Thursday, January 15, 2015

Return and Rest

At the beginning of each year, I’m great at making plans.  I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I do take time out to set goals and make plans.  I’m planning how much weight I will lose this year (because I didn’t meet my goal in 2014).  I’m planning on running more this year (because I started running in 2015).  Maybe you’re doing the same thing this month—evaluating what’s working and what’s not working, setting goals and making plans.

            We need to make sure that our goals and plans are not simply based on our own imaginations and aspirations.  Instead, we must seek God’s will and plan according to divine wisdom.  In Isaiah 30:1-2 (ESV), the Lord speaks through the prophet:

“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord,
“who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
    that they may add sin to sin;
who set out to go down to Egypt,
    without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
    and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

            It’s very easy to make plans that seem good and right, but that are only human schemes full of self.  We justify our own plans to make them seem godly, when in fact we never bother to inquire of God.  Or, if we do, we seldom listen for an answer.  Listening to God is the key to good planning.

            Isaiah describes this kind of people who follows their own path by saying:

For they are a rebellious people,
    lying children,
children unwilling to hear
    the instruction of the Lord;
who say to the seers, “Do not see,”
    and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things,
    prophesy illusions,
leave the way, turn aside from the path,
    let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel (vv. 9-11 ESV).”

            Isaiah’s words seem all too familiar to our churches that want to do nothing in their communities, that want to hear nice preaching that does not offend.  Our itching ears are eager for oracles that support our plans and our own self-important ideas.  If it sounds good, then we believe it.  If it’s a hard truth or a challenge, we reject it.  To replace our itching ears, the prophet gives a solution to the problem of pretentious plans:  

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength…

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
    and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him (vv. 15, 18 ESV).

            As you strategize your next steps in 2015, it’s good to consider what you want to do.  It’s better to consider what God wants you to do.  Return to Him.  Rest in Him.  Be still before the Lord and trust Him.  Wait on Him and listen to His voice.  Then and only then should you set your goals, make your plans, and act.  May God bless you as you follow His commands this New Year.

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