By Charles Price
Let me read to you from Isaiah Chapter 30. I am going to read just three verses, and I am going to come back to these verses later. But Isaiah Chapter 30 and Verse 19 where it says,
"O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he" (that's God) - "How gracious God will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.
"Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them.
"Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'"
That is as far as I am going to read. And if you have been with us during recent weeks you will know we have been looking at what it means to live in the will of God.
And I want to conclude that this morning by summing up some of the issues we have talked about because one of the great confidences of the Christian life is that God has a plan and a purpose, that every life is significant and every life has purpose.
And as the book of Proverbs says, Proverbs 3:6,
"In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths."
That's a promise. He is going to direct your paths.
I learned about 20 years ago to stop praying that God would guide me because it is already part of what He is committed to do. We don't need to keep asking Him to do that.
But the condition associated with the fact He will direct your paths is that in all your ways acknowledge Him. That is, live in dependence upon Him, live with that spirit of love for Him and obedience to Him.
And when we are living in that relationship with Him, guiding our paths is His responsibility, which He has undertaken to do. You won't necessarily be able to explain it at the time or even understand it at the time. But in retrospect, as you look back, you will see it.
And one of the verses I read to you just now in Verse 20 of Isaiah 30, it says,
"Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,"
Just that half of a sentence; the interesting thing there is that he says that He will feed you with adversity. It will actually be bread; it will sustain you, and affliction will be like water to you.
Now we run a mile from adversity and affliction but these again and again are God's tools in our lives and we don't usually see the significance of them until we look back in retrospect in later time.
And so I want to talk to you again this morning about how God guides us - not makes a nice smooth path through life for us; that's not realistic, nor is it true to Scripture. But He does guide us; He does promise to put us in the right place at the right time.
But if He is going to guide us, you can only guide a moving vehicle. You can't guide a stationary vehicle. We have got to be people who are growing and developing and moving. And as we are, God has undertaken to guide us.
Now we live in a day where we are used to software with its pull-down menus and you press the button and down comes the menu and you kind of click the right places and you get the right results that come out of this.
But guidance doesn't work like that. It's not, okay tell me what to do: a, b, c, d, e and the result is guidance. This comes out of a relationship with God that is living and active and real.
"In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths."
I want to stress (and as I have been preparing these last few days for this message it has come back to me forcibly again) that you cannot have a program of guidance, so to speak, that is detached from your own walk with God, your own dependence on God, and our intimacy with God.
Hebrews 12: 1,2 says this (and this is a good verse for the first Sunday of the year):
"Let us lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Looking to Jesus, the author and the perfecter of our faith."
Now he says if you are going to move and run with endurance, you need to be laying aside weights that hold you back. And I am sure that you know and I know what those weights are that so easily hold us back. And we have got to deal with them with God if we are going to run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Experience from the will of God comes out of a relationship that is active and not passive. You can have a passive belief in God (yeah, He's up there somewhere), but it will never thrill you, never excite you, never drive you.
But a relationship that is alive, when we walk humbly with God day by day, where we are consistent in our intimacy with God, where we deliberately obey those things we know are the will of God, we consciously live in dependence upon the indwelling Spirit of God and those things are true in our lives, there is growth and there is progress.
Without that there may be cerebral interest at best and cynicism at worst, but there will be no real experience of God guiding and leading and directing our paths.
And the great thing that's available to every one of us in our relationship with God is One who has undertaken to guide us and to lead us.
I want to read to you a little bit of a poem that was first made famous 70 years ago when, on New Year's Eve 1939, King George VI in London addressed not only the nation of Britain, but the Commonwealth of nations (which included Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other places), where Britain had been at war for four months.
Canada had joined in right at the beginning; so had Australia and New Zealand. Norway had not yet been overrun by Germany. France had not yet fallen. Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg had not yet been subjugated, as they would be all in the next four months. And there was uncertainty and fear.
