The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 28, 2021
We all have hopes, some to avoid bad things, some to attain good things; and those hopes determine what we do. But with some of our hopes we don’t know what to do to fulfill them. We need guidance!
A mother was taking her three children to a skating party at a rink in a nearby city. After getting lost several times despite several times asking for directions, she realized they needed to go to God for guidance. So she pulled the car over and told the kids to pray with her for God to lead them. They eventually got to the rink and had a blast. In fact, they had so much fun they decided to drive there the next week. As soon as they left the house, the five-year-old exclaimed, “Mom, let’s pray now and save time!” Smart kid!
As we start off toward Christmas this first Sunday of Advent, we have hopes. We should pray right from the start for God to guide our journey.
Today’s scripture records a prayer of David for guidance. He was hoping to thwart the evil intentions of enemies who hated him and what he stood for, enemies who wanted to undermine both his personal success and his commendation of living life under God’s Lordship. In his fear of his enemies’ exulting over him, David dreaded not just his being put to shame, but God’s.
David of course – like us! – had inner enemies to fight as well as outer ones: inner enemies such as selfishness, meanness and a lack of integrity. We, like David, would do well to seek God’s help to defeat our inner enemies and avoid discrediting the Lord thereby.
David had the good sense to realize that he couldn’t come on top in that struggle without staying close and surrendered to God. Thus, his submission to God preceded his supplication of God. The first words of his prayer for guidance were: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” Before David asked a thing of God, he turned himself over to God and put himself under God’s governance. Since he believed he could only be fulfilled if he followed God’s ways, he prioritized asking God to “make me to know your ways…teach me in your truth.”
David understood that there were no shortcuts in that schooling. So, after making his request for God to teach and “lead” him, he immediately declared, “For you I will wait all day long.” David saw he needed to be patient as well as expectant. He knew he needed to put in the time to listen and learn. And we’d help ourselves if we embraced his wisdom. For we can’t shoot up quick prayers for guidance and then rush off before God has a chance to reply. We have to put in the slow, hard work of listening for His leading as it comes from scripture, the Spirit, other people, circumstances and vigorous, disciplined thinking.
Ultimately, however, David’s hopeful confidence of being well led by God derived, not from how faithful he was in doing his part, but from how wonderful God is in keeping His word. Thus, David’s prayer concludes with the celebration of God’s mercy and steadfast love. It was the awareness of God’s grace that enabled David to sing about how “God instructs sinners in the way” and “leads the humble in what is right”.
God is ever faithful to all who are receptive to His shepherding their lives. But it is hard to stay receptive in this confusing, difficult and often perverse world. Half the time we’re not sure that we’re on track – or that God is. It takes enough hard-won trust in God to keep doing the next right thing we know to do – and to keep hoping that it will get us in the end where we want to be.
I once heard a missionary doctor compare her life’s journey way to a drive she made to a new mission post to which she felt called. It was in the middle of nowhere, in territory unfamiliar to her. But she set out alone in her Land Rover to go where she believed God wanted her. The trip took longer than expected, and nightfall plunged her into pitch-black darkness. Shortly after, a heavy fog rolled in that was so dense she could see only ten yards ahead of her at any given moment. Poking her head out the window of her car, and squinting to catch some indication of how to proceed, she would occasionally notice a tiny pair of lights approaching her. She inched forward toward what she hoped were the headlights of a car driven by someone well-acquainted with the area’s unmarked roads, as she steered by what the approaching headlights helped her to see. She did this with one approaching car after another until each one disappeared by turning in a different direction or by passing her. She continued to crawl forward one little stretch at a time in the temporary light each “road angel” gave her. And, at last, that arduous and harrowing process brought her right where she belonged.
That’s how we often experience God’s leading. There is a lot of uncertainty and risk-taking. But God time and again gives us just enough light to make our way forward over each next stretch of our route. And as we keep daring to try what looks like the next leg in our journey, we make progress and end up where we’re supposed to be.
Let us, both as individuals and a community together, lift up our souls to the Lord, praying He’ll make us know His ways, waiting on Him all day long for that revelation, and trusting in His mercy and steadfast love.
Then we can hope that we’ll end up in just the right place, each stage of the journey, and at its end.