I want to read to you an obscure little verse from an obscure part of the Old Testament. Very few people know this story, but it has a lot to it, and is found in First Samuel 23:1: "When David was told, 'Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors,' he inquired of the Lord, saying, 'Shall I go and attack these Philistines?' And the Lord answered him, 'Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah.'"
We all come from different backgrounds. I pastor a church in downtown Brooklyn, in the "hood," because about thirty years ago, God put my wife and I in the inner city. I'd never been to seminary or Bible school, and my wifewho I am so very proud of and thankful forwas a musician, but she couldn't read or write music. In fact, she has never been technically trained, but she recently won her fifth Grammy award with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir! It's amazing. None of the musicians can read or write music, including my wife, but they just get up and sing to the Lord. That's the way God led her to do it.
When my wife and I began our church in a run down little building with 15-18 people and no training in seminary to tell us how to do it, it was a very depressing situation. But by inquiring of the Lord, we've been able to grow. So what I want to talk to you about is very critical.
On 9/11, we lost four members of our church. We also had another girl, Jenel Goosman, who made it to the thirteenth floor before the building came down on top of her. She was very lucky to fall into an air pocket, but was pinned facedown to the ground until the emergency workers pulled her out, 27 hours later. In fact, she was the last person pulled out of the wreckage.
That event has opened up great opportunities in New York City, because people are now saying things like, "Wow, you can be eating a bagel and drinking a cup of coffee in your office at a quarter to nine in the morning and not know that you only have minutes to live." People are saying things like, "Wow, they left everything behind. Nobody took a dime with them." These are not things that New Yorkers had been thinking about.
Do you know the Bible verse that says: Don't boast about what you'll do tomorrow, for how do you know what a day will bring? This is now the mindset of people in New York City and around our country, because of Iraq and North Korea and everything else going on. God has placed my wife and I in the ministry, for this moment, to serve him.
But the question is: What does God want us to do? I don't care where you're from, how large your church is, how small it is, what the challenges arethat's the question. There are a thousand voices and a thousand books out there saying: This is the way to make your church grow. This is the way to do ministry. There are fads that come along every 18 months, and people write a whole bunch of books about them, and everybody buys into them. The next thing you know, there's a new answer for the church 18 months later. A year later, there's another new answer. A lot of pastors go down these roads and end up very discouraged and disillusioned.
God has a plan for our lives.
So let's ask God what he wants to teach us from his Word. Why would he put this obscure story in the Bible? The Bible tells us that David was on the run from King Saul at the moment this happened in First Samuel 23. David had started out so wonderfully by killing Goliath, but jealousy got into King Saul's heart, because there was a big gospel song back then that went something like this: "Saul has slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands." That was a big gospel tune back then, and it was one that King Saul did not like. In fact, he tried to kill David.
Many of the Psalms are written as David is running away and trying to hide from Saul. The king and the entire army of Israelabout six hundred menare chasing this young man, but they're just always one step behind him.
In First Samuel 23, David is on the run, and a message comes to him that Keilah, a town northwest of where he is in the desert, has come under attack by the Philistines. The Philistines are about to capture them and do God knows what to the people of Keilah. They're looting the threshing floors, they're taking advantage of the town, and they're acting as human predators against this weakened people.
As the Bible points out, David is a weird combination of warrior and singer. Most singers aren't used to putting on armor to fight, and most people who want to fight, don't sit down and play the harp and write psalms; David is a unique combination of the two. He is a fighter for the cause of the Lord, and the minute he hears about the attack on Keilah, the Bible says he inquires of the Lord and asks: Shall I go and attack these Philistines and try to rescue Keilah?
That's a very interesting question. Let's analyze it for a second. He could have thought, Hey, wait a minute. I've got the entire army of Israel chasing me! The last thing I need to do now is try to be the Lone Ranger and go rescue the town of Keilah. I've got enough on my plate. I've got enough problems, enough pressures. I have to do all I can just to stay one step ahead of King Saul.
In fact, his men say to him: Hey, we're not going to go save Keilah, are we? We've got all of Israel against us. Why do we want to take on the Philistines?
That's something that happens to us a lot of times. We're involved in ministry. We've got a lot on our plates. And yet something comesan opportunity or a need presents itselfand the question is: How can I handle this? How can I possibly do this? I've got so much on me now, and yet something inside of me is saying that I'm supposed to step out and do yet another thing for the Lord.
David inquired of the Lord: Should I go and attack the Philistines at Keilah?
Now let's look at it from the other side. David could have stepped back and thought, Wait a minute. I'm God's anointed. Samuel anointed me when I was just a young man. I slew Goliath with some little stones and a sling. The Philistines are chopped meat to me! I'm just going to go and wipe them out. God's been with me in the past; I'm God's anointed. I can have victory anywhere I go, because I'm God's chosen servant.
