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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Teach Me your paths, O LORD!
Text:LD 49 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-11-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 143:5,6                                                                              

Hy 37:1,2  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Psalm 25

Ps 25:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 49

Ps 25:5,6,7

Hy 56:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ Jesus, have you been lost recently? Struggled to get from Point A to Point B, and back again? I doubt it. Because today it’s pretty easy to find your way around. We’ve got lots of help with navigating. On your computer, you can go to Google Maps and find very precise directions. Or you can be guided everywhere by an app on your phone. Even in foreign cities, places you’ve never visited before, it’s hard to get lost if you’ve got the right tools.

If only all of life was like that, and it was straightforward to find our way to good decisions. If only it was natural for us to navigate according to God’s will. And I don’t just mean those big choices, for we understand that deciding on a career, or choosing a potential spouse, or making a big purchase can be a difficult process. Those are the big highways we decide to take, the direction that we might follow for years at a time.

But each day, we’ve got choices to make. These are the little avenues and side-streets along the way—there are small decisions about what words we’re going to say, or what attitude to have about some new trouble. These are decisions about what we’re going to do with this hour of free time, or how much effort we’re going to put into our homework.

Sounds like small stuff, but finding our way through them isn’t easy. For so often, our heart inclines us in the wrong direction. So often, we’re side-tracked. We know that we should be attentive to the route we’re on, yet we all like to put it on “hands-free” and “auto-pilot.” So quickly we stop thinking about what Christ wants us to do.

With good reason then, Jesus teaches the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who is in heaven, your will be done.” That is to say, “Lord, may you be the one who is giving direction to my life. May your way be the way that I follow, and follow always.” This is also David’s prayer in Psalm 25. Here he prays to receive a reliable spiritual compass, prays for instruction in God’s will. This is our theme based on Lord’s Day 49,

Teach me your paths, O LORD!

  1. help me not take my own way
  2. but find your way
  3. and then walk in it every day

 

1) not taking my own way anymore: If you’ve ever been lost before, you know that it’s easy to start arguing. The driver gets annoyed with the navigator for instructions that are less than helpful. But the navigator thinks that she’s been quite clear—it’s the driver who’s not reacting fast enough. Well, an argument is also at the heart of this Lord’s Day. For we learn that we must “deny our own will, and without any murmuring obey [God’s] will” (Q&A 124). You can hear there’s a difference of opinion about directions. We think that we should go one way, and God thinks we should go another.

And it’s a difference that has consequences. It’s not that one route is a more scenic, the other more direct. So often we want to take our own way, because we think it’s actually better for us. Yet God says that taking our own way can be fatal. It’s a highway to nowhere, and it could even turn into a “Dead End.”

We know what this kind of “inner argument” is like. Maybe you want to watch the new movie that everyone’s talking about, but you know it’s got a lot of sex in it. So what do you do?

Or you know that you should help someone out, have a family from the church up for coffee, but it’s probably going to be awkward, and take some of your time. What to do?

Or maybe you really want to stay out late at that party, but it means you won’t be effective tomorrow at work, or you won’t be attentive in worship. So what do you do?

Aren’t there so many situations where we’re faced with these basic options? If we pause and consider, we see what it’s about: “Am I going to do what I want here? Am I going to take the easy way out? Will I just chase my own comfort? Or will I do what’s right? Will I do what God says in his Word, and what He’s placed on my heart?” Even some of our smallest decisions can be condensed to these opposing directions. “Will I be turning right or left? Doing good or evil? Listening to God or someone else?”

And the temptation to go the selfish way is always there. The Bible says that’s the way we “incline.” Compare it to when the wheels on your car are out of alignment. Maybe you’ve had that before: you bashed into a curb, and now your car always pulls in one direction. You have to fight it whenever you’re driving. In the same way, we incline to sin. We keep pulling toward disobedience, pulling away from God.

