LIFE IS A MAZE(ing): Guidelines and Guardrails   Ephesians 5:15-21

Last week we started a series we’re calling “Life is A Maze….ing.”  We’re talking about discovering God’s will.  It’s these questions we all have —- What job should I take?  What city should I live in?  What relationship should I pursue?  We all have these questions, don’t we?  God, what do you want me to do with my life?  If you’re God, and I believe that you are, and you have a plan, and I believe that you do, how do I align myself with it?  We spend a lot of time, and we might lose a lot of sleep asking that question?  At times it can be laborious and at times it can be a little bit annoying to go God, I just don’t know.  That feeling of ‘I don’t know’ is also the very feeling that makes us feel like we’re alive.  If we did away with that, if we knew exactly what to do at every moment and time and we were just robots being controlled, life wouldn’t be nearly as amazing as it is.  The reality is that God has given us choice.  He’s given us freedom.  If you came last week, that’s why you’re back today, because you believe that your choices matter.  You have the ability to choose between a myriad of different options and what you do with your life.  If you didn’t believe that, you wouldn’t be here today.  If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be giving this sermon!

We’ll talk about this each week because we want to give a little bit of framework.  Last week, we said that if you were to read through the Scriptures, you’re going to find three different types of wills of God.  You can’t go through a single passage and find these, you need to sort of dig and mine a little bit.  Let me give you the first one:  It’s God’s sovereign will.  That’s the ‘thus saith the Lord,’ this is going to happen.  God is in heaven and he does whatever pleases him, the psalmist says.  But that’s different than saying ‘everything that happens is God’s will’ or ‘that God wills everything that happens.’  Within his sovereign will, God says to some things, I’m going to give you freedom.  You’re going to have to use your brain.  It’s not a decoration.  It’s not a hood ornament for your life.  You should actually use it.  We’re going to talk about that today.  Within God’s sovereign will there’s a lot of freedom.  We said last week:  God gets everything he wills, but he doesn’t get everything he wants.  There are some moments that God says to us, I’ve given you free choice and you’ve chosen to go one direction, but I wish you would have done something else.

The second type of will of God is his moral will, or this is the way that you should live.  These things are wise.  We’re going to talk about that today.  The third will of God is the individual will.  Most of the time when we ask God, what’s your will for my life? we’re talking about his individual will.  Where should I move?  What job should I take?  When should we retire?  What relationship should I pursue?  Should I say yes or no to this proposal?  What should I do, God?  That’s his individual will.  This morning, I want to talk about the way that his moral will and individual will for our lives converge.  I want to do so and talk about two things:  first, your calendar and second, your soul.  Those two things are actually way more connected than we often think they are.

It’s interesting, if you were to read through the gospels—and I’d encourage you to do that sometime this year—and made a note of everywhere Jesus asks a question and you were to write those questions down, here’s what you would find.  Jesus asked, roughly, 300 questions that were recorded in the gospels.  That’s a lot of questions.  The first phrases of Jesus ever recorded are a question.  The last phrase of Jesus, on the cross, is a question.  Three hundred times.  What’s also interesting is that Jesus was asked 180 questions in the gospels. Now, that wouldn’t have been uncommon for a rabbi to be asked questions.  Rabbi, what should we do?  Which direction should we go?  How should we live?  Some of the questions Jesus asked people were…..Why do you call me good?  What are you so afraid of?  What do you want me to do for you?  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Do you want to get well?  What do the Scriptures say?  How do you read it?  Do you love me?  He asked 300 questions!  It feels like my dinner table sometimes!  Jesus was embracing his inner-childlike faith…..lots of questions.  He was asked 180 questions and some of them were real important questions…..What must I do to inherit eternal life?  Of the 180 questions that Jesus was asked—as best as I could read it and way smarter people than me read it—he answered….    Try to guess how many of them he answered directly.  FIVE!  180 questions asked , five directly answered.

