Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries



God's Sovereignty & Decision Making audio (5MB)

James 4:13-16

Down the street from my house, someone has taped a hand-made sign to a pole … a little piece of secular wisdom that I walk past most mornings and inevitably read on my way to the train station.  It reads:


And though it is a little random and worldly … there is some truth to it.  Jesus often chastises his listeners when they think that blessing and prosperity go together or that sickness and sin go together.  Certainly on particular occasions sickness is connected to sin.  But Jesus is clear in teaching that we cannot automatically make that assumption, in fact we should assume the opposite.  He tells his disciples in Luke 13 that the Galileans killed by Pilate were not greater sinners than those who were spared.  And in this sense the little adage masking-taped to the pole in Blackburn Road rings true: life isn’t always perfect (by our own definition of perfection: success, happiness, no aches or pains, etc.) but on another level LIFE IS WONDERFUL – because LIFE AND ALL OUR PROVISIONS ARE GOD-GIVEN … GOD IS AT WORK.  Even as we encounter suffering, the reality of disease, death, conflict, violence in our world, we know that God’s PLAN is bigger than all of that.  And the glory that awaits will make the problems of today pale by comparison. So in light of this:



This passage that we have just heard read by Sam/Richard from the book of James [4.13-16] is not about business or money or planning.  It is addressed to believers like us.  And it is addressed to believers like us, who in very tangible ways, need to make plans and need to make money to survive.  We are called to be good stewards.  James doesn’t call them ‘rich,’ he doesn’t call them ‘greedy’ … the text doesn’t say that their business-practice was ‘corrupt’ or ‘unethical’ … he berates them because they are believers who act like non-believers.  They make plans without factoring in God’s PLAN.

v15 says     “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”

Sometimes, as Christians, we say “We’ll do such-and-such … God willing.”  But James is obviously suggesting something far more significant: what he is conveying is that a life centred in Christ and his people means that God’s Sovereign Will is a key factor to any decision.        Our LIFE … our very existence … BELONGS TO GOD.  Boasting about our great business plans and how much money we will make, without a thought for the body of Christ is arrogant and sinful.  He is saying our corporate Christian life and our everyday decision-making go hand-in-hand if we are to be faithful followers of Christ. Because our lives BELONG TO GOD.

In our preaching series, we have been talking about moral decisions – for which we can determine the way forward through careful reading of the bible.   And non-moral decisions – for which we can make reasoned, rational decisions based on the facts in front of us.  However we also know that God has a Sovereign Will.  Within his sovereign will, we see that God wants us to live by his standards, that the believers may be a sign and foretaste of the new creation (as Tim Foster encouraged us last weekend). 
But can God’s Sovereign Will also impact on our individual non-moral decisions?

Well Heather’s sermon two weeks ago, showed us that through the Holy Spirit, who testifies to our spirit, sometimes God does reveal things that are pertinent to our individual non-moral will.  So God might reveal to us through, through the Holy Spirit, that we should ‘go’ somewhere (for a reason unknown to us), later we discover that there was some specific work that we were to do there, some door that God had opened to us.  And at other times, it may seem as though the Holy Spirit is closing a door for us.  Often in hindsight, we can look back on a part of our lives and think … yes … God’s hand was in that.  But how do we know?


Many of you have heard me talk about the circumstances of when we first returned to Melbourne at the beginning of 2009.  However, what I may not have told you about was the series of events that happened beforehand …

On a Saturday in October of 2008, I had been asked to attend a youth Camp for the afternoon …  when I arrived I was particularly impressed by the faith that these young people displayed and the way that they were ministering to one another and I had prayed with them and for them.

I had to leave after a while to attend a church service and as I walked to my car,
my mobile rang and it was a former colleague who was herself running a youth event
with some teenagers from my old church in Melbourne. 
I spoke to her in the car, and she said to me several times,
‘Gee I wish that we could have you back here working with these young people’.
These words resonated in my head as I went to the service that evening …
I’d had no inkling previously that I should change job or move back to Melbourne …
but I felt compelled to explore this further.  So I went home and I told Heather …
expecting her to dismiss the idea immediately …
which would exonerate me from wasting any more time thinking about it ... 
She looked dismayed … but to my surprise she said … I think you’re right. 

