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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:For a blessed new year, trust in the LORD and acknowledge him
Text:Proverbs 3:5-6 (View)
Occasion:New Years Eve
Topic:Living in a sinful world
 
Preached:2012
Added:2013-01-03
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 121
Hymn 54
Psalm 37:1-3
Hymn 64 (Profession of Faith)
Hymn 83

Scripture reading:  Proverbs 3:1-18
Text:  Proverbs 3:5-6
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

All over the place there are people wanting to give us advice on how to have a super new year.  There are countless websites that promise the best tips for financial success in 2013.  There are those that tell us about the best fitness tips for the new year.  You don’t have to look very far to find relationship gurus telling you how to get more out of your personal relationships in the next 52 weeks.  It seems like everyone has advice, it seems like there’s no end for tips and promising resolutions.  The past year may have been hard, but with these new tips 2013 will be much better in every way.

The problem with so much of this advice and so many of these tips is that there’s no recognition of God.  There’s no understanding that we are God’s creatures.  There’s no appreciation for the fact that we are dependent, that we owe not only our existence to him, but also our obedience.  No, in most of those tips for the new year, God is completely out of the picture -- which is not surprising given that he’s out of the picture at every other juncture in their lives.  God is irrelevant at best.  If he is real, he’s not spoken of in any meaningful way.

Brothers and sisters, like the rest of the world around us, we’re flipping our calendars over to a new year in a few hours.  Like the rest of the world, we’re thinking ahead and making our plans for this coming new year.  We’ve got our hopes, dreams, and plans.  But as Christians we ought to be self-conscious and intentional about doing all these things differently than the world.  That’s because we know and live with the reality of God in our lives.  He’s not an abstract concept.  He’s not a distant figure-head.  He’s not a fairy tale figure.  He is the true and living God who has taken hold of us by his grace in Jesus Christ and brought us into a real relationship of fellowship with him.  For those of us raised in Christian families, God has been there from our earliest memories.  He was there before we could remember too – at our baptism, he was present to claim us for his own. 

Now as we approach a new year, we want to do so as Christians.  We want to do so in the light of God’s Word, being guided by his infallible truth.  Our text this evening from Proverbs 3:5-6 reveals to us how we can truly have a good and blessed 2013.  We have to move into this new year, and live out of the days of this new year, with our eyes always fixed on our faithful God in heaven.  So I preach to you God’s Word this evening, 

For a blessed new year, trust in the LORD and acknowledge him

We’ll consider how God’s Word here gives us: 

1.      A powerful warning

2.      A precious promise

Have you ever heard the advice, “Just follow your heart.  Just do what your heart tells you to do”?  It’s popular advice in all kinds of situations.  And you might well imagine someone advising that to be your guiding light for 2013 too.  Just follow your heart, trust in your own heart and what your heart tells you to do.  But loved ones, listen to what the Bible says in Proverbs 28:26, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.”  The person who places his confidence in his own insights and understanding is stupid.  “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.”  The same kind of language is found in our text in Proverbs 3:5. 

Solomon says that his son should not lean on his own understanding.  We should not depend on our own resources.  We’re warned against doing that.  But why?

Well, let’s think through why the world goes in the other direction.  Why does the world think that we should find strength, power, and understanding in ourselves?  Why does the world think that we should look inward for guidance in knowing what to do and how to live and so on?  It’s because of the way the world regards human nature.  Worldly thinking says that human nature is basically good.  Worldly thinking says that human nature is inherently strong.  Worldly thinking says that human nature is mostly reliable.  All of this is to say that people in the world have a high view of human nature, a view that doesn’t account for sin.  You might get them to speak about the evil that people do, but it will be a lot more challenging to get them to admit that all people have a sinful heart.  According to the world, evil is merely what people do, not what they are. 

This is where the Bible presents us with a counter-cultural view.  The Bible says that apart from the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, all people are inclined to hate God and their neighbour.  Without the Holy Spirit and the heart transplant he provides, all people not only do sin, but they are sinners.  Sin has infected every part of their being.  Sinners want to think of themselves as intelligent and sophisticated.  They have a high estimation of themselves.  But the Bible speaks differently.  The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  All the thoughts in the hearts of unregenerate people depart from the high standards of God’s law.  Their actions too cannot please the Holy One in heaven.  Human beings are sinful, fickle, and unreliable.

