankind does not understand how God is guiding the universe and the human race toward His ultimate goals. Thus, much of God's sovereign will is still a mystery and hidden from us.
I was on a radio talk show last week concerning Faith in the Night Seasonsand the host asked me some very provocative questions: "Why do babies die? Why do good people suffer?" "Why has the Kennedy family had so much tragedy in their lives? Are all these things God's will?" I don't presume to have all the answers, nor do I know the true state of people's hearts and their relationship with God, but I do think the answers to some of these questions fall into this "mystery category" of God's will.
God's sovereign will, even though it's a mystery as to how it will all be implemented, is that the natural world be restored back to its original glory and that man would be redeemed back to fellowship with Him. The word redeem actually means "to release, to free, to liberate or to restore one from captivity." It carries the meaning of purchasing or buying back (out of the market, never to return) by paying a ransom. This perfectly describes God's ultimate plan for creation. The earth and everything in it was made for God and He desires to redeem (or purchase back) all things to Himself.
As a result of Adam's tragic disobedience (and the resulting fall of mankind), man's sacred union and fellowship with God was broken and thus, sin permeated the world. Yet from the Lord's perfect Love came forth His plan of redemption . By His "determinate counsel and foreknowledge," God chose to literally become a man and die for the sins of mankind. That God Himself would undertake the task of personally atoning for (covering for) the sins of all people is astounding. Christ's death cleanses us from all sin and by His onetime sacrifice, He has perfected for all time those who come to God through Him. (Acts 2:23; 1 John 1:7; Hebrews 10:10)
Only through God can creation be set free from the slavery and the corruption of the fall and only through Him will mankind ever know "the glorious liberty" of being the children of God.
Again, the same radio host later asked, "What hope is there, then, for people who have suffered difficulties like the Kennedys?" The only answer I could give him and the only answer, I believe, there is, is "the only hope for mankind in difficult places is by being a true child of God. " Without a personal, intimate and loving relationship with the God of the universe, there will never be any hope for the redemption and the healing of our souls or for the "abundant Life" that we are all seeking.
The idea behind the word "redemption" is twofold: It refers to a deliverance and the price paid for that deliverance, a ransom. We are delivered from the penalty of sin and from the power of Satan and evil, by the price (or the ransom) Jesus paid on the cross for us. We are redeemed from sin to a new relationship with God and a new life of Love, by our own appropriation of that atonement.
The Open Bible tells us that: "The whole of the Bible, whether the Old Testament or the New Testament, looks to the mighty, redemptive atonement of Christ. His blood sacrifice is the ransom paid for our deliverance. He took our sinful nature upon Himself in order that He might satisfy the demands of the law. His sacrifice is accepted as the payment for the debt the sinner owes to God, and His death is accepted as the full payment for the individual's deliverance."
Have you ever wondered why God would go to such lengths to redeem His fallen creation?
The answer can be summed up in one word: Love. As Song of Solomon 8:7 says, "Many waters cannot quench [God's] Love, neither can the floods drown it." Love is the only thing in the universe as strong as death (verse 6) and therefore, the cross was simply and purely an act of unconditional Love. Love is the center of the cross and the cross is always at the center of Love. God's motivation, in all He does, always comes from Love, because He, Himself, is Love . (1 John 4:8)
Love is the reason God created us in the first place and Love is the only key to our locked identity. We can never expect to "find ourselves" apart from an ever-deepening relationship with our Creator.
C. S. Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain, writes, "Man is not the center. God does not exist for the sake of man. [Nor does] man exist for his own sake. We were created for His pleasure. We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too), but that God may love us ."
This is the very heart of God's redemption.
God's Revealed Will
(The Word of God-the Bible)
God's Revealed Will is His Word or the Bible. God holds His Word in such high esteem that He puts it even above His Name! As Psalm 138:2 says,
...for Thou hast magnified Thy Word above all Thy Name.
The great discovery undergirding our ministry is that the 66 books we call the Bible, even though they were penned by over 40 authors over a period of several thousand years, are a carefully designed message system that provably has its origin from outside our time dimension! God authenticates His message by describing history in advance.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of this is the history of Israel. The nation's origin, its successes, its failures, and its ultimate destiny are all laid out in detail in the Bible. It chronicles their disobedience and their ultimate fulfillment.
