Seeking God's Direction the Right Way
Prayers can be sincere—but sincerely wrong
Would I purposely, intentionally twist Scripture around to make it say what I want it to say? I’ve met people who do. It happens when a person wants God to help him, but only on that person’s own terms. These are the people who say, “This is what I intend to do with my life and I want God to bless what I have already decided to do.”
When I look at Psalm 5:8, I read, “Make straight Your way before me” (NIV). These are the words of a man who wants to know God’s way so that he can walk in it. It is his prayer. He is saying, “You are the center; You are God; I will go where You want me to go.”
David, the writer of these words, wasn’t always faithful. He made some serious mistakes in his life, but his heart was right. He knew that he could not run his own life successfully. He saw what happened when he went off on his own.
Here he is asking God to make the pathway clear. He is asking God to show him what to do. He is asking, “Which way shall I turn?”
Not all professing Christians are asking God to do that. Instead, they are praying their own version of Psalm 5:8. They are saying, “Make straight my way before You.”
This is the person who is praying, “I want God’s blessing on what I am doing.” He prays, “Please bless me and help me as I go about doing what I want to do and running my life the way I want to run it.” These praying people are very sincere—and very wrong. Often they end up having an unhappy life.
I Will Decide What I Want to Do
The person who decides to go his own way is the person who is saying, “I am the center; I will decide what I want to do. If it seems right to me, then it must be right with God as well. God gave me a mind, an ability to determine what is best for me, and He will be pleased with me if I do what is best in my own view.
“I make things happen. If I don’t do it, it won’t get done. I don’t need God to interfere unless I get into difficulty. Then I will call on God. And I expect God to answer me and help me and get me out of my tough situation.
“And if God doesn’t help me then He is either not a loving God or He is not an all-powerful God, or maybe He is not God at all. When something bad happens to me, I’ll assume that God has failed me. My problems are God’s fault.”
This person keeps trying this and trying that, going first in this direction or that direction, trying to make sense out of a confused life, always wondering why life is so difficult. He is the center of his own world and wants God to help him with what he has already decided to do.
If a difficulty comes, he cannot understand it. “I asked God to help me; I asked God to bless me. Why didn’t he? I’m so angry with God.”
Does this mean that life for the faithful follower is always easy and good? If I pray, as David prayed, “Make straight your way before me,” will my pathway always be smooth? The way wasn’t always smooth for David. He prayed that prayer when he was surrounded by enemies.
He Sanitized the Story
We live in a fallen world. There is corruption and disease and pain everywhere. We aren’t taken out of this world, but we have the certainty of God’s help when we follow His pathway through this difficult world.
I once interviewed an elderly missionary who had lived through famine, war and sickness. It was a wonderful story of God helping him as he lived in obedience. He was a man who prayed and lived by Psalm 5:8.
But I made the mistake of sending the interview back to him to check for any inaccuracies. He rewrote the interview. He took out all the parts about the hardships he lived through on the mission field. He sanitized the story. When I asked him why he did that, he replied, “I don’t want people to think that when you follow Jesus, life might be hard.”
Well, that’s the point. Life is hard. Following Jesus is what gets us through when life is hard. Following Jesus doesn’t somehow remove us from all of life’s failings and pain. Following Jesus is letting Him lead as we go down the pathway He has chosen, the pathway that He wants us to follow.
So, there are two ways of praying Psalm 5:8. There is the person in this fallen world praying to know God’s way so that he can follow God’s way, and there is the person in this fallen world who intends to go his own way, to choose his own pathway, but who wants God to go down that pathway with him.
Praying can go two ways. One way puts God at the center; the other way puts me at the center. Both ways seek God but for two opposite reasons. I keep asking myself, “How am I praying Psalm 5:8? Am I saying to God, ‘Make straight my way before You’? Or am I praying ‘Make straight Your way before me’”? The difference between the two prayers matters.
Roger Palms, former editor of Decision magazine, is the author of 16 books and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles.