On God’s Leash

[reprinted from February 8, 2008]

— Henry Neufeld

8I will wisely guide you in the way you should go.
I will watch you and advise you.
9Don’t be like a horse or a mule,
without understanding.
They have to be curbed with bit and bridle,
Lest they come at you. — Psalm 32:8-9 (HN)

There are several different ways to view God’s will, but two approaches serve as a contrast. Most people fall between these two points. There are those who expect God to have a specific will for every move of their lives. For them, God’s will is detailed and specific, and their choice is simply to hear and obey in every detail. At the opposite pole we have those who see God’s will as a generic set of good principles and bad principles. You are supposed to choose to do what is right, but God doesn’t care what particular profession you choose, and he certainly doesn’t care what you will have for dinner.

It’s not really my topic for this devotional, but I can’t resist suggesting a way for these two groups, and those between to work together. Perhaps God works with different people in different ways, guiding some step by step and just handing others a general map. I don’t know for sure, but that seems possible to me.

The Psalmist seems to put himself somewhere in the middle. Check your own Bible version for the word I translated “advise.” It gets translated quite a number of ways, but generally it refers to giving counsel, and the recipient can decide precisely what to do with it. At the same time, it tells us there is a path that God has for us, and he’s going to guide us wisely.

The question for us is how we will follow this path. When I used to take our dog for a walk I had to have him on a leash. He wouldn’t follow me if I didn’t have that leash. He’d go where he wanted to, and I couldn’t count on him to come when I called unless he wanted to. If he was better behaved, he might be able to have more freedom on a walk, but for his safety I had to have control of him.

Some people are like that. You’ve probably encountered them at work. They can do things, but they need to have all the rules and procedures laid out in detail. If you forget to close a loophole, they’re sure to find a way to create disaster. Others require less direction. They’ll follow the spirit of a supervisor’s instructions even when the detailed letter didn’t cover the situation. You can tell this second sort of employee to “work safely” and they will, even going to the trouble of discovering what is safe.

God’s children need to learn to be guided by that wise direction, to accept that counsel, and to follow the spirit of God’s will. God will work with us no matter who we are. If it’s a bit and bridle, God will provide! Remember that Psalm 32, from which I took our passage, is a Psalm of confession, and the confession comes after God’s hand was heavy on the one who had sinned.

So he has good reason to give this advice. Be easy to move in the right direction. Make a habit of repentance, rather than avoiding it. Don’t wait for God’s hand to be heavy on you before you correct your course.

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