The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 25, 2017
I rarely know much about what’s going on or where things are going, but I always know full well that God is going to town in doing good.
Today’s short scripture teaches us how to have a great life by doing three things and believing one thing. It tells us to 1) trust in the Lord with all our heart, 2) not rely on our own insight, and 3) acknowledge the Lord in all our ways. Then it asks us to bank on a promise that, if we do those three things, God will make straight our paths.
First, we are to trust in the Lord with all our heart. We are to have faith that God is true to His word and steadfast in His love, and that He’ll take good care of us.
It takes faith to trust God because half the time we can’t see what God is up to or how He could allow what He allows to happen. When, say, our money runs short, the pain refuses to end, or the baby dies, we have no vision of how it could serve any good purpose. We have to live by faith and not by sight, and keep placing ourselves in the hands of a God who may be mysterious in His ways but who is, despite appearances, ever faithful and brilliant in looking after our best interests.
We are to trust in God with all our heart. Second, we are not to rely on our own insight. We are to turn away from putting much faith in our supposed wisdom, in our sense of what should happen, recognizing we’re not enough in the know to have much wisdom.
Frequently, I have foolishly supposed I knew what should happen and what my life should be like. But I have often been wrong. Long before I met one Adele Straitiff, I thought I should marry a woman named Anne. But, as wonderful a person as Anne was, I was surely wrong, and I now thank God she ended the relationship and broke my heart. I now know that the two of us would have had an unhappy marriage; and that, if we had married, I couldn’t have married Adele, with whom I have a very happy marriage.
My doubts about the extent of my understanding have helped me keep my faith in God! Those doubts have given me good reason to doubt my doubts about God’s care. My admission of ignorance about what I really need has prevented me from jumping to conclusions. Life is, after all, full of curses disguised as blessings, and blessings disguised as curses; and I’m just not that accurate in figuring out which is which.
I think of a missionary who was thrown in prison for smuggling Bibles into a country that had outlawed them. When he lingered long in that God-awful jail cell and God didn’t come to His help as he hoped, he felt betrayed and angry with God. Now, he realizes that God was serving him well by leaving him in his harsh situation, because the hardship of it pressed him up close to God and gave him a deeper friendship with the Lord than he’d ever had before. Today, he says, those days of difficulty were a small price to pay for the reward of the tighter connection with God.
God knows better than we what is best for us. Therefore, the wise do well to hold on to their plans and expectations with a loose grip. They don’t presume to make plans and then ask God to support them. They listen to God first to learn His plans and then ask if they can be a part of them. They throw themselves into what God’s got going, even if it looks ill-advised to their eyes, and embrace God’s assignments, even if they’re nothing they’ve planned for or desired. They follow God’s wisdom.
We are to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and not rely on our own insight. Third and finally, we are, in all our ways, to acknowledge Him. We are to bear in mind how He is watching over us and always doing something wonderful for us. We are to be aware that He is eager to guide us, that His will is only good, and that our only job is to obey Him and do our part in bringing about His will.
As we trust in God, refrain from relying on our own wisdom, and acknowledge Him every step of the way, God will “make straight” our paths. Making them straight does not mean making them fast, easy or pain-free. It means making them the surest course to our highest destiny and our deepest fulfillment, even if we’re walking most of the journey in “a cloud of unknowing”.
Steven Hayner, a Presbyterian pastor who served as president of Columbia Theological Seminary, was in his early sixties when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After tests revealed that chemotherapy wasn’t working, he blogged, “What now seems clear, from a purely physical perspective, is that in all probability the remainder of my life on earth is now to be counted in weeks and months….Many are praying for one of God’s ‘big’ miracles. [My wife and I] are as well. But it is not how God answers prayer that determines our response to God. God is committed to my ultimate healing. But being cured of my cancer may or may not be a part of that healing work.”
God’s healing work enabled Steve to come to know his Lord true and sure, and to give thanks whatever befell. Admitting the greatness of his ignorance, Steve walked by the light of the great God whom he knew and who made some things perfectly clear to him. Steve blogged, “I truly don’t know what God has planned…I could receive ‘healing’, or I could continue to deteriorate. But life is about a lot more than physical health…More important than the more particular aspects of God’s work with us…is God’s overall presence with us, nourishing, equipping, transforming, empowering and sustaining us for whatever might be God’s call to my life today. Today my call might be to learn something new about patience, endurance, and the identification with those who suffer. Today my call might be to mull through a new insight about God’s truth and character. [Today for sure my call is to thank God for just this one amazing day.]”
With serenity and a radiant witness Steve Hayner died January 31, 2015, having walked the path God had made straight for him all the way to the fulfillment of his purpose and the realization of his destiny. Steve had brought God glory, encouraged believers, and caused some unbelievers to wonder whether there is something to the reality of Christ after all.
May we walk the paths God makes straight for us as we trust Him, turn away from our own “wisdom” and acknowledge Him every step of the journey. Let us pray.