We finish our series today "With All My Heart." We've sought to understand and obey the passage of Scripture we just read. We are called to trust in the Lord, and it is an easy thing for Christians to say to one another, but rarely understood about how it actually happens. It is only in day-by-day relationship with the Lord, acknowledging Him for all that He is (sovereign, wise, loving, and faithful) that we actually find our hearts growing to trust Him. Trust is nurtured and developed by knowing God personally, as revealed through His Word. The opposite of trusting the Lord is to lean on our own understanding. Last week we talked about how we do that by the stories we tell ourselves. We fill the gaps in information with stories and those stories are usually negative. And when we tell ourselves negative stories, we get bad fruit (worry, anxiety, depression, fear, etc.). We must take these thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ's Word. We must preach the true story to ourselves.
If you've missed any of the previous four weeks, I encourage you to go find them on our podcast, YouTube channel, website, or FB account. This week, we finish the series by looking at the last part of these verses, the promise: and he will make straight your paths.
So there is a promise in this verse that every believer needs to hear: He (God Almighty, the Living God) will make your paths straight. But notice first that the promise follows three particular exhortations: trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, and in all your ways acknowledge him. Those are the conditions the promise is attached to. We must trust the Lord, not lean on our own understanding, and in all our ways, day-to-day walking with the Lord and acknowledging Him, He will make our paths straight. So as we unpack this promise today, remember the conditions it is attached to. It's attached to everything we've talked about in the previous 4 weeks.
The imagery used in the proverb is a "straight path." A path is a way or track laid down for traveling. Paths lead somewhere. Paths are guides that take you toward a destination. And it is a straight path, tipping us off to the direction and nature of the path. Straight paths imply clear direction and purposeful destination.
Example: think about our interstates here in the United States, while each interstate has curves and changes in direction along the way, when you actually observe the entirety of an interstate, say I-40 or I-65, they are straight. One takes you East and West. The other takes you North and South. They are straight paths that lead you in clear directions and destinations.
Also take note that paths are created. When you see a road you can be assured that someone constructed it. Someone purposed to make it. If you were wandering in the woods and stumbled upon a path that cut through the woods as far as you could see, you wouldn't conclude that it was a bizarre manifestation of baldness in the forestry growth. You would conclude someone or something created the path.
What's the correlation to all this? Our lives, and the journey we are on, is a walk down a path. Scripture talks about our walk with God. The idea is that our lives are moving in a direction. Day-by-day, choice-by-choice. Everyone is heading in a direction and for a destination. That's reality. Everyone is on a path, but not everyone is walking a straight path. Not everyone is on the path that leads to life, some are on the path that leads to destruction. Some by trusting in themselves and by leaning on their own understanding, are on a crooked path filled with the calamities, potholes, and pitfalls of walking through life on their own.
This is what this Scripture promises us: God forges and creates the road upon which those who trust Him will travel, and it will be straight with purpose and intentionality. Or another way of saying it would be: quit worrying yourself with trying to play God, and instead trust that the One who is actually God has your life. Or if you want a shorter version, God says, "I got you."
You see, this challenges us to the core of our beliefs and worldview. When we hear, "and he will make straight your paths," we are immediately met with this question: "straight paths" according to whom? "Straight paths" by what standard? Is it a straight path according to you? Because if that's the case, then God has not promised that trusting Him will give you the straight path your flesh wants. Is it a straight path according to the world? Because if that's the case, God has not promised to give you what the world calls straight. Our fleshly desires and the world's desires are identical twins. God hasn't promised that. No, when God promises to make our paths straight, it is straight according to Him. It is straight according to His will, His desires, and His promises.
A challenge for your heart today: Is that enough for you? Is it enough for you for God to say, "I'll get you where I want you; I'll accomplish my purposes through your life; and I'll bring you to your Heavenly home"? This strikes at the heart of whether we have truly laid down our lives to worship the Lord. This confronts us to the core of our theology (what we believe about God) and our anthropology (what we believe about man).
Do you believe God is the center of the universe or do you believe man is the center of the universe?
Do you believe man exists for the glory of God or do you believe God exists for the glory of man?
Do you believe suffering is the disruption of your personal happiness and is to be avoided and escaped at all costs? Or do you believe that in God's sovereign wisdom that He has purposes even for our pains?
You see, how you answer questions like this will shape what you think a straight path is and what you believe that God is promising you in this passage.
Think about the biblical testimony. What has God promised His children who belong to Him?
He is with us (Christ through the Spirit)
He is committed to our sanctification and holiness
He is working all things for our good
He is interceding for us at all times and supplying us with helps for our needs
He uses our lives for His glory and to bring others to Himself (we have a purpose/telos)
He upholds our faith and supplies us with all-sufficient grace in our troubles
He prepares a place for us and will bring us into glory
He will return to make all things new and create a dwelling place with God and man here in a restored Earth
This is a snapshot of what we have been promised as children of God through Christ. Our path is straight. The Lord our God has saved and rescued us from the dominion and power of sin. We've been rescued from Hell, Satan, and ourselves. And on top of all of that, we have these incredible promises of His constant nearness and help, and the constant reminder that we will stand in glory for eternity with him.