I’m just going to throw it out there—if we are expecting that Jesus would interact with us differently than he interacted with people as he walked this earth, maybe we’re off.  Let me put it a different way—when we ask God a question, maybe in response we should expect a question rather than an answer.  That reframes the question about God’s will pretty significantly, doesn’t it?  We start expecting that God would ask us a question that would help lead us…   Jesus didn’t ask just haphazard questions, he asked questions that helped lead and guide people to wisdom.  He helped them discover the answer.  When someone asks you a question, you’re on the playing field of life, aren’t you?  If they tell you the answer, you can be a passive spectator.  But when you’re asked a question, things change, don’t they?  That’s why the best rabbis, the best teachers, they led people to conclusions that somewhere deep down inside they already knew, they just needed a little help uncovering.

What if….what if….what if….I’m just going to throw it out there….what if we started to expect that Jesus would ask us questions rather than give us answers?  What if our interaction with God about what his will is today aligned way more with the way that he teased out his will in Scripture?  Instead of what we wish he would do.  Let me give you one example.  This one fascinated me as I stumbled across it again this week.  Saul of Tarsus is persecuting the living daylights out of the church.  God meets him in a bright light on the road to Damascus.  Listen to what Jesus says to Saul (Acts 9:4-6) — Saul, Saul, stop persecuting me!   {Wait, that’s not what he says, is it?  He asks him a question.}  Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?    Maybe there’s a dialogue that happened, I don’t know.  Eventually he gives a command….Go into town, you’re going to find a guy….   But notice, God doesn’t give him all the information right there.  He just gives him one more step.  But that step begins with a question.  Maybe we should start to expect that God would interact with us the same way that Jesus did with the apostles, the disciples, that God did with the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus.  What if we started to believe that God was way more interested in leading us towards wisdom than giving us answers?  It would change our discussion about God’s will, would it not?  I’m going to argue today that it would align us far more with what we find in the Scriptures than some of the magical incantations that we sort of long for when we enter into this discussion about God’s will.

So, Ephesians 5:15-17.  We’re going to look at and dissect a text of Scripture where the Apostle Paul—the same Paul that got asked a question that eventually introduced him to Jesus—is going to lead this church in a pursuit of finding themselves in God’s will.  Look carefully then how you walk {or how you live}, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.    Notice what Paul does….he directly connects wisdom with the will of God.  Don’t be unwise….he’ll use two different terms, foolish, but no, no, no, align yourself with the way of wisdom, because that’s what God’s will is.  God’s will is wisdom.  Or maybe we can say it like this, this morning:  God’s will is grounded in God’s wisdom.  I don’t think you actually need the qualifier ‘God’ in front of wisdom.  I think you can just say God’s will is wisdom.  Because all wisdom is God’s wisdom.  Because wisdom is simply alignment with reality.  That’s what it is.  Maybe best summarized by the famous theologian Dwight Schrute (character from The Office) — “Whenever I’m about to do something, I think: ‘Would an idiot do that?’ And if they would, I do not do that thing.”   Wisdom in a nutshell is not doing what an idiot would do.  That’s what Paul just said, let’s close in prayer.

What is wisdom?  Wisdom is concerned with reality.  Wisdom is concerned with the way that the world actually works.  Wisdom notices the difference between things.  Wisdom is the ability to take a project to the finish line.  Wisdom is practical, it’s pragmatic.  Wisdom is able to observe cause and effect—when this happens, that also happens.  The Proverbs are filled with all sorts of pithy wisdom insights.  Here’s a few from the Proverbs:  When you’re lazy, you’ll be lacking in money.  A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  If you wake your neighbors up early, you’re going to have no friends.  These are all pithy bits of wisdom from the Proverbs.  Wisdom is the ability to choose the right path, at the right time, to say the right thing at the right time.  Wisdom is NOT information.  Wisdom is NOT intellect.  Wisdom is boots on the ground, living in the world God has created, in the way that God has wired it to work.  That’s what wisdom is.  Which is why I’ll go back to this incidental point that I think is fairly important—you don’t need ‘God’s’ in front of wisdom.  If it’s just alignment with reality, I’d argue if it’s wisdom, it’s God’s.  Which begs the question: Do we want wisdom?  Do we want wisdom?  Do we want God’s wisdom for our finances?  Do we want God’s wisdom for our sexuality?  Do we want God’s wisdom for our relationships?  Do we want God’s wisdom for the way that we live?  Do we want God’s wisdom if it means “our” wisdom is off?  Do we want it if it grates against some of our desires?  Because at times, it will.

