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The Off Color series provides valuable insight to help us master our emotions and not allow emotions to master us. Pastor Philip calls believers to engage their emotions properly and to enjoy God’s goodness in all circumstances of life.
More From This Series
Okay, take your Bible and turn to Psalm 25. We’re going to start a two-part sermon this morning entitled “It’s Time to Decide.” We’re in the series Off Color: Dealing with Unwelcome Emotions. We’ve kind of color-coded emotions around these ideas: white with fear, blue with depression, red with anger, black with guilt. We’ve covered those, and this morning we’re coming to start a two-part sermon on gray with indecision.
Maybe you’re kind of stuck. Maybe there’s a sense of uncertainty and insecurity with you about the future and what you need to be doing next and where you need to be going with your life. Well, we want to address that some from Psalm 25. I want to help you become a good decision-maker. I want to help you think through the choices that life and providence has set before you. And we’re going to help you decide from Psalm 25.
So, in honor of God’s Word, would you stand, open your copy of God’s Word, and follow along. This is a psalm of David, and it’s a plea for deliverance and forgiveness and guidance in the midst of life’s challenges.
“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in you; Let me not be ashamed; Let not my enemies triumph over me. Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed; Let those be ashamed who deal treacherously without cause. 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; On You I wait all the day. Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, For they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; According to Your mercy remember me, For your goodness’ sake, O Lord. Good and upright is the Lord; Therefore He teaches sinners in the way. The humble He guides in justice, And the humble He teaches His way. All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth, To such as keep His covenant and His testimonies. For Your name’s sake, O Lord, Pardon my iniquity, for it is great. Who is the man that fears the Lord? Him shall He teach in the way He chooses. He himself shall dwell in prosperity, And his descendants shall inherit the earth. The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, And He will show them His covenant. My eyes are ever toward the Lord, For He shall pluck my feet out of the net. Turn Yourself to me, and have mercy on me, For I am desolate and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have enlarged; Bring me out of my distresses! Look on my affliction and my pain, And forgive all my sins. Consider my enemies, for they are many; And they hate me with cruel hatred. Keep my soul, and deliver me; Let me not be ashamed, for I put my trust in You. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, For I wait for You. Redeem Israel, O God, Out of all their troubles!”
So reads God’s Word. You may be seated.
I like the story of the foreign exchange student who had come to the United States for further education. His English wasn’t that good, and he was given an English coach to help him along the way. So, to get things started, the coach says, “Look, you’re going to become proficient in this, but in the meantime, I’ve got to get you some basic language, especially as it relates to food and drink. And so, while we’re waiting for you to kind of get better at English, here’s what I want you to do. Anytime you go to a restaurant, at least for a while here, I just want you to order hamburger, fries, Coke. Can you remember that? Three, simple words: hamburger, fries, Coke.” The guy says, “I think I can remember that.” And for several weeks, that’s what he did. Everywhere he went, whatever restaurant he was in: hamburgers, fries, and Coke.
Well, after about a month of this, he was getting a little sick of hamburgers, fries, and Coke. So he asked his coach, “Is there something else I can order?” He says, “Well, you’ve progressed in your English, but it’s still not that good. So we need to keep it simple. Tell you what we’ll do. Do you like breakfast?” He says, “I love breakfast.” “Here’s what I’m going to teach you. Every time you go into a restaurant, you can ask for eggs, toast, and juice. Remember that, three simple words, just like hamburger, fries, Coke. Eggs, toast, and juice.” And he said, “I can remember that.”
So, the next morning, he gets up. He’s excited about a change in his menu, a change in his diet. He goes down to a restaurant, and he says to the waitress, “You know what? I’d like eggs, toast, and juice.” Without her looking up, she says, “Well, would that be scrambled eggs, fried eggs, boiled eggs, poached eggs, over easy, or eggs Benedict? Do you want white toast, dry toast, or wheat toast? You want orange juice, apple juice, grape juice, prune juice, grapefruit juice?” Well, he’s startled and stunned. He looks up and he says, “Hamburger, fries, Coke.”
I love this story. I don’t know if it’s true, but I think the experience is true. Imagine settling in our great nation from another nation and learning a new language. In the story, we can feel his frustration. Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.
Life was not a choice for any of us. Our mother and father decided to have a child, and you were it. Life is not a choice for any one of us, but once we are alive, life is full of choices. Our journey through life will invariably bring us to certain crossroads where we need to decide this way or that way, this thing or that thing. When it comes to marriage and singleness, will it be this road or that road? When it comes to our career, will it be this road or that road? When it comes to our character development and formation, will it be this path or that path?