And King George VI addressed the Commonwealth by radio. He was not a good orator; he had a speech impediment, which made public speaking difficult for him. But he finished his short speech by quoting this poem:
"I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'
"And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way.'"
And that stands true not only at the gate of the year; it stands true at the gate of every new day.
And this has been our theme for these last weeks. Go out into the darkness. We don't know what the future holds. But put your hand into the hand of God. That'll be better than a light and better than a safe way, than a known way.
We looked at the big picture of God's sovereignty in a world described as being under the control of the evil one. We live in a fallen world. You do not see the will of God on the TV screens when you watch the news every night. You see the result of the corruption and the fall in which we are part.
And we talked about how God works out His purposes within that fallen world. And then we began to talk about personal guidance. And I suggested to you a series of questions and I just repeat these to you. And then I want to wrap this all up.
But the first question is what is my vision? What is my sense of desire in life? Because both of these are promised to us. Psalm 37:
"Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart."
Not give you everything you want, but the desires themselves will come from God. Again, notice the condition: you delight yourself in Him; you are living in that wholesome relationship with Him. He will put desires into your heart.
Paul, speaking to King Agrippa, told him how that he had met Jesus on the Damascus Road. His life was transformed and Jesus spoke to him about what his life was going to involve. And he said to King Agrippa,
"I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven."
There was a vision, he said, "that God put into my heart," something God has promised to His people when the Holy Spirit comes upon a person. One of the promises is "your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams." That is not a sexist statement; that's an embracing of mankind generally that young people will see vision; old people dream dreams. There will be a sense of direction that God gives to you.
That's the first question. What's my vision? And some of us need to be asking God to give us that. But give Him time. He won't necessarily give it to you tomorrow. But to build that sense of vision, that sense of purpose into your life.
Second question: what do the Scriptures say? Because David wrote in Psalm 119,
"Direct my footsteps according to your Word."
And we cannot safely discern the will of God without the regular reading and meditating upon Scripture. The will of God is never in conflict with the Word of God, of course. In fact, the Word of God is the will of God. And we need to be asking what does the Scripture say.
"Your Word is a lamp to my feet, it's a light to my path," David also wrote in Psalm 119.
So we need to be asking not only what is my vision, but what do the Scriptures say? And how is my vision consistent with what God has revealed of His truth?
Then we ask, what do my circumstances say? And we look at that with some caution because Proverbs 3:5 says,
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your understanding."
Don't reduce it to some logical pattern of reason that the person next door who has no interest in God would equally think through. You bring your reasoning and you bring your understanding and you look at your circumstances in the light of how God interprets them. But nevertheless we look at our circumstances.
Sometimes God calls us to do things that seem ridiculously impossible but the question to ask is never is something possible, but is it right? And if we discern something is right, that will make it possible.
And sometimes the biggest sidetrack from the will of God is to do things that are possible or to be scared of doing things that don't seem possible. Rather, allow God to show and lead us in what is right.
And then what do other people say? Proverbs 12 says,
"A wise man listens to advice."
We are not islands cut adrift from everybody else. We live in community. We are designed to live within community. And there are wise people who know us better than we know ourselves sometimes and who can help us to think things through.
And then we took one evening to talk about the role of prayer in the guidance of God. And some of you were there and some of you were not able to be there, but that is a crucial part as people were praying, especially in the Gospel of Luke and in the Book of the Acts, as people prayed, God guided them and God directed them.
But I want today to talk about a last point and I am really asking this: where is the compass pointing? And I am going to explain what I mean by that. Where is the compass pointing?
If I liken life to driving a car down the road, we might view the will of God in different ways. There are those who view the will of God as being like the rules of the road. And if you are going to drive then the basic requirement is that you live by the rules of the road.
So in other words, you stop at the red lights; you indicate if you are turning left, you observe the speed limit. And some people will see the will of God as basically these are the rules of the road; live within the teaching of the Word of God and you will be right, you will be in the right place at the right time. There is something in that; there is something in that.
