Eight Words That Can Change Your Life

Amidst the swirling confusion surrounding the coronavirus and the mounting madness of cultural chaos, these eight words can mean the difference between mental stability and mental breakdown. They can mean the difference between success and failure in your business. These same eight words can save your marriage or hold the potential of bringing revival to your life and to your church.

I am about to share eight words that can change your life. Amidst the swirling confusion surrounding the coronavirus and the mounting madness of cultural chaos, these eight words can mean the difference between mental stability and mental breakdown. They can mean the difference between success and failure in your business. These same eight words can save your marriage or hold the potential of bringing revival to your life and to your church. What are those eight remarkable words? The come from the last verse of Psalm 46. Be still and know that I am God.

Recently, the Lord has led me to return to a book that I first read more than two decades ago. It was written by Austin Phelps. It was published in 1859. The title of the book is The Still Hour. Today, we would come nearer referring to “the still hour” as a quiet time—a time of personal devotion. When I think of a quiet time, I think of the person whose quiet time made an impression on me. We were staff members together in the 1980’s. Jeff had a deep commitment to a personal, private, daily meeting with God. For him, it was an appointment. Nothing interrupted it. Nothing was more important. From my observation of his life, nothing ever had a larger and more lasting impact that those moments he spent daily with God.

What is a quiet time? Very simply, it is an appointed time each day that you set aside to meet with God to seek guidance, direction, and refreshing from His presence. It is a time of Scripture reading and prayer. It should include both, but after that, a time of quiet waiting before the Lord—a time to be still and know that He is God.

These eight words urge you to plan a time into your day when you come aside from the business of everyday affairs, setting aside all other concerns, that you might turn your heart toward God seeking to benefit from time in His presence. Be still and know that I am God.

Those Words Serve as a Statement of Faith

The most extraordinary faith that God may ever require will be in the privacy of your own quiet time. That is where God calls you to simply be still, leaving all the problems and complexities of life to Him. The NASB translates this verse: Cease striving and know that I am God. God is saying, “Don’t do anything. Trust Me to do it for you! Don’t make plans. Pray! Don’t run. Rest in Me!” In your quiet time, you will grapple with your fears and your failures, with your sins and your sorrows, your desires and your destiny, learning to release it all, placing it in the Hands of God.

The very fact that you take the time to “be still” will be a statement of your enormous faith in God. You will be still for a portion of every day because you trust God to do for you what you can’t do for yourself. When the children of Israel stood between the waters of the Red Sea and the crush of Pharaoh’s chariots, there was nowhere to run. There was nowhere to hide. Yet, what was God’s command through Moses?  And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. Exodus 14:13

It takes great faith and great courage to stand still in the face of great danger, choosing instead to leave matters in the hands of God. It was to Jehoshaphat that God sent this word: You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’” 2 Chronicles 20:17 In essence, God was saying to Jehoshaphat, “Be still and know that I am God.

These Words Require a Sense of Expectancy

If you take the time to be still, God will honor your appointment. He will not interrupt you in order to meet with you, but He will have no trouble scheduling you onto His calendar if you will schedule Him into your own. If you set aside a time to meet with God, you can expect Him to meet you there. If you bring your Bible, you can expect Him to speak to you from His Word. You can expect direction for your life. You can expect hope for your heartache. You can expect strength for your weakness.

Some years ago, I was the pastor of a young couple who owned their own business. The wife managed the books with great precision. She managed her house with the same precision. She managed affairs at the church with the same precision as well as those at the school where her children were involved. If you wanted something done well, give it to Sally, and she would accomplish it! Sally’s car was graced with a personalized tag. The letters read: “TOO BUSY”. It was a good busy—and she needed to be, because just a few years later her life was cut short by an unanticipated bout with cancer. BUSY LIVES end too. Most of us have no plan for the unexpected. That is why we never need to be too busy to pray, or too busy to read God’s Word, or too busy to spend time with God.

The frenzied hurry of life rushes you toward many uncertainties for which you are unprepared. You have only navigated the past. You have no idea what lies ahead. But God does! Every day, you must leave the rushing current of life’s frenzy, and be still before God. You must seek His guidance and his direction. In 1 Chronicles 16:11, David said, “Seek the Lord and his strength, seek His face continually!” 

If you will seek God, you must of necessity be still! In the wilderness, as Moses led the children of Israel through their daily wanderings, life was slow and unhurried. But even in the days when life was slower—when it was still measured by hours and not by nanoseconds, there was a need for stillness to seek direction from God. To those wandering Hebrew people, Moses spoke these words: “Stand still, and I will hear what the Lord will command concerning you.” Numbers 9:8. Every day that you are too busy to be still before God, will be a day that you will miss His direction for your life. Be still and know that I am God.