David knew this struggle. You can hear it throughout his prayer in Psalm 25. It’s true, he begins the Psalm by looking to God: “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; O my God, I trust in you” (vv 1-2). He commits his direction to God. He resolves to listen to the LORD’s instruction. We might resolve to do that at the beginning of a new day, “O Lord, today I want to serve you.”

But it’s not easy, because right away, the struggle is there, and the pull towards sin. We hear that in Psalm 25: “Let me not be ashamed,” David goes on to pray, “Let not my enemies triumph over me” (v 2). We don’t know exactly what situation he was in, but it sounds like people are trying to discredit him. He was probably the king at this time, and enemies were bullying him, dragging his good name through the mud. By making accusations, they were trying to get a violent reaction out of him. Then, they hoped, everyone would see what kind of nasty person David was: that he couldn’t be trusted, and he shouldn’t be king.

This was a tight spot for David. If he does nothing, his enemies get the last word and turn people against him. But if he reacts to their slander, they only get more ammunition to fire at the king. It’s a tough dilemma. So David urgently prays for God’s guidance, to navigate this minefield without blowing something up!

And at the same time David prays that he will not sin. For he knows his own weakness. In the past he’d reacted badly to his enemies. There were times that he’d depended on his own wisdom, instead of trusting God. So he makes this part of his prayer for guidance, a confession of sin: “Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions” (v 7). It takes humility to say that when you’re asking for help. We often pretend we’ve got it all figured out. But when making a decision, we should acknowledge our deep need before the Lord. We ought to pray, “Father, help me not take my own way, like I did last time, and the time before that. Help me not be so stubborn, so selfish. My paths have always been sinful, and my decisions always poor. That’s why I need your guidance so badly, always.”

That’s the struggle of praying the third petition. We must pray, “Father, your will be done,” even when we have our own idea of what we should do. We should pray, “O Lord, may your will be done,” even when it feels like every cell in our body wants to give in to this temptation. Because we’re weak, so often the decisions that we make are propelled by emotion or desire. We feel that something is right, we’re drawn to it (by its appearance, maybe, or by what something promises), so we commit and do. It’s only later on that we look around for a few “good” reasons to defend our wrong decision, to justify our sin. Then we’re not living in self-denial, and we’re not seeking God’s wisdom first.

Another difficulty is that the decisions we have to make aren’t always clear cut. In the complexity of this life, there’s not always a sharp line between calling something good, and calling something evil. The fact is, Scripture doesn’t speak with clear voice on every possible situation that we’re going to face. But David’s prayer again instructs us. He says, “Keep my soul, and deliver me… Let integrity and righteousness preserve me” (v 20). As we live in this world, he knows that we’re always just a moment away from sinning. We’re always ready to assert ourselves, instead of entrusting ourselves to God.

So ask God to keep renewing you, and to take away your hidden faults and blind spots. Ask Him to correct your inclination to steer towards sin, and to get you out of a self-satisfied rut. Humbly acknowledge to God that what you want doesn’t matter. Pray that you would have the strength and integrity to do what pleases the Lord.

 

2) but finding out God’s way: When we’re faced with a decision, it is sometimes very obvious what we must NOT do. Should I stay home from church today? No, I should go. Should I lie to my parents about what happened? No, I should tell them. Should I share this nasty bit of gossip? No, the story should end with me. We all know the “big rules” about what’s wrong, and what’s right. We don’t always listen to them, but we do know them.

But apart from the parts of life that are clearly directed by the commandments, how do we find our way? How can I learn God’s will more specifically? In the particular place that God has put me in this life, how can I put his commands into practice? To us that’s not always clear.

There’s the complicated challenges of relationships in your family and church. There’s the question of how to interact with the world around us, a world that doesn’t treat us fairly, but who still needs to hear the gospel. If you have your own business, there can be hard questions about God’s will about money and making a profit. Or we agonize over it: Just where does God want me to serve Him? In so many areas, it takes a lot of wisdom to know what to do.

