Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 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. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. (James 4:13-17)
What do you call it when we set our course, work out the details, make certain we know the results before we begin? Good planning? God calls it sin.
Even in the most trite clichés we pray that God will “guide, guard and direct us.” Yet, I want to challenge us to ask ourselves whether we really believe he will. Do you really believe God is in control of your life, or is your life and my life merely the collective result of the choices and decisions we make? Have we really bought the rational, humanistic model of life that has no place for God’s intervention? That this world is a mechanistic, natural law driven hunk of dirt spinning around in space, with a lot of little organisms which evolved by chance out of some galactic belch which spontaneously set the evolutionary wheels in motion and here we are? Maybe a little more advanced than monkeys, but driven by the same primal urges, subject to the same arbitrary winds of fate that rule our lives.
I know, we are prone to extremes. We think there are only two possibilities – either God is absolutely inactive (except for whatever passive influence he might exert through your reading the Bible), or God overwhelms a person’s life and every time a person blinks God personally directed it. Are we limited to those extremes? Or can we allow that God remains active in our world today, responding personally to our prayers, intervening and guiding and directing – yet allow that God has also given us free will to choose our own course (albeit sometimes with disastrous consequences)?
When I turn to God’s word, I find normal, everyday folks – not a lot different from us, who asked for, and expected God’s guidance in the decisions they made and the course they took.
No story seems to reflect this expectation more vividly than this story in Genesis 24:1-33…
Abraham is growing old, Sarah has died. He buried here in a place called Macpelah which will endure for generations as the burial place for many of God’s great men and women of faith. Isaac, the son of the promise is now 40 years old.
Abraham must secure the future of his son and one of his obligations was to find a wife for his son. (Oh no – you’ve got to be kidding! Parents picking mates for their children – especially for a 40 year old man. Of course that would never work today – our way works out so much better!)
To Abraham, this was a sacred trust. He must make sure that she is a woman who will complement his son, be a lifelong companion who will enrich his life and share both joy and sorrow. Most importantly, she must share his faith in the same God. And here lies the difficulty. God has sent him to a land of strangers – Canaanites whose gods are of sun and rain and harvest, but not the God of heaven and earth and all of creation. If he chooses a Canaanite girl for his son to marry, there is only one result that Abraham sees possible – she will lead his heart astray from the true and living God to follow after the gods of her people.
Can we park here for just a minute and say that that’s not just a concern of Abraham, but a concern that every Christian parent ought to share. And every young person who considers a future husband or wife should pay close attention to. Not as a legalistic, self-righteous, marry only your own kind attitude. But a realization that nothing is more important than our faith in God, and every choice we make must reflect that faith, and every choice we make, in turn, affects every other decision. But none more than the choice of whom we marry.
Listen to three scriptures that not only reveal God’s will in this, but also illustrate and reinforce how important it is:
When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD'S anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. (Deut. 7:1-4)
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. (1 Kings 11:1-3)
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial ? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (2 Cor. 6:14-15)
It was a principle that Abraham understood long before it was given in the commandments or in the words of the apostles in instruction to Christians.
The decision is made that a wife must be found for Isaac from among Abraham’s own people who share the same faith in God. The problem is that Abraham’s people live several hundred miles away in Haran in northwest Mesopotamia.
Abraham is aged and unable to travel, so he calls his most trusted servant, Eliezer. Swearing a solemn oath, Eliezer is commissioned to go to Haran to bring back a wife for Isaac.
Now, Eliezer isn’t at all sure this is going to work. He’s more than a little skeptical. How will he know when he has found the right woman? Suppose he finds a suitable wife, but she won’t return with him? Should he then come back and take Isaac with him? No, Abraham says, go to Haran and God will guide your selection and her return. Trust the Lord.
The journey begins. Every step of the way Eliezer is praying that God will guide and provide. Several weeks later the caravan of camels, riders, supplies and gifts arrives at the edge of the town as evening comes, just about the time the women would come to draw water from the spring.
Eliezer begins praying in earnest – Lord, please show favor to my master – let the right girl come, and let me know she’s the right one. Suddenly, a beautiful girl appears, coming from the city to the spring with a water jar upon her shoulder. She draws water, and just as Eliezer had prayed, she responds with kindness and generosity. She not only gives Eliezer a drink, but willingly waters his camels. She not only says and does the right things, but more important, she is the daughter of Bethuel, son of Milcah, who was the wife of Abraham’s brother, Nahor. Her name? Rebekah.
Merely coincidence? No, God has directed this journey and search to a perfect conclusion.
