When I have faced trials in my life, loving fellow believers have come alongside of me, often whispering Biblical encouragement: “Just depend on God,”
But how does one depend on God?
There is an answer that is both satisfying to the one who receives it and helpful to the one who offers it. Happily, it is childishly easy to recite, though profoundly deep and life-changing to embrace. In fact, it is a work of the Lord Himself in the life of the believer who cries out for it.
My manna this morning came from the 25th Psalm. It is a Psalm, which is broken up as an acrostic based on the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This literary device is not unknown to the Psalms, of course. There are six alphabetical Psalms in the Psalter: Psalm 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, and 145. It may be that Psalms 9 and 10 would’ve been a single acrostic Psalm in alphabetical format. In fact, the Septuagint shows this as one Psalm. Clearly, however, the Holy Spirit chose ways to communicate to us that would help us to remember, understand, and learn. God is always condescending to us to reveal himself — all of the glory of the Trinity — to mortal men. That is the powerful message of the acrostic, and other literary devices that help us to learn. But I move beyond the literary format to the expository message. Draw your attention, now, in particular, to verse four—daleth—in the Hebrew alphabet. Verse four reads:
“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon said that Psalm 25 allows us to see why David was, “a man after God’s own heart.” One can see why Spurgeon believed Psalm 25 was written in David’s latter days. It surely is a Psalm of wisdom; of showing David’s dependence upon God in the midst of all of his own transgressions; the heartache and affliction that comes from them; the conflict, the sin, the unbelief all around him; unjust attacks upon him and upon the name of God. In the midst of all of this we are led to depend upon God as well.
But I want to show from verse four how we depend upon the Lord. It has a powerful message for each of our lives; a powerful message for our ministries. It’s a very helpful and hopeful word from the Lord as we meet today to consider how we will depend upon the Lord as we go forward in our respective ways.
We will Depend on His Ways
I draw your attention to two words that stand out in this message. The first word is the word, “ways.” To know God’s ways is surely intended to mean that the Psalmist knew the word of the Lord. He had encountered his providences through his life. As a son knows his father, as a friend knows another friend, so David knew the ways of the Lord. This takes time. One of the reasons I truly enjoy pastoral visits to nursing-homes is this very reality: nursing homes are filled with saints who have learned the ways of God’s providence. They know His ways. This takes years of trust and dependence. This takes seeing God in action, knowing that God’s ways allowed Jeremiah, in the ruin and rubble of a defeated Jerusalem, to rise from the ashes of repentance and sorrow in the midst of that devastation and declare, “Great is thy faithfulness.” Jeremiah knew the ways of the Lord. And surely everything that we are about as a ministry—and I speak now to pastors, elders, deacons, and all of God’s people called to faithfully serve the Church—concerns the ways of the Lord. We teach His ways from his word. We, who serve the Church, teach His ways from what we understand and gather about God through Providence as we instruct the communities where God has placed us. Our experience of the faithfulness of God as pastor-scholars is more important than any other credential that we may have before or after our names.
I will never forget when God called me to preach. I was frightened. I had grown up as an orphan in poverty. By that time, at age twenty-nine, I was the youngest manager in the Fortune 50 company I where I worked. I felt that ” leaving a career to follow a call” was vocational and economic suicide. I was not ready. Yet as I struggled with God in my “Gethsemane moment,” it was as if I could hear the Lord saying, “If you cannot trust me, how can you stand before others and ask them to trust me? I have led you safely to where you are today. Shall I now leave you my boy?” He showed me His ways and I followed. I have seen wonders in the wilderness. I have felt alone in the wilderness. But He always sent angels to succour me. Through it all, I have come to know Him. I am closer to Him now.
Moses prayed: “Show me thy ways, that I may know Thee.” Is that not what each of us needs today? Remember the ways of the Lord. To remember how he is taking care of us in times past is to trust Him for the future. As we awake each day to a new future, we surely must remember the “ways” of the Lord. And this will help us to depend upon the Lord– In our leadership and servanthood of ministry, in our expectancy of the growth of faith and ministry, and in God’s supplying the needs of our families as well as our churches, and in fulfilling the vision and mission of our founders which is now entrusted to us today.
There’s a connection between the ways of God and the path of the believer. The path of the believer is seen throughout the Bible. In the New Testament a good word is, “walk.” We are instructed to walk in the Spirit, as JI Packer said, to “keep in step with the Holy Spirit.” It is the same thing. God’s ways form the path.
Thus, we plead with David to teach us His ways, but also:
We Will Depend Along His Paths
Now. It is important for us to understand the path is small. The path is narrow, Jesus told us, that leads to salvation.
In Wales I used to drive, or attempt to, on well-worn, centuries old sheep paths! A sheep path can’t handle a four-lane highway of automobiles; it is only wide enough for one sojourner to traverse through the shadows of the tall timber wood. Maybe there’s enough for two walkers but rarely is there room for more. In that sense the pathway that David followed a lonely pathway. Though his court was filled with crowds of ambitious lords and ladies, as it were, who would want to be near the king, it was lonely at the top! The pathway of service and leadership and faithfulness is always singular and often lonely. Get on the pathway of the Lord and it is narrower and perhaps lonelier still. Notice that David does not cry out to know God’s ways so that he can walk on his own path, but to know his ways and walk on God’s path. That is what we are called to do: to walk knowing God’s ways on God’s path.
We must always remember this: the via Delarosa, the pathway of the Cross that led to Calvary, is the way of the Lord. It was a solitary and a very narrow pathway but it was indeed God’s pathway. Who could’ve imagined that God’s pathway would look like that? We would imagine God’s pathway to be broader and overlaid with gold! But no! God’s path is narrow; winding through the old city of Jerusalem and then out of the city to the trash heap hills, to Golgotha. There is the pathway of God. The end of the line is always the cross. The end of the line for us is always the place where our path ends and God’s begins; and that place is always the cross. Yet, the symbol of shame became the sign of salvation when God’s path and God’s ways came together.
And so we go forward, depending on the Lord, and saying,
“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.”