************ Sermon on Proverbs 16:1-9; James 4:13-17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 23, 2000
"Follow God's Leading in the Home"
Robertson McQuilkin is the former president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary. While he was president his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
Early in the disease, Robertson decided to resign his presidency of the flourishing college and seminary he had nourished for nearly two decades. He chose to care for his wife. "Why?" you ask. Because it was his privilege and his duty. Because he loved her, and she needed him. Because he promised many years before to love her and care for her so long as they both shall live.
But what about the schools and the thousands of young people who were preparing at Columbia's college and seminary for worldwide Christian ministries? Didn't they have needs as well? Yes they did, but Robertson also believed in the sovereign God of the Bible. Though the need was great, he knew that others would be found to continue his work at the schools. Only he could serve his beloved wife, Muriel.
Thank God for a man like Robertson McQuilkin. I pray that every young woman who marries may find a husband like him, and that every young man who marries may prove to be that kind of husband. To be that kind of husband, do you know what it takes? It takes someone who is willing to follow the Lord's leading.
Rev. Fred Bakker and his wife Mary struggled and prayed for a couple of years. One Sunday he announced to his startled congregation that he and his wife had decided to enter the mission field. They sold their house and most of their worldly goods, they left their 4 children behind, and they moved to Nigeria. But that's not the end of the story. One year after they were in Nigeria, their 22 year old daughter in North America died of an aneurism. And, four years after they were in Nigeria they were back in North America because Mary had contracted an illness on the mission field that ended up killing her. Sad? Yes. But Fred has no regrets, and Mary didn't either, because they knew they were following the Lord's leading.
Grandpa loved the children. He took his grandchildren one at a time to the park for a special day alone. His daughter called me. She was crying. "What can I do?" she asked. Turns out grandpa was sexually abusing the children on their special day alone. The family prayed and cried and read the Bible, and then they prayed and cried some more. The decision was made, what a difficult decision it was: Children's Services were called. Grandpa was sick and needed help bad. The grandchildren needed counseling. How many other boys and girls had grandpa touched? In making their decision, this family, I am convinced, followed the Lord's leading.
In May of 1997 Ruth and I flew to Visalia to check out the Trinity United Reformed Church. But as I said to Ruth at that time, I had no intentions of moving to Visalia. We knew from TV and magazines that California was full of godless pagans, that the popular culture was nothing but drugs and sex, that many of the people were fruits and nuts, that the state was too crowded and dirty, and that everything weird in our country started in California – in other words, a bad place to bring our family to. The only reason I was checking out the church was because Peter Dragt had admonished me for my attitude and insisted I look the church over. Yet, five weeks later, I surprised myself, my family, and the congregation I served in Wisconsin by announcing that we were moving to California. Why did I make this decision? I was convinced that this was and is the Lord's leading. If you get the opportunity, talk to the Henken family and they can tell you how the Lord also led them from Wisconsin to California.
Now the question: do you follow the Lord's leading in your life, in your home, and in your marriage? Is He the Master of your life, the Captain of your soul? Do you live and hope and plan and dream as if He, not you, is in charge?
I God and His Leading Neglected
A There were 3 kinds of merchants at the time of James. There was the old Hellenistic mariners who never left the sea and shipped and sold cargo from one port to the next. There was the caravan traders who used camels, wagons, horses, and mules to bring and sell goods from one city to the next. And, there was local shop-keepers who traveled abroad to find goods and merchandise for their stores and businesses.
In verse 13 James pictures these merchants as making plans for future business ventures. They say,
(James 4:13) "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money."These traders pick the exact day of their departure: "today or tomorrow." They pick the city they will visit: "this or that city," and one can imagine them pointing the town out to one another on the map. They determine the length of their stay: "a year." They state what they will be engaged in: "carry on business." And they even state the profit they assume they will get: "and make money."
James holds these merchants up before his readers as a warning: "Don't be like them," he is saying.