Ultimately, we will come to heaven or hell, this road or that road. Jesus talked about that, right? There’s the broad road, and there’s the narrow road. Choose. You see, sooner or later, we all pull up to junctures where two roads diverge, and it’s decisions, decisions, decisions.
In fact, I was reading a book on choice and making good decisions this week. And in the book, the author quotes a Columbia researcher by the name of Sheena Iyengar, who found that the average person makes about 70 conscious decisions every day. All right? So, in a given year, you and I make 25,550 decisions a year. If you and I live to be 70 years of age, we will have made 1,788,500 decisions. Life is a sum of all your choices. You put all of those 1,788,500 choices together, and what you get is you and the choices you made.
Because, you see, we make our choices, and once we’ve made our choices, our choices make us. Life is the sum of all your choices. And you know what? On the one hand, that’s a sacred thing. That’s a beautiful thing. That’s a welcome thing: that you and I have choices. Made in the image of God, we have rationality. We have the distinct ability to choose. I mean, no sooner were Adam and Eve brought into existence than they faced the choice. God said, you know what? There’s a tree, a tree of life in the middle of the garden. It’s fruit, you can’t take. From the rest of the trees, you can choose whatever you want. From the very moment they drew breath, Adam and Eve were faced with a choice. Choosing is pivotal to our personhood. It is one of the unique facets of being a human being. It distinguishes us from the rest of creation.
Animals are driven by instinct and environment. They are creatures of habit. By contrast, you and I, made in the image of God, have been given responsibility and the freedom to choose. We can create for ourselves the alternatives of choice. Think about that. That’s why there’s a judgment day coming, where God will ask us to explain our choices and the things we did in our bodies (2 Corinthians 5:9–11).
Animals aren’t going to parade before their creator and give an account for their choices. We are because we are moral beings endowed with choice and responsibility, and God expects us to choose wisely and well and the path for His greater glory.
So, on one hand, decisions, decisions, decisions—that’s the sacred thing. On the other hand, decisions, decisions, decisions—that’s a scary thing.
As I’ve said earlier, we make our decisions. Then, the decisions we make make us. We are the accumulation of the choices we’ve made. To a large degree this morning, fundamentally speaking, who you are and what you are doing and where you are living, you chose. What we say or think, what we do, who we are with, where we go all add up to the life we have.
One writer puts it like this: “We go through doors, and what we find on the other side is the person we’ve become.”
So, on the one hand, choosing is a sacred thing, a gift and a privilege from God, unique to human beings within creation. On the other hand, it’s scary because it endows us with responsibility, and good and bad choices have consequences. That’s weighty, and we feel it.
Every decision is an exchange. Have you thought about that? Now, we could talk about small and great decisions. When I use the word “decision” here, or the idea of “choice” here, I’m really thinking about the big ticket items: marriage, life, character, church, national life. Every decision is an exchange. Every time you and I make a choice, we’re swapping one thing for another, and you and I need to think that out, because that has consequences. Remember, Jesus even took that language up. Matthew 16:26: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Life, with all of its choices, is an exchange—a trading of one thing for another. And that’s why life is constantly asking us to make value judgments. That’s why we need discernment. That’s why we need to seek God’s will. That’s why we need divine insight and intuition—because every decision we make is a value judgment. We’re deciding, “That’s better than that. That’s more than that. So I’m going for that.” And you know what? If we get the evaluation wrong, there’s a price to be paid. That’s scary, and some people wilt under that. Some people are paralyzed by the thought of choice. They don’t want to make choices because they know that you’re deciding between one thing and another. And how do you know what’s the best decision? And, once you’ve made that decision, say you’ve made the wrong decision?
You want to talk about a poor exchange, what we need to do is look at the life of Esau, an amazing story. We don’t have time to go there, but back in the book of Genesis, you read his story in chapter 25. He comes back from a hunting trip. We’re not told what went on there, but when he gets back, he’s exhausted. He’s thirsty. He’s hungry. In fact, he’s on the verge of collapsing. He even thinks he may be dying. So, I don’t know what led to that, but when he comes home, his brother, Jacob, is making some stew. He goes stumbling into the kitchen, and he smells the stew and asks for some. I don’t know what’s going on between those brothers, but Jacob wouldn’t give him some unless he promised something in exchange. Esau was so desperate, so what did he do? He says, “I’ll give you my birthright for a cup of soup. I’ll give you my birthright for a bowl of stew.”
