Your browser does not support JavaScript. Please enable JavaScipt to view our website.

How to Navigate Life

Proverbs 16:9

Human beings are to plan their lives, but the Lord decides where their steps will take them.

Proverbs 16:9

     The questions that I am most often asked as a pastor are almost always questions about how to discern God’s guidance.  A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting with our LAC summer interns.  I wanted them to set the agenda for our one hour together so Pastor Annie facilitated a Q&A time.  Interestingly, the questions most on their minds had to do with these matters of how to be guided by the Lord, how to make plans and how to make decisions that honor God.

     Let’s face it -- Every day of our lives is filled with countless choices, e.g.,:  Should I have coffee or tea at breakfast?  Should I wear this shirt or that? Should I enroll my son and daughter in soccer camp?  Should I major in Psychology or Literature?  Should I retire this year or next year?

     When you think about it, most of the decisions we make each day are not necessarily decisions between what is right and wrong as about what is wise.  We often have lots of options about choices that are all morally OK.  But, we wonder what is the best thing to do?  Or, as we say it in church, “What would God have me to do in this matter?”

     It is for these everyday matters of deciding what is wise that God inspired the Book of Proverbs.  The first five books of the Bible, the Books of Moses, set forth a lot of God’s moral commands.  Proverbs is written not so much to tell us what is morally right and wrong – but to teach us to make good choices when to make when there seem to be a lot of options open to us.  Proverbs is about seeking God’s guidance to live wisely.  In fact, Proverbs speaks more about guidance for life than any other book in the Bible.

     The word translated “guidance” in Proverbs is the Hebrew word “tachbulah”, the word for rope.  Ropes were used by sailors and fisherman in Bible times – for several reasons: 1) to lower sails when the wind was in their favor, 2) to move the sails in a way that redirected the boat when the winds changed, and 3) to tie up the sails when storms came and threatened to blow the boat off course.  Over the years, that word tachbulah came to be used not only for a rope but also for guidance.  The word for rope eventually became connected to this matter of navigating our ways through whatever life throws at us – whatever storms might arise.

     Because of that, I’ve decided to call this message about seeking God’s guidance “How to Navigate Through Life”.  Proverbs is concerned with helping us navigate through the many choices that come our ways.  Proverbs provides help so that you will be able to discern the right course to take in daily decisions.


Two Essential Starting Points for Decision-Making:

#1:  We make plans – God determines the outcome.

People make plans in their hearts, but the Lord puts the correct answer on their tongues…  In their hearts human beings plan their lives, but the Lord decides where their steps will take them (16:1,9).

     Many verses in Proverbs drive home the point that God has made us in such a way that we have the ability to make decisions.  Even more than that, God commands us to use our minds to plan for the future.  Human beings are not robots. We are not victims of fate.  You can make real plans that make a difference.  The choices you make are yours.  You and I are responsible for the choices we make.  God doesn’t force you to do either wise or foolish things.  You are accountable for your decisions.  That’s clear from Proverbs.

     But, at the same time, everything that happens in this world is ultimately under God’s control.  In 16:33, we read, “Lots are cast to make decisions.  But everything they decide comes from the Lord.”  God even takes bad things and works them for his purposes – like in 19:21: “People may have many plans in their hearts, but the Lord’s purpose wins out in the end.”  You may say, as all thinking people do, “I can’t figure out how those two things fit together.”  I tell you -- together with the Apostle Paul in Romans -- “Who of us can fathom the mind and ways of God?”  God is able to do what we cannot fully grasp.  He works all things – ALL things together -- to bring about his good and eternal plan.

     Although no one can fully understand how we make responsible decisions that all contribute to God’s eternal plan, all true Jesus-followers have been grateful for both of these truths.  On one side, because God has given us the ability to make real and meaningful decisions, then our lives can have meaning.  What you and I do really matters in this world.  On the other side, we know that we do dumb things that could ruin everything.  But our foolishness does not thwart God’s plans nor does it keep God from fulfilling his purposes in our lives.  The fact that God is at work so that his good purposes come out of even what is meant for evil is the only source of our peace.  So, according to Proverbs, God has ordered the world in such a way that we are to to use our minds to make plans while, at the same time, God is determining the outcome.


#2:  God commands us not to make evil plans.

God hates hearts that make evil plans(6:18).