But the problem with that is that that becomes totally objective; that doesn't necessarily involve any personal intervention of God. You can live like that according to the Word of God and be spiritually lifeless at the same time.
Other folks go to the other extreme and say well it's not like living by the rules of the road; it's like having a personal GPS (global positioning system) where, you know, a voice tells you exactly what to do.
So we had one in our car until it got stolen a few months ago. And you know, a voice would tell us exactly what to do. "Go down the road" (it was a female voice so I can't mimic it - it was an English voice - English accent). "Go down the road to the traffic lights, turn left, turn left, keep going for 28 kilometres, turn right."
And then if you go wrong you hear a voice saying, "Make a u-turn. Recalculating, recalculating; make a u-turn."
And we would like the guidance of God to be like that sometimes. "Well don't spend time in the Word of God. Just get on with life and rely heavily on intuition, maybe on vision, dreams, words of knowledge, even prophecy", and we expect to be guided that way.
Now the problem with that is it becomes totally subjective. And that which comes from within ourselves, that which is subjective, needs to be measured by some objective criteria.
Now how do we get the rules of the road and the GPS operating together? And I suggest that the better way to see it is to see guidance as being like a compass where God gives you a sense of direction and you move in that direction in what seems to be the obvious and logical way. It's not like a map on the wall that says, "you are here; you need to be there; so go down this road, turn left and then turn right, etc. etc." And it's all exact and precise.
But here's a compass, you follow the compass and in the course of doing so, you will have to negotiate obstacles, you may have to go around corners, you might have to divert once in a while, you may have to do u-turns, but the general direction of your life is one that you sense that God has said to you.
That's why I start with vision in talking about these issues. The sense of direction that God has given to you, that He does give to you. It will be within the teaching of the Word of God. The Spirit of God will personally be active in guiding you. But don't expect to know every detail. Just follow what seems to be the logical direction.
And I have found it helpful personally, and I think I have shared this before, to weigh up the pros and cons. And what I often do is get a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle; I write 'for' on one side, 'against' on the other side. I list all the things in favour of a possibility that I am looking at, all the things against the possibility. And usually you can think of things on both sides.
But in the course of time, as you think about that list and pray about that list, one starts to get longer; the other starts to get shorter.
And I had a list once I prayed over and looked at and thought about regularly for over a year. And as I did so, it began to grow longer on the 'for' side, shorter on the 'against' side until I remember the day came when the last thing against I could cross off. And it seemed to me then the conclusion was pretty obvious - this was something I was supposed to do.
Now none of these things are final in themselves, one of these things, but putting these things together often helps us.
Let me give you an artificial scenario, a silly scenario. Just imagine I wake up one morning with a strong desire to go to the Canary Islands. The Canary Islands are Spanish islands off northwest coast of Africa. And I wake up with a strong desire ("go to the Canary Islands").
And I think, you know, this could be God speaking to me ("Go to the Canary Islands"). On the other hand, it could be that I'm fed up with the Canadian weather and I would like a better climate and so I am thinking, "Hmm, the Canary Islands would be a nice place to go to."
It could be I walked past a travel agent, there was a big sign in the window that had a picture of a sunset and sand and sea and beautiful warm climate and it said, "Come to the Canary Islands." And it got into my subconscious and I woke up in the night, "Come to the Canary Islands."
It could have been I was visiting a friend the previous day; they had a canary in the cage and, you know, I went to sleep and the canary came back to me and so I woke up thinking canary - Canary Islands (go to Canary Islands).
So I have this desire. Is it from God? Is it from the travel agent? Is it from the miserable Canadian snow? Is it from the canary in the cage?
So I say, "Well what does the Scripture say?" So I get out my concordance, look up under 'C' and canary doesn't appear.
But I find another verse that says, "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature."