Now, at that moment, that seemed like the right thing to do. But he would live to regret that foolish decision. He gave away his inheritance and the generational blessings of his children for a bowl of stew. Crazy stuff, but people are capable of crazy. Aren’t you? It’s scary, the power of decisions and the responsibility of choice—because every decision is an exchange leading to a consequence.
Paul says in Galatians 6:7, “[W]hatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” The path he chooses, the choices he makes, the direction he takes all have consequences. Fundamentally, what, who, and where you are—you decided it. Think about poor Moses. One solitary, momentary, emotional, foolish act of disobedience when he struck the rock cost him the Promised Land (Numbers 20:8–12). What that reminds me is that decisions are utterly consequential.
Now, we’re not talking about the color of your socks and the pattern on your blouse or whether you’re going to drive a Ford or a Tesla. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about marriage, friendship, business, life, family, career, church, national life. Decisions are utterly consequential. As Moses proves, one bad decision can undo a lot of good decisions.
That’s why I love the old, traditional vows for marriage. You know what, are you sure you want this woman? Are you sure you want this guy? Because it’s going to mean either riches or poverty, sickness or health. You’re in for it all! And if you make a wrong choice, they’ll make you sick, and they’ll make you poor. Kind of just having you step back. Like Ecclesiastes 5, before you make a vow before the Lord, make sure you’re going to pay it. When you make a vow, you make a choice. There is a price to pay, and that’s weighty. For some people, it’s crippling. They get a paralysis. They get anxious at the thought of making choices like that. It’s an interesting thing.
In many ways, millennials are slow to make decisions, partly because the world in which they live in is so full of choices. They have kind of gone crazy. But, on the other hand, they lack assurance and confidence and a sense of purpose, a meganarrative through which to interpret their lives.
One Princeton professor, Walter Kaufmann, calls it decidophobia. Decidophobia. Some people have decidophobia, that is their fear of making decisions. Because they know that in making a decision, you’re going to make an exchange, a trade, a swap. You’ve got to be careful. And then, once you’ve made that decision, there’s a consequence that comes with it. By the way, if you don’t make a decision about that thing, you’ve made a decision about that thing. You can’t run from decisions. No decision is a decision.
The other thing to remember about that is that God’s not going to just hold us accountable for the things we did but for the things we didn’t do. There’s the sin of commission, and there’s the sin of omission. What’s the sin of commission? That’s doing what we’re forbidden. What’s the sin of omission? Not doing what we’re commanded.
A little boy was asked, “What’s the difference between sins of commission and sins of omission?” He says, “I think the sin of commission is the sins we commit, and the sin of omission is the sins we never got round to committing.” Well, no, that’s not it. The sin of commission is doing what you’re not meant to do. God’s going to hold you accountable. But the sin of omission is actually not doing what you’re meant to do. And the sin of omission challenges us in this area of decision making. We don’t get not to make a decision. You can’t be passive in life. God’s going to hold you and me accountable for our passivity—what we didn’t do, the decisions we didn’t make, the bravery we didn’t show.
Before I move on, I love the story of Ronald Reagan—always good for a story. He was a great storyteller, wasn’t he? Well, he told this story of when he was a boy. He was offered a really nice pair of shoes that were going to handmade and handsewn. He goes down to this shoemaker who’s got a great reputation in the community, and he kind of orders up these beautiful leather shoes, leather top and leather sole. And the guy says, “Look, I’m going to make you these in the next few days. I need to know, do you want square toes or round toes?” Reagan says, “I really don’t know. Give me a day or two.” A day or two goes by. He actually happens to be going past the shop, and the cobbler comes out and says, “Well, round or square?” He says, “I really don’t know.” And that went on for a few days.
Well, Reagan didn’t make his mind up until the cobbler called up his home and told his mother, “You know what? Send Ronald down. I’ve made his shoes.” And young Ronald Reagan goes down and gets his brand new pair of shoes. He opens up the box, and one is square and one is round. It’s a true story. And Ronald Reagan said that that day as a young boy, he learned that if you don’t make the decisions for you, someone else will make them for you. There’s just no skipping decisions and choices.
So, all of that said, it’s a sacred thing to be able to make a choice. It’s a scary thing to have to make a choice, but it’s all solvable. It’s a solvable thing, because God has set down in His Word patterns and principles by which you and I can govern our choices. And I find that here in Psalm 25.