Those Words Call for Confident Faith

In the O.T. book of Ruth, Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, gave her a bit of critical guidance. An important matter concerning both their lives was pending. Naomi urged Ruth not to fret, but to leave the matter in the hands of her redeemer. 

Then she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today.” Ruth 3:18

In the KJV the word Wait is translated sit still. Her advice to Ruth was to simply be still and know that the matter was in confident hands. Can you rest your concerns confidently into the hands of your Redeemer?

T.W. Hunt was a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He wrote a study called PrayerLife , The Mind of Christ, and also a book called The Doctrine of Prayer.

In the fall of 1974, Hunt’s family went through a financial crisis. They were unable to pay their daughter’s tuition at TCU, even in monthly installments. Although they prayed desperately, the situation only seemed to get worse. During that same time they had outstanding medical bills. Ultimately, they began getting second notices from the University. In spite of continued prayer, the load of debt became even heavier.

One weekend, their daughter came home from college. She seemed unusually distracted. Hunt’s wife probed her to discover the problem. She confessed that that she had been suffering with an awful toothache for weeks. with a head splitting toothache for three weeks. Knowing their financial condition, she was trying to bear the pain without causing them further expense. Dealing with a tooth required a visit to a specialist. That bill was also more than they could pay, and they had no dental insurance.

Hunt was broken, not so much over his financial condition, as he was over the strange delay in answer to their prayers. He searched his own heart for something in his life that might be holding back God’s answer.

His wife suggested that since he taught students that the Lord was their Friend, perhaps he should talk to his Friend Jesus about their problems. He took his wife up on that suggestion. He took two cups of bouillon to their prayer room and invited his friend. He talked to the Lord just as if they shared the room together. There he poured out the details of his problems.

At the end of November, he received a letter from his daughter’s university stating: “This is to inform you that a friend, who wishes to remain anonymous has paid your daughter’s tuition for this semester.” The other bills were all paid before Christmas. Hunt’s needs were met because he responded to these eight words that we have been talking about. Be still and know that I am God. They call for confident faith.

Finally, Those Words Require Absolute Surrender to God’s Authority.

Your burden may involve more than just your family. You may the leader of a large corporation. Who leads you? Have you considered that the God whose Word is life to your soul, is success to your business? If you will allow Him, if you will trust Him, if you will be still before Him, He will guide you as you guide your business. He will guide you through an unsettled economy and an unsettled culture. Will you give Him the opportunity to lead you?

Be still and know that I am God. Those eight words that can change your life. Those words can mean the difference between mental stability and mental breakdown. They can mean the difference between success and failure in your business. Those same words can save your marriage or hold the potential of bringing revival to your life and to your church.

So what do you need to do? You need to find a place. You need to set a time. Go there, and be still and know that He is God. Cease your striving.  Surrender your fears and your failures, your sins and your sorrows, your desires and your destiny, releasing it all to Him.

The Vaccine for Fear

In the face of this present crisis, you may be thinking, “My resources are not enough.” Looking at your health situation, you tremble, worried that your strength is not sufficient to withstand such an illness. You are not sure if you will be able to cope with the trials the crisis brings.

The world is looking for a vaccine for the coronavirus. Until one is found, nations, economies, and the lives of individuals, grind to a halt. While there is not at present a cure or a vaccine for the coronavirus, there is a vaccine for the fear that spreads in its wake. Even if you are not in one of those “at risk” groups, you suffer fear related to the economy or some other calamity waiting in the wings.

Fear usually results more from what we don’t know than what we do know. Fear can freeze your faith. It can stop you dead in your tracks, hindering your obedience. It can keep you awake at night as you toss and turn, imagining the worst. Fear can cast the shadow of gloom over your life.Is there an answer—a solution to fear. Is there a medicine that you can take that will soothe your troubled mind? 

The answer to fear is not in a pill or a potion but in a Presence.

Allow me to introduce you to a single verse from the book of Isaiah. Personally, I don’t believe it is accidental or incidental when we encounter a word from the Lord. For that reason, I hope you will be alert to what God might be saying to you. In this single verse, you will discover God’s Promise, His Peace, His Power and His Presence.

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.  (Isaiah 41:10)

In this present crisis, we need to look for God. We need to seek Him. Our one great longing should be to be in His presence. He is the answer to this present crisis that exists in our world as well as the crisis bells that ring inside our hearts. I believe being in God’s presence is the safest place that I can be, the richest place that I can be, as well as the happiest place that I can be. If I am with Him, I have all I need. Our greatest need is Him. We need His presence. 

In this verse, we have the Promise of His Presence.

Do not fear, for I am with you… Isn’t it strange how the presence of another person in the house at night diminishes fear? Alone, we imagine any creak of the house or rumble of the refrigerator as an intruder. But with someone in the house with us, those sounds don’t seem to bother us or unsettle us. The awareness of God’s Presence brings an end to fear. 

