Sometimes, we think we’re doing the right thing, and biblically it even seems like the right thing, but it turns out to be the wrong thing. Soon after I had French fries with my father, I started thinking that driving to his place to reconcile after not seeing or speaking to him for 11 years thwarted the promise God made me. The next morning, Dr. Charles Stanley preached the following sermon titled “Getting Ahead of God.”
One of life’s most important lessons is to learn to listen to God. If you don’t listen to him, you’re not gonna know what to do. If you listen to him, you [don’t] have to decide whether you’re going to obey him or disobey him, but how will you ever know how God wants you to live your life if you don’t learn to listen to him? And not only to listen to him but to recognize that God’s timing is always perfect. We don’t always agree with his timing — we have our own selfish reasons, probably — but learning to listen to him and also to follow his timing is a great lesson in life. In fact, many people miss most of his blessings because they don’t wait for his timing.
They have their own idea.
They get frantic.
They get worried.
They listen to the news.
They listen to somebody.
And on it goes, and they never stop to think, “God? What’s your plan? What do you want me to do? When do you want me to do it? How do you want me to do it? What’s your will for my life?” And I think our failure at seeking his guidance and his direction and his timing is a major issue.
And if you will recall in the 12th chapter of Genesis, here’s what God said to Abraham. He said, “Go forth from your country, from your relatives, from your father’s house to the land [that] I’ll show you. I’ll make you a great nation, bless you, make your name great so you shall be a blessing. I’ll bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. And in you, all the families of the Earth shall be blessed.” Now, that is as straightforward as you can put it. That could not be clearer. And so God made it very, very clear what he was to do and what he was going to do. Instead of following God’s instructions, he had a little slip here, a little slip there.
Listen. Watch this carefully. God knows you perfectly. He knows what his will is for your life, your purpose for your life. He doesn’t make suggestions. God gives commands because his commands come from a mind, a will, and a purpose that is absolutely perfect. He will never ask you to do anything that would not fit his will for your life. His will for your life is always the best choice. And if you’ll notice in this passage of scripture, he not only promised [Abraham] that he’d have an heir, he [told Abraham that he’d have as many heirs as there are stars in the sky]. He told him there’d be 400 years of Egyptian bondage, but he’d live in peace to a good old age, [and he’d have a lot of heirs]. What God promised is exactly what he did.
Now, he said I’m gonna make your name great. And all of us who are believers can trace our lineage … back to Abraham.
And so I want you to turn to the 16th chapter of Genesis. Some years had gone by since God made that promise to him, and Sarah, his wife, had borne him no children, but she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. [So, she told Abraham to have a baby with Hagar.] So, Abraham was an awesome choice of God, but he made mistakes.
When God says something, he doesn’t say, “Do this if you want to.”
[God gave Abraham specific instructions because he knew what the future held, but Abraham listened to his wife instead.] He kept making mistakes. You’d think a man chosen [by] God would listen to God. … And so what we see, simply, is:
- an act of disobedience
- [the inability to] wait for God, and
- listening to the wrong voices.
And people are still listening to the wrong voices. Can’t wait for God, wanna have it now because I can’t understand how God could do it, [so] I’ll do it myself. Many people — most people are living in disharmony with God, out of the will of God, doing it their own way because things didn’t work out as they planned.
God has a plan for your life, and if you follow his plan, you’re gonna be better, no matter what somebody tells you.
If you follow your own plan, you’re on your own. Remember this: that God, who created you, who is infinite in intelligence, who knows all about your past, your lineage, your present and the future — God has a plan that’s best for you, whatever that plan is. But you must learn to listen to him. If you don’t learn to listen to God, how are you gonna obey him? If you don’t obey him, how are you gonna experience the blessings of God? It’s just that simple. You teach your children to be obedient, and you live a disobedient life. God says we are to obey him because he only has the best for us.
And so, because of disobedience, unwillingness to wait for God, Sarah [gets] her way, but she has not only her way but a lot of days and years of headache[s] and trial[s], strife, and conflict, and all the rest. And so, she has a child, and Abraham is 100. Why would God wait that long? Why didn’t he do something before then? Because he wanted to make a statement to the world that his choice, his lineage would be a miracle from God. He had a plan.
Watch this. This is why your prayer life ought to be so important to you. Listening to God. “God, what do you want me to do?”
I think about all the things that transpire in a person’s life, which is a perfect example of what happened here — we don’t want to wait for God’s timing, we want to do it now. For example, you’re gonna buy a house. Is that the lord’s will or is it not? Maybe you say, “Well, we’ve waited and waited and waited, so we waited long enough. We want it now.” But you stepped ahead of God. You didn’t ask God for direction.