There was a moment in time when wisdom was in vogue.  All of the famous people in the world would write about wisdom.  They’d write about the way that the world works.  These are the names that we still know: the Aristotles, the Platos, the Socrates.  They were trying to unpack wisdom.  They were trying to say this is the way that the world actually works.  I don’t think we live in a day or time where wisdom is as popular.  Desires are popular, but wisdom….I don’t know!

Paul is saying there’s a path, a road, that is wise.  It is the way that the world actually works, and then he says there’s a path that is unwise, it’s foolish, and YOU get to choose which road you walk.  Every moment of every day.

The year was 1857.  There was a man by the name of Alexander Dawson.  He was charged with building a lighthouse on the coast of Australia.  He began looking for site that would be suitable to host his lighthouse.  Unfortunately, Alexander Dawson was way more interested in the ease of building a lighthouse than he was of the functionality of said lighthouse.  He picked a site that was close to a rock quarry.  The only problem with the site was that it was a terrible place for a lighthouse.  Listen to this:  When the Pilots Board went out to verify the location Dawson chose, they found that the site was not visible from the required approaches.  They also found that Dawson’s map suffered from “discrepancies so grave that it would be impossible to decide whether position(s) marked on the map actually existed.”  The board also suspected that he chose the site solely because it was closer to the quarry and he planned to obtain stones from there.  Despite the glaring deficiencies and disagreement by a majority of the board, for reasons not known, the chairman of the board authorized the construction of the lighthouse.  For the next three decades, more than two dozen ships banged into those rocks, right on the coast, and met their Maker at the bottom of the ocean.

This is a picture of anti-wisdom.  Dallas Willard said: “Reality is what you run into when you find out you’re wrong.”  This is anti-wisdom.  It’s all over, you guys.  Let’s do some cultural diagnostics on our situation, some anti-wisdoms of our day and our time.  Like rugged individualism.  This is part of our anti-wisdom, isn’t it?  I can do this on my own.  I’ve got this.  Maybe hedonism is an anti-wisdom of our day.  I’m just going to chase that next thing, that next high, next pleasure.  Materialism—If I get enough, if I get bigger, if I get brighter, shinier, newer, then I’ll be okay.  These are all examples of Dawson’s lighthouse, and there are numerous ships at the bottom of each of those lighthouses.  Some of you may go I’ve got one there.  It didn’t work out.

That’s why what Paul is writing is so important.  What he’s going to do is tease out two really big pieces of wisdom that Jesus calls his followers to walk in.  Let’s look at what they are together.  Here’s what he says (Eph. 5:15-16) — Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  The word ‘time’ that he uses there is this Greek word kairos.  It means opportunity.  It means seizing the moment.  Imagine Robin Williams standing on a table telling his class ‘carpe diem.’  Seize the day!  Make your lives extraordinary.  Paul’s just echoing the same sentiment.  Wisdom recognizes that there will be opportunities that have a time limitation on them.  Wisdom is able to step into those moments because we’re ready.  We’re ready to seize that day, to step into that moment.  As the psalmist writes in Psalm 90:12 about wisdom — So teach us to number our days {God, help us to recognize that one day we will be no longer here on this earth.}  that we may get a heart of wisdom.  I think Paul would echo back and go yeah, yeah, yeah, and within these days that we do have, God’s going to bring opportunities our way and we have to be ready to step into them or else some of them might pass us by.