But have you ever wondered: “Is God really with me?  Does He care?  Does He know what I face?” God promises never to leave us or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5) By faith, we accept the simple promise of God’s Presence, and in so doing we find great comfort.

Is that not what the Lord says to you as you look down the road that you travel?  “I am with you. I will go with you.” When Moses responded in fear at the assignment that God gave him, God assured by saying, “My Presence shall go with you and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)

But this is not just an Old Testament promise. In Matthew 28:20 it is recorded as the last promise of Jesus to His disciples: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

His Presence Brings Peace

In Isaiah 41:10 God whispers: Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. God knows the road ahead of you. Any journey you take at His command, will be a journey overshadowed by His Presence. Any step you take in Obedience to Him, will only serve to bring you nearer His Presence and deeper into His Peace and Rest. 

Our troubled minds grope for peace, finding only misery until they rest in Him. Claim the promise of His Presence, and you will know His Peace. The peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds. He will surround you with His peace.

David, who himself knew what it was to experience His comforting presence wrote, “He will cover you with His pinions and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and a bulwark. (Psalm 91:4)

We have the promise of His Presence. The awareness of His Presence brings a sense of peace.

Third, When You Have His Presence You Also Have His Power.

In the face of this present crisis, you may be thinking, “My resources are not enough.” Looking at your health situation, you tremble, worried that your strength is not sufficient to withstand such an illness. You are not sure if you will be able to cope with the trials the crisis brings. Is God able? Is this God of the Bible able to see you through the darkest night or carry you through the deepest valley?What is it that God offers you in the face of your fears and in the face of your need? He offers you Himself!

I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Whose hand is it that promises your deliverance? Who will cover you with His pinions, and whose very Presence is a shield and a bulwark? It is God Himself! When God is with you, you have access to His Power. You have the assurance of His Peace, and you have the great Promise of His Presence.

What is the vaccine for fear? It is God Himself.

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.  (Isaiah 41:10)

When God says “fear not” He always gives a reason to back up why we shouldn’t be afraid? “Don’t be afraid because I am with you!” Is that the assurance God is giving you? 

You are worried to the point of exhaustion. The news changes faster than you can change the channels to watch it. What is going to happen? What will we do? Those are all hand wringing, gut wrenching questions. You’ve worn holes in your sheets as you toss back and forth trying to figure out how.  But the answer will not be found in asking how but in asking WHO. Amidst your alarm, God whispers, “Do not look anxiously about you, for I am your God.” God promises supernatural activity in your behalf. “I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

For those who are a little older or whose health situation makes them a higher risk as we pass through the eye of this storm, I offer this extra word of comfort from the book of Isaiah. I cling to this verse personally. 

“Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, you who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from the womb;Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you!” (Isaiah 46:3-4)

The vaccine for fear is God Himself. You may access this vaccine by faith, asking God to help you, to hold you, and to carry you. I am praying that you will trust God’s Promise, experience His Presence, and discover His Peace.

Photo by Piron Guillaume

How God Guides

What is it like to hear the voice of God’s Spirit? Is it audible?

How does a person go about discerning guidance from God? God doesn’t send out emails or text messages or newsletters offering His guidance. (I don’t get them. I don’t know about you.) So, how am I to recognize His guidance for my life.

I want to share an example from the life of Peter. In Acts chapter 11, Peter reported to the church in Jerusalem concerning his mission into Gentile territory. Christianity was in its infancy. The first believers were still wrestling with personal prejudices.  Initially, Peter’s mission created quite a controversy in the church in Jerusalem. They wanted to know who authorized such a trip. That is when Peter went into great detail concerning how God guided his journey. When we put together his explanation with the details of the story, we get a very clear picture of how God guides. 

Peter shares how it all began.  5“I was in the city of Joppa praying…Acts 11:5a

While there is no indication that Peter was specifically praying for guidance from God, that is when His guidance came. In prayer, we share our hearts with God, and He shares His heart with us. All the great men of the Bible, including Jesus, took time every day to pray.  If you will take time to pray, as you share the concerns of your heart with God, He will share the concerns of His heart with you.

In the previous chapter, where more details of the account are given, we discover Peter went up on the roof. He did this so he could be out of the hustle and bustle below where meal preparation was taking place.

Peter was just like us. He had no idea of what God was doing somewhere else in the world. Yet, what God was doing in Peter’s life had a direct connection to what God was already doing in another person’s heart. That man, Cornelius, was prompted by God to send to Joppa for a man he had never met. The man’s name was Simon Peter. Peter didn’t know that the men were already on their way. God set events in motion in two men’s hearts so that His purpose could be accomplished. That lets us know that God knew where Peter would be in advance. I have no doubt, the prompting to pray came from God. Peter went on to describe what happened while he was praying.

