“Way; Which Way Day to Day?”
Isaiah 30:21 and others
November 14, 2004
Day to day God reveals his way through his word.
I. The Nature of Direction (Isaiah 30:19-21, Psalm 25:8-12)
II. The Source of Direction (Isaiah 55:6-11, Psalm 119:1-10)
III. The Outcome of Direction (Micah 4:1-5)
MessageThe Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis, has many practical insights into the Christian life. For example, in the area of guidance, Lewis has the senior demon Screwtape saying to the junior demon Wormwood The humans live in time, but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the present. . . obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure. Our business is to get them away from the eternal and from the present. It is far better to make them live in the future . . . [for] thoughts about the future inflame hopes and fears. Later all things being equal, it is best for your patient to be filled with anxiety . . . If, on the other hand, he is aware of what may be in store for him, and is praying for the virtues to meet it, and meanwhile concerning himself with the present because there, and there alone all duty, all grace, all knowledge and all pleasure dwell, his state is very undesirable and should be attacked at once.
What Lewis is saying is that Christians should be concerned about their daily path and daily virtues and daily obedience to God, and trust Him with the anxieties of an unknown future. There are, in my obvious analysis, two basic kinds of decisions in life: big and small, or long term and daily. We tend to be concerned about Gods will in big decisions: what college should I go to; who should I marry, where should I work; where should I live; what church should we go to; what house should we buy? These are important decisions, but they are not the ones I want to talk about today. The other kind of decision we all make all the time is how should I behave and what should I do now? These are the day-to-day decisions of the Christian life. Should I have lunch with this person, or stay at my desk and work? Should I spend the next hour interacting with my kids or paying the bills? Should I buy my wife flowers or save the money for a date? And others of these daily decisions are not morally neutral: theyre choices between godliness and worldliness. God expects us as we mature to increasingly make the Godly choices.
It is these which-way-day-to-day decisions that are addressed by our Neon Word of the Old Testament this week. The Hebrew word is derek and it means, the way, the path, the road, the manner of life, or as a verb, treading one path rather than another, one fork in the road rather than another. Its used 640 times in Scripture, and not a few of these have to do with the which-way-day-to-day guidance we need from God in order to live godly lives. Were going to look at five of these passages that reveal God as the one who promises direction, Scripture as the source of our day to day direction, and blessing as the outcome of following that direction. My big idea is simply that day to day God reveals his way through his Word.
I. The Nature of Direction (Isaiah 30:19-21, Psalm 25:8-12)
Lets begin by looking at the nature of day to day direction. Our first passage is one you may not be too familiar with, Isaiah 30:19-21 O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. 20Although 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. 21Whether 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."
This part of Isaiah contains promises for the people of Israel that look forward either to their return from the Babylonian exile or to the reign of Jesus in Jerusalem. But many of these promises can also be applied by us. When Isaiah describes God as gracious when you cry for help, thats true of his promised behavior for Israel and for us. The Hebrew literally says being gracious he will be gracious or graciously he will be gracious. Because of his characteristic grace, in your daily life when you reach a decision point and call for help and guidance, God will hear and answer.
But Isaiah also recognizes that at times the Lord sends the bread of affliction and the water of oppression. The Israelites had times of affliction and oppression so pervasive that it felt like their food and drink. We do too, times when the stresses and pressures and difficulties of life seem overwhelming, so that even knowing what to do from one day to the next is confusing. It feels like every time we pick something as the next thing were bombarded by a million other things. Were drawn away from the next thing or the best thing to do by things that are at best distractions, or at worst evidence of our laziness or selfishness or sin, so that we make poor or sinful use of our time. We turn aside from the way we should go to go our own way.
What do we need? Someone to point the way, someone to say, this is the way. In verse 20 Isaiah tells the people that their teachers will be hidden no more - that a time is coming when God is going to guide directly and personally, to the point where they will hear his voice behind them as they follow the path, saying No, not that way, this way, like a shepherd who guides his flock with his voice. For believers that voice is the Holy Spirit who lives in us. He calls attention to what God has said in his word, and to what Jesus has said, as guidance for which-way-day-to-day. Whether I drift off this way into sin, or this way into distraction, Im going to hear from God, gently correcting my path, putting me back on course, showing me his way, which the Scriptures call the way of righteousness. I read someplace years ago that what we really want in life is not so much guidance, but a guide. Before my mom and I went to Atlanta to my nephews wedding, I printed all kinds of Mapquest directions to get me to all the places I would need to go. But in the end my sister Joyce traveled with us all the time, and she knew where to go - and that was much better. In life, we have a great map for right living - the Scriptures - but its even better to have a guide saying Yes, thats the way. Go there.
Isaiah says that the day-to-day direction we seek is both promised and given by God. This is even more clear in the next text, Psalm 25:8-12 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. 9He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. 10All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant. 11For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great. 12Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.