Why does he say this? James wants to warn us against a worldliness which causes its victims to neglect God and to arrange their lives as though He did not exist and as if they alone were masters of their destiny. The merchants and traders James is acquainted with are a classic example of this sort of worldliness. In their work they act as if they are in control. In their plans they sound like they are in charge. They do their work, they make their plans, they have their hopes and their dreams, but in all of this there is no place for God or His leading.
B We always have to be on guard, dear people, against this sort of worldliness. It is easy, far too easy, to act and think and hope and plan as if we and we alone have control of our future. It is so easy for us to think that if we work so many hours, or save "X" number of dollars, or milk a certain number of cows, that then our hopes and dreams for the present and the future will be realized. It is so easy for us to plan next winter's vacation, or our European trip, or our new house, or our different job, as if we and we alone had any say in these things. It is so easy for us to neglect God's will and leading in all of this. It is so easy for us to avoid the question, "What does God want me to do? What is His will?"
II God, Not Man, is in Control
A In his proverbs, Solomon reminds us that man may do the proposing, but it is God Who does the disposing. Man can make plans and have dreams, but in the end he can do no more and no less than what God intends. In the final analysis, it is always God's designs and not man's plans that are being advanced.
With this in mind, let us listen to the wisdom of Solomon:
(Prov 16:1) To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue.The message of Solomon's Spirit-inspired wisdom is clear: our God is sovereign, He is in control, it is His purposes and His plans that come to fruition.
(Prov 16:9) In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.
(Prov 19:21) Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.
(Prov 20:24) A man's steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand his own way?
(Prov 21:30) There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.
(Prov 21:31) The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD.
B James is well acquainted with the wisdom of Solomon. He too reminds us that we are not in charge, that we are not in control.
(James 4:14) Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.We don't hold tomorrow. For that matter, we don't hold today either. They are in the hands of God. Even our life is not our own, but belongs to the God Who has numbered the days of each of us. We don't know – anyone of us – if today is our last day, or tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year, or next decade, or even half a century from now. We just don't know because our life, its days, its years, is not in our hands. It is, rather, in the hands of God. It is God Who is in control.
III Follow God's Leading
A What we are to do, dear people, is to recognize God's control. We are to follow the Lord's leading. James says,
(James 4:15) ... you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."Our plans, our hopes, our dreams, are to be made with God – His will, His leading – in mind. Our lives are to be lived in the awareness of God's presence and control.
"If the Lord wills." We can learn here from the practice of both the Jews and the ancient pagans. The Jewish rabbis insisted that these words be said at the start of any enterprise or the making of any plans. And, from the ancient pagans we learn that nothing should be done without first inquiring into the Lord's will. Among the pagans of the Ancient World, everything – battles, trips, marriages, feast days, and business ventures – was entered into only after the gods had been consulted to make sure the omens were right. The pagans knew that without the gods' blessing and leading their plans and hopes and dreams would come to nothing.
The Jews and pagans are right: we should always seek the Lord's leading. "If the Lord wills," should always be our motto and prayer.
B The Apostle Paul was a man who knew we cannot neglect or defeat the sovereignty of God. He sought the Lord's will in any and every situation. It was his desire to always follow the Lord's leading. He made no hopes, plans, or goals without also immediately adding a statement about God's will. For instance, when Paul said good-bye to the church at Ephesus, he said, "I will come back if it is God's will" (Acts 18:21). And, when Paul's friends and companions could not dissuade him from going to the city of Jerusalem, they said, "The Lord's will be done" (Acts 21:14). To the Christians at Corinth, Paul states that he would visit them in the near future "if the Lord is willing" (1 Cor 4:19) and "if the Lord permits" (1 Cor 16:7). To the church at Rome, Paul says, "I pray that now at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you" (Rom 1:10) and, "Pray ... that by God's will I may come to you ..." (Rom 15:31-32). Finally, to the church at Philippi, Paul says, "I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon" (Phil 2:19) and, "I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon" (Phil 2:24)."
C I remember being struck by the language of some old letters, letters written sometime between 1935-1945. I couldn't help but notice that more than one reference was made to God's will. The writers, a couple of teen-aged girls writing to their brother and brother-in-law, expressed some hopes and plans for the future "if the Lord wills" or, "if the Lord is willing." In not talking that way anymore, I believe we have lost something.