So sometimes we just wish that God would speak to us directly. The Catechism says that we should be like the angels in heaven, carrying out God’s commands “willingly and faithfully” (Q&A 124). That’d be nice, wouldn’t it—to get what the angels get: messages straight from the heavenly throne: “John, I want to do this. Emily, go there. Say that.” That’s divine direction we could follow! Or maybe we wish that a detailed map for our lives could be given us by God, like following the promptings of your GPS: “In 300 metres, turn right.” Yet it won’t happen.

There’s a good reason for this. We like to have everything figured out, to have our lives nicely planned out, in five or ten year blocks at a time. But God’s direction is often given simply from day to day. God might only show us the next small step we need to take—the next duty, the next obligation—and nothing more.

Compare it to Lord’s Prayer petition about our daily bread. When it comes to our bodily needs, God promises to give us enough food and drink to sustain us, one day at a time. We might have access to a lot more than this, but his promise is for today—and that’s what we should rely on: our daily bread. The same thing is true for receiving a knowledge of God’s will. He often gives us immediate direction, and nothing more. “This is your assignment, for today. This is my will for what you need to do, right now.”

Why does God do this? Because this keeps us humble. It keeps us from looking too far ahead and worrying. It probably keeps us from getting too comfortable. Most importantly, this keeps us going back to God for our needed wisdom and direction—dependent on God, each new day again. “Father, what’s the next thing? In this new day, with its opportunities and challenges, how can I faithfully serve you?” As James teaches, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (1:5). And that’s a prayer for every day.

Yes, whenever we ask God for guidance, we have confidence that He’ll answer. That’s what David has in Psalm 25. He was in a tight spot, we said. He could’ve despaired or given up. But see again that he begins with a confession of faith: “O my God, I trust in you” (v 2). Before he says anything else, before he mentions his confusion or uncertainty, David confesses that God will never abandon those who belong to Him.

That’s how to begin any prayer for God’s direction: “O my God, I trust in you.” And in that spirit, David prays this marvelous prayer to know God’s will, “Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me” (vv 4-5). Notice that David doesn’t ask to see a heavenly sign, or to hear a whisper in his ear. Rather, He asks for knowledge. He asks for truth. He asks for teaching.

What’s he asking for? He’s asking for insight into God’s Word! For whenever Scripture speaks of God’s “ways,” it’s referring to the ways of his covenant law. Whenever Scripture speaks of God’s “paths,” it’s describing those paths that are traced out in the Word. David asks to see the truths of Scripture that he needs to know: “Show me these ways.” It’s in the Scripture that he begins his search for God’s will in this tough situation.

We pray Psalm 25 along with David. “Father, teach me your paths.” And that verb “teach” means we have to learn. The students all know that learning takes work. So with God’s will: it takes study to learn it. And that means being in the Scriptures. If we want to find the will of God for our lives, this is where to look, in that place where hundreds of thousands of his words are written down.

We must fill our minds with his Word. For the more we fill our minds with it, the more we begin to think in the ways of God. Our bad alignment starts getting corrected, and we begin to be aligned with Him and his purposes. As our minds are shaped by the Word, we learn more and more of God’s will, when we can start to say, “This is what God wants—He told me in the Word. I know that He wants me to deny these wrong thoughts. I know that He wants me to use my gifts in the best way I can. He wants me to serve my family. God wants me to put Him first.”

This is training that we need to do ahead of time. For in that moment of making a decision, we don’t always have the time to contemplate questions of right and wrong. Life is dynamic. Life hurries past quickly. It’s like merging onto the freeway, when we only have a second to decide: accelerate or slow down, move to the right, stay on the left.

Even when you’re having an ordinary conversation, or you’re starting a small project, or sitting down at the table for breakfast, you’re faced with instant questions of how you’re going to live, of whose will you’re going to do. What is God’s will for my words to this irritating person? What is God’s will for these boring labours in the office? What is God’s will for family life? The demands are immediate. But if we’ve prepared ourselves well, the answers will begin to come.

