Helps to Trusting God to Guide

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:15 NIV).

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV).

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5,6 NIV).

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14 NIV).

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (Matthew 11:29, NIV).

These are not verses posted randomly. Assembled together, they are the way of wisdom for the Christian. Every question and dilemma in a believer’s life can be overcome by following these. There is one more verse we will apply, but we’ll get to it. For now, let me proffer these with a few comments.

Can God’s will for your life be summed up in just five verses, really? In a sense, yes (I’ll explain this, too, below.) If you will diligently apply yourself to these verses, you are showing yourself submitted to the Lord and his will for you life, and surrendering your own, and that is the mark of the maturing Christian.

However, it won’t be easy. At times it may nearly will break you. If you haven’t already learned it, one day in your walk with the Lord you will become fully convinced that truly he alone is the only place from whence comes your help. That’s a blessing, and it will save you from folly. But then there will be times that you know you must hear from God about something, but then…Silence.

There will be times when you feel utterly crushed under the weight of your trials. (When trials come, it’s rarely just one.) The seeming lack of response from your Lord at the time you think you absolutely must have it may drive you to your knees in desperation and anguish. In your agony, the laments of the psalms will seem autobiographical. And when he doesn’t answer, his silence is deafeningly. Your feelings will tell you you are dreadfully, hopelessly alone.

(The good news: They’re lying. They’re absolutely lying. But they can be so intimidating and convincing you may even give in to temptation and temporarily believe them. But you are in the loving hands of the Good Shepherd. He will come to your aid. With his strong arms He will lift you out of the pit you strayed into.)

But not every decision or question comes from trials. Sometimes, you just need to know which way to go in a matter. An opportunity is presented but you’re not entirely sure how to respond; or you’re hoping for an opportunity and the wait is excruciating, etc.

Remember when I said that God’s will can be summed up in these five verses “in a sense”? Well, in the fullest sense the answer is actually No. These verses aren’t the Bible condensed. You and I need the whole counsel of God, cover to cover. These few verses point you to the whole Bible. Let me explain:

James 1:15. If you lack wisdom, Pray. Ask God for wisdom. Then get off your knees and go to the wisdom store and get yourself some wisdom. Where is that exactly, you ask?

2 Timothy 3:16. The Bible. All of it. Yes, even the books we sometimes struggle to read. Really? Yes. “All Scripture is God-breathed and [all Scripture] is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Read your Bible cover-to-cover as often as you can. Live it. Breathe it. Reflect on it. Write journal notes about it. All of that will be functionally useless to you though if you don’t apply it to your life. Let me tell you a quick story:

This morning I needed a word from the Lord. I needed help to be calm when I was tempted to be either very angry about a situation that began the night before or, seeing the futility in it, very despairing by my circumstances. Either way, it wasn’t looking like it was going to be a good day. But I did what I do every morning: I woke up plenty early, made a cup of coffee, went into my study and closed the door to be alone with my Lord and my Bible. And I picked up where I left off yesterday, in Matthew. As I did, I came across the familiar passage, Matthew 11:28-30,

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (NIV).

And today the Holy Spirit helped me focus on, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…” I needed to submit myself into the yoke of my Lord. He helped remind me that today I needed to literally be teamed up with him, yoked with Jesus, so that he could show me how it’s done. I prayed about that. I’m not suggesting any kind of nutty vision stuff when I say this: As I prayed and reflected on this, I imagined myself under some kind of yoke with Jesus, and him showing me how to walk properly under it. (Yes, I know he was speaking metaphorically–it was more the idea of reflecting on the outward image as a template for my inward posture.)

Do you know what happened? My day somewhat improved, but then late in the day it went sideways big time! After driving 15 miles I was told to turn around and drive about 20 miles back to another site even farther the opposite direction of home! Then, when I got there I was told the problem was resolved, turn around and head back an hour’s drive (at least this was towards home)!