The central theme of this amazing book is the declaration (and the subsequent fulfillment) of a Kinsman-Redeemer: the Coming One who would be the centroid of all history. The purpose, the tragedy, and the ultimate victory are all detailed. His genealogy, His birth, His ministry, and every detail of His sacrificial death - and subsequent resurrection - were all spelled out in advance, as well as His ultimate establishment on the Throne of David on Planet Earth and the subjection of all things.
The Bible also details the destiny of the various nations. The rise of the major dominant kingdoms are all profiled in advance. Thus, the ultimate climax of human history, and the resolution of all things, are committed in a clearly specified scenario by a God who makes - and keeps - His promises!
God's revealed will for mankind is expressed in Matthew 22:37-40:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
The whole of the Bible - all of God's revealed will - is summed up in learning to love Him and learning to love others. We are created for a love relationship with Him. Everything about knowing God and experiencing Him will be out of order if we don't first have that intimacy with Him.
God's Will for Mankind: Salvation
(Union with Christ and, thus, freedom from sin)
God's sovereign will is the redemption of all things. God's revealed will is His Word, or the Bible. God's will for mankind is salvation-the eternal union of our soul with God. "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise...but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)
One of the first things the Bible tells us is that human beings are by nature sinful and in need of the righteousness of God. It says that all mankind has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. "There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way...there is none that doeth good, no, not one." (Roman 3:11-12)
The Biblical account of man's historic fall out of a state of righteousness and holiness into a state of sin and condemnation explains the dark side of man. People lie, cheat, steal, murder and rape because they are sinners by nature . (Ephesians 2:3)
Sin is a power that came into the world through Adam's disobedience. It's simply disobedience to God's Word. Sin rules the world, enslaves and controls people. It's effect on all mankind is separation from God. Therefore, in order to be reunited with God, we must be cut off from sin and set apart to righteousness. (Romans 5-7)
If we are to approach and be reconciled to God, we must do so on God's terms - we must have new lives in which our sins have been completely forgiven and obliterated. Scripture tells us that we cannot save or redeem ourselves. Sin can only be overcome by a sacrifice. Redemption and the forgiveness of sins only comes through the blood of Christ. (Romans 3:24-25; 6:23; Galatians 1:3-4)
"Salvation" means deliverance from sin or to be made whole again. Salvation is free, but it's not cheap. It's a gift and costs us nothing, however, it cost God everything . Jesus Christ, God's Son, became a sacrifice and took sin's penalty for us. Therefore, should we choose to accept it, God's free gift to us - salvation - is the eternal union of our soul with His.
Salvation occurs when we admit that we have sinned and we ask God (Jesus Christ) to forgive us of our sins and become our personal Savior.
John 3:16-17 is one of the most important and pivotal verses of the entire Bible: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved." (Titus 3:5)
At the very moment we accept and receive God's free gift of Life, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell at the core of our being, we become united with Him in spirit and we receive His eternal Life. Eternal Life (life without end) is simply God's supernatural Life in us - His Love, His Wisdom and His Power. (Acts 2:38; John 14:23)
Christ has done it all. Our sin has been paid for, the sentence of death has been removed and we have been given new Life. We just need to receive this incredible Gift of Love.
Again, the Open Bible sums it up beautifully:
"It is one thing to be convinced of the need for salvation and new Life, but it is an entirely different thing to acquire new life. When we are "saved," we are said to be new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17); to have been born-again (John 3:3); to have passed from death to life (John 5:24); to have been transferred from the rule of darkness to the kingdom of God's Son (Colossians 1:13); and to have been adopted by God (Galatians 4:5). These wonderful results of having new life in Christ are offered freely to all those who trust in Christ for salvation."
The Call and the Response
If you are not sure where you stand with God right now, and you want to be assured that the separation between you and He is reconciled, then please take a moment to pray the following. If you are doubtful of your relationship with Him, it doesn't hurt to pray again and make sure of your calling. It's the most important prayer you will ever make .
"Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner. I have been disobedient to your Word and have gone my own way. I believe, with all my heart, that You died for me - You died in order to set me free from the bondage of sin, to give me new Life and so that I might become Your own child. Therefore, I choose (by faith) to turn from my sins and to receive You as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank You for loving me. Thank You for saving me. And, thank You for taking me as Your child. Amen."
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Next month: God's Will in the life of a believer . This article has been excerpted from Chuck and Nan's new book Faith in the Night Seasons.