4But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision… Acts 11:4-5

I don’t know about you, but I wanted to know what that meant? Some translations describe it as a visionary state. However the Greek word used to describe Peter’s experience is a word that refers to a mind so fixed and focused on the things of God that all else fades away.In that moment alone with God, his spiritual perception became exceptionally clear, and God communicated through signs or symbols that appeared very real.God used that opportunity as a teaching moment to prepare Peter for what was ahead. This happened in the context of prayer, and I think we can safely say that without prayer, Peter would have missed this guidance from God.

First, Peter’s guidance was received in the context of prayer.

Second, in the context of prayer, Peter received a witness in his spirit.

While Peter was praying, something happened, but it happened inside Peter. He describes that moment, and it must have been just a moment. You understand the process of dreams. Peter’s experience involved a question and answer session about this sheet that he saw that was filled with animals.  Why did God have to use such a symbol to get Peter’s attention?  It was because Peter had a major hindrance to receiving God’s guidance. Do you have any idea what that might have been? It was his own prejudice. Likewise, one of our greatest hindrances to receiving guidance from God is our own personal prejudice.  We already have our own mind made up before we go to God to ask.  Therefore, one of our biggest challenges is being willing to allow God to mold our mindset to his.  If I come to prayer with my mind made up about the guidance I want from God, that is the guidance I will probably get.  I will not allow God to move my mind from my will to His.  Watch this struggle take place in the life of Peter.

I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, 6and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. 7“I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8“But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9“But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ 10“This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky.  Acts 11:5-10

The first part of God’s dealing with Peter was to prompt him to give up his own personal prejudices in favor of the will of God for his life.  As God guides you away from your own will toward His will for your life, He may use lessons from life just like He used with Peter.  

God may have something for you to do that is different from what you have in mind.  You may want to serve Him but not as a missionary.  You may want to be a missionary but not with a specific people group whose race or customs you find repulsive.  So God may lead you through a process of discovery to teach you to give up your will in favor of His own. That also has to happen in the life of a church. Each person must give up his or her own will for the church in favor of the will of Christ, who is the Head. When He reveals it, we must follow without question just as Peter did.

Obviously, this didn’t happen immediately for Peter. Peter’s initial response was to tell the Lord, “No.” But the process continued, until after the third time, God had Peter’s attention.  

When you pray, stay alert to see what happens next. You will notice that what happened next in Peter’s life was essential to him discerning the guidance of God.

Third, the witness in Peter’s spirit was confirmed by the witness of circumstances.  

11And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. Acts 12:11

Can you put two and two together?  If you pray, and ask God for guidance, what is it when the phone rings and someone who had no idea you were seeking God calls to give you information that fits right into how you had prayed.  That is guidance, and it is likely guidance from God.  

Suppose you are seeking God’s guidance about surrendering to be a missionary.  When you pray, you inform God that if He wants you to go to the mission field, you first need to sell your home.  You struggle with that issue because you love your home and you don’t want to give it up. So, you continue to pray and ask God for guidance.  Then one day someone calls you and tells you they were looking for a house in your neighborhood and were wondering if you ever thought about selling your home. What is that?  That is guidance.  It is the witness of circumstances confirming the witness in your spirit—and it all grew out of the context of prayer.

Fourth, the witness of circumstances was confirmed by the witness of the Spirit.

The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings.  Acts 11:12

These three events came for Peter in rapid succession.  First was the vision—this witness in his spirit. Then came the obvious providential circumstances.  And then like a bolt out of the blue came the witness of the Holy Spirit.

The time will come when God will make it very clear to you what He wants you to do.  He will show you the direction you should take.  The answer will come in the context of prayer.  It will come when you are willing to surrender your personal prejudices in favor of the will of God.  There will be a witness in your spirit.  There will be circumstances that take place that seem to confirm that witness.  But the ultimate authority is the witness of God’s Spirit who will say to you, “This is the way!  Walk in it!”

What is it like to hear the voice of God’s Spirit?  Is it audible?  For me it has never been.  But I can tell you this, although that voice has always come in a different way, I always knew it when it when it came. When God speaks to verify His leading, you will know that it is God.  

How can you be sure? There is only one way to verify God’s guidance. When God shows you the way—walk in it.

Finally, Peter’s guidance was verified in the context of obedience.  

12“The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. 13“And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning.  Acts 11:4-15

When Peter began to take steps of obedience, each one was verified by God.  He saw God’s activity.  He saw how God had been working to prepare the way for his visit to that home.  He saw God’s work in the lives of those to whom he preached.  But how would the guidance of God have ever been validated if Peter had not been obedient. There are some things that you will never know until you make the journey of obedience.  

