destination

Divine GPS: Submission and Trust (The Path of Life)

I remember a television game show when I was young where, when a contestant won, they were asked to choose one of three prizes that were behind closed curtains. Generally there would be one of very little monetary value behind one, and then another of greater value, and lastly, one of very great value: like an all expense paid trip, plus a set of expensive luggage, plus…..a pocket full of cash to spend on the trip. Seems that more often than not, the contestant would choose the lesser-valued items - and then, of course, everyone would GASP when the other curtains were opened and the other wonderful prizes were revealed!

The contestants can’t be blamed, of course, for their poor choices because there was NO WAY TO KNOW what was behind each curtain! If the curtains had been wide open from the start of the game show, I suspect most contestants would have chosen more wisely. This morning we’ll look at three important premises about our choices, and hopefully, we’ll gain some insight into charting a better course for ourselves from here on. Here’s the first premise:

Premise 1 - Choices are now – outcomes are later.

Well, Duh, you might say. Seems so obvious! The student who doesn’t study on Sunday night for a scheduled test on Monday morning isn’t surprised when he fails miserably. The ice fisherman who drives his Trail Blazer out onto the lake the morning after the first freeze isn’t surprised when his SUV becomes a submarine. These cause and effect situations aren’t a great surprise to any of us. and generally we survive these without destroying our lives. But a lot of these outcomes aren’t just later; they’re often much later!In the real world of living successfully, it’s these choice-patterns with the distant outcomes that tend to really matter in our lives.

  •  the long spell between the first cigarette at 15 years old and the emphysema at 45 or lung cancer at 60
  •  the connection between frequent, casual sex as a teenager and cervical cancer at 30.
  • the workaholic dad, always working extra hours at 30, then realizing at 50 that he doesn’t know his grown children.
  •  the young-married couple who decides to put $100 into the bank every payday, and ends up with a significant saving’s account at retirement.

Patterns have a cumulative effect, whether for good or bad. And although each of these scenarios make sense in retrospect, they often elude us while they’re happening. But it need not be so!

Premise 2 – Choosing (and following) the right path begins with submission to God. …..not information!

We seldom fail for lack of information. John 13:17, reads, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them!"   In Andy Stanley’s book (Principles of the Path) he tells a sad story of a couple, Ed and Linda, who had been married for two decades, but now are on the verge of bankruptcy and divorce.

“As they sat tearfully in my office they told of how they met with a financial advisor ten years prior. Together, they devised a plan to reduce debt and even create savings. They said it seemed like a highly doable strategy to turn things around and they left the financial planner’s office with a lot of optimism. So why were they sitting in my office drowning in red ink, I asked. Upon arriving home with the road map to financial freedom in their hands, Ed put the binder full of information in a drawer and never looked at it again. It wasn’t that Linda disagreed with the plan. On the contrary, they thought both it was highly doable. They just never doable’d it!”

If you were in some of the conversations in my church office over these thirty-plus years I’ve been on staff, or if you were to spend time with pastor Anthony or Pastor Scott, we could each tell you of numerous situations just like this one in Andy’s book. We could give many examples of meeting with folks in the midst of difficult situations or entanglements. Often it seemed to us that the “way out” was fairly straightforward, and we’d give step-by-step plans for moving out of the bad place and into a better place in life only to find out later that the advice went totally unheeded. Our problem is seldom due to lack of sufficient information. What we lack is the willingness to DO what the information clearly points to.

What does SUBMISSION to God look like? Submission is voluntarily placing oneself under the control of another. Biblically speaking, that would be voluntarily placing yourself under the control of God. Wow! Interesting how something what sounds so simple could be so difficult! Interesting: The word, SUBMIT, is a Greek word which was originally a military term meaning “to arrange troop divisions under the command of a leader.” In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, of cooperating, of sharing a burden.” In other words, when the word submit is used in the Bible, it refers not only to a yielding and obedient attitude of the heart, but also, and equally importantly, to an attitude of co-operation and support. Our failure to trust or submit to our Heavenly Father will lead to unintended destinations, complete with unintended consequences. Our human wisdom and the resulting choices we make, simply don’t stack up against the perfection of God’s wisdom and choices for us.

Proverbs 3:5 says is so well: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; RE: “lean not” – the term translated lean literally means to prop something up against something else; to be supported by it. Picture propping our life up “against God.” In simple terms it means trusting God’s Word rather than our logic. Proverbs 3:6 says,  "In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."  Not “most of” your ways….ALL of your ways - dating, sex, marriage, parenting, entertainment, jobs, finances, etc. - All means all. Acknowledge now means a token tip of the hat, but then it meant to recognize who He is (speaking) and to respond accordingly. In other words, do what he says. 