These verses are packed with truth about God. He is good and upright, two neon words. Weve studied the second one, and the first is also a basic truth. We depend on the fact that God is good almost as much as we depend on his existence or his power. In Perelandra, C. S. Lewiss science fiction story set on Venus, there is a discussion about God between Ransom, a believer, and Weston, who has brought evil into this second Eden. Weston says Didnt we agree that God is a spirit? Dont you worship Him because he is pure spirit? Ransom responds Heavens, no! We worship him because he is wise and good. There is nothing specially fine about simply being a spirit. I mean a thing might be a spirit and not good for you.
Because God is good, Psalm 25 says, he instructs sinners in his ways. He is the teacher hidden no more, he is the voice that tells us which way to go, and the guidance he gives us is into his way or his ways. He intends for us to walk through life making choices and decisions that honor him, that reflect and imitate and cling to his moral goodness. This is not naturally our way of living - we need help. Verse 9: he guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. It is required of us in order to receive this guidance that we give up our own pride and humble ourselves and declare dependence on God, trusting that, verse 10, All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful. Do you recognize those two words? Yes, its chesed va emeth, neon words of his loving kindness and faithfulness, which are foundational to all that he is and all that he does for those who follow him.
But the Psalmist, David, is fully aware that he himself is not upright in his ways. Verse 11: For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great. David recognizes that he is a sinner and needs forgiveness, and that God can give it. He doesnt describe how that forgiveness is obtained, but on our side of the cross we know clearly that our sin, which incites Gods wrath and which must receive justice, was paid for by Jesus. He bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. Davids prayer is answered in Jesus, and if we want to walk in Gods ways, we must pray the same prayer and seek the same answer. We have to recognize were sinners, separated from God, and that our only hope for a relationship with God, which includes day-to-day guidance from His Spirit, comes when we give up on ourselves and depend totally on Jesus, trusting that what he did on the cross covered our sins, and that he will rescue us from sin and from death as we trust in him.
The Old Testament characterizes this attitude of broken-ness and trust as fearing the Lord. Verse 12: Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him. God promises to instruct us in the which-way-day-to-day questions of our lives, to guide us in the path chosen for us. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life - he really does. Hes chosen a path for you to walk, and he instructs you in finding it. Its his way. And its his way for you.
II. The Source of Direction (Isaiah 55:6-11, Psalm 119:1-10)
God promises to provide not only guidance, but himself as the guide, teacher and instructor. But rarely does anybody receive that instruction through an actual voice. Instead, usually, God instructs through his word, the truest source of direction. Isaiah 55:6-11 Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 8"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. 9"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
This is another great chunk of Scripture. Dont miss that it starts where David was in Psalm 25, with the call to seek the Lord by forsaking evil ways and evil thoughts. We have to recognize that before trusting Jesus we do have both - evil ways, as evidenced by the damage our selfishness does to relationships, and evil thoughts; the evil you conceive and desire, even if you dont act on it. Like David, Isaiah promises that if we turn from our own ways and turn to the Lord, he will have mercy and our God will freely pardon. There is forgiveness through Jesus.
But even forgiven and renewed people do not follow Gods ways naturally. Verse 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. 9"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. The implication of higher in this verse is that of an almost unreachable gulf between our ways and ways and his, even our thoughts and his. Gods thought process, his sovereign plan, is beyond our ability to grasp. And the perfections of his ways - perfect in goodness, perfect in righteousness, perfect in love - are as far out of our reach as the moon or the stars.
So how are we to discern his direction? The answer is in 10 and 11: As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
Just as God has provided the Holy Spirit to be our teacher and guide, so also he has provided his Word to be at work in our lives. And the relationship between the two is this: the Holy Spirit is the teacher; the Word is the material taught. These verses tell us that the combination is effective - that it accomplishes Gods purposes, to conform our thoughts to his and our ways to his. He has given us his Son, he has given us his Spirit and he has given us his Word that we might walk in his ways.
This was certainly the attitude of the writer of Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible and one devoted entirely to the importance, sufficiency, effectiveness and blessing of Gods word - and to our commitment to obey it.
Blessed are they whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord.
2Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.
3They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways.
4You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.
5Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!
6Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.
7I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.
8I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.
9How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.
10I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.
This Psalm begins with Gods ways. Those who walk in them blamelessly are blessed. And to walk in his ways is to walk according to the law of the Lord. The law was given as law to the people of the Old Testament. It is given as wisdom to us. For them it defined what was right and acted as judge for their sin, declaring them guilty when they did not obey. For us it delineates what is right, but it no longer has any power to declare us guilty - our guilt has been paid in Jesus. And this Psalmist show us what our attitude should be. He sees the Law as a blessing and a help and a guide for which-way-day-to-day. Verse 2: Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. 3They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways.