Pray for God’s guidance.  As you listen for a witness in your spirit be sure that you are willing to give up your own personal prejudices in favor of the will of God. Watch for providential circumstances that God will use like signposts pointing the way.  Make sure that you have that vital witness of the Holy Spirit before you go.  Then when God shows you the way, walk in it and watch God work.

In the fall of 1988, I found myself in the small community of Camden, Alabama, being considered as the pastor of the church there. I didn’t know a soul. In many ways, it was like a foreign country to me. I was so apprehensive for myself and for my family. I needed some word from God about what to do.

I was alone in the back hallway waiting to enter the sanctuary. The instrumentalists inside began playing the prelude music. I recognized the tune. It was the familiar hymn, Trust and Obey. As they played, one of the verses of that hymn came clearly to my mind. “But you never can prove the delights of His love, until all on the altar you lay. For the favor He shows and the joy He bestows are for those who will trust and obey.” In that moment, I knew clearly what God wanted me to do. He wanted me to surrender my family and my future into His hands. The only way to confirm God’s guidance up to that moment was to obey. I did, and never once have I regretted the years I spent there. 

God’s guidance in one decision will not be a blueprint for another. However, these basic principles have helped me get a sense of God’s will for my life.  

Photo by Robin Noguier

Seeking God’s Guidance

Are you in the process of seeking God’s guidance about some set of circumstances that trouble you? Are you sincerely seeking the mind of God? Or, could it be that you are in the process of seeking Him to bless a direction that you have already taken or are about to take?

The capital city was in shambles. People were hungry and homeless. I can think of cities around the world today who are experiencing the practical implications of such a calamity. However, these people were living in Jerusalem in the time of Jeremiah. Foreign invaders, under the directive of the king of Babylon, captured the king. They murdered his sons before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes so that it would be his last visual memory. They burned the temple and every other house of size in the city, taking the best and brightest of the people captive. They did leave behind the poor, fearing no threat or reprisal from them. It is these, the poor and homeless, who stood in the rubble of what was once home, who came to an awareness of a need to seek God’s guidance. By the grace of God, Jeremiah was not taken captive and was allowed to remain in the land with these people.

Imagine the helplessness of these people. It was made worse by a power struggle going on behind the scenes in the chaos. A new leader was appointed by the invading king to govern these homeless poor. The new leader was murdered, along with many who gathered themselves around him, throwing these hungry, homeless poor into further chaos. Johanon, a leader who helped bring some order to the chaos, and personally rescued some of the people, felt things were about to get much worse. Fearing reprisal from the king of Babylon, these desperate people made up their minds to flee to Egypt.

In the calamity that swirled, confusion reigned in the hearts of God’s people. Perhaps your circumstances are not as dire, but you can certainly feel the desperation of these confused people as they grappled with decisions they needed to make in the midst of calamity. One of the dangers of decision making in the midst of calamity is: 

  1.  Confused People Tend to Follow Their Instincts and Feelings Rather than Following God. 

Their decision to return to Egypt was based on fear and on their perceived personal need. When God delivered His people from Egypt through Moses, He intended for them to never return.  Any return to Egypt was tantamount to abandoning their faith in the God who had planted them in the land.

Have you ever been flushed from your position of trust in the Lord by fear?  When you evaluate your circumstances from the eyes of fear instead of the eyes of faith, you will follow your instincts, your feelings, your fears, rather than following God? This is what these people were about to do. However, to their credit, they realized their need for God’s guidance. Therefore, these desperate people sought out the prophet Jeremiah. They asked him to pray for them, asking God for direction. The directions God gave them, as well as their response, can be found in Jeremiah 42.

Remember, one of the dangers of decision making in the midst of calamity, is that confused people tend to follow their instincts and feelings rather than following God. Consider the following request they made to the prophet Jeremiah.

Then all the commanders of the forces, Johanan the son of Kareah, Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people both small and great approached and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Please let our petition come before you, and pray for us to the Lord your God, that is for all this remnant; because we are left but a few out of many, as your own eyes now see us, that the Lord your God may tell us the way in which we should walk and the thing that we should do.” Jeremiah 42:1-3

That request seemed, on the surface, straightforward and very sincere. Most of us are willing to quiz God concerning His guidance for our lives.  We believe, just as they did, that God’s guidance is good medicine and should be considered in our decision-making process. What we believe and what we practice are often quite different.

Jeremiah gladly agreed to their request to seek God’s guidance in their behalf.

Then Jeremiah the prophet said to them, “I have heard you. Behold, I am going to pray to the Lord your God in accordance with your words; and I will tell you the whole message which the Lord will answer you. I will not keep back a word from you.” Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with the whole message with which the Lord your God will send you to us.Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, so that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our God.”Jeremiah 42:4-6

However, these people suffered from the same basic problem we struggle with today when we seek a word from God.

