Guiding Grace

“It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” – Jeremiah 10:23

Young drivers today probably can’t imagine what it was like to travel without a GPS device to guide them. We used maps. I remember having dozens of them folded up in my glove box. If you were driving somewhere unfamiliar you would first have to get the name of the street. Next you would find it on the index where you would be told that this street is within such and such a place on the grid (e.g. A 7). Then you would look for and find the actual street. Then, finally, you figure out how best to get there. Those were the good old days.

But whether it was a map, or an app on the phone, eventually we all get to the point where we know the way. This works for driving. But it doesn’t work so well for life. Every day of life is a new beginning. Every morning we wake up to somewhat new circumstances. Things change. We change. New challenges present themselves. New opportunities come our way. Obstacles that were not there yesterday are sitting before you today. And for the Christian, the mission every day is to glorify God as we journey over the next, new 24 hours. For this we need God’s help. Thus, Jeremiah makes a Godly observation that we would do well to hear, “it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.”

This is an argument for daily Bible reading and prayer. Every day we need fresh counsel from the Lord to teach us His ways. Not that His ways ever change (Mal 3:6). But our circumstances change. And we are subject to errors in our vision and understanding. We must not assume we know the way already. It is better to always be asking God, and to say like Thomas “how can we know the way? (John 14:5).” Thus the cry of the Christian is always “Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths (Psalm 25:4).” Thus Moses prayed “…show me Your way that I may know You (Exodus 33:13).” Isaiah provides this promise to those who thus humbly ask for God’s direction, saying “He will teach us His ways (Isaiah 2:3).”

Augustine once wrote, commenting on the words “pray that you enter not into temptation,” that “You shouldn’t rely on yourself to live well.” We shouldn’t. “It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” But every day we set off without Scripture and without prayer, we are, in a sense, relying on ourselves to live well. Don’t do this. Let us know with humility how subject we are to being misguided by our own ambitions, failures, and faults. Ask the Lord specifically for guidance. The Psalmist does repeatedly. “Cause me to know the way in which I should walk” Psalm 143:8 is his constant prayer.

It is the humble traveler that knows “it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” Thus he stays close to the Lord, and walks humbly with His God (Micah 6:8). It is to have a very humble view of our own wisdom, and to rely entirely upon Him to, as Benjamin Ramsey writes in his hymn “Teach me Thy ways O Lord…Thy guiding grace afford.” We need saving grace. But we also need “guiding grace.” Oh dear Lord, grant us Thy guiding grace! Because it “is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.”

I like what Pastor Sinclair Ferguson wrote about guidance, and I’ll end with that:

“We learn about guidance primarily by learning about the Guide. It is the knowledge of God and His ways with men which ultimately gives us stability in doing His will.”

Sinclair Ferguson, from Discovering God’s Will
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