To walk in his ways is the desire of the Psalmists heart, and he looks to Gods word for guidance. Verse 5: Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! 6Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands. The Psalmist has read his Bible and understands what it says about the ways of God. He also understands that he falls short, and he desires to do better. This experience should be ours as well. As we study Gods word we should ask what attitude do these verses call me to have? What do these verses call me to do? When we ask, the inward voice of the Holy Spirit has the opportunity to point to a verse or phrase and say this is the way, walk in it. Whether its about controlling our anger or loving our brothers and sisters in Christ or giving everything we have to the poor, the Holy Spirit uses the Bible as the source for the guidance which he gives us.
George Muller once said it this way I will seek the will of the Spirit of God through the Word of God. The Spirit and the Word must be combined. If I look to the Spirit alone without the Word, I lay myself open to great delusions. If the Holy Ghost guides, He will do it according to the Scriptures and never contrary to them.
Verse 7: I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. The Psalmist praises God because he has found this source of direction. Verse 9: How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. Whats true of young men is true of young women and older men and older women. There is no purity of direction, no purity in the way we walk day to day without this commitment to absorb and obey the word of God. So if you want direction, which-way-day-to-day? Get into the word. Thats where youll find it. The Psalmist models this in verse 10, I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. This is so important to him that he goes on for 166 more verses saying the same thing over and over again: Blessing? The Word; Direction? The Word; Rightousness? The Word; Wisdom? The Word. Thats where its at folks. And we as a church need to be characterized, even set apart from the other believers in this community by our commitment to learn and obey the Word.
III. The Outcome of Direction (Micah 4:1-5)
What is the outcome of Gods direction? Blessing. I chose this last use of our neon word simply because its a beautiful Scripture, a picture of the reign of Christ and of the results of seeking his-way-day-to-day. Micah 4:1-5 In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. 2Many nations will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 3He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. 4Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken. 5All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.
Jesus is reigning in Jerusalem. There are still nations, the Jewish nation and Gentile nations. This is during his millennial reign on earth, after his return. By the way its Scripture like this which, if taken seriously, points so clearly to that literal return and reign. During that time Jerusalem and Mt. Zion will be the focal point of the whole world. The nations will be remarkably transformed, saying let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so we may walk in his paths." After millennia of waiting, this will finally be, as it ought to be, the desire of most mens hearts, just as it ought to be the desire of our hearts now - to learn Gods ways, and to walk in them.
Now look at the outcome: The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 3He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. Weve already said that God reveals his way through his word. It wont be any different then, except that the word of the Lord will be spoken by the one who was and is the Word made flesh, Jesus himself. He will reign as the promised Davidic king, and his word will be heard and obeyed.
Verse 3: They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. This is the longed-for promise of eternal peace. What is it a product of? Seeking Gods way through obeying Gods word. The weapons of war become the weapons of peace and plenty when day to day life is lived by following Gods direction. And that millennial promise can begin to be seen now in your family and in your church and in your relationships. Do you so desire Gods way of living that he can turn your weapons of war: anger and violence and intimidation, into weapons of peace: forgiveness and forbearance and humility. It might as well start now - you dont have to wait for the millennium to see the outworking of this truth. But you do have to have this fundamental commitment to Gods way rather than yours, and you have to remember that that commitment, and Gods voice of guidance to help you live it out, only comes through faith in Christ and submission to his Word.
But that commitment brings blessing. Verse 4 Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken. This is an image of prosperity. The vine and the fig tree are emblems of plenty. For that matter so is the leisure to sit at peace, without fear. Thats a blessing God offers those who belong to Jesus and depend on his Word. We said some years back when we studied Proverbs that submission to Gods word has material benefits even in our day, because we learn to live wisely. In that day those benefits will be multiplied, provided by and guaranteed by an Almighty God.
So whats the bottom line? I think Micah switches to present tense application in verse 5: All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever. The neon word way doesnt actually appear in this verse, but its still a fitting conclusion to our study. To walk in the name of the Lord our God is to walk in his way, because his name expresses his character. Micah has shown the ultimate benefits, but says walking in Gods way starts now. Thats what were saying too. Daily God reveals his way through his Word.
Marion Smith writes I was driving in heavy traffic on 285, the perimeter road in Atlanta, cars moving at a fast rate of speed on all six lanes. I was in the far left lane when I realized my exit was just one away, and I needed to cross over many lanes to exit the freeway. My oldest daughter was in the back seat and I asked her to look out the back window, telling me when I could move over, lane by lane.
She gave me specific directions - "O.K., mom" or, "after this red car," or, "not now !" I listened to her with complete confidence that she knew what she was talking about and I never turned my own head to make sure she was correct. I followed her directions and made it to the exit lane with plenty of time to spare.
Oh that I would listen to God that way. He does tell me how to manoeuver from one lane of life to another, and He is always ready, willing and able to give me those directions. I need to listen to Him and follow those directions, not turning my head and using my own eyes to plot my course. If I do this, I will make it safely to the other side of the road of life. Day to day God reveals his way through his word.