2.  Too Often, God’s People Seek a Word from God that Will Affirm the Way They Feel.

There is a great deal of commitment on the surface of their promise in verse six.  There is also a great deal of truth in their understanding of the ways of God.  It will go well with us when we listen to the voice of our God.   Are you in the process of seeking God’s guidance about some set of circumstances that trouble you?   Are you sincerely seeking the mind of God?  Or, could it be that you are in the process of seeking Him to bless a direction you have already taken or are about to take? Always make your decisions based on God’s guidance and His knowledge of your circumstances, and not your own.  

3. When You Seek God’s Guidance, Make Sure You Abandon Your Personal Priorities in Favor of the Will of God. 

While that appears to be what they had done, as the story unfolds, it is clear they failed to abandon their own plans.  They were still leaning on their own understanding.  Do you trust God’s will over your own?  Do you believe God’s will is always best—that his directions are always right?  Until you do, you will not abandon your ways in favor of His ways. 

4. When You Seek God’s Guidance, You Must Be Willing to Wait for a Word from God.  

Now at the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. Jeremiah 42:7

How long did it take an Old Testament prophet to hear from God? The time varied—but it always required waiting.  Jeremiah waited before the Lord for ten days. Seeking God’s guidance does not mean making a decision—asking for God’s blessing—and then taking steps in the direction of the decision that you have made.  Seeking God’s guidance means praying, and making no decisions and taking no steps, until you have a clear word from God.

The greatest evidence of a person’s faith is not how quickly they make decisions but how long they are willing to stand still waiting for a word from God.  Circumstances often scream hurry.  Faith whispers wait.  These people were forced into seeking God’s guidance by the desperation of their circumstances.  What is the crisis that is prompting you to seek the Lord?

Then he called for Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces that were with him, and for all the people both small and great, and said to them, “Thus says the Lord the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition before Him: 10 ‘If you will indeed stay in this land, then I will build you up and not tear you down, and I will plant you and not uproot you; for I will relent concerning the calamity that I have inflicted on you. 11 Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you are now fearing; do not be afraid of him,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I am with you to save you and deliver you from his hand. 12 I will also show you compassion, so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your own soil.Jeremiah 4:8-12

This was a crisis controlled by God.  As they received God’s guidance, they learned their calamity was God imposed. It was sent because of their sins, and it was sent to prompt them to seek God.  It was a calamity from which they could bedelivered, if they responded in obedience to their word from God.  

If there is a storm of calamity swirling around your life, you need a word from God.  You need to hear what God is saying to you in the midst of your circumstances.  As the stormy mists swirl around you, you might be tempted to look at your circumstances through the eyes of fear. If you do, you will be guided by your feelings.  Instead, ask God to show you your circumstances through the eyes of faith. In Experiencing God,Henry Blackaby wisely observed, “You never know the truth about your circumstances until you have heard from the truth.” What is God’s promise? What is God’s guidance? What is God’s perspective of your present calamity? Ask Him. Wait for an answer, and as you prayerfully wait, pledge to do whatever He tells you. Above all else, keep that promise and obey God!

5. God Waits for Our Obedience to Bring an End to the Crisis that Has Come into Our Lives!  

God’s word was “Stay in the land…”The situation that swirled around them was desperate. All their precious things had become a ruin. There was terror on every side.  But if they would hold their ground and trust God, He would work all things together for their good.

What is the word that God has spoken to your heart in the midst of your circumstances.? Has He whispered,“Wait, Stay, Trust?”  Or could the fear in your heart be because He has whispered, “Go to a land that I will show you?”Whatever God’s word is to your life, your obedience is critical.

When you are seeking God’s guidance, you must come to the firm conviction that you will do whatever God asks you to do. Unfortunately, their commitment to obedience was a commitment of the lips and not a commitment of the heart.  Is your commitment to obedience a heart deep commitment?  Are you ready to do whatever it is that God is calling you to do?

6. When You Receive God’s Guidance, It Will Require You to Act in Faith in the Face of Your Fear.  

13 But if you are going to say, “We will not stay in this land,” so as not to listen to the voice of the Lordyour God, 14 saying, “No, but we will go to the land of Egypt, where we will not see war or hear the sound of a trumpet or hunger for bread, and we will stay there”; 15 then in that case listen to the word of the Lord, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “If you really set your mind to enter Egypt and go in to reside there, 16 then the sword, which you are afraid of, will overtake you there in the land of Egypt; and the famine, about which you are anxious, will follow closely after you there in Egypt, and you will die there. 17 So all the men who set their mind to go to Egypt to reside there will die by the sword, by famine and by pestilence; and they will have no survivors or refugees from the calamity that I am going to bring on them.”’”Jeremiah 42:13-17

Remember, these people had already set their mind to go to Egypt before they consulted God.  Does God know the true motives of our heart when we pray?  Does He know when we are seeking Him to bless our plans and when we are seeking to know the blessing of His plan for us?  He does!  We would do well to hear the warning He gave to the people in Jeremiah’s day and to hear it loud and clear.  

