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“But my people would not listen to me;
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts
to follow their own devices.
If my people would only listen to me,
if Israel would only follow my ways.”
One of the canonical truths of American culture is that each person has the right to determine what’s best for one’s own life. In fact, we are taught to believe that what we want for ourselves is usually the best course to pursue. Graduation speakers across the land urge those who are commencing their lives to follow their own passions. More to the point, one of the speakers at the 2013 Harvard College graduation (Class Day, to be specific), proclaimed, “Do not listen to other people’s take on the life you should lead. By not listening, you can figure out what your heart is telling you to do.”
Unfortunately, our own intuition about what’s best for our lives often fails us. That’s one of the lessons from an intriguing book by Chip and Dan Heath, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. The Heath brothers, authors of the bestselling Made to Stick, summarize research that demonstrates how many of our firmly held opinions about our choices turn out to be wrong. We’re sure that we’re right, even though we are so often wrong. Our confidence in our own intuition may be enflamed by graduation speeches, but it should be quenched by a big dose of reality.
As it turns out, the human tendency to follow our own paths is nothing new. In Psalm 81, God laments that his people have been following “their own devices” rather than following God’s laws. The result has been dismal. Israel has fallen into all measure of suffering because they prized their own ways rather than the ways of God. Thus, through the psalm writer, God says, “If my people would only listen to me, if Israel would only follow my ways” (81:13). If only Israel would abide by God’s ideas rather than their own, then they would be delivered from their enemies and satisfied with God’s richest blessings (81:14-16).
So, how about you? Do you believe that you usually know what’s best for your life? Do you make choices based on dubious but bold confidence in yourself and your own judgments? Or, do you seek God’s truth and walk in God’s ways? Do you choose to follow the Lord, even when his guidance contradicts your own hunches? When it comes right down to it, do you really believe that you know what’s best for your life? Or do you trust that God knows what is best?
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How do you answer the questions of the last paragraph? What is really true for you?
Gracious God, I can’t fool you about this, or anything else for that matter. Yes, there are times when I seek and follow your ways, even when they don’t fit with my own preferences. But, I confess that all too often I am only too happy to live according to my own ideas. I think I know best, even when my ways are not your ways. I have a hard time trusting you, not to mention obeying. Forgive me, Lord, for my foolish arrogance. Help me to seek you, to trust you, to follow you, to honor you in everything I do. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: The economic consequences of national wrongdoings (Psalm 81, 85)
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