Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
When God’s at the center [of your life], you worship. When he’s not, you worry. Worry is the warning light that God has been shoved to the sideline.
Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Life
My Favorite Scripture
Last summer, while we were on vacation, Tanya and I went to my sister’s church. They did something that my sister said the whole church loved. They had a series of sermons based on the favorite Scripture passages that congregational members picked. Each week a person selected a Bible passage that was meaningful and shared with the congregation why they liked that passage. Then the pastor preached on that passage.
I really liked that idea so today, and about once a month, you are going to hear sermons based on Bible passages that I didn’t pick. They are favorite passages of members of our congregation. Each person will read a Scripture and then talk for a few minutes about why they like that passage. Today, Mark Killmeyer is going to share with us his favorite passage.
When I was in college I was in several Christian groups. One of the topics that we talked about most was trying to know what God wanted us to do. The terminology that describes that process is “Discerning God’s will.” We had a number of Sunday school lessons, Bible studies and even a few conferences that dealt with that topic. Being a person who likes books I bought several books that deal with discerning God’s will. I think I still have some of them.
Lots of time and energy went into that discussion because no one wanted to be out of God’s will. We wanted to be faithful because there were dire consequences if you missed God’s will. You might end up married to the wrong person or in the wrong career, and miss out on the blessings that God wanted to give you, but couldn’t because you were not in God’s will. There was an underlying fear of what might happen if we missed the blueprint that God has for our lives.
I’d like to be able to tell you that over the years I’ve outgrown that issue, but worrying about what I’m supposed to be doing and anxiety about the future continues to be something that is a struggle. If I had to guess, I would imagine that many of us struggle with worry.
My assumption is that everyone here wants to do what is right. Yes, we sin and turn away from God at times, but most of the time we desire to be faithful to God’s will. The problem is that it isn’t always clear what God wants. In some cases it is obvious – should I murder my neighbor? Should I steal the car I would really like to drive? Do I really need to forgive that person who hurt me? There is no question what we are supposed to do in those cases. But more often than not, we want to be obedient to God, but we aren’t sure what that looks like.
The uncertainty of what we are supposed to do creates within us an anxiety that at times can be overwhelming. We have so many choices before us of what we could do that we worry about making the right choice.
With that in mind let’s take a closer look at this passage that Mark shared with us. As one preacher said, this passage has a message for those who have worried in the past, for those who are worried in the present, and those who plan to worry in the future. That probably includes all of us.
These two verses in Proverbs have four verbs. The first three verbs describe what we are to do. They actually describe three different ways of saying the same thing. First, we are to trust. The Hebrew word for trust, בטח (batach), has to do with something that is firm or solid, something that will hold you up.
A couple of years after we bought our house we replaced the roof. We had a couple of leaks. After they took the shingles off they found that one of the pieces of plywood underneath the shingles were had rotted. I made the mistake of replacing only that one piece. The problem was that it was I think a ½-inch plywood and should have been ¾-inch. I don’t go onto the roof very often but when I do I worry that I’m going to break through the plywood. I don’t trust it. It’s not solid and firm.
We are to trust, to have confidence, because God is trustworthy. God is firm. We are called to trust in the Lord. This is the personal name of Israel’s God, Yahweh. This is the God who delivered Israel out of Egypt, the God who was revealed on Mount Sinai as the holy and powerful, the king of creation. God’s name, Yahweh, means “I am who I am,” or “I will be who I will be.” Trust in Yahweh.
The second verb is “rely.” Sometimes the word is translated as “lean,” as you lean on a crutch to hold you up. Trust involves the image of something under you, holding you up. The word rely has the image of something beside you that you lean on to hold you up.
Sampson was one of the judges who led Israel after they settled in the Promised Land. He was a man of incredible strength, who fought and killed hundreds and thousands of Israel’s enemies. At one point in his story he lost his power and he was blinded. The text says that he leaned against a pillar. He needed the pillar to hold himself up. He relied on the pillar to keep from falling.
In Proverbs, this is a negative command. “Do not rely on your own insights.” Don’t lean on your own abilities, your own strengths or wisdom or charms. I would suggest that one of the great problems with the church today is that we have a tendency to rely on God and ourselves. As we think about the future we find our security in God and our material wealth. We lean on God and our hard work. We rely on God and our nation. It doesn’t matter if you are a left-wing liberal who thinks that Obama was the best thing ever to happen to our country or a right-wing conservative who thinks that Trump will make America great again. If we rely on our country for our hope, for our future, we are going to end up disappointed and hurt. We are not to rely on anything other than God alone.
The third verb is “to acknowledge.” This is the primary Old Testament word for knowing something, which is not only head knowledge, but an intimate, personal knowledge. Genesis tells us that “Adam knew his wife” and she conceived a baby. To know God is to have a personal relationship with God. To acknowledge God is to be humble enough to admit that we are completely dependent on God.
Another crucial word in this passage is easy to miss because it is only three letters. It’s the word “all.” “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.… In all your ways acknowledge him.” We are called to commit everything in our lives to God. All of our thoughts, all of our abilities, all of our struggles, all of our time belongs to God. The Christian life is so much more than worshipping some of the time, maybe on Christmas and Easter, or thinking about God on Sunday mornings, but the rest of the week ignoring God. The Christian life involves all that we are and all that we do. It is loving God and God’s people in every way we can, with all of our energy and ability. It is committing our entire life to God.
Finally, we get to the fourth verb, which is what God does. God makes our paths straight. Or as the King James Version says, God will “direct your path.” God will keep you on the path where you need to be, doing what you need to do. Ultimately, this wonderful passage is about trusting God, rather than ourselves, as we seek to know and follow God’s will. If we trust God, rather than ourselves or anything else, God will guide us and keep us doing what we are supposed to be doing. The Hebrew word for making straight is an intensive form. It isn’t God “might” make our paths straight or God “should” direct us, maybe but maybe not. God will guide us in the way we need to go.
This is a message of hope and encouragement. You don’t need to worry about whether or not you are making the right choices. It’s not up to you to find God’s blueprint for your life and then follow it. In fact, I don’t believe that God has a blueprint. Even if there is, we can trust that God will keep us doing the things God wants, walking the path God wants, living the way God wants. Tell God you want to follow his will. Ask God to show you the way. And then trust in the Lord, who loves you and is faithful and trustworthy.
Right now, some of you are probably in the process of making decisions about what you should do. The Pastor Nominating Committee is in the process of looking for the next pastor of Sharon church. There is always anxiety that goes with that, wondering what the new pastor will be like, wondering if s/he will be the right person to lead this church in the coming years. Maybe you are worried about your job, wondering if you should stay where you are even though you don’t like the job, or if there is another job out there that would be better for you. Maybe you are worrying about caring for someone you love, wondering what you should do to help them. We all face situations like that throughout our lives.
Here is what you do: If you know what is right, do it. Sometimes there is no doubt as to what God wants. Simply ask God for the strength to do what you know you should do. In those other times when it isn’t so obvious, pray. Ask God to guide you, to make your paths straight. Tell God you want to do what is right. Then trust that God will lead you. Do what your mind and your heart tell you is best, and believe that if it isn’t right God will make it obvious. But above all, trust that there is nothing you can do that will make God stop loving you.
Trust in the Lord, with all your heart.
Do not rely on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
And he will make your paths straight.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.