What is wisdom?  Well, it’s choosing to seize opportunities and maximize influence.  Or maybe just write this down:  Decide that I’m not going to waste my life!  That’s what Paul’s longing for.  He longs for us to live the kind of life where we don’t look back on it at the end and go I wish I would have, or I think I could have, or I might have.  Bonnie Ware, now a famous Australian nurse, was working in palliative care, which helps to give dignity to people as they’re dying.  She started to ask her patients, what are some of your regrets about your life?  She wrote what is now a famous work where she summarized those things.  The top five regrets people had about there life were:  1) I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.  2) I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.  Dramatic pause.  3) I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.  4) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.  5) I wish that I had let myself be happier.

What Paul wants to say to this church is listen, if you want to align yourself with God’s will, you’ve got to live in the world as it actually is, not as you wish it were.  That’s wisdom.  Part of wisdom is being ready to step into these moments that have time stamps on them.  They’re not going to last forever.  As I tried to dig through the New Testament and figure out what this actually looked like, there were three things that just jumped off the pages to me.  What does this look like to actually live this kind of life?  First, it means that we prioritize today over tomorrow.  That may sound strange because the Scriptures are not anti-planning, but they are strongly grounded in the present moment.  In fact, it shocked me as I did this study about God’s will, so little of God’s will discussed in the Scriptures is about what’s coming in the future, and so much of it is about how we live right now, TODAY!  I loved Aaron’s song — I’m going to choose to follow you and the rest is going to work itself out.  That’s a New Testament summary on how to live in the will of God.  In fact, the New Testament uses very strong language for people that say well, I’m going to do this in the future.  Listen to James 4:13-17 — Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and makes a profit” —- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogance.  All such boasting is evil.  So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.    He’s going let’s talk about God’s will.  Do you know the right thing to do?  Not tomorrow.  Not in a week.  Not in a year.  Right now.  God’s will is now.

I don’t know about you, there’s so many barriers to being present in a moment, aren’t there?  I think the two main ones are the past and the future.  We get caught in the guilt and shame and regret of the past, don’t we?  Or we get caught in the anxiety and fear of the future.  Both of those—that tug of war—has the ability to paralyze us and like U2 said we get stuck in a moment and we can’t get out of it.  That’s why I’m so grateful that at South we have recovery groups and care groups.  Listen to these four groups that are coming up.  If you feel like you’re stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it, Celebrate Recovery meets every Tuesday at 6:30 pm.  Grief Share meets Fridays.  Divorce Care meets Tuesdays.  We have a pornography addiction group that’s starting.  Look up at me for a second.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am to pastor a church where we say we are not going to turn a blind eye to some of the things that are a little bit messy, but are destroying our souls and feel like we can’t get healthy from them.  We will be a church that meets those things head on and speaks the light of the goodness of the gospel into them.  If we don’t, who will?  These are all “today” steps, right?  If you know the right thing to do and you don’t do it, well, it’s sin.  If you know you should get help and you don’t….

Here’s the second thing:  We’ve got to choose faith over fear.  I love the way Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, says—-Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. {Your problem with anxiety is actually that you’re not aware enough of the world you live in.  You’re not paying attention.}  Are you not of more value than they?  (Matt. 6:25-26)  Living in wisdom means choosing faith over fear, and choosing faith over fear means that we believe two things—according to Jesus.  First, we believe that God is powerful, that God is good, and that God is loving.  This is wisdom.  Good, powerful, loving.  Secondly, we believe that WE have immense value to this good, powerful, and loving God.  That’s what Jesus says.  At that point we’re freed to actually walk in his way.

Finally, what does it look like to seize opportunities, to maximize impact?  Well, we’ve got to choose impact over ease.  Have you ever recognized that the path of least resistance very rarely yields the most influence?  It’s those hard conversations that actually bring something out of them, isn’t it?  It’s that hard decision that you make where you have to give up some things that actually births some fruit, some beauty, some love, some meaning in your life.  I think, in order for us to step into the way of wisdom, we’ve got to get over our addiction to ease and comfort.  We just do.  All throughout the New Testament the writers of the Scriptures are going to talk about this.  They’re going to say things like — For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  (1 Peter 2:15)  You’re going to step into moments that aren’t going to be easy and you’re going to have an impact there.  Or 1 Peter 3:17 — For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will…    Sometimes it might be.  So part of our grid for what is God’s will and what isn’t God’s will cannot be does it sting, does it hurt?  Because maybe that’s what he has for us, because he’s way more about impact than he is about comfort.