Aha, well, I can do that in the Canary Islands. So I think well, this is not conflicting with Scripture at all. And I find other examples of people getting up and going to new places and so I think, no, this is totally consistent with Scripture.
So what is my vision? Well I know what it is. Where did it come from? I'm not sure. But is it consistent with Scripture? Yes it is.
So let me look at my circumstances. So I come downstairs and I bump into my first circumstance. It is spelled H-i-l-a-r-y, Hilary, my wife. And I say, "I am going to go to the Canary Islands."
And she says, "You are? What are you going to do?"
"Well, I don't know."
"Do you have a ticket?"
"No, not yet."
"Does anybody know you there?"
"Anybody want you there?"
"What language do they speak in the Canary Islands?"
"How's your Spanish."
"Um, Buenos Dias. Adios amigo. That's about it."
"Where are you going to live?"
"I don't know."
"What about me?"
"Well you can come."
"What about the kids?"
"Well, they are big. They can come visit when they want to."
"Who's going to pay you - anybody?"
"I don't know."
So I start to get a little embarrassed and I say, "Look, stop asking me difficult questions. You're discouraging me."
She would probably say, "You bet I am. Where did you get this idea from?"
So it's good to look at your circumstances. Is this consistent?
So, all right I am going to talk to somebody else who is wise. A wise man listens to advice, says Proverbs. So I go and see Gerry Morneau. (Why are you laughing? I did say wise man, didn't I? Yeah, that's right.)
I go and see Gerry and I say, "Gerry, you know, I have got this idea and I don't know if it comes from God or if it comes from a canary in a cage but I would love to go to Canary Islands."
And he would probably say to me, "Has anybody else got this same conviction about you?"
"Um, I don't think so."
"Are you gifted linguistically?"
"What's going to happen here if you are going to go to the Canary Islands?"
"Well, you can sort that out."
"How long have you been thinking about this?"
"Um, since last night."
He would probably say to me, being the wise man he is, "You need to put this on the back burner for at least 6 months and see if this thing is going to grow or die."
And of course I am using a silly illustration - probably going to die - but never be in a hurry.
So I get out my sheet of paper and I draw a line down the middle, put 'for' on one side, 'against' the other.
For: weather, beaches, Against: du, du, du, du...it wouldn't take very long before the list 'against' becomes an awful lot longer than the list 'for'.
That's a silly illustration but it helps us to process our thinking. And these issues need to line up together. What do my convictions say? What is my vision? What does Scripture say? What do my circumstances say? What do my friends say? What does the compass say?
Many years ago in Zimbabwe I was flying on a domestic flight on a DC-3, the old Dakota. Those of you how know much about aircraft will know that the Dakota is one of the classic old aircraft. It was first built in the 1930's. It was the workhorse in World War II and it is still being flown in certain parts of the world, especially in Africa. It is a beautiful old plane.
And I flew three times in a Dakota. On this occasion, flying to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, there were not many people on the plane and it's only about a 36-seater anyway (or something like that). And I talked my way up to the flight deck. And there was the captain and co-pilot and there was a seat behind them, which they invited me to sit in. And I enjoyed sort of watching how they flew this plane.
And then as we approached Harare Airport, it was in the evening, in the dark. And we saw the - I remember seeing the airport because of a whole row of lights that lit it up. And we were coming in virtually at a right angle.
They invited me to stay in the seat as they brought the plane in. It was a great experience and I said to this captain, "How do you know that you are on target to land this plane?"
He said, "Do you see all those lights down the runway?"
I said, "Yes."
"How many do you think there are?"
I said, "I don't know - 100, 200."
He said, "As we keep moving in this direction, coming in, starting to turn from this right angle position, those lights will begin to merge together until you will only see one light. And when you see one light (because they are all lined up behind each other) then we know that we are on target."
I didn't think this then, but I have thought this since, that's a great illustration of this truth, that there are some things that your own conviction, your own sense of vision may say one thing but it conflicts maybe with something else.