     I can almost hear some of you thinking, “Well, Pastor Greg, that point is o obvious that there is no reason for you to make it.”  But, I tell you that I must make it. First, God makes this point often in Proverbs.  He has entrusted to us the ability to make plans even though he knows we will use that gift to make evil plans. 

     I’ll simply say this: The first way you can know that you are using your mind to plan evil is that you will hide things.  Parents are often concerned when their children begin hiding things from them.  Isn’t that right?  When we see our kids shutting off the computer quickly when we walk into the room, we sense that something is going on that is not good.  After the first sin took place in Genesis 3, the first thing people did was to try to hide it from God.  And we still do.  It’s not just kids who hide things.  I simply want to say that if you try to hide things from your friends, your family, or your spouse that you are ashamed of, often that the surest sign that you are using the marvelous gift of making choices to plan evil.  Even now – take a moment and surrender that matter that you might be hiding from someone, surrender it to God and tell him you will turn back to him.  As 16:25 says, “There is a way (away from God) that may appear to be right to you, but in the end it will lead to death.”


Advice for Navigating Life:

Having shown you those two essentials, now I’ve boiled down four steps for navigating life from Proverbs.  These will not make the decisions for you but, with God’s help, will assist you in discerning wise plans.


Step #1:  Take time for prayer and reflection

     One of the most beloved passages in Proverbs is 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways seek and acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.

     Notice that the call is not to throw away your ability to understand but not to lean on it.  Instead, take time to stop and acknowledge that God is present in your life, to ask him to see what is happening from a more eternal point of view, to express your desire to have your ways be consistent with his ways. “Lean” on him. 

     I have found that I must get away – even if it is just for a few moments – from what I have been doing, take a walk or sit in a different chair, and free myself from distractions.  I need some time for silence and solitude when I acknowledge and seek God.  Get away from the phone and computer.  Find a different a place of quietness.  When I do this, I often carry a sheet of paper in my hand. I acknowledge the presence of his Spirit in my heart. I ask him to show me or remind me of things I may have forgotten and to bring to mind whatever I have been shutting out.  I often need to get on my knees in repentance.  But, also, things come to mind that are important. I make note of them on the paper I have or in a journal.

     For me, times of silence in prayer often become times of discerning God’s guidance.  Ironically, when I take time away like this, I find that ultimately I seem to have more time.  And I have more confidence that whatever I do is not just my plan – but consistent with God’s. “In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.”

Step 2:  Gather all the facts – and reflect on what you discover.

     I’ve been surprised, as I’ve gone back through Proverbs this summer, how often God warns us of being in a hurry in our planning and decision-making.  Often, bad planning often comes out of inadequate or bad information.  18:7 --  “The first to plead a case seems right, until another comes and examines him.”  At other times, we simply need to have some times for the many issues affecting a decision can settle in our minds and we can think through the larger and more long-term impact of our decisions upon people -- 18:13  “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.”  And the impact of making hasty decisions is usually negative:  21:5 – “Those in a hurry will become poor.”

     So, when you have a big decision to make, don’t rush unnecessarily.  I know that there will come a time when a decision must be made – but set aside time before making that decision to gather facts, to listen, and to process matters deeply.  You will find that, unexpectedly, it rarely takes more time to do this.  That may be that you focus better when you are intentional and conscientious about planning.  As G.K. Chesterton has said, One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long time.”

      Those who set aside time to gather facts and perspectives and then to reflect on them prayerfully always seem to me to be people at peace.  Jesus was this way.  J.B. Phillips wrote: “It is refreshing to study the poise and quietness of Jesus. His tasks and responsibilities might well have driven a person out of his mind. But Jesus was never in a hurry, never impressed by numbers, never a slave of the clock.”

Step 3:  Seek counsel from trusted family members, godly friends and church community.

     I have been struck by how often the Book of Proverbs tells us to seek counsel in our planning and decision-making.  It’s as if God is saying, “One of the gifts I give you is the gift of relationships.”  When you have relationships with people committed to the Lord, you will find God consistently tells you to talk with them, open up the issues of your life with them and gain counsel.  Let me show you just a few of the verses:

12:15 -- The way of foolish people seems right to them, but those who are wise listen to advice.

15:22 -- Plans fail without good advice but they succeed when there are many advisers.

