TWO WAYS FOR MANKIND

The prophet Jeremiah lived during a very difficult time in Jewish history. He began his ministry during the time when Josiah was king—Josiah, who was the last king to follow God. Following Josiah’s death in battle, his son Jehoahaz was anointed king in his father’s place, but unlike his father, Jehoahaz “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 23:32). From there it was all downhill, as each successive king moved further and further away from the Lord, right up until the Babylonians came in and destroyed Jerusalem and led most of the people into captivity in Babylon. Jeremiah was one of those exiled.

It’s prior to the Babylonian invasion that Jeremiah speaks the words we heard this morning. God is warning the people, He’s calling them to turn back to Him. He’s making it clear that we have only two choices in this lifetime—we can put our trust in Him or we can put it in something else.

It doesn’t really matter what the “something else” is because whatever it is, it’s not going to be able to save us.

Psalm 1, which we read earlier, puts it this way: when we trust in man, in ourselves and our own abilities, we’re cursed. When we trust in the Lord, we’re blessed.

This is just as true today as it was three thousand years ago. We, like all those Old Testament kings, have a big, big problem.

Jeremiah tells us, in verse 9, that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

The heart is deceitful and desperately sick—your heart and my heart. And we don’t want to believe that. Some of you right now are thinking, “well, that might be true for a lot of other people, but not me. I know my heart. I know that my heart is in the right place.”

Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” That was before God sent the flood—it seems to be the reason God sent the flood. Except that immediately after Noah and his family emerged from the ark after the flood, God said, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). And Noah was a man that God called “righteous, blameless in his generation” (Genesis 6:9).

Nothing has changed—because man has not changed.

Doing what seems right or good to us is a recipe for disaster—because not a single one of us is willing to recognize the depths of evil residing in our heart. We’re experts at convincing ourselves that what we want is what is right. We’re experts at convincing ourselves that we’re the one in the right in just about every situation we encounter.

Proverbs 28:26 says, “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool.”

Ecclesiastes 9:3 says, “The hearts of the children of man are full of evil.”

And then we come to the book of Psalms, often referred to as the prayer book of the Bible. And the very first thing we read is that each one of us has to make a choice—we have to choose how we will walk through this life.

Not just today or tomorrow, but every day.

And the choice we make will determine whether we are blessed or cursed.

Now this blessing or cursing isn’t about how easy or how hard our life in this world will be. The blessing or cursing has to do with our eternal lives.

Psalm 1 lays the foundation for the entire book. To be blessed, our lives must begin with God, a God who has already taken the initiative. We must walk with God, we must listen to God, we must place our trust in Him in every situation.

As we go through the 150 psalms included in this book, we find the writers expressing joy, awe, doubt, confidence, pain, anger, praise—the entire range of human emotion. But behind all of these emotions is a definite theology—because in the very beginning, in Psalm 1, a relationship has been established with the Lord, a decision has been made to trust in Him. Trust Him in every situation.

We might think that the first thing we need to do is to be righteous, or to be obedient or more loving. But our hearts are deceitful—the Lord says the first thing is to decide in whom we will trust.

Because a life that trusts God in all things—trust God even more than we trust ourselves—is the only way we will be blessed. There is no other way.

When we trust God, when we allow Him to be Lord of our lives—all of our lives, not just Lord of our Sunday morning or even Lord of those really difficult times in our lives, but Lord of Monday through Saturday, as well. When we make a decision to hand over the keys to our lives and say, “I’m handing over control of me to you, God”—then, and only then, will we experience the kind of blessing that we read about in Psalm 1 and in Jeremiah and in the Gospels. When we allow our roots to sink deeply into the living water that flows from Jesus Christ, we “are like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:8).

The world in which we live is always man-centered rather than God-centered—and all too often God’s church becomes man-centered as well. When that happens, Jeremiah tells us in verse 6, “We are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. We will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.”

“A tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” or “like worthless chaff, scattered in the wind.”

The choice is ours—God reaches out to every single one of us, He always takes the initiative. He always makes the offer. But He never forces anyone—He won’t even argue with you if you say “No, thanks” to His invitation. Will we allow Him to be Master over us—or will we insist that we’re in charge and nobody’s going to tell us what to do or how to live?

This is a choice that needs to be made individually. Have you made your choice? And if you have—or think you have—are you sure? Because one of the great lies that satan loves to whisper in our ears is: “You don’t really have to give God total control. Just give Him a little—He’ll be satisfied if you just give Him parts of your lives.”  Are you putting qualifiers on God? Are you saying, “I’ll do anything, Lord, except …”? If you are, then you haven’t really made your choice.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

We should all memorize this verse and remind ourselves of it daily. Because we are so good at trusting our heart, trusting our feelings—and convincing ourselves that surely God agrees with us.

So how can we know for sure if we’re truly trusting in the Lord? The apostle Paul, in our reading from I Corinthians 15, says, “I would remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word” (I Corinthians 15:1-2). Are you standing in the gospel, walking according to God’s Word?

Psalm 1 says we are blessed when our “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law we meditate day and night” (1:2). When we study God’s Word day and night.

Luke, in our gospel reading, is talking about Jesus “with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people” (Luke 6:17). And, he tells us, “All the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all” (Luke 6:19).