And she reminded me how when we had been at my Grandmother’s funeral at that Church the previous year that she had experienced a strong sense that we would return there.  I had been dismissive of this at the time.

A couple of days later, I attempted to get in touch with Peter, the minister at this Church,
only to discover that he had taken a week’s holiday … IN QUEENSLAND. 
When we eventually caught up on the phone, he hadn’t received any of my messages,
but had independently called me to suggest that we have dinner together that evening …
over the course of dinner I told him what I was discerning
and he told me that the Church had just undertaken a process to look to the future
and one of the things that had been unanimously determined
was the need to employ someone with exactly my skill-set
and experience to work in the parish …
and so it went on coincidence after coincidence …

I prayed a great deal before acting definitively.  And I can look back now and say … God was at work … opening doors … giving me confirmation in a number of ways.

In Matthew’s Gospel (16.1-3), when then Pharisees come to Jesus and ask for a sign from heaven, Jesus replies:

“When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ 3and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

One of the aims of this teaching series, has been and is to teach that we have to be wary about depending on signs.  You know there’s this advertisement that comes on TV (not at prime-time fortunately) that says that if you’re trying to determine whether the man or woman you’re with is the person you will spend the rest of your life with … text your name and theirs to this number and you will get a % probability of your long-term compatibility.  Then they say quickly: Premium SMS call charges apply …

That is of course an extreme!   But sometimes being too reliant on signs, something we read in the paper, a word that someone says to me, even a verse that I happen to stumble upon in the Bible can be purely circumstantial. 

But the passage from Matthew’s Gospel suggests that in the same way we can look at the sky and make a reasonable prediction that it may rain today, we should be able to look at our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, within the context of Christian community, and DISCERN the best way forward.

There are no hard and fast rules.  But I would like to suggest six key ways that can help us in our decision-making process.  And I think this is modelled in what’s called the First Major Discourse or Sermon of Matthew’s Gospel, Chapters 5-9.  Open your Bibles …
For convenience these six points all begin with the letter ‘P’:


The first “P” is PURPOSE        – and by Purpose I mean God’s Purpose.  How attuned am I to the Character of God so that when important decisions are to be made it is a little easier to sift through the perfectly moral, legal, ethical possibilities to the more Godly decision?

In Chapter 5, we see a lot of good teaching about how we should conduct our lives, how to live moral lives.  But Jesus also talks about the Kingdom:

•    The Beatitudes address the fact that those who are poor and mourning are blessed,
•    Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are also blessed,
•    The pure in heart, the persecuted, the peacemakers … also blessed,
•    Those who defend the Gospel are blessed.
•    Then Jesus says that God’s people should be salt and light for the world …

These are more than ideals or rules (they are these things too),
but they reveal something about the Sovereign character of God. 
The subjects of God’s Kingdom LIVE in this way. 
In the present age we TRY to live this way,
in the age to come this will be the WAY that God’s people will live. 
This is a higher righteousness that is possible only with God’s grace.

And so this has an impact on how we make decisions. 
Herein is not only an implication for our moral decisions,
but to be attuned to God’s Sovereign Will is to elevate those who suffer and are persecuted for the Gospel, those who seek righteousness and so forth …

So in making our decisions, we should first submit to God’s will and then ask the question how does this decision, impact on God’s people … on God’s Kingdom?


The second “P” (and one of the most important Ps) is PRAYER.As Jesus continues his Sermon in Matthew’s Gospel, we come to the middle of Chapter 6, where Jesus teaches his followers how to pray and he says
“Pray then IN THIS WAY:”

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.

This model of prayer highlights that God is the first consideration
(the point James makes to his listeners).
And that first and foremost, God’s sovereign WILL be done …. THEN
we may humbly ask for our daily bread … our needs … help with our difficult decisions …

And the next part of the prayer is very important:

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Repentance and forgiveness is also crucial for good decision-making.
Sometimes we may need to repent of the ways we have made decisions previously
in ungodly ways or without regard for God (like the merchants in James’ letter).