But David didn't think in this manner, either.
He didn't back away because too much was on his plate, and he didn't have a knee-jerk reaction of, "Oh, there's a problem. I've got to run to the rescue because I'm God's man of faith, and I have power for the hour."
No, the Bible tells us that David inquired of the Lord and said: Lord, I've fought other Philistines, and you've helped me several times before, starting with Goliath. But what I want to know is whether or not I should attack these Philistines? At this time, is this part of your plan for my life?
This is a refreshing change from formula Christianity, where as ministers we usually look for quick, A-B-C formulas to figure out what to do in any given situationhow to lead your youth, how to lead a choir, how to pastor a church. So many of us are running around, looking for some conference or some book that will tell us what to do. I'd like to suggest to you that doing so is the wrong formula for being a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. When David was confronted with this situation, he went to God and inquired: God, should I, at this moment in my life, go and attempt to save Keilah and attack the Philistines?
That leads us to what the Bible presents: there is a will of God; there's a plan for every one of our lives.
It is an awesome privilege to represent Jesus Christ in downtown Brooklyn, in San Diego, or wherever you're from. At the same time, it's an awesome responsibility, because every single one of us here is going to stand at the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of the quality of our work. Jesus is not going to ask us what our peers thought of us or what the church growth organizers thought of our message. He is going to ask us if we did what he called us to do.
There's a plan. God didn't just save you and say: Now, go out into the world and try to be creative and do the best you know how. That is never found in the New Testament. The Bible tells us that God has a plan for each one of our lives, and the only success in ministry is to find out what God's plan is for you and to submit to it; you seek his plan, be open to it, and then obey it.
That's why Paul calls himself a slave, or a bondservant, of the Lord Jesus Christ. You know what slaves and servants do? They don't have to have creative thoughts. They just obey orders.
This was also true of Jesus Christ when he came to Earth. When the Pharisees were attacking him and criticizing him unjustly, he said: "Why do you criticize the things that I do? I only do the things the Father shows me." In other words: I'm not making these things up. I'm under orders. I have come to do the Lord's will.
Jesus couldn't raise anybody from the dead he wanted. He couldn't stay in any city as long as he wanted. All he could do was go as the Father led him to go.
If you had gone up to Peter, James, and John in Capernaum and asked them how long they were going to be staying there with their rabbi, their teacher, they would have said, "Look, we don't know. When he moves, we move. When he stays, we stay. Our life is very simple. We just follow directions."
When Jesus was criticized about his preaching, he told the critics: Don't condemn me for what I say. I only say the things the Father teaches me and gives me to say.
Jesus was under instruction, just like David, always inquiring what God wanted him to do.
There is a will of God. You're not some leaf, blowing around in the wind. God has a plan for your life. God has a plan for your ministry. Before you were in that ministry, he not only planned that you would be in it, but he knew exactly what you should be doing in that ministry.
God uses the Holy Spirit to reveal his plan for our lives.
That leads us to the following deduction: we must be able to find out what that plan is, the will of God. David inquired of the Lord because he believed there was a plan for his lifethere were things he should do, and there were things he shouldn't do. He knew there were battles he should fight, and there were battles he should walk away from. As the songwriter said, "You got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them."
David inquired of the Lord because he believed, as is true today, that it's possible to know what the will of God is for your life. That will of God, in the way that I'm describing it, is only discovered through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
It is true that the Word of God is our rule of faith. It's the thing that we test everything by, including this speaker or anyone else who talks. No matter how clever it may seem, we test it by the Word of God. We try the spirits by saying, "Wait a minute, can this be found in God's Word? Where's this guy coming from?" But the Bible is primarily a rule for our morals and our doctrine. It does not tell us many other things that are very critical in life.
For example, about six or seven years ago we were having three services every Sunday, and we came to a point in our ministry where I saw some people being turned away from the theater we were meeting in at that time. It broke my heart. I saw us turn away a woman and her daughter who might have been taking two subways to get there from somewhere in the Bronx. The pastors met together and agreed: "This cannot go on. This cannot be God's will. We've got to find a bigger place."
But that's not easy in New York City. Where do you find something massive where you can have more people come in? There's no Bible verse to tell me where the building is that God wants us to have. There's no Bible verse to tell me when I should step out in faith and say, "Yes, although we don't have the money, God wants us to do this, and we're going to step out and do it." There's no verse that tells me when and where to do that.
Paul tells Timothy: "Do the work of an evangelist." But how? The Bible is silent about how. I'm still trying to learn that today. How do I do the work of an evangelist in downtown Brooklyn with crack-cocaine everywhere? Every Sunday there are dozens of people in our services who are HIV positive. How do I reach out to them? How do we get to where they are? Or how do we bring them to where we are? No Bible verse tells me how to do that.