I was told a story about someone from our church, after she came to the Won’t You Be My Neighbor? series, where we talked about stepping out and neighboring.  She said it took me a while, Ryan, but I finally hosted a tea for a bunch of the women in my neighborhood.  She said I had people in my house that lived near me, but we hadn’t really talked.  There was just these great conversations.  I just want you to know that we’re listening.  I loved it!  Impact over ease!  What’s easier?  Just close the garage door, huddle down.  Impact is saying no, no, no, come on in, I’ll invite you into my life and around my table.  I ran across this anonymous quote: “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what a ship is built for.”  Come on, come on.

What if we just take a moment and imagine that Jesus was asking us some questions — What are you planning on doing tomorrow that you could do today?  Why are you so afraid?  I always imagined that that was a rhetorical question when Jesus asked it in the gospels.  What if he actually expects an answer and a dialogue?  It’s not why are you so afraid, you idiot.  Why are you so afraid?  Let’s talk about that.  I’m afraid because of what people will think about me.  Maybe Jesus responds with another question, “Uh huh, and then what’ll happen?”  Well, then they’ll think poorly of me.  Yeah, and then what will happen?   Well, then……I don’t know.  I guess then I’ll think I’m not as good.  Uh huh, and then what?  And then what?   Maybe Jesus wants to help you get to the actual core of the issue, rather than running from a shadow.  Maybe Jesus wants to ask you are there places in your life that you’re choosing ease instead of impact.

Look at the way Paul continues. {I’m going to admittedly fly through this part and I apologize.}  He says this in Ephesians 5:18 and it’s the second piece of wisdom that he wants to give that aligns us with God’s will — And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, {That’s just seeking after a filling from pleasure, from hedonism.} but be filled with the Spirit.  This is an imperative—be filled with the Spirit.  It’s a command.  But it’s passive.  It’s an imperative—do this!  Passive—you can’t do this!  Anyone notice some tension there?  It’s position yourself to be filled with the Spirit, because when you position yourself to be filled with the Spirit, God will fill you with his Spirit.  Right?  On our Monday video that we release that goes along with each of the messages, I’m going to unpack the difference between the filling of the Spirit and baptism of the Spirit.  We don’t have time today other than to say there is a difference.  Baptism of the Spirit is something that happens upon belief for every believer, one time.  But the filling of the Spirit is something that happens and CAN happen over and over and over again.  What Paul says is you can be a follower of Jesus and not be filled with the Spirit.  That’s possible.  You’ve got to actually put your life under the reign and rule of Jesus, open yourself up, ask for it and he will deliver it.  I always tell people when we talk about the filling of the Spirit that it’s not about how much of the Spirit we have, it’s about how much of us the Spirit has.

Implicit within Paul’s command here is that we’re all empty vessels looking to be filled.  Whether it’s filled with pleasure or may be filled with the desire to run away.  We’re all empty vessels, every single one of us.  That’s not a Christian thing, that’s not a secular thing, that is a human thing.  Paul says what you fill your life with will determine whether or not you’re walking in wisdom.  Think about it, the constancy of getting drunk on wine is actually a desire to run away from reality, is it not?  It’s I don’t want to take the world as it is, I actually want it in another way.  It’s anti-wisdom.  Paul pushes back against that, first addressing our calendar, then second addressing our soul.  He says reject grasping for fulfillment and receive filling.