Every Christian, if he or she is wise, will seek the Lord's leading. Every Christian, if he or she is wise, will not ignore the Lord and His will when making decisions and setting forth plans.
• Are you thinking of marriage? What is God's will for your life? Does He want you to get married and to whom?
• Are you thinking of college? What is God's will for your life? What college does He want you to go to? What major does He want you to study? What career does He want you to prepare for?
• Are you thinking of a move, a career change? What is God's will for your life? Where does He want you to move? What does He want you to do?
• Are you thinking of expansion? What is God's will for your life? Does He want you to become bigger or does He want you to be smaller?
• Are you thinking of retirement? What is God's will for your life? Where does He want you to retire and what does He want you to do with your retirement?
Do you follow God's leading? Do you even think about God's leading when it comes to matters like this?
D How do we follow God's leading? One couple I know of uses "Bible roulette." They close their eyes, let the Bible fall open where it will, and then let a finger drop to the page. Under the finger is God's will for that day. Never mind the fact that they opened their Bible to a list of genealogies, or to the story of Gog and Magog.
There is nothing magical about following God's leading. It requires 4 things: Bible reading, prayer, an earnest desire to do what God wants of you, and the advice of family and friends.
First of all, it requires Bible reading. It is in the Word that God's will for His people is revealed. By reading and studying and meditating on Scripture we come to know what God wants of His children.
Second, it requires prayer – much prayer. It is in prayer that God's Spirit puts your spirit in touch with God. It is in prayer that you seek God and lay yourself open to Him.
Third, it requires an earnest desire to do what God wants of you. In any and every situation it does not hurt to keep asking, "What does God want of me? What does God want of us? What is His will for us?"
Fourth, it requires the advice of the people who know you best – family and friends. For instance, it was the advice of the people who knew me best that I accept the call of this church, and to the last church I served, and to the church before that ...
In marriage, and in all of life, we must seek to follow the Lord's leading. And, as I tried to indicate in my opening examples, this can be costly: quitting a career like Robertson McQuilkin, leaving home and family like Fred & Mary Bakker, turning in a grandfather as did that one family, my moving away from a people and place I loved. It can hurt to follow the Lord's leading. But afterwards, like the Rev. Fred Bakker, you will have no regrets because you know you did what was right.
To follow the Lord's leading can also be scary. You have to lean on Him, trust in Him, and put Your confidence and faith in Him. And yet, God promises that if we go where He leads, He will bless us. King Solomon, in our Scripture reading, says,
(Prov 16:3) Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.
Let me conclude with a story I came across in my study this past week:
Title: Creeping on the Promises
In the early days of our country a weary traveler came to the banks of the Mississippi River for the first time. There was no bridge. It was early winter, and the surface of the mighty stream was covered with ice. Could he dare cross over? Would the ice be able to bear his weight?
Night was falling, and it was urgent that he reach the other side. Finally, after much hesitation and with many fears, he began to creep cautiously across the surface of the ice on his hands and knees. He thought if he distributed his weight as much as possible he would keep the ice from breaking beneath him.
About halfway over he heard the sound of singing behind him. Out of the dusk there came a man, driving a horse-drawn load of coal across the ice and singing merrily as he went his way.
Here he was--creeping along on his hands and knees, trembling lest the ice be not strong enough to bear him up! And there, as if whisked by the winter's wind, went the man, his horses, his sleigh, and his load of coal, upheld by the same ice.
Now, like the weary traveler, some of us have learned only to creep upon the promises of God. Cautiously, timidly, with fear and trembling, we venture forth upon His promises.
God has promised to be with us as we follow His leading. Let us believe that promise! He has promised to uphold us as we seek to do His will. Let us believe Him when He says so. He has promised to bless us as we walk in His ways and follow His paths. Let us take Him at His Word!
Believing God's promises, let us follow His leading in marriage and in all of life.
Let me ask you, then, what I asked you before: do you follow the Lord's leading in your life and home and marriage? Is He the Master of your life, the Captain of your soul? Do you live and hope and plan and dream as if He, not you, is in charge?
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