No Bible verse tells you who you're supposed to marry. The Bible tells us we should marry within the faithnot to be "unequally yoked"but there's no name. Yet it's possible to pray and say, "God, I'm starting to have feelings toward this other person. Is this your plan for my life? Am I supposed to be hooked up with this lady or this fellow?"
David inquired of the Lord. All through the Old Testament you find that whenever David was at his best, he was inquiring of the Lord. He would come to a critical juncture or a crisis, and he would inquire of the Lord.
Forget how he inquiredhe probably used the high priest and the ephodthat's a side issue. The point was that he thought: God, I can't just do anything I want because you anointed me. I can't walk around like Superman. I'm not Superman. I can only do the things you've called me to do.
The will of God can only be known through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. That's a real problem today because right now, there's a very strong pendulum swing in churches concerning the Spirit. In some places, you'll find wild, off-the-wall, unbiblical things that you could never imagine Jesus or Paul doingpeople howling like some wild animal or crawling like snakes on the ground. These churches act like an insane asylum in the name of the Holy Spirit! The pendulum also swings the other way, and in some places there's no Holy Spirit, and it feels like a cemetery.
If you travel around in America today, you'll find cemeteries and insane asylums, insane asylums and cemeteries. The wilder the asylum gets, the more the cemetery reacts the other way, saying, "I don't want that wild and wily fanaticism and emotionalism and experiential religion. We're just going to be sound in the Word." That grieves the very one who wrote the Bible, which is the Holy Spirit! In the middle of it all is the devil, who is trying to play us off of both sides, because in the middle is the power of the Holy Spirit judged carefully by the Word of God.
God has a plan for your ministry. Trust me. The point is to find that plan.
The Bible tells us that searching for God's plan was a common occurrenceand not just in the Old Testament. In Acts 16, the Bible tells us that Paul was on a missionary journey, and that he wanted to go preach the gospel in the region we now call Turkey. As he was heading that way with his ministry team, the text reads, "but the Spirit of Jesus forbid him to go into Asia."
He wasn't trying to sell drugs therehe was trying to preach the gospel! Why would the Spirit of Jesus forbid him to go into Asia to share the Good News with people who needed to hear it?
Because it wasn't part of God's plan for Paul.
When Paul went west and tried to go to a place called Bithynia, again the Bible says, "and the Spirit of Jesus forbid him to do it."
Paul had a missionary team and he had his plans, but God somehowit doesn't say how the Holy Spirit let him know thisdenied him access to the area that he wanted to go.
That may happen in your life. It could be a real need. It could be a real problem. You could be itching to do itand yet God can say to us, "No, I've got someone else to do that. My plans for you are otherwise."
Paul went to bed that night, and he had a dream. He had a vision of a man from Macedonia saying: Come on over and help us.
Luke writes in Acts 16: "We took it as from the Lord that this is what God wanted us to do."
I have learned that I can't live doing what I'm doing without the leading of the Holy Spirit. I'm not that bright. I'm not a great orator. I have no formal training. The needs are so overwhelming in New York City that if I were to respond to every one of them, I would go crazy in one day. There are teenage kids from single-parent homes who are being pressured to join the Crypts and the Bloods. Gangs are approaching them at the schools, saying, "Either you join us or we're coming for you." The initiation rites of the gangs now require you get a carpet cutter or a linoleum cutter and you slash somebody's face. There's been an abundance of people on the subway or the streets getting attacked by some young kid who's trying to earn his stripes to get into a gang.
How do you reach kids with that kind of mentality? I don't know. But I'm searching. God has to show me what to do and how to do it, but there is an answer for the problems I face.
When we recently entered into a building program, I had no money. There were three buildings and one huge theater for sale. The pastors went and looked at it. We all felt we knew what God wanted us to do. I would wear a suit and a tie when I would negotiate with the sellers and try to look impressive, but I had no money. Inner city people don't have the means to pay for the overhead of the very church that they're coming to. That's just the way it is. You're like a missionary, but you're in America.
We started to pray: "God, if we move ahead with this, you have to give us some sign. We don't know what to do. We don't have money."
About that time, I went on the 700 Club. Pat Robertson is not a close friend of mine, but he's an acquaintance. We talked about the book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. After the program was over, I was sitting in the green room when he came in and said, "Jim, how are things going in New York?"
"They're going fine, but would you do me a favor, Pat? Because I know you believe in prayer, would you pray for something?
"What do you want me to pray for?" he said.
"Well," I replied, "we found a spot that we think would make a great church, a new campus for us, but the men won't come down from their asking price. And secondly, I have no money."