I was irritated by it all, and normally would’ve reacted very poorly. But by God’s grace, Matthew 11:29 and me being “yoked” with Jesus, getting led first this way, then that way, then this way all herky jerky…He was testing and teaching me!

I can’t explain the supernatural peace I had. I wasn’t happy about it all as it was happening, and I was praying every mile I drove here and there, but he heard my tired prayers and strengthened me. And then, when I got two miles from home, I got a call saying nevermind the last call, go home and we’d pick up again in the morning. Praise God!

Proverbs 3:5-6. Three points here. First, trust in the Lord, not your own understanding. How many times has your understanding of a situation been wrong because you didn’t have all the data? If you’re like me, many times. Second, submit your ways to him. You want that car? Submit the desire to him. You want that job? Submit that desire to him. You think the right way to go would be to do X? Defer to Jesus. He will make your path clear. Third, implied here is prayer, much and fervent. Seek God often. Go back and read in Luke 9 Jesus’ parable of the widow and the unjust judge. James 5:16 is beautiful in the King James, but the NIV nails it for simplicity and clarity here, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Psalm 27:14. He will make your path clear, yes, but in his time, not yours. I’m half-convinced that in heaven we will see that even the greatest saints spent more time waiting for the Lord’s direction than actually doing the things for which they waited for guidance. Waiting may take days, weeks, months, or even years. And there’s no shortcut. Don’t be like Saul and rush the sacrifice because Samuel hasn’t arrived. He was ruined by his haste. “Lean not on your own understanding…” If you haven’t seen God’s guidance yet, wait. You must, must wait. Trust me. Take it from someone who has really messed things up when he didn’t wait.

I told you there was one last verse for this list. Here it is:

“You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2 NIV).

Are you miserable right now? Anxious? Worried? Angry even? I don’t know your situation, but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say you’re not doing one of the above. In other words, you’re either:

  • Not praying for wisdom
  • Not consistently reading and applying the Scriptures
  • Not trusting God
  • Not deferring to his will in the matter
  • Leaning on your own understanding
  • Not earnestly seeking God in prayer
  • Not waiting long enough

Why am I so sure? Because I’ve been guilty of all of these. Conversely, I can also look back over my life and see the Lord’s guidance time and time again, even in how he worked in a poor decision or sinful response, redeeming it for his glory and my good.

I leave you with this powerful word I came across recently from Oswald Chambers:

Are you looking unto Jesus now, in the immediate matter that is pressing, and receiving peace from him? If so, he will be a gracious benediction of peace in and through you. But if you try to worry it out, you obliterate him and deserve all you get.

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Wrestling Unwillingness into Obedience

Just about everything in the Christian life is a call to do what our natural man hates. We are called to not love the world or the things in it, to not worry or be anxious, to love and serve others above our own selves… Every command of God is a command to abandon our fallen natures. In this era of “born this way,” God says, in effect, “So what? I say do this, not that.”

Obedience to God is only possible through the power of Christ in us, through the Holy Spirit. We may have been “born this way” but through the double-miracle of repentance and faith, God changes us. We go from darkness to light. Death to Life. “Born this way” to born again. He replaces our heart of stone, the Bible says, and gives us a heart of flesh.

And while all of that is glorious and true, there remains an inner struggle. The Old Man, wretched and decaying and continuing to want to feast on sin, still exists within us. Practically speaking, we don’t always want to obey God rather than man. We’d rather dance at the edge of darkness. We’d rather serve Mammon. Sometimes we’d rather hold onto our anger/fear/doubts/what have you, then let it go.

The New Man, thank God, has the upper hand in the fight though, and is helped every moment by the invisible Person of the Holy Spirit and the power of Christ in us. Humanly speaking, it is our duty to be pliable. Obedient. Even when we don’t feel like it or don’t fully understand how.

As I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount recently I was reminded again of all of this. How exactly does one turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) when someone slaps us not with their hand but with their words or actions? How exactly do we love our enemies (5:44)? Surely it’s not a sappy, Hallmark card artificial gushiness. Jesus says to greet them (5:47). How do we do that? Do we smile? Shake hands? Act as though we really don’t wish them out of our lives? What does forgiving those who wronged us, even if it’s a brother or sister we love, look like (6:14), especially if they don’t even know they wronged us?