You know what the psalmist said in Psalm 48:14? Write this down. It’s so encouraging. That God is willing to be our guide even unto death. From the moment we’re born to the moment we die, God is available as the shepherd to lead His sheep. God’s willing to coach us in life.
Look actually at verse 14 of this Psalm we’re about to look at this morning and next Sunday morning. Notice this: “The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.” I think some of the modern translation says that God will take them into His confidence. If you fear him, and you’ll love him, and you submit yourself to him, here’s a promise: God’s going to take you into His confidence and show you His plan for life and your life. That’s beautiful.
So, let’s look at Psalm 25, where you have that promise that God is willing to be our friend and counselor. Now, Psalm 25 is written by David. You’ll see that in the superscription above verse 1. We don’t know the context of the text, but it’s a context of conflict. We can’t identify a particular time in David’s life that we would attach this to, but there were plenty of episodes in David’s life where his life was in trouble or under threat.
And that’s where we’re at in Psalm 25. Just look at verses 2 and 3 and 19. He’s facing threatening and treacherous enemies. “Let not my enemies triumph over me” (vs. 2). He’s lonely and afflicted. Look at verse 16: “For I am desolate and afflicted.” And then you’ll notice that he’s stressed and distressed. Verses 17 and 18: “The troubles of my heart have enlarged; bring me out of my distresses! Look on my affliction and my pain . . .” So, David’s in conflict, and what’s interesting is that he’s got to make decisions about his life. Decisions are tough enough, but decisions are made tougher in tough times. And so he seeks God’s counsel.
You’ll see in verses 6 and 7 and verse 16, he seeks God’s grace. Lord, remember me. Show your mercy “for Your goodness’ sake.” Be gracious to me (vs. 16). Show me mercy. He not only asks for grace. He asks for guardianship. Verse 2: “O my God, I trust in You; let me not be ashamed.” Don’t throw me to the wolves. Don’t feed me to the sharks. Don’t have them triumph, where I’m exposed to shame and scandal. Don’t allow that. For Your glory and Your sake, don’t allow that. Protect me. Verses 20–22: “Keep my soul, and deliver me; let me not be ashamed. . . . Let integrity and uprightness preserve me . . .”
But he really is asking also for guidance. And this is where you and I are most interested in our series here, right? White with fear, blue with depression, red with anger, black with guilt, gray with indecision.
How do we make good decisions? How do we know God’s will? Well, that’s what the psalmist wants to know. Look at verses 4 and 5: “Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth . . .” Couldn’t be any clearer. Scroll down to verses 8, 9, and 10: “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He teaches sinners in the way. The humble He guides. . . . All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth. . .”
So, Psalm 25 teaches us to seek God in the hard times and look for His counsel in the midst of our confusion. Let’s begin to unpack and discover some of the abiding principles regarding God’s guidance in people’s lives. Now, God did some unusual things, right? God sometimes spoke in manners that were unmistakable: wet fleeces, the sun standing still in the sky, voices from heaven, thunder and lightning, miracles. We want to find abiding principles that are true for all.
So, our number one principle is prayer. Amid his confusion and consternation, we find King David praying.
Look at verses 1 through 4 and just pick up the language. It speaks for itself. “To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in You; let me not be ashamed.” Look at verses 3 and 4: “Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed. . . . Show me Your ways, O Lord.” He’s unburdening himself. He’s praying. He’s asking. He’s interceding. That’s the language of 15 through 22. “My eyes are ever toward the Lord.” This is my spiritual focus. “Turn Yourself to me.” “Bring me out of my distresses!” (vs. 17). “Look on my affliction” (vs. 18). “Consider my enemies” (vs. 19). “Keep my soul” (vs. 20). “Redeem Israel” (vs. 22).
Now, I’m not going to unpack all of those phrases in and of themselves, because they all add up to this basic idea. David is praying for God’s wisdom and deliverance in God’s grace and sustenance in the middle of his trouble. And his biggest prayer is that God wouldn’t allow his enemies to triumph, that—like a bird escaping from a trap—God would allow him to escape their net. While his enemies seek to bring him down, David looks up to God in prayer and petition.
Now, we don’t have time, but I did a study for myself. If you look at this psalm, all the true elements of prayer are to be found. Maybe you’ve heard the acrostic ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. Those are the basic elements that belong in biblical Christian prayer.