Catch this….the Spirit’s filling always leads to the Spirit’s leading which always bears the Spirit’s fruit.  So, filling, leading, fruit.  What filling of the Spirit cannot be is a mindlessness.  It can’t be a chaotic, impulsive….  It’s actually way more thoughtful, way more—to use a term that’s popular, but I believe has a Christian backing to it—mindful of the world that we live in, way more aware, far more clarity—to be able to say God, I want to walk in your way.  When that happens, Paul says okay, here’s what you can expect.  You can expect love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  That’s what it looks like when it comes out of us.  I love that Paul says be filled.  Maybe his readers knew more about it than we do, I doubt it.  He doesn’t give an equation.  He doesn’t say like, do this to be filled.  It must mean that it’s not all that difficult.  Maybe if we want it, and ask for it, and release the things that we’re carrying in its place, then maybe we should just expect that it happens.

He says I’m not going to tell you how to get it, but I’ll tell you what it looks like.  (Eph. 5:19-21)  ….addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.    Addressing one another.  So when you’re filled with the Spirit, there’s this outward blessing.  You make melody in your heart to the Lord.  There’s this upward praise.  Have you ever been around somebody that’s just whistling a hymn or a song all the time and you’re like, you need to settle down, or finish the song?  Have you ever been around somebody like that?  It’s just one phrase….   There’s just something in their soul, right?  And God goes yeah, yeah, that’s my will for you.  Giving thanks….there’s this inward gratitude.  Giving thanks to the Lord for everything in every situation.  It seems like all encompassing, doesn’t it?  It’s suppose to.  Outward blessing.  Upward praise.  Inward gratitude.  You want to know what God’s will looks like for your soul?  THAT’S what it looks like.

Here’s what I want to do.  I just want to give you a few moments to ask yourself some questions.  What I’d like you to actually do is imagine that Jesus is asking these questions.  This is just some time to think before you go running out of here, because we’ve said some things like God’s will is God’s wisdom or God’s will is wisdom.  What’s the wise thing to do based on the reality of the world?  Paul goes here’s the wise thing to do:  make the most of your opportunities and be filled.  That can happen.  So here’s a question:  What are you planning to do tomorrow that you could do today?  Maybe you just see the face of Jesus and he asks you, why are you waiting?  What if you just saw his eyes….those loving, piercing, faithful, good eyes asking you this question:  Why are you so afraid?  And not in a condemning way, but in a way that he really expects your answer.  Why are you so afraid?  Maybe imagine him asking yeah, and then what? after you answer.  And then what?  Maybe you imagine him asking you:  Why not take the harder road?  What’s holding you back from really stepping into this moment?   Maybe some questions about your soul—What are you pursuing?  What do you want?  Imagine the Messiah saying to you….what do you want?  Really?  What’s in your heart, what do you want?  Maybe a gentle follow-up question from him would be:  What are you hoping to get out of that?  Or maybe he goes Dr. Phil on you and says how’s that working out for you?  Maybe he asks sort of a painful question or a beautiful question, depending—What type of fruit do you see coming out of your life?  What do you see?  Maybe he asks what do you want to see?  Maybe he says man, do you think it’s time to reach out for help?

Jesus asks 300 questions in the gospels.  He was asked 180.  He answered 5 of those directly.  Maybe his goal for you is to help you uncover the answer you already know.  And maybe he wants to do that by asking you some questions.

One of the things I wrestled with all week, and maybe you do too, was hey God, what about those times in my life—and they are more than I’d like to admit—that I’ve chosen the path of foolishness, of anti-wisdom…what about then?  I just sense him saying Ryan, that’s what Romans 8:28 is all about.  I’m able to work all things together for good.  Like, I can even weave those bad, terrible decisions into a path that says this is going to be for your good, for your beauty, for your life rather than your death.  I’m able to take those.  Don’t choose those paths intentionally, but I’m God and I can even take those things and weave them together.  Maybe his last question for you today—if that’s the place you’re in—maybe he says to you…do you believe that?

Jesus, our prayer is that you would help us believe, help us hear, help us be attentive, not just to the answer we’re looking for, but for the question you might be asking.  It’s in your name that we pray.  And all God’s people said….Amen.