It takes all of us a while to learn how to follow God’s plan in the way in which He wants it to be followed. Perhaps the longest part of that process is figuring out that His plan isn’t all about us, but actually, all about everyone.
For me, it has taken nearly thirty years to realise that God isn’t at my disposal, but rather that I should be at His. It has only been very recently in which I am beginning to understand how to detect God’s will in any given situation, particularly ones in which there are choices to be made.
I speak of this as if it is something new, but it isn’t. In fact, this is the most simple part of walking with God. It is the most basic lesson He teaches all of His children. However, because we are fallen; because we are all about ourselves; because we, by default, will put our own interests first, the notion of simply taking instructions from someone else is deeply abhorrent to us. We dress it up with all sorts of excuses, but the reality is we hate authority. Or rather our flesh does. Our spirits have been given new life because they are designed to obey God’s Spirit.
It is easy for the church to believe that it has the monopoly on doing God’s will. This short-sighted approach fails to take into consideration that because of their fear of God, many have chosen His way long before we care to think. The Narrow Way has always been there. It was there in the garden when Eve was tempted by the serpent – she could have chosen to stick with what God had already said. But she didn’t. In Part Three of this series, we looked at how examples of this were to be found throughout the Old Testament. However, as many as there were who failed to keep God’s commandments and instructions, there were others who learned, over time, how to follow God’s plan.
Jeremiah referred to this as the good way where you can find rest for your souls (Jeremiah 6:16). Isaiah called it the Highway of Holiness (Isaiah 35:8). This Narrow Way was available long before the coming of Yeshua. It required obedience and patience, and most of all, faith.
When Yeshua taught His disciples, He taught them from everyday life. They were together all of the time for over three years. They ate together, lived together, and experienced everything together. All of those original twelve whom He chose, would have been brought up well-grounded in the Tanakh (Old Testament). They would have known that when He was teaching them, He was always doing so from the frame of reference of the Tanakh. Everything they learnt was referenced through the prism of what God had already spoken.
Today, sadly, our own frame of reference is not the Tanakh. Instead, the context through which we view everything is the things of the world – like films and TV shows and social media. We look at what the Bible says in the light of how it will affect our lifestyles. We look at what we think God wants us to do through our own cultural frame of reference.
A while ago, my mother gave me a scripture for what lay ahead of us. It came when we first started with Cornerstone. It is a widely quoted verse, and one which people tend not to consider exactly what it means. This is because it is so well known and that it rolls nicely from the tongue:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” [Proverbs 3:5]
That was nearly three years ago. Today, I am just starting to grasp the full extent of what God is saying to me about this simple verse. Back then, I merely purposed to do it. But that intention was based solely upon what I understood the verse to mean at the time. Today, not only do I read it differently to how I did back then, but I also acknowledge that God, in His mercy, has taken me through a process in which I have had to learn what it means to actually trust in Him, and to forget about what you may understand about a given situation.
Please allow me to paraphrase this beautiful verse to reveal what God has been showing me:
“Rely upon Yehovah. He is trustworthy and true. He will not let you down or forsake you. Give over all of your heart to Him. Let your heart be as a field of good, well-tilled soil, so that the seeds He sows there will all grow and produce a mighty harvest. Don’t trust and rely upon your own understanding of any given situation. It is flawed. Even when the circumstances are difficult accept that God knows better than you and rely upon His wisdom when He shows you the way in which to walk. You cannot rely upon your own knowledge or wisdom – it is all built upon the foundation of self-interest. Trust in God.”
I know that it doesn’t roll from the tongue quite so nicely as the New King James translation does, but it serves to remind me exactly what He has taught me since my mother gave the verse to me. And it also reminds me that my own frame of reference has to be the same frame of reference as the disciples had. Their cultural setting and the writings of the Tanakh reveal God’s wisdom. If I don’t view the things of God in the same way as Yeshua’s disciples did, how can I possibly aspire to be one of His disciples myself? Whilst it is absolutely true that God’s wisdom is such that it transcends everything else, in order to find my own way onto that Narrow Path, I have to forget all I know; all which I think I understand; everything I have ever learned, and count it all as nothing, that I might empty myself enough to be able to lean upon God and trust Him to show me the right way.
If you take a look at Paul’s own epiphany on these things, you will see that despite everything he knew, and all he had been taught at the feet of his Rabbi Gamaliel, he counted it all as nothing. Here’s some of what he wrote on the subject:
“For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:
Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Isra’el, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” [Philippians 3:3-11 NKJV]
Stop for a moment, if you will, and consider the mind of Paul in writing these things. Everything he was and knew, he counted as loss. That is to say, that all he had ever been taught, all he had become in the eyes of his fellow Hebrews, everything, he gave up and cast from himself in order to share in Christ’s sufferings for the sake of the gospel, that by doing so, he might also share in the power of His resurrection and on the day of the Lord, be found ‘in’ Christ, and therefore saved from judgement.