And you’ll find that adoration in verses 6, 8, 10, 11, and 12. He talks about God’s attributes. He talks about God’s mercy and God’s goodness and God’s uprightness and God’s faithfulness to His covenant. He confesses his sin on several occasions. He asks God to forgive him of his iniquity, which was great, and not to remember his old sins. You’ve got Thanksgiving in verses 8–10. “Good and upright is the Lord.” He teaches sinners. He guides the humble, and He shows Himself to those who keep His commandments. He’s thankful for all of that. And then supplication—verses 2, 4, 6, 16, 17, 20, 22—where he’s just asking, you know what? Don’t let them triumph. Lead me. Show me. Guide me. Deliver me from their trap.
To walk in God’s ways requires us to kneel in prayer. You want to walk in God’s ways? You want to make a good decision? You want to uncover His will? Pray! Walking in God’s ways requires you to kneel. Didn’t Jesus teach us in Matthew 6:10 to pray after this manner: Your will be done. Your kingdom come. We’re asking God in prayer to bring His kingdom and His rule to bear upon life and our lives.
Paul, in Colossians 1:9–10, said that he prayed that the Colossians would be filled with an understanding of God’s will. Prayer is attached to this idea of discovering God’s will. Remember that prayer hasn’t been given to us to get our will done in heaven. Prayer has been given to us for us to get God’s will done on earth. And remember this, prayer isn’t just about talking. Prayer is about listening. Lord, show me. Lord, lead me. Lord, teach me. And then we open our lives to receive His guidance. God will respond in Scripture. God will respond in a multitude of counselors. God will respond in confirming providence. Listen, prayer is not incantation. Prayer is conversation with a person. We’re not so much looking for guidance as we are staying in company with the guide. Jesus said to pray after this manner: “Our Father in heaven.”
Can I paraphrase that? Here’s what we can do in prayer. When we’re burdened, confused, wondering what the next step is, you go to God, and you say, “Dad, can we have a conversation? Show me Your way. Teach me Your truth. Lead me along the right paths.” Our Father is a very wise person, an all-knowing person, and He speaks. God speaks.
Now we’ve got to be careful, but God speaks through creation, conscience, community, commandment. We’ll get a little bit more into this next time, but through believing, reverential expectant prayer, God chooses to confide in us, like He did with the Abraham. Verse 14: “The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.” It’s a beautiful thing.
Back in Genesis 18:17–19, remember that kind of conversation that God has with Himself. “Should I tell Abraham all that I want to do for him and what I’m going to do through his children and his children’s children? Yeah, I’m going to tell him. I’m going to show him My covenant.” Love that. Prayer brings us into connection with God—a God who speaks, a God who leads, a God who directs.
In a sermon on the world of God, Adrian Rogers talks about six myths. One of the myths is what he calls the Map Myth. Listen to him, as he says, “The first is what I call the Map Myth, that is, that God is going to give you a road map for His will for you. God does not give you a road map, and I’m glad He doesn’t because if He did, it would be boring, and it would take all of the romance out of it. God doesn’t do that. The will of God is not a road map; it is a relationship, so don’t get the idea that God is going to say, ‘Now, five years from now you’re going to be doing this; ten years from now you’re going to be doing that. You’re going to be over here for three years, and then you’re going to go over there for two years.’ No, God does not do that. Do you remember how God led the children of Israel into the wilderness? A pillar of cloud by day; a pillar of fire by night. They didn’t have to know where they were going.”
All they had to do was make sure they were in His presence, His conscious presence with them. See, God doesn’t so much give us guidance as He gives us Himself, the guide. Jesus said, “I’m a shepherd, and My sheep hear My voice, and they follow Me.” That’s what guidance is. It’s hearing the voice of God—supremely in Scripture, sufficiently in Scripture. So it all begins with prayer.
Here’s an analogy. Imagine a newly married couple. They’re adjusting, right? There’s a lot of adjustment in those first few years. They’re deeply in love, but they irritate one another down the line, and it takes them a while to get in tune as to the rhythm of the home—the likes and dislikes of their partner and what pleases them and what upsets them. But over time, living together in each other’s presence and submitting and listening and learning, they begin to sense intuitively and understand each other intuitively. They begin to anticipate what will please the other without even being told.
And, you know what, to some degree that’s an analogy to how the Lord guides us. As you and I read His Word, as you and I pray, as you and I state in His presence, we begin to develop a God-honoring instinct. As we draw near to the Lord, we develop an intuitive sense of what pleases Him, because we’re in a conversation. We’re talking to Him, and He’s talking to us through Scripture. And the Spirit of God encourages that lively conversation. So, as we draw near to the Lord and develop this intuitive sense of what pleases God, you and I can move ahead with some confidence as Christ is formed in us. And as the life we now live, we live by faith and by the Son of God.
