Man's Devisings, God's Decrees
"A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps."
As preachers prepare their annual Thanksgiving sermons for 2013, Christians in America are navigating dangerous waters as our culture and laws deteriorate further into ungodliness day by day. What can we preach that will address the condition we now find ourselves and our nation in? As a student of history and a lover of old classic sermons, I have mined the hearts of preachers through their Thanksgiving manuscripts all the way back to the American Revolution, and there are truths that are self-evident in each generation. Every lifetime comes with its own obstacles: wars, economic woes, natural disasters, etc. But the habit of thankfulness should permeate the life of each Christian in every age.
The day in which we live is unsettling for us as Americans. We believe the United States was "set on a hill" by God Himself for His own divine purpose. We have seen God bless America above every nation in history, even His beloved Israel. We have been the richest, most productive, most powerful, most fertile land in the world for the last hundred years. Though never a "Christian nation" by decree, our population has always reflected the Judeo-Christian ethic of the Bible. Scripture has been honored and revered in America; our political leaders have extolled us using Biblical language; our preachers have expounded and preached Scripture from the pulpit; families have prayed around the kitchen table to the God of the Bible. Our blessings have been overflowing so that it was easy to count them and appreciate them.
While evil people have always been a part of the American fabric, the nation's guiding principles have always shown through. While all of us have faltered at times, our national consciousness has always been pointed toward the Lord God of the Bible. But times are changing; our leadership is changing; our nation is changing; our people are changing. We have seen a steady erosion of godliness and decency in our culture for decades. But now the chickens are coming home to roost. No longer is the nation's majority a God-fearing and Christ-honoring people. No longer do the majority of people attend church and pray regularly. No longer is there an open door to preach and witness to our fellow citizens. No longer do most people view Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving as Christian holidays.
What kind of Thanksgiving message is needed for this day? Most definitely, God has not changed and He is still on the throne! We should be thankful for the same things as our forefathers were thankful for. But, in this message, I would like to highlight a Biblical truth that every Christian should praise from the housetops! A principle that is especially noteworthy in our day! It can be found in our text in Proverbs 16, verse 9: "A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps." Our national troubles are many, there is no doubt. Humanly speaking, we have fears of the future and challenges we never expected to endure in our lifetime. Persecution, family breakdowns, sinful testings through social media and the internet, not to mention the recent moral failures of many of our elected officials and the scandals in government. But I want us to see that we must thank God for His presence in human history! God has not left His people to their own devices! His holiness may force Him to give up on the United States of America, but He will never give up on His people, His Bride, the Church of Jesus Christ!
I believe through all our national troubles--God is there! Through all our family troubles---God is there! Through all our individual troubles---God is there! He is working in the circumstances, through the circumstances, and in spite of the circumstances. In every trial, in every battle, in every crisis, you can be sure that God is aware and active in the details. He has promised that every event in our lives will work to our good, both the sovereignty and providence of God will see that He will get glory from it all! We can look back to our nation's birth and we can see the direction of God's hand in the details. We can see His hand in the Civil War and the two World Wars; our nation could never succeed without the hand of God at work. Our hearts turned to Him in the crisis of 9/11, and many returned to a closer walk with their God during that time. I am telling you today that God's purpose is still being fulfilled today in America. Christians are not out on a limb! Christians are not a lost cause! The church is not out of business and God is NOT dead! Twenty years from now, people will be able to look back at the headlines and happenings of this day...and see the Purpose of God at work.
As we consider this verse, let us do a quick word study to make sure we know what it is saying to us. "A man's heart..." The word "heart" refers to a man's feelings, will, and intellect. It is the center of one's being, the central part. The word "deviseth" is very illuminating. It means to fabricate, to plot or to contrive. The root has to do with the act of plaiting or weaving, or combining two things into one. To devise is to think deeply and consider all options; it intimates a high degree of knowledge or wisdom. Then we come to the phrase, "his way." The Hebrew word here denotes a road, a course of life or a mode of action. So thus far we see that humans plan the course of their lives according to their own wisdom and knowledge. Likewise, political and cultural leaders make their plans and contrive their strategies to achieve their own purposes. The unbeliever, also, devise his life's path according to his own designs.
Now we examine the second half of the verse: "...but the Lord directeth his steps." "The Lord" is Jehovah, the self-existent one. His name stands in direct contrast to the devisings of finite man's heart. Then we come to the word "directeth." This means to be erect, to set up, to establish, to fix in place. It is a building term, used describe the erecting of a structure or house. It is also a term of creation, to make provision or to make preparation for a thing. Man's devisings stand in complete contrast to God's direction. Lastly, we have the word, "steps." This is speaking of man's steps and not God's. It speaks of his "pace." So, the verse is saying, "Man can devise a path for himself, but God establishes his pace."