And we think “Wow. How amazing that must have been.” Forgetting that we have that same power available to us through God’s Written Word and through the Spirit of God living inside of us.

And we have the same ability that the prophet Jeremiah had to talk to God. To bring every decision to Him in prayer.

When you have to make a decision do you go first to God in prayer? Do you wait to hear His answer? Or is your kind of prayer just telling God what you’ve already decided to do and then asking Him to bless it, certain that your way is the best way, the right way? Or maybe giving Him two or three or four choices and asking Him to direct you to the correct one?

The early church viewed prayer very differently than we do. We read in Acts 2:42-43 that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.” There is a direct connection between the prayers of the church and the wonders and signs being done.

The early church understood that prayer is not preparation for our work—prayer is the work of God’s people. The primary work.

In Matthew 9:36-38, when Jesus saw the great crowds of people who were afflicted in many different ways, “He had compassion for them, for they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”

The work is great, He’s telling them. But does He say, “So you need to get busy and do something?”

No. He says, “Therefore, pray. Pray to the Lord of the harvest.”

Do we really believe that our power comes through prayer? Do we really believe that the key to success in this congregation, the key to success in any mission, is not in our own wisdom or ability—they key lies in our hand by our Lord’s instruction?

Instruction that comes to us through prayer and through God’s Word.

Jesus said, “Just look at all the problems out there. Look at all the people who are afflicted and harassed.”

Therefore, pray.

Scripture tells us clearly that there are only two ways for mankind: The way of trusting in our Lord or the way of trusting in ourselves.

Joshua called on the Israelite people to “choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).

“As for me and my house,” he said, “we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Joshua understood that we have only two choices—do we?

Prayer becomes important as a regular part of our lives—as the most important part of our lives—only when we realize that in order to live a life that is blessed, a life that has deep roots in the living water that flows from our Lord Jesus, we must be in constant communication with Him. We must look to Him to receive our orders.

Prayer is the primary work of God’s people. We are called to follow Jesus—and Jesus made prayer His work.

To anyone not related to Jesus, prayer looks silly—or even stupid. We have only to hear the disparaging comments of many in the media when prayer is mentioned.

But how many of us think, deep down in our hearts, “Well, prayer is fine, but we need to do something. We need to take action. I’m sure that’s what God wants us to do. Well, no, He hasn’t told me that, but I’m sure that I know what He wants me to do.”

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

The church is not called to be fixers; we’re not called to be critics; we’re called to pray.

The early church existed in a time when evil was everywhere—in the government, in the Jewish religious leaders, everywhere. And nowhere do we see that they took any kind of action against evil.

The early church understood that their purpose, like that of Jesus, was to be a blessing. And to pray.

To pray for the people who were harassed and helpless—which included everyone who did not know Jesus. Who did not place their trust in the Lord.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

The early church understood that there are parts in each one of us that we know nothing about, parts that we are not even conscious of. And they understood that when they prayed for others, the Spirit of God is at work in those unconscious parts. And that as time goes on, things begin to happen.

We pray to a God who understand the unconscious depths of personality about which we know nothing—and He has told us to pray.

He didn’t say organize a demonstration. He didn’t say try to persuade people that what they’re doing is wrong. He said, “Therefore, pray.”

Luke 9 tells the story of a time when Jesus wanted to pass through a town in Samaria and the town refused to allow Him to do so. James and John were angry. They wanted to “command fire from heaven to come down and consume them.”

Luke 9:55-56 “But Jesus turned and rebuked them and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

Jesus didn’t say, “Go into the field.” He said, “Therefore pray to the Lord of the harvest.”

He wasn’t talking about the world in general. He was pointing to the crowds of struggling people, people who had reached a crisis in their lives, people who were “white for harvest.” People that we find everywhere, not only in foreign countries, but in neighboring houses, and the way we discern who they are isn’t by what we do, it’s by prayer.

Does it work? Pastors praying for elected official.

Only after we have prayed are we told to “Go.” To go where God sends us, where He tells us to go. To do what He tells us, that He may work His mighty works through us.

There is only one field of service that holds no snares—and that is the field of intercessory prayer. Perhaps the reason we don’t really like this field is because there’s no place in it for publicity, no place for personal glory. No place to hear the world proclaim our great works.

Prayer is the primary work of God’s people. Our Lord Jesus told us that prayer of the ground of His redemption is the greatest weapon He has provided for us. And prayer is the way that we receive our knowledge of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the reason the Spirit seems to be of so little influence in the world—and the church—today is because we have not taken the time to receive the testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ regarding His Spirit.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, there are two ways available to mankind: trust in the Lord our God or don’t trust in Him. As for those of us in this house, let us choose the Lord. And let us commit to learning how to do the hard and laborious work of prayer that He calls us to.

It is through prayer that the world can be change. I hope you’re all continuing to pray for two specific people and now I’m going to ask you to pray for the people in our towns who do not yet know Jesus Christ as Lord of their life. Pray that we can begin by changing the communities in which we live—and that as we discover the power that is in us through the Holy Spirit, that will be just the beginning of a movement that will spread across this land and around the world.

Let us pray.

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