Please understand that the fears of God’s people were well founded. They had reason to believe the King of Babylon would retaliate because of the assassination of the governor he placed over them. But the King of Heaven was Sovereign over the affairs of His people. HE STILL IS! God is well aware of the dangers we face as we follow Him.  If you continue to allow your life to be ruled by your feelings and your fears, you will miss the activity of God.   The very things that we fear will hound our every step if we head in any direction other than the one assigned to us by God.  

Remember their commitment:Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, so that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our God.”Jeremiah 42:6

Jeremiah warned them about doing otherwise.

19 The Lord has spoken to you, O remnant of Judah, “Do not go into Egypt!” You should clearly understand that today I have testified against you.20 For you have only deceived yourselves; for it is you who sent me to the Lord your God, saying, “Pray for us to the Lord our God; and whatever the Lord our God says, tell us so, and we will do it.” 21 So I have told you today, but you have not obeyed the Lord your God, even in whatever He has sent me to tell you. 22 Therefore you should now clearly understand that you will die by the sword, by famine and by pestilence, in the place where you wish to go to reside.Jeremiah 42:19-22

Their response to God’s word and warnings through Jeremiah is recorded in Jeremiah 43.

But as soon as Jeremiah, whom the Lord their God had sent, had finished telling all the people all the words of the Lord their God—that is, all these words— Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You are not to enter Egypt to reside there’; but Baruch the son of Neriah is inciting you against us to give us over into the hand of the Chaldeans, so they will put us to death or exile us to Babylon.” So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces, and all the people, did not obey the voice of the Lordto stay in the land of Judah…. and they entered the land of Egypt (for they did not obey the voice of the Lord) and went in as far as Tahpanhes. Jeremiah 43:1-4; 7 

7. Never Take a Step that Will Violate Clear Guidance from God!

What a sad commentary on the faith of God’s people. They were walking by their feelings and not by faith. They were viewing their circumstances through the eyes of fear and not the eyes of faith.  They made their decision, leaning on their own understanding rather than the guidance of their God. If you are on the verge of violating clear guidance from God, don’t! Stop! Wait! Reconsider! It will go well with you if you will do what God wants you to do! If you disobey God, the very disaster you fear will overtake you. 

I don’t know your circumstances. I don’t know your calamity or how deep the chaos is that swirls around your life. However, I do know the God who spoke order out of the chaos of pre-creation, who spoke light out of darkness and life out of deadness. I know Him whose way is in the whirlwind and the storm and the clouds are the dust of His feet. He has the power to say to the storm in your life, “Peace, be still!” 

Don’t make decisions without God’s guidance. Seek Godly counsel to help you understand the will and ways of God. Don’t act on fear or instinct. Always act in faith based on God’s promises. Seek a word from God in the midst of your personal circumstances. Be willing to wait for it. Whatever God says to you, be sure to obey His counsel and follow His direction. 

What are the circumstances that stand in your face and scream for you to take matters into your own hands?  The situation screams hurry! But in your heart, a still small voice whispers “Wait!”  Which of those voices will you allow to govern your life?

Photo by Joshua Watson 

Is Your Hand to the Plow?

Once you put your hand to the plow of following Jesus, if you look back, you will live a crooked, tentative life. Plowing requires a single-minded focus, and so does following Jesus.

Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9:61-62

When I was growing up, my grandpa and my dad did a bit of farming. I have fond memories of riding my grandpa’s mule between the fields. My family spent long hours with hand on the plow, preparing fields, and laying out rows. Great value was placed on the rows being straight, for as the crop came up, it had to be plowed again and again to keep it free of grass or weeds. As a young boy growing up in South Mississippi, I was blessed to have a few opportunities to hold the plow and do my best to keep in step with the mule. There is an art to guiding a mule. He will go where you want him to go, as long as you know where you are going. You can’t plow looking back over where you’ve been. You will plow a crooked row and perhaps damage existing plants. Once you put your hand to the plow of following Jesus, if you look back, you will live a crooked, tentative life. Plowing requires a single-minded focus, and so does following Jesus.

Since I was a young person, verse 62 has troubled me. It has been a plumb-line, hanging down beside my life, as a measure of my own personal commitment to Christ. I identify with this man’s own conflicts and commitments toward home. My life is not the only life measured by this verse. It measures all who hear the call of Christ to come and follow, or who have expressed some semblance of commitment to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

I didn’t understand until recently that this verse is set in contrast to an earlier verse in the same chapter where it is said that Jesus’ face was steadfastly set to go to Jerusalem. He made that decisive decision to follow the will of God for his life, having counted the cost. He knew all it would mean, and he was making the journey. He refused to look back, even when facing the cross.