I think about people, for example, who are looking for positions in life, and one comes along, and they say, “Well, I’d better [take] this, this is the best I can do.” You don’t know that. There’s no telling what God has in mind for you.
I think about people who get married. A few years goes by — 21, 25, 27, 30, oh my goodness, I’m embarrassed I’m not married yet. Y’know what? Don’t jump ahead of God because of what your friends think. And many people — many people miss the best in marriage because they’ve gotta have it now, and they make choices before God is able to show [them who they’re supposed to marry].
And think about this: God may show you the person you’re supposed to marry, but that doesn’t mean you go to bed with them that night. It means that you wait until God is ready to tell you to get married.
We live in a society that does not want to wait for anything, that wants it now no matter what the future price is. And if people who live in sin — if they had looked ahead and made God’s choices in God’s timing, life would be totally different.
Whether it’s making a purchase or marrying someone or whatever it might be — going to college, deciding on a major — “Well, here’s what I’m gonna do.” Well, have you asked God about that? Did God lead you or did he not?
Listening to God is a part of living the Christian life.
Listening to God is a part of life.
God, who knows it all, who has planned the best for you, and you’re gonna make your own foolish, unwise choices because you can’t wait?
Yes, you can wait.
You don’t want to wait.
And you pay the penalty for not waiting. So look at your own life. Are you living according to God’s plan and his will for your life? Are you asking him for direction and guidance in your life? Are you asking him about timing in your life?
[Or] are you just making up your own mind?
“Well, I don’t have time.”
Yes, you do. God could take you off the scene just like that if he wanted to. You do have time to wait on God. That’s the best. It’s always the best.
So, what happens? We decide we’re going to get ahead of God. No, we don’t make those decisions. We just make decisions that please us for the moment. And I wish I could tell every college student, “Before you [decide what you want to major in], you need to ask God. You don’t want to waste your time, and you don’t want to waste your life after you graduate.” But if you decide that you’re smart enough to make up your own mind, you don’t need God — have I heard that so many times. You don’t need God? Yes, you do! If you don’t think you need God, listen, no degree will overcome your ignorance if you think you do not need God. … [I]f you think you’re smarter than God, you’ve already failed.
So, what happens? We listen to other people.
“Well, here’s what I think you ought to do.”
Well, is that what God said? …
And, oftentimes, people are deceived by appearance.
“I want to marry her because she’s beautiful.”
And so we make a choice on the basis of appearance. That’s not the will of God.
Sometimes, it’s just a matter of impatience.
“I believe in God, I’m waiting on God, but I’m only gonna wait so long.”
Can you imagine telling God you have a limit on how much time you’re going to give him before you choose somebody to marry, and you marry them and begin a life of turmoil, strife, separation, and finally divorce.
Listening to God is absolutely essential to walking with God. And walking with God is absolutely essential to living a life that brings satisfaction and peace and joy and everything you’re gonna need. God’s gonna provide. But, you decide, you know, you can’t wait that long. Your friends are doing this, and your friends are doing that — you’re not your friends. Listen … your relationship is between you and God. What your friends think — that’s not an issue. And if your parents are … pushing you to do something before you can find out from God, you just say, “We’ve gotta talk to God about this.” This is why, when I see young people, I think, “God, give them godly parents — parents, lord, that fit your will and purpose and plan for their life because they’re going to make wrong decisions.” Look at all the rioting and all the things that are going on in our country. Where’s mom? Where’s dad? Where are the grandparents? Is anybody listening to God? They would never do that if they were. They watch appearances. Sometimes people, because they’re afraid of failure, [they think] they’re going to get ahead of God.
“Well, if I don’t do this and if I don’t do that, I’m going to miss out.”
Listen to me carefully. You never miss out [by] obeying God. God knows all about your future. He knows also what causes you to stumble. He knows your weaknesses. He knows the areas that he’s going to help you through. When you start out in life without God, you’re starting in the wrong direction.
When you submit yourself to him, you’re allowing almighty God, who knows all about life, to guide you to make the right choices every single time.
I think about in my own life, I was 14, and I knew that God said to me, “You must preach the gospel.” It’s the only thing he ever said to me at that point in my life, and I went through high school and college, and I knew that’s what he wanted me to do. And naturally, [I] went through seminary and all the rest.
God will tell you what he wants you to do if you will ask him. It doesn’t mean he’s going to tell you your whole life, but he’ll tell you the next step and the next step and the next step and the next step. God is interested in your — listen — your success if you follow him. It doesn’t mean your success will always mean that you’re rich or that you’ll have everything in life that you want when you want it, but it means that your life will be full and it’ll be filled with joy, peace, [and] happiness. There’ll be some suffering and heartache and loss, yes, but ultimately, you will sense satisfaction and completeness in life.
