My Dear Friends,
God’s word is full of “very great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4). One of his most precious promises is found in Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” Our gracious God has committed himself to teaching, guiding and caring for his children. This is his promise and he is not a man that he should lie.
Why do I begin this letter with this promise? Simply for this reason: it is a promise that is intended to support and reassure God’s people in a turbulent and confusing world. He has pledged himself never to fail us or forsake us. His promise is absolute and without any qualification: “I will... I will...” Do you begin to see how compellingly reassuring this promise is? We live in a mad, bad world. Life can be astonishingly frenetic. We are faced with choices concerning church, career, children, and marriage. We can so easily allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by our uncertainties, by our sense of inadequacy, by the important decisions that demand our response. Because of this, we lose sight of God’s great promise to teach us and lead us in the way we should go. God’s promise, however, is intended to take the “angst” and the uncertainty out of life. It highlights the theological atmosphere the Christian believer lives in, an atmosphere pervaded by the gracious sovereignty of God.
It would be wrong to think, however, that God’s promise means that Christians will never and should never be perplexed, uncertain, fearful, or confused. God’s promise is sure and certain, but we are sinners who do not always live by faith and not by sight. Too often our lives become circumstance centred rather than God centred. We see the way ahead with all its real and apparent obstacles; we see ourselves with all our doubts and fears; and we allow anxiety to replace trust. Jesus knew only too well the propensity of his disciples to “lose the plot.” In Matthew 6:25ff he tells them not to worry about life, what to eat, what to wear. His antidote to corrosive worry and fear about the way ahead was to reassure them about God’s fatherly goodness and his commitment to be their Father and supply all their needs. Who God is, is the antidote to all our fears, about ourselves, and what lies ahead of us in life. God’s promise to guide his people flows from the grace of his love to his people.
Those of you who have looked up Psalm 32:8 will know that the next verse confronts us with a balancing truth: “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.” God’s promise is unequivocal, but we must guard against becoming stubborn and wilful. It is more than possible that you and I will not like or want to go God’s way; we would rather map out our own way ahead. God’s promise to lead and direct us and watch over us is not unconditional; it expects us to live in glad, loving obedience to our gracious God, to seek first his glory and honour and the extending of his kingdom.
Guidance today is the “great problematic” for many Christians. It has often been said that the seventeenth century Puritans did not write any books on guidance; they did however write many books on obedience! Obedience is the key to guidance. “Not my will but your will be done” is the pulse-beat of the believer whom God will unerringly direct in the way he would have them go. Guidance is God’s responsibility - he leads, we follow. Does that appear to you naively simple? Perhaps. But it echoes the truth of God’s own word, “My sheep listen to my voice (in Scripture); I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
With my warmest greetings as ever,