My own experience is that I pray every day, but I pray within the hustle and bustle of everyday commitments, sometimes the phone rings while I am praying, sometimes I’m distracted, sometimes I’m so tired I fall asleep … you get the picture.  But when I have a really important decision to make, like ‘Should I seek ordination in the Anglican Church?’  I leave town, go to a quiet place, try to clear all the clutter out of my life, take a couple of days off work … whatever it takes … to pray and to listen to what God might be saying to me and sometimes this might be supernatural as in a word of knowledge (as happened at Alpha this week), but at other times it can be very practical, like making the pros and cons list on the whiteboard, and after a time of prayer, realising that the pros are all consistent with my understanding of God and the cons are just my own fears or selfish objections.  Sometimes we pray that God may confirm what I feel is right by bringing people into our life who will speak into this situation. But I find … I don’t know about you … that it is very hard to HEAR what God is saying to me unless I clear all the clutter and intentionally pray through my concerns.

Every decision can be brought before God in prayer.  Your Kingdom come, your Will be done.  Where are you in this decision, Lord?


The third “P” is PRIORITY.At the end of Chapter 6, Jesus says:

Do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’
But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Some things in life, need our immediate attention –
a decision made right this minute.
And some do not!
Often at training days for ministers,
they are encouraged to think about the four main quadrants that they operate from High or Low Importance and High or Low Urgency. 
Many ministers (in fact many people) operate
out of the Low Importance / High Urgency -
because there is always pressure to respond to the URGENT …
of course … all of us should be responding to the HIGH IMPORTANCE stuff.
Jesus says that the High Importance-High Urgency is
“Seeking the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness”
then all these smaller things will be given to you as well.

So when the Young Adults began thinking about running the Alpha Course -
we tried to focus on how we might help lead people to Christ … and not
who will make the food? who will set up the room? how will we cover our costs …?

Although the food and the money, etc. are important considerations,
they are the LESSER considerations. 
If it is part of God’s Sovereign Will that we should be engaged in this ministry,
and if we are faithful in prayer, God will show us the way.


The fourth “P” is POTENTIAL (or POSSIBILITY) –
We’ve talked briefly about “open and closed” doors.

In the last part of this TEACHING section in Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 9),
we observe people who have HEARD Jesus
and SEIZE THE POTENTIAL to ask something of him:

•    The Paralytic and his friends;
•    Matthew, the Tax Collector;
•    Other Tax Collectors who gather in Matthew’s home;
•    A leader of the Synagogue whose daughter is dying;
•    A woman suffering with haemorrhages;
•    2 Blind Men;
•    A Demoniac.

Each one of these receives what they ask for: Healing, Acceptance, Life, A New Start, Sight, and Freedom from demonic attack.

Now you might say: well that’s all very well and good for these people,
Jesus physically walked past them – anyone would have responded as these did.

But each showed faith as well that Jesus could give them what they desired.
We have to believe that God is interested in giving us … our daily bread.

In the same way, when making Decisions,
we consider what doors are open here and which are closed.
You may think that a certain job is perfect for you – and then you don’t get the job,
in the immediate moment – that’s a closed door.
At other times several doors are open and you have to choose one
and so TRUSTING GOD AND DISCERNING are all the more important.


The fifth “P” is Perseverance.

In the earlier case of the woman who was haemorrhaging,
we are told that she had had that condition for TWELVE years.
I’m sure that she prayed about it, I’m sure that she consulted physicians about it.
And yet she persists and she believes that Jesus can heal her.

It is the same with decisions … sometimes we have to persevere for a time
and God can seem silent … sometimes God is silent …
Sometimes we get signs and open doors and sometimes we don’t
I started off by saying, we have to be discerning about signs …
sometimes they’re just coincidences …
but the flip-side is that we have to believe that God is at work
even when there are no signs, no feelings, silence … God is in fact guiding.

William Temple said “When I pray coincidences happen and when I don’t pray they don’t.”

But the truth is that just as we have to be discerning about the way we read signs, we need to be faithful that God is guiding and leading even when we do not ‘feel’ or ‘see’ anything.  We walk by faith and not by sight.


The sixth “P” is Plan.

At the end of the day, decisions have to be made …

If I get offered the job, I have to decide whether I take it or not.