Secondly, posture. Tied to the idea of prayer is posture. I could have unfolded this into the idea of prayer, but I’m going to keep it separate. You and I need to have a right posture. See, if we’re going to pray for God’s will to be done, we need to want God’s will to be done. That’s why Jesus taught His disciples to pray after this manner. And here’s the spirit. Here’s the posture. Here’s the disposition I want. I want reverence: hallowed be Your name. I want submission: Your kingdom come. I want contrition over sin: forgive us our debts. There’s a posture of humility, reverence, and contrition that Jesus attaches to prayer.
And it’s interesting. If you look at Psalm 25, David attaches certain attitudes and dispositions to his praying for God’s leading and guiding. You’ll see that it’s mostly humility and yieldedness.
If you’re going to ask for God’s will, God’s direction, the unfolding of His purposes in your life so you have clarity and confidence regarding the next step—it’s key that you’re humble, and it’s key that you’re yielded. Look at verse 4: David wants to be shown. Look at verse 4: David wants to be taught. Look at verse 5: David wants to be led. There’s a certain disposition of yieldedness before God. He’s not there to tell God what he wants. He’s there to listen to what God wants in and through him. His approach is marked by reverence. Verses 11 and 12: he talks about fearing God. He talks about doing it for God’s name’s sake. Verse 9 talks about humility. “The humble He guides . . . the humble He teaches . . .” Look at verse 2: trust. “I trust in you; let me not be ashamed.” Look at verse 10: obedience. “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth, to such as keep His covenant . . .”
So, that tells me something. Don’t miss this. When it comes to making good decisions, you better be in the right state. You need to have a certain frame of mind. You need to have a certain orientation of heart, and it’s this humility and yieldedness. Lord, whatever, wherever, however. That’s what God wants from us. God’s guidance begins with us sincerely admitting our need of it and continuing to be willing to follow it when we receive it. And, if those things are not in play, you’re not going to get it.
Look at Romans 12:1–2. We often don’t see this little word “prove” in there that’s so critical. Okay. Paul says, now, given the fact that I’ve just taken you on a tour de force of the gospel and the great doctrines of redemption, justification, election, adoption—in the light of God’s mercy, in the light of the gospel, given what Jesus did for you—here’s what you need to do for Him. Present yourself a living sacrifice. Renew your mind after the pattern of God’s Word. Don’t allow the culture to shape your thinking.
Now, notice what he says next: “. . . that you may prove what is that good and acceptable [pleasing] and perfect will of God.” How do you prove? How do you discover? How is God’s grace and will manifested in your life? By yieldedness, humility, presenting yourself to Him as a servant, as a student, as an apprentice. See, when it comes to guidance, we have it back to front. We think we need to understand God’s will that we may obey it when we actually need to obey it to understand it. Yield yourself, and you’ll prove what the will of God is. Obey the scriptures, and you’ll understand the will of God.
You see, we tend to think: hear, know, do. Hear and understand then come to know God’s will and do it. But the Bible says, no, it’s hear and fulfill the commandments of God, and you’ll discover what His will is. An example of that would be John 14:21. Listen to these interesting words of the Lord Jesus: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” Declare myself, disclose myself to Him. You want to understand God’s will and purposes for your life? You want that to manifest itself in your life? Well, then hear, do, and know.
I was reading an article by Elisabeth Elliot just recently that I find very challenging. It’s a little devotional that’s headed with this question: “Do you want an answer?” Okay, now that’s implying, here you are with a problem that’s got to be solved. Or here you are with a decision that’s got to be made. And the question is—when you go to God about that problem or that decision—do you want an answer?
She goes on to say this: “This is the question we need to ask ourselves when we are seeking ‘solutions’ to our problems. Often we want only an audience. We want the chance to air grievances, to present our excuses, to make an explanation for our behavior, rather than a cure. More often than not the clearest and most direct answer can be found in the Word [of God], but it must be sought honestly.”
She continues, “We can approach God’s word with a will to obey whatever it says to us about our present situation, or we can avoid it and say to anyone who would try to point us to it, ‘Don’t throw the Book at me.’”