What a blessing to be thankful for! Man is a free moral agent. He acts from choice, and not by constraint. His heart devises his own way. This is his freedom, which every man possesses. But likewise, it is also true that God governs the world and all that is in it! Not only does God work His own purpose through human beings, but He does it without ever overruling or infringing on their freedom to choose. How can this be? We are not called to explain or understand it, we are to be thankful for it!
"A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps." Man devises; the Lord directs. Man proposes;
God exposes. Man thinks, consults, plans, acts, and all freely; God controls, limits, orders, overrules, according to
the good pleasure of His own holy will, and for the advancement of His own declarative glory. Or, in the language of
Prov. 21:30, "There are many devices in a man's heart: nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand." Man's agency, and God's overruling sovereignty; man's heart devising his way, and the Lord directing his steps; or, in other words, Man's schemes, and God's issues. Man's projects, and God's results.
As an example, think with me of the first great project of human ambition in the pages of God's Word. Genesis 11 tells us that the whole world was "of one speech." Humankind devised a grand scheme: "Let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto Heaven, and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." Their aim was to centralize power, to consolidate a government that would control the world. Their scheme would establish a universal authority that would control all aspects of life: religion, commerce, speech, economics, law. It seemed such a good idea to the leaders of the day, and they spared no expense to accomplish their purpose. No doubt, those Babel-builders felt strong in the beginning of their enterprise; they were also united in their purpose; perhaps they were honest men who thought they were doing a great thing for the cause of humanity and good government. They may have been confident of success---but there was one consideration which stamped their scheme with folly as well as wickedness, and made its defeat as certain as destiny itself. It was antagonistic to the plan and purpose of God. And how sudden and overwhelming was their defeat! And why? Because God's purpose was different than that of man! Man proposed---but God disposed!
Later in the Genesis record is the story of Joseph. God had earmarked Joseph for leadership and service to Him. A jealous set of brothers set out to thwart God's plan for their young brother. They set out to kill him but decide instead to sell him into slavery. This was their device and their work, and an awfully wicked device and work it was. But what was God's design? The latter chapters of Genesis weave the story of Joseph to a place of rule and leadership. In fact, Joseph becomes ruler over his father and brothers in spite of the bothers' terrible sin against him. The brothers devised a path to achieve their desires, but God had a master plan for Joseph to, not only save his family, but to preserve a seed to Himself that would become the nation of Israel! Joseph's brethren simply designed to gratify their wicked passions, to put Joseph out of the way---that was their devising. But what was God's decree? To raise up a people for his own glory, and train them in the school of affliction, and lead them through the sea and through the wilderness with signs and wonders never to be forgotten. In time, this race would bring forth the Messiah, Who would bring salvation to the world! The brothers were working evil, but God meant it for good. The brothers were acting out of hate and malice, God was acting out of a heart of love for the whole world!
Lastly, look at the crucifixion of Christ. A Jewish mob, scribes, and chief priests, and elders of the people, filled with prejudice and rage, are determined to take the life and thereby crush the cause of the despised Nazarine. In Judas, one of His own disciples, they find an instrument suited to their purpose. For thirty pieces of silver he betrays Him into their hands. They hurry Him through a mock trial and pronounce Him worthy of death. They clamor for his crucifixion, and when the Roman Governor finally yields, they lead Him to a place called Gethsemane. And "there they crucified Him." As He hangs on the cross, His enemies have seemingly accomplished their purpose. Their hatred and malice has reached it's fruition. He is dead and his disciples come to anoint His body. He is placed in the tomb and the door is sealed. Evil humans have accomplished their aim, but God Almighty is working out a plan that they know nothing about! Man has devised! god has decreed!
In conclusion, let us bring the story to the present. There are those who would re-define marriage away from the union of a man and a woman and corrupt God's perfect design. There are those who work to ensure that unborn babies will continue to be killed before their little eyes see the light of day. There are those who would flood our country with illegal immigrants, burdening our monetary system and setting them up as voters to ensure a perpetual voting block. There is a man in the White House who has a goal of taking over the healthcare and health decisions of everyone in the country to centralize power and ensure his own legacy. There are entertainers who make no secret of their disdain for our godly heritage and Christian history. All these people are devising their plans. It seems as if they are winning and traditional Christianity is losing.
And honestly, America may be lost. But it could be that the plan of God is for His people to trust in Him instead of a president; trust in His government instead of Washington; trust in the declarations of Scripture instead of the Declaration of Independence. Whatever God's plan is, you can be assured that He has one, and that He will conduct it as He sees fit. The Church will not be forsaken nor abandoned! We, as God's people, have a future in Him! This truth is certainly something to be thankful for in this season.