Give God time enough - never be in a hurry - until these things begin to line up one behind another. And as they do you begin to recognize, no, this is on track.
But you will never be 100% sure until you are perhaps 80% sure, and then step out in faith. I don't think in any of the major decisions I have made I have been 100% sure. When the time comes to make a decision I always think maybe it should be something, maybe this is not the right thing. But if you are 90% or 80% sure and you step out in faith, again and again the confirmation comes in retrospect. You look back and you see that God has guided you.
Do you remember that story when Abraham in Genesis 24 sent a servant to look for a wife for Isaac? Isaac was 40 years of age and he wasn't married and so Abraham said to his servant, "Go and find a wife for my son Isaac."
He gave him some criteria he needed to look for. She needed to be related to Abraham in some way because the promise that God had made to Abraham that would go through his son Isaac was for their family. And there were other criteria.
And the servant set off not knowing where he should go, not knowing who he should find. But he began to narrow it down until one day he found this beautiful girl who was a daughter of a relative of Abraham.
And she was feeding her camels and he had some camels, so he took his camels alongside her and said, "God, I am going to put down a little trap here. If this is the woman, then have her offer to feed my camels, to give them water."
And so he sat there with his camels and she came up and said, "Can I give water to your camels?"
"Aha, this looks good." And then he got to know a little bit about her, talked to her, went back to her home, talked to her parents, found out about the family. And eventually he disclosed his intent and she agreed to go with him back to Abraham's family and meet Isaac. And when he got back, Isaac said, "This is the one." And they got married.
And Abraham said, "How in the world did you do that so well?"
This is what his servant said: "I, being in the way, the Lord led me."
What he meant by that was this: "I knew what the criteria were, I knew what the right things were, so I simply lived according to what is right, and being in the way, God led me."
Now out there when he first met her he wasn't convinced of that, but now he is back home and the whole picture has come together. He looks back and says, "God guided me, God led me, God put me in the right place at the right time for the right thing."
It's not a luxury we are promised that God is going to show us in advance all the things that are right. Sometimes you simply don't know, but you look back often with hindsight and you see, yeah, I can see the hand of God there, I can see God brought about that particular situation, that particular decision that I have made.
And you can only guide a moving vehicle. If you just sit around waiting for something to happen probably nothing will happen. You know, when you are driving your car, the best policy is to keep driving until you reach a red light. Don't park and wait for a green light. Keep moving in what seems obvious and if you hit a red light, stop.
But I know some Christians, and I have talked to them, who are waiting for the will of God, who are sitting around waiting for a green light to start flashing somewhere. Keep going in what seems to be the obvious direction. And if in the course of time God needs to adjust your direction He will do that.
That's of course what this verse is about here in Isaiah Chapter 30 because in Verse 21 he says,
"Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'"
So notice there, he says if you go off to the right or to the left, the voice comes from behind. Why does the voice come from behind? Because God doesn't need to speak unless you are going wrong and then He will correct you.
But some of us want God to be in front saying, "Alright, I am guiding you now, so pick your left foot up and swing it forward, put it down, move your body weight up, pick your right foot up, swing it forward, put it down, bring your body weight forward. Are you okay? Do you want to rest or are you okay to keep going?"
"No, keep going."
"All right, pick your left foot up, swing it around, slightly going to turn a corner here."
We want God to guide us in every little detail sometimes. You know sometimes you can go for years and never have any conscious sense of the guidance of God because you are simply living in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.
But if you start to go wrong, the voice from behind will say, "Hey, come back."
Remember Paul in his missionary journeys? We have a couple of instances of God guiding him on those journeys. The first instance, after they had gone on their first journey and come back, they went on a second journey, went to visit the places he had been to on the first journey and then decided that from there he would go into new territory and would go to Asia.
And as he turned to go up to Asia, which is present-day Turkey, the Spirit of God, it says, forbade him to go.