I love that little challenge. Do you want an answer, or do you want an audience? Do you want to go before God and tell Him about your will, your desires, your plans and try and get Him to rubber stamp it? Or do you want an answer, which will mainly come through obedience and submission to His Word?
Haddon Robbinson, in his book on God’s will, tells the story of a golf pro in a golf club who was approached by a CEO of a company to try and help him correct some errors in his swing. So, they went down to the driving range, and the golf pro watched this man set up and take a swing. He started correcting him, but every time the CEO began to fight. “Well, you know, but that’s what I’ve done. And in some ways it works, and at other times it helps.” And this went on for a while until, after a few moments, the golf pro began to just agree with him. The session was ended, and the man paid him his money.
But another golfer a couple of feet away grabbed the golf pro and said, “That was interesting. After a while you just started giving him the answers he wanted. Why did you do that?” “Well,” the pro says, “I’ve been long enough in this game. Some people come in, and all they want to hear is an echo. They’re not looking for advice or correction.”
And sometimes we can do that with God. We go into His presence seeking His will, but all we’re looking for is an echo. We don’t really want His correction. That’s why posture is so important.
Prayer. Posture. Finally, purging. Let’s just fit this in. Purging. Again, this is kind of connected to the idea of posture, humility, submission, openness. If you trace Psalm 25, you’ll see this language again and again and again, of David trying to make sure that he clears the decks in terms of any impediment, any barrier, any obstruction to God’s work and wellbeing unfolded in his life. And so he asks God to forgive him on several occasions.
Let me just point you in that direction. Verses 6–7: “Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; according to Your mercy remember me, for Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.” Verse 11: “For Your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity, for it is great.”
And, by the way, David’s sins were great. You can add adultery and murder to the list. In fact, he pleads that his life is in such a place of submission and godliness that his integrity will protect him and invite God’s blessing. Verse 21: “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for You.”
David was aware of his weaknesses, foolish desires, selfish ambitions, covetous aims. He knew that they influenced him unduly at times in his life, and that would send him in the wrong direction. David was aware that he wanted the Shepherd’s leading, but he was aware that we like sheep tend to go astray.
We tend to get in our own way, and we tend to get in God’s way. That’s why we’re told, lean not on your own understanding. That’s why we’re warned in 14:12. There’s a way that seems right to a man, but it ends in death, disgrace, disappointment. He wants to be influenced by God. And, if he wants to be influenced by God, he’s got to remove the blockages, the sin, the disobedience that get in the way of God’s blessing and influence in his life. And that requires repentance and reformation.
You want to know God’s will? Get on your knees and start praying. You want to know God’s will? Make sure, while you’re on your knees, your disposition and orientation of heart is correct. You want to know God’s will? Begin by repenting, by removing those things in your life that are an impediment. We want clarity and certainty. God wants trust. We want the easy way. God expects cross-bearing. We want what’s best for us. God wants kingdom first. We want to move ahead. God wants us to turn back in repentance. We want guarantees. God promises Himself.
Here’s a closing thought. I want to go sideways with this just for a moment. Verses 6 and 7: “Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth . . .” How did that come up? Why does David go in that direction? He’s praying for God’s direction and deliverance in the midst of a trial, a trial that was brought up by people who hated him, treacherous people. And he’s praying that God indeed would not let them triumph. But it’s interesting. This present trial brought about by his enemies reminds him of past trials brought about by himself and his disobedience and his failure to comply to God’s will.
So, apparently David has his trials later in life, and they conjure up ghosts of sins from the past. I wonder, and I think there’s some merit to this. I really do, given the language of 6, 7, 11, and 18, where he pleads that God would remove his sin, that God would forgive his sin, that that would not get in the way of God’s blessing. Given his sin and his past failure, I wonder if David wonders if he’s destined to live beneath God’s blessing. I wonder if he’s concerned that maybe I’m going to live God’s second best because I have failed greatly. I’ve gotten off course tremendously in my life. You know what? Here’s me asking God to show me His ways, teach me His paths, lead me in His truth. He knows darn well there’s be many occasions I didn’t do that and didn’t allow that. I wonder what penalty I’ll pay for that. And so he begins to plead for God’s loyal covenant love, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness to be shown.
As we close, I don’t know about you, but I have pastored, and I’ve met people who right now live with their heads down because they believe they’re living God’s second best. They believe, maybe because of some delayed obedience or some flat out disobedience, that they’re being relegated to plan B, whatever that is. They’re playing on the Christian reserve team, whatever that is.