 Premise 3 – Independence is our problem.

And it is the opposite of submission. Independence leads us to trust (or, lean on) our own wisdom. In simplest language…it’s pride, also known as The Reason I Sometimes do Stupid Stuff!” If ever there was a man who could have trusted his own ability is was Solomon (the wisest man who ever lived). We read the following in 1 Kings 3:7-13:

" O LORD my God, now you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. 8 And here I am among your own chosen people, a nation so great they are too numerous to count! 9 Give me an understanding mind so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great nation of yours?” 10 The Lord was pleased with Solomon’s reply and was glad that he had asked for wisdom. 11 So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people and have not asked for a long life or riches for yourself or the death of your enemies— 12 I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding mind such as no one else has ever had or ever will have! 13 And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and honor! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life!"

Solomon starts well, but…  

"Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. 2 The LORD had clearly instructed his people not to intermarry with those nations, because the women they married would lead them to worship their gods. Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. 3 He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. And sure enough, they led his heart away from the LORD. 4 In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship their gods instead of trusting only in the LORD his God, as his father, David, had done. 5 Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites." (1 Kings 11:1-5)

God didn’t tell Solomon that He’ll straighten out the paths that Solomon chooses. God said, "I’ll choose your paths!" But Solomon thought he “knew better” than God…and he goes terribly wrong, harming himself and their entire nation. Pride, perhaps more than anything else, has the potential to override God’s wisdom. Here was the wisest man in the world, brought down by arrogance. Declaring dependency on a foreign King rather than God. (We do this!) Solomon went astray, not because he lacked wisdom, but because he was not submitted to God. 

The Heart of the Matter (The Path of Life)

Have you ever justified something in a way that you know made no sense – but it was the best you had in the moment? We have this very human tendency to use our mind to justify after the fact what our heart desired in the moment. We do things we feel like doing, then in hindsight we scramble to come up with reasons that at least seem good to us. We listen to our hearts, then tell our heads to justify our actions. “Follow your heart, listen to your heart” are mantras we hear in some form all the time.

 The problem is that it's a bad philosophy of life. And since God is for us, and He cares about us enough to give us some insight into how we work and how life works, it’s no surprise that the Bible has given us some insight into why simply “following your heart” is a bad idea.

The prophet Jeremiah records God’s message to the Israelites at a time when they had walked far from God. After telling them that those who trust in the strength of people are like bushes in a wasteland where there’s no water and the ground is sowed with salt, he makes a sharp contrast:

Blessed is the one who trusts in Me alone;
 the Eternal will be his confidence. He is like a tree planted by water,
 sending out its roots beside the stream.
 It does not fear the heat or even drought.
 Its leaves stay green and its fruit is dependable, no matter what it faces. (Jeremiah 17:7-9)

 The person who trusts in God is grounded, fearless, and bears fruit, which is another way of saying that this kind of person is being everything he or she was made to be. Awesome! Jeremiah continues: 

 The heart is most devious and incurably sick. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:10)

 Well. This seems like an abrupt change of thought. The context is that God is explaining how life in His path will bring life, but a life in rebellion to him will bring some serious trouble. The Septuagint says, "The heart is deep," a bottomless pit full of sin. Perhaps that is why Proverbs 28:26 warns us, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.” I am going to give us two principles to help us avoid the trouble lurking in our heart, and two principles to help us embrace the wisdom that comes from God.

First Principle to Help Us Avoid Trouble: Own our problems.

They rarely come from lack of information or insight. They usually come from a lack of commitment to truth. We choose to do things often without thinking and specifically without thinking of the consequences. We follow our heart and just decide we don’t really want to wrestle with why we are doing a particular thing, or what the consequences will be. Then when we get caught (or our head kicks in), something wells up from within this bottomless container of deceit and we justify the desires of our hearts rather than taking the opportunity to challenge the goodness of what we wanted.

In 1 Samuel 15:13-20, God told Saul to come back from a battle with nothing. He was not supposed to collect spoils of war – the Israelites weren’t supposed to be a marauding tribe. But Saul brings back a bunch of livestock. God speaks to the prophet Samuel, Samuel goes to confront him, and the following happens:

When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.” But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

 “Sure, I disobeyed God…but I did it so I could worship him better!” That’s a gutsy excuse. Saul wants to justify what his heart desires: keeping the spoils of war. He did the wrong thing, but thinks he can make it right if can find a really good justification. Samuel gives the well-known response:

“But Samuel replied, "What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.”