24:6 -- If you are in a battle, you surely need guidance.  If you want to win, you need many good advisers.

     A significant part of the way God has guided me all my life has been through good advisors.  I remember that, when I had been planning to study law in college, I had church people come to me and say, “We have watched you and see that God has given you the gifts to be a pastor.”  I remember when my parents first met Chris.  My Dad gave me “subtle” counsel, “If you don’t hold on to her, you have a hole in your head.”  I remember how God used people like Dr. Paul Cedar to guide us first to Trinity International University in 1995 and then here to Lake Avenue Church in 2007.  I affirm, “Those who are wise listen to counsel.”

Step 4:  Once a plan is made, stick with the plan and work it diligently.

     I bring us back to 21:5The plans of people who work diligently succeed.  You can be just as sure that those in a hurry will become poor.  Coming where it does in Proverbs, this verse presupposes that we have indeed sought the Lord and surrendered to his ways, sought counsel and been shaped by it and have come to settle on a plan.  The word translated “diligently” is a word that calls for us, once we have discerned guidance, to stick to the matter and to do the things that bring the plans made into reality.  One Proverb, 24:27, even gives us a description of how it works out in daily life.  Once a plan is determined: 1) Put your outdoor work in order.  2) Get your fields ready. 3) After that, build your house.

     I find so much practical wisdom in all this.  I can hardly tell you how often I’ve heard people say something like this, “The Lord showed me that I should do a certain thing.”  Within a short time, they’ve forgotten what the Lord supposedly said and are doing something else!  In our society, we tend to try something and then, if it doesn’t work immediately, we give it up and try something else.

     When you have finally discerned that there is something that God would have you do, go after it diligently – stick with it even when the challenges come (as they inevitably will).  Sometimes, it will be hard.  As Chaim Potok wrote in his book In the Beginning, All beginnings are hard.”  But, if we have sought the Lord, if the plan is consistent with his leading, then that difficult beginning will lead to wonderful things.  Our role is to continue on believing that the decision is not merely ours but his, and working faithfully and diligently in keeping with God’s leading.

     What I’m talking about is developing a way of life in which we are consistently seeking the Lord’s guidance in our decision-making.  It’s exactly what John and Jessica Secrest spoke with us about last weekend as they have sought God’s guidance to become church planters again.  They said they have been learning to develop a daily way of life in which they seek God’s guidance first as a couple and later as a family.  John talked to me this week about how they consciously and intentionally acknowledge the presence of the Lord, seek him in prayer, spend time in solitude and reflection, and then seeking counsel from godly friends. They’ve done this about smaller things for many years.  So, when big decisions come, they know how to seek God.  That’s what Proverbs is commending to you.

     I want to add this testimony too:  After the communistic walls of the Soviet Union came down, I had the privilege of visiting Prague, Czechoslovakia and the Christian group of churches called “Circa Braska”.  Their leader said to me that he was thrilled that they now could have a partnership with other churches like the churches in North America.  But he also said that he wondered whether American Christians want eternal things to happen too fast and without struggle.  He said that he had already learned that if there is no quick “Return on Investment” (ROI), disinterest seems to set in for many American Christians.  “Some of you give up too fast,” he said.  He told me that as the Czech Christians will surely learn many things from American Christians, perhaps we will learn about the beauty of learning to wait on the Lord for his guidance.

     Once we have sought the Lord, gathered all the facts we can and reflected on them prayerfully, sought counsel from good advisors and settled on a decision, we need to work the plan diligently and see what God will do.  We need to continue faithfully to carry out what we believe the Lord has shown us.

     I will tell you that making decisions like this will lead you down unexpected paths and sometimes down some challenging ones.  But, when you sense that a decision is not only the one you made but also the one God has led you to make, it provides a lot of security and peace no matter what else happens.  And I find it to be a beautiful way to live.  Sailors had rope as a resource for navigating though uncertain waters.  We have God’s Spirit, God’s Word, the gift of prayer, and God’s people to help us navigate life.

     So, I will leave you with the wonderful Proverb we began with, i.e., 16:9 --

Human beings are to plan their lives.
    But the Lord decides where their steps will take them

To His glory,

Dr. Greg Waybright
Senior Pastor

Sermons Archive

Greg Waybright • Copyright 2015, Lake Avenue Church