See, they missed out on God’s best and God’s blessing. I told you, Adrian Rogers has six myths. There’s the Map Myth, the Misery Myth, the Missionary Myth, the Miracle Myth, the Mystery Myth. And he has this one, the Missed Out Myth—that somehow you can miss out on God’s will. And that’s very prevalent, very popular. People who have sat under that idea go through life with their head down. You know what? I missed it, and it’s never coming back.
I’m going to let J. I. Packer—a brilliant mind—address it. He says, you know what? I want to address a particular fear that’s widespread in the church concerning God’s will. Here’s what Packer says:
“It may be stated as follows: God’s plan for your life is like an itinerary drawn up for you by a travel agent. As long as you are in the right place at the right time to board each plane or train or bus or boat, all as well. But miss one of these preplanned connections, and the itinerary is ruined. A revised plan can only ever be second-best compared with the original.
“The assumption is that God lacks either the will or the wisdom to get you back on track. A substandard spiritual life is all that is now open to you. You may not be on the scrap heap, but you are on the shelf. . .”
And he says that many Christians run scared of that. It paralyzes them in making decisions. Or, having made the wrong decision, they trudge through life with a heavy heart, believing that they have indeed missed the boat, so to speak.
Here’s what Packer says: “The kernel of truth in the above scenario is that bad decisions have sad consequences. . . . But beyond that, the fear expresses nothing more than unbelief regarding the goodness, wisdom, and power of God.”
Does God not have the ability to restore the years that the locusts have eaten? Does he? Of course. What about Micah 7:8: “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (ESV). All things work together for good. John Blanchard, in a message in Belfast, knocked me off my seat when he preached that text one night and said, “That includes your sins.” Woo! First time I heard that, that didn’t sound right. But it’s right. All things work together, even your sins. Now, your sins aren’t good, but don’t be thinking your mess up and your belly flop in life stunted God, painted Him into a corner, checkmated His sovereign will and purpose. God’s got multiple ways to get you where you need to be.
If you’re on a cruise and you miss the ship, you’re one of those people—I hate you, because you delayed my dinner on several occasions. But anyway, the beauty is that they’ll fly you to the next port, and you can get back on the ship. If they can do that, if Princess Cruise can do that, the Royal Caribbean can do that, can’t God get you to the next port to pick up where you left off and get you back on track?
I’ve got to put this story in. The first time I kind of confronted that idea of living God’s second best was in the home of one of our deacons back at Rothko Baptist. This man, Ted Cassells, was my Sunday school teacher as a boy. I can’t remember how it happened, but I ended up talking to Mrs. Cassells in the kitchen. I was probably in there scrounging something for supper. And she says, “You know what, Philip? I think I’m living God’s second best.” What? My first thought was, “Don’t tell your husband that.” That’s actually what she said, a deacon’s wife in our church. “I’m living God’s second best.”
I didn’t know what to say. If I could go back, here’s what I’d say: “I don’t believe that, Mrs. Cassells. Even if you made a mistake, even if you missed the boat, God is sovereign enough, wise enough, and able enough to forgive you your sin and get you back on track.” I’d say to her, “By the way, if that’s even true—of which I’m not sure—I think your son, David, is a pastor in Scotland.” And just on Tuesday of last week, I had lunch in Belfast with Stephen Cassells. Some of our young people know him and his wife, Lydia, from Newtownards. Her son’s a pastor. Her grandson’s a pastor. And she’s worried about the fact that she was meant to be a missionary and that maybe she’s living God’s second best. I don’t think so. I’m not sure what to do with that. Maybe God did move in her heart, but she’s not living God’s second best, is she?
God can restore the years the locusts have eaten. God can work all things together for good. I think that’s pretty good. She produced two pastors who are ministering to hundreds and hundreds of people. Stephen has stepped away from the pastorate in Northern Ireland and has applied to be a chaplain in the British Army. He’s excited about that new chapter in his life.
Father, we thank you for our time in the Word this morning. It’s a light unto our path, a lamp unto our feet. Life was not a choice for any one of us, but life is full of choices. That’s its magic, and that’s its terror. So, help us, O God, to delve into and dig into Psalm 25, where there are abiding principles from David as he seeks God to show him and teach him and lead him. Lord, help us to seek Your will on our knees. Help us to rip up our plans and make sure we start with Your plans, with the right disposition and submission and presentation of ourselves. Help us to repent and turn away from those things we know will get in the way of God’s way—so that we might see our way to a clearer future. For these things we ask and pray in Jesus’ name. Amen