Still, Eliezer has the in-laws to deal with. Eliezer gave Rebekah several beautiful and expensive gifts, and asks if there is room in her father’s house where he might lodge for the night. Certainly! And she runs ahead to tell the news. Eliezer bows down and prays to God with thanksgiving: “Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.” (vs. 27) His faith is getting stronger.
As Eliezer arises from his prayer, he sees a young man running toward him – his name is Laban – we’ll meet him again later, and he won’t change much. Laban is Rebekah’s brother, and when he sees the expensive gifts she brings back, he wants in on the action: As soon as he had seen the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and had heard Rebekah tell what the man said to her, he went out to the man and found him standing by the camels near the spring. “Come, you who are blessed by the LORD,” he said. “Why are you standing out here? I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.” (vss. 30-31)
The camels are watered, fed and bedded down. Eliezer is led in to meet the family and eat. Up to this point, he hasn’t told Rebekah or her family what this is all about. But he is so excited and so urgent about his mission’s success that he has to tell them before he can eat. In vss. 35-48, Eliezer recounts his mission and journey up to that point, and then asks, “Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn.” Then Laban and Bethuel answered, “This is from the LORD! We can say nothing to you one way or the other. Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has directed.” When Abraham’s servant heard what they said, he bowed down to the ground before the LORD. (Gen. 24:49-52)
Eliezer is so struck by God’s providential guidance that he again bows down to the ground in prayer of thanksgiving to God.
He then begins passing out gifts to everybody, which makes especially Laban happy. After they eat they go to bed, and don’t you know that Eliezer didn’t sleep a wink, marveling at the events which God had orchestrated.
They arise early the next morning and Eliezer is anxious to return quickly now that his mission has met with success. But Rebekah’s family wants to delay her departure – perhaps they realize that they will never see her again. But Rebekah consents to go immediately and they begin the long journey home.
As they come to the land of Abraham they see a man standing, looking, off in the distance. As he comes walking toward the caravan, Rebekah asks who it might be, and Eliezer (I suspect with pride and joy) replies, “He is my master, Isaac.”
The concluding verses of this chapter tell us that as God had designed and Abraham had planned, Isaac and Rebekah marry and fall in love with each other.
I wonder if we have the courage to allow God to direct our steps and set our course and leave everything in his hands? Or do we feel driven to take matters into our own hands and do things our way and then as an afterthought ask God to approve and bless our plans and actions?
Centuries later, Jesus would suggest that very kind of trust and reliance on God – Matt. 6:25-33 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
I’ll confess, I spend a lot of time planning things and worrying about how they will work out. And yet, the very thing God says don’t do, is the very thing most of us do – worry. If we believe that God is in control of our lives, our future, our eternity, then we need to take him at his word – trust in him to do what he has promised.
So, do I quit planning and throw caution to the wind? No, but as James counsels us - Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will…”
But how do you know it is the Lord’s will? Do you listen for a voice? Depend on a feeling? I wish it were as easy as looking in a Bible concordance for an answer to your particular question – “where should I look for a job?” [I can just see it now - Hmmm – a,b,c… j… job – there it is – wait a second, suffering and hardship – I already have that job – oh JOB! Well, that’s no help at all.] Unfortunately, most of the questions we have don’t have an easy, cut and dried answer to look up in the Bible. But that doesn’t mean God’s word can’t give us guidance. What it does mean is that you need to spend enough time in the word that it becomes, not second nature, but first nature. That it has permeated your thought process and is so familiar that it provides the filter through which all of your choices and decisions flow. That’s called discernment. It is the ability to begin to see things from God’s perspective – through his eyes, if you will.
What if you don’t have that and still struggle with letting God’s word guide your thinking? Seek out someone who does. Make sure you have godly men and women in your life with whom you can spend time and talk about decisions – draw on their wisdom and guidance as you make your decisions. We all need the perspective and guidance of godly people whom God puts in our lives.
And throughout the process, bathe your decisions in prayer. Ask for God’s guidance, spend time at the foot of God’s throne humbly acknowledging that you don’t know which way to go and asking him to guide you. I love Jeremiah’s prayer – “I know, O LORD, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps. Correct me, LORD, but only with justice—not in your anger, lest you reduce me to nothing.” (Jer. 10:23-24)
And finally, trust the Lord. Take your step with confidence that the Lord will guide you and bless you in it.
Seek the Lord’s will, pray for his guidance and then trust him to provide – like he did for Abraham and Eliezer, like he did for Isaac and Rebekah.