 Saul’s problem was not a lack of information or insight. He knew God’s instruction. Saul’s problem was a lack of obedience, of commitment to truth and submission to God.

Second Principle To Help Us Avoid Trouble: Question our reasons.

How many times have you asked your kids, “Why did you do that?” Or, “What were you thinking?” And they get this deer-in-the-headlights look because they weren’t thinking. They were just doing, and usually their justifications or excuses are pretty transparent.  We adults are a little quicker on our feet, and we can come up with some clever excuses. We try to smooth over our bad decisions by coming up with reasons, and we treat all our reasons as if they are legitimate even if they are not. Simply having a reason doesn’t make the reason good or the action right. 

  • The married man who wants to flirt with the cute lady at work justifies what his heart desires: “I just want to make sure she is doing her job well.”
  • The workaholic who is avoiding conflict at home or the emptiness inside justifies: “We really need the money right now.”
  • The employee who cheats on time cards or take small things justifies: “Everybody knows we don't get paid enough.”
  • The person who gossips justifies: “I just want other people to know how to pray.”
  • The person who holds a grudge justifies: “If I let it go I will just enable their bad behavior. I don’t think they will ever change. They earned it!”
  • I knew a lady in Ohio who moved from counselor to counselor. She always claimed that they never understand her, or they don’t listen, or… The reality is they held up a mirror she didn’t want to see. It seemed easier to avoid, and she never got to the heart of the issue that kept her in counseling for years.
  • I knew a man who moved from church to church because “the people are judgmental. “ Or maybe, when people are honest, he didn't want to hear it.

 They all had reasons. But simply having a reason doesn’t make the reason good or the action right. When our reasons follow our decisions, that’s often a bad sign. If we follow our heart and then use our head, we will often either regret what we did or scramble to find a way to justify what we shouldn’t have done.  We need to bring our head and our heart together.

So What Is The Solution?

First Principle To Help Us Embrace Wisdom: Give our hearts and minds to Christ.

God offers to do a work in us that is independent of our ability to live well. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God’s message to Israel was:

 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your sin-hardened heart of stone and give you a tender, Spirit-lead heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness.” (Ezekiel 36:24-29)

Paul wrote to the early church in Rome:

  “In light of all I have shared with you about God’s mercies, I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship. Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.” (Romans 12:1-2)

 In addition, God gives us His Word to guide us:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

So we have God’s Spirit within you to transform our hearts and God’s Word in front of us to help us discern the battlefield inside us.

Second Principle To Help Us Embrace Wisdom: Make sure you have good reasons for your decisions. 

First of all, be honest. This may be tough, but think of something you really want to do (or something you are doing) and answer this question: 

  • The real reason I check in on that girl at work is…
  • The real reason I don't’ talk with my spouse is…
  • The real reason I don’t call my kids (or parents) is…
  • The real reason I drink too much…
  • The real reason I don’t go to church regularly…
  • The real reason I don’t pray…
  • The real reason I don’t want to forgive them…
  • The real reason I pad my time card…
  • The real reason I stopped and bought 3 cups of coffee today…
  • The real reason I watch “Glee”…
  • The real reason I want to buy a new house…
  • The real reason I want to change jobs…
  • The real reason I want to date someone new…
  • The real reason I avoid warning signs about my health
  • The real reason I am pulling back from people
  • The real reason I don’t want to commit fully to Christ…

Second, be proactive.

There are at least three questions to ask when facing decisions.

  • If someone in my circumstance came to me for advice, what would I recommend? Would I tell them to do what I am about to do? Would I tell them to buy a car they can’t afford? Would I tell them to withdraw from conflict instead of confront it? Would I tell them to hold a grudge?
  • What do my godly friends think?  Not just any friends, because people with a different set of values will reach conclusions that are not necessarily biblical. It’s not like Christians have the corner on good advice. But specifically when it comes to ethical decisions, be sure you give weight to a godly voice that you have good reason to trust.
  • In light of my past experience and future hopes, what is the wise thing to do?  Has this worked before? If not, why do I think it will work now?  Last time I yelled at my kids, was that productive? I want to be a person whose thought life is pure – is what I’m watching or listening to going to lead me to that place?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and don’t rely on your own understanding. In everything you do, acknowledge him, and he will make your path straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

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I am deeply indebted to Andy Stanley's "The Principles of the Path" for the main ideas in this series (and some of specific language, such as "Direction, not intention, determines as our destination"). I highly encourage you to buy and consume this excellent book!