It was in the face of the divided commitment of a would-be disciple, that He contrasts it with His own absolute abandon to the will of God. But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9:62

Jesus was not suggesting it was a sin to have an affection for home or an obligation toward those at home. These people were not asking for a moment to take care of what was necessary—they were putting forward an excuse that would not allow them to follow. That excuse could have been anything. It could have been family, it could have been treasure, it could have been pleasure. If you will notice, the way this would-be disciple worded it said it all, “But first…”

Is there anything wrong with that? Is there anything wrong with having a priority higher than following Christ? YES! Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9: 62

This man had no intention of following Jesus. Saying “goodbye” meant finishing that phase of his life. In other words, he was saying, “Let me raise my children, then I will follow you.  Let me reach retirement, then I will follow you.” 

Is it not true that some of you made such a commitment? But now, time has come and gone since you made that promise. Since then, the children have been raised, and now there are grandchildren, and you still can’t follow. Retirement has come, and with it, other concerns, and you still can’t follow. Something always comes first. Something always will, until you determine that Christ will be first above all.

Jesus didn’t excuse this gentleman for his commitment to his family. He will not excuse me. He will not excuse you. “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9: 62

Follow Me!  This is the first step of the Christian life. To say you believe, but never begin to follow, is to prove your unbelief. Once you do begin following Jesus, living for Jesus and putting His will ahead of your own, must remain the focus of your life. 

There is a story in our Bible that is  a perfect illustration of the kind of commitment our Lord requires. It is the story of a young man named Elisha, who was led of God to follow Elijah the prophet, so that he too might become a prophet of God.  He was plowing a team of oxen. He had his hand on one plow, but God was calling him to lay hold of another. 

The Bible says, “He (Elisha) left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he (Elijah) said to him, “Go back again, for what have ai done to you?” So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.  1 Kings 19:20-21

Didn’t he do exactly what Jesus found unacceptable? Didn’t he say goodbye to those at home?  Yes! But it was a real goodbye. He made sure he put his hand to the plow of serving God and that he would never look back to plowing the field again. He cooked his animals and burned his plows and followed the plan of God for his life. He took care of the excuse so there would be no turning back. 

As a 17 year old boy, I sat in the office of Dr. William Clawson, a Bible Professor at William Carey College, who took time to guide me about ordering my life to pursue God’s calling. He urged me to so order my life that I would never be able to look back or go back. That is what I did, and I don’t regret it. I cherish his counsel to this very day!

So it was with Elisha. He could be one or the other. He could be a farmer, or he could be a prophet. He could not be both. The Lord required him to follow with absolute abandon. He requires the same from you and me. “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9: 62

There are no exceptions to this rule. That is why Jesus always laid out the true cost of discipleship. “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” Luke 14:33None of you means you. It means me. 

This is true at the very beginning of the Christian life. There can be no excuse for me not following Jesus… no “but first.” The priority of my life, the focus of my existence from that day forward, must be to follow Him. But don’t fail to understand the Lord’s emphasis here. This is not only the requirement as I begin to follow. This is the journey of the Christian life. There should never be an excuse for a delay in my obedience. My priority is absolute abandon to the Lordship of Christ. 

I should never be found saying: “Lord, I will follow, but first…” ” Lord, I will serve, but first…” “Lord, I will go be a  missionary, but first…” “Lord, I will forgive, but first…” The “FIRST” in your life is always to be following Christ. To excuse your way out of the obligations of following Him, at any point along the way, is to lose fellowship with Jesus from that moment forward.  

He is to be Lord of my heart and Lord of my home. He is to be Lord of my actions and Lord of my attitudes. Should I offer Him an excuse as to why my will, at some crossroad, cannot bow to His Own, then I will hear him say to me what he said to this gentleman in the book of Luke.“No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9:62

The standard, the plumb-line of my commitment, is my Lord’s commitment to go to the cross for me without looking back. He steadfastly set his face to follow God’s will for His life. I am to steadfastly set my face to follow His will for mine.

I understand this means something different for everyone who might read this. The cost of full surrender to Christ for you may be far different than it is for me. You may risk being excluded from your family. You may face physical suffering or imprisonment. You may lose your job or even your life! Nevertheless, the plumb-line remains: “No one, after putting HIs hand to the the plow and looking back, is for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62

I conclude with a final challenge from the author of the book of Hebrews, who, after he finished a list of those whose lives exemplified such absolute abandon, wrote the following:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1, 2 NASB)

Put your hand to the plow, keep your eyes on Jesus, and never look back!