Human nature resists God’s sovereign direction and that’s why we often seem to go in circles and find ourselves facing the same choices. His guidance is not restrictive. Rather, it’s liberating, releasing in us all the things we lack as we live and walk in Christ.
O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps. (Jeremiah 10:23)
The wisdom in Jeremiah’s words is so simple, yet it’s something we all struggle with along our journey with Jesus. It highlights two fundamental truths. The first is that God is sovereign, no matter how much we ignore it. The second concerns our inabilities and reliance on God. For Jeremiah, these words must have contained a bitter-sweet recollection at many places during his life as God’s prophet. His lamentations over their captivity and defeat are real and poignant. This is the man who refused a life of leisure and luxury in the court of Babylon for a simple and lonely existence in a broken Israel. He must so often have wondered that God’s people could not accept the reality of sovereign direction in their lives. Without it, we simply move in circles.
Sovereign direction is God’s right.
This is where many of us come unstuck. There’s a prevailing acceptance that God saves us so that we can be happy living for ourselves. I can find no verse anywhere in the Bible – both Old Testament and New – that justifies this assumption. The reality is that He owns us three times over. By right of creation, right of conquest, and right of redemption – by paying the slave price to purchase our freedom from Satan. The potter owns the pot, the victor owns the spoils, and the one who paid the slave price owns the slave. All of these rights of ownership are sovereign. The owner dictates the what, how, when, and why in the lives of those owned. He has the authority of Lord, Master, Father, and God. He has and will always have the right of sovereign direction for all those under His lordship.
This doesn’t deny the reality of free choice. That’s God’s gift to us and He will always respect it. But there are only two options – God or the devil. There is no third option for self. We cannot choose Jesus as Lord and retain our personal sovereignty. It’s all or nothing. In the same way, unless we choose Christ, we default to the kingdom of darkness. It’s one or the other. There is no ‘spiritual Switzerland,’ a place of comfortable neutrality where we assume lordship of our own life. The Bible makes this clear. Jesus makes it very clear that we cannot serve two masters. Yet many Christians believe that simply being born again is sufficient. Saying a ‘sinner’s prayer’ is an empty commitment if it isn’t backed up by a life of surrender and obedience to the will and sovereign direction of God in all things.
The human response to sovereign direction.
We’re complicated creatures, especially when it comes to curtailing self’s control and independence. It’s possible to truly believe that we’re yielded to the sovereign direction of God but still retain our personal sovereignty. This manifests in different ways. One is to imagine that God isn’t interested in the ‘little’ things or that we shouldn’t waste His time with them. It’s a subtle but very satisfying defiance because it allows us to convince ourselves that we’re actually doing the right thing – we shouldn’t expect God to waste His time with things we can do ourselves. The problem with this theory is that He gave all and expects all. The provision purchased at the cross is for everything, and everything includes even the most seemingly inconsequential details of our lives. God did not compromise on Calvary, and He certainly won’t start doing it now because we feel more comfortable.
The greatest danger lies in the reality that we cannot switch sovereign direction on and off when it suits us. We cannot persistently do our own thing and expect God to ‘kick in’ when it gets rough and we can’t handle it. God doesn’t limit His direction to certain parts of our lives. Everything He tells us is confirmed and connected. Nothing stands separate and alone. Our growth and maturity and walk with Him are all part of a single, ‘holistic’ relationship. By closing off His direction in some areas, we become out of balance and vulnerable. And unless we’re familiar with God’s voice, we won’t hear or won’t hear clearly when we need to. We learn through the little things. Only when God is a core part of every part of our lives and as familiar as our own reflections can we hear and recognise when He speaks.
Our desperate need for sovereign direction.
As creator, God knows us intimately – better than we know ourselves. We may chug through life, successful and unshaken, but all this does is created a false sense of security. Self works hard to create and maintain a façade of ability and capability and rather enjoys the satisfaction that results. This masks the real truth that we do not have it in us to direct our own steps. We don’t have the vision, the knowledge, the wisdom, or the understanding to make the right choices. In a world where it’s all about ‘me,’ we don’t want to hear this truth let alone accept it. As a result, it usually takes the really narfy stuff to knock personal pride off its pedestal and make us face the truth. Sovereign direction is critical if we are to walk with Christ and fulfil God’s purpose in and through us.
This was a truth that Israel consistently ignored, and it led to their defeat and captivity. They lived in rebellion, choosing their own ways rather than God’s sovereign direction. The Jews wanted His favour and protection but did not want to yield their independence, and it wasn’t a single event. Over and over, throughout their chequered history, we see their obstinate refusal to accept that they simply did not have what was needed. They could not make it on their own, but they wanted God to ‘bless’ their choices and empower their decisions towards aggrandisement and gratification of self. In simple terms, they wanted the all of God while hanging on to the all of self – the best of both worlds. The result – and herein lies our lesson – was return to captivity. It’s a powerful and sobering truth, one we should use as our measure of our spiritual condition.
Sovereign direction was always God’s plan.
In the garden, He met with Adam and Eve. He was present and participated fully in their lives until the first sin and rebellion against His sovereign direction. He commanded Abraham to ‘go’ but gave him the assurance that He would show him where. When He rescued His people from Egypt, He presenced Himself as cloud and fire to lead the way. Right from the very beginning, our God determined that He would be present with His people to lead, teach, and guide them every step along the way. Those who heard and obeyed saw His mighty power and provision at work. Those who did not suffered the consequences. Over and over, God has stepped in to save His people when they turned back to Him in repentance and humility. Despite the separation caused by the fall, He has always been there to direct those who turned to Him.
The cross is the ultimate fulfilment of God’s plan for sovereign direction. It goes above and beyond, not only reminding us that He is prepared to meet us where we are but that He also makes the way. Jesus, as the way, the truth, and the life is His sovereign direction made perfect. There is no longer separation. We no longer have to deal with Him from a distance and hope we heard right. We have His presence always within us and His Holy Spirit to directly guide, teach, and lead us. Salvation, or being born again, is turning back to God. His direction is the outworking of relationship and intimacy, of trust and love, and of wisdom and discernment that we could never have in and of ourselves. None of this was an afterthought. It was a plan put into place from the beginning of time.
Understanding divine direction.
We’re conditioned to resist authority but also to exercise authority. In simple terms, self wants autonomy. It will chafe against higher authority but seek to have and use authority. As a result, we have a skewed perception of divine direction. We imagine it’s God telling us what to do or not do, but that it’s usually what we don’t want. In other words, we perceive His authority as restrictive. But sovereign direction is a beautiful, unchangeable manifestation of His love and care. It is giving freely and completely of Himself to balance and perfect the ability we do not have by providing in and through Christ. We cannot have the resurrection power of Christ and use it in our own agendas. God lifts us from slaves to sons. He’s still the sovereign, but we walk alongside in a loving relationship where we trust His sovereignty in everything.
Father God, Your patience and grace amaze, especially when we so often exclude You from so much of our lives. Help us to come in repentance and to learn to yield all, knowing that we simply can do nothing without You. Lord, You are sovereign and Your plans and purposes are perfect. Lead us in Your ways. Direct our steps each day. Help us to learn and to rejoice in the knowledge that Your care is intimate and individual and has already met every need.