Reading the Sermon on the Mount again, I wrestled with these questions and my own weak-willed obedience. I want to obey. I know I should I obey. I know I must obey. But like a child being told he must he his vegetables, even at 48 years old I am prone to pitching quite the inner temper tantrum. I’m reminded again of the comfort of Scripture; I am not alone in my heart’s cry, “Oh wretched man that I am!”

The answer and consolation is found in Matthew 5:45, “[do these things] that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” What does that look like in us, exactly? How are we to “be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48), especially since we are woefully imperfect?

First, let’s acknowledge it is contrary to our fallen human nature to do these things. Second, admit that sometimes we just don’t want to. He knows our hearts anyway! Just admit it! But then, thirdly, speak candidly in love to God admitting our weakness and seeking his grace. We really do love God and, thus, really do, deeper down, want to obey. We know He is good and right and these commands–like vegetables–are good for us. Fourthly and finally, with the Lord as our model (as always), step out in faith and obedience. He sends his rain on the just and the unjust–who hate him daily; the least we can do is pray, forgive, smile, and wave.

G.K. Chesterton famously said, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” At least try earnestly to obey the Lord and his commands. You and I won’t get it exactly right, but that’s still way better than getting it completely wrong.

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Jesus’ Tempt-ability is Important, But It’s Not the Point

I’ve seen a lot of conversation this week on Twitter on one man’s public misunderstanding of what Scripture means when it assures us Jesus was, “tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin” (Heb 4:15). He asserts that Jesus experienced the same kinds of inward temptations of the heart we do–sexual thoughts and passions, for example. I’m not going to get into the whole debate (for reasons which will become clear), but I have two brief thoughts on the matter I’d like to share…

First: For years I thought in a similar heretical way that man does. Surprised? Well, the real surprise is that I did so because that’s what I was taught by one of my professors at a respected, conservative, Reformed seminary. It wasn’t until probably five years later–after I’d repeated what I was taught many times–that a learned brother read something I wrote and corrected me as to why that understanding is wrong.

To be charitable to my professor, I think he was well meaning, trying to show us Jesus loves us and knows our weaknesses. He may be a seminary professor, but he’s human. He may have since changed his understanding of that verse, I don’t know. He certainly wasn’t trying twist it the way some do, to coddle their fallen inclinations. Still, consider my story maybe another example of how sending someone through seminary, even a trusted, conservative one, doesn’t guarantee everything taught will be sound.

In context we see that God came to earth as fully God and fully Man. We know he experienced fully what it means to be human, “yet he did not sin.” As I would later correct my writing to say,

The Scriptures themselves only give evidence of Jesus only being tempted to sin by an external enemy, the Devil, and not from any inward inclination, which would have been contrary to his perfect, sinless nature.

Second, and to the heart of the matter: To focus on that one aspect of Hebrews 4:15 is to miss the point entirely. The point isn’t Jesus’ tempt-ability, if you will, but that his incorruptibility and perfection as our Great High Priest should give us confident conviction, which then ought to produce confident, fervent prayer.

The point isn’t Jesus’ tempt-ability, if you will, but that his incorruptibility and perfection as our Great High Priest should give us confident conviction, which then ought to produce confident, fervent prayer.

Sound doctrine is given to lead us into sound living. Hebrews 4:15 is a theological (doctrinal) statement at the heart of the two practical exhortations around it, in verses 4:14 and 4:16.

“Therefore, [which goes back to the theological truths given in the previous verses] since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess” (4:14 NIV, emphasis added).

[Next verse, 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.” So…]

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (4:16 NIV, emphasis added).

Let someone else argue on social media (a pearls before swine endeavor, in my opinion). Instead, let’s you and me grab hold of these truths, go to our closet, shut the door, fall confidently to our knees, and pray, pray, pray.