People fear they’re going to fail if they don’t do it now. That’s the devil’s lie. The issue is not your age. The issue is: what’s the will of God? That’s the key. And sometimes [we’re] afraid that we’re gonna miss out on something. And then, of course, the problem is unbelief. “Well, I don’t believe that God has a plan for my life. I don’t believe I have to wait. I don’t believe this, [I don’t believe] that.” What do you believe? In other words, if you don’t believe in God, what do you believe in? If you don’t believe God has a will for your life, are you just here by accident … and it’s all up to you in this crazy, mixed-up, fouled-up world? Is it all up to you to make a choice in what you’re going to do and where you’re going to do [it] and so forth?
I think about how many students would not be head over heels in debt, having finished college and owe $200,000 or more for their college — is that what God wanted you to do? He always has our best — I didn’t say easiest, but it’ll be our best in the long run.
And so, we pay a penalty when we don’t wait on God. Perfect example: Sarah said, “Listen, I’ve waited long enough. I’m getting old, and I won’t be able to have children, so let’s take this Egyptian slave girl and let her be a substitute.”
That wasn’t the will of God. God forgave them in spite of what — that wasn’t the only mistake he made. But it looked like the simplest right thing to do. You can’t always tell by the way it looks. You can’t tell by the way it counts. You can’t tell by how many voices there are that agree.
What’s the will of God in your life?
And so, there’s a penalty we pay [when] we step ahead of him. And part of that penalty is that we deny ourselves of God’s best. Think about this. You can go ahead and make a decision, and you can get by for a while. You may get by [your entire lifetime] but have missed God’s best for you. Listen, we [only] get one trip down here. … Well, then, why take a wrong direction when you don’t have to?
We deny ourselves of God’s best.
We delay God’s purpose in our life.
When we take a wrong turn, the purpose of God isn’t finished, isn’t completed.
You’re heading in the wrong direction, and sometimes people have to go through disaster before they surrender themselves to God and are willing to say, “Lord, I want your way and your will. I’ve messed it up. I’m asking you to forgive me.”
Will he forgive you?
Will he take you from that point?
Will you be able to fulfill his will for your life?
Maybe so, maybe not. Depends on what it is.
Does God give second chances?
Third, fourth, fifth — hallelujah — 10, 11, 12. He gives us all kinds of [chances]. But each time we take a leap in the wrong choice, we lose. Then of course, we experience disharmony in our life. When we don’t wait upon him, there’s going to be disharmony. And so, life creates situations that create disharmony, but when we’re committed to him, he enables us to walk through it, to grow in the midst of it, to be better because of it, and still follow his will no matter what.
Then of course, we suffer great disappointments in life. [If you’re] out of the will of God, you’ll be disappointed. And I think so many people think that they’ve got it all together, and they head in a direction in their life, and [they’re] out of the will of God. … They think, surely as blessed as we are, we must be doing the right thing. Not necessarily. Your parents may be able to finance your schooling and part of your life, maybe, but that doesn’t mean you’re in the will of God. And you’re not gonna have them forever. The issue is: what does God want? And you have to ask yourself this question: Am I wise enough to stop in my life right now and ask the question, “Lord, what do you want for my life? What are you willing to do in my life? What’s the next step for me according to your plan and your will?” You say, “Well, how do I know God’s gonna speak to me?” Because he promised to. He said, listen to this — he — this is God, “He acts [on] behalf of the one who waits for him.”
When you say, “Lord, I’m not going any farther, I need to know your will. What’s the next step in my life?” God will be there to show you what that is if you’ll trust him. But if you don’t trust him, then you don’t get God’s guidance. You can’t have God’s guidance and live in sin. You have a choice to make.
Then of course, I imagine that somewhere along the way, you can anticipate defeat after defeat after defeat and make destruction in your life. Look what happens to people’s lives. [It] doesn’t have to be that way.
And so, the issue is: how am I going to live my life? Am I going to live it according to God’s will and following him?
“[I] may not have this, that, and the other, but I want to know, God, what do you want for my life?”
Would you not agree that happiness, joy, peace, and contentment and satisfaction are all more valuable than a pile of money? They’re all more valuable. They’re all more valuable than notoriety and all the rest. But it’s a choice we make. We all make that choice every day. Am I going to be obedient to God today or am I not? Am I going to follow the steps of a God who loves me unconditionally, who’s promised to give me direction, who’s promised to provide for my life, promised me the best — am I going to choose him? Am I going to choose the voice of God or am I going to listen to the call of the world and go that way? It’s a choice.