Pat was walking to the door when he turned around, looked at me, and said, "I want to do more than pray for you. I want to help you in some way."
A week later we got a letter: "Dear Jim, thanks for being on the program. We've decided 700 Club could give you a million dollars."
We took that as God saying, "Even though you don't know where it's all coming from, move ahead." We felt that a million dollars was a little bit of a shove to go in the right direction. But even then, we took the money saying, "Lord, is this something that we're supposed to be doing?"
When we follow God's plan, he will supply our needs.
David was interested in finding out God's will because he knew that wherever God led him, God was under covenant to supply what he needed.
Whenever you inquire of the Lord, there's an umbrella that goes over your head. Under that umbrella is a supply of wisdom and insight, finances and friends, because whatever God calls us to do, he's going to give us the grace to do it.
However, there is a place in the Bible that says I can step out from under that umbrella and say, "You know what? I'm one of the King's kids. I'm a child of God. I've written some books, and God's blessed me. We've done this in the past. You know what? Let's just follow my dream."
You never follow your dream; you follow God's leading and that umbrella is there to protect you.
When the Israelites were in the wilderness, if you had asked one of the Jewish leaders how long they were going to stay there, they would have said, "Look, you think we know how long we'll stay? You see that pillar of fire by night and that cloud by day? When that cloud moves, we'll move; when that cloud stays, we'll camp. This is totally out of our hands. God doesn't ask for any creative thought from us. He just says, 'Follow the cloud.' But as we follow the cloud, he provides manna for us, and he provides everything that we need."
God will do the same for you. He'll do the same for me. Wherever the Lord leads us, he's made a promise: "I will supply for you."
This has many implications that we need to think about, but I'll give you just one. Sometimes preachers think it's great that they know what they're going to preach for the next 18 months. I meet preachers who sometimes say, "Well, praise God. I've got the thing mapped out for the next 18 months. I'm doing a series through 'this' and a series through 'that,' and I've got the whole thing worked out. I don't need to pray. I don't need to inquire of the Lord." But there are great things that you can miss with that approach.
In your church work, the devil is always planting something to try and destroy your work. He goes about like a roaring lion. He's divisive. He stirs gossip. He creates division. He has some strategy to try and hurt your church. You and I can't know that plan. We're not as clever as Satan. But the Holy Spirit knows what Satan is up to. If only we would inquire of the Lord, open our Bibles, and say, "Lord, really teach me and show me what you want me to speak on. Tell me the words the church needs to hear."
Did you know that there's a letter for every church? If you go to the book of Revelation and you read the seven letters that Jesus wrote, did you ever notice that you can't take those letters and switch them around? You can't take the letter to Ephesus and send it to Philadelphia. It will not apply. You can't take the letter to Smyrna and send it to Laodicea, because Laodicea doesn't need that message. It needed the message it got from Jesus, which was: You're neither hot nor cold, but because you're lukewarm, I'm going to vomit you out of my mouth.
When we stand before our congregations and our youth groups on a week-by-week, month-by-month basis, we've got to be open to the Lord and be inquiring of him, "Lord, what's the word that they need to hear?" We cannot just slap together three points and a conclusion. Say: "Lord, what do they need to hear? Show me." God knows just the food that they need, and that food will cut off the very thing Satan is trying to do.
The story ends by telling us that David went to Keilah. God told him, "Go." David tore away the livestock of the Philistines and inflicted heavy losses on their army. As a result, the town of Keilah was saved.
All this, because one man said: Lord, what will you have me to do? Is this a battle that I'm supposed to fight?
Saul never gave up chasing David, but David was now the toast of the town in Keilah. He had delivered the city and defeated the Philistines. The Scriptures tell us that King Saul heard that David was cornered in Keilah, a walled city (making David a sitting target). As King Saul made his way toward Keilah, he was so deceived that he began to praise God for something God was not even doing: "Now I thank you, God, that you have delivered David into my hands." God had not done that, but that's how far off you can get.
The Bible tells us that David once again inquired of the Lord and said: Lord, I've heard a rumor that Saul is coming to Keilah. Is it true? Will the people protect me, or should I get out of town?"
To cut the story short, God answers: Get out of town, because although they're praising you today, they're going to turn you over tomorrow to save their necks.
Early in the morning, David snuck out of Keilah, and Saul turned back and said, "I'll never catch him." Do you know why he couldn't catch him? Because David was always inquiring of the Lord.
Whatever problem you're facing today, ask the Lord what he wants you to do. I'm not talking about fanaticism or some false mysticism. I'm giving you the Word of God. The Lord rewards those who diligently seek him, and he'll tell us exactly what we need to do.