I gave the sermon this Sunday at our church. I hope you find it gives you food for your thoughts and prayers.
Have any of you been in the military or in an organization that taught marching? For instance, any of the armed forces, a marching band, marching teams, Civil Air Patrol (CAP)? Way back when I was in high school, I was in CAP. We practiced enough that we could march in step (most of the time) with each other.
We also learned why it was important to stay in step, and it wasn't just about looking pretty when you marched. It was important who you followed and how you led others. And we learned it wasn't as easy as it looked.
It's not always easy to stay in step with Jesus, either. But how do you feel when you know that you're walking in step with Him? Pretty good, huh?
Now--how do you feel when you know you aren't walking where you should? Defensive? Grouchy? Guilty?
There are several things that help when you are wondering which way the Lord wants you to go. Perhaps the most important thing is that in order to know what He wants, you have to know Him; know Him as intimately as you know your best friend. Get to know what He likes, what He wants, and why. How do you do that? Invite Him into your life. He won't enter your heart without an invitation. Hang around people that follow Him. Read things that teach you about Him--like the Bible, for instance.
It helps when you know that God knows what He's doing. His way is best. He's smarter than you are. You can trust Him to know what's best for your life. When God made it clear to me He wanted me to move away from Phoenix, I didn't want to go. I went kicking and screaming like a two-year-old, but I went. And oh, what blessings awaited me in Willows! I wish I'd moved to Willows years sooner. But that would not have been in His timing.
You see, God is always right on time. Sometimes we have to wait. In fact, I'd say usually we have to wait for His answers.
Sometimes, we experience pain on the path He sets in front of us. Jesus experienced pain on His path, too. This life isn't fair. Bad things happen to good people. Good people make mistakes that are sometimes extremely painful, not only to themselves but also to others. None of us are exempt from goofups. It's nice to know that He forgives us every time. Every time we are sincerely sorry, that is. Have you ever told someone, "I'm sorry, but....?" If you did, were you really sorry or were you trying to justify what you did that you were supposedly sorry for?
If you are drunk and drive 100 miles per hour on the wrong side of the freeway after dark with your lights out, you just might have to face the consequences for your actions. You will have to "man up" and accept the consequences of your actions. (Or "woman up," maybe...) When you know you've done something that's out of step with Jesus, you can tell Him you're sorry. If you mean it, God will forgive you. The people you hurt may not, but God does. Every time, without fail. He loves you whether you deserve it or not.
God delights in obedience, maybe most especially when it's difficult. Life isn't supposed to be easy. There's a story in the Bible about a father and his two sons in Matthew 21:28-31. The father sent his sons to work in his vinyard. The first son said he wouldn't do it. He probably made excuses (I've got homework, the boss gave me something else that's more important, I promised to take Sally to the movies). Later he realized he was in the wrong and went to the vineyard to work as his father asked him to. The second son said sure, he'd go work in the vineyard--but he didn't. Maybe he intended to but forgot, got busy with other stuff, received an important phone call, whatever. Tell me, which son was obedient?
I've heard it said you can't go wrong following your instincts. Hmm. Not sure I believe that one. If I followed my instincts when Pastor Shim asked me to preach, I wouldn't have showed up on Sunday. My instincts say RUN! HIDE! ANYTHING but preach! But I do it because I love Him. Because I want to please Him. Because I like being in step with Him.
Don't be afraid of adversity. That saying, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, applies. At least, it applies if you will let it. Don't be afraid of making mistakes either, for the same reason. Mistakes can be life lessons, again if you learn from them. The strongest, most wonderful people in the world are often the ones who have faced the biggest challenges and occasionally fell.
When I lived in Montpelier, Idaho, there was a lady there by the name of Mary. She was severely crippled by arthritus. She could do nothing for herself, she was in unbelievable constant pain, and she had to have 24/7 care. Yet, when we went to visit her, we came away feeling like we were the ones who'd been blessed. She smiled, laughed, and thanked us for coming. She prayed with us. Her eyes sparkled with love and joy. Even though she couldn't physically do much for our church, she spiritually blessed everyone who came into contact with her. Whether she could walk or not, she was definitely in step with Jesus.
So--walking in step with the Lord is do-able. One step at a time. Get to know Him as your best friend. Get back into step quickly when you lose the rhythm. Trust that He knows the way and wants the best for us. Remember that He forgives you every time you say you're sorry and mean it. Remember that you will have pain, adversity, and challenges that will help you to grow. And most of all, remember He loves you all the time, every day.