But instead of recognize that as the straight path, most of us believe a straight path means clear from pains, suffering, and sorrows. Most of our daily fears and struggles with worry that consume our thoughts and emotions are tied to future unknowns, future hurts, and future trials. The path ahead presents fears and uncertainties. We know God promises He will make straights our paths, but what if we don't like what God calls straight? We must repent of this me-centered, unbiblical view of life and walking with God.
You will have troubles. Pains and suffering will come. God has purpose for it all, but also remember that the world is broken and in need of redemption. We want everything to be smooth and easy, and it's okay to want that. The problem is when we live expecting it. The problem is when we live demanding. And if we don't get it, we wag the finger at God. This is not the way, gang. This is not biblical Christianity. Biblical Christianity lives sold out to Christ, amazed that we've been reconciled to God through His finished work, and expectant of our future hope when we die or Christ comes.
As believers, we know we are living in between what Christ has already accomplished, and what is yet to still be done. Christ was crucified and raised, we've been redeemed and saved, and we await future redemption, but for now, we suffer while we wait. The Apostle Paul understood this. He couldn't believe God saved him. He was a denier of Christ and a persecutor of His people. Then he came to faith.
1 Timothy 1:15-18 -- The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Paul calls himself the chief of sinners, but he receive mercy so that Christ might display Paul as an example for others that they can believe and have eternal life also. Then Paul responds in worship at such grace. Notice, he doesn't believe he's owed nothing or deserving of anything. It's all mercy and kindness undeserved.
Paul's ministry would take him around the world, traveling to share the gospel and start churches. As he did so, he experienced hardships and suffering. He recalls them in a snapshot.
2 Corinthians 11: 23-28 -- Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
So Paul literally took beatings for the sake of Christ. He suffered hunger, cold, homelessness, and many other afflictions. Far from seeing these as questionable marks against the Almighty, he saw them as part and parcel of life on this side of eternity. He saw them as inevitable features of life in a fallen world in need of the gospel and Christ's return and final restoration. So listen to some more things he said, in light of his sufferings, about how he approached life and his pains.
Philippians 1:21-23 -- 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
The way he viewed his life: it belongs to Christ. His life is not his own. If he lives, he lives to serve Christ in whatever situation he is in. If he dies, it's gain! He desires to depart from this life and be with Christ. Why? Because it is far better! The problem with most of us is that we don't believe it is far better. We'll give that answer in Sunday School, but we don't believe it in our hearts. Most of us would rather carve out a comfortable life in the fallen world than to be with Christ where all things are made new. Not Paul! He said, "Give me Christ!" But if he had to remain, then he would serve Christ, because he did not belong to himself. He was bought. He was purchased. He was a doulos, a slave, of Christ.
Philippians 4:11-13 -- 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
He's content with whatever circumstances he's in. He doesn't fear tomorrow. He doesn't fret over money, health, or any circumstance. Why? He has learned to be content in all situations. He has found the secret: He can do all things through Christ who gives him strength. You see, this isn't a verse about playing basketball beyond your talent level or some other motivational help. This is the secret to surviving in the midst of all suffering, trials, and afflictions. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. As we acknowledge Him, cling to Him, and abide in Him, we can endure the pain and sorrows, because we're supplied with the grace to do so.
Romans 8:18 -- For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18 -- For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Both of these passages tell us how Paul, and we, can trust the Lord along the path. For we know the path ends in everlasting glory. We know these sufferings and light momentary afflictions are going to give way to the eternal weight of glory. Heaven awaits the children of God. Death will be swallowed up in victory. Sin is no more. Sorrow is the past. God dwells with us. And we dwell eternally with God, and the rest of God's people. That's where the path is leading. That's why it is straight.
In this series, we have been challenged on taking this super familiar passage and diving into the depths of understanding it so that we can live it. We want to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding, in all our ways acknowledge Him, and he will make straight our paths. We must trust the Lord and leave the rest to God. We cling to promises He has given us, and strive to live faithful to Him until that Day of our final redemption comes.
At the heart of it all, it demands more than a Sunday to Sunday faith. We must lay down our lives in full surrender to Christ. We must live seeking the Lord above all, and recognizing we belong to Him (if we are in Christ). Our lives are not our own.
So I'll let this final exhortation from Paul serve as the last words:
Colossians 3:1-4 -- If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Amen, come Lord Jesus come, let us appear with You in glory.
Discuss how trusting in the Lord, not leaning on your own understanding and acknowledging God in all your ways will make your path straight.
Do you trust the Lord to make your path straight or do you try to straighten it on your own when it seems curvy or bumpy?
Is the straight path that God is leading you enough for you if it doesn’t align with the world? What if it costs you a job? Or your savings? Or your health? Or your friends? Or your family?
Ready 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. Do you think there was something special about Paul that allowed him to endure all of this? What was the real reason Paul could endure (Proverbs 3:5-6)? Do you believe you are endowed with the same Spirit as Paul that would sustain you through the same trials and sufferings?
Discuss ways the world keeps us discontented with what we have so that we are always seeking more. How can we fight against this?