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How Can I Know the Will of God? - Ephesians 5

A service plan focused on discerning God's will and leading in our lives in a series addressing difficult questions of the faith.

Worship Service

Theme of the Service

With this service we begin a new series of seven messages under the title "Knots of the Faith." We have selected seven of the "knotty" questions and struggles that Christians often face. Obviously, there are many more than seven, but these seven have been selected on the basis of pastoral conversations and discussions with our Worship Committee, Ministry Staff, and Elders. Such conversations with others are often valuable in worship and sermon planning.

Therefore the theme of this service is shaped by the first sermon in the series, which deals with the Christian's search to know the will of God. Implicit in this subject are a couple of themes: the will of God and our confidence that God leads us, and our search for God's will, which sometimes is clear and sometimes is not so clear. So the service will include affirmation of God's leading and sensitivity to our search, particularly for those who are not finding God's leading in their lives right now.


Prelude: "Trumpet Tune," Telemann [organ], "He Leadeth Me," Spong [organ] or Dobrinski [bell choir]

The Call to Worship
Welcome to the worship of the Lord.
We desire to worship our Lord.
The Lord has said, "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to
We will call upon the Lord.
He said, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found
by you." (Jeremiah 29:13-14)
We will seek the Lord.
Come. Let us worship the Lord!

*Song: "He Leadeth Me" PsH 452, RL 161, TH 600, TWC 635, UMH 128

*Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting
Congregation of Jesus Christ, in whom are you trusting?
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Grace, mercy and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

*Song: "When We Walk with the Lord" PsH 548, SFL 213, TH 672, TWC 523, UMH 467


The Call to Confession
Hear the word of God that calls us to our confession of sin:
"Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their way
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them return to the Lord that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:6-7 NRSV)

Our Prayer of Confession
O Lord, we seek you today.
We seek you for your grace and mercy for us.
We ask for mercy on us as individuals for we are sinful.
We ask for mercy on us as a group for many of our sins are corporate.
In your mercy forgive our sins,
and lead us to forsake our evil ways.
We come in the name of your Son our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Assurance of God's Pardon
Let us all be assured that, as God has promised in the words of Isaiah 55:7, we turn to him he
will have mercy and will abundantly pardon. So I assure you from the Word of God, your sins
are forgiven. Go in peace.

*Passing the Peace
As the Lord has given us him peace, let us pass the peace to one another by greeting others
with, "The peace of the Lord be with you!"

*Song of Response: "If You But Trust in God to Guide You" PH 282, PsH 446, RL 151, SFL 210, TWC 636, UMH 142

Offertory Prayer

Offertory: "If You But Trust in God to Guide You," Nordquist [piano], Lowenburg [handbell choir],
or Leupold [organ]


The Prayer for Illumination
Our Lord, we seek you and your will as we open your word today.
May your Spirit open and illumine our minds that we may hear you speaking,
may know your will, and may willingly follow. For Jesus' sake, Amen.

The Reading of Scripture: Ephesians 5:15-21
The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Sermon: How Can I Know the Will of God? (Knots of the Faith - #1)


The Prayer of Searching
Lord, we ask that you fill us with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual
wisdom and understanding.
And we pray this in order that we may live a life worthy of you,
and may please you in every way.
May we bear fruit in every good work and grow in your knowledge.
May we be strengthened with all power according to your glorious might,
so that we may have great endurance and patience.
May we joyfully give thanks to you, who has qualified us
to share in the inheritance of the saints in the Kingdom of Light.
In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
(based on Colossians 1:9-12)

Sung Prayer: "Holy Spirit, Truth Divine" PH 321, PsH 423, TWC 303, UMH 465

Responsorial Prayer
(After each section of the prayer the leader will say, "Lord, in your mercy," and the
congregation will respond, "Hear our prayer." The prayer will conclude with the Lord's Prayer
in unison.)

Song: "I Want Jesus to Walk with Me" (st. 1, choir; st. 2-3, all; st. 1, choir) PH 363, SNC 130, SFL 214, TH 611, TWC 642, UMH 521, WOV 660


Anthem: "Trust in the Lord," Glarum

*The Benediction with Congregational Amen!