Finding God’s will calls us to become tuned in to his leading. For God nudges us. He prods us. He opens doors for us, and He closes others. We have to pay attention to these things, and we do so by living close to the LORD. This is what David says, “The secret of the LORD is with those who fear him; and He will show them his covenant” (v 14). That’s a powerful statement. When we fear the LORD, when our eyes are fixed on Him daily, God takes us into his confidence. He tells us his “secret,” shares his wisdom for our lives.

It’s like the openness that is enjoyed between two friends. If you rarely spend time with a person, you’re not really going to understand one another, or share anything meaningful. But if you see each other a lot, and you express a care for each other, the words start to flow. You find out each other’s views, and preferences, and even their secrets. In the same way, when we spend time with God in prayer and in his Word, He shows us what to do. When we walk with Him, He confides in us, and guides us in what is good.

He does it through his Word, we said. But God also teaches us his will through the people He’s placed around us. We’re blessed to have a life in communion, a life shared with fellow believers. So we should listen to parents. Listen to your godly friends. Pay attention to the wisdom of your teachers, or your office bearers, to those who’ve been given the Holy Spirit. If we’re humble enough to seek advice, we can receive so much good insight from the LORD.

Yet the struggle can remain. Even after many days of searching for God’s will—searching humbly, intensely, prayerfully—it can still be unclear about what God wants you to do. That’s perplexing, and discouraging. But know this: the Father will always answer the prayers of his children! In those days of waiting, keep praying Psalm 25:4, “Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me.” When we keep praying that, God will surely answer, for it’s his promise.

Listen to what David confesses: “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He teaches sinners in the way” (vv 8-9). See that connection, the “therefore.” Because God is upright, He’ll instruct us in his ways. Because He is good, He’ll guide us in what is right. It goes back to God’s character of steadfast love. This is who He is: He’s faithful to those who call on his Name.

Just think of the one who taught us the petition. Christ our Saviour too, needed the Father’s guidance. As a youth He had to grow in his knowledge of Scripture, He was anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism, and then the Spirit filled and led Him for the next three years, and taught Him the Father’s will. Now Christ in heaven sends the gift of His Spirit to the church. With this result, Paul says: “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). Having the mind of Christ, we can apply his way of thinking to every situation. We can love service because Christ became a servant. We can love our enemies because Christ loved his. We can seek God’s glory, because that’s what Christ did. His Spirit will lead us in the ways of truth.

 

3) and walking in it every day: There’s a difference between knowing what road to take, and actually taking it. If you enter your destination into your phone, but then stay parked in your driveway, the only thing that’ll change is your estimated time of arrival. So the Catechism puts the emphasis on action. More than knowing God’s will, we must “obey” it. More than having a position, we must “carry out the duties of [our] office and calling” (Q&A 124).

For when we become sure of what God wants us to do, there’s sometimes still a struggle. Because it’s not what we wanted. It’s the harder way. It’s the way of sacrifice, perhaps. It’s the way of tears. We almost wish we could be wrong about what we’ve learned, wrong about our conviction. We still wrestle with our bad alignment. But this petition encourages us take it out of “Park,” and to put it into gear. Accept his guiding. Listen to his leading. Go forward, and do the next thing, because you know that God blesses our obedience.

As David considered his life’s direction, this is the confession he held onto: “All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth, to such as keep his covenant and his testimonies” (v 10). David is saying that the Father is faithful to the faithful. Though we owe God every bit of our obedience (and so much more), God still rewards us in his grace. God blesses us when we’re doers of His Word. Along the way, God will affirm you, and He will strengthen you.

So press on daily, performing God’s will! We will still have our questions and our uncertainties, but what do all of us know about God’s calling for our lives? We know this: that our greatest purpose is to bring glory to God and to his Son, our Saviour! Just like it is for the angels in heaven, we are here on earth to serve our God “willingly and faithfully.” Let that high calling shape every decision you make, great or small. Let those be the unchanging coordinates by which you travel.

And when you pray this petition, have confidence in the One who taught us. Christ will give new strength. Christ will show the way to go. If you ask him, Christ will help you to live out this petition, every day: “Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation.”  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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