Notice too that he understood that up until he believed in Christ, he sought righteousness through observing the written law. He had been doing that all his life, even when he was so young that his parent’s saw to it that it was done according to the law. And yet, God had taught him that the righteousness which comes from the law is worthless. Self-righteousness. Nothing more. But, because he trusted now in God and His salvation, by having faith in the person of Yeshua, for that same salvation, he is awarded the righteousness of God, in the same way in which Abraham was awarded it – by faith. Paul repeats this idea in order to drive it home to his readers – it is faith in God which produces righteousness. We actually have to learn to let go and trust in God for our answers.
Paul taught the same message to all whom he showed how to follow Christ. He didn’t make disciples of his own, but rather disciples for Christ. He wasn’t their leader, but the example they should follow as a practical guide to learning how to rely upon God and not on them selves. The entire letter to the church at Philippi is all about this. And, it is this which God has been teaching me. But first He had to teach me to get the right perspective on what He had already said. Then I could start to see Yeshua as I should. He challenged me to view the gospels through the eyes of a Hebrew. I did, and it changed everything.
Those early disciples took a while to shake off what they knew. God doesn’t often tell us straight and to the point because He knows we will want to reject what He is saying. He shows us by experience where our faults rest. Yeshua employed the same methods with His disciples. This should be unsurprising since Yeshua and Yehovah are one and the same. Read through the gospels and see how many times Yeshua reprimanded His disciples for leaning on their own understanding. It took them three years to get it. How often did Yeshua accuse them of having so little faith? How often did He have to repeat Himself before they finally understood? These questions are clearly rhetorical, but my point is that it all boils down to simply believing what God says. Nothing more complicated. Just a childlike faith.
I suspect that for them, like there has been for me, there came a watershed, a moment when they finally got it. It came for me very recently. That is not to say that I now understand, because I don’t. But it is to say that I can now practice what it means to actually trust in the Lord with my whole heart. And it does take practice. None of us will ever reach perfection in these matters. But I have learned, as I am sure the disciples did and am certain that Paul did, how to consult God at every moment and seek His wisdom. And when His wisdom comes, however contrary it appears to my own understanding, to trust it and walk in it.
I won’t go into details here, but I saw this in action last week (God is teaching me with my own experiences as I write these posts), when faced with a challenging situation. I had been arming myself with the words which I thought would produce the most favourable outcome, in the days leading up to the event. However, on the day before this challenge, I felt God’s wisdom (when I finally asked for it) to be contrary to my own. I felt that He was showing me that I shouldn’t speak, that I should just allow the situation to unfold, that I should remain silent unless asked a question. I did this, and do you know what, the outcome was more favourable towards us than I could have ever imagined it would be. It was a tough situation, and I really wanted to put my own views across, but chose not to and trusted in God’s wisdom. He did the rest. There couldn’t have been a better outcome, given the circumstances.
And so, it is ongoing. What I learned last week is that God will allow me to continue to learn until it becomes second nature to me. He will keep putting me in situations in which I can practice actually trusting in Him until it becomes the automatic choice. It is easy to theorise all these things but actually doing them means that God is taking the time to teach you. Then you should be truly happy, for He only disciplines those whom He loves!
But, be warned, like all habits of the flesh which need breaking, it can be very easy to fall back into old habits. It will be a continued process that requires dedication and adherence to what He says. Just take a look at what Paul continues with in Philippians:
“Not that I have already attained or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this in mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.
Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.” [Philippians 3:12-16 NKJV]
It is good to be clear in these matters, just as Paul has set the example to follow, we should follow accordingly. Even Paul, writing this letter in the last years of his life, knew that his own race would soon be over, conceded that he was far from being perfected. His humility is the example we must follow – to seek God in everything; to accept that we know nothing before the Lord; and to continue along the path God has made clear to us as a result of our humility before Him. Paul’s challenge to every single one of us is to forget what we have learned whilst in the world, and to come out of the world and to seek to continue in walking the Narrow Path set before us by our Lord and Master.
The upward call of Christ is our prize – then, when we receive our spiritual bodies, we will be perfected. There will be no more flesh to distract us with its desires and yearnings. For now, however, he urges all of us, wherever we are in our journey, with learning to obey God, to be unified as we walk, and to be mature, spiritually. The same mind of which he talks he would have first seen amongst those early pillars of the church. Paul learned from them with humility that we might learn from him. If we don’t, then we are lost.
Throughout the gospels we see that the disciples learned, over time, to walk as Yeshua did. Even though Yeshua is the Son of God, He didn’t once try to attain anything other than humble submission to God. Somehow, today’s church has got to a place where it thinks that following in Christ’s footsteps in this way is not for them. However, I can tell you from experience that this is the mind that God would have in each of us. If we don’t acknowledge that, before God, we know nothing, then we allow pride to enter our minds. Our flesh will want us to feed that pride. The fruit it bares is called arrogance. Arrogance is the exact antithesis of the nature of Yeshua.
How did the disciples learn to follow God’s plan? By humbly accepting that all they knew was worthless before Him. They accepted that He knew best. It took a while for them. It’s been taking what seems like an eternity for me. But now I am starting to understand.
James said in his letter that if we humble ourselves before God, then He will lift us up. I believe that to be the truth.
I hope to get back to looking at the signs and wonders which the disciples witnessed God performing through them in the next instalment. This detour was necessary for me. I hope you found it helpful.