If I am proposed to, I have to decide whether or not I accept.

If I have five viable options in front of me and I can only choose one,
I eventually have to make one choice.

So we keep in mind these other five imperatives(?) and finally are confident that we are not on our own: we are not without Christ, without the scriptures, without the Holy Spirit, we are a mixture of divine and human responsibility.

The imperative is Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done …
We need to plan but we need to remember the Sovereign Plan
and whilst we don’t have the MICRO detail of the Sovereign Plan
we do have the MACRO details

•    We know God’s Character
•    We know the attributes of the Kingdom
•    We know how believers should live
•    We know that God desires that all will be saved.

And because God is Sovereign ….
we also know that God’s Will ‘will be done’ even when we muck up.

So we need to be both open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, yet confident in our own knowledge that God wants us to use the gifts he has given us to discern and make good decisions.

You know … Heather and I grew up around the corner from each other.  I was a member of the local Catholic Church.  Heather’s dad was the vicar of the local Anglican Church.  I had indirectly met her dad, visited her church and been involved in planning inter-Church activities with her congregation.  Heather and I went to the same primary school … and yet … I had never met her.

My Church had a Parish Carnival every year in November.  Heather and I had a mutual friend, who had talked to her about me … she brought Heather to that Carnival in November 1997.  When we were introduced I was distracted with a stall that I was working on and the fact that I had to leave soon for an important meeting. 
I politely said, ‘Hi, nice to meet you.’ And got on with what I was doing.

Almost a year passed and Heather started coming to our Young Adults Group.  I thought she was quite impressive in her depth of faith and maturity.  I began to get to know her, but soon afterwards her family moved to Cairns.  And I remember thinking how could I have missed the fact that this very cool person, has lived around the corner from me all these years?

Two years later, Heather moved back from Cairns … and I remember saying to her …
I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed you until I saw you again. 

And the hallmark of our growing friendship had been a mutual respect for each other’s faith, the call to ministry and an ability to just sit and talk for hours.  Both of us had prayed that God would bring someone into our lives who would share a passion for faith and ministry.

But life was complicated … I was going through a messy break-up with someone that Heather was acquainted with … I was employed in the parish and Heather was a member of the Young Adults Group … Heather was working through the grief of leaving home and starting a new life in Melbourne … and what’s more one week before we got together,
a vicious, UNTRUE rumour was spread about me that convinced Heather that she really didn’t want anything to do with me.  Things were complicated. The doors seemed closed.

That week we both prayed as we never had before … I mean … it had seemed good … but was God in it?

There had been several closed doors … and yet a set of amazing circumstances that seemed to bring our paths together again …

We had talked almost every day, but because of what had happened and because Heather had exams that week, she texted me on the Monday to say that we could meet up and talk on Saturday … THAT seemed like an eternity!

Saturday finally came and we agreed to meet at the Church.

That Saturday just happened to be the day of the annual Parish Carnival.

It had been four years almost to the day when we had met and I had failed to show an interest

Heather, being the brave one, did most of the talking … and she said something like this …
‘We can’t be slaves to the expectations of friends and family,
we need to respond to what God is doing. 
Good Godly relationships enhance the community
and I think that ours can be that sort of relationship.’


In a sense we relied a lot on God to make that decision, because the pressure from our friends, family and community was that maybe this wasn’t such a good decision.  If you like, we did the 6 Ps and still believed that God was in it.

You may have noticed that I am the kind of person who deliberates about decisions and Heather is the kind of person who KNOWS and ACTS almost in the space of a micro-second.

Six months later – Heather proposed to me, because she thought that I’d never get around to it …
This time, there was no need to deliberate.  God’s sovereign purpose had been very clear to me. 
And we were engaged immediately.


So there is no hard and fast way to make difficult decisions based on God’s Sovereignty.  But earnestly praying THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE, is an important acknowledgment that everything I am and everything I do BELONGS TO GOD.  There can be no COMPARTMENTALISING OF stuff for God and stuff for me.  So when we pray we are to be confident that God will work with us, through the Holy Spirit, in the context of Christian community and through the scriptures to help us make Godly decisions consistent with God’s Sovereign Will.


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