So he thought, okay, then I will go to Bithynia up in the northwest, but it says that God did not allow him to go to Bithynia. So here's Paul, stuck. He has gone one direction, God said no; tried to go in another direction; God said no.
So he did the most sensible thing. He went to bed and had a good sleep. And during the night he had a vision of a man from Macedonia saying, "Come over here and help us." And when he woke up, it says,
"We concluded that God was calling us to Macedonia."
That sounds a certain ambiguity about that. We kind of put the pieces together; it seems that way; so they set off in the direction of Macedonia, which is present-day Greece. Well Macedonia is still present-day Macedonia, but it's in Greece. Came to Philippi and the Gospel came to Europe because God guided Paul in that direction.
The rest of his missionary journeys there's very little about guidance. Paul's guidance was usually just circumstances. So he would often get himself in prison or he would get himself kicked out of a synagogue where he started to preach, or he would be moved on because of the opposition to him. And his guidance was just the circumstances that pushed him on.
But when he started to go wrong, the voice came from behind saying, "Hey, this is the way; walk in it."
Don't be afraid to make a mistake. Don't be afraid to do that.
Sometimes we are so scared of making a mistake we don't do anything that is right. Make a mistake and it doesn't matter. God, if you go in the wrong direction, will say, "Hey, hey, come back" and He will bring you back and put you in the right place.
Because remember God is many more times interested than we are that we take the right steps and that we do the right thing. There is a verse in Proverbs 16:9 which says,
"In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps."
So if there is any ambiguity between the course that a man plans and the steps that God determines, He will adjust them and get you in the right place at the right time.
But in a world where meaning is so often absent from people's lives - significant meaning, fundamental meaning - yes, there is meaning related to career, to family, to relationships, but if those are taken away there is nothing left. Here is the most fundamental meaning that you and I can know in life: that God, who created me, plans for me, has undertaken to direct our paths. As we acknowledge Him in all our ways, that is His commitment.
But if you are not in that relationship of acknowledging Him in all your ways, you won't know anything of this, you won't know anything of this.
The Christian life grows out of relationship, not out of techniques or disciplines or practices. They may have a place but it grows out of a relationship of love for Him, obedience to Him and dependence on Him.
And as we acknowledge Him, it is His responsibility, which He has undertaken to fulfill, to direct your paths. And we will look back and although we may have found ourselves eating the bread of adversity (as that verse in Isaiah says) and drinking the water of affliction, and we say, "I wish my life had been different, I wish my life had been better, I wish I hadn't gone through that experience, I wish I hadn't made that mistake," nevertheless adversity and affliction are the things which God uses to strengthen us and equip us.
And He turns, as we have already seen in earlier weeks, He turns bad things and uses them to good ends if we give them to Him and trust Him.
This is what it means to live in the will of God, one of the greatest privileges that you and I can have. But if you don't know Him in your own life, you don't know Him as your Saviour, as the One who is central to your life, none of this will even make sense, let alone live.
And that's why the need of some of us is to come humbly before God and say, "God, I realize I need You. I acknowledge my need of You. I invite You to come to live within me, and part of what You have undertaken to do is to guide and direct my paths, give my life purpose and meaning.
And you can begin that this morning if you never have before and just simply acknowledge your need of Him. If we can help you do that by talking with you, praying with you, pointing you to Christ, don't leave this morning without coming down here to the front. There will be folks here and we will talk with you and help you in that journey.
Let's pray together.
Father, we are so grateful this morning that each one of us is significant to You. We are not just incidental to Your creation. Your Word tells us that before we were ever born, You knew us and You had planned for us. We realize we can live in rebellion, we can move outside of Your plan and we can live in independence of You. But we are here this morning, our Father, because we want to know You in the very centre of our lives, to know Your leading, to know everyday we can put our hand into the hand of God and know this is better than a light and safer than a known way. And we pray we will be men and women who will do that and young people who do that and thank You for the blessing You will bring to our lives. In Jesus' Name, Amen.