This behavior defined much of my 20’s:
“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord,
“who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
that they may add sin to sin;
2 who set out to go down to Egypt,
without asking for my direction
That’s God talking about me and probably you too.
In the last couple of years before 30, I think I’ve finally figured out not to move forward unless God is leading. One of my mentors and small group leaders in college, Stacy, used to always remind me of this truth: Don’t turn to the right or the left unless God guides. I wanted it to sink into my heart, but it took some painful lessons to let it. I’ve learned that unless I get a clear green light, I should just sit still.
In Chapter 30 of Isaiah, which beings with the words above, I find this verse:
21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.
I’ve heard this verse before. In fact, in just came up in another book I’m reading with my small group, The Divine Mentor. What’s interesting about this verse is the context. God’s been saying in this chapter that his children have been walking away from him in utter contempt for the truth. Isaiah describes a hardening of the heart, perversion, oppression, and a resistance to the Word. But, as is God’s way, he beckons us to turn back to him.
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
Our salvation isn’t in fixing it or in un-doing what we’ve done. Our saving grace is just in returning to God and resting. All we have to do is move or feet toward him and we get home, just rest. That’s it. I’m not trying to make light of how hard this actually is, but I am blown away by how simple it is. God is funny because he truly asks so little of us, but the little bit is everything.
Furthermore, he tells us that quietness and trust will be our strength. I usually think I’m being strong when I’m being bold, but in God’s kingdom, my strength comes when I shut my mouth in order to listen to him and let him speak on my behalf. In trusting Him, I give Him room to do the heavy lifting.
Isaiah also tells us,
18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.
19 For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. 20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. 22 Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”
There is so much goodness here:
He is waiting to bless us.
He hears when we cry out to him and he will be gracious at the sound of our cry – not later, after we’ve proven ourselves and fixed everything; he is gracious to us at the mere sound of our cry. As soon as he hears us, he answers. After we cry out and admit our need for him, he will guide us. This verse is in the context of repentance. God will speak direction over our lives if we just ask him. We don’t have a probationary period. When we cry out to him, he immediately tells us which way to walk.
God might give us a hard pill to swallow for our correction and discipline, but he will not hide himself from us. We will see him. This correction is the correction of a teacher. And I can say, because I am one, that a teacher only corrects and disciplines for the sake of the student’s growth. The teacher isn’t mean or uncaring. The teacher knows that sometimes, lessons have to be learned the hard way, but this is a loving and helpful act. Sometimes may have to sleep in the bed we’ve made because although God is merciful, he’s also just. And he loves us so he will discipline us. Many times in scripture we see God giving us over to our desires just so we know how corrupt our fleshly desires really are. Verse 20 of this chapter clearly says, “And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.” Taking the bitter bill is in the same verse with Lord being described as our Teacher. So it seems that there may still be consequences for our actions after we cry out, but we will hear his voice guiding us home.
Verse 22 tells us that the repentant person hasn’t even gotten rid of the idols yet! God doesn’t expect us to come to him already clean. When we cry out, we’re still in the midst of our mess. Once we’re on the right path, then the sanctification starts. Sanctification doesn’t come before repentance. And I believe that even at the point of repentance we don’t know what our idols are. We realize later that some things and people even are idols as we walk forward with God. He reveals to us where our idols stand, and he opens our eyes. So it’s not surprising that the “Be gone!” command to the idols doesn’t come first. Sanctification is a process.
The voice behind is what most of us focus on in this chapter. We quote it, put it on our fridge or on the bathroom mirror. What’s so sweet about this verse though is that it’s mostly a reminder that I have a hard time walking in a straight line. Yes, the verse is comforting because it speaks to the loving-kindness of God in guiding my life, but it also speaks to my inability to walk forward in the right direction all by myself.
Most other places in scripture tell us to not turn to the right or to the left. Here, it says we will hear his voice when we turn to the right or when you turn to the left. In this area of scripture, God is reminding us that after we initially cry out to him, while we’re possibly being disciplined, we may not yet know how to walk straight. But God isn’t mad about it. He’s not frustrated by this. He’s guiding us. He’s teaching us how to walk straight ahead. We won’t always get it right. We’ll keep turning to the right and to the left, but God’s voice is there via the Holy Spirit, correcting us on our way.
I hope that as I get older that I will be able to walk the straight path with more grace and without so much correction, but the thing is… I’ll never be alone. Every time I turn to the right or to the left, the voice will be behind me, reminding me that I’m getting off on the wrong exit, again. But there’s grace and always more grace.