Now all of that is true of unbelievers.  However, we confess to be Christians.  We confess that God has pursued us in his grace and poured out his love in our hearts with the Holy Spirit.  We have been brought from death to life through the gospel.  We are a new creation in Christ.  So does that change the equation?  Total depravity (or better put: pervasive depravity) is something we confess to be true about unbelievers.  We do not believe that true Christians, regenerated by the Spirit, we don’t believe that they are totally depraved.  As the Catechism puts it in Lord’s Day 3, we are totally unable to do any good and are inclined to all evil, UNLESS we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.  If we are regenerated by the Spirit of God, then we can do good and we are not consistently inclined to all evil.  Regeneration does change things on this score.  Yet even as regenerated Christians, we still do have remnants of our old nature.  There is still an ongoing battle with sin inside of us.  We still do have places in our heart where sin has not been found out and killed.  Each Christian has a continuing struggle with sin in their hearts.  Therefore, it’s not only a bad idea for unbelievers to lean on their own understanding, it’s also a bad idea for Christians, for you and me.  Even as Christians, our own understanding and our own hearts are not to be trusted.  They are not to be the guiding light for our lives, they’re not to be the source we look to for direction.  “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.”  “Lean not on your own understanding.”  Those words came to God’s people in the Old Testament who were believers.  They still stand fast for believers today.

So we are warned here not to look inward.   Instead, the Holy Spirit directs us to look outward and upward, to Yahweh in heaven.  We’re instructed here to “Trust in Yahweh with all your heart.”  To trust means that you lean and depend on him.  And we’re to lean and depend on Yahweh – God’s personal covenant Name is here to remind us again of the special relationship with him in the covenant of grace.  He’s entered into this fellowship with believers and their children.  Through Christ he’s brought us peace and reconciliation with himself.  He’s our Father and we are his children.  The Holy Spirit brings God’s children to love their Father and depend on him.  In this relationship we see ourselves for who we really are: fickle, unreliable sinners whose hearts get tossed about.  We see God for who he is:  all wise, all good, all knowing, loving, faithful.  Then knowing those things, putting those things together, we throw ourselves on him in faith.  “Father, I don’t know the way to go, but I love you and I will trust you and listen to your direction.”

Solomon adds here in verse 5 that we’re to trust in Yahweh “with all our heart.”  The heart here refers to what’s essentially us.  It’s speaking of what makes you you.  Your heart is you.  And we shouldn’t neglect the little word “all” here.  We’re to lean on God, to depend on him with absolutely everything in our being, everything that makes you you.  There’s not to a be thing in you that’s not dedicated and devoted to depending on him, on Yahweh.  In other words, the trust called for here is entire, it’s comprehensive, it touches every single part of your life.  But it’s also intended to be exclusive.  Trust in the LORD ONLY with every fibre of your being.  He is a jealous God and does not want to share this trust with anyone.  You’re being called to rely him only in this way. 

You see, this is just another way of saying:  recognize God as God and don’t have any substitutes, don’t have any idols.  Not only recognize him as your only God with your words, but also show that he is your only God with your actions.  After all, what does trusting in Yahweh with all your heart look like?  That’s not just something that goes on behind the scenes.  The heart here includes what goes on inside of you, out of sight of everyone else but God.  But it’s not limited to that.  As I mentioned, the word “heart” here encompasses absolutely everything about you, including what people see and hear on the outside.

Brothers and sisters, in this coming year, let’s resolve again above all to place our trust, not in ourselves, but in God.  Let’s be aware of the lies of the world, the devil, and our own flesh.  They all seek to sell us the lie of independence from God.  Unbelief is always there attempting to lure us away from Christ and the riches we have in him.  Remember how Satan tempted Eve in the beginning with the promise of autonomy – he promised that she could be free from God and a law unto herself.  In the words of Solomon here in Proverbs, she could and she should lean on her own understanding.  Satan said, “Eve, you have to leave God behind and stand on your own two feet.  You don’t need him.”  That is the way of foolishness and it will result in misery in this life and destruction in the hereafter.  The way of wisdom is held out to us as the better way:  “trust in the LORD with all your heart.”  Turn away from the lie of independence, and follow the truth, faithfully depending on your God each day.

So Solomon gives this powerful warning, but then he adds an incentive through a precious promise in verse 6.  This promise builds on and enhances what we have in the verse preceding. 

It says, “in all your ways acknowledge him.”  Notice first of all again the use of the word “all.”  We’re to trust in Yahweh with ALL our heart, and now also we’re to acknowledge him in ALL our ways.  Not some of our ways, not most of our ways, not almost all our ways, but absolutely every single way. 