Postlude: "I Want Jesus to Walk with Me," Edison [piano] or Cherwien [organ]

*you are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

  1. Since this sermon begins a new series, it is wise to set the focus of the entire series before the congregation as you begin. It can be helpful to do so in the printed bulletin, or to include a printed schedule of the entire series and each sermon that it will include. Such an overview will enable listeners to enter the intent of each sermon with a broader perspective.
  2. This sermon, and the search that it refers to, is built on the conviction that seeking the will of God is at the very heart of discipleship. Those who know the grace of God will be the ones who are eager to discover God's will.
  3. Three dimensions/levels of the will of God can be identified. (1) God's sovereign will is his activity by which he plans the course of history and ordained those who are to be saved. (2) God's moral will includes the moral and ethical standards for our lives and our society. (3) God's individual will involves his specific plans for us as persons during the journey of our lives.
  4. This sermon can spell five key guidelines and convictions:
    • We are convinced that God has a will for our lives and is interested in making it known to us.
    • God's will is a loving will that desires the best for us.
    • God unfolds his will progressively, much like unrolling a scroll rather than paging ahead in a book.
    • It is possible for the Christian to step outside God's will; this constitutes our sin.
    • God reveals his will to those who earnestly seek it.
  5. This last consideration calls for pastoral exhortations to desire God's will, pray for it, search the Scriptures for it, consult other committed and mature Christians, and make sure we are following that part of God's will that we already know.

Music Notes:

Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:
PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church,
Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great
Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
UMH The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Publishing House)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

  1. The music suggestions for prelude can be found in the following resources:
    • "Trumpet Tune" by Georg Philipp Telemann in Suite for Organ, published by Concordia 97-4763 [1966] (E-M).
    • "Partita on 'He Leadeth Me'" (AUGHTON) by Jon Spong for organ, published by Egan Press [1991] (E-M).
    • "He Leadeth Me" arranged by Cynthia Dobrinski for 3-5 octaves handbell choir, published by Agape 1461 [1991] (M).
  2. The offertory suggestions, all based on the tune NEUMARK, can be found in the following:
    • "Four Hymns for the Concert Pianist" by John Nordquist, published by Hope 301 [1983] (M-D).
    • "If You But Trust in God to Guide Thee," arranged by Kenneth Lowenburg for 2-3 octaves handbell choir and published by AGEHR AG-23005 [1992] (M).
    • "Wer Nur Den Lieben Gott," arranged by A. W. Leupold in An Organ Book, published by Chantry Music Press [1960] (E-M).
  3. The unaccompanied (or lightly accompanied, as needed) SATB anthem "Trust in the Lord" by L. Stanley Glarum is fairly standard in church choral repertoire. It was published by Fitzsimons 2162 in 1958. While it may not be "normal" to only use the choir at the very close of the service, to do so in this service works very well. Liturgically, it functions as an encouragement to the congregation to live through the week, always trusting in God's leading.
  4. The postlude suggestions, both based on the closing congregational hymn (SOJOURNER) can be found in the following sources. Because I normally accompany that hymn from the piano, I lean towards playing the piano transcription as the postlude.
    • Great Day!-a piano collection by Joan Edison published by Houston Press [1991] (M).
    • Groundings, an organ collection by David Cherwien published by Augsburg 11-11119 [2001].

Liturgy Notes:

  1. Be sure to take note that we have intended to integrate the theme into this entire service. The idea of seeking God's will shows up from beginning to end. It is helpful if worship leaders are sensitive to this and shape transitional statements accordingly.
  2. The prayer for illumination can be led by the pastor or another worship leader. This is a good place to involve lay members in worship leadership.
  3. The prayer of searching that follows the sermon is based on the words of Paul to the Colossians. It should be prayed in unison by all as their corporate request of God to lead and make his will clear.
  4. The responsorial prayer is broader in scope and should include thanksgiving, the pastoral needs of the congregation and the community, intercession for the nation and world, including the concerns of victims of injustice, poverty, oppression and violence. Each of these subjects can be a paragraph of the prayer at the conclusion of which the leader says, "Lord, in your mercy," and the congregation responds with, "Hear our prayer." If your congregation is not familiar with this practice it is helpful to explain it ahead of time so they catch the cues in the prayer. It is a very helpful practice for involving them in the prayer so that they own it.