There are those who compartmentalize their lives.  They’ve got all these areas, these compartments, and they’re mutually exclusive.  They can’t and they don’t overlap.  There’s a compartment for church and putting on the show of being a Christian.  Then there’s a separate compartment for work.  So they go to church on Sunday.  But the people they work with would never suspect that they’re a Christian.  Why not?  Because they’re exactly the same as the worldly people.  There’s nothing different.  There may be an acknowledgement of God on Sunday, but on Monday morning at the workplace, he’s out of the picture.  They don’t acknowledge him with a godly life, and they certainly don’t acknowledge him by the way they speak.  That’s not only sad, but it’s sinful and wicked.    

That’s the kind of thing that Proverbs is addressing here.  Solomon is saying:  no compartmentalizing for God’s people!  If Yahweh is your God, he has to be the God of all your ways.  If Yahweh is your God, he has be to your God every day of the week, every hour of the day.  Wherever you go, whatever you do, whomever you meet, “in all your ways acknowledge him.”  Put him first and always have him foremost.   

Let me illustrate briefly, also for the sake of our young people and kids.  Let’s say you were in a car accident on the weekend.  The accident was pretty serious, the car was totalled, but somehow you didn’t get hurt very badly, if at all.  You might go to work on Monday morning and maybe you’d tell your co-workers about what happened.  You can guess how worldly people would react.  They’d say stuff like, “Man, you’re lucky. “  But as a Christian, in all your ways you acknowledge God.  You take God’s Word seriously here, so you say, “You know, I’m really thankful that God was watching over me and protecting me, I’m thankful that he kept me safe.”  Unbelievers might laugh at you for saying that, but do you live for them or for the LORD?  That’s just one way in which we might acknowledge God in all our ways – there are many more examples that you can think of on your own.  It may be a good topic for discussion this evening with family and friends as you’re bringing in the new year.  What are some concrete situations in which we can acknowledge God in all our ways, also in 2013?

When we are self-conscious about living our lives before God, recognizing him in everything, we have the assurance that he will make our paths straight.  Those words speak to us first of all about God’s sovereignty over our lives.  He has the power to do things to our path.  He is the one who actively controls where our life journey leads.  He makes your path one way or another.  When you are buying into the lie of independence from God, he’s going to make your path a hard one.  Proverbs says elsewhere that the way of the wicked is hard.  God doesn’t bless those who want to do things their own way.  Their path will be filled with frustration and it ends with an eternity of angst.  But when you are acknowledging him, trusting in him, and looking to his Word for guidance, then he will bless you.  He will make the path you travel in life straight – he will carry you straight through to him, to his presence in the age to come. 

Now when we read the words “he will make your paths straight,” we shouldn’t misunderstand that.  This is not a promise for a carefree, easy life.  As if Solomon is saying, acknowledge God in all your ways and you’ll have no problems in life.  The Bible doesn’t say that here or anywhere else for that matter.  “He will make your paths straight” means that God is going to send your paths the way he wants them to go, a direction which for a believer is always a good direction.  No, sometimes it doesn’t seem like a good direction.  You try to acknowledge God in all your ways, but your path seems to be filled with suffering.  If you acknowledge God in all your ways in 2013, perhaps your path will go in a surprising direction.  Maybe it will be harder than you ever imagined it could be.  Maybe there will be sickness, or even more sickness than you now experience.  Maybe there will problems with your children or your spouse, or maybe more problems.  Is God still making our paths straight if our path ends up travelling through the valley of the shadow of death?  What becomes of God’s promise then? 

“He will make your paths straight” means that he will lead you where he wills and where he wills is wise and good because he is our faithful and loving Father.  Trials may come our way in the new year, and when they do, we have to trust in the LORD with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding.  We have to rest in the knowledge that our good God knows what he’s doing and that he will not let us stray off the path he has ordained for us.  The path he has decreed for his children will lead them to him, even if that path goes through difficult terrain.  Loved ones, we have to trust him.  The precious promise here is not for a carefree life, but a life under the loving care of our gracious sovereign God and Father.

This was the promise held out to Solomon’s son and then also to the Israelites who first received this book of wisdom.  They were instructed to trust God on the basis of his promises.  Believers in the Old Testament did that very thing, though they lived in the shadows.  They lived in the shadows of Christ and his coming.  We live in the light, we live after his first coming and we have the New Testament which tells us all about Jesus.  We know of how God’s promises came to fulfillment in him. 

Think back to Genesis 3 again.  After Adam and Eve fell into sin, God came with what we call the mother promise.  We call it that because this is the promise from which all the other promises in the Bible are birthed.  God promised that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.  Getting your head crushed is bad news for the serpent, but good news for us.  A smashed skull is a death blow, so it’s a victory for the seed of the woman.  God promised that victory in Genesis 3.  Jesus fulfilled that promise of victory at Calvary.  But before that, our Saviour too trusted in God with all his heart.  He never did things in a way that leaned on human understanding.  In all his ways, whether as a carpenter or as a rabbi, in all his ways he acknowledged Yahweh perfectly.  Where we failed, he has succeeded completely and wholeheartedly.  Our text says “all your heart” – so often, we’re left at “some of our heart.”  Not Jesus.  He was an “all your heart” Saviour.  Our text says “all your ways” – so often, we’re left at “some of our ways,” or at best, “most of our ways.”  Not Jesus.  He was an “all your ways” Saviour.  Loved ones, all this too he did for us.  Christ did it all in our place.  I assure you again that the gospel promises that all his obedience is ours.  The gospel promises all who repent and believe that this Saviour has paid for every time we’ve come short of “all.”  Now all who trust in Jesus with all their heart are on a narrow path that leads straight to the new heavens and new earth.     

The good news of our Saviour teaches Christians that God’s promises are trustworthy.  When God says something, you can depend on him to carry through because you can see that he did it in the Bible.  He did it in the Old Testament with Israel, and he did in the New Testament by bringing his Son into the world.  We can trust God to do good by us, because all his promises are Yes and Amen in Christ, our Saviour.

An essential part of trusting God and acknowledging him in all our ways for us as Christians is that we now live out of our union with Christ.  Because we are united to him, we put the Bible in a central place in our lives just as he did.  The Bible is where we find revealed all the wisdom of God and all the promises of God.  If we want straight paths, paths under the blessing of our God, we must know him and love him as he’s revealed himself in his Word.  Think about that.  How can you acknowledge him in all your ways if you don’t really know the one you ought to be acknowledging?  How do you know how to acknowledge him in all your ways if you don’t study up on how he would have you do that?  Verse 5 says not to lean on our own understanding.  We need God’s understanding and we need to lean on that.  Where are we going to find that?   You know the answer.  It’s not in ourselves, it’s not in our circumstances, it’s in the Word of God. 

Therefore, if we want to have a blessed new year by trusting in the LORD and acknowledging him, it’s going to have to be a new year filled with careful attention to Scripture.  Perhaps you have your list of New Year’s resolutions already.  Well, add this to your list:  I’ll not neglect the Word of my God.  I’ll give careful attention to the Word as it’s preached on Sundays.  I’ll be sure to have the Word of God central in my home, for my family – regular daily family worship where the Bible is read and discussed.  I’ll want to read and study the Word by myself and with my brothers and sisters in the communion of saints.  You see, we can’t separate trusting God and acknowledging him from the Bible.  If you’re attempting to trust him and acknowledge him apart from the Bible, you’re not really trusting the true God and you’re not really acknowledging him.  You’re back to leaning on your own understanding and your own ideas of what you think God is like or what he should be like.  In other words, listen, if you’re not grounding the application of this text in Scripture, you’re engaged in idolatry.  You’ve made your own god and you’re following your own god, leaning on your own understanding.  Then your paths will surely not be made straight.

Loved ones, for straight paths in 2013, acknowledge the true God in all your ways.  To have a blessed year to come, go to the Scriptures and ask the Holy Spirit to teach you to know your God better, and trust in him with all your heart.  He’s been good and gracious to us in this year gone by.  There’s been reason for joy.  Yes, there have also been disappointments and heartaches.  But through both prosperity and adversity, our gracious God has carried us through another twelve months.  As we look to him in faith through Jesus Christ, we can be sure that he will bless us in the months to come, and forever.  AMEN.

Prayer:

Eternal God,

As we leave behind 2012 and come into 2013, we do so with our eyes fixed on you in faith.  Your Word teaches us to trust you will all our heart, and so we do.  Father, tonight we recommit ourselves to not leaning on our own understanding.  We recommit ourselves to acknowledging you in all our ways.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit to do that very thing.  We thank you for Jesus Christ our Saviour who was faithful in everything.  We thank you that he always trusted in you, always acknowledged you in all his ways.  We thank you that because of him we can totally trust in your promise to make our paths straight.  When difficulties come our way in the new year, please help us not to doubt your love and your presence.  When blessings come our way in the new year, please help us not to forget you or to be ungrateful.  We want to acknowledge you always, in our homes, in our church family with fellow believers, and also when we’re out in the world alongside unbelievers.  Everywhere we go we want to make much of you.  Help us always to glorify your great Name.  Please use as witnesses to show your greatness to a world lost in sin, to sinners alienated from you.

Lord God, we pray for your continued blessing over us this evening.  Please give us a good and godly time of celebration with family and friends as we bring in this new year.  Please bless all of us and keep us safe.  We pray in the name of Christ our